Made From Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life // by Jenna Woginrich

//published 2008//

This book was interesting because it was part memoir and part how-to.  Basically, Woginrich talks about how she wanted to start living a more sustainable life, but there wasn’t any way that she could quit her job and start living off the land somewhere – mainly because she didn’t have any land to live off of.  Instead, she started trying to make small changes in her regular life.  This book talks about her efforts and her mistakes, and encourages her readers to start trying to become more self-sufficient even if they aren’t comfortable butchering their own hogs and building a log cabin by hand.

It was also interesting because I actually read Woginrich’s second book, Barnhearta while back.  In this book, she’s still living a small town in Idaho, and ends her story by driving across the country to a new job in Vermont.  Barnheart focuses on the Vermont home.

While this book does cover some of the more “regular” topics in homestead-y books, like chickens and gardening, she also touches on things like sewing, knitting, antiquing, teaching your dog to carry a pack, and learning how to play an acoustic instrument.  She raises bees and angora rabbits (as well as the traditional chickens and tomatoes) and has a strong sense of humor, even while recounting some pretty serious mistakes.

Each chapter is focused on a different aspect of a more self-sufficient life.  Woginrich talks about how she got started in that area, some of what she’s learned, and concludes with some practical how-tos for the area.  She also has an extensive list of resources in the back, with actual descriptions of things so you don’t have to just mindlessly visit a bunch of websites, hoping to find what you want.  This book isn’t an end-all reference guide, but it’s a great place to start for some inspiration and ideas.

I really liked that Woginrich is (at the time of writing this book, anyway) both single and a renter.  These are two obstacles that many people use to put off learning about self-sufficiency, but Woginrich doesn’t let those things stop her.  A flexible landlord definitely helps if you want to raise chickens and bees, or plant a large garden, but things like container gardening, learning how to sew, and canning, can be done anywhere.

Frequently, I get annoyed when people assume that because I’m prolife and fiscally conservative, I must also hate nature and love eating meat raised on factory farms.  It’s 100% possible to be socially and fiscally conservative, and to also believe in shopping locally, eating food that has been raised humanely, reconnecting with our heritage, and supporting parks.  While I don’t have any idea where Woginrich stands on political issues, her book reminded me that learning to be more self-sufficient is important, challenging, and interesting – and that taking baby steps are better than taking no steps at all.  4/5 and recommended.

November Minireviews

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

The Voyage to Magical North and The Journey to Dragon Island by Claire Fayers

//published 2016//

I have to say that I actually really, really enjoyed these books, so the whole “meh” feeling doesn’t really apply here.  I gave them an easy 4/5 and completely enjoyed joining Brine on her unexpected pirate ship adventure.  Fayers did a great job with world-building – as an adult, I still found interesting and engaging, but I think that the target audience (middle school) would still easily be able to follow the simple yet involved rules of Brine’s world.

//published 2017//

Brine herself is a very fun heroine, and I felt like her character was balanced out well by Peter, and later Tom.  All in all, I enjoyed how the characters didn’t really fall into stereotypes, but also didn’t feel like they were trying to not fall into stereotypes.

I would definitely recommend these fun and magical little books, and will be looking out for further adventures of Brine & co. in the future.

Cinchfoot by Thomas Hinkle

//published 1938//

Another Famous Horse Story, I found this one to be a bit boring.  Cinchfoot just sort of meanders about but there isn’t a really strong plot or story that feels like it is pulling things along.  Not a bad read, but not one I see myself returning to again.  3/5.

Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars by Daniel Pinkwater

//published 1979//

While this wasn’t my favorite Pinkwater book ever, it still had some very funny moments.  I also think that Pinkwater’s thoughts/views on the educational system are brilliantly insightful and cutting.  I also loved the way that Lionel realized that if he wasn’t learning things, it was his own fault at some level.  Some of the adventures the boys have are quite ridiculous, but the ridiculous is exactly what Pinkwater writes so well.  3.5/5 and I do recommend it, but only if you’ve read some of Pinkwater’s stronger works first.

The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer

//published 1946//

This was a pretty adorable little Heyer tale.  I did find Carlyon a bit too overbearing at times, but Elinor was just too adorable, as was Carlyon’s younger brother.  I quite enjoyed the way that the love story was secondary to all the ridiculous spy tales.  Fun and frothy; classic Heyer.  4/5.

The Beauty and the Beast by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve

//published 2017//

So I purchased this edition because of the amazing illustrations by MinaLima.  My husband gave me some money for my birthday that he said was specifically for books, and, more specifically, I must purchase at least one book that I’ve been not purchasing because of its unreasonable expense!  This one fit the bill – but it was worth every penny, as the book itself is absolutely gorgeous. The illustrations are amazing – not just the big, fancy, interactive ones, but all the details on every page.

It was also interesting to read the original version of B&B – it’s a great deal more convoluted and involved than the traditional version we see these days, as Beauty has eleven (!!!) siblings, and there are multiple chapters devoted to a complicated backstory with fairy feuds.  It was still a very engaging story, although I can see why it has evolved the way that it has, getting rid of some of the extraneous characters and building more personality among those that are left.

Anyway, this was definitely a worthwhile purchase and read, and I can see myself returning to this gorgeous book many times in the future.

The Backyard Homestead Seasonal Planner by Ann Larkin Hansen

//published 2017//

This is another Storey book, and another addition to their Backyard Homestead series.  While this book did have some interesting information, and I did like the format where things were laid out by season, it was definitely an outline type of a book.  There wasn’t really a lot of depth about anything, making this more of a starting-point reference rather than an end-all tome.  It makes a nice addition to my collection, but definitely wouldn’t be the book I would choose if I could only have one homesteading manual.  Still, excellent formatting and very nicely put together, as I’ve come to expect from Storey.

The Little Nugget by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1913//

This was a fun little tale of a very obnoxious little boy who is worth a great deal of money, and so has multiple people attempting to kidnap him for various reasons.  While there were several funny moments and it was overall an enjoyable tale, it wasn’t as developed as most of Wodehouse’s later works, and lacked that sort of bubbly perfection.  It was an easy 3/5 read and one that I do recommend, but not if it is your first foray into the world of Wodehouse.

Spring + Non-Fiction Mini Reviews

Okay, so spring always gives me a bit of a reading slump. Basically, it suddenly turns warm and sunny and super happy outside, and I lose all interest in being inside.  Instead, I want to plant things and even though I’m a terrible gardener, I spend all sorts of time pouring over seed catalogs, browsing garden centers, reading about homesteading, and yes, even planting.

This is our first spring in our new house, so I’m especially excited about outside stuff this year – I think I’ll be around to see it again next year!  Plus, we can plant trees, dig up shrubs, and plan flowerbeds without asking anyone’s permission!  It’s amazing!  So, if you’re interested in seeing what I’ve been doing instead of reading, feel free to check out the house blog!

So Tom and I both interested in becoming a bit more self-sufficient, especially now that we have a little bit of space to call our own.  Even though we only have about an acre here, we are full of plans for food-producing plants, chickens, and rabbits.  Who knows how much of it will actually  happen…  the hardest part is pacing ourselves so that we can actually do some stuff all the way, and do it right, instead of starting everything and completing nothing!

In that spirit, this year we’re trying to focus on some stuff that takes longer to grow, like fruit trees and bushes.  I’ve been working on developing an herb/perennial garden along the side of the house, and we’re just kind of working from there!

The point is, my way of doing stuff is by starting with books.  I go to the library website, type in the topic I’m researching, and check out a dozen books on the subject, and then go from there!  So I thought that I would share a few of my non-fiction reads of late…  while I haven’t really sat down and read any of them straight through, these are some of the books I’ve been referencing and flipping through (although not even close to all of them!)

//The Backyard Homestead//edited  by Carleen Madigan//published 2009//

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FAVORITE HOMESTEADING BOOK OF ALL TIME

Okay, the truth of the matter is that I could probably focus this entire post on this particular book. If you’ve ever considered trying to become a bit more self-sufficient, this book is the first one I would recommend as a go-to.  The Backyard Homestead is perfect in every way.  It has loads of information that is concise, well-organized, and easy to understand.  While this book isn’t the end-all reference, it definitely covers all the basics.  It’s a great place to read about something and decide whether or not you’re interested enough to pursue the topic with more depth.

I absolutely love the illustrations in this book, plus it’s full of recipes, plans, and tons of other useful stuff.  I bought this book when I was on vacation in 2010, before I had a house of my own or was married, because I fell in love with the table of contents – who could resist???

I SERIOUSLY LOVE THIS TABLE OF CONTENTS YOU HAVE NO IDEA

I SERIOUSLY LOVE THIS TABLE OF CONTENTS YOU HAVE NO IDEA

Anyway, as you can see from the awesome table of contents, this little book covers all the basic areas of self-sufficiency/homesteading, and it does it with the idea that you’ll be working with a small(ish) space.  Actually, the book starts by showing possible ways to utilize a tenth, half, or whole acre.  The chapters each look at a different aspect of homesteading basics, like vegetable gardening, raising herbs, and planting fruits.  Then, within each chapter there are tons of facts, tips, charts, recipes, and instructions.  For instance, in the herb chapter, there are four pages of an herb chart, listing herbs, whether they are hardy perennials, tender perennials or annual/biannuals; their height; whether they prefer dry or moist soil; whether they prefer direct sunlight or shade; how they’re propagated (seed, cuttings, root division); and what part of the herb is used (leaves, roots, flowers, berries/seeds).  It’s fantastic!

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I genuinely love the way this book has garden layouts and tons of recipes – just loads of great starter ideas. So perf.

This book is published by Storey publishers, and I highly recommend them as another great starting point for homesteady topics.  Usually, when I’m getting ready to delve into something (like planting an herb garden), I look through Storey’s list of books on the topic and work from there.  I really, really love their books.

There are at least three more books published in the same style as the original book – one on livestock, one on building projects, and one energy self-sufficiency.  Actually, I didn’t know about the building project one until just now when I was finding an image of this book’s cover…  guess what book I’m reserving at the library next???

 

 

 

 

 

 

//Five-Plant Gardens//by Nancy J. Ondra//published 2014//

The subtitle for this book is “52 Ways to Grow a Perennial Garden with Just Five Plants.”  It’s this spring’s addition to the outdoorsy-book library. I just couldn’t resist the way the book was organized!!

Plus this book is almost square. I really love square books.

Plus this book is almost square. I really love square books.

The basic concept of the book is that even a small(ish) area can be turned into a lovely little garden, and it doesn’t take a huge selection of plants to make that happen.  Ondra divides her book by garden location.  The first half of the book is devoted to full-sun areas, while the second half is partial/full shade.  Within each of those categories, each garden is then planned either to fit a certain type of soil/area, e.g. a hillside, a boggy area, sandy soil, etc., or are categorized some other way, such as color (a blue or white or red garden), or because they are all plants that attract butterflies or are plants that are commonly seen in cottage gardens, or whathaveyou.

For each garden, Ondra lays it out in a sort of “plant by number” plan.  The gardens come in a variety of shapes and sizes – squares, rectangles, triangles, long “edging” gardens, etc.  The shapes can easily be combined or repeated to fit the area where you are planting.  Ondra also always labels the “1” plants as the largest/tallest, and the “5” plants as the smallest, so if you like a type of garden (say, the butterfly garden), but have an area that is more triangular instead of square, as the butterfly garden is laid out, you can use a triangle pattern and insert the butterfly garden plants.  I feel like I’m describing this poorly, but it’s actually brilliantly simple and fantastic.

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I am a visual learner like whoa… I LOVE NONFICTION BOOKS WITH LOTS OF ILLUSTRATIONS TO EXPLAIN THINGS!

Ondra does a wonderful job describing and listing the plants for each garden, and then providing several options if you can’t find that particular type of plant.  There are drawings of her preferred plants for each garden, and drawings of each garden, as well as the actual layout for each one.

You know how you have silly day dreams that you know are a little crazy?  Well, one of mine is to have a yard that is entirely garden.  And for some reason, this book makes me think I could accomplish that… just plant one little square at a time!!

Anyway, Ondra aims her gardens towards middle zones – most of the gardens are zones 3-8ish; she has purposely chosen plants that can survive in a fairly wide range of zones.  Some of her “other” options for each plant are more zone specific.  We’re in zone 5/6 here – 6 in a normal year and zone 5 about every five years, so this book is full of plants that I can definitely use.

I also really like the way that she includes all of the Latin names – when I was looking up some of these plants at nurseries online (now there is a dangerous way to spend an afternoon!) I was not always able to locate the plants by the common names listed, but could usually find them by the Latin names.

Even though I haven’t planted any gardens exactly as planned in the book, it’s also a great place to get ideas for certain plants – for instance, I love combining specific colors, so flipping to the garden of all-pink plants is a great place for ideas for pink plants!

While Five-Plant Gardens isn’t for everyone, if you’re like me and you like things to be super organized and to get clear, straight-forward instructions, this book is a great place to start – it can really help you take a blank-slate area and turn it into a nifty little garden (at least in your mind!).

//The Water Gardener’s Bible//by Ben Helm & Kelly Billing//published 2008//

51hgsdp0bSL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_So if you’ve checked out the house blog, you know that I’m busily working on our side garden area.  It’s slowly becoming a happy herb garden.  But Tom and I are also super interested in installing a small fish pond (with a waterfall, of course), because the garden is right outside of our kitchen/off the front porch, and it just seems like it would be fantastically happy.

However, neither of us really knows a whole lot about water gardening.  I, of course, checked out about half-dozen books on the topic, and while they have all been informative, The Water Gardener’s Bible lives up to its name – it is an excellent overview on the topic, with enough detail to really get you going.

This book is laid out in an order that makes sense:  Planning/Construction/Installation, Stocking Plants & Fish, Common Problems & Solutions, Plant Directory, Fish Directory, Pond Management.  I appreciate how-to books that, if you start at the beginning and read straight through, take you through the process in the order you’ll need the information (kind of like reading a recipe, except on a larger scale).  This book does just that – it starts by telling you what supplies you’ll need, and then explains how to combine them (and in what order!) so you end up with a pond that suits your area and desires.

As an aside, this is the only non-Storey publishing book in this post.

We haven’t started the practical application of this book yet, but it has definitely been an informative one to flip through and garner ideas from!

//Kiss My Aster//by Amanda Thomsen//published 2012//

kissmyasterDo you ever wish nonfiction books were a little more… interactive?  Thomsen says that she decided to write a gardening/landscaping how-to book based on the concept of those crazy books we had when we were kids – you know, the ones where every couple pages you had to decide what the protagonist was going to do and then turn to the appropriate page?  (Frank decides to check out the abandoned shed – go to page 62.  Frank obeys his mother and stays in his own backyard – go to page 41.)  Anyway, Kiss My Aster has somehow managed to capture that concept and has turned it into a rather zany, unique, and engaging reading experience.  I found this book to be completely addictive.  And, unlike those books I read when I was a kid, there really isn’t a plot – so I would flip this book open to a random page and go from there!  Thomsen says that the idea is that you only end up reading the information you need (if you aren’t planting trees, you don’t read the tree pages because you’ve chosen another option), and, theoretically, one should be able to read through the book and come out at the other end (probably not on the last page) with a plan for creating an engaging outdoor area.

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For me, the truly attractive part of this book was simply the fact that it was chock-full of happy illustrations and different types of fonts.  Did I mention that I love books with pictures??

Thomsen also has a very casual, conversational writing style that fits the book.  It’s not something I would appreciate in, say, a biography about Thomas Jefferson, but it works really well for what she’s doing.  Not all books could get away with telling you that a reason for growing your own food is because “A sun-warmed tomato brings you close to God (or Dog, if you’re dyslexic).”  But Thomsen’s writing is warm, friendly, and funny, and it really helps make the whole book flow.

Of course, the book’s unique layout is also, in some ways, its weakness…   because, just like with those childhood stories, I wanted to read all the pages.  I felt like this book could have done a better job of linking the reader back through some of the options.  Several times pages ended as deadends when they definitely could have just sent me off to some other random page and made me super happy.

Overall, though, if you’re a beginner gardener with no idea where to start – you’ve just moved into a new place and the yard is barren and dreadful – this book is a fun and low-stress way to start thinking about what to do with the space.  Thomsen covers not only gardens, but other landscaping areas, like trees and shrubs, creating a water garden, planting grass or groundcover, putting up a hammock, building a compost pile, etc.  She also does a great job of assuming you know nothing – she gives you the basics you need without talking down to you.  (I’ve read many a beginning gardening book that manages to come off just a tad patronizing…  like, “Wow, you’re 32 years old and you didn’t know that you need two different varieties of blueberries to make the bushes produce well?  Just.  Wow.”)  Thomsen instead manages to sound like that crazy aunt you always wanted who knows how to do a little bit of everything and when you stop by to visit her she’s probably climbing a tree or planting a boxwood maze.

//Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook//by Ron Kujawski & Jennifer Kujawski//published 2010//

51aGq8u5Y2L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Someday, I am going to plant a vegetable garden, and it is going to be beautiful.  And when I do it, it will be with the help of this absolutely delightful book.  This father-daughter author duo has accomplished a wonderful thing with this book – they’ve created a guide that is easily adaptable to wide variety of gardening zones by basing all of their instructions around the frost date. While frost date varies from zone to zone (and even within zones!), the Kujawskis work around this by allowing you, the reader, to manually fill in the dates that fit your situation.

Our average frost date is May 15, so, working from that date, I filled in the dates for the weeks before and after frost.  The book, after covering some basics like where to put a vegetable garden, soil types, etc., starts with “20-15 weeks before average date of last frost” – e.g., late winter.  For the beginning of each section (dates far away from frost, like the beginning one, cover a longer period of time – in the height of planting/growing season, the sections are only one week at a time), the authors list out what should overall be accomplished during this time – with a checklist – and then go into details about each item.  There are also diary areas for several years for note-taking purposes.  Throughout, there are tons of tidbits and tips on specific vegetables, different varieties, gardening methods, harvesting, saving seeds for next year, etc.  They also do fun little sections of she says/he says, where Jennifer and Ron discuss a subject where they have differing opinions – underlining the fact that a lot of gardening is personal preference!

The authors are friendly and personable.  While the main part of the book is fairly formal, it is still written in first person, almost as if they are writing a letter to the reader.  Many of box sections throughout are personal anecdotes from their years of gardening experience.  This book, like all of Storey’s books, is just full of useful, accessible information, with plenty of pictures, explanations, ideas, and directions for where to look next.

///Conclusion///

Well, illustrating the fact that I’m way too engaged with the great outdoors, it’s taken me over a week to finish this post!  I can’t really complain, though – I’m super excited to be outside and enjoying (/attempting) gardening.  This is only a handful of the many, many books I’ve been flipping through over the last month or so, but they are definitely my favorites.  I don’t own Kiss My Aster or The Water-Gardener’s Bible, but the other three are cherished favorites – The Backyard Homestead has especially been my close companion these many years, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone interested in even very basic/minimal homestead practices.

And, by the way, no, Storey did not perk me for plugging their books – it’s just a natural result of the fact that their books are freaking awesome.  :-D

It looks like my fiction backlog of reviews will probably be in minireivew format as well (plus maybe an April Rearview…  although there isn’t much to look back on!), hopefully very soon.  And I read straight through an entire Wodehouse book in less than 24 hours, so my reading slump may be at an end (nothing like Wodehouse to get you back in the groove!).  I haven’t been tooling around the blogosphere much either, so hopefully you’ll start seeing my little “like” stars again soon, too!  :-)   Hope all is well out there… happy gardening!

Barnheart

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by Jenna Woginrich

Published 2011

So a while back I realized that I have several homesteading books that I really love, and although they are not written by the same person, they are published by the same publisher.  Storey Publishers are a delight, and I highly recommend checking them out if you have any interesting in homesteading or homemaking or doing-it-yourself.  If I could work for a publisher, it would be Storey.  Anyway, I decided to make a list of all the books they publish that are also available at my library and read through them all, and purchase the ones that I felt like would be especially good reference.  I haven’t gotten very far on that project since I’ve been moving and involved in other chaos, but Barnheart was first on the list.

This is actually a memoir sort of book, written by a woman who moved from Idaho to Vermont.  In this first year-and-so of her life in Vermont, she recalls transitioning not only into the community, but attempting to realize some of her dreams, dreams which you will either understand immediately or look at askance – dreams that involve gardening (and composting and canning and everything that goes with a truly amazing vegetable garden), raising sheep, raising chickens – in short, dreams that involve living independently, maybe not quite off the grid, but with the comfortable assurance that you could live off the grid if needed.

Jenna’s story has another unique dimension because she is doing this on her own – she is single, and she stays that way (throughout the book, at least).  She simply has not found someone who shares her passion.

I found myself really appreciating Jenna as I read this book.  She is someone who is overcoming obstacles and pursuing her dreams, even though they are somewhat impractical.  Her willingness to sacrifice many of life’s comforts so that she can achieve her goals is inspiring.  I love the way that she plunges in and learns on the fly.  Things do not always go well for her (this is a story of real life, after all), and no Prince Charming appears on her horizon, but she creates a life that is fulfilling, prosperous, and contented.  This book is a definite recommended read for anyone who has yearned to move to the country and make a go of homesteading.