I have to admit that I thought I would have a lot more free time while observing the last two months of stay-at-home orders. With school obligations and a one-year-old who is juuuuuuussssstttttt about to walk on his own, our days seem to fly by, and I wind up on the couch at 8:00 pm, wanting to lose myself in some type of true crime documentary. I’m still finding time to read, though, mostly through a collection of audiobooks from my and Audible subscriptions as well as Overdrive and Hoopla titles from our school and public libraries. I’ve written about this before but listening to an audiobook counts as real reading, everybody. If you can’t find time to read in the traditional sense, try listening to a book while you do housework or chores, drive, get ready in the morning, walk, etc. I switched to audiobooks several years ago thanks to the advice of two rock-star librarians I know, Shannon Grieshaber and Nina O’Daniels who have their own awesome book blog (check it out here!), and I realized I could finish a book a week pretty easily by following the advice I gave you above. I recently kicked it up a notch and accelerated my listening speed to a setting of 1.25 or 1.4, depending on the book, and I feel like such a bad-ass reader! But seriously, give audiobooks a try if you haven’t. They’ve been life-changing for me.

The book I’m featuring this week is The Silence Between Us by Alison Gervais. One of my students raved about this book before our school closed due to COVID-19, and it was available as a freebie through’s Audiobook Copy Listening (ALC) Program. It had a powerful impact on me:

Maya is less than thrilled to be spending her senior year in a “hearing school” in Colorado after years of attending a school for the deaf in New Jersey. She doesn’t want to be accompanied by the interpreter who will signal her deafness to her classmates, and she dreads dealing with the pity and ignorance of her classmates. She doesn’t consider herself to be disabled and she doesn’t want a cochlear implant (CI); she knows it’s hard to understand, but she’s happy being deaf. Inspired by her brother’s brave fight with cystic fibrosis, she’s focused on studying respiratory therapy at a renowned local university. She just has to power through what is sure to be a crappy senior year.

It surprises Maya when two of her classmates, Nina and Beau, take an interest in her and actually make the effort to learn some American Sign Language. Beau, who seemed goofy at first, looks more and more attractive to Maya as she gets to know him, and she wonders about a future with this “hearing boy.” Maya’s senior year isn’t without challenges, though. Even the people she loves the most don’t seem to understand her resistance to getting a CI, and Maya’s not sure her dream of studying respiratory therapy can be a reality.

This is a sweet, clean romance written by an #ownvoices author, and it taught me SO much about the deaf community. I enjoyed the story, but I think the best part of this book is that it helped me walk alongside a person with hearing impairment. Author Alison Gervais has created a feisty, driven, memorable character in Maya, and Gervais does a great job of showing readers what accommodations are in place to support the hearing impaired. We need more books like this one!

The Experience

I thought about teaching Tim some simple sign language as a plot-driven life experience for this book (Don’t know what a “plot-driven life experience” is? Check out my first post about it here.), but I thought one of the most beautiful parts of the book centered around Maya’s assignment to create a self-portrait. In the book, she’s entirely unsure how to portray herself at first, and I could empathize with that because I’ve never been skilled in fine arts like my incredibly talented friend Jaime who recently shared pictures with me that document the progress of drawing her self-portrait:

Three pictures of Jaime's progress as she draws herself.
Jaime’s progressive self-portrait.

Because I can’t do anything that complex, I asked Jaime to help me find some kind of “Drawing Self-Portraits for Dummies” guide. She found and shared this website with instructions on how to create the “No Phone Selfie” which actually got me excited about creating a simple self-portrait using a mirror, a water-soluble marker, a spray bottle, and a piece of paper. I mean, even a dummy can trace her own reflection, right?

I followed the directions exactly and tried multiple times, and I have to say that I had varied success. My images didn’t transfer as cleanly as those featured on the website, but in some ways, I think this makes them even more special. I was wearing my hair in a high bun when I traced my features, and I like the way the transferred image makes me look like I have a shaved head and mohawk. I am a bad-ass! Another of my attempts makes me look like a bearded man, though. 🙁

Three different images showing how I created my own self-portrait by tracing my reflection.
The middle image was my favorite of seven attempts, and the last one reminds me of a bad Snapchat filter.

I’m definitely going to try this self-portrait activity with students when we’re all back at school. It’s quick and cheap to carry out, and I can see students having tons of fun with it.

If YOU use this method to create your own self-portrait, let me know! And think about adding something extra to your portrait to make it representative of your time at home during the COVID-19 outbreak. Maybe add a pair of AirPods to communicate all the Zoom calls you participated in, or draw yourself with even crazier hair to show how much you need a haircut. You do you, Boo!

Happy reading,


Make Coding “App”-etizing for Students

Make Coding “App”-etizing for Students

Last week, Missouri’s governor Mike Parson announced that all schools in the state will remain closed through the end of the school year. It wasn’t a surprise for most of us educators, but the announcement sure sucked. We teachers miss our kids! And we’re especially troubled by the idea that some of our students will ride out the rest of the year in places that aren’t safe, where food is scarce, and where they feel anxious and alone. Music teacher Liz recently best summarized teacher concern and frustration at having to instruct our students remotely for another month and a half. We’re well aware that parents have been vocal about how online learning is causing more stress in their homes, and we as teachers certainly don’t want to create added stress. If possible, we do, however, want our students to make an effort to stay connected, further their learning (even if it’s not school-related!), and know that they have our support if they need it. I’ve seen so many extraordinary things come out of this challenging time, and I’m hopeful that we will see permanent, positive change as a result of this pandemic. Many of us have realized that prior to the spread of this virus, we weren’t prioritizing family time, self-care or happiness. If we’re smart, when we’re back to our new “normal,” we won’t let ourselves slip back into busy lives. Instead, moving forward, we’ll give more thought to whether “this” or “that” truly fulfills us. Don’t let the important message of this time be lost on you, friends, and help me remember it, too.

Everyone Has an App Idea

iPhone home screen displaying apps. Find it at: 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
Your students CAN create their own apps with
a little guidance.

When you take a break from coming up with your personal definition of “fulfillment,” you may need a lesson idea or two to share with your students or teachers. So, not only will I share some quarantine-style Plot Driven Life experiences over the next few months, but also I’ll share some tech tools and lesson ideas you can steal. Today, I’m sharing a really simple way students aged 13 or older can jump into the role of an “app developer” even if they have NO coding experience at all. That goes for you, too. I think many educators shy away from introducing students to coding because the concept is intimidating. Don’t let it be. For this activity, neither you nor your students need to know a thing about computer coding. This is an activity you could lead through a video-conferencing tool or post in a virtual classroom for students to complete step-by-step.

Materials Needed:

  • Napkin, piece of paper towel or paper
  • Writing utensil
  • Access to Thunkable website & iOS app OR Adobe XD download & app

Part I: Brainstorm (Allow approximately 20 minutes)

When I introduce this activity, I don’t tell my students it involves coding. I don’t want to scare away anyone. Instead, I want them to be so inspired by their own problem-solving and creative abilities that they want to figure out how to code. So, to get them started, tell them they need a piece of paper, paper towel or a napkin. I prefer to use a napkin for this exercise because it’s fun and it establishes that this activity is “out-of-the-box,” but I know napkins and paper towels are hot commodities right now, so it might be best to encourage students to use paper.

Light bulb made from paper. Available at:
Let your students’ own desire for change lead this activity.

Action Step 1: Tell the students to separate their paper into four equal sections. Don’t give too many directions on how to do this. Let them show you how they think differently right from the start of the activity.

Action Step 2: Next, ask them to choose one of the quadrants and write down three to five problems that bother them. These can be small and personal, or they can be major and worldwide. Their responses will blow you away and give you insight into what is really going on in their brains. Give them ample time to complete this part, and make sure they do it independently.

Action Step 3: Next, tell them to identify the problem or issue that they are most passionate about solving. They need to circle, star, highlight, underline, etc. this one.

Now, tell them to pretend they are app developers! Here’s the scenario: a client has come to each them with this problem (already identified by each student from the previous step) and as an app developer, each student needs to brainstorm a realistic idea for an app that could tackle the problem. This app doesn’t need to fix the problem entirely; it just needs to offer a way to combat the problem.

Action Step 4: Students need to write a short, one sentence description of their apps in the second quadrant.

At this stage, I usually give them an example. One of our teachers identified “mean people” as a problem. Her app concept involved the user receiving random notifications throughout the day that included uplifting quotes, jokes, and healthy reminders to stay positive. She hoped this intervention would help users be kinder to others.

Action Step 5: Once students have described their app concepts, they will continue to respond to these questions in quadrant two:

  • Who is the audience for your app? Be as specific as possible. Is it teenagers with a mental health diagnosis? Adults who need transportation? Pet owners looking for public walking trails?
  • How much does your app cost? And if it’s free, (how) are you planning to monetize it?
  • What is the name of your app? Make sure it’s catchy and relevant to what the app does, like “Snapchat.”

Action Step 6: In the third quadrant, they need to list the features of their app. Tell them to think about their favorite apps and draw from these features, if necessary. Does the app have GPS? Send notifications? Involve a calendar? Allow you to take pictures? Allow you to chat with others within the app?

Action Step 7: Finally, in the fourth quadrant, students will respond these questions by sketching their answers:

  • What does the home screen of the app looks like?
  • What is your app symbol?

This activity usually takes less than 20 minutes when I lead it in person. At the end of this brainstorming session, I ask for volunteers to share their ideas. I also praise the students for their focus, creativity, and ability to problem-solve. When I lead this activity, I had students generate ideas for apps that taught empathy, allowed students to petition for changes at their schools, and allowed victims of abuse to safely report crimes. I was floored by the amount of compassion my students showed while engaging in this activity!

Part II: Easy App Creation (Hours to Days)

Part II is where students dive into the meat of app developing, and there are two FREE tools that they have the option to try:

Thunkable logo. Find it at:
Thunkable was one of AASL’s Best
Websites for Teaching and Learning in 2019.

Thunkable is a website and app recently recognized by the American Association of School Librarians as one of the Best Websites for Teaching and Learning of 2019. This tool allows students to use drag and drop coding (the simplest kind, often taught to elementary school students) to program their app’s commands. Thunkable is free to use for students 13 years old or older, but by using the free version, their .apps are part of the public domain, just FYI. Thunkable has a YouTube channel of tutorials, documents with step-by-step instructions, and a community forum you can access for support. But here’s the thing: I know very little about how the website works and I tell this to my students. I don’t pretend to be an expert. I tell them to play. I encourage them to help each other if they get stuck or Google the answers to their questions. They will learn how to use this tool best by diving in and continuing to tap into their problem-solving skills, and they’ll amaze you with the end product.

Adobe XD logo. Find it at:
Adobe XD allows students to create a prototype without the need to code.

Adobe XD is a downloadable program that words on Mac or Windows computers and users can test their designs via the Adobe XD app. Adobe XD is a more complex tool to use to build and test an app, but students can use this combination to create a prototype if they wish, meaning they can just design the look of the app and don’t have to concern themselves with any back-end coding. If you want way more info about Adobe XD, including a series of tutorials specifically developed to support using Adobe XD in the classroom, check out this blog post from The Tech Rabbi, a super cool educator I recently developed a professional crush on at the 2020 METC Conference.

But Wait, There’s More!

Cover art for "When Dimple Met Rishi" book. Find it at:
Check out this sweet romance
with characters who code.

While we’re on the topic of coding, I saw today that Bill Gates is teaching a live Code Break lesson over at Code. org on April 22. Encourage students of ALL ages to attend so they can learn from the literal master of coding himself!

You can also check out this page on my school library website to connect to tons of other online coding activities.

Oh, and if you want to check out a great book that features a strong female protagonist who codes, I encourage you to try When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. Check out my Goodreads review here.

Happy reading,


Speaking Graphically

Speaking Graphically

Woah! It’s almost been a YEAR since I last posted, and the main reason for that is my happy, healthy almost one-year old-son! I can’t even believe how fast the last eleven months have gone, but they haven’t left much time for reading or writing. That changed this past week when I, along with most of the rest of the continent, was asked to stay home for weeks (or months?) to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. I imagine you’re like me in that you’re trying to make sense of this mind-boggling situation, and you might even be struggling to find your purpose. I’ve come back to this blog because it gives me such a feeling of joy to read and create experiences for myself based on the books I read, but even more, I feel the need to connect with other readers and maybe even inspire you to plan some of your own Plot Driven Life experiences. Over the next weeks I am at home, I plan not only to share some of my Plot Driven Life experiences, but I’ll also share some of my favorite STEAM Challenge ideas and introduce you to some fun tech tools you can test out if you or someone you know needs some mental stimulation. I welcome your comments, book recommendations and questions, and I’m hoping you and your loved ones stay safe and use this time to rest and re-examine what’s important. 

So, here is my first Plot Driven Life experience: quarantine style! 

I had the awesome opportunity to attend the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) bi-annual conference this past fall in Louisville, KY with some of my favorite librarian friends. One of the workshops I had the chance to attend radically changed my thinking about graphic novels. I’ve never been very interested in reading graphic novels, and I’ll admit that I was one of those educators who thought graphic novels were “cheat” reading. When I left this session at AASL, speakers Alicia, Kate and Amanda had convinced me not only to respect the graphic novel but also to commit to reading 25 graphic novels as part of my initiation into this genre. These librarians made one powerful case for reading graphic novels in one hour! One of the first books I chose to read as part of their challenge to me has been popular amongst my students for several years: My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf. And yes, it’s about THAT Dahmer. Here’s my review:

 Jeffrey Dahmer is one of the most notorious serial killers of all time, a predator who not only cut up the bodies of his victims but also experimented with necrophilia and cannibalism. Author Derf Backderf was a neighbor, classmate and friend of Dahmer’s in the 1970s. In this graphic novel, Backderf recounts what it was like to grow up with the shy and awkward Dahmer whom he met for the first time when both boys were in seventh grade, but the book also includes insight into the parts of Dahmer’s life that Backderf wasn’t privy. Backderf uses extensive research to show how Dahmer’s behavior escalated from a fascination with roadkill to cold-blooded murder as he was overpowered by his devious sexual fantasies. Most fascinating are Backderf’s memories of how he and his close group of friends formed the “Dahmer Fan Club,” and egged on Dahmer to pretend to have violent fits in public, an act Backderf would later learn was inspired by Dahmer’s mother’s debilitating mental illness. The book includes evidence of a prank pulled by Backderf and his friends: having Dahmer pose in a number of yearbook photos for clubs in which Dahmer was never a participant. Backderf shows that Dahmer lacked any responsible adult in his life during his teenage years leading the future serial killer to medicate his deteriorating mental state with large amounts of alcohol even while at school.  My Friend Dahmer is a skin-crawling look into the childhood of a monster and it encourages readers to ask, “what if?”

Only a couple of other books have given me such an uneasy feeling due to the dark content: Columbine by Dave Cullen, an in-depth look at the first mass school shooting in the USA (he has a newly released book called Parkland if you’re also interested), and The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, the story of the Chicago World’s Fair killer named H.H. Holmes who built a crematorium in the basement of his hotel so he could easily destroy the evidence of his numerous ghastly crimes. 

Two of the most chilling nonfiction books I have ever read.

I had to get especially creative with a #plotdrivenlife experience for My Friend Dahmer. Dahmer’s hobbies included liquifying roadkill in acid and hiding in the bushes to hunt for victims, so, just no. Instead, I thought about how the book’s author/illustrator, Derf Backderf, had chronicled a memorable part of his high school experience through art and text. I’m no fine artist, but I do know of a great tool that anyone can use for free to create storyboards: Storyboard That. With tons of free scenes, characters and props and the ability to edit scene environments and character poses and expressions, this is a super tool to summarize content or tell a story using panels like a graphic novel illustrator. I used the basic six-panel template to tell a very short story of how I experimented with several different extra-curricular activities in high school before I found the best fit, an activity that ultimately made it possible for me to move from my hometown in Canada to St. Charles, MO. Check it out:

My mini graphic novel about my high school experience.

My high-school years were super cringe-worthy (shyness + acne + braces = super nerd), and I SO wish I could go back and mentor my teenage self. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I ended up working as a high school librarian– to help the kids who are currently feeling cringe-y.  

If you’re curious about the other graphic novels I’m reading as part of my 25 book challenge, check out my just-started Graphically Speaking podcast, and I challenge you to give Storyboard That a try. And if you’re up for it, I just learned there is a movie version of My Friend Dahmer. Check out the trailer here. Finally, Alicia, one of the presenters who convinced me to stop disrespecting graphic novels, has her own blog called Readers Be Advised which I highly encourage you to check out.

Happy reading,

Know Yourself

Know Yourself

Please note that this post contains some affiliate links.

This week’s #plotdrivenlife experience is one I’ve been ruminating about since last summer. In order to carry it out, I had to do some serious self-reflection and even a bit of soul-searching. Before I share about my experience, here’s my review of the book that inspired it–Emery Lord’s When We Collided:

Learn all about it through this week’s mini-podcast by clicking on the magical play button below.


The idea for this week’s #plotdrivenlife experience practically jumped off the page! As Vivi’s behavior begins to become more erratic, she decides a “Vividay” is in order. “Like a holiday, only better,” a “Vividay” includes any combination of activities that bring joy to Vivi. On her day, Viv decides to drive the three hours from Verona Cove to San Jose in order to test drive a Vespa. She’s bought in to the idea that she’ll look like an old-timey movie star whizzing through the streets on her motorized bike, intent on “driving the one that goes the fastest, so fast that I outrun every dirty memory like litter scattered behind me” (127).

While I had no desire to drive a Vespa, I relished the idea of a “Kellyday.” But very quickly, I realized, sadly, that I couldn’t easily come up with many ideas of what I would actually do on a Kellyday. I was out of touch with what truly brought me joy, and it made me feel hugely uncomfortable. How could I not know myself??

It was near this time that I discovered Gretchen Rubin’s concept of The Four Tendencies, a (free) personality test that categorizes you as an Upholder, an Obliger, a Questioner or a Rebel. Rubin has written a book about the tendencies, too, which is a great tool not only to better understand yourself but also to help you build harmonious relationships with your loved ones who don’t see the world in the same way you do. My test results revealed that I am very clearly an Obliger, the type of person who is GREAT at fulfilling everyone else’s requests but really terrible at prioritizing her own goals. Learning about my tendency was, for me, a turning point in my life. It helped me understand that I wasn’t lazy or unmotivated when it came to setting goals for myself, I just needed to change my approach by establishing outer accountability, like hiring a coach, or relying on a partner or team (both of which I did). By recognizing my Obliger tendencies, I was also able to cut myself some slack with regards to not knowing which activities brought me joy. I prided myself on being productive, but I was mostly crossing off items on my to-do list that impacted other people. Like a classic Obliger, I’d failed to make myself and my interests a priority. I spent several months reflecting on what brought me joy, and, just recently, I celebrated my first Kellyday!

Start your day with gratitude.

The day started with a routine that I have come to cherish. For the last year, I’ve made it a habit to get up at least a half hour before it’s necessary for me to start getting ready for work. On school days, this means rising at 4:30 am. Before you dismiss the idea, I want you to know that this morning time, when my dogs and husband are snoring away, has become my favorite part of my day. Instead of rising to begin the dreaded process of daily grooming for the sake of going to work, I start the day on my own terms. I listen to affirmations I’ve recorded for myself, I write in my gratitude journal, and I read from a book that serves to help me grow personally. Most recently, I finished Marie Kondo’s, The Magical Art of Tidying Up. I drink my coffee, eat my toast with peanut butter, and sit by a “HappyLight.” And when my second alarm goes off, I’m ready (and willing) to tackle the list of things I need to do for everyone else. There are PLENTY of resources online to help you build a morning routine that works for you, and I can’t say enough about the benefits you’re likely to feel. Developing my routine involved some trial and error, so stick with it if you aren’t feeling the happy vibe at first.

Once I was showered and dressed, Kellyday continued with some serious breakfast eating since this is my favorite meal of the day. If you don’t have a Shack location near you, I just feel sorry for you. Not only does the Shack have a punny menu (I got the Do It Yourself Meg Ryan), but also they let the guests write all over the joint with markers– as in the walls and floors are covered with guests’ art and proclamations of love. So fun!

My cranky breakfast date.

Next up, I picked up my friend Rosie, and we drove to Main Street in St. Charles, MO. This was a stopping point for famed explorers Lewis and Clark and later the original capital of Missouri. The streets are still bricked, and many of the buildings have stood largely untouched for centuries, making you feel like you’ve been transported back in time when you visit. I have two favorite stores on Main Street that I’ll take any excuse to visit: Joy’s Collective, an antiquer’s goldmine, and Main Street Books, my favorite local indie bookstore. Rosie and I stopped in to both, taking the opportunity for a photo op in Joy’s cozy book nook.

Rosie in Joy’s book nook.

I love to support these local shops, and one of the ways you can do so is by subscribing to, an audiobook subscription service that directly benefits independent bookstores. If you’d like to consider supporting Main Street Books, you can sign up here.

After dropping off Rosie, I excitedly arrived at Serenity Now Float Spa for my first-ever float spa experience. Mike had gifted me a float for my birthday, knowing I love to be pampered. The experience was unlike anything I’ve ever tried! Each guest has his/her own private “cabin,” which includes a large, fully enclosed tank with a little more than a foot of specially formulated salt water. Once you close the door to the tank, you can turn off the light to enjoy total darkness, and/or turn on meditative music. Even this big-bellied, eight-and-a-half-month pregnant mama felt weightless in the water, floating around in ecstasy and napping on and off for 60 minutes. It was divine.

I rounded out my Kellyday with a walk with Mike and the dogs (a daily goal) and dinner with friends (hooray for no cooking!), and I fell asleep watching the St. Louis Cardinals play their second game of the season (because baseball = spring). It was a fantastic day, and, now that it doesn’t intimidate me, I seriously can’t wait to plan the next one!

What would your own version of a Vividay look like?

Happy reading,


Synth-esize with Me

Synth-esize with Me

This week’s #plotdrivenlife experience is one of my favorite to date. Not only did it send me down a rabbit hole of other reading, it required a serious commitment from both me and Mike to call it a success. More on that in a sec, but first, let me introduce the book that inspired it all: Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi.

I’m trying something different this week by using a cool new tech tool called Synth to deliver the review in mini-podcast format. Synth lets you record, at max, a 256-second sound-byte, and you can link these bytes together as episodes in a podcast. This is the perfect tool for book reviews as it requires the reviewer to be succinct. Easily record anywhere through your browser or use the app. Check out my mini-podcast review of Down and Across here, and let me know if you prefer a written review or a mini-podcast for future posts.


As I read Down and Across, I knew I’d have to plan a gritty #plotdrivenlife experience for myself. This lead to some fascinating conversations with Mike and my friends. I’d ask them to brainstorm ideas for gritty experiences, and everyone’s first suggestion was some kind of physical feat like a Tough-Mudder or a full marathon. These were the initial ideas that came to my mind, too, but, at the time, Mike and I weren’t in any position to physically exert ourselves; I was in my second trimester of pregnancy and he’d just undergone shoulder surgery that required six months of rehab. We’d have to get creative.

I’d been toying with the idea of going on a “spending diet” for a while, inspired by a story that was shared as part of an episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Happier by Gretchen Rubin (listen to the full episode here), and when I approached Mike about trying this as a “gritty” experience, he was surprisingly eager to partner with me. We decided that we’d commit to a “no-spend month” for all of February, and we set these guidelines:

  • Can spend on necessities (groceries, personal care items, medicine, dog needs, car care, cleaning supplies)
  • Can’t spend on frivolous items (dinner out, Starbucks, Amazon sillies, pampering, clothing, accessories, entertainment or books)
  • Exceptions: each of us gets one previously scheduled “hall pass” for the month
  • Goals:
    • Explore freebies we already have access to (new Netflix or Amazon Prime shows, services through the public library like Hoopla)
    • Find and use gift cards to “treat” ourselves
    • Put saved money towards debt
    • Cook more recipes in the Instant Pot and explore the pantry and freezers for food to use up
    • Get creative with gifts for Valentine’s day
    • Tackle nagging tasks (like getting the nursery in order and sewing those ribbons on that banner I’ve had for a year)

I have to admit that on the evening of January 31, I was itchy to spend. I kept asking Mike, “Do we need anything?” and “Do you want to go get ice cream or coffee or SOMETHING?” I wasn’t excited about the idea of cooking at home almost every night or not being able to buy a cute new shirt for my growing belly. Mike, calmly, told me to relax, and we dove right in to no-spenduary, also, thankfully, the shortest month of the year!

The hardest part for me was all of the meal prep and cooking. I attended a conference for several days and shared a hotel room with friends, but I made myself pack a large cooler of snacks, and I even planned out two nights’ worth of dinners to take along. And on weeknights when I was tired after a long day of work, I really wanted to go out to dinner; it took great effort to make a new recipe. Plus, pregnancy cravings are real, people!

Mike was an awesome partner through the whole month, and I relied on him to keep me on track. We grocery shopped together, even switching to a discount store for the month to save even more money. And if I was in doubt about whether I should spend money on something, I texted him:

I pampered myself with home “spa” treatments (thanks, Color Street for the easiest mani on the planet). For Valentine’s Day, I recreated a dish from one of my favorite local restaurants, and when we had to replace Mike’s phone because it wouldn’t charge, we carefully researched and chose a discount cell phone carrier that ended up saving us $30 per month on our bill! Overall, the whole experience encouraged me to be more mindful of my spending and to fully appreciate experiences I’d taken advantage of before: I nursed the free Starbucks coffee I saved to enjoy with a friend, and when we did treat ourselves to our first dinner out in March, I ate more slowly, trying to savor the experience.

I read a lot, too. I read Grit by the real Dr. Cecily Mallard aka. Dr. Angela Duckworth. Grit is the highly readable compilation of the author’s research into the practices of particularly gritty people as well as her guidance on how to develop grit in oneself.

Grit by Angela Duckworth

I read The Year of Less by Cait Flanders, a memoir about a (fellow Canadian!) young woman with addiction issues who demonstrated true grit by committing to a full year of limited spending and self-reflection.

The Year of Less by Cait Flanders

If you’re considering your own no-spend month, I recommend you read this fascinating article by author Ann Patchett who writes about how hard it is to decide what to do about gift-giving when you’re diet-spending. I liked her idea so much that my plan is to give books (and maybe accompanying book-inspired experiences) as gifts as often as I can.

So, while this experience was a real challenge for me and Mike, it’s left a lasting impression on both of us. We’re no longer restricted to eating at home and swearing off Amazon, but we’re still being thoughtful about how we spend our money. The result of our no-spend month? I saved 24% of my salary, and I feel a bit more gritty as a result.

Happy reading,