lifestyle

A Year of Reading, In Review

stack of books with a teacup on top

I love reading. For education, for entertainment, lighthearted books for passing the time, heavy books to challenge my reading skills…

2020 was going to be my year of finally getting through my massive “To Be Read” book list but, alas, the library closed for quite a few months and derailed that plan. However, I was still able to read through a variety of books, and took the library closure as an opportunity to read through some of the unread books on my own shelves too. I didn’t quite succeed in finishing off my personal collection, but still managed to read 40 books this year, so it was a good year for reading! Thankfully the library opened again in the fall, so I was able to get a few more to last me for the next while. When you’re stuck at home on a bleak winter day, there’s nothing better than curling up in a blanket with a book and a cup of tea, right?

I thought I would share a few of my favourites today, so if you are looking for some books to add to your list, here are my 2020 reading highlights (in order of when I read them).

Wives & Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

wives and daughters book cover

I’ve watched the BBC version of Wives and Daughters and it is excellent. It stars Francesca Annis as one of the main characters, and she is really good in that role. I read North & South last year, (I asked for books for my birthday and Christmas gifts, and was happy to get copies of both North & South and Wives & Daughters.) and was able to get through Wives & Daughters early on in the year. I quite like Elizabeth Gaskell’s writing. There weren’t any surprises, since I have watched the film, but it was still an enjoyable way to spend a few days. I would like to read some of her other works- I’ve added Mary Barton to my list.

The Panic Virus by Seth Mnookin

The Panic Virus book coverI heard about this book a couple of years ago, and had it on my library list for quite a while. It delves into the history of vaccinations and all of the scandals and cover ups that have come along with them (and that still plague us today). It kind of sounds like a boring topic, but it is actually a really good book. It is quite well written and surprisingly engaging. 10/10 would recommend this one if you like medical history and science!

Quiet by Susan Cain

Quiet book cover

I had also heard of this one a couple of years ago, from Susan Cain’s TED talk, so I added it to my library list. It wasn’t mind blowing, but it was a helpful book for me to read, to learn about some of the differences between introverts and extroverts, and how to use my introvert tendencies as a strength instead of a limitation. It’s a slower paced book, but was well researched and informative.

The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson

The Body book cover

Hands down, this was one of the most enjoyable reads of my year. This is an interesting overview of the human body, but it was funny and witty as well. It is a thick book, but is broken up into small, manageable sections, so you can pick it up and read a little bit without losing your place and having to start over.  I never understand why textbooks can take an interesting topic and distill it down into the most boring format possible- this book is really the furthest thing from being a textbook (it’s actually fun to read) and I learned so much. I also thought that the index was good, so you can find sections easily if you want to read about a certain topic again.

The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth by Thomas Morris

The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth book cover

Another medical book (What can I say? I love reading about science and medicine!) This book recounts some of the hilarious, horrifying and miraculous medical cases from historical medical journals. The book is compiled of excerpts from journals (all written in proper Old English, which makes it even better) but the best part of the book is the commentary that Thomas Morris offers alongside. He has the perfect dry/dark sense of humour that lands just right. I read this one, and then I made my sister and mom read it too!

King Raven Series (Hood, Scarlet & Tuck) by Stephen R. Lawhead

King Raven trilogy book covers

This series is a reimagined version of the tales of Robin Hood, set in Wales during the 11th century. It’s the perfect blend of history, action and adventure. Each book is told from the perspective of a different character (Robin Hood, Will Scarlet and Friar Tuck) and I really enjoyed the story. The author did so much research into this time period and his world building was very believable and realistic. Even though Robin Hood is likely a legend, after reading this series he definitely seems real! I do love a good historical fiction series to escape into and I can see myself re-reading this series again in a few years.

How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman

How to be a Victorian book cover

I had heard good reviews of this book, but after reading the back cover, I was kind of wondering whether it would be one of those “corsets are oppressive” sorts of history books. However, I was pleasantly surprised as it was nothing like that! I learned quite a bit about daily life in the Victorian era- the author is a British historian and was actually part of BBC’s historic farm television series. She had a lot of insight about what life could have been like (of course, she points out, we’ll never know completely) during the era. This book was also broken up into manageable sections, so you can pick it up and put it down as you have time. As a lover of vintage and history, this was a great one to read!

You’re Not Enough (And That’s Okay) by Allie Beth Stuckey

You're Not Enough book cover

I listen to Allie Beth Stuckey’s podcast occasionally, so was interested to read her first book. She tackles the self help and self love culture that is so prevalent today, and how it is ultimately unfulfilling and empty. There was lots to ponder in this book, and I am debating adding this one to my library so I can re-read and refer back to it in the future.

Death in the Clouds and The Hollow by Agatha Christie

Death in the Clouds and The Hollow book covers

I do love a good murder mystery, and if you haven’t read any of Agatha Christie’s, you are missing out: there is a reason why she is the most popular writer of the 20th century! I received a whole stack of her books for my birthday in October and, while I haven’t gotten through all of them yet, these are my two favourites so far. Both of them are Poirot mysteries, and very quick enjoyable stories. I can never guess who the murderer is!

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsely

Jane Austen at Home book cover

My last read for this year was this biography of Jane Austen (who is also one of my favourite authors!) I have watched some of Lucy Worsely’s BBC histories, and have found them engaging and entertaining; her ‘If Walls Could Talk: The History of the Home” series is a really good one. I’ve read a couple of other biographies of Jane Austen, but I quite liked this one. Of course so much has been lost to history, and we’ll never truly know Jane, but I feel like I got a glimpse of her in this book, and she really does feel like a kindred spirit. I am also debating adding this one to my personal library too!

—-

Fields of Joy by Ruth Chou Simons

fields of joy book cover and pages

Ok, actually my last book of the year, which I haven’t completely read, is this one, Fields of Joy. My friend gave it to me for Christmas, and it was the most unexpected, yet lovely, gift! It’s not a book designed to be read cover to cover, but is filled with pages of verses and watercolour artwork, so you can read a page each day. This is going to be a good one to keep on my bedside table to refer back to often.

So, those are my favourite reads from this year! Have you read any of these titles? What were your favourite books from this year? Do you keep track of how many books you read each year?

(Also, on a side note, I noticed that my library prints on their receipts how much money you’ve saved by using the library, instead of buying books, and I saved $363.43 this year!)

Last Minute Christmas Gifts: Homemade Body Butter

body butter gift under the tree, the artyologist

Is it really only one more week until Christmas?

I read a while ago that this year has kind of been like Rip Van Winkle and, for me, I would agree. While my daily routine has definitely slowed down, time seems to be rushing by, and it all feels a bit surreal. While we’ve already passed the halfway point for December, it still feels like this year has gone by so slowly. In some ways it does seem like I’m sleeping while the world continues spinning by…

Well, in case time has gotten away from you too, and you need some last minute gifts, today I am sharing a zero-waste inspired Christmas gift you can easily make in a few hours. The great thing is that it mostly uses items you might already have around the house! This is a bit different than the topics I usually discuss here, but I kind of like branching out into new topics, and this definitely fits into the “lifestyle’ category.

I don’t know where I found this recipe- I think from a zero waste blogger or Instagrammer, but you can easily find these sorts of recipes with a quick google search of “diy natural body butter”. This is just the one I make because I bought a huge pail of shea butter several years ago, and I am trying to work my way through it (slowly!).

Easy Homemade Natural Body Butter

1 part coconut oil

1 part sweet almond oil (or light olive oil)

2 parts shea butter

Optional: essential oil of your choice

I usually make this recipe with sweet almond oil, but since I used up all of my almond oil while making soap, I couldn’t find any more! Usually I would get it at the health food store, but they didn’t have any. After a bit of research it appears that light olive oil works as a substitute, and it seems to be working just as well. I would definitely recommend light, not regular oil, so there isn’t a strong olive smell.

Also, I used lavender essential oil, but you can definitely make it unscented.

I also saw several other recipes used cocoa butter instead of shea, so you could probably try that too. Basically the most important part is that you need to have equal parts oil to butter.

Heat your oils and butter in a double boiler until it is completely melted, then place in the refrigerator to cool. I forgot to take any photos of this process, but it is pretty straightforward. Once it has solidified (several hours depending on how much you have made), then take it out and immediately whip with a blender until it is white and fluffy. It’s like magic how quickly it beats up! Then add some essential oils, 4-5 drops, if desired and mix in completely.

I am sure there is a shelf life on homemade body butters (probably a few months?) but to be honest I haven’t had any problems with it going rancid. I keep mine in my nightstand drawer, and I have had this last batch for probably 9 months, and I’ve never had any bacteria growth or funky smells or anything. This is a very moisturizing (albeit greasy) body butter, perfect for winter dryness; I use it on my feet, or as a lip balm.

Once you’ve whipped up the butter, then you are ready to decant it into jars.

I have been collecting these face lotion jars for the past few years, because I hate throwing things out, and I was sure I could find a use for them, even if for just organizing/storage. However a few months ago, I thought of an even better use- to repurpose as gifts (a zero waste win!). I used nail polish remover to take the labels off, and then sterilized the jars by running them through the dishwasher and heating the lids with boiling water.

They worked perfectly to hold about 3 tbsp of body butter- the perfect amount to try it out, without having to commit to using for the next few years! Any small jar would work great, maybe a small spice jar? Or a tiny canning jar?

I also decided to include the recipe in with the gift. I purchased this recipe card printable in the spring from local-ish artist Jenni Haikonen, as it’s so nice to give people recipes written on a pretty card, rather than any old paper, isn’t it?

I wrapped the gift up in some brown paper bags I have had for years, tied them with some recycled ribbons and twine (I always save ribbons and string whenever I get a package etc. in order to reuse them) and added some homemade Victorian Christmas tags. And there you have a lovely little gift for friends, coworkers or anyone else you want to give a gift to this season!

Well, I hope you enjoy making this recipe, if you decide to, and also hope that you have a very Merry Christmas season!

How to Make a Folded Heart Valentine Card

how to make a folded heart valentine card, the artyologist

Happy Valentines Day everyone!

Valentines Day is one of my favourite holidays in the year! It’s just so lovely to send people cards and notes to tell them how much you love them, don’t you think?

This year, I decided to try something a little different and make some folded heart cards. Years ago my sister made me a card like this (out of neon yellow paper!). I thought it was so cute, so I thought I’d replicate them this year to give to people…but not in neon yellow! If you need a last minute card, this is a nice and simple one that only takes a few minutes. It is similar to origami, but since you cut the paper, I don’t think it truly counts as origami. Nevertheless, it is a cute design and only requires a rectangle of paper and a ribbon if you’d like to tie it shut…keep reading for how to!

How to Make a Folded Heart Valentine Card

Step 1: All you’ll need for this card is a piece of paper that is twice as wide as it is tall- example 3” x 6”, 4” x 8” etc. You can make it as small or as large as you’d like! If you’re sending it in the mail, make sure you don’t make your card too big to fit in an envelope!

folded heart valentine card step 1

Step 2. Mark the centre of the paper. You don’t have to make a line all the way down like I have in the photo- a small tick at the top will be fine, since this will be the inside of the card!

folded heart valentine card step 3

Step 3. Fold one edge of the paper into the centre and crease

Step 4. Repeat with the other edge of the paper.

folded heart valentine card step 5

Step 5. Fold the bottom edge diagonally into the centre to form the bottom of the heart.

Step 6: Repeat on the other side, to finish forming the bottom of the heart.

folded heart valentine card step 7

Step 7: Take your ruler and mark where the middle of each side is. For example, this card is 3” wide, so I am marking at 3/4” and 2 1/4” .

Step 8: Fold the top edge diagonally where you have marked, to start creating the top of the heart.

folded heart valentine card step 9

Step 9: Repeat with the other side.

Step 10: Now fold down the flaps diagonally. You won’t be able to fold the back of the card yet, but we’ll do that in the next step! We will now cut where the dashed line is in the photo.

folded heart valentine card step 11

Step 11: Now that the back of the card has had a small cut, it will be able to fold diagonally to finish forming the top of the heart.

Step 12: Repeat on the other side.

folded heart valentine card step 13

Step 13: I had a hard time photographing this step, but open the card slightly and “pop” the folded parts inside out, so they are now folded inside the card.

Step 14: Now you are finished folding! Go along all the edges and crease them again, so you’ve got a nice crisp edge.

folded heart valentine card step 15

Step 15: If you’d like. You can tie a ribbon around the card to hold it shut. You could also seal it with a sticker (or a wax seal if you’ve got one!).

There you go: a quick, easy Valentine card to show someone you care!

valentine envelopes

Another special touch, is a matching envelope. I made these envelopes out of coordinating papers- they’ll add such a cheerful pop of colour in my friends’ mailboxes!

Do you like Valentines Day? What are your plans this year? Did you send cards or plan on giving cards to your friends?

Minimalist Christmas

berry and branch christmas bouquet

There are only 8 days left until Christmas!

Does it seem like December has been going by quickly? It definitely doesn’t feel like it’s the middle of December already…

I decorated early for Christmas this year. Well, early for me, at least. For some people, “early” would mean the beginning of November. For some, it would be any time before December. For me, it means I decorated the last weekend of November. Usually I wait to decorate until the first weekend of December, but this year I was gone that weekend… so November it was!

white berries and branch bouquets in milk glass and miniature evergreens

I don’t have much room to display things and decorate in this apartment, so I went for a very minimal Christmas decor this year. I already tend towards natural, minimal holiday decor for all seasons, so I focused on natural and simple elements to decorate with. I kind of want my decor to look like it was gathered while on a walk in the woods; which a bunch of it actually was! I added evergreen bouquets, berry and branch bouquets, a garland, pinecones tucked in amongst pictures, and fairy lights to create that cozy Christmas feel in my apartment. I wasn’t able to pull out my vintage ornament collection this year, since I just don’t have any place to display them because of the way this apartment is set up.

I did pick up a few new items (the perils of working at a decorating store!) but they are items I am going to be glad to use for years to come. The red berries really added a nice pop of colour to my branch bouquet. I tried the bouquet without the red berries, and it was just a little too boring. Also you may recall, if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, that I used this vase (which is actually a candle holder) last year with an evergreen bouquet in it. Well, that was a mistake. I lined the vase with a bag, then filled it with sand and was able to keep the branches watered and alive for several weeks with that. However, in January, when I went to empty it out…when I pulled out the bag, all of the silver paint came off the glass too! I was left with a clear glass vase, that looked quite terrible. Fortunately I do have some old silver glass paint I bought years ago for a project, and was able to repaint it over the summer. Thus- this year was a branch bouquet that didn’t involve any water!

miniature house in a glass cloche

I also found this tiny sparkly wreath and fell in love with it (even though it’s not “natural” in any way) so that one had to come home with me too. And, the little cloche, which I picked up a few months ago (I do have a weakness for cloches…) originally had a miniature crown under the glass, but I got it with the express idea of making a little house to display under for winter. I like that I can use it for all seasons, so it’s been quite versatile that way.

I’ve really been trying to cut down on my spending and collecting, and have been on a total minimalism kick lately. I’m nowhere near as minimalist as some people are- I still love my decorations and books and pictures and “stuff”, but I’ve really been thinking about how much decor I want to own and store, especially because I’ve moved so many times in the past couple of years (and moving is hard, when you own lots of stuff!). I’ve decided that I will only have two boxes of seasonal decor…and deciding this in the past few weeks has actually helped me a lot of avoid some really cute holiday decor impulse buys!

I would still like to find a nativity, but I haven’t found one yet that I really like. I’ve been looking in the thrift stores for the past several years hoping that someone will have decided to part with a nice, simple ceramic one like my mom has…but so far I haven’t found anything. Oh well, one day I will find a set!

wooden christmas garland

wooden slice christmas garland

I wasn’t sure at first how I was going to decorate my place for Christmas, since I don’t have a buffet, or mantle or anything like that to decorate and briefly debated whether I should decorate at all, but I’m so glad I decided to dig my boxes out and put a bit of festive decor up, because it certainly brightened things up and added some lovely holiday cheer. I honestly don’t love living in this apartment, but decorating and making things look nice can make such a big difference to the atmosphere of your home, don’t you think?

Do you like to decorate for holidays? Are you a minimalist when it comes to decor, or do you like to go all out? And what is your favourite Christmas decoration?

cloche filled with pinecones and fairy lights

evergreen christmas bouquet

Give Me Plants and Books and Tea…

house plants, the artyologist

It seems a little strange to be sharing a house tour today, since I’m not living in this apartment anymore! I took these photos a week before we moved out, fully intending to blog them, but when our whole housing situation became a housing fiasco, I didn’t really feel like sharing them. It’s been a few months now though, so I can look at the pictures without nostalgia: I do miss the way we’d decorated it, but a few months later, I don’t miss living there! There were things I really liked about living here, such as the neighbourhood, the view from our living room window and the amazing amount of closet space (seven closets in 800 sq.ft!). But there were definitely things I didn’t like: the noise between the apartments, the terrible bathroom, and the extreme heat in the summer. So, all in all, I’m not sad to be out of this place, but I’m glad I took some photos before we moved to remember it by.

bookshelf

First the living room. This is my trusty old IKEA shelf, that perfectly fit on the only wall that didn’t have a baseboard heater. Someday I’d love to make or get a wooden shelf, but until that day this one does well. (Although every time I move, my brother and Dad would say they’d like if that day came sooner: this one is awful to move, since it has to go in one piece!)

plants-and-books, the artyologist

You can quickly tell after entering our house that my sister and I have two great loves: books and plants! (hence the title of this post) We’ve completely filled this shelf between the two of us, and have even more books hiding behind the first layer, and on other shelves! The portrait in the top right shelf is my “Georgian novel hero”. I bought it as a gift for my brother, and then ended up keeping it for myself, as the portrait just seemed to belong amongst the Classics section.

This is my favourite chair that I found in a thrift store, back before “vintage” furniture got expensive. It’s surprisingly comfortable, and still in quite good condition. And, this little hot air balloon just hangs out in the fig tree. I got this tree for free when my church moved buildings. For some reason they decided that they didn’t want it in the new place, which didn’t make any sense to me, but I was more than happy to adopt it and bring it home! Until I find a more permanent place though, I’m going to leave it at my family’s house, as it’s not happy to be moved a lot.

You might recognize that I have several iconic IKEA pieces, including my borrowed sofa, and my striped rug. As much as I love my rug, it is horrible to keep clean, so I would probably not purchase it if I’d known that back then. I love a lot of the pieces that IKEA comes out with each year, but I am always hesitant to buy them, as they are so recognizable that I don’t want my house to end up looking like a catalogue!

The decor in our living room is quite bright and punchy, and it is not anywhere near what I’d like to have someday. Red is my least favourite colour, but since I am borrowing the sofa from my parents until I find one of my own, it will have to do. I’d eventually like to get a cream and mustard floral or brocade settee, but haven’t found just the right one yet.

gallery-wall

One of the problems I have with decorating is that I have too much artwork and too few walls. We did a gallery wall in the living room to help with this problem. This also worked well, as there were a lot of nail holes in this wall from previous tenants, so I didn’t feel bad adding a few more. It also worked to cover up all the holes, so we weren’t stuck looking at them. We did a black, gold and cream theme, which I liked since it looked cohesive, yet still had variety. (I also noticed, after I took these pictures, that I never centred the photo in that large white frame-oops!)

books-and-tea

Here is the aforementioned “tea” alongside the plants and books in the title. I couldn’t happily live in a house with no plants! At last count I have twenty-two plants (not counting my sister’s)!

dining-room-2

This is the view from the kitchen, to the dining room/office/art room. The living room is to the right of the picture (where the wall jogs in on the edge of the photo). I didn’t take a photo of the kitchen, since there really wasn’t anything interesting about it. It had cabinets from the 70’s and no place to hang artwork, so it was quite boring and un-photogenic.

dining-room-1

This is my sister’s china cabinet in the corner, which holds our collection of blue and white china. We inherited many of these pieces from my Gramma, and some are pieces I’ve purchased along the way.

desk-1

Here’s the art desk in the dining room (that I actually didn’t do too much art at, unfortunately.) Quite a few of the furniture pieces in our place were borrowed from my parents. It’s always nice when your parents love antique furniture and you get to put it in your place 🙂

bedroom-1

And lastly my bedroom, which was a very small room, and had just enough room for a walkway around my bed. It had two closets though, which was absolutely lovely for all my hats!

bedroom-2

Hang vintage fashion artwork in your closet and dresses on your closet doors- it makes it so much prettier!

bedroom-3

Well, that’s it!

I do love decorating, and the thing that I love about decorating my own home is creating my own personal style. I don’t like to follow trends or styles too closely, and while I might incorporate a few here and there, our place doesn’t fit into any one “niche”, but is mostly made up of collected pieces we love. I think it has a rather eclectic vintage feel- what do you think?

How do you like to decorate your home? And does your decorating fit into one specific style, or a mix of many?