Monday, April 20, 2015

The Best Books for Beginning Gardeners & Farmers

It only took me 30 years to figure out what I  really wanted to be when I grow up.  A farmer!  I had this initial discovery when I began taking the Small Farm Business Management class at the local community college.  We were given our list of books that would be required reading for the course, and the second I opened "You Can Farm" by Joel Salatin, all the pieces just began to fall in place.  This was the voice I needed to hear (or read) and it's what motivated me to study up and try my damnedest at farming.  You must know that while I have learned a lot over the last few years I'm still a long way from working my own farm, but I'm getting closer and closer.

Our garden on our 3/4 acre homestead (and our business, which is called Black Dog Homestead) continues to expand and get bigger with every coming year, and our first year at the farmers market went really great last season!  Not to mention, we'll be attending a second farmers market this year in addition to the previously mentioned one.  All that said, I think that Lindsay and I are well on our way to creating our farm and I'd like to mention some of the reading material that I feel has brought us here.  So, in no particular order here is my recommended reading for anyone who is interested or already involved in gardening or farming.  Since I've already mentioned him I'll just start off with...

Joel Salatin
You Can Farm
Folks, This Ain't Normal

As I mentioned before "You Can Farm" is really the whole reason that I had the idea to expand from just gardening as a hobby, to taking a shot at farming full-time.  Joel Salatin is really a charismatic person and I'd almost be willing to say that he is a far better speaker than a writer. (Just type his name into the youtube search and watch any of his videos and you'll see) But, he does have a way with words on paper just as much as he does speaking.  What more would you expect from someone that describes them self as a "Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic-Farmer"?  "You Can Farm" is his most informative work and covers almost every different aspect of farming you may have questions concerning.  "Folks, This Ain't Normal" is quite different.  It's more humorous, but focuses on the philosophical ascpect of farming and where our food comes from.  Joel also has a great book on keeping chickens and earning an income from them, as well as a book on raising cattle.  Unfortunately, we have yet to get into the livestock territory, but a boy can dream!

Eliot Coleman
The New Organic Gardener
Four-Season Harvest

"The New Organic Gardener" had to be the second book that got me super excited to grow different vegetables and take a chance at selling them at the market!  Eliot Coleman really takes organic gardening and makes it so easy.  This book covers several different topics and helps to get you prepared for selling your own produce at the market.  "Four-Season Harvest" is another excellent book that helps to show how you can grow a variety of vegetables throughout all of the seasons, even winter.  I feel that this is something that most gardeners don't even consider, I should know because it certainly hadn't ever crossed my mind until opening this book.  Funny side note, back when The Learning Channel was actually a channel with substance, Eliot and his wife had a great show called "Gardening Naturally".  My how the time's have changed.

Gene Logsdon
The Contrary Farmer
Two Acre Eden
The Contrary Farmer's Invitation to Gardening
Gardener's Guide to Better Soil

Alright, I had to stop myself before I just listed the man's whole list of work!  Gene Logsdon is by far my favorite author when it comes to gardening and agriculture.  Hell, he's become one of my favorite authors in general.  Just read some of the posts on his blog and you'll quickly see how infectious his sense of humor and intelligence are.  It was hard to narrow down the list, he has nearly 30 books under his belt: some even fiction, one on life and death and even one titled "Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind".  C'mon!  If you were more interested in a book on farming I would highly suggest "The Contrary Farmer".  While "You Can Farm" got me started, I much more enjoyed "The Contrary Farmer" and it has that Gene sense of humor that is just too hard to beat.

Ellen Sandbeck
Eat More Dirt

Libraries are under appreciated.  Mine works with several other libraries in the central Illinois area, so if one of the other libraries has a book you would like you can put a request in and they'll receive it for you.  I've used this several times, just like I've checked out some of the same books several times!  Ok, there are a handful I have broken down and purchased my own copies. (Salatin, Coleman, Logsdon...) Anyways, I was lucky enough to come across this book at the local library while I was just browsing.  It's a quick and easy read and has some great pointers regarding organic gardening.  I haven't read any of Ellen's other books, but she has written some and keeps a blog on living a 'green' lifestyle.

Rebecca Thistlewaite
Farms With a Future

Each chapter throughout this book focuses on a different farm the author visited.  Some being strictly vegetable farms, some livestock, some both.  The different chapters discuss some of the groundbreaking ideas the farms had as well as some of their failures and advice from mistakes that they made.

Niki Jabbour
The Year Round Vegetable Gardener

This is another book I just happened to uncover while browsing the 'new' section at the library.  The idea behind this book is in the same vein as Eliot Coleman's "Four-Season Harvest".  It focuses on showing how to garden during the cold winter months.  Unlike Coleman's book, this is a larger hardback and has photographs rather than illustrations.  While the informational content may not be any better than Colemans, you may find the photographs to be more helpful and it really is a nice-looking book to browse through and get those taste buds salivating.

Edward Smith
The Vegetable Gardener's Bible

I've only listed this one because it is pretty massive and it's a good trouble shooting guide for the avid gardener.  If you can't find any answers from this book or any of the other massive Rodale gardening books you're probably S.O.L.

Helen and Scott Nearing
The Good Life

This isn't really a book to help you with gardening or farming, but it still has a great deal to with those two topics.  This book reflects on how Helen and Scott lived self sufficiently for sixty years and it makes a lot of good points on how we should try to live, and to think of where our food comes from and how it really matters to live our lives to the fullest while respecting the planet we live on.  I'd highly recommend any of the Nearing's books if you haven't already read any.

Well, that's it!  I know there's a massive amount of literature on the broad topics of gardening and farming so hopefully this little list was able to help narrow it down some for you.  If you check any of these books out (library pun!) I'd be interested to know what you thought of them, or if there's any other good books you know of that I missed don't hesitate to mention them in the comments.  Remember, you can farm!  You can garden!  You can be self sufficient!

Harvesting pumpkins with Keller after a hard day of slip & slide!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Quick and Cheap Ways to Freshen Up Your Living Space

The past week I've been trying to finish up indoor projects before garden season is in full swing.  I finally got a chance to use the Hawaiian fabric I bought in Maui to make new curtains.  And as you know, one project always leads to another with us!  I came up with this idea a couple months ago while thinking about a way to keep plants on the window sill without the worry of them  getting knocked over.  We had a few pieces of this really pretty decorative white trim laying around, and I thought why not nail some in to the front of the window sill!  It looks really streamlined and polished, and has the functionality of keeping all of my pretty plants safe from harm.

Maui is Jared and I's favorite place in the world, so we love to bring Hawaiian elements into our decor if at all possible.  I hit the mother load at the fabric store there and brought this as well as the silver and white lace vinyl that covers the built in window seat, which is super pretty an easy to clean!

This color palate is very unexpected, and to tie the room together, I had to make new pillows. (Just kidding...I think it was just an excuse to play with my new Cricut Explore Air cutting machine. Yussssssss!) They are currently having an awesome promotion going on right now, too!

I whipped up a couple of pillows using this yellow and then some burlap to keep the beachy feel.  Then I busted out my Cricut Gold Glitter Iron-on Vinyl.  I am in LOVE with this stuff. I wish you could better see in this picture how beautiful it is in person!  My Explore Air has a cut depth setting for Iron-on which I used for the gold.  I chose the designs I wanted and then my sweet little machine cut them out perfectly.  I ironed them on, which took all of two minutes total for the three pillows and then promptly showed Jared my handy work!

Apparently its a hit with our new little baby boy, Odie, because he thinks mama put the pompons on the sides of the pillow for him to leisurely chew on when he's lounging and not in the mood to jump down and get a toy.  
But seriously, look at that face.  Every damn thing he does is cute!  I'm under his thumb...err...paw? Paw pad? What would you call a dog's thumb?.... are the other pillows I used.  All of this fabric was laying in my hoard, ah-hum, I mean stash, of fabrics.  I ironed heat n' bond onto the back of the seersucker fabric and cut this fern and palm tree on the fabric cut setting of the Explore Air.  It made glorious cuts!!!! Hallelujah!!

And now I can check the "curtains" off my list and also feel like the room is tied together.  Methodically mismatched....

And unexpectedly whimsical without feeling too childish.  We'll leave that up to the owners! (wink, wink)

Enjoy!! Please feel free to comment or message me about my experience thus far with the Cricut Explore Air! 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Music For Meditation

     I am so excited to introduce my better half to you!  I know I've written about him many times, because, let's face it, he either starred in, or had a hand in making all of these "tales from our cottage." You probably feel like you know him already! Jared will be sharing posts along with me, and I can't wait for you to hear all of his expertise, not to mention his perfectly timely sense of humor.  He is pretty much a music guru, garden master, beer connoisseur, and a professional at dealing with most of the struggles that come along with taking care of a young, chronically ill person.  He has an enthusiasm for life that will envelop your noggin as you read, and will inspire you and knock your socks off all at the same time! Join me in welcoming Mr. Storm to "Tales from a Cottage," in first person!!!  Take it away, Jared.....


During the past year my wife Lindsay has gone through a hellish struggle with her health.  One of the main culprits she’s been diagnosed with is fibromyalgia.  At first, she began attending physical therapy which seemed to help in the beginning, but over time it began to feel like the therapy had screeched to a halt and wasn’t helping as much as it should.  We decided to take matters in our own hands and just about everyday now we do yoga together.  We came across a practice instructed by Rodney Yee that uses gentle, restorative yoga and focuses on healing any pain from fibromyalgia.  Yee always has an amusing way of speaking that makes us chuckle every time, he’s become quite quotable around the house.  He’s really great.  Anyways, there’s several different styles of yoga, but one thing a lot of them share in common is that they focus on relaxation and meditation.   

While we’ve been pretty successful with keeping up with our yoga practices, I’ve had trouble with allowing myself enough time to look inward and meditate.  I know, we’re all busy with our family, work, hobbies, and other obligations, but if you can close the rest of the world out and meditate for at least five to ten minutes a day then that’s a perfect way to start.  I’m currently working on that to  relieve some of my stress.  Another thing I’ve found that has helped relieve stress over the years is music.  I’m a huge music fan.  Lindsay and I like a lot of the same stuff, but there’s plenty of my music that she could tell you is just atrocious. (See: Swans, Death Grips, John Maus...)  These albums do not fall into that category.  I’ve selected these albums because they are calming and have allowed me to find peace and the right amount of quiet when I’ve needed it.  I hope to use these albums more in an effort to find clarity and to help me meditate on whatever I'm struggling with.  You may prefer to meditate in silence and that’s great, do what works best for you.  I’ve found my mind begins to wonder and worry about minor or major problems of the upcoming day when there’s absolute silence.  Its hard to clear the clutter.  These albums give my mind something to return to and focus on as I recognize that clutter and let it drift away. If you think that yoga or meditation is too new age, or witchy, it’s 2015 and you need to check yourself.  So, here they are in no particular order:

Stars Of The Lid “The Tired Sounds Of...” 
This album is what initially peaked my interest into ambient music.  I first heard it while I was living in Chicago, working at a record distributor.  It was like nothing I had ever heard before, it blew my mind!  And now, Stars Of The Lid is probably one of my favorite bands of all time.  The title of the album describes the music perfectly, droned out-heavily treated guitar, horn, flute, piano, and other classical instruments make simple sounds and creates maximum opuses!  If you only listen to one of these, make it this one.  Or probably the next album, that’s a tough one...

Brian Eno “Ambient 1: Music For Airports”
One of the first, if not the first “ambient” album, this was recorded during 1978.  The idea for this album was "intended to induce calm and a space to think.", which is exactly what I find it does for me.  The music consists of tape loops of different lengths consisting of acoustic piano, electric piano, synthesizers and vocals.  I’ve heard Eno came up with the idea while laying in a hospital bed and hearing muffled, silenced classical music for several hours.  It’s also been said he came up with the idea while being stranded at well, an airport.  This man has to have at least 20+ ambient albums under his belt and I'd recommend them all!

The Caretaker “An Empty Bliss Beyond This World”
This album is a bunch of 78 records sampled and rearranged and edited, mostly old time ballroom style records.  Sometimes the scratches on the vinyl are amplified to the point where they make up the majority of some songs.  The ballroom scene in “The Shining” is the perfect description for this album, which I have read from somewhere else and I’m sure has been referenced many other times.

The Dead Texan “The Dead Texan”
This is Adam Wiltzie of Stars Of The Lid, and unlike SOTL there’s more instrumentation throughout this album and even some soft vocals!  Wiltzie said these songs were supposed to be on a SOTL album, but were “too aggressive”.  Aggressive is the last word that would come to mind thinking of this album, it is definitely soothing, dreamy and calming.  The final song on the album, “The Struggle” is one of my favorites.

Brian McBride “The Effective Disconnect”
The other half of Stars Of The Lid (are you beginning to notice a common theme here?), McBride conducted this music for a documentary called “The Vanishing Of The Bees”.  No surprise the sounds on this album are along the same vein as those on any of the Stars Of The Lid albums, smooth and dulcet as always.

Tim Hecker “Dropped Pianos”
Tim Hecker, another ambient artist I discovered while working in Chicago, usually puts out more abrasive albums full of electronic glitches and echoes of white noise. (see: “Mirages”, “Ravedeath, 1972”)  However, this album has a softer sound than most of his other ones.  Essentially, it’s just a bunch of simple sketches that he made to dissect for a future album.  The instrumentation of that album is mostly, believe it or not, pianos.

William Basinski “The Disintegration Loops”
Via Dusted Magazine, “In transferring 20-year-old loops from analogue to digital format, the tapes decayed, and Basinski captured the phenomenon in its rawest state as the oxide literally flaked, fell off and became dust.”  Basinki was living in New York City at the time, and has said he was completing the tapes during September 11th while the Twin Towers were attacked, hints the album covers.  It’s amazing to listen to the sounds slowly deteriorate.

Aix Em Klemm “Aix Em Klemm”
Yet, another release from Adam Wiltzie of Stars Of The Lid.  Last one, I swear.  He teamed up with one of the guys from Labradford for this release.  Still as calm as ever.

A Winged Victory for the Sullen “A Winged Victory for the Sullen”

Ok, so I lied.  This is the latest output from Wiltzie of SOTL.  It’s probably my least favorite release from any of the projects that he’s been involved in, but it’s still good.  Perfect for just sitting back or laying down and unwinding.

Aphex Twin “Selected Ambient Works 85-92”

Wait, I thought this was a list of ambient music, not techno?  Well, it says ambient right there in the album title!  This is basically ambient music with some beats layered in.  Definitely worth checking out if you’ve never given Aphex Twin a listen.  The next couple of albums listed aren’t exactly ambient and have a “rhythm section”, but they still maintain a sound that you can really decompress to.

Boards Of Canada “Music Has The Right To Children”
I really don’t know what to say to describe this one, thick layers of melodies from different synthesizers, laid back beats and the occasional eerie vocal samples.  No other bands have touched on the sounds these guys have been able to come up with.  You just need to go and listen to this if you haven’t already.

Polmo Polpo “Like Hearts Swelling”
This is another one of those albums that I was lucky to uncover while working in that Chicago warehouse.  Polmo Polpo translates to “octopus lung” in italian.  Sandro Perri is the man behind the name, I think the translation is probably a good description of the music, but then again it sounds so much prettier than the image those words draw up.  The rhythm within the music sounds like being underneath waves, hell, most of the sounds on the album sound like they were recorded underneath water, or at least in an aquarium-like surrounding.  This album still remains one of my favorites after all of these years, and I suppose there are a few moments where it could get maybe just a little noisey, but I still find the album to be mostly tranquilizing.

Gas “Nah Und Fern”

I don’t think I can beat the description for this one that Wikipedia has: “Gas is a music project of Wolfgang Voigt (born 1961), a Cologne, Germany-based electronic musician. Voigt cites his youthful LSD experiences in the Königsforst, a German forest situated near his hometown of Köln, as the inspiration behind his work under the name Gas.  He has claimed that the intention of the project is to "bring the forest to the disco, or vice-versa".


Honorable Mentions:

Loscil "Submers"
Eluvium "Copia"
Tarentel "Big Black Square EP"
Keith Fullerton Whitman "Playthroughs"

My hope is that while listening to these, you heard something that brought you some peace and composure.  If any of these strike a chord with you,  then I would recommend downloading that album, or finding a physical copy to enjoy the best possible audio experience you can.  In the future, whenever you’re listening to music, or experiencing any art for that matter (television, film, theatre, visual arts, etc...) always ask yourself, “How does this make me feel?"  

Inhale, exhale and pause.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Why Fairy Tales Are Good for Little Boys and Girls (And Adults)

My mother and I went to see the new Cinderella movie last night, and the beauty of the story and emotion that it stirred up within me inspired some really thought provoking ideas.  I've been a lover of fairy tales since I can remember, and seeing this movie as an adult made me realize how important these tales really have been in my life. (Also, the Easter Bunny visited me early this year, and brought me some of the Lauren Conrad Cinderella collection clothing line from Kohl's. I'm so in love, I thought I might as well share those, too!)

My favorite tales have always been Cinderella and The Wizard of Oz, followed closely behind by Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and all the rest.  I had the honor of playing the lead role in Cinderella in middle school in a production produced by our local Storyteller Theater. I was able to wear the beautiful ball gown, ride in the carriage, and play with all of my talking mice and dog and cat. It was a dream come true.

As a young girl, I loved the excitement of the visit from Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and even the tooth fairy.  There was something about the magic behind it all that gave me an enthusiasm for life and miracles.  I'll never forget one day at school in 6th grade.  Some kids were teasing a class mate for believing in Santa Claus.  I remember scolding the kids for making fun, and came home crying to my mother.  I told her what had happened, and asked her if those kids were right, because I still fully believed.  She told me the truth, and I began to cry even more. It was so sad to lose that joyful innocence...It just broke my heart temporarily.  And even though my younger sister knew long before me, and had to "pretend," as she told my mom, for my sake, I was so glad that I was able to keep that feeling and excitement for so long.

I'm not able to have children, but I still decorate the house to the nine's when Christmas rolls around. I love the magical feeling, and I believe Santa Claus is real in my heart. If I had to explain to a child about fairy tales and Santa, and the Easter Bunny, I would tell them to first think about that feeling of excitement, joy and wonder we get when we think about their magic and love.  We know that a thought and a feeling is real, even though we cannot see them. I would say that magical feeling is real.  I would tell them to always come back to that feeling when you come across them again, and you will know that they exist, and their magical love is shared regardless of whether or not we physically see them.

Last night the theme throughout the movie was, "Always have courage, and always be kind."
That's when I realized.  I've been following  the lessons of these fairy tales all my life.  Here are some of the things I have learned, and why it is important to have these notions in our lives, starting at a young age:

1.  The tales are teaching us that there are hardships in life that we must overcome.

2.  Good always triumphs evil.  Doing the right thing will ALWAYS  payoff, even if its not an instantaneous payoff.

3.  Be kind to animals.  Animals are innocent creatures of love.  I have always talked to animals, too, and I know they can understand me, or at least pick up on my loving nature.

4.  Your Prince Charming will come, if you work hard, and are brave and good.  Prince Charming may come in different forms, like a friend or family member who helps you in a difficult time.  Sometimes, we are our own Prince Charming, and I think that's pretty amazing!

5.  Nature is our friend.  All of these tales start off with the main character outside adoring flowers or tending to a garden, or out in the woods.  Nature is healing...and its helped me more than anything!

6.  Fairy tales set you up to believe in miracles.  When we start expecting good things to happen, they start happening.

7.  Fairy Godmothers are helping us along the way...we just don't see them, usually.  I know in my heart of hearts that angels are always with us, and if only we call upon them, they will always be there to comfort us and guide us.

8.  The power has been with us, all along.  Click your heels, and remember: no matter what happens, it is ultimately our responsibility to decide how we want to react to it.  Always approach things with love and authenticity, and you will never go wrong.
Expect miracles and magic.  Start noticing the little things in life that are magical and miraculous.  They are happening all around us at any given moment.  I hope this added a little sparkle to your day!
"So this is the miracle that I've been dreaming this IS love."

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

DIY Maxi Skirt

Ok, everyone.  Don't be worried about me when you see me in this skirt in EVERY picture this spring and summer because I will LITERALLY be living in it. Its so comfortable!! Not to mention freakin' adorable!  I know you wanna make your own, so here's the quick directions:

  •  a really soft knit fabric.  I got mine from Girl Charlee.  I've got some more Hot-eez scarves coming out in my etsy shop with this kind of fabric very soon, too.
  •  a package of 1" thick elastic
  • a needle for knit fabrics like this one:
  • some super sharp scissors
  1. Start by measuring from your hip to the floor and add an extra 2 inches (mine was about 39" with a finished 41") It doesn't hurt to leave a little extra because you can always cut more off the length at the end.
     2.  Then hold the fabric up around your waist to get an idea of how much fullness you want in the skirt.  I wanted mine to be fuller, so I used 65" worth around the waist. You can use a straight pin or safety pin to hold it in place while you figure this out.
     3.   Then take the elastic and wrap it around your waist so that it will be snug but comfortable (I hate tight elastic around my waist.)

     4.  Sew your elastic together using a 1/4 in seam. Then sew your fabric together length wise using a quarter inch seam with the right sides of your fabric together.

5.   Pin the elastic to the inside of your fabric at the top for your waistband.  I gathered it evenly by starting with a pin at each half, then each quarter of the fabric, then each 1/8 of the fabric, and so on until all of the waistband is gathered and pinned to the back of the elastic. Don't fret about it being perfectly even.

6.  Stitch the gathered fabric to the top of the elastic using a 1/4 inch seam from the top of the elastic.

7.  Roll the stitched elastic down once.

8.  Top stitch just below the elastic on the right side of the fabric as seen below. Take your time and stitch slowly.

9.  Try it on and check the length.  This type of fabric does not need a hem, so you have a beautiful flowy skirt in just a few easy steps!  

This type of skirt looks great with a fitted tank or even a blousey top tucked in.

I added some gold jewelry and gold flat sandals for a dressed up casual look that feels effortless.

For a cool evening, or a rainy day of shopping like the picture below, I added a fitted jean jacket. I was in fabric heaven at the Fabric Mart in Maui.  (More projects to come after this little visit, of course.)

Enjoy this easy-breezy skirt, and don't forget to tag me on instagram or facebook (my icons are at the top to the right) or in the comments below so I can see how yours turn out!!  Mahalo!!
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