A monthly list of good things to see, buy, read and watch.
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Hello December, where the northern hemisphere gets darker and the people turn on all the lights, inside and out!
Isn't that so great? On the darkest day of the year for us, there are lights to drive around and see. They are pretty to look at, and for me they help me remember the beauty in the world and that the darkness is fleeting and the days will start to get longer yet again.
I'm lighting all the candles - both real and those on timers (love the timer candles, don't you?) - inside as well and it helps provide a nice cozy feeling.
I hope your Christmas season is starting off well and that you're able to focus on the good things you enjoy amidst all the other things that inevitably come our way this month.
(Remember this Holiday Season Planner can help you prioritize and plan - and it's free in the VIP Library!)
Christmas Tree Farm Visit & 2023 Tree
This year some of our family arranged a visit to a tree farm outside of Salem (Skyline for any locals) the Saturday after Thanksgiving and it turned out to be such a fun way to start the Christmas season.
There were quite a few families that joined and we started at the tree farm where we searched for a Christmas tree, enjoyed hot cider and cocoa around a huge fire pit and lingered in the adorable little Christmas shop.
Afterwards we gathered at my aunt and uncle's place around a huge table for a delicious lunch of soup, salad, bread, and dessert. We talked, laughed, and enjoyed each other's company.
Why have we not done something like this before? It was way better than trudging to a tree farm by ourselves.
So this year we have a real noble fir tree (after trying out a fake tree last year). It was actually cheaper than at the farms and stands near us, so that was an added benefit to the fun day in general.
Because our fake tree's needles are so hard (gloves are provided to decorate with!), I found it easier to decorate this noble fir. It's needles were soft and pliable - and of course released a lovely pine scent whenever I moved them about.
I added mercury glass bulbs and long narrow ribbons to this year's tree, otherwise it's the same traditional ornaments we've used for years (you can see past Christmas decor here). (And the bottle brush trees on the table centerpiece? All but the light green one came from the Dollar Tree!)
So a real tree with a family gathering and visit to a tree farm are good things for sure this month.
Bend Soap Company
I just discovered this semi-local company, which was started by a family in Bend, Oregon when one of their sons had eczema so bad they were trying many things to relieve it and found goats milk soap helped the best.
I don't deal with eczema, but I do love wonderful smelling soaps that have all natural ingredients. I bought the Winterwoods scent (so lovely!) for myself and to add to stockings as well as a set of their lip butter.
The lip butter holiday trio includes peppermint, holly berry (cranberry, grapefruit, and vanilla) and mint mocha and are made with hydrating butters and oils with honey and essential oils for flavor. All the ingredients are listed on the website so you know what you are getting.
I'm excited to have found this company and help support their family business while getting to enjoy soaps and lip balms that are good for my skin! They also have lotions and a few other products.
If you'd like to check them out, CLICK HERE for $10 off an order of $45.
Frugal Idea: Gifts in Jars
I think they're a great option at the holidays because we're often getting (and making) treats and breads and special things. So a mix or jar of things that can be enjoyed later when it's not competing with homemade cookies and treats helps extend the season of giving.
Here's all the jar gifts I've published so far - be on the lookout for more this month!
The Wishing Game, Meg Shaffer. I found this book recommended by a couple people on Instagram as a fun, feel good read. It was a pure comfort read for sure (sometimes to the point of unbelief, but hey, it had a HEA ending!). It's the story of a popular author of kids books who runs a contest to help him promote his first book in awhile and one of the women who participates who feels broken and stuck in life.
The Cheat Sheet, Sarah Adams. Here's a completely unbelievable romance (so should it be a fantasy?), with fun parts and the requisite happily ever after. Long time "best friends," Bree and Nathan (a famous pro football player), realize they are more than friends after having to fake a romance for the press. (This was a bit more open door than I prefer, so skipping happened).
The Measure, Niki Erlick. This is narrated by one of my favorite readers, Julia Whelan, and I had heard quite a bit about it this last year. It's a sci-fi/fantasy about boxes that appear for every person over 22 years old on earth one day (and then on every 22nd birthday of everyone thereafter) that holds a length of indestructible rope. People learn that the length corresponds to how long you will live and you see how society responds to such a change. I was especially fascinated with how quickly the "short strings" were marginalized (why invest in them if they didn't have long to live, etc.) and how a movement was created for support. We follow a number of characters who's ropes are different lengths and what that means for them and their families. There was a twist at the end I didn't see and the whole book itself was really thought provoking for me.
Light Pirate, Lily Brooks-Dalton. This was another book I saw around Instagram, but I didn't end up enjoying this as much as the other book. This is pretty harrowing, with the climate-end-of-the-world-as-we-know it premise that follows the main character from when she is born to her end of life. She loses more than she gains and I found little hope or light in this frightened, lonely girl, just a pervading sense of sadness, as she struggles to cope with what life brings her (I think I'm in the minority in this view, though).
Romantic Comedy, Curtis Sittenfield. I really liked the setting of this book, basically a behind the scenes story of a late-night comedy sketch show like Saturday Night Live which included a lot of details about writing and performing on the show. The slow burn romance was good, too. But I was reminded that the only other book I tried to read by this author turned me off from it's casual sex and sexual overtones (in addition to open door scenes) so I'll be skipping this author in the future.
Double Cross, The True Story of the D-Day Spies, Ben Macintyre. Brian and I listened to this and it's so good in that "truth is stranger than fiction" way that it will probably be on my year end best of list! Many times we looked at each other with our mouths hanging open from what we just heard (like - a number of the spies really were like James Bond, romancing and spending LOTS of money - and they got most of it from the Germans that they were double crossing!!). I mean, I think Ian Flemming based Bond off of some of these characters that he might've even known in his WWII work in British naval intelligence (this wasn't speculated in the book - just me thinking it!). Amazing stuff.
A Time for Confidence: Trusting God in a Post-Christian Society, Stephen J. Nichols. This was published in 2017, and the changes in society in the few years since then just reiterate what the author encourages in this book: that we can believe in God's promises always. Just really encouraging, and empowering to be reminded of this now.
House of Thieves, Charles Belfoure. Oh gosh, I really didn't like this book. I think it was recommended from an email book newsletter and the setting (late 1800s New York) is always interesting to me. BUT, we are supposed to be on the side of a well-off family in New York society who aren't Rockefeller-rich when the whole family, from the 10 year old son, 18 year old daughter, 22 year old gambler son to the parents ALL find they get a kick out of robbing people (and by the end if some killing needs to happen, well so be it). But the people are so rich, so it's all okay, right? UGH. Really so bad, there was nothing redeeming in this and no likable characters. (I'm not in the minority for this book and I wish I would've read some reviews before reading it!)
The Holdovers, theaters, Prime, Apple+. This is a great throwback, heartfelt movie full of real life like people, dialog and situations. A comedy-drama that shows the transformation that can come from understanding and accepting people. A new Christmas classic.
Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Hunger Games prequel), theaters. I've read the Hunger Games books and seen the movies and enjoyed them all, but wasn't interested in this book when it came out - but the movie! It's just a great story told in a way that you see the motivation behind the lead character who becomes evil President Snow, but it's film-noir-ish in that you do not condone anything he does and many things just happen when he makes wrong choices until the end when he fully embraces his path.
On TV we also watched the third season of Only Murders In The Building on Hulu (better than season 2 and Meryl Streep is SO good), and the documentary, Welcome to Wrexham, also on Hulu, about the Welsh soccer team that actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney purchased (I wasn't expecting it to be as good and heartfelt as it is - the little Welsh town and community is so sweet).
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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