A monthly list of good things to do, buy, read, watch, and more.
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Hello December! I think we're all ready to make the best of this holiday season and then say a hearty goodbye to 2020, aren't we?
And while the month is looking a lot quieter than normal with pandemic restrictions, I'm choosing to look on the positive side.
Every year I try to think about what is important to us and lessen the stress of the season (hello, Holiday Planner). And guess what? It's being done for us all this year!
So I'm looking forward to cozy winter evenings with sparkling lights and peppermint mochas with our immediate family. And then the zoom "parties" with our extended families! What a year, right?
On that note, some good things are in order! The one I'm most excited to share is the spontaneous purchase I made while Christmas shopping online (a-hem...) - a cottage-style electric teapot that I'm in LOVE with.
Christmas 2020 Decor Planning
If you've been reading An Oregon Cottage for awhile, you know that I reuse holiday decor from year to year. (You can see all my past holiday decor and ideas here.)
I do add a few inexpensive or handmade items each year just to keep it fresh, and I'm sure after a number of years some things will move out of the rotation, but for the most part I try to find new ways to use the things I already have.
This year I am keeping the dark green, black and white buffalo plaid, silver, and gold color scheme from the last few years and adding in some farmhouse-rustic napkins and kitchen towel with holiday text along with a few more buffalo check items and faux lambs ear (I love the almost frosty look of lambs ear for the holidays).
Here's what I added for Christmas 2020 - all from Hobby Lobby:
- Cheer Beige Cloth Napkins (no longer available)
- Lambs Ear Wreath
- Buffalo Check Kitchen Towel
- Joy Kitchen Towel
- White & Black Buffalo Check Apron (unfortunately already out of stock, but here's a similar one on Amazon)
Stay tuned for a simple mini-tour after we get our live Christmas tree!
You can check these out for more Christmas decor inspiration:
- Simple Farmhouse Cottage Christmas Decorating Ideas
- Farmhouse Cottage DIY Christmas Ornaments
- Cottage Christmas Decor Ideas
Holiday Baking Planning
For me a fun thing at the holidays is baking some of our favorite goodies to give away. I know it's not for everyone, but if you like to bake certain things each year, I wanted to bring your attention to the "Holiday Baking" page that's included in the free Holiday Planner.
This page makes it easy to make a list of the things you want to bake, where to find them, and even has a place to list the grocery items you need to buy (TIP: I usually use this area to list what I don't normally buy - I always stock up on flour, sugars, chocolate, etc., so I list what I don't usually buy like peppermint candy, extracts, white chocolate, and such.)
You can see my list for this year above - they include:
- Easy Homemade Honey Caramel Corn with Moose Munch Variation
- Quadruple Chocolate Decadent Brownie Recipe
- Classic Cream Cheese Mints with Dark Chocolate
Plus a classic (coconut macaroons-Brian's fav) and two new recipes I'm testing - a maple-nut brittle and pecan turtle shortbread. And yes, I'll publish them if they are worthy!
What are you making this year?
Pretty Electric Kettle/Teapot
I didn't really think there were beautiful electric teapots (that were reasonably priced, that is) and so we got a regular one about a year and a half ago.
So when I saw this gorgeous ceramic electric kettle with a black transferware-type design I fell hard. I mean, it's so cute, isn't it? And it would look so nice in a farmhouse with beadboard kitchen walls, don't you think?
Obviously, I did! It's very, very rare for me to get a new appliance when one is working fine, but it was almost half price and I never see designs like this - and when I do they are usually blue, which is not my color.
This is a good thing that makes me happy every time I see it - which is multiple times a day. Plus, our daughter now inherits a perfectly good stainless and glass electric teapot. So it's all good.
Note: at this writing, the black floral tea kettle is only sold at an exorbitant price, but there is a fun marble design as well that's more reasonable. I would keep a watch on them if you're interested in a certain design and see when they come back at regular prices.
Here are the six best books I read this last month:
Letters to Malcolm, CS Lewis. The subtitle of this short book is "Chiefly on Prayer" and it really is just the letters CS Lewis wrote to his friend, Malcolm, as they discussed prayer. Even though you don't hear Malcolm's responses, there are plenty of nuggets here I found, like:
"The painful effort prayer involves is no proof that we are doing something we were not created to do. If we were perfected, prayer would not be a duty, it would be a delight. Someday, please God, it will be."
And, "Anxiety over the unknown is not sin, it's not 'not trusting God.' Jesus suffered anxiety in Gethsemane and He is our example."
Royal, Danielle Steele. Believe it or not, this is my first Danielle Steele book. And it will probably be my last unless someone convinces me there are better novels by Ms. Steele out there.
It was interesting as a storyline set in the middle of the 20th century - a supposed long-lost royal granddaughter is found living as the daughter of a horse trainer - but a bit confusing at first. All the English historical royals are the same (Queen Victoria, King Edward, etc.) except for the current king and queen and their three daughters. But the part that was hard for me is that I felt like I was reading a recounting of lives lived in a newspaper article - just the facts. I never really felt like there was a character I was supposed to connect with, everything just moved from one thing to another, often skipping large chunks of time.
A Land Remembered, Patrick D. Smith. I do not know what to say about this 1984 novel I got through Audible. On the one hand it's a sweeping historical fiction novel about a family that rises from abject poverty to enormous wealth through three generations in central and south Florida from the mid 1800s through the 1960s. I like books like this and apparently the history part is true enough that there was a two-part children's book made that children in Florida read to learn about their state.
On the other hand, it is SO sad. Like terrible things happen to each generation and the ending is a "what was it all worth" kind of sad ending. There wasn't anything really inspiring or redeeming, just a relentless turn of events. Let's just say I wasn't sad to be done with it when it was over, though I was invested in learning about what happened to the characters.
The Life and Times of Prince Albert, Patrick Allitt (Great Courses). This was a free pick (back when Audible offered free originals) of a lecture course taught by Professor Allitt. After having watched and read Victoria, all the information wasn't new to me, but it was interesting to hear it from the perspective of Albert. The one piece of information that did surprise me, since the novel and PBS series is different, is that apparently Queen Victoria didn't like children, or even her children when they were little. She thought they looked like "frogs" and was jealous of the time Albert spent with them. She saw them only when she "had" to (though by the time they were older and she could relate to them as adults they got along better).
The Last Days of Night, Graham Moore. This historical fiction recounting of the electric lightbulb "war" between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse (and Nikola Tesla occasionally) will be on my year-end best of list for sure. It is a fascinating part of history I knew nothing about, told in a way that makes you want to keep reading/listening. Especially interesting is the focus on the young attorney of Westinghouse, Paul Cravath who was chosen for this herculean task just 18 months out of law school. He went on to form one of the most successful law firms - even though he didn't win the case. Highly recommended.
The Reading Life: The Joy of Seeing New Worlds Through Other's Eyes, CS Lewis. This little book was a lovely peek into CS Lewis's life - his preferred day included 7-8 hours of reading, interrupted only to eat, drink tea, and go for a walk! Plus, I learned that he routinely reread books, remembered almost everything he read, wrote in the front of the books notes to himself (sometimes, "don't read again"), and happily read Jane Austen again and again. He gained much insight though other's works. Overall inspiring and helped me value (again) the time spent reading!
The Queen's Gambit, Netflix. We aren't quite finished with this series, but it is really very good, both visually and the storyline. Who knew that chess could be made to look so interesting? The story of a young orphan girl with an affinity for chess and how she becomes a force to be reckoned with in the elite world of chess at a young age is both fascinating and sad.
Trial of the Chicago 7, Netflix. This is an Aaron Sorkin movie starring Eddie Redmayne, and Sacha Baron Cohen among others. It recounts the incredible trial of seven war protesters in 1968 before the democratic convention in Chicago. Brian, my daughter, and I watched it and none of us knew this history. It was very well done - not at all boring as a courtroom drama could be - and surprisingly kept fairly close to the actual story which we looked up later. Including the ineptness of the judge, which we thought for sure had been dramatized. I really recommend this!
Young at Heart, originally PBS, now Amazon. My sister recommended this 2007 documentary about a senior citizen singing group that performs modern rock songs, including a Nine Inch Nails song (which is hilarious to watch as they first listen to it!). This is really inspiring, watching both the singers and how the audiences respond to them. There are sad parts, too, as members pass away, but overall a really feel-good movie.
I Am Woman (Helen Reddy), Netflix. My daughter chose this to watch as she didn't know anything about Helen Reddy and her music. I knew her music from when I was a kid, but none of her story. It was really interesting and the lead actress did an okay job of singing in Ms. Reddy's signature style. I don't think I realized what a huge star she was in the 1970s and how that didn't translate into the 1980s at all. The movie tends to gloss over her accomplishments to instead focus on her troubled marriage, but in all a good biopic.
Rebecca (2020). We listened to the novel by Daphne Du Maurier on our summer road trip to Yellowstone, and then watched the Hitchcock movie when we got home.
We knew a new remake was coming so we watched this as soon as it came out to compare. Personally I was worried that they would make it more romantic in the beginning than it is, and they did a bit. The male lead played by Armie Hammer was about 10 years too young and the female lead not nearly as unsure of herself as in the book. But overall, we thought the director and actors did a decent job with the story from the book, especially keeping to the novel's ending (vs. the watered-down Hitchcock version). We enjoyed this.
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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