Best of 2020 (with Friends!)

I’m so, so excited that my wonderful friend Emily invited me to share some “best of 2020” superlatives with you today! I’m divulging a round-up of some of my very favorite things from 2020, alongside a few marvelous bloggers (many of my very faves – and all of whom I know in real life!) – LisaNancy, Rhi, and Emily! I cannot wait to read their posts and see what the highlights of their year are, as I’m sure there are so many gems. I love connecting with others who share similar outlooks on life and are kindred spirits, and while we’ve had to do so more online and virtually this year, building community and genuine connection is more important than ever. You won’t want to miss the “best of 2020” posts from each of these wonderful ladies, so be sure to head to their blogs, as well! As we well know, this has been a very hard year in a myriad of ways, but perhaps that makes it even sweeter to dig deeper to find the little joys of life and be even more aware of what we are grateful for. There’s a lot of process and unpack about this year and its many highs and many lows, but I am glad there is a lot of good to be found in 2020.

a few “best of 2020” superlatives:

best book: You know I’ll be sharing my annual Books of 2020 blog post soon, as it was a pretty stellar year for reading. It’s always so hard for me to narrow down my favorite books (I read over 70!), so I’ll share my favorite fiction and non-fiction book with you today. I absolutely adored The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes (SO good!!!) and The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer (a must read). Highly, highly recommend both – and I can’t wait to share so much more on all of my 2020 books and reading so soon!

best movie or TV show: Two of my favorite movies this year have been Little Women (one of the best books in the world, and this new version is amazing) and the Downton Abbey movie (all the happy feels). We haven’t been to a movie theater this year, but these two are two of the best new movies I’ve seen this year, for sure. We’ve also been on a classic movie kick, and I have loved watching classic Audrey Hepburn movies this year, in particular. As far as TV goes, my favorite new shows were The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix (definitely lived up to the hype!) and Modern Love on Prime (I hope season two comes out soon! I cried throughout the whole first season!) and we adored rewatching my all-time fave, Downton Abbey, for the… fifth time?!

best podcast or episode: Uncharacteristically, I actually don’t listen to many podcasts, especially this year… I believe I listened to just five podcast episodes the entire year. Brene Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast and Nancy Ray’s Work and Play podcast are the only ones I’ve listened to in 2020, and I love both.

best adventure/travel/trip: Clearly this wasn’t the year for too many grand vacations or trips, which is a bit of a bummer since we love to travel so much and had some special trips planned. But we definitely squeezed in some safe and outdoor day trips with just the two of us! The three that stand out the most as pretty perfect, magical days together include a day trip to Holden Beach, our annual day trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the fall foliage, and our day trip to Charlottesville. There’s little I love more than adventures and trips with my favorite person and the memories we make together!! I also love that there are SO many incredible, diverse destinations within a day’s drive of Raleigh.

best follow on Instagram: I don’t follow a ton of people I don’t personally know on Instagram (it can be too overwhelming, time consuming, and comparison-inducing for me!), but some of my favorite new follows in 2020 include Simply Elsa, Sacia Matthews, and Prepford Wife. It’s been so good for me to follow these wonderful and incredibly talented women, and we share so many common interests and passions!

best date: We’ve spent almost every hour of every day together this year (I had a wedding in Charlottesville one weekend, and other than that… together!), and I’m so glad I absolutely love and like my sweet husband! We’ve tried to be more intentional about having special dates together since we’re… always together. We haven’t eaten at any restaurants since February, but we’ve been pretty good about infusing some delight and memorable touches onto our dates: whether it’s dressing up, trying something new, getting outside to our deck or a park, or just getting creative. Three that particularly stand out this year include a pizza picnic in the park (we picked up pizzas from a favorite local spot, brought wine, and enjoyed a summer evening picnic at a beautiful park), a surprise crab/seafood boil I prepared for one of Rob’s birthday treats, and our Christmas cocktail party for two just the other day.

best marriage milestone: Since we don’t have children, I’ll go with a marriage milestone instead of a kiddo milestone! I think celebrating three years of marriage (3.5 by now) is one of the highlights of our year, even if the celebration itself looked very different than the trip we had planned for early April. I unapologetically love being married to Rob, and while we’ve had some rather hilarious tiffs (looking back on them now!) during our months at home with just each other, there is absolutely no one I’d rather spend my days with. Some days it feels like we’ve been married for fifteen years, and other days, our wedding feels like just yesterday. I loved seeing Rob become even more selfless, thoughtful, and giving when my sister, brother-in-law, and newborn nephew lived with us for almost three months at the start of the pandemic. Rob is SO flexible, understanding, accommodating, and all the good things, and I just couldn’t be more thankful for him.

best faith grower: I am so, so, so grateful that I have Christ and faith in my life after this year. I’ve talked about this with many dear friends, and I feel like all of the incredibly hard moments and circumstances of this year may have done me in if I didn’t have a deep faith and hope in something much bigger than myself and this world. With losing my grandfather to covid, a close family member losing a job after 35+ years there due to covid layoffs, losing Rob’s grandfather, not getting to see family for months and months (almost a year for some), major business hits and monetary losses for both of us, etc… not to mention the state of the world and our country and all that’s unfolded this year on a wider scope… I just have to trust in Him, cling to hope, and believe that He is mighty and faithful. It’s not been an easy year, but simultaneously, I feel like my faith has grown because of it. I am also incredibly grateful for friends that I talk with nearly every day about faith, life, and everything in between. Having friends to walk through life with – in the highs and the lows and the everyday – are one of life’s biggest blessings, and I am so grateful for these women and how they impact my faith. I also have been loving and getting so much out of this She Reads Truth Advent study and devotional, and it’s been really refreshing and renewing to do a deeper Advent study this year.

best trend I tried: Sweet and girly hair accessories like my beloved ribbons, bows, and headbands!! I’m not sure I’ve ever given them up since my childhood, and I have always, always loved wearing bows and headbands in my hair (I even did for every tennis match in high school!). I’m so glad they’re back in style and have been for a bit now. Some of my favorite headbands are decades old, actually, and rarely a day goes by that I don’t have a ribbon or headband in my hair – velvet is my favorite this time of year, along with a delicate pearl headband from my teenage years that’s still going strong. Overall, I really try to avoid “trends” for the most part, and I don’t think anyone would ever describe me as trendy!

best beauty purchase: Target dresses! I have bought maybe one or two articles of clothing from Target in the past years, but this year… Target is knocking it out of the park with dresses, and I am absolutely here for it!! I know I have no place to go and no one to see, but their dresses – even their plus size dresses – have been so beautiful, so “me,” and essentially all of them for less than $35! Summer sundresses, floral dresses, winter dresses… I have been so, so pleased with how many gorgeous and affordable dresses Target has had this year, and they make me feel beautiful, even if I’m not going anywhere. Coming in second is this one step hair dryer and volumizer (I first shared about it in my January love list!) which works wonders and is so easy to use. I have used my hair dryer literally zero times this year because of it!

best family memory: I’ll go a little broader here than just the two of us (since our day trips and dates above include just us). We are so close with both of our families but sadly have not gotten to see them nearly as much as we had planned or hoped – by a long shot. We are so, so thankful for the time that we did get to spend with them, as there’s practically nothing more important to us. Over the summer, I shared that my sister, brother in law, and newborn nephew (the LOVE of my life!!!!) lived with us for several months during the pandemic since they live in NYC during the height of the pandemic with a newborn. Anyway, we had over 100 days together and so, so, so many sweet and special memories together. Though the circumstances were absolutely not ideal, it was the biggest blessing in disguise and so wonderful in many ways. The four of us did three exciting cooking challenges together (here is much more about those! we did strawberry, pistachio, and milk), and those were a total highlight of our time together! They were a blast, gave us something fun to look forward to, stretched us creatively, and gave us a fun day/meal together that was outside of the norm. In a season where everything was upended, these cooking challenges were simple but so darn fun. Aside from having them live with us and our cooking challenges, the best family memories were those few times when we actually got to see our families in person. I’ve never taken our family for granted but I especially won’t now. We are wildly blessed by such wonderful families and just love and miss them all a lot (none of our family lives in Raleigh).

best habit I created: I’ll go with two new(ish) habits: going on daily walks and cooking new recipes regularly. Clearly we’ve been at home this year more than ever, and going on walks around our neighborhood or nearby trails/parks have been such a saving grace. Fresh air, getting that heart rate up, getting out of the house… going on walks is a big winner this year. We’ve vowed to keep them up all winter long (as our articles club has discussed, there’s not too much bad weather, just bad clothing!) and look forward to those brisk, chilly, but sweet walks and talks together. We’ve also been on a major cooking streak over the past year, and we try to cook new recipes quite regularly. Rob and I love cooking together, and we kind of trade off who takes the lead and who is the sous chef. Many of our favorite recipes from this year are shared here and here, and we have become quite the force in the kitchen, especially with this cooking and recipe campaign I did. My mother in law thinks we should have a “Cooking with the Shauls” show!

favorite blog post written: six things I’ve learned in six years of business (in case you’re new, I’m a wedding planner and designer!) & finding the good in 2020 & our home tour (& Christmas home tour)

best new recipe: We’ve made and enjoyed SO many amazing, amazing new recipes this year!! It’s hard to narrow them down, but these Brussels sprouts with a warm honey glaze are THE BEST. We make them 3-4 times a week, and I cannot get enough!! We can make these Brussels sprouts by heart and always add about 2 teaspoons of Dijon to it, too. We love anything and everything Half Baked Harvest (seriously. just so good.), and here’s a roundup some favorite new recipes this year!

best life hack: I’m apparently really bad at thinking of what some recent life hacks are! I’m not sure if this really counts, but I’ll go with it: having my own little book lending library this year! Since the library was closed for many, many months, my friends and I got creative and shared our own collection of books with each other. I have a LOT of books collected from over the decades, and I would take Marco Polo videos of my bookshelves to share with friends and personally recommend books to them. Then I’d leave them on our front steps for them to pick up so that no one had to go without new reads while the libraries were closed! I traded a lot of books and never ran out of new reads to devour, so I’ll count that as a win for this year, especially when I got tired of reading books digitally on the library’s Libby app! Another life hack that I’ve known for years but shared with some friends this year: if you cut your Christmas garland in half, and then flip the one half around, your garland will drape beautifully downward in both directions! Simple yet effective… and so much more beautiful.

best aunt moment: Again, going with a proud aunt moment for this one! Y’all being an aunt is the BEST. I was already an aunt to our wonderful nephew and niece (Rob’s brother’s cute kiddos), and becoming an aunt to my sister’s little boy has absolutely been the best thing that’s happened this year. (It rivals marrying Rob… almost!!) Getting to go to meet my nephew in NYC mere days after he was born, right before the pandemic and lockdown, was just incredible. It’s hard to put into words just how sweet, special, and love-filled those days in their apartment were. Seeing my sister become a mom, watching the two of them learn to become such loving parents, holding that precious baby boy in my arms… heaven on earth. Another proud aunt moment was while they were living with us. Rob and I surprised them with a “NYC in NC” day since they missed their home and their city so much. I made lots of fun and creative signage, turned out kitchen into their favorite bagel shop, whipped up their New York bagel order, went for a walk around “Central Park”, printed tons and tons of pictures of artwork from The Met and turned out hallways and staircase into a “gallery” of art for his first trip to The Met, made pizza in honor of their favorite local pizza stop, etc. It was a really fun day surprising them with this and giving them a taste of home. Being an aunt is far and away one of my favorite titles!!

best home improvement: Hands down: investing in our outdoor furniture! I’d put off buying new outdoor furniture for two years, since we bought our house, and I am SO GLAD we pulled the trigger in early April and finally invested in a beautiful loveseat, coffee table, and rug (to go with our outdoor dinner table, chairs, and swing that we already had). It was perfect timing – and excellent sale prices! We never, ever imagined we’d spend SO much time at our home over the last year, and we used our outdoor furniture pretty much every single day since we got it, save for the hottest days in July and August. It was also so, so nice to have what felt like an extra living room outdoors when the five of us were living together! We had so much for usable, comfortable, functional space to spread out and enjoy without being crowded on top of each other, and we use our deck 1000x more than we have previous years! Runner up in the home improvement category are the over-the-door pantry shelves we installed on the inside of our pantry door. It’s been several months, and I stare at them every day with great happiness. It is the most functional use of $30 to nearly double our pantry storage – and it’s so organized now, too!

best little luxury I’ve enjoyed: I think I’m going to have to go with online grocery shopping and delivery/curbside pickup for this year! It’s more out of necessity and safety than pure luxury, but it’s been something I’ve enjoyed nonetheless. I’ve only gone into Trader Joe’s twice since the beginning of March – and Rob to Costco twice, and other than that, we’ve done exclusively online grocery shopping and delivery/curbside pickup. I do miss going into stores and being around people, of course, but it has been so nice and such a luxury (again, or a necessity this year?) to simply do our grocery shopping online, essentially from one grocery store, versus our usual Costco-Trader Joe’s-Wegman’s or Aldi trio of stores. It’s saved us time, kept us from needing to go inside stores, and really been about the same cost as shopping in person, since delivery was free (with free trials!) and curbside is free, too. We have also tried really hard to shop small and support local businesses/small shops whenever possible. It’s not always the cheapest option, but it’s so important to us, when we’re able, to support places we love and want to keep around.

I’m nothing if not concise! I hope you enjoyed a peek into some of my “best of 2020” superlatives, and I’ll definitely be sharing much more very soon about our year as a whole in my annual 2020 Year in Review post (here they are from 2019, 2018, and 2017). As you can imagine, despite the incredible challenges and upheaval of our lives this year, there is still so much goodness and joy in the big moments, little blessings, and everyday living. I consider us very, very blessed and fortunate in countless ways, and I’ve never felt such gratitude and appreciation for those who have given so much this year and dedicated their days to serving others selflessly.

What are some of your “bests” from 2020? I can’t wait to hear yours!

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10 thoughts on “Best of 2020 (with Friends!)

  1. Steph! I so admire your thoroughness, thoughtfulness, and openness. Those are all really long adjectives haha but they certainly describe you to a t! Your cooking adventures this year and penchant for hosting even in a pandemic are inspiring! I’ve loved watching your marriage thrive and your joy remain constant. Happy happy holidays to you, friend! Xoxo

  2. I wholeheartedly ditto Downton, all girly hair accessories, and Half-Baked Harvest! It’s clear from both the photos sprinkled throughout this post and the stories you shared that 2020 has held its fair share of sweet memories in the Shaul house. I admire your dedication to creating those moments so much!

  3. What a sweet, sweet recap, friend! I have not seen Little Women OR the Downton movie, so I must add them to our list ASAP! Also, that NYC in NC day sounds like the cutest thing ever!!! Love your heart, Steph!

    1. Little Women and Downton are both spectacular and perfect for a cozy winter watch! And the NYC in NC day was so, so sweet and magical, especially given how much they missed their home and normal life! xoxox

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