What I learned in 2016

This year I’ve enjoyed regularly posting what I learned—from the serious to the silly—every month. Today I’m sharing a few of my favorites, especially those things that I’m still using, telling friends about, and hearing about from you (two words: Liane Moriarty) on a regular basis!

1. I can (still) pick good books for my daughter that she actually wants to read.

Earlier this year Sarah (age 11) said, and I quote, “Mom, what should I read next?” She knows how the podcast works, so she told me three books she loves, one book she hates, and her current read, and I went digging for titles for her.

She’s a little old to want book suggestions from her mom these days, but she did ask, and I found her some great stuff she really enjoyed this year: The Penderwicks, The One and Only Ivan, Tuesdays at the Castle, Harriet the Spy, Loot, and a few others. She’s been reading up a storm.

2. Changing a lightbulb or three can make your whole room look much, much better.

We finally found a chandelier we love for the new kitchen/dining room space (actually it’s the second chandelier we tried—the first one went back to the store). I loved the actual chandelier but it put out no light. In the daytime, you literally couldn’t tell if the lights were on or off.

Then one day my contractor came back from a Home Depot run and said he got me a present: it was a three-pack of lightbulbs that he thought would work much better than the ones I’d bought. He was right.

The chandelier and the room look so much better—and we can actually see. All it took was $8 in lightbulbs (and the knowledge to choose the right ones).

3. Manhattanhenge is a thing. 

File under: things that make me happy. I was late to the party but my inner urban planning geek could not get over the photos from Manhattanhenge, also known as the Manhattan Solstice, which happened this year on May 30. When the sun aligns perfectly with the city’s grid the sunsets are incredible, a la Stonehenge.

This phenomenon happens in other cities that have a tidy street grid and an unobstructed horizon, like Chicago, Toronto, Baltimore, and Montreal. Chicagohenge, Torontohenge, Baltimorehenge, and Montrealhenge are also real things.

4. Hummingbird feeders actually work.

I didn’t even know we had hummingbirds in our area until we moved into our current house a few years ago. We saw them regularly in the backyard the first year, but hardly saw any the next.

I mentioned this to my sister-in-law when she was visiting, and she told me they’d had good luck with an inexpensive hummingbird feeder. So I found one (on Amazon, for $10!) and sure enough, it worked.

I know it’s a little thing, but being able to look outside almost every single morning when the weather was warm and see those hummingbirds flitting around the backyard? It was awesome.

5. Some hotels work better for our family than others.

When we travel as a family, we usually look for a workable combination of convenience, price, and quality (plus an indoor pool). We have a large family, and while we’ve found some places to work better than others, we’ve never been particularly loyal to any one hotel chain.

That might be changing. In August we spent two different nights in two different Marriott establishments, one a Fairfield Inn and Suites, the other a Springhill Suites. Our hotel rooms in both places were huge, and each had two queens plus a full-size pull-out sofa bed. These rooms worked really well for our family—enough so that for our remaining fall trips we looked for those places on purpose, every time.


6. Pack your running shoes.

More Savannah. I almost didn’t pack my running shoes for my trip, because my schedule was packed and I needed to save room in my suitcase for books on the return trip!

But my husband talked me into it, and I’m so glad he did. I’m a slow runner, but even so, my early morning runs were a chance to explore the city on foot, and to see more of it than I could have if I’d just been walking.

There was so much to see there, and I didn’t come close to seeing it all, which made me extra thankful for the bonus sights I could take in during my runs.

7. How to watch Youtube videos at 1.5x speed.

Have you ever watched a video online and wished you could speed it up, the same way you can speed up audiobooks and podcasts? It turns out you can if you use my new favorite Chrome extension, Video Speed Controller. With it you can speed or slow down playback of any video.

8. I’ve been pronouncing Liane Moriarty’s name wrong for years.

We did the keynote at Read Savannah together and the first thing I learned was … it’s Lee-ON. Short “o.” Luckily, I found this out the day before I met her, not the day after.

9. To write “Brontë” on a Mac …

Hold down option-U to get your umlaut, and then the “e.” I was a German minor in college (seriously), so this probably shouldn’t have been on my list of things I already knew. I suppose I haven’t been typing that particular special character much since graduation, but the current Brontë resurgence drove me to rediscover my old tricks.

Also learned: how to type emojis. Control-command + the space bar generates a full menu. It takes forever to load on my computer, but it works.

10. You can add any web page to your phone as an app icon. 

Listen up, because this is so useful—and so easy! Here’s what to do: open the website you want in your Safari browser, tap the share button (the middle button at the bottom that’s a box with an arrow coming out) and select “add to home screen.” That’s it!

You can do the same thing on android. In Chrome: tap the 3 vertical dots next to the address bar to open options for the website. Scroll down to “add to home screen” and it adds a direct link to your screen.

Now the MMD Book Club sits on my home screen, making it even easier to access, and it’s pretty, too.

11. If you want a good conversation starter, share a ridiculous dress code.

Will and I attended an event earlier this month where the invitation specified dress was “outdoor chic.” What? 

It was a fancy tented event, in a big field, in the rolling Kentucky hills, and this last-minute dress code news threw me. So I asked on twitter, and got more interaction than I think I’ve ever gotten on twitter about anything, ever. None of it was particularly helpful, but it all made me laugh.

(The answer? The same navy (or maybe black? I can never tell) dress I always wear, plus boots. Clunky brown boots. It worked.)

12. The Momentum Chrome extension keeps me a little more on task.

It works like this: every day, you answer the question “what is your main task for today?” And then, every time you open a new tab in your browser, the first thing you see—in the second before it loads your page—is a beautiful photo plus a reminder of your big task for the day. It’s basically a very tactful, inspirational way to say “should you really be doing that right now?”

(Also valuable: some mornings I realize I have no idea how to answer the “main task” question, which forces me to clarify it before I get any further in my day.)

Get the Momentum extension here.


Leave A Comment
  1. Susan in TX says:

    Love your wrap up of things learned. I can completely relate to the “right hotel for my family” thing! We learned this 6 years ago when we went on a 6 1/2 week multi-state trip. We are also a family of 6 and use your preferred chains frequently. That said, my favorites are the Homewood Suites – you get the 2 queens/foldout couch scenario, but you also get a kitchen, and most times your 2 queens are in separate bedrooms with 2 bathrooms. Trust me, when the kids are teenagers, having that second bathroom saves an enormous amount of time! (Also, huge lesson learned on that long trip: get the smallest/cheapest rooms you can stand early on in the trip…as the trip progressed, the rooms got bigger and bigger. We love each other, but after that long on the road, space to spread out in was ALL important (esp. since we are 5 introverts with only 1 extrovert – and admittedly, very spoiled)! 🙂
    Happy New Year!

  2. Nancy says:

    Great things to learn. By the way, another way to attract hummingbirds is to plant canna lilies (tubers are better than using seeds). Hummers love the red flowers best, but will even will go to other colors. One caveat: depending where you live, dig up the the tubers every fall and replant each spring after the last frost. So, in addition to your feeder, consider this as an option. ~nan

  3. Amy Bader says:

    Thank you for info on the Momentum plug in! I’m so excited by that. And we are a family of 5 and also try hard to look for suites when we can afford it and find it. Makes traveling SO much nicer.

  4. Ok, so I’m noticing a lot of “get it on Chrome” and I’m getting the feeling I might be more productive online if I use Chrome as my main browser instead of Safari? Have you found this to be the case? Right now I’m so used to Safari already knowing everything (hello, password keychain) that I keep Chrome only so I can use multi-forward on the email.

  5. Susan says:

    Anne, I just love all your posts! And these are great things you’ve learned! Now I want to know, okay, I NEED to know what kind of pen is in that picture at the top?!!?

    I chose books for my three daughters for years past when other kids wouldn’t want their moms choosing their books – perhaps I have good taste?! LOL! Anyway, now I’m trying to choose books for my granddaughters who are in 2nd and 3rd grades and really read well. But they’re both HSP’s and their mom is just as protective of them as I was of my kids. So if anyone can give me some good titles (and Anne, your picture has already helped me, because those Noel Steatfeild books might be good!). The Ramona books are obvious picks, and I already bought them the boxed set. But lately she’s been reading Geronimo Stilton, which probably isn’t the best literature, but at least she’s reading! She seems to have some resistance to long books. Her AR reading level is late 3rd grade to late 5th grade. But with harder books come real-life subjects… I had that issue when the girls’ mom was doing “Battle of the Books” in 4th grade and was reading Park’s Quest. I found myself explaining the significance of the main character visiting his paternal grandfather and finding a little Vietnamese girl living there, after his father had died in Vietnam. I told the librarians that I didn’t think this was an appropriate book for 4th graders…

    Anyway, if anyone knows of any great books for 7 and 8 year old girls who are reading above grade level, but are somewhat sheltered, let me know!! 🙂

    • Loralee says:

      My 6 year old daughter loves the ‘Sophie Mouse’ books by Poppy Green. And the good thing is that there are a ton of them so they’ve kept her busy for a while.

      • Susan says:

        Loralee, these books look AWESOME! Thanks so much for the tip! I think these will be a great pick for my girlies! Two of them are reading well already, two more are in Kindergarten – one is really reading and one is starting. 🙂

  6. #7 – YES! I have always disliked video and audio, because I can absorb information so much faster than people can speak it, and it felt like a waste of time until I began listening faster.

  7. Aimee says:

    Great info!! I loved learning how to properly pronounce one my favorite authors names and am equally excited to explore this ManhattanHenge phenomenon! I live close to San Francisco and am now super curious if we get to experience the same awesome sunset lit cityscape. Cheers to 2017!!

  8. Mary says:

    We have been loyal to Marriott for many years and have their Chase credit card. Only a few of their brands don’t have a great hot breakfast (we avoid those). You joined Marriott Rewards, right??

    • Anne says:

      Yes we did! And I hear you on the hot breakfast: my kids LOVE hotel breakfasts, which is fun and convenient, even if it’s not my favorite thing. 🙂

  9. Leslie Dupont says:

    My husband and I have a family of 5 between the 2 of us and over the past 3 years we have really started frequenting Springhill Suites by Marriott because they usually have an indoor pool and they serve breakfast in the mornings. I would also recommend the Hilton hotels Homewood Suites and Embassy Suites. Homewood offers breakfast daily and dinners 4 nights a week included in the price of the hotel. Both hotels offer a happy hour with all complimentary drinks and snacks. Embassy has a complete breakfast with griddle options to order also included in the price. Because we have a bigger family, we’re always looking at ways to save. We’ve enjoyed all these hotels.

  10. I love the idea of thinking about what you learned each month. And I had no idea you could add a webpage to your phone’s home screen as if it were an app….just did that with my blog. Question – how did you get your icon to look so pretty? Mine didn’t turn out so well.

  11. Sarah says:

    I LOVE that you’ve included a pic of your phone screen! I always enjoy seeing what apps and tools others are using. It’s almost (but not quite…) like perusing someone else’s bookshelves….

  12. Julie says:

    One of the things I learned in 2016 is how much I benefit from scheduling unscheduled time. My resolution in 2016 was to keep Sundays “unplugged” and my focus for 2017 will be to expand on that. You can link to my post to read more.

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