Amanda Sue Howell

What Reading Challenges I Picked This Year

At the beginning of every year, I choose a whole list of reading challenges, and I use them to direct my reading choices (to a degree) for the year. This week, I'm sharing which reading challenges I chose.

Last week I told you how excited I get at the beginning of the year, because the beginning of the year is time for a fresh new batch of reading challenges. Now that you know where to find them, and how to sign up for them, I’ll share what challenges I’ve signed up for this year.

I almost told you what books I’ve (theoretically) chosen, on the prompts that I’ve already (theoretically) chosen books for, but then I realized that would be a REALLY long post. So I leave this one up to you. If you want know what this looks like when I start picking the books, I’ll do a 2.0 version of this post, with all of the gnarly breakdown. 🙂

Monthly Motif – Sign up here

This challenge has 12 different prompts, one for each month. I won’t be choosing most of these in advance, because some of these prompts are best done off the cuff.

January’s prompt is Diversify Your Reading. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho has been on my list for quite some time. And as I’m neither male, nor Latino… this fits the challenge quite nicely.

Back To Classics – Sign up here

This one I’ve already mapped out my choices for the challenge… obviously these can change, but in the meantime I’ve made it pretty easy on myself to see what I already own, or can pick up inexpensively. I just have to decide which one to start with.

52 Books in 52 Weeks – Sign up here

Yes I know… 52 books, but again, these do a lot of crossing over with other challenges. Plus, I like to challenge myself. 😀 It’s also important to know that there’s at least one more of the 52/52 challenges, but this one has prompts, whereas the other one is literally just to read any 52 books.

Modern Mrs Darcy – Sign up here

I look forward to this one every year. It’s run by Anne Bogel, and her entire blog revolves around books… and it’s awesome. She also talks about personality type stuff, and capsule wardrobes.

What’s In A Name – Sign up here

This is another one I look forward to every year… it’s got 6 categories… and they’re fun things like…. “A fruit or vegetable”.


Alright I’d love to hear from you… which challenges did you pick this year?

Have You Ever Signed Up For A Reading Challenge?

It's a brand new year, and that means it's reading challenge time! Every year I pick a about a dozen, and completely overdo it, but it's so much fun that I do it again the next year! <3

Ahhhh the beginning of the year. New calendars, new goals, new reading challenges! I get so excited when the end of the year comes, because it means I’m about to be picking out the next batch of challenges I’ll be taking on.

You know I love me a good challenge, so this is always exciting to me… and there are so many to choose from. You can always guarantee that there will be TBR challenges, classics challenges, cozy mystery challenges, and YA challenges. And then there aresa ones with a variety of genres, and I always get a kick out of seeing what they picked this year…

So how do you get started?

Well, you can google reading challenges, or you can go check out A Novel Challenge and see all of their listings, or you can find listings on GirlXoXo.

It's a brand new year, which means it's time for a new round Reading Challenges... did you sign up for any? Click To Tweet

And believe me… you can spend hours going through those sites, because there are dozens, maybe hundreds of these reading challenges. Every year I think… ehhhh I’ll just sign up for a couple… and next thing I know I’ve signed up for a dozen.

The good news is, that most of them permit crossovers with other challenges. For example, let’s say one challenge asks you to read a book that’s been turned into a movie… and you choose Murder On the Orient Express. And then another challenge asks you to choose a cozy mystery, and another challenge asks you to choose a book involving travel, and still another says to choose a book with a 5 word title… your original selection works for all of those challenge prompts as well. Huzzah!

You have to read each challenge carefully though, because they all have their own rules. Some only allow physical books, while others allow physical, ebook, or audiobook. Some just want you to drop a comment as your sign-up, and others want you to write up a blog post. Some let you get away with a comment on the blog about which book you read for each prompt, while others want Goodreads reviews, and others want you to write a blog post for each book. What’s your limit? What are you willing to do? Choose accordingly.

Next week I’ll be sharing which reading challenges I’ve signed up for, but for now I’d love to know… do you do these too?


So What’s The Big Deal About Pinterest?

A little over 2 weeks ago, I posted about my business focuses for 2018, one of which is Pinterest. Right now, you’re probably thinking one of two things… a. Woohoo!!! Yeesssss girl, yes… LOVE me some Pinterest. or b. Well okay yeah, Pinterest is cool and all… but “business” focus?

If you’re in the first group… high five!

If you’re in the second group, let’s chat… cool? You go grab yourself some hot tea, and we’ll chat by the fire.. go ahead… I’ll wait.

Yay! Welcome back, and omg… that mug is SO cu… oh. Yeah. Sorry! Squirrel moment. Okay… Pinterest… here’s the deal… Pinterest has something unique that no other social media platform can lay claim to. People on Pinterest want to be marketed to.

Think about it…

Instagram, they want to see pretty pictures, or learn behind the scenes things about their favorite people.

Facebook, they want to keep up with their family, friends, and celebrities.

Twitter, they’re in it for the instant updates, or the snarking.

But Pinterest? They’re actively seeking out blog posts, articles, and products. For example, makeup is one of my creative focuses this year. I’ve looked for tutorials, inspirations, and makeup on Pinterest. So I’m not just finding blog posts, and videos… but I’m actively seeking makeup, brushes, mirrors, etc…. products… on Pinterest. I want them to sell me on these items.

As of January 1st of 2018, there are over 175 million users on Pinterest… over 80% of which are female.* So if women are your market, this is a gold mine… especially if your market is creative. But even if you feel like your product or service isn’t creative, it doesn’t mean you can’t be successful on Pinterest.

Caitlin Bacher specializes in helping entrepreneurs run successful Facebook groups… she has 16K followers.

Pet Plan Insurance has 43K followers. And I know you’re thinking… but Amanda, the puppies… hello, who wouldn’t follow that? But that’s the thing… they’re not selling puppies. They sell insurance.

I mean, that’s about as far from creative/artistic as you can get. But they know what their people want to see… and in the meantime, they’re getting their virtual foot in the door, so-to-speak. And now, when they pin one of their blog posts, or run a promotion, it’s going directly to all of those 43K people who signed up because the doggies made them smile.

Okay, so now that I’ve piqued your interest… check this little nugget out. When you turn your Pinterest account into a business account, they send you emails about upcoming webinars for Pinterest.

I know, I know… you’re up to your ears in webinars… me too girl, but listen! (Said like Navi). On these webinars, they’ll give you insight into what things you should be pinning for upcoming seasons, and holidays. In September they had 3 webinars… these webinars went over trends for the 2017 holiday season, tips on how to separate yourself from your competition, and ideas for how to promote your products for holidays sales.

Not only that, but they’ll send you the slides from the webinar… which is kind of my favorite thing ever, because I don’t always have time for webinar, but I can always zip through some slides really quickly.

And if that wasn’t enough, their blog posts on upcoming trends are insanely helpful. For example, one of my clients pins things related to babies… baby gifts, baptisms, etc. In 2018, sprinkle showers* are predicted to be insanely popular. Knowing that, you can bet your boots that we’ll pinning the heck out of sprinkle showers in the next few months. It’s fun, it’s trendy, and it’s a shoo-in for her pinning strategy.

So there you have it… just a few of the reasons why I’m really amped about exploring Pinterest more this year. What are you focusing on for your business this year? (And if it’s Pinterest, stay tuned for something I have that will help you get your Pinterest off the ground!)


*These, and other fascinating stats can be read at Omnicore Agency.

(In case you’re curious, they’re baby showers featuring candy sprinkles, like for ice cream cones.. the idea being that you don’t have to be left out of fun shower theme if you’re letting the baby’s gender be a surprise… instead you can use rainbow sprinkles as the theme.) 


8 Ways To Keep Your Holidays Simple

As we get closer to Christmas, it's easy to let the madness & chaos of the season get to us. Traffic is crazier, shoppers are crazier, and there are the in-laws...

As I’m writing this, it’s 4 days until Christmas, and my heart feels anything but peaceful. In the last 24 hours… My kids discovered a hole in one of the couch cushions and used it to pull part of the fluff out. In-laws have made extensive requests for our time next week. And we’re monitoring the weather to see if we’ll be hit by in Arctic front swooping down from the North. I need this post just as much as anyone else. <3

It’s nearly Christmas. And if you’re feeling more like Mr. Ooogie-Boogie than Buddy the Elf, it might because you’ve got a little too much going on. And you’re not alone… this time of year is insane… so get back in the holiday spirit, grab yourself a mug of mulled cider, turn on some sweet Pentatonix tunes, and read a few of my favorite ways to keep everything simple.

1. Be intentionally peaceful

It’s the annual month of irony… angelic voices singing peace on earth, while we run around like crazy people. Peace on earth… unless the gifts have been backordered. Peace on earth… unless the kids are acting like lunatics kids. Peace on earth… until we head to the in-laws. Peace on earth… for everyone but us.

Stop. Breathe. Remember the Reason for the Season. Remember that you were a crazy kid at Christmas too. Remember that your in-laws mean well. And as far as the backordered gifts… we teach kids how they should respond to these things. Backordered gifts don’t phase my kids at all, because we just tell them (in a really excited voice) that Christmas got an extension!!! And we use it as an excuse to extend the Christmas movies/music/fun just a little longer.

2. Don’t overwhelm yourself with 20,000 of every thing

Your kids/husband/inlaws/nieces do not need 35 gifts a piece. You don’t have to send cards to all 1257 people on your Facebook friends list. And you don’t have to bake every kind of cookie that your mom, grandma, great-grandma, mother-in-law, and grandma-in-law ever made.

Don't overwhelm yourself! Your kids/husband/inlaws/nieces do not need 35 gifts a piece. Click To Tweet
3. Enjoy things that are unique to this time of year

Maybe you can’t stop and smell the roses, but you can appreciate other things. Admire the coziness of a grey winter day, and take advantage of the opportunity to cuddle under a blanket with your babies. Enjoy the fairy lights twinkling. Enjoy the Christmas muzak in the stores.

Enjoy treats that are specific to this time of year… for example, my family enjoys “whistling oranges”. You take an orange, roll it around on the counter a bit to prep it (it releases the juices, like when you’re going to make lemonade), and cut a small x into the peel. Then you grab a soft peppermint stick (like these)* and you bite off the end (or cut it if you’re giving these to someone who won’t appreciate your cooties), and stick that end into the x and push the peppermint in. Then suck on it until the orange starts coming up through the little holes.

Yes I know it sounds weird, but I promise it’s delicious!

4. Call family that you won’t be seeing

It’s rarely possible to see your entire family at once, and the bigger your family is, the harder that gets. Don’t beat yourself up, or try to achieve the impossible… technology has made this so much easier. Call them or FaceTime them! Let your kids say hello too!

5. Choose your own path

Make Christmas yours… if you’re not a fan of the traditional turkey/ham… don’t do it. Obviously if you’re one of my vegan friends, you already know that. But seriously… I know people who eat Chinese on Christmas… several people actually… I’m not sure how that got started. One of my friends will be having an Italian feast this year, and I think that’s fabulous.

6. Focus on experiences over gifts

We started doing this for birthdays somewhat… basically my husband and I had a conversation about how we would handle birthdays/Christmas, if we were well off. If we have the money to handle our children’s every need, and many of their wants… what do you do for birthdays/Christmas?

And the answer we landed on, was making them about experiences rather than gifts. So one year, we hauled everyone to the theater (no small feat with my crew) and we saw a matinee showing of Cinderella… the live action one. My daughter was thrilled… and it’s one of her most memorable birthdays too.

This doesn’t mean you have to go somewhere on Christmas Day, but you can also set the stage for the next year. Buy season passes to Six Flags, or put money on a trip to Disney.

Focus on experiences over gifts. Museums, plays, road trips.... these are the things your kids will remember when they're older. Click To Tweet
7. Let your kids decorate the tree (yes really)

If you’re a mom, you’re probably cringing right now. Believe me, I totally get it. 100%. Letting them decorate the tree is tough, especially if you’re OCDish, or a control freak.

However, there’s a greater good at work here. What are your priorities? Making your kids feel invested in the family holiday, or having a magazine-worthy tree? <3

8. Focus on thankfulness

You know what kills me when I watch Harry Potter? The Dursley brat kid’s birthday. He literally counts his gifts, to compare to the amount he counted last year. Uhm, nope. Nope. Nooooooope.

I ain’t raising no Durlsey kid. My kids are being raised to be grateful for what they have, and what they receive. It doesn’t just go for the kiddos though. Gratitude is something that I come back to, a lot.

I know so many people who talk about being broke… and I’m guilty of this too. But really, I’m not. I have a home, my lights are on, I’m not on welfare… I have been. I’ve been super broke. Horribly, “omg how will I buy groceries and my cupboard is barer than Mother Hubbard’s” broke.

But I’m not there right now. So when I start feeling like everything sucks, and this Christmas will be a disaster, because we’re unpacking, or we don’t have enough decorations, or a bill came in… whatever it is, I return my focus to the things I do have. Because that’s where gratitude comes in.

How are you intentionally making this season more peaceful? And, what are you thankful for?

I know, believe me, I know! If you're OCD-ish, or a control freak, avert your eyes... or attempt gentle guidance like "oh look... that spot looks lonely!"
As we get closer to Christmas, it's easy to let the madness & chaos of the season get to us. Traffic is crazier, shoppers are crazier, and there are the in-laws...

My 2018 *Business* Focuses Revealed

Recently I posted about how I chose 3 creative focuses at the beginning of the year, and they created the path for my downtime, my creative time, my classes taken, etc. I briefly referenced my business focuses, but I didn't go into any detail, until a sweet friend of mine privately messaged me and asked why I didn't mention what they were. So, if you're also wanting to know what I'm up to on the business end of things, this is the post for you!

Last week I posted about how I chose 3 creative focuses at the beginning of the year, and they created the path for my downtime, my creative time, my classes taken, etc. In that post, I noted that I’m doing it again next year, and I want you along for the ride!

I briefly referenced my business focuses, but I didn’t go into any detail, until a sweet friend of mine privately messaged me and asked why I didn’t mention what they were. Really, it was 2 reasons.

#1. I was afraid I’d already rambled on long enough as it was. 😀

#2. I wasn’t sure they’d be interesting.

So, if you’re also wanting to know what I’m up to on the business end of things, this is the post for you!

1. Pinterest

One of my favorite things about working as a VA, was social media work. But not all social media work. Two social media platforms are my favorites by far… Pinterest is one of them. I’m in a few Pinterest classes right now, but I haven’t made my way through them, and I haven’t started implementing any of it yet. I’ve seen people talk about most of their traffic coming from Pinterest, and I’d love to learn how that happens.

2. Instagram

I know, you were ready for me to say Facebook right? Juuuuust kidding. I like Facebook, but I don’t “love” Facebook. Same with Twitter. But I love Instagram. The photos, the stories, the lives…. I absolutely adore every section of this platform. But my business changing means that I’m feeling my way into a new look, and I want to solidify that, and really create a community on there.

3. Video

I don’t do video very often… but every time I make a foray into it, I enjoy it so much, and I get a great response. I’m not sure if it’s because my enthusiasm really comes through on video, or if it’s because my snark is more obvious when it’s not written. Ha! Either way, I plan to do a lot more of video in 2018… pre-recorded and live. I also plan to do more on YouTube. Right now I’m in the process of creating new channels, to go with the new brand, and I’m deciding…. should I have one channel for book tube, and another channel for creative things… or blend it all under one channel?

I’m kind of leaning towards all under one channel, and just pretend that I’m a superstar and everything’s in one place under my name, but I’d love your opinion!

Do you think I should have one YouTube channel, or separate channels for different topics? And, what are *your* business focuses next year?
Recently I posted about how I chose 3 creative focuses at the beginning of the year, and they created the path for my downtime, my creative time, my classes taken, etc. I briefly referenced my business focuses, but I didn't go into any detail, until a sweet friend of mine privately messaged me and asked why I didn't mention what they were. So, if you're also wanting to know what I'm up to on the business end of things, this is the post for you!

Join Me In 2018: Together We’ll Make The New Year Our Most Fulfilling One Yet

Together We'll Make The New Year Our Most FulFilling One Yet

Almost 2 years ago, I tried hand lettering. I’d done calligraphy before, so I was confident that I’d really enjoy brush lettering. But I sucked… when I say that I sucked, I should take a moment to clarify that I’m not the sort of person who needs consoled with a popsicle. I’m not being down on myself, or having a comparison pity party… it was just ragged.

But that’s not shocking, because I’d never used a brush pen before. As it turns out, I didn’t have the muscle control to move it fluidly yet, and I was using the wrong paper, so I was tearing up my pen too. But, based on that one half-crap attempt, I decided that it was proof I just wasn’t cut out for brush lettering.

Makes sense right? I tried it, I stunk, case closed. Boy, am I glad my parents didn’t have that attitude about me when I was born! “Well, she tried to stand, and she fell….. what a failure!”

Well now you’re just being silly Amanda! Yup. Sure am… and I was being silly when I bailed on a potential new skill, because I wasn’t mind-blowing on my first attempt.

So at the beginning of this year, I chose 3 skills to learn through the year: Doodling, hand lettering, and watercoloring. Why 3? I just can’t handle only picking one skill… and 3 sounded like a good number.

Why limit myself at all? I could give you some very schmancy responses about how historically limitations have prompted some of the most long lasting things like Picasso’s blue period, or Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham, which arose from a challenge to write a book in 50 words or less.

I “could” give you that answer, but honestly it’s because I suffer from a crippling condition… FOMO. Yes ladies, get well cards can be sent to me at… okay seriously though… Fear Of Missing Out. It kills me to miss out on things, and I want to take *flinging confetti* all-the-classes!!! So I limited myself to 3 areas, so that if I saw a class and I really wanted to take, I could analyze it in the scope of those 3 skills, and determine if the class was a good fit.

And it worked.

I started off the year by creating a Pinterest board for 2017, and I dumped anything I could find… books, YouTube tutorials, blog posts, tools, classes… just to get my brain going.

I chose these 3 things on a whim. My whims are few and far between, so I usually follow them when they come along. I’m not a capricious person by nature. But this was definitely a whim. And I ran with it as hard as I could. What I didn’t realize, is that it would change everything. *dunh dunh da dunhhhhhh*

Phillip would come home, to a bed covered in lettering drills. Because once I started learning how to properly do it, I loved it. And I would do page after page of drills… waves, swirls, v’s, m’s, n’s, circles… anything to learn the motions and build that muscle control.

Slowly, I added in watercolors, and to my surprise I fell in love with that too. You see, what all 3 things had in common, was that I’d previously tried them, and decided they must not be “my” thing. Lettering was rough looking, watercoloring was difficult to control (and I love control), and doodling was too whimsical for me.

But slowly, all of them grew on me. And as I learned them, my art became more unique, and more interesting. Meanwhile, my writing on my blog was getting harder and harder. I had a chat with a friend about it one evening, and she said “is it possible, that you’re struggling because you’re writing about what you think people want you to write about, instead of what really excites you?”

Uhm. Yes. More than possible.

So basically over the weekend, everything changed. I updated my domain, my graphics, and everything… I had one more hiccup… turns out not everyone knows what a curmudgeon is ;), but I rallied and here I am.

Here I am, and it’s one year since I made that decision… and now I’m doing it again. Last year, it was a secret… only a handful of people had any clue what I was doing… my own personal safety net in case I got bored. But this time, I’m going public with it for a very special reason.

I want you to join me.

Don’t worry, I’m not pointing my finger at you like Uncle Sam, and I won’t draft you, or voluntell you. This is completely up to you, but the things is… a drive by yourself is nice, but a road trip with friends is fun! Are you game? Awesome!

Join me and @amandasuehowell in choosing 3 creative skills to grow in 2018! Click To Tweet

Here’s how this works… you’ll pick 3 things. I’m picking 3 for personal, and 3 for business… that doesn’t mean that the personal won’t end up in my business, but for now, these are just being learned and explored. Anyway, you’ll pick 3 things, and revolve your world around them. Let them create a laser focus for the classes you take next year, the tutorials you watch, your tax time splurges… all of it.

At the end of each month, I’ll do an update post, and I’ll share what I’ve been up to (although odds are, you’ll see glimpses on my Instagram, and possibly YouTube), and what classes I’ve been taking… what skill got the majority of my attention that month, and what my progress is.

I totally want to hear from you in the comments of those posts… link to your own update post if you choose to go that route! Share an Instagram photo that shows what you’ve created so far! Update us with what class you loved the most… invite us into your world.

Without further ado, here are my 3 personal focuses for 2018:

Acrylic painting – I explored watercolors this year, so next year I’m playing in a different medium.
Makeup – I have always adored makeup, and I’d love to really learn some new fun looks, and learn how to do them quickly… I’m just not a 4 hour contour kinda girl.
Music – Another longstanding interest of mine… I’ve been dying to learn how to play several instruments, and really sharpen up my singing.

Now it’s your turn! What focuses are you choosing for 2018? Will you be making a Pinterest board too?

Here’s how this works… you’ll pick 3 things. I’m picking 3 for personal, and 3 for business… that doesn’t mean that the personal won’t end up in my business, but for now, these are just being learned and explored. Anyway, you’ll pick 3 things, and revolve your world around them. Let them create a laser focus for the classes you take next year, the tutorials you watch, your tax time splurges… all of it.