Showing posts with label Dawn Rae. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dawn Rae. Show all posts

Monday, July 4, 2022

Reviewing Sugar Birds: A Novel by Cheryl Grey Bostrom

One way to describe Sugar Birds is to call it a coming of age story. Which it is. But it is also a look at parenting, families, relationships, survival, and faith. Each of these characters were unique. However, their common bond (for the most part) was having gone through some hard times then deciding how they would treat others. All of this while they are on a search and rescue mission to locate poor little Aggie. I was completely absorbed in this book from the beginning.




The story is told by Aggie and Celia in alternating chapters. 

Aggie

Agate Esther (Aggie) is a just-turned 10 year old girl who lives with her parents and her brother. She is consumed with bird-watching. She is familiar with the forest around her and just cannot follow her mother's directions to stop climbing the trees to observe the birds. Aggie documents the birds in her notebook and is encouraged by her father to do so. However, she defies her mother's directions to stay out of the trees. After they have conflict about the issue again, Aggie decides to try to get back into mom's good favor by making kindling as a gift. Unfortunately, she inadvertently causes a house fire.

"Her chest clenched, wringing her insides hard, like a dishcloth. Dad. Mama. She killed them with those sticks. With her fire. She beat her legs with clenched first, bit her cheeks, tasted blood." - Sugar Birds

Believing she has killed her parents and will be arrested, she panics and flees to the forest to hide. She has plenty of survival skills but will she survive the predators? 

Celia

"We're on track for the cabin by eight tonight, Daddy" I flipped down the visor mirror and twisted the stud in my infected earlobe, my teeth set against its sting." - Sugar Birds

Celia is a 16 year old young lady, who thinks she's going to the family lake cabin in Washington state with her dad. Her mother, not the most warm and attentive on any day, has left them. Celia is trying to move on from that betrayal when her father discloses that he's not taking them to the cabin. He's taking her to her grandmother's home while he goes on a remote work assignment for several months. Celia is furious that her father is also leaving her and she immediately starts to formulate a plan to runaway. She believes that she'll find a way to return to Texas on her own and will stay with her friend Meredith. The very same friend that her dad doesn't approve of. 

I hope that I'm not making Celia sound like a run-of-the-mill ungrateful adolescent character. She is not. Celia is a high school math nerd, cross country runner, compassionate young lady who helps her grandmother rescue and rehabilitate birds. However, with Meredith's tutoring, she has just begun to catch the attention of boys.

"Dancing flames didn't cause those astonished stares when I walked through that crowd in Meredith's hand-tooled cowboy boots with Luke hanging on me. I swear Meredith sensed that I was about to ditch him and run to the ladies room to scrub my face and calm my hair down a little. She trotted up beside us, looped her arm in mine and whispered that I was a Harrison County version of Sandy in Grease." - Sugar Birds
After her father drops angry/hurt Celia off with her grandmother, she quickly catches the attention of Cabot. 

Mender

Marta Burke a.k.a Mender a.k.a Gram is an aclaimed biologist who has retired but who is active rehabilitating birds. She gardens. She prays. And she cares deeply for others. Mender has taught Celia the skills needed to handle and rehabilitate birds; raptors being Celia's favorite. Will Mender be able to keep Celia from being the prey?

Burnaby

Burnaby. Aggie's older brother and Loomis' employee. Burnaby has difficulty with interactions, eye contact, and affection. But his is a good employee, following rules and routines. He too loves the natural world and is very specifically drawn to bird and animal bones. 

I absolutely loved Burnaby's character. 

"Mama says I give speeches when I should be conversing. Misplaced monologues are selfish, she says. Talking should be reciprocal. Unselfish. Like tossing an apple back and forth so each hearer can catch it. She says I should listen without having a speech ready. Consider. Respond. Listen again."  - Sugar Birds

Harris & Bree

Harris is Aggie and Burnaby's father. He moved them to the area, after he left the Alaska Forest Service, in order to be close to family. He nurtured the children's love of the outdoors and knowledge base; such as foraging for edible plants and water that is safe to drink. Bree also loved the outdoors. And once-upon-a-time, she collected Agates from a cliff. And this is how they chose Aggie's name. Bree struggled with mental illness and Aggie resented the change.

Loomis & Nora

This couple is Aggie's Aunt and Uncle and Mender's neighbors. They own a dairy farm. They employ Burnaby and Cabot.

Cabot

Twenty-year-old Cabot likes Celia. As have the others, twenty-year-old Cabot has been through some rough times and he has chosen to hang on to his anger and lash out at others. He is the villain, and his behaviors are a perfect example of a budding abusive relationship. 

I LOVED Sugar Birds: A Novel by Cheryl Grey Bostrom


I am rarely able to read a book in a matter of 2-3 days. Not only did I read this in 2 days, I stayed up last night after 2:00 am trying to get to the end. I wanted to learn who survived and whether or not some of them didn't. Granted, I'm on vacation so it was an easier decision to stay up many hours past my bedtime. But I'm not so sure I would have put the book down even if I had to work the next morning. Not only were the characters interesting, but the descriptions of the setting painted the picture perfectly.

I do not feel that I've been able to review this book as it deserves. I hope you will take a peek at it on Amazon for not only the long list of awards this book has received, but the reviews from the other readers. 

If you read Where the Crawdads Sing and loved it, you'll enjoy this story. 




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Monday, June 20, 2022

Reviewing YouCut Video Editor for Android

I have been using YouCut Video Editor on my Android smartphone since late 2020. I hadn't thought about how much I enjoy YouCut until I had received a few comments lately about how much time I must spend editing. I really don't spend any time editing. Living in a remote area it make take hours for a brief video to upload but it often takes less than 5 minutes to create that video because YouCut is so easy to use. And best of all, YouCut is FREE.  



About YouCut

YouCut is a video editing program for Android phones. It can be found in your Play Store app. Once you've download it, the icon can be found on your phone screen. I do not believe that there is a version available for laptop operating systems. The last time I checked in a web search, you can pull up sites with titles such as "YouCut for your PC" but they are offering "alternative" video editing programs - not YouCut.

Why YouCut Has Been an Excellent Option for Me

There are many reasons YouCut has been a fantastic tool for me. I learned about YouCut from Ann's Tiny Life and Homestead youtube channel when she shared this tutorial. I didn't give it any more thought until I wanted to post photos in a slide show on YouTube. But Youtube had eliminated that option at that time. So I went back to Ann's tutorial, learned about YouCut, and successfully posted my first video; which included photos in a slide show.

These are a few of the many reasons I enjoy using YouCut:

Price - It's FREE!

Accessible via my Phone - which means the app, my photos, and my raw video clips are all in the same place. Which also means all of that is portable and with me at all times (except the days I forget my phone and head to work!). Prior to 2020, I took all my blogging photos with my beloved Sony camera. But using a camera meant moving the memory card from the camera to the laptop in order to edit and use those photos. With YouCut and my phone, I eliminate that step when sharing editing and sharing videos. (Unfortunately, my Sony currently needs repaired, so I don't have that option even if I wanted it.)

No Laptop or Desktop required - Taking the photos and videos, editing them, saving them, and uploading them is all done via my phone.  I do manage my Youtube channel from my laptop because it is easier to view than on my phone screen. But I don't have to have anything other than my phone for the videos.

Flexibility - I can use photos or videos in order to make a video. I upload to YouTube but after you save your video, you are given options to upload to a variety of platforms: YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Messenger, e-mail, WhatsApp, Signal, Twitter, and "other" (which takes me to the options and apps in my phone).  

Easy to Use - I am not going to make a tutorial to show how the program works. I'm not the best person for that job. However, I recommend that you watch Ann's tutorial or one of the many others that can be found. All of the editing tools that I use already seemed familiar. 

Free Effects - YouCut offers many effects and editing tools; many that I don't even use. But I do use adding text, adding transitions between photos or clips, and I have added their free music on occasion. All of those things have been extremely easy to figure out and to use. And the best part is that the "undo" button is available. If I make a mistake, I can immediately put things back the way they were. 


the app is very easy to navigate - beginning with the start screen


adding, moving, and editing text is easy


Why Take Time to Create Videos?

There are many, many reasons to create videos.  I began making videos in order to share my personal journey (preparing to move from an urban apartment to my land, documenting my house build progress, and to keep my friends and family up-to-date on the progress).  I have continued making videos for those reasons (now that I've moved) but also to encourage others to chase their dreams. One woman saw me on social media and said that I motivated her to make the leap. She now is living her dream in a beautiful house, on a gorgeous chunk of rural land. I have made a choice to try to share more about what I'm doing because it might encourage others to act on their dreams and plans. I am a firm believer of "if I can, you can."

Some reasons others may make videos are:

  • Keep in touch with family and friends
  • A way to journal or document your life
  • Teach others what you know - share your skills
  • Show your handmade or store items - things you are offering for sale
  • Make money - many people are monetized and make money with videos
  • Review items - if a photo is worth 1,000 words imagine what videos are worth
  • Inspire others 
  • Share experiences
  • People love to watch videos
I have found only one minor issue with using YouCut and my phone as my video-making and -editing device. Videos save to my phone before they upload to the platform (for me that is YouTube). This is great as you don't lose your videos. However, it quickly fills up storage space on your phone. Most people probably already know how to move their files from their phone to some other storage area but it took me a bit to learn how to do that. It is such a minor issue for people who are technologically savvy... but when my phone stopped working correctly because I couldn't figure out how to do it, I was frustrated. I have since learned how to prevent that problem by transferring the videos to other storage more frequently.

One final thought, posting yourself on social media does come with some risk. So be careful with personal information and be aware that there are some strange folks out there. Otherwise, there can be many benefits from making and sharing videos. And YouCut has been a very quick and easy way for me to do that. 

Related Link:

My YouTube channel is about my puttering around my land (now that I've moved from the apartment to my home). My dream was to get moved to my land, prepare for retirement, and putter around learning how to raise my own food. Do not feel obliged to look - my goal is not to be a "YouTuber". But if you are interested in an older lady who is figuring out how to raise things, build things, and who is looking forward to retirement someday... feel free to visit me at Dawn Rae B. If I am making progress toward my dreams, you can too. 




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Monday, June 6, 2022

Reviewing Vacuum Sealing Jars with a FoodSaver Machine

Bad news. All dry foods such as beans, rice, flour, corn meal, and pasta may have been exposed to moths or weevils during processing and packaging at food plants or during shipping. This is how these bugs are able to hitchhike into your home - even if your kitchen is pristine. If you suddenly have tiny beetles in your flour or moths in your bag of beans, it is because the eggs have had time to hatch before you've cooked the item. Yuck! One solution to avoid this is vacuum sealing your dry goods in jars. And the FoodSaver does this.



The FoodSaver machine is fairly well-known. Many people know that it is a machine that vacuum seals food into special plastic bags. When air is removed from food products that food stays fresher longer. And many are aware that vacuum sealed frozen food is at less risk for freezer burn. But not as many people know that Mason jars can be used with the FoodSaver machine to vacuum seal food in jars. 

Important Note: Not all FoodSaver machines have the Accessory Port that is needed to vacuum seal jars. If you are shopping for a FoodSaver machine so you can seal jars, make sure that the machine has the Accessory Port

Jar Sealer Attachments

I purchased a set of the jar sealer attachments. The set included the hose and two jar attachment lids; one wide mouth sized and one regular mouth sized. 

In just a few easy steps, you can seal food into jars:

  • place dry food such as rice, pasta or beans into the Mason jar
  • lay the flat lid on top of the jar
  • press the correct size of jar sealer - wide mouth or regular - over the lid and jar
  • insert the hose into the jar sealer and into the FoodSaver
  • move the FoodSaver lever to the "operate" position
  • press the button for "vacuum"
  • after hearing the vacuuming begin then end, and after the light turns off, move the lever to the open position (releasing the pressure)
  • remove the jar sealer from the jar
  • gently check the lid to test for a seal
  • label the lid with the food item and date
  • I add the ring to help keep the lid secure in case I bump the jar - but I do not screw the ring on tightly
If you are a visual learner, I have prepared a very brief video to show how I seal my jars:




Important Vacuum Sealing Flour Caution

Because flour and similar items are finely ground, the action of the vacuum sealing process can pull the flour into the accessories. So you'll need to use some sort of barrier between the flour and the vacuum sealer.  I have seen some folks use a piece of cloth or paper towel inside the top of the jar when vacuum sealing flour into jars. However, I do not feel that I'd be coordinated enough to insert the cloth correctly. While I MUCH prefer vacuum sealing in jars, flour is the one thing I prefer to use the FoodSaver plastic bags for. I learned to seal using a bag in a bag; the flour in either a clean paper lunch bag or the bag it is packaged in then sealed in the FoodSaver plastic bag.

Why I Vacuum Seal My Food

While living at my last apartment, I had purchased some bulk rice and beans. Because I was feeding only one or two people I did not go through those those bulk items very quickly. One day, I opened the cupboard to find a bag of rice with a swarm of moths inside. It was like a bad scary movie. I did some research and that was when I learned that the eggs of these insects can be present in dry foods before they reach our homes. But I was also living an a metro apartment complex where the exterminators were frequently seen onsite to battle a variety of creepy things. So really, it's hard to tell where my rice infestation came from. But it was disgusting. And I never want it to happen again.

Now I live in my single dwelling home. I do not have to be concerned about what might be living in someone else's home just on the other side of my wall. But I have a new risk for bugs. Rather than purchasing my groceries every day or two in meal-sized portions as I usually did living in a metro area, I now purchase items in bulk. My goal is to go to the store for non-perishable items only once every month or two. But that increases the opportunity for these hitchhiking eggs to hatch.

I LOVE the option of vacuum sealing in jars. I can easily see what I have. Jars are more secure (I have seen videos of people discovering rodents have chewed through plastic tubs used to store their vacuum sealed bags). If I have a large jar of vacuum sealed pasta, I can open the jar and use a very small amount and reseal the jar. 

I would say that I am saving money by buying in bulk but with today's extreme inflation I do not feel as though I am saving money. However, I am protecting the food I have invested a good deal of money in and I am reducing the number of times I need to drive to the store. There have also been times that pasta is not available on the store shelves but I am able to relax knowing that I have a little of my own in a jar at home. 






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Monday, May 16, 2022

Book Review - The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

The Four Winds is a fictional novel based on the events that occurred during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. More specifically, how one woman from Texas - Elsinore (Elsa) Wolcott - made exceedingly difficult decisions to try to keep her children alive during the 1930s. 



Elsa Wolcott lived her childhood in solitude. Defined as medically fragile and as "not nearly pretty as her sisters" the story opens as she is turning 25 and facing a future as a spinster. 

"There was a pain that came with constant disapproval; a sense of having lost something unnamed, unknown. Else had survived it by being quiet, by not demanding or seeking attention, by accepting that she was loved, but unliked" -excerpt from The Four Winds 

Elsa had learned to entertain herself by reading and survived the cruel comments by making herself as invisible as possible while her family carried on in an otherwise tight-knit group. Things started to fall apart when she informed her family that she wanted to attend college in Chicago. Her family was relatively affluent and cultured but the answer from her parents was a resounding no. They continued to define her as ill. She quietly returned to her room upstairs to her reading.

The next morning, while walking through town to the library, Elsa stopped at the mercantile where she was told about a piece of red silk. The store owner wanted Elsa to inform her beautiful sisters of this dress material. Instead, Elsa bought it for herself. 

The resulting red dress, glittery silver headband and an secret attempt to enter a speakeasy during the days of prohibition changed everything. 

Elsa responded to the first attention she received. And Raffaello entered her life. Very quickly, Elsa went from being the daughter of the in-town-living, Christian, daughter of a successful business man who sells tractors to the farmers to the wife of a young, Italian, Catholic son of struggling farmers.

 Elsa became a farmer's wife. A mother. And she became a part of a family.

The years pass. In 1934, the Great Depression had been in full swing. And it was an extraordinarily hot August. Unknown to Elsa and her family, the Dust Bowl is coming.

As the heat and dust settled in for months, and then years, Elsa had to decide whether to remain on the "farm" (now a pile of dust) with her family or escape to California for work. 


How the Story Impacted Me

I had some vague awareness of both the Great Depression and of the Dust Bowl. I knew that both were disasters. And I knew that my grandparents were frugal - saving every little thing in case it would be needed as a result of their experience (or their parent's experiences) during this era. My grandparents have been gone for a long time now. And I wish I knew their stories. But I don't. 

Now I realize how very little I know of that era and what people went through trying to survive the times. I was aware that the Dust Bowl occurred. For some reason, I imagined that nearly the entire US was in drought for a single growing season. I did not realize that it spanned the middle US states, hitting Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, New Mexico the hardest. And that it lasted for years.  I knew that crops were killed. I did not realize the enormous toll it took on all livestock and wildlife. And I did not realize the extent of human lives lost. Of course, the death toll was not accurately recorded during these crises but it is thought that hundreds to thousands died of Dust Pneumonia alone. And several hundred thousands fled the plains area to try to survive. 

This story impacts me now as I consider the current happenings in the US. Wild fires, droughts, and torrential spring rains during planting season is impacting agriculture. As is the current economic situation. Many farmers and ranchers are in a tough situation as I type this. Reading this book now reminds me of the time I read the book Jaws on my first trip to Florida and visit to Cocoa Beach. I was afraid to enter the ocean for fear of what might be lurking. I am currently concerned about food supplies, our farmers and ranchers, and what disaster may be lurking next. 

Do I wish I hadn't read this book. My answer is a resounding NO. I am glad to have read this book and recommend it to others. It is a story of a woman who had not received unconditional love as a child and who not only gave unconditional love to her children but who would die for them to save them. It is the story of navigating parent-child relationships. It is a story of proud, hard-working people who just wanted to be able to take care of themselves. Their tenacity and willingness to work hard despite the odds inspires me. Despite the very tough topic and times, this book was filled with love stories. 


Bits from Author Kristin Hannah

Ms. Hannah wrote her Author's Note in May 2020. In the three years that she was writing this book the pandemic arrived in the US. Imagine that. Writing about the death, famine, and destruction of the dust bowl during the death, near-famine, and destruction of the pandemic. 

The Author notes that the timeline is not completely accurate in her fiction. She includes a suggested reading list on her website for more historically accurate information. Ms. Hannah also mentions having taken a tour of "Weedpatch" camp in Arvin, California. And a novel by Sanora Babb titled Whose Names Are Unknown. I find it interesting that Babb's manuscript was submitted in 1939 and was not published until 2004. Read more about that here. I will be reading Ms. Babb's book.


Other Books of Interest

Reading about the dust bowl reminded me of another famine. The potato famine. Like the Dust Bowl, I had known that a potato famine in Ireland occurred. But I had no idea of the extent of it until I had read Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly.  You can read my review of that historical fiction here. I highly recommend it and have read it more than once.

Apparently, the Review This Reviews! contributors are Kristin Hannah fans. Our previous reviews are listed below:




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Monday, May 2, 2022

Reviewing Why I Make and Recommend Bannock

Bannock, a type of bread that is made in a skillet or pan on the stovetop or open fire, has been something I have made off and on over the years. But recently, Bannock has been in the forefront. Between being an integral part of a book series I've just read and being what I'm making for breakfast this morning, I thought I'd share with you.



What is Bannock?

After a Google search, it seems that Bannock (with a variety of spellings) was a Gaelic word meaning "morsel" and is believed to have originated in Scotland. It is a flat, unleavened bread and it is thought to have been introduced to North America by Scottish immigrants. 

You'll hear the words fry bread and bannock use interchangeably at times. The Indigenous people of North America make an unleavened fry bread. I believe that the original Scottish bannock used oatmeal and the North American fry bread originated with meal made of corn or nuts. At some point in time, both versions began using flour.

For my personal use and definition, Bannock is a yeastless bread that is made of flour, baking powder, and a liquid and is cooked on an almost dry skillet.  Fry bread is similar but "fried" with a larger amount of oil. I am sure others have their definitions, but this is mine. Bannock is something that hikers, campers, and hunters can easily make while on the trail.

Bannock for Breakfast

Today has turned cold and stormy. Thunder claps and lightning had me rushing to check on the outside animals before crawling back under the blankets. I felt too lazy to make breakfast but I was hungry. When I finally got up and moving, I made bannocks and scrambled eggs with sausage crumbles. 



During the moving process from the apartment to my land, my best friend was helping at one point and made a crack that I had "several" cans of baking powder. When I told him that I planned to be able to make Bannock if I get snowed in on the mountain he understood completely. He is an avid outdoorsman who has also made bannock while camping.

I started making bannock when I was camping in "The Shack" on my land. With only 4 ingredients, it was an easy thing to have on hand in off-grid conditions. As the house build began, I camped in the little shed and conditions were more austere. The shed was such a very small space for camping and storing supplies. But I could make bannock on my single camp stove burner.

I use the version by Liz Thomson. The ingredients are:

  • 1 c flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 c warm water
  • herbs such as rosemary are optional (I use the most minuscule shake of Mrs. Dash)
I use this version because it is the smallest recipe and makes 3-4 small biscuits. I found that olive oil kept well in my off-grid camping situations. There are versions that use butter, lard, bacon grease, and so on. While those version often have more flavor, those ingredients were more difficult for me to make sure I had on hand. 

Not only did I make bannock while I was camping I also made bannock at the apartment. During quarantine and supply chain situations, I sometimes made bannock in lieu of bread. I also made homemade bread that required yeast and time to rise - because I had that time. But bannock is much more quick and easy to make. It was great to have with a can of soup. And as I told my friend, I made sure to buy some (okay, many) cans of baking powder ahead. Now that I've moved to a rural area (a mountain ridge in West Virginia) I could easily be snowed in for a long period of time. Bannock is something that I can make in a pan on top of my woodstove if I am without electricity. So I'm set in that regard.

I highly recommend that people try making bannock in the event they want or need an easy-to-make bread at home or on the trail.

Bannock in the Books


I mentioned that I just read about bannock in a fictional series I was reading. I love to read. It takes my mind off of the issues at work. But I don't have much spare time, focus, or energy. So I need the story to grab me and keep me immersed. 

I am so glad that I read a series that was reviewed by Sylvestermouse Cynthia here on Review This! The series is the Tales from the Highlands series. Book 3 in that series written by Martha Keyes is The Innkeeper and the Fugitive. Ana MacMorran flees her home and an arranged marriage. She does not want to marry the villainous laird of Benleith. During her criminal escape from this contract, she finds herself at Glengour Inn. There she secretly assumes an identity of another in order to try to hide.

At Glengour Inn, travelers stop for a bit of bannock and drink before continuing on their travels.

I enjoyed the Tales from the Highlands series immensely. If you'd like to know more about the series, check out Cynthia's book reviews:








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Monday, April 18, 2022

Movie Review: The Biggest Little Farm

I recently watched The Biggest Little Farm and loved it so much that I am going to order the DVD so that I can watch it repeatedly. The Biggest Little Farm is a film documenting a couple who jump from apartment life to farm life and their progress toward regenerative farming. It is a beautifully filmed story about chasing and obtaining dreams as well as caring deeply for the land.



"This all started with a promise we made to a dog"

 In 2010, John and Molly were living in an apartment in Santa Monica, California. She is a private chef who specialized in traditional cooking methods. She dreamt of owning a farm and growing everything she could cook. While they lived in this apartment, she grew her own tomatoes on her balcony and shopped at farmer's markets.

John is a filmmaker. While filming an animal hoard situation, with over 200 animals being removed, John met one particular dog and fell in love. They adopted the big black fluffy dog with the just-look-at-those eyes and named him Todd.

"Todd filled us with purpose."

"We made one promise to him... our home would be his last."

Except Todd was not necessarily cooperative. He. Barked. Nonstop. Large fluffy dog in an apartment barking during every moment his family is away is not a good situation. The poor neighbors complained. Molly and John tried many different things to try to solve the problem including dog trainers, calming dog vests, and taking him everywhere they went. 

Eventually, the eviction notice arrived. Molly and John had some tough choices to make.

They decided that Molly's dream of living on a farm would be the solution. Farms are perfect for dogs. And for people who eat farm to table. Except there was a problem. Molly and John did not have the funds. So they got investors for this land and this "old way of farming". And they purchased Apricot Lane Farm approximately 1 hour north of Los Angeles.

They wanted to turn this neglected piece of land into a healthy and thriving farm with traditional farming practices and they highlighted how farms have turned into singular-focused businesses. For example, each farm specializes in one item such as avocados. Or chickens. But Molly and John wanted to "emulate how natural ecosystems work. They regulate themselves through diversity".  But how to achieve that? 

A man named Alan York mentored them. He had a vision that they couldn't quite see. And he had a plan. This plan included starting the land over and removing what had been planted there. John and Molly didn't quite understand where he was going with his plan. It's hard to understand what you don't know but they followed his advice the best they could.

In order to avoid spoilers, I will stop here.

Recommending The Biggest Little Farm

I highly recommend this film. The cinematography was breath-taking at points. The film was a combination of high quality and beautifully filmed sections that were "National Geographic" in quality mixed with clips from what appeared to be home-videos shot from a handy cell phone. 

I did find myself wondering how in the world they just happened to have all of these video clips over the years that were adequate to tell the story. And the cynical side of me thought it had to be set up or staged in some way. But during an interview I have since watched, John answers that concern. Being a filmmaker, documenting their journey was a part of his everyday life (I imagine much like I find myself filming my chickens, deer, and the sunsets on my ridge each day). In addition, some of their interns had a similar interest in journalism. So they decided to video and to save those videos; the good, bad, and in between. This is how they had so many pieces of the journey on video.

At points, I also thought that they were going to go down the path of farmer-bashing which would have irritated me. But they didn't. They pointed out that farming has been moving away from farms with a variety of crops/livestock to businesses with a single crop/focus.

Is their natural, regenerative ecosystem something I could replicate? Well. No. I am not up to the challenge of finding investors to buy 200 acres of land. Nor am I organized enough to bring in interns to help. I can barely manage myself most days. However, I would LOVE to have this sort of ecosystem, in miniature, on my land in some way. Much like when John and Molly listened to Alan York's directions in the beginning, I just don't quite get it. But I am trying to learn.

This is not a how-to movie. There are no step-by-step directions and I will have to do much research on my own. However, this movie does give a visual overview of how a very damaged ecosystem begins to find it's balance with some help. This movie inspires. This also is a movie about humans who loved a dog enough to give him his forever home.

Rent or Buy The Biggest Little Farm?

You can do as I did and rent this movie on Amazon Prime for just a few dollars. I realized that with Amazon Prime, I could rent movies and avoid buying the DVDs and Blu-Rays that stack up and collect dust when I don't care to view them again. When I rent a movie that I know I'll want to re-watch many times, I do end up buying the copy. This is one of those movies that I will order so that it is on my bookcase and I can watch it again and again.

 





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Monday, April 4, 2022

Reviewing Two Gardening Planner Visual Aids That Helped Me Get Started

Not counting tomatoes and squash, I have not been a successful gardener. And I would dearly love to have a productive vegetable garden. However, I am especially bad at starting my own seeds. I am also really bad at putting plants out too late in the season. Until this year!  This year I have had the help of two seed-starting guides. Today I am reviewing the Clyde's Garden Planner and my local Extension Service Garden Calendar. I haven't yet transplanted my seedlings outside but already am seeing much better results!

 


I have never had much success at starting vegetable seeds for gardens. I also have never had much success outside of growing tomatoes and squash. It always caused me to wonder - why could I grow enough tomatoes and squash to feed a small army but nothing else. Over the past couple of seasons I have learned that successful seed starting has to do with two main things; timing related to last frost and growing conditions. Here I am reviewing two things I am depending on this year with seed starting that relates to timing related to frost dates.

My Past Garden Failures - Not Understanding Frost Dates and Growing Seasons

My gardening style had historically been to buy all of the different vegetable plants I wanted, when they are available in the store, and stick them in the ground (or containers when I lived in the apartment) at the same time. Most - if not all - of those plants died.

Because I am a procrastinator, I often planted late in the spring. I now realize that it was warm enough then for the tomatoes and squash to be happy. But the cool weather plants withered away. And the plants that needed a longer growing season never had the length of time they needed to produce their vegetable.

When I did start seeds, I would start tomatoes indoors and they sprouted despite my ineptitude. If I was lucky enough (rather than skilled enough) to place them in a south-facing window, I ended up with excellent tomato plants. Otherwise, I ended up with super tall, super thin plants that died (I know now that this is called "leggy" and it's from lack of adequate light). I found that I could start squash plants outside by putting seeds in the ground by the time I got around to it (very late spring/early summer). But plants such as watermelon, cantaloupe, and pumpkin would grow vines but no vegetable. They didn't have enough time.

I have since learned that vegetable seeds need to be started in related to frost dates. Which means the "last frost date" which is the projected last day in the spring that your area could receive frost and the "first frost date" which is the projected first day in the fall when the temperatures are lowering and frost could appear. 

Last Frost Date and Counting Backward

Somewhere along the way, I learned that seed packets give directions about starting seeds. For example, my Amish Paste Tomato seed packets read "Start indoors 6-10 weeks before last frost."  That's very helpful. 

It is easy to do an internet search for your expected last frost date for that year. This year, mine is May 5th. But then it was a matter of using a calendar and counting back however many weeks for each thing I wanted to plant. I am not an organized type of person and this making lists from calendars and counting back was sheer madness for me.

Then I discovered Clyde's Garden Planner. Absolute relief. 

Clyde's Garden Planter was the best $7 I have ever spent. It is a simple sleeve of super thick card stock folder over, holding another piece of card stock that slides back and forth. You locate your average last frost date in the spring, slide the red line indicating the last frost to that date, and voila! You can easily and quickly see the recommended planting dates (and whether it is to "seed indoors" or "outdoor planting") of 21 different plants!



Easy as that!

I cannot adequately describe how helpful this one little visual tool has been.

More advanced gardeners will appreciate that at each end of the slide there is a wealth of information such as 

  • how many ounces of seeds for a 10' row
  • planting depth
  • distance between rows
  • distance between plants
  • approximate produce yields per 10' row
  • natural plant companions
Finally, turn the card over and you have the chart for summer and fall planting related to the first frost date expected in the fall. 

2022 Garden Calendar - WV Extension Service


The other visual aid that I was thrilled to find just a couple of weeks ago was this wonderful calendar. I received my free copy from a local family-owned nursery.

In this calendar, the pages are full of information about when to plant or harvest plants, reminders for gardening schedules (such as fertilizing, propagating, and watching for garden pests). 

As each area is very different, I will not go into more detail about this calendar. And while I knew that in the United States, we have the Extension Offices that we can contact if we have questions about things such as invasive insects. But I did not know that there was information such as this calendar available. At least at my local Extension Office.

If you are not aware of what your local Extension Office offers, it would be worth giving them a call or checking out their website. 

Related Links:

If you'd like to see a video of my Tomato and Pepper seedlings, click here. I am not an official "YouTuber". I started posting videos to show family and friends my progress on my land. Now that I've moved into my new home I have had a bit more to share and a bit more people interested in looking. 

I previously reviewed The First-Time Gardener Growing Vegetables by Jessica Sowards which has been an extremely helpful and encouraging book about gardening. 




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Monday, March 21, 2022

Family Game Night - Reviewing Here to Slay

 Here to Slay is a strategy card game. I had never heard of the game prior to a recent visit with my youngest son and grandchildren. And when my son asked me to play, my initial reaction was "oh gross". But I gave it a try and I loved it. We had so much fun that we are planning on figuring out how to play long distance video chats.


Here to Slay

My first thought was one of dread. I fully expected this game to be a copy-cat version of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). I am not cut out for playing D&D. It just doesn't compute for me. Role-play and creating your characters is too much for me. I've had young people at work try to "teach" me. Or, when we don't have access to the actual game, these hopeful students would give me watered down role-play versions via asking me "what would you do" scenarios. My answers were always based on what I would really do - which is always very mundane. For this reason, I thought I'd try Here to Slay once then gently guide us back to the other board games we had been playing.

But once we got started, I found that I LOVED Here to Slay. As did my son. We had a great time. One of the many good things about the game is that it doesn't take a long time to get through it. So we played round after round and enjoyed each game more as we became accustomed to the rules.

How to Play

As we read through the brief How to Play we felt thoroughly confused. And I thought the one page (front and back) of instructions clearly was not sufficient. But it was! It is a strategy game with many different options and outcomes but really very simple.

"In this game, you'll assemble a full Party of Heroes to slay dangerous Monsters while working to avoid the sabotage of your [friends] enemies. You'll also equip items to your Heroes, harness powerful mage, and use roll modifiers to tip the adds in your favor."

We played with just the 2 of us. Which was fun. But the game can accommodate up to 6 players. The more players to battle, curse, and steal their heroes the more fun (and strategic) the game would be. 

Each play chooses a Party Leader card. Each Party Leader has a special skill/power. I chose the Leader that had a bit more strength against fighting the monsters. My son chose the Leader that had a bit more power during each roll. 

During each turn, the player has 3 "actions". During those actions, you could choose to draw cards, battle a Monster (which takes 2 of your 3 actions) or roll to have one of your Heroes do something against your opponent.  

To win the game you must either slay 3 Monsters or gather a party of Heroes that represents at least one each of the 6 classes (Fighter, Guardian, Ranger, Thief, Wizard, Bard). During each turn you have to try to build your Party of Heroes or do something to try to set back your opponent. 

There are challenge cards and modification cards. These cards can make your rolls of the dice stronger or your opponents rolls weaker. Or, you can challenge your opponent and if you win the challenge roll of the dice you can in effect take away their turn.

I am probably making it sound more difficult than it is. Perhaps some visuals will help. 

There was a handy and very helpful direction card to keep next to me. To remind me of what my turn (my 3 actions) could consist of. It also reminded me of the 6 different party classes - an easy reminder of the different Heroes I was trying to collect.



These were my favorite Party Leader and Hero cards so far. The Divine Arrow Party Leader added one point to each of my rolls against the Monsters. And Wiggles the Hero allowed me to steal my opponent's Hero card - if I was able to roll a 10 or higher.



If you have children (or grandchildren) who like strategy and/or role playing card games but you aren't as enthused about them this may be a wonderful compromise. If you are competitive and like to steal things from your opponent or block their play, you will love this game. I was a skeptic. But it turns out that the game was so much fun that I have been trying to figure out how to Face Time or Zoom with my camera pointed at my table. 

                                         


Related Reviews:

If you are more imaginative than I am, you may want to take a look at Wednesday Elf's Dungeons & Dragons - Fantasy Role-Playing Game Review. In that review she shares how she is familiar with the game. Two years ago she wrote, "D&D is here to stay". Ms. Elf was not wrong about that. As I mentioned above, there have been quite a few students I work with who play the game today (and try to get me to play despite my imagination limits). 

You can see her review here




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Monday, March 7, 2022

Book Review: Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants

 People who know me, know that I am interested in learning more about maintaining my land in a way that is helpful to wildlife and this includes educating myself about invasive species and how they harm my land. That is why when I received Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants as a goodbye gift when I moved, I was thrilled. This book hits the mark in so many ways.



Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants written by Douglas W. Tallamy

My copy of Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants is a 15th printing and was updated and expanded in 2009. The first edition was published in 2007. Why had I not previously known about this important book?!

"Bringing Nature Home is a book many of us have been waiting for. So much more than a push for native plants, it articulates the broad interdependency of living relationships and literally redefines gardens as the new Nature" - Foreword by Rick Dark. 

It is the attention to detail related to how everything is interdependent and the ability of the author to describe everything in a helpful way for us regular folks that makes this book so beautiful. For example, by now many of us know that the Monarch Butterfly is dependent on the milkweed for survival. So many of us, myself included, either plant milkweed plants or help disperse and plant the seeds from the milkweed pods in areas where the plant is present. However, what I only learned through this book is that butterflies need both a "host" plant and a "nectar" plant. One plant for reproducing and one plant for feeding. Fortunately, the milkweed does both for Monarch Butterflies.  However, people like me mistakenly believe that popular plants, such as the Butterfly Bush, is another must-have plant for sustaining butterflies. Unfortunately, we sometimes choose the wrong type (or combination) of plants and do more harm than good.

"When designing a butterfly garden, you need two types of plants . . . Most people only focus on the plants that produce nectar. Even worse, they often turn to alien plants that are promoted as being good for butterflies, the most popular of which, hands down, is the butterfly bush (Buddleja species). . . .         but not one species of butterfly in North America can use buddleias as larval host plants."  

Well, who knew?  I sure didn't! I am thankful to have this knowledge now. I may still plant Buddleias on my land but cautiously and with a focus on ensuring that I have plenty of other nectar AND host plants in order to provide a complete habitat. According to the author, when we do not provide this complete habitat, we sometimes do more damage than good. And in this example, end up with a lower butterfly population.

While chapter one is "Restoring Natives to Suburbia: A Call to Action" and chapter two is "The Vital New Role of the Suburban Garden" the information contained in this book is relevant to all sizes of lots and land. Even my rugged ridge-top acreage in West Virginia. In fact, this book includes information about 2 trees I am interested in that others sometimes have never heard of: Paw Paw and American Chestnut. This book also mentions many of the alien (non-native) species I am dealing with on my land: Autumn Olive and Mile-a-minute to name just two. Interestingly enough, Autumn Olive was planted as a way to assist birds. In the long run, it became an invasive plant that - like some butterfly plants - provides some food but no other habitat (host) value.

Mr. Tallamy does a most excellent job of teaching the reader about the importance of native plants. And how those native plants support birds, butterflies, and the environment as a whole. He doesn't avoid the tough questions about non-native plants, rather he includes an entire chapter of "Answers to Tough Questions".

If you have any desire to learn about landscaping and providing a yard that better sustains wildlife, this book is absolutely the place to begin.

My Personal Stance Regarding My Responsibility to the Natural World Around Me

I am a bit sad that I had not heard of this book until it was gifted to me at the end of last year but am thrilled that I have it now. Truthfully, I have not read the entire book cover-to-cover. It is so packed full of information that I have read certain sections, and have returned to read those sections again (i.e. the section about Milkweeds and Monarchs and the section about American Chestnuts). This will be a reference book that I refer to again and again over time. Especially Appendix One, "Native Plants with Wildlife Value and Desirable Landscaping Attributes by Region" and Appendix Two, "Host Plants of Butterflies and Showy Moths". 

I have a strong desire to be a good steward of my land and to provide a helpful habitat to the birds, butterflies, and wildlife in the area - while eventually having a place that is as useful to humans (i.e. homesteading with a garden and chickens).  I also have a strong desire to leave the world - not just my land - a better place than I found it. 

To be completely honest, I feel there is far too much lip-service given to environmental issues and very little real action. The phenomenon of the most vocal environmentalists physically doing little to help the environment (while often making personal decisions that are harmful) astounds me. I could list the things that irk me related to this topic, but I'm not sure I am able to write it in a way that conveys my intent and that is ultimately productive. So I'll just say: if you are concerned about the environment, demonstrate that concern. Begin at home and in your community.

The first big step is education. Mr. Tallamy does an excellent job of educating and explaining. I don't feel that he is lecturing or berating, rather he is encouraging. He turns a world-wide problem into small bite-sized chunks. 

The second step is for more of us to do something. I may only have 4 acres surrounded by hundreds of acres that aren't being cared for. But I can do something real on my little bit of land. Something that is meaningful. 

I am not as articulate as Mr. Tallamy so I will end with an important question and answer from his book (edited for length - please read his entire answer if you are able):

Q: My house sits on an eighth of an acre. Is that enough land to make a difference if I use natives instead of aliens?
"Your small plot is connected to other plots, which are connected to others and others and others. Collectively, they are North America. Changing the plant base of all of suburbia is quite an undertaking, but all you have to worry about is your eighth of an acre." 
"If we humans are capable of [ruining] hundreds of millions of acres . . .we are also capable of returning natives to our gardens"

Thank You

Finally, I am so thankful for the science teacher/co-worker/friend who gifted me this wonderful book. You demonstrate your concern for the earth (and students, and co-workers, and all who cross your path) on a daily basis. You are a wonderful role model in so many ways. And you have enabled me to make more informed decisions on my land that will help sustain the wonderful wildlife of West Virginia.  





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Monday, February 21, 2022

Reviewing Open Shelving in the Kitchen with a Focus on Plate Racks

I love open shelving in the kitchen. And not because it seems to be a recent popular trend. I don't know how I developed this preference but I did. Now that I'm in my new home I made sure to stress to the builder that I did not want the typical kitchen wall cabinets with doors. I did not have a solid plan for the layout with the exception a plate rack. I HAD to have a wall-mounted, wooden plate rack. I repeated that so many times that I'm sure people around me grew tired of hearing me say it. My kitchen is still a work in progress but I've got my plate rack!

my beautiful and functional hanging plate rack


Wall Mounted Wooden Plate Racks

There probably isn't much that I dislike more than lifting plates in and out of a cupboard with a door. Stacking and unstacking them. My stoneware plates are heavy and the rub against each other as I move them. And how frustrating if the plate I want is one of the larger plates at the bottom of the stack! I have always had assorted plates so maybe typical families don't experience having to unstack half of the plates in order to get the desired one out of the cupboard. But it is my pet peeve and happened to me frequently.

My wonderful wooden plate rack solves that issues. The plates stand upright, separated from each other by wooden dowels. No stoneware clunking against stoneware. And no digging in a pile to get a big plate. 

While my plate rack is not designed to hold small saucers, my saucers do indeed fit into the rack. 

I purchased my wall mounted plate rack from a woodwork shop on Etsy. If you are looking for plate racks I highly recommend checking there first (unless you personally know a talented wood worker). 

The holliwalt shop made my custom plate rack. 

my handmade plate rack by holliwalt on Etsy


Because it was custom, it took almost a month to receive it. It arrived unstained, as advertised, and I put a coat of clear stain on it to protect it but also allowed the natural wood grain to show. 

If you are looking for a plate rack and the holliwalt shop doesn't have what you want they do take custom orders.  Or entering "plate rack wall mounted"  in the Etsy search bar gives many results and a large variety to choose from.

Such as this beauty from 1766Co.

made by 1766Co

I think it is clear that I prefer minimal or no crown molding. But if molding is your preference, there are several styles between these two Etsy shops that have crown molding. And if you notice in the holliwalt shop, there is one shelf that includes wine cubbies. I was very tempted to order that one instead of the one I chose.

Open Shelves in Kitchens 

We may or may not remember that periodically many kitchens throughout history have had open shelving. A quick search of the internet shows that the open kitchen shelves design is not a flash-in-the-pan fad. 

Here we have a photo depicting a kitchen in 18th century Sweden

photo courtesy of CC By-SA 3.0



Here is a photo of a historic farm house built in 1889 in Montana, US. This is reportedly the kitchen in the Tinsley Living Farm - Museum of the Rockies.

photo courtesy of SA-2.0 Generic


And an example of open shelving in a 1948 issue of Ladies' Home Journal. 

photo courtesy of Flickrs The Commons

In my opinion, open shelves are beautiful and functional. While the "clutter" of your items are visible, I always feel as though a kitchen with open shelves appears more spacious. There are fewer upper cabinets blocking light and views. Yes, the items on open shelves are not protected from gathering dust. That is perhaps the one and only down-side of open shelves in my opinion. But the ease of being able to see what you have at a glance makes up for that. I also feel as though open shelves in kitchens versus full upper cabinets save resources. There are no door, hinges, or handles that have to be made and someday refinished or replaced. 

When my kitchen is finished (or closer to finished) perhaps I'll share an update of my shelves. I love having large jars of my pasta, dried beans, tea, flour, sugar and similar items visible. I do not have to move from the counter while working to reach those items which is extremely convenient. And, more importantly, I think those items are pretty to look at. For example, seeing my mullein tea leaves in a jar on that shelf is pleasing. 

Open shelves in kitchens are not for everyone. For sure. But they make me very happy. Especially that wonderful wooden plate rack that hangs just above my sink and keeps my plates from clanking against each other as I put them away.




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