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December/2020 Reading Wrap-up

2020 has been a year full of many things, but one thing that this year had brought me is a lot of reading time. This past year, I managed to read 114 books, thanks to the pandemic, my discovery of e-books and audiobooks, participating in readathons, and just making more time to read than ever before. I also managed to end this reading year on a high note. As of December 30, I have read 8 books during the month, and I don’t think that I will finish the two books that I am reading. Many of them were holiday reads.

So, let’s talk about what I read in December first. As mentioned before, I used December as a chance to indulge in all of the holiday reads. During the month I read:

  • Mind the Gap, Dash and Lilly by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn: This is the last book currently in the Dash and Lilly series and talks about how the main characters navigate being in a long distance relationship. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.
  • Comfort and Joy by Kristin Hannah: This Christmas, Joy is lacking joy. So, she takes a trip to a faraway town — only to get into a plane crash. She then encounters a young man and his son, whose relationship is in need of repair because of divorce and death. I gave this three out of five stars.
  • In A Holidaze by Christina Lauren: Mae has gone to the same holiday house every single Christmas. However, before boarding the plane to go home, she learns that it’s going to be her last. She gets into an accident, and then wakes up back on the plan — five days earlier. She then relives this experience over and over again — destined to try to save the place that is the background of her childhood memories. There is a romance, and all of this book was amazing. I gave it four out of five stars.
  • Recommended for You by Laura Silverman: Shoshanna Greenberg works at her local bookstore, and is working to save her car, Barbra Streisand. Her moms are broke. The bookstore then offers the employees a competition — whoever sells the books gets $250. Shoshanna thinks that the prize is hers — until new employee Jake becomes her biggest competition. What frustrates her? The fact that he is not a huge reader. This book was so cute, and was the perfect romantic comedy I needed to bring joy. I gave this book four out five stars.
  • The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand: Holly is a superficial and spoiled teenager whose only focuses are beauty and money. She encounters her Ghost of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Future, in the effort to change her ways. She didn’t, so she became a ghost. Year after year, Holly is a part of Project Scrooge, where she is stuck in the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past. Miserable in her afterlife, Holly soon becomes obsessed with saving this year’s Project Scrooge to try to save him from the same fate. I gave this book four out of five stars.
  • A Princess For Christmas by Jenny Holiday: This book is basically a rated R Hallmark movie. Princess Marie of Endovia comes to New York, and encounters struggling cab driver, Leo Ricci when he’s driving his little sister Gabby home, who spots someone in a princess gown on the street. Impressed by him, Marie then asks Leo to be her cab driver for the rest of her time there for a huge sum of money — something that Leo could use. The two begin to fall for each other, and the rest is a wonderful fairytale. I gave this book four out of five stars.
  • The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Jenny Bayliss: Kate Turner is frustrated with her dating life and just wants a relationship to last. So, she signs up for the 12 dates of Christmas challenge, a series of dates with 12 different men. However, she always ends up in her best friend’s arms. This novel is entertaining and the situations that Kate got into made me laugh. I gave it four out of five stars.
  • Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory: Vivian Forest, single mother of Maddie Forest, has never done anything for herself. So, when Maddie is offered an opportunity to style the Royal Family, she brings her mother along too to celebrate Christmas. Never in Vivian’s wildest dreams, did she expect to meet and fall in love with the Queen’s Secretary, Malcom. This story was amazing, and enjoyable to read, as well as a book that I never could manage to put down. I gave it five out of five stars.

Now, let’s take a look at the books that I read in 2020. In 2020, I managed to read 114 books. I will not list all of them, but I do want to share my top reads of the year. Those were:

  • The After Series by Anna Todd
  • Again, But Better by Christine Riccio
  • In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
  • Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  • Falling by Jane Green
  • Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  • House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin Craig
  • Fixing Freddie by Paula Munier
  • The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn
  • Didn’t See That Coming by Rachel Hollis
  • Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory
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Lacking Holiday Spirit? These Holiday Light Displays Will Get You In the Christmas Spirit

Merry Christmas everyone! I know that the holiday season is a little different this year, but I hope that everyone reading this stays safe and healthy.

That said, one of the things that have remained the same is the holiday light displays throughout the state of Connecticut. While there is stormy weather predicted for today, all of these displays will be scheduled through January 2, 2020.

Furthermore, I would like to thank all of my friends and family who had submitted photos and videos for this post. It is very much appreciated!

Holiday Light Fantasia, Hartford CT:

Located in Goodwin Park, this two mile display has over 1 million lights, according to its page on CTVisit. And, this display benefits a good cause — the Channel 3 Kids Camp. Admission is $15 per passenger car, and all details about this display can be viewed here.

Video Submitted by Paige Tillinghast

Magic of Lights, Wallingford:

The Oakdale Theater may have been quiet this year, but that then inspired the Magic of Lights. The event runs through January 13, 2021, and offers photos with Santa as well. Tickets are $30 per car for advanced purchase, and $40 at the door. For further details, check out their website.

Video Submitted by Leah Myers

Fantasy of Lights, New Haven CT:

This place has a special place in my heart because my parents used to work on this together back in 1994. Running through December 31, this display costs $10 per car and proceeds benefit the Goodwill of Southern New England. To view further details, click here.

Photo Submitted by Natalie Asarisi

Festival of Silver Lights, Hubbard Park, Meriden:

This free display has over 350,000 lights, according to CTVisit. Add in the beautiful lake, this display is gorgeous. For further information, be sure to check it out by going here.

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Milford Residents Show Christmas Cheer With #MilfordChallenge

Residents in Milford have taken on the challenge to end 2020 on a high note. All throughout the city from Devon to the downtown area to Woodmont, the street signs have been sporting holiday decorations for the last month.

It all began a single Facebook post from Milford resident Sharon Rutledge. Rutledge said she simply decorated her street sign as a way to spread some holiday cheer and then posted a picture of it to share on a Milford Community Facebook group called “You Know You Live In Milford, CT If. . .” The post, posted on November 28, 2020 by Rutledge, had a photo of Rutledge’s decorated street sign with the caption: “Milford challenge!! In an effort to bring more joy to out streets for the holiday season… let’s see how many street signs we can decorate!! Here’s mine! I’d love to see this catch on and you all post your pics!!!”

As of December 23, 2020, that post had over 400 reactions, and over 100 comments — many of the Milford residents who decided to take on the challenge for themselves. And, there are also hundreds of posts with the hashtag #milfordchallenge on Facebook as well.

Rutledge said that none of this was planned.

“I wish I could say that I planned this and had a goal in mind, but, I didn’t,” said Rutledge. “I simply wanted to decorate our street sign as a way to wish my neighbors happy holidays.  It has been such a sad and difficult year for so many, it was just my very little way of trying to bring some extra joy.”

While this is the first year of the Milford challenge, Rutledge said she was unsure that this would become an annual tradition.

“A lot depends on how proactive people are about removing the decorations in a timely manner,” said Rutledge. “I will publicize on the Facebook page about setting a goal of 1/6 for removal and I hope people cooperate.  The last thing I want is poles left decorated past the holiday season that would cause liter and make our city look less beautiful than it is.”

However, even though it is Christmas Eve, it is not too late to participate.

“It’s NEVER too late,” Rutledge said.

Check out some of the street signs decorated with for the #MilfordChallenge below:

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What I Love Wednesday: December 23, 2020

Happy Wednesday! There are only two days left before Christmas and I couldn’t be more excited. While this holiday looks different than in years past, I still am looking forward to spoiling Lucy with her gifts.

That said, I want to share my favorites for the week. Many of them are television shows since I’ve been binge watching a lot more as of late.

Bee Gees How Can You Mend a Broken Heart Documentary: I watched this last Friday night and I absolutely loved this movie. It tells the story of The Bee Gees from their formation to the disco days. In that documentary, you see a lot of footage of the band as they grow up and you learn a lot about the era of their music. It is definitely worth the watch. And I’m not going to lie, it made me interested in listening to them a lot. You can watch it on HBO Max.

After We Collided: I was obsessed with the After series for the first part of the year and I have been waiting for this movie to come out since last December. It continues the story of Tessa and Hardin and their crazy relationship. This movie is kinda trashy but kinda addicting — just like the books. I already can’t wait for the third one. You can watch both After movies on Netflix.

A VSCO photo from the summer. My username is nattbarletta.

VSCO: Lately, I’ve been really into using the app VSCO to edit my photos and just take more photography. I got one back in 2016 and rarely used it, but I have been loving taking simple snapshots of things in my life and turning them into beautiful photos. In the new year, I want to make more time for the things that I love, and photography is one of them.

Apple Watch Band: I mentioned this yesterday in my Amazon Haul, and I really love this band. I’ve been using it since I got it and I love it because it’s unique looking and comfortable to wear.

So, those are this week’s favorites. What are your favorites? Let me know in the comments below!

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Amazon Haul

Lately, I’ve been really taking advantage of my Prime membership this past week. I go through phases of using my membership to buy stuff off of Amazon and then there are times I don’t.

Most of these are items that I wanted to add to my kitchen or actually needed in other areas of my life. Now that all of my packages are in, here’s what I recently got from Amazon:

Home:

Smart Light Bulbs: I have yet to set these up, but these are really cool. I wanted these because I wanted to be able to change the color of the light bulb, so I can have warmer tones at night. A two pack of these were $20, and it syncs with Alexa, which is always good.

Food Clips: I have a set of two, and it hasn’t been cutting it lately. Therefore, I picked up a pack of these to stick on my fridge and use whenever I need a clip for things like chips, baking stuff, etc. If you’re looking for something that is a great stocking stuffer, this is it.

Coasters: Other than the ones in my bedroom, I have only one coaster in my house that has been living in my office since I’ve been working from home. I love this because I can leave these on the kitchen table and have enough to just leave in the kitchen for dinner, whenever I have people over, or whenever I drink coffee or tea in my living room. I really like these because I have the Antropologie ones in my bedroom — and these are the same quality at a much better price.

Salad Chopper: I saw this on a recent Brook Miccio video, and I really loved it because I have the hardest time chopping lettuce for salads and tacos. I love this gadget because I can use it for so many different things, and also eat healthier in the new year. I have not tried it yet, but will let you know how it goes.

Cake Carrier: I’ve been looking for an affordable cake carrier for months, and I loved the color. I bake a lot of cakes, however, I would just use a plate and foil to keep them. That usually resulted in the cake being melted and the frosting coming off. I am so excited for this, because not only can I store the cake in a great place, but I can bring it anywhere if needed.

Fashion:

Rose Gold/Large Silver Hoop Earrings: I purchased two different variations of this earring, and I absolutely loved them both. Many of you know that I am a huge fan of earrings and investing in nicer pieces. However, I didn’t want to invest in earrings that I knew that I may not wear that often. Therefore, I picked out the rose gold and the larger silver pair of these. So far, I am really impressed with the quality of these, and I really am glad that I purchased them.

Sterling Silver Hoop Earrings: Yes, another pair of hoops. I have a smaller set of these from SV Decker, and I love these because they are the same, but they are bigger. I really like these because they are lightweight, and they don’t get caught in your mask as well.

Pavoi Stud Earrings: I loved these earrings, because they can be good for my first hole or my second one. In person, they are small, but that’s okay. They are gorgeous, and I am so excited to wear them.

Flat Hoop Earrings: These are a little heavy, but these are adorable. These are a little different than my other hoops, and this are a great way to shake up your hoops.

Twisted Hoop Earrings: Last but not least is that I picked out these twisted hoops. I love these earrings. They are amazing quality, and they are lightweight. They are so affordable, and if I don’t wear them everyday, it won’t break the bank.

Tech:

Phone Stand: I love this for three different reasons. One, it’s a great tripod to take pictures. Two, it’s a place to hold my phone whenever I am working in my office. Three, this is a great way to hold my iPad when I work out as well so it doesn’t slip. I’ve already used it a lot, and I’m really happy that I picked this item out.

Apple Watch Band: I love this band because not only does this change up my Apple Watch, but I don’t have to swap this out when I’m working out. This is a different band then what I am used to, and so far, I am really loving it.

Beauty:

Wet Brush: My need for a hairbrush is what started it all. I’ve had a ton of these brushes throughout the years, and my old one had the bristles fall out. Big yikes. That said, I picked this one up and this was such a great deal. I personally love using the Wet brushes, so I am happy that Amazon has them if need be.

And, that is all that I purchased from Amazon. It is safe to say that I will be off of it for a while, but I am so glad that I have found all of these items. And, I do want to end it by saying that all of these items were less than $20 each, which is amazing.

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Tips To Save Extra Money Without A Side Job

Because of my work hours, I am not able to hold a part time job. Which is fine. However, I do want to make a little extra money, especially since I want to try to bulk up my savings account in 2021. Many of the things are pretty simple, but they can definitely help you make a few extra bucks.

Don’t Spend As Much: It’s very easy to spend a lot of money, and life is expensive. However, before you look into getting another job, why don’t you look into what you can cut in your budget. One of the things that I actually have cut out was buying coffee out, which saved so much money. Other things that you can cut out include: buying food out, and Amazon purchases.

Sell Some of Your Old Stuff: This is the time of year where everyone wants to declutter, so why don’t you go through your closet to see which clothes you are no longer wearing or have been gathering dust? Those clothes/purses can be sold on Poshmark or be brought to your local consignment store. What’s good is that you can makes some money for clothes that you will actually wear or use.

Coupon: I think that it’s a great thing to coupon, because you can save a lot of money. Couponing is only great however if you only buy items that you already use. One of the tips that I have is to get the apps of stores that you already buy things, such as Target and CVS, and load coupons right on your phone. Furthermore, what’s good about those apps is not only are they in one place, they also help you accumulate points to help go towards more purchases.

Buy a Brita: It’s 2020. If you’re buying bottled water, then seriously switch to a Brita. I love this because of the fact that you spend $17, it can save hundreds of dollars a year in groceries. The only thing that you had to do is replace the filters once every three months, but it honestly saves so much money in the long term.

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Talking About Grief and Holidays

Christmas time is here. While this is the most joyful time of year for many, for people who have suffered a loss of any kind, this is the time of year that hurts the most. Sure, holiday drinks and the joyful traditions that come with the holiday surely help. However, there will always be a reminder that my mom isn’t there to celebrate.

This is my second Christmas without my mother. Last year, I tried to do some of the same traditions that my mom and I did together. However, it just felt really weird. I know that happens when you do something for many years, and then you start an entirely new tradition. During the entire Christmas season, I kept on thinking I miss my mom. And, guess what? That is completely normal.

The sad reality about this is that there is not remedy for this loss that I’ve experienced. And, I’ve learned that the most important thing to do is just allow myself that feeling. I know that it’s crazy, but the more that I try to bottle everything up, the worst that it is going to be. I think by giving yourself that allowance, it really helps you realize that it is okay to feel your feelings.

One of the things that also helped me was “giving” my mom a present. Okay, this sounds weird, but basically I would just buy myself a Christmas gift and not open it until Christmas. It’s a way that makes me feel like I am kind of purchasing her a gift. Last year, it was my Tiffany and Co. Bean Necklace, and I put it in my stocking for me not to open until Christmas. This year, I took advantage of the Pandora sales, and decided to just wear them now.

Another thing that has been helpful is just visiting her grave as much as I can during the holidays as well. I have a hard time visiting my mom’s grave to the point where the only way I am able to do so is with my dog, but doing so the holidays and other special occasions helps me feel as though she is included.

Finally, the best advice is to just take some time for yourself and self care. Self care is something that isn’t selfish, and is especially important during this time of year. So, take some time to indulge in relaxing, and indulging in just slowing down. Furthermore, I’ve found it very important to keep up your healthy habits, such as working out, drinking water, and relaxing.

I know this time of year is usually busy (2020 is going to be different) but making sure you allow yourself to do things such as journal, drink a cup of tea, and working out is super important. This can be hard when balancing family and friends obligations, however, remember that putting yourself first is what matters.

Overall, the holidays definitely intensify the pain of losing a loved one. I am no expert, but all I can say that is just giving yourself the space and the grace to feel your feelings is what gets you through it.

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2020 Mashed Potato Book Wrap-Up

Now that it’s the last few days of 2020, I want to begin wrapping up my reading from the past year. One of the challenges that I’ve had for this year was to get to my mashed potato book list, which is basically a list of books that I’ve had on my TBR for over six months.

If you don’t remember the list, here it is:

  1. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
  2. The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah
  3. I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella
  4. One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus
  5. China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
  6. The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai
  7. The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
  8. Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner
  9. Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  10. All the Light We Can Not See by Anthony Doerr
  11. American Royals by Katherine McGee
  12. Small Great Things by Jodi Picolt
  13. Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith
  14. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
  15. Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlene
  16. Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan
  17. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
  18. Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell
  19. Love at First Like by Hannah Orenstien
  20. Start Here by Trish Dollar
  21. Opposite of Always by Justin Reynolds

Of that, I’ve read 9 books. These include:

  1. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
  2. The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah
  3. I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella
  4. One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus
  5. China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
  6. The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai
  7. The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
  8. Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner
  9. Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  10. All the Light We Can Not See by Anthony Doerr
  11. American Royals by Katherine McGee
  12. Small Great Things by Jodi Picolt
  13. Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith
  14. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
  15. Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlene
  16. Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan
  17. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
  18. Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell
  19. Love at First Like by Hannah Orenstien
  20. Start Here by Trish Dollar
  21. Opposite of Always by Justin Reynolds

While I am proud of my progress, I hope to get to the rest of the books in 2021. My goals for next year is to try to buy books more intentionally to get to these books that I haven’t gotten to yet.

That said, stay tuned for my 2021 Mashed Potato Reading List!

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Eating My Way Around CT: Hair of the Dog in Milford

Burgers are my favorite food group, and I recently discovered Hair of the Dog in Milford. Hair of the Dog is a fairly new restaurant located in the Devon area right before the Stratford line. 

The restaurant is a very small place, but packs a very mighty punch. 

The menu can be broken down by appetizers, burgers, tacos, soups, salads, pizzas, and wings. You know, standard bar fare. Furthermore, they have a variety of sides including waffle fries, sweet potato fries, and salads. And, all burgers are served on a pretzel bun, which is amazing. 

What is cool about the menu is that many of the items are actually song references, which I really enjoy. For example, the appetizer section is called Wanna Be Starting Something. Some other examples include All In All It’s Another Soup in the Wall, and Don’t Go Bacon My Heart. 

The decor is pretty true to the name. There are a lot of fun dog pictures scattered across the place, which adds a fun element to the restaurant. 

My boyfriend and I got two burgers during our visit. He got the Don’t Go Bacon My Heart, while I got A Little Bit of Sandra in the Bun. In addition, we also shared Buffalo Sold Ya, which is a buffalo-style chicken dip. 

We both enjoyed the appetizer, which was not too spicy and came with a side of Blue Cheese Dressing. They were extremely delicious, and I highly recommend them if you’re a fan of eggrolls.

Now, let’s talk about the burgers. Like I said, I got a Little Bit of Sandra in the Bun, which is a customizable burger. I got lettuce, tomato, and pickles on mine. Personally, getting a customizable burger is always the better option for me since I can’t do dairy. As a side, I got their waffle fries. 

My boyfriend got the Don’t Go Bacon My Heart, which is a bacon cheeseburger with pepperjack cheese, bacon, onion rings, and their special BBQ on a pretzel roll. Like me, he got waffle fries. The food was delicious, and the burgers were cooked to order.

I loved the taste of the waffle fries, which had a little bit of a kick to them. Furthermore, adding the pretzel bun to the mix definitely made the burger much more fun and filling.


Overall, we both really enjoyed this new restaurant. While my boyfriend and I got burgers with meat, there are meatless options for those who don’t eat meat. While this is definitely a bar setting, it is definitely a great place to bring the family as well.

Interested in checking out Hair of the Dog? Be sure to check out their website!

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Great Last Minute Gift Ideas For Anyone On Your List

Okay, so Christmas Eve is a week from tomorrow. COVID regulations set aside, we only have a few more shopping days before Christmas, and while it may be too late to have an item shipped out to your loved one, there are a few last minute gifts that you can either pick up in store, or have shipped via Prime.

Coffee Giftcards: Do they run on Dunkin’? Or do they love Starbucks? If they love coffee, picking up a gift card is such a great idea to help fuel their addiction or allow them to treat themselves.

Amazon Giftcards: You can’t go wrong with an Amazon gift card, because you can buy pretty much everything with it. What is great about giving an Amazon gift card is that you can actually have it delivered via email in any amount, so you can procrastinate to the day before the holiday if that’s what you want. I don’t recommend it, but it’s still a great option.

Pavoi Hoop Earrings: I have a few pairs of these, and these are great for anyone who loves jewelry. I have the oval ones, and they are so lightweight and comfortable. And all of their earrings have high ratings, and are great quality. They have several options and come in silver, gold and rose gold.

3 in 1 Aluminum Charging Station: I love this because it keeps and charges all of your items in one place. I have the pink one and my boyfriend has the black one. This is great because you can leave your phone on your nightstand, and everything charges overnight. Perfect.

Giftcard For Takeout: Support small businesses. Or, give them a break from cooking. No matter where they go regularly, or what they like to eat, this is a no-fail gift idea because it’s easy for you and allows them to treat themselves. Or save some money looking for something to eat.