A monthly list of good things to do, buy, read, watch, and more.
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November 2019 has arrived (snuck up on us?) and with it, a look back at the good things of October. Since we traveled during the month, there are some good travel items you may be interested in, and the books I read are really diverse, so hopefully you’ll find something on this list that interests you.
Since we weren’t home for some of the month, we didn’t watch much, but what we did watch I loved so I’m pretty sure you will, too.
What’s ahead? Like you probably, we’re gearing up for the holidays here with family plans for Thanksgiving and thinking about handmade gifts. (Like to get a handle on that? Download the Holiday Planner to help with the Thanksgiving and Christmas season!)
Last year I shared my Christmas decorating plan with you in the Good Things List in November, but this year I’m not because my goal is to reuse the things we already have. I liked the decor last year, so why change? What I will share is a Christmas tour once everything is decorated and then you can see how I took the same things and did something different with them, so look for that later this month.
Okay – on to this month’s list!
Our Dog, Samson
While his recent passing was definitely not a good thing, how can I not put him and his sweet presence in our lives for the past 13 years as a very good thing? He blessed us in so many ways.
I’m so glad we had a last trip with him to the Oregon coast (back to Pacific City) and the photo above. If Brian was around, you can bet Samson would be close by just like he is there next to the ocean. Life is less sweet without him, but we are better for having him while we did.
If you listened to our latest podcast you know we took a week long trip to Texas – back to Austin for a work conference and then down to San Antonio for a fun day trip. The weather was gorgeous, we had a whole different view of Austin from the last time, and we were totally taken with San Antonio.
We mostly explored and took advantage of free things – oh and we ate, of course! We got our fill of tacos, queso, and barbecue. You can see all our tips and what we did here on the podcast notes page – maybe you’ll find something to do if you’re ever in those cities.
Oh, if you’re wondering about the photo above – the top picture is of downtown Austin and Ladybird Lake from the south miles-long walking path we enjoyed daily and the bottom photo is of Mission Conception in San Antonio’s Missions Historic National Park.
One Fall Garden Project Completed.
This project has been in the works for more than a year and was one of the things on our fall to-do yard and garden list. I’m SO glad to say that it’s finally done!
What was it? Well, I call it “the mound.” I can’t believe it, but I don’t actually have a before picture of the random brick wall that was constructed next to a large mound, but in the top photo you can see what the mound looked like looking from the farmhouse. The brick wall was on the other side.
Besides the weird brick wall just sort of floating in a landscape that doesn’t include brink anywhere else, what you need to know is the entire area from the driveway through the huge boulders to the even larger mound was completely weed infested landscape fabric (you can read how I feel about landscape fabric here). All that green wasn’t lawn.
I think there were other plants and herbs at one time, but as soon as the weather warmed the first year we moved in the weeds just started growing like mad. It was terrible.
This area is visible when anyone drives in, so I wanted to make the part with the boulders look pretty, but the rest needed to be low maintenance – meaning just grass to mow.
Why did it take a year?
Well, while getting rid of the weeds was pretty easy, though heavy work (we just rolled up the weeds in the landscape fabric like it was sod), we found out pretty quickly that the mound had been used to cover a huge tree stump.
And whoever covered it dumped a huge pile of sand on it. Which takes forever to remove, since it’s always wet here and so is heavy.
And then there was another boulder. And more rocks.
We did a little stump grinding, but afterwards realized we didn’t take nearly enough off. We did a little burning, but it wouldn’t get all of it. We pulled off rotten roots with our Jeep. Then we sawed the main stump down to the level we needed.
So, yeah, when all the sand and dirt and stump was finally out and it was time for this, I was practically jumping up and down with joy:
Bring down that wall!
And after all that time, knocking down the wall was actually the easiest part, lol. It took less than an hour to knock down and remove it and then we offered the brick for free on Craigslist and had two people come and take it.
It looks SO much better to me now as well as not having to deal with the weeds (which I still had to deal with the whole time we were working on it).
The flower bed is lined with the rocks we find if we dig anywhere and so now matches the rest of the property. And as you can see in the photo above, it just looks a lot more in tune with the rest of the property to have the grass continuing around the bed and to the gravel drive.
There are two morals to this story:
- Don’t give up – it’s not a failure if it takes awhile, it’s just the process.
- Please don’t use landscape fabric – like, please, please. Do this instead.
There was rain predicted the few weeks before we traveled to Texas, so I searched online and found this little umbrella that I ended up loving even though I didn’t use it, as the rain was only on the first day as we arrived thankfully.
All I really cared about was that is was small and light and that the reviews said it was sturdy enough to not collapse in the lightest wind. This fit that bill – but then, look how cute it is! The pattern is only underneath, so it’s not too loud, but it’s kind of fun. And there are lots of great choices, plus even plain if you’re not into the patterns.
It’s not too flimsy as these can be sometimes, either. There is no automatic button to open, but the options for that were all larger and heavier. I appreciated how small this was, fitting easily into my carryon or my backpack. If you’re looking for an umbrella to travel with, this may be the one for you, too.
I talked about this bag in the podcast about our Texas trip, but it’s worth another mention here because I was really pleased with it for a number of reasons.
I had been looking for a cross body bag ever since our trip to the Bahamas when we walked everywhere and I needed a water bottle because of the heat. The purse I had was okay, but the water hung out of it and didn’t leave room for much else.
When I read about Travelon bags on a travel site, I looked into them and found a this great one on Amazon that was on sale for half price! It’s called the Classic Essential Messenger Bag and as I used it in Texas, these are the things I liked about it:
- It’s anti-theft: the straps are knife-proof, there are locking tabs on the zippers, and it has RFID blocking card and passport slots.
- Because of those slots, you don’t need a separate wallet.
- It’s lightweight and flat enough that it works as a cross body without seeming too big.
- Even when I carried a water bottle, it still didn’t seem bulky – and there was a lot more room in it if I needed. I was SO surprised at how much I could fit in there and it still looked sleek.
And while not half price, it’s still on sale at this time so if you’re looking for a good travel bag, definitely check this one out – I’m loving it.
It was another banner month for book reading/listening! I’ve already smashed my goal of 75 books for the year, but actually I just read because I like to. I probably don’t need a reading goal anymore, now that it’s firmly a part of my daily activities!
Here are short reviews for the eight books I read last month:
The Stored Life of AJ Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin. I didn’t know much about this book when I started listening to it, and it didn’t start out too promising (the title character lost his wife a few years earlier and then lost his way, being either grumpy or drunk…). It did get a lot better and ended up being sweet and funny in parts. However, the whole time I kept thinking this isn’t going to end well (which for me means happy, lol) because of the chapter intros and I was right. But other than that is was a good book with a really sweet sentiment.
The Upside of Falling Down, Rebecca Crane. What to say about this book? I thought it was going to be a light-hearted rom-com type of thing, but it wasn’t really. It’s about a young American woman who is the sole survivor of an airplane crash over Ireland who awakes and can’t remember anything about herself. It was just okay. I didn’t really buy into her actions (A young girl without any memory, money, clothes, etc. decides to just take off on her own? Really?) and they seemed pretty selfish. It wasn’t terrible, though, and there were some light hearted moments. And it ended well. (And remember what that means for me?)
Dream More, Dolly Parton. Goodness, how can anyone not like Dolly Parton? I had read about this little audiobook and how inspiring it is and I have to agree. She has done SO much, both professionally and personally, giving back to so many, there’s no way NOT to be inspired. There is a print version, but having Dolly read this to you is such a treat so this is a time I’d recommend choosing audio.
A Mind of Her Own (Marie Curie), Paula McLain. This short book is an audible original (meaning it’s one of two free audiobooks you can choose each month with the membership – if you’d like to check it out, use this link for a free 30-day trial with 2 audiobooks + 2 Audible Originals) and since it’s historical fiction was right up my alley. I didn’t know anything about Marie Curie except that she discovered radium (which I had learned in Radium Girls) and that the years of radiation eventually killed her. This is the story of her early life, coming to study in Paris and then meeting Pierre Curie who would become her husband. It was all wonderfully interesting, as these things are usually to me, but I was not prepared for it to just stop abruptly, just as her relationship with Pierre was starting to develop. So I was bummed by that, but it did cause me to do my own research on the rest of her life. Maybe I’ll find a book that will share the rest of her story someday.
The Royal Nanny, Karen Harper. Here’s another historical fiction book based on a true story, this time surrounding the British royal family and their actual long-time nanny, Charlotte Bill (LaLa) at the turn of the 20th century. While fascinating as a look into the time period and the way the royals lived, I found the book to be rather slow and disjointed. I never really invested in the characters and towards the end just found myself skimming just to get through it – never a good sign, right?
Great Courses: Reading Biblical Literature, Genesis to Revelation, Craig R. Koester. So this is a bit of a departure from my regular reading, but I do listen to books in the morning following my own journaling time, so I try to choose Christian/Bible based books I can continue to learn from. While this is the audio from a class, it worked really well for this and was just a great way to read the Bible in a different way and going through the whole scripture gave me such a bigger point of view of the scope and themes.
There were a lot of things I added to my book notes journal, but the most important take away for me was this about the “new commandment” of Jesus’s, “As I have loved you, you are to love one another.” Professor Koester pointed out that the idea wasn’t new – back in Leviticus, we are told to “love your neighbor as yourself.” He says what made it new was:
The basis of the new command is not self-love. Instead of telling them to love others as they love themselves, He tells them to love others as HE did. We are to see ourselves as recipients of a love that comes from outside ourselves and are to bring that love to expression.
And boom – world rocked for me right there.
The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis. I thought it was about time to reread this after 30 years since I remember really enjoying it and getting a lot out of it the first time. Actually I listened to this (which I like to do with books I’ve read before – the different experience is interesting), but was pretty disappointed in the reader because both his accent made it hard to understand, and I didn’t care for his inflections which were overwrought in my opinion.
However, the book has held up for sure. It’s interesting thinking about what I remember getting out of it as a college student versus now. What struck me at this age was the part where Srewtape is telling Wormwood that it’s better for his people to live to an old age so he has plenty of time to let life take it’s course since:
The safest route to hell is the gradual one, soft underfoot with gentle turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
The Hired Girl, Laura Amy Schlitz. Looking back on the books I read, I can see this was my favorite of the fiction books. I don’t think I realized when I got this as a 2-for-1 credit deal on Audible that it was a YA book, but it was so wonderful to listen to! Set in the early 1900’s, the lead character is a 14-year-old whose mom has died leaving her to do all the “women’s work” on the farm for her dad and brothers. And it sounds awful, just drudgery bordering on abuse – plus her dad is really terrible to her (verbal abuse vs. physical, though). So she runs away with money her mom had hidden for her and starts work as a hired girl in a home of wealthy store owners in a large city.
The joy of this book is her reactions to this new world, her flowery wording (she’s read a lot of books), and the ideas she has. It’s written in diary form, so you’re getting the whole story just from her point of view and you both laugh and shake your head in wonder that she’s come to the conclusions she has. She is a strong character, though, and makes her way in the world the way I’ve read a lot of young people did at that time. It may be hard for us to imagine now, but her story wasn’t that unusual for that time. Brian even listened to part of this with me and was charmed.
The Good Place, Season 4 – NBC & Netflix We’re sad to know this is the last season of this smart, funny, and thoughtful sitcom. We rarely find sitcoms worth our time, so it will be missed by us for sure.
And football – go Ducks!
Yesterday – (Amazon $5.99 to rent) We loved this movie! It was fun, lighthearted, and super interesting to think about the premise – the world has an odd blackout and afterwards there are lots of things no one remembers, except for the lead character who was hit by a bus when the lights went out. Things like Coke (there’s only Pepsi), Harry Potter, and The Beatles, among others.
The lead character is a musician, so when he realizes no one remembers The Beatles music, he starts performing it and being successful. Until he starts feeling like a fraud. We laughed at parts and enjoyed the music and themes – plus it ended well (hint). If you can rent this, highly recommended.
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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