A monthly list of good things to do, buy, read, watch, and more.
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Hello there! Here we are again at the beginning of a new month – and this one finds us firmly into fall careening towards all things holiday. Are you there yet, or just don’t want to think about it until you have to?
I go back and forth, but mainly I like to be prepared, so I do start thinking about the holidays early enough to get some gift ideas on paper for my family – and new content here for you that will help your holiday season.
Ah, but first things first – all the good things from September, including the 11 (!) books I read/listened to, a couple of travel items that are working great for me, a new garden goal I didn’t even know I wanted, and more, of course!
4 Variety Espalier Apple Tree
You guys, having an espalier tree has never been on my gardening “to have” list – until a recent visit to my aunt and uncle’s house about an hour north of us. This is the same master gardener aunt who has this raised bed garden that inspired my longer beds for tomatoes with the new trellising system.
An espalier tree is a fruit tree (usually) that has been trained to grow flat against a wall, supported by a lattice of some sort. This particular tree has four different varieties – one for each branch – and all four had ripe apples ready for picking. It was stunning! And it wasn’t just me – I wasn’t the only one taking pictures of it at our family gathering.
As if that weren’t enough to make me want one, my aunt had labeled each of the branches in such a cute way:
Function and beauty right there. I mean, I know I would probably forget which branch is which so I’d write it down somewhere – but seriously, how fun is it to have mini chalkboards as labels? They also match her raised bed garden labels – I’ve so got to get some metal chalkboards for the garden.
Here are some tips and information my aunt gave me about this tree:
- Even though espalier trees are trained to go on a wall, she found it really hard to prune and take care of the tree when it was planted close to a wall. They moved it to it’s current position about 1 to 1-1/2 feet away from a wall and it’s much easier to care for.
- The lattice system is created from simple cattle panels (2) and metal T or U fencing stakes. They used black zip ties (the black holds up better outside than the white) to hold the panels to the stakes and to each other. The branches are trained with vegetable ties that have more give to them.
- The chalkboards are metal and they drilled holes in the top of the frames and wired them to the panel.
- Even though they’ve had the tree for a number of years, this was the first year that all the different fruit ripened at the same time. So, patience, I guess!
If you’re like me and would like to remember this gorgeous idea for your garden, I’ve created a pinable image so you can save it to your gardening board:
I’m not sure the deer at our place would let me have such a tree (right at their level!), but I have serious garden goals because of it! I’m hoping maybe one day I can figure it out because I know just where it would fit perfectly.
Quarterly Family Birthday Celebrations
About a year ago, after struggling with how to honor everyone’s birthday without putting so much pressure on our calendars, our extended family of about 25 decided to start holding group birthday parties. We decided to split the year up into quarters and everyone who’s birthday fell in those 3 months would be one of the birthday people at the celebration.
It’s been so great, I just had to tell you about it! No one gets left out, and there’s a whole lot less stress of trying to fit everyone in. It’s especially great for the people who’d say they didn’t want a party just for them (typically the men in the family) – it takes all the focus off of one person, so everyone can enjoy it.
It’s also really been a nice way to regularly get together that’s not just a holiday. We’ve all been having a blast.
If you have a larger family and would like to try something like this, here’s more on how we do it:
- This is for adults – the kids still get their own parties until they’re adult age.
- We rotate hosting duties, but only for those who’d like to host.
- We typically do a classic potluck (no theme, we eat whatever people bring!) and one person signs up to bring the cupcakes or cake. One time the host grilled burgers and we all brought a side dish. The key is to make it easy.
- We make sure to set up the next party date while we’re at the current party – this is usually before everyone’s calendar fills for the next quarter.
- The yearly quarters divide into: January-March; April-June; July-September; October-December. You could also do it by season, Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall – you’d just have to determine when those seasons officially start and end for your purposes (for example, fall doesn’t start until Sept. 21 – do you end there are go all the way through?).
- We encourage everyone to bring cards for all the birthday people, but gifts are optional. I find it pretty easy to at least get little things like chocolate, candles, socks, etc. for everyone. It’s the thought that counts!
Midsize Hanging Travel Toiletry Bag
I think I’ve finally found the travel toiletry bag that works for me! I have tried a number of them through the years and they were either too big, too small (so I’d need more than one), or too hard to use.
I searched and searched for a long time, but since I needed something to not only hold all my stuff, but also still fit into just a carryon bag (the only way we travel), I wondered if I would be able to find just one bag that would work.
I took a chance on this hanging toiletry bag a month ago and have taken it on two small trips so far and it’s been just about perfect!
While it does hang, it has a bottom that will stand which is good since one of the places we stayed didn’t have a place to hang it. It was able to stand on the counter with the top leaning against the wall when I needed to get in it.
But the best part is it really does hold all my toiletries, everything from makeup to oral care to full size hair brushes. And when you zip it up, it’s compact and fits in your suitcase or bag taking up the space of about two pairs of pants would.
I’m very happy with it and am itching to try it out on the longer trip we’ll be taking in October back to Austin!
Mini Travel Flat Iron
Also on the travel front, I bought this travel flat iron after seeing it on Amy Lynn Andrew’s instagram about her international one-bag backpack packing tips (you can check out her travel highlight here to see how she packs minimally).
Two things made me grab one, because really flat irons don’t take up that much room, do they? First, it comes with a heatproof case so you can put the warm iron right into it without waiting for it to cool. It always seems that the flat iron is the last thing I use before leaving and my regular one was always hot, so I’d just carry it until it would cool before repacking it.
Second, it will work internationally (with a plug adapter) because it’s dual voltage. I fried the iron I took to Greece and since I know we will be doing more international travel, I figured it was about time to buy one that will work everywhere.
I’ve taken it on one trip so far and it works great. I was worried it wouldn’t be big enough or hot enough, but it does the job just fine. And I love the heat proof case! Here’s the one I bought again, if you’re interested, too.
Whoa, I don’t know what happened in September, but I read 11 books total! I’m betting it was all the yard work, harvesting, and preserving, though – I find audiobooks are so great for these tasks. Not all were worthy of reviews, though this month I’ve listed them for you at the bottom to see if you agree with me.
Here are the eight I enjoyed the most (and I think 2 will be on my year-end best list!):
Knowing God, J.I. Packer. This is a classic Christian book that I read in college and listened to again as part of my morning routine. I filled in six pages in my Book Notes Journal on this book and I’m sure I could’ve done more, but I wanted what I highlighted to stand out. I really liked the section on appreciating different aspects of God – His goodness, His patience, and His discipline – and how he breaks down what knowing God means.
I was blown away by how many cultural things the author talked about from the 1970s when this was written that are still current – and some even more pronounced. Here’s a quote I ended my book notes with:
A person who knows God will be more than conquerer and will live in Romans chapter 8 exalting with Paul on the adequacy of God.
14, Peter Clines. This was the book that Brian and I listened to this month in our car trips – and sometimes at home when we’re at a good part. It’s a sci-fy mystery that started out pretty good and got our attention with the mystery of the new building the hero moves into. But it moved really slow, and there were characters the author spent time telling us their back story that disappeared and never really mattered. The second half felt to us like he didn’t really know where he wanted to do with it – but he brought in aliens and another dimension and enslaved humans…sigh. Let’s just say we wouldn’t recommend this.
How to Be A Tudor, Ruth Goodman. Oh, gosh, you may remember from some previous book reviews that I enjoy a good non-fiction history and this author is amazing. I think she has written a couple other books, too. What sets her apart is that she’s actually spent her career living and trying things just like someone who lived in the 1500s during the Tudor era. So as she’s telling you all the different aspects of life lived 500 years ago, she mentions what it tasted like or felt like because she’s tried to recreate it! I just think it’s fun to hear about how people lived throughout history so I really enjoyed this. Although I’m definitely glad to be born in our era, that’s for sure.
The Road Back To You: Enneagram Journey to Self Discovery, Ian Morgan Cron & Suzanne Stabile. So, yes, I’ve jumped onto the Enneagram train. After hearing about it for a couple years, I finally took a couple of online tests that all turned up different numbers. I hear that’s not unusual, though, and that it may take awhile to type yourself, so when I saw this in my library app, I listened while gardening to try and learn more. And I did – I really thought this book was well done, and explained the personality types in a way I could understand (and in a concrete way, unlike the other Enneagram book I mention below). I’m still not sure of my number, but maybe I’m a little closer?
The Man Who Knew The Way to the Moon, Todd Zeillick. This is an Audible Original that was offered as one of the two books you get each month (I’ve really enjoyed my membership, though I’ve gone down to just one credit every 2 months since I have a backlog of books to listen to. Being a member gives me access to their good sales and the 2 free originals a month. Visit this link if you’d like to try a free 30-day trial with 2 audiobooks + 2 Audible Originals.). I wasn’t sure what to think of it, but I love history so I talked Brian into listening to it with me after finishing 14. And we loved it! It was such an interesting backstory of the moon mission we all know about told through the story of one man who pushed for his moon landing idea, almost to the detriment of his career. Without him, we probably still would’ve gotten to the moon, but definitely later than we did.
Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling. Yep, still working my way through the series! This one actually had me tearing up a bit at the part where Harry thinks he’ll be going to live with his just discovered father’s friend who is his godfather. But of course that doesn’t happen – he has to go live with the Dursley’s for the stories to work I guess. I doubt you’ll see the next installment on my next book list since I still have an 8 week wait on the next audiobook from the library. It’s kind of amazing to me that’s still the case 20 years later.
Daisy Jones & The Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid. I’d been hearing about this book for months and it’s been at the top of the bestseller charts and people’s own best of lists, so I put a hold on the book at my library. It was a long two month wait, but I really wasn’t sure if I’d like it, so it didn’t bother me much. Oh, my gosh was I wrong – I loved this book and think it might make my yearly best of list, too. The format is told as if a reporter is interviewing people from a popular 70s band 20 or so years later and I really liked how this blurred the lines of reality. I seriously kept thinking this was a real band I was reading about! I actually started to care about the characters and their choices and actions.
The one thing I was disappointed in was the reveal towards the end of who was doing the interviews – I thought it was too much of a book “twist” kind of thing and I didn’t really buy it. Saying more would give it away, but it just kind of made me go, “Uh, no.”
There is talk of drugs (so.many.drugs.), alcohol, and sex, but because of the interview format no details (maybe another reason I liked the format?). And because it’s told 20 years later, you hear how drugs can affect you and the impact addiction has on lives and families. Anyway, if you get the chance to read this and are looking for a fun ‘beach read’ that doesn’t have to be on the beach, give this one a try.
The Gown, Jennifer Robson. I think this book might make my best of list, too! This combines history, which I love, a backstory of an event we all know of (the wedding of Princess Elizabeth in 1947 at a time Britain needed something positive to focus on), a lovely friendship, and even some nice (and not so nice) romance. The thing that ties it all together is the making of the gown for the wedding. I believed every part of this book and had to keep looking up what was real and what was fiction (I found this article by the author that describes some of her research and how she wove true things into her fiction, so I wasn’t too off!).
The two main characters will get into your heart and you will care about what happens to them. I even enjoyed the current timeline the author would switch to with one of the character’s granddaughter which I often find distracting in books that do that. But it was helping to uncover a mystery (well for part of the book anyway) and I even came to care about her, too. The ending was perfect and I did tear up some thinking about all they’d been through. Highly recommend – and the kindle version is on sale right now!
Here are the titles I was just “meh” about, so they don’t have longer reviews:
Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy (nothing terribly wrong with it, I just get tired of the teen sexual focus of YA novels like this – they never seem to have any consequences or even much thought behind it other than to lose the “big V” sigh…), Unleashing Mr. Darcy by Teri Wilson (this is a Pride and Prejudice fan book that’s cute, but very predictable and romance novelly, if you get what I’m saying), and The Sacred Enneagram by Christopher L. Heuertz (goodness, I couldn’t even finish this as the last part of the book was so much about the author and all the things he’s doing and people he’s known – he mentions Mother Teresa numerous times – this wasn’t practical for me at all).
I’d LOVE to know what you thought of any of these books if you’ve read them!
Ken Burn’s Country Music documentary on PBS. Brian and I have been loving this series! It’s so well done and explains a lot of things we’ve always heard about but never knew (like who the Carter family was and why they were so influential). We’ve laughed, learned, and even teared up in some spots – this is just a really good documentary.
There have been so many amazing tidbits, like the hundreds of songs that Hank Williams wrote – sometimes in just 15 minutes – in his short lifetime and all the musicians from different genres that have recorded them. Or the behind-the-scenes stories of how some of our most loved songs were written and recorded (Willie Nelson started in his teens writing songs…). And we’re only half way through!
Are you watching this? If not, I highly recommend it. You can watch it all right now on PBS with the app – it might go to their paid Passport program soon, though, so I’d be sure to watch it asap.
Murder Mystery, Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler, Netflix. Ah, what can I say about this silly, slightly boring movie? Well, I guess I just did, didn’t I? I can say that there isn’t anything objectionable in this, so it’s safe to watch with your parents (which we did), or your teen kids. I was expecting it to be a lot funnier than it was with the cast, but I have seen worse. If you saw it, what did you think?
Ad Astra with Brad Pitt. I’m not even adding a trailer for this – that’s how much we didn’t like this movie. It was mostly narration with major close-ups of Brad Pitt’s face. Sigh. Brian was irritated with the science (or lack of) – even with science fiction it should be based on real science like gravity, light speed travel, etc. and this was lacking. I just really didn’t like that there wasn’t much of a plot and so many characters were introduced who in the end didn’t mean or do anything. Oh, and whenever Brad’s a part of a group, everyone will die but him (and his friend in one case).
The worst was a ship he and another guy boarded after an SOS that had held 26 people doing science research. We learn that all 26 people were dead – but all Brad had to do was push one button to release an airlock and the threat was gone. One button. Not one of the 26 scientists could figure this out? Sheesh.
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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