A monthly list of good things to do, buy, read, watch, and more.
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Are you firmly in the grips of spring like I am? It's like, "the weather is good, what can I get done outside?" and "I should be planting this, this, and this, but we need to finish the raised beds." Plus, "Ugh, look at that grass and the weeds."
So many things, right?
It didn't help that we had record rain the first weeks of April and only the last week or so has been nice enough to be outside. So the spring race is on!
Want to know the funny thing, though? I actually finished more books in April than I have in any of the last three months! Which you'd think would be the opposite, because when it's cold and rainy you just want to curl up with a good book.
But the secret is: audiobooks! Though it's not much of a secret, especially if you've been reading here for awhile.
Working in the garden is prime time for me to listen to audiobooks and I'm so glad for all the ways I can listen: my Audible account (I've downgraded to the "silver" plan where I pay for a credit every other month because I have a good list of books to read and it still allows me to buy the $2.95-$5.95 daily deals and get the two free Audible Originals each month - click here to check out their 2 free books offer.) and through the library with both the Libby and Hoopla apps (some titles are available in one app and not the other, even though they may be the same library, which I can't really figure out...).
Read on for all the good things, including the six books I'm reviewing for you this month!
Building a Round Raised Bed From Rocks
If you follow me on Instagram, you may have already seen this round raised bed I'm building out of some of our many, many rocks that are unearthed every time we dig anything and anywhere on our property.
I haven't ever built a bed higher than one rock level before, so as I was puzzling it together, I threw a photo up on Instagram and it's become my most-liked photo ever. Who knew round rock beds lined with cardboard would be such a hit? I actually thought maybe I should put it into my stories since it wasn't the finished "pretty" Instagram post. Ha! That is not apparently what people want, I'm learning.
Anyway, on the to the bed creation:
- I laid down a layer of cardboard larger than the area I wanted to cover. The gravel base we're starting with grows a ton of weeds and I didn't want them coming up through the cracks in the rocks. The path areas between all the beds will eventually be covered in cardboard and wood chips like you see in the background. (We've been collecting cardboard since moving in a year and a half ago, storing it in the shed we moved to the garden area, in case you're wondering.)
- I started with one layer of larger rocks in an approximate 6-foot circle. I used a tape measure, but once you start putting the rocks down, things kind of go their own way, but I think it's still close to a 6-foot circle.
- Then I started fitting the next layer of rocks on top, kind of setting them where two rocks came together and adding smaller rocks to the bottom layer if needed to hold the second layer. This is where the puzzle part came in - you just have to try a rock in a number of places, turning it until it feels firm and doesn't want to move easily.
Note: Since I knew I would be filling it with soil that would help hold the rocks from the inside, I didn't need to build it like a freestanding wall. I think you'd really need to make more of a pyramid-type shape from the bottom up for stability in that case.
This is where the bed stands as I write this. I ended with about three rows of rocks, making the bed sides about 1 to 1-1/2 feet tall. It's about the height of our other beds, so I think this is good, but I can always add another layer if I need to after filling.
To build the soil, I'm using layers just like I do in the regular raised beds you see in the background.
- On top of the cardboard is about six inches of free horse manure we get from friends. (Note: Horse manure is good for bottom layers when building beds, but I'd never use it unless it's fully covered because it grows a ton of weeds from all the seeds and grain horses eat.)
- Next up will be a layer of straw or grass clippings - or maybe a mixture because we have both right now.
- Then I'll add shredded paper and kitchen scraps as a "compost in place" test.
- On top of that will be a layer of a couple inches of good garden soil we'll purchase.
- The last layer will be about an inch of garden compost.
If it doesn't rain, I'll water it all in well, let it sit for a few days, and then it will be ready to plant. Building the soil this way is just one of my organic gardening tips that really make my life easier - you can go here to see 20 more tips.
The center of this bed will hold a climbing vine (not sure what yet) on a trellis and the outside will hold annual flowers, basil, other herbs and maybe other things like fall beets and carrots. We'll see.
Watercolor Paper to Print Out Your April Printable
A newsletter reader had a great idea for your VIP Subscriber Library Watercolor Floral Garden Quotes printables that I wanted to pass along. She asked about printing them on textured watercolor paper to give them the appearance of watercolor prints, which I thought was a fantastic idea.
I looked up some options and found that there is actually 8.5 x 11"watercolor paper that is made to work with ink jet printers for that exact purpose. Here are two that looked the best (I love the idea of the paper made from cotton rags!):
- Fine Art Inkjet Paper 100% Cotton Rag composition in Natural Watercolor - the reviews for printing watercolor images are good.
- Classic Strathmore Watercolor Inkjet Paper.
You can find both of these, plus other items to use in printing off and using all the freebies in the subscriber library in my Amazon shop at this link.
Flowy Dresses For Warm Weather
I mentioned in last month's Good Things List when I shared my new bathing suit that Brian and I are taking a vacation soon to the Caribbean - a trip for our 30th anniversary we've been planning for a few years. We know it's going to be warm and humid, so loose, flowy clothes are a must. I wanted a couple of dresses that I could wear either as dresses or as beach cover-ups and ordered the two above from Amazon, both of which are under $25.
You can go here to read about the striped dress on the left and here to read about the maxi dress on the right. Both come in other colors and the maxi dress has a ton of good reviews, plus I had seen it on a couple of blogs I follow, so I know it's popular.
They are nice and soft and I think they will be perfect for what I want, BUT I didn't like the pocket situation at all. I know a lot of the reviewers loved the pockets, but they are not good for women with hips. More fabric at my widest area is not the look I'm going for, ha!
Also, both dresses are made from really stretchy material and if you put your hands in your pockets, everything gets stretched all out. And it's not like you'd carry anything in them - they'd create bumps right where no one would want them.
So, I cut them out and sewed them up! Voila - dresses I now like completely.
The one thing I'm still trying to figure out is what to do with my hair in humid weather. I need to find some product or technique that works on thin, wavy hair (really - I use product and blow dry my hair straight since it's not a nice wave...). If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them!
The New Country Home Magazine
Country Home used to be one of my must-buy magazine subscriptions, right along with Country Living (which is only $6 a year at that link!) and Cottage Living. It made me sad when they closed it down years ago, so I was really happy to see that there is now a quarterly magazine being offered.
It's more expensive because it's one of those magazines without ads, but when I subscribed through the auto-renewal option on Amazon, it was a LOT more reasonable than the $12.99 cover price (they will send you a warning before renewing and you can cancel anytime, so it really is a good deal).
I've gotten two issues so far and love it - it still has that feel that I always loved and I've gotten good inspiration and some ideas for the farmhouse from them.
Here's the link to get this deal on Country Home in case you're interested, too.
I finished nine (!) books in April, bringing my year-to-date total to 32. Really, who am I? Here are the six I wanted to share with you:
Educated, Tara Westover. This has gotten a lot of press and you've probably heard of it since I think it's still #1 on the NYT Nonfiction Bestseller list. It is eye-opening and amazing as a true story. It's also more harrowing than I thought it would be, since it's hard to imagine parents letting an older sibling abuse younger ones as described. I also wondered why the author kept going back, but toward the end she did attempt to describe why. That this woman comes from such a place and then goes on to basically teach herself so she can get into college and then kept going to earn a Ph.D - all on academic scholarships - is truly inspirational. She's fairly young still, so the ending with her family wasn't as hopeful as I wanted it to be, but it was a good book that helped me to see people from different circumstances in a more sympathetic light.
Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman, (specifically the audiobook that is read by the author). Neil Gaiman did such an amazing job narrating his own book that Brian and I were both blown away (this was one of the books we listen to together on car trips). In fact, Brian chose this as his Cool Thing in this podcast because of that - and because it's such a great story. It's not in the Top 100 Science Fiction Books of all time for nothing. I was worried that it would be gory like I've heard some of his other things can be (I'm thinking specifically of American Gods on TV...), but it wasn't. It tells the story of an average Joe living in London who gets pulled into the "underground" - a part of London most people don't see and don't know exists. He then can't get back and so has to go on a challanging journey to find his way, meeting all kinds of interesting people along the way - and also finding his true self. It's really a very good book that I kind of wish they'd make into a movie!
Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman. This book took me completely by surprise! I didn't know much about it, other than I had seen it recommended, and so the slow unfolding of the title character worked for me, taking me by surprise over and over again. What a thoroughly lovely book, really uplifting and joyous. We watch Elinor come out of a lonely, solo existence and through a random "in the right place" circumstance, gets pulled on a path she wouldn't have chosen, but that saves her life - literally. I don't want to give too much away, I just want you to put this on your to-read list asap - I think you will love it like I did!
On Turpentine Lane, Elinor Lipman. I had read that this author is good for people who like clean, fun reads and this delivered that. It was a little formulaic, though, and I could see the all the plot points from miles away. I think maybe it suffered because I listened to this right after Elinor Oliphant and it didn't really hold a candle to that. But it was a fun, light way to spend some garden time.
Surprised By Hope, NT Wright. Here's another book that surprised me. Brian has read a number of N.T. Wright books and from his descriptions they all seemed very intellectual to me. Like maybe too much? But I saw this in the Hoopla app and listened to it in the mornings and it was SO VERY GOOD. Like, changed my mind about a number of things, good.
I didn't agree with everything he said, but his major points - Jesus' resurrection was bodily, not spiritual, and ours will be, too; that we will be with Jesus here on the earth, though it will be made perfect, and so we need to take care of it; and that many of our ideas in Christianity the past 200 years have come out of Gnosticism - really made sense with what we know of the Bible, God's creation, and Jesus's purpose.
In fact, I filled a number of pages in my book notes journal with quotes like these:
What we do in the Lord is not in vain, and that is the mandate we need for every act of justice and mercy, every program of ecology, every effort to reflect God's wise stewardly image into His creation. In the new creation [instituted with Easter & the resurrection], the ancient human mandate to look after the garden is dramatically reaffirmed.
And my favorite that may become my new motto for AOC:
After working in really poor, outlying areas around London and noticing the overwhelming ugliness of everything, N.T. Wright concludes that the church needs to bring hope to people in the form of justice, evangelism, AND beauty, because:
When people cease to be surrounded by beauty, they cease to hope.
I LOVE this! It perfectly sums up why I've always thought it is worthwhile to take whatever time you have to make your world a bit more beautiful, whether it's by adding pillows for spring, planting a couple of pots with flowers, or painting a room. Beauty = hope.
Good Morning, Midnight, Lily Brooks-Dalton. Here's a sci-fi book I thought sounded good and was totally misled by the description. Mainly because nothing much ever happens. A group of astronauts are coming home after being in space for a couple years and lose contact with earth. An old man voluntarily stranded in one of the poles survives and eventually establishes contact with the spaceship. But for no reason - we never learn what happens to any of them. The ending is a non-ending, which is so is terrible for any of us who like our books to actually end. Sigh. And I think it was trying to be all, "Ah! We find out on the last page that her name was Iris, too - was she just dreaming? Did it really happen?" kind of ending. The problem is, I so didn't care. I just wanted to find out one thing: what happened on earth. That's the one thing they didn't tell us. Boo.
Side note: I just realized as I was putting this together that almost everything we watched in April was something based on a true story!
Greenbook This year's Best Picture Oscar winner that we had been meaning to see when it was in the theater, but we got snowed out. Based on a true story, our family enjoyed this movie, watching how both men get to a better place in understanding the other and humanity as a whole.
The Highwaymen This is a retelling of the Bonnie & Clyde story from the point of view of a pair of Texas Rangers that were called in to help in their capture. It is well done and helps to show the other side of the story and how hard it was to stop the couple because they had become heroes to some (which was SO hard to believe as they killed so many...). This stars Woody Harrelson and Keven Costner, who were both very believable. We read that many parts of this story were true and that because of them, the Texas Rangers were reinstated and are still a part of law enforcement today.
Mrs. Wilson - I loved this so much it was my Cool Thing in these Podcast Notes. It tells the unbelievable true story of a woman who after her husband dies finds out all kinds of things she didn't know - like other families and women he was "married" to!
Unforgotten, Season 3 - Brian and I think this is such a well done show. It doesn't linger on the gory as many police procedurals do these days, but instead spends time showing the emotional toll on the families and even the police dealing with unsolved murders. Are you watching?
The Best of Enemies starring Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell. Brian and I really liked this movie and are pretty much telling anyone we know to see it! It was inspired by a true story and the lead characters actually did become friends in real life, as hard to believe as it is. It's just a very inspiring story of two people seeing each other for who they are and not just what they think based on the outside.
That's it for another addition of the Good Things List! If you'd like to see more of what I'm enjoying, you can check out all the Good Things Lists here. I'd love to know what you think - if you've tried any of these or what you'd recommend. Leave a comment below with your thoughts!
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