Archive for the ‘Good Reads’ Category

I confess. I didn’t clean my floors.

I spent the weekend shoveling. Which is underfoot, so that sort of counts?

It’s strange being housebound by yourself. The last time this happened I was 21 years old, it was 1977, and even though I had a roommate, she was never there. Eventually in that epic winter storm (60 inches of snow over the course of about a week, air temps lower than -20 (that’s Fahrenheit folks), I had to dig my way out and spent the week squatting in a university art studio.

I got to the end of the internet. I watched Netflix. I watched the season premier of Downton Abbey, reminding myself of the fact that I stopped watching it because of the telegraphed plot and sluggish writing and direction, despite the absurd number of simultaneous storylines. (Downton hate mail in 3…2…1…)

I made rugelach.

But a large part of the day I pulled a chair up to my back window and just watched the storm. Here in Chicago we got twelve inches on top of the twelve already on the ground. It snowed last year, too,  but this “was not the same snow. This snow came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss….”

I felt like I was living inside the story, which I know by heart, because I have read it aloud to someone every year for decades, and when I didn’t have someone to read it to, I read it aloud to myself.

I left the house dark except for the last of the holiday lights, draped with greenery in the bow window. Snow like this muffles the sound of the city, with just the occasional rattle of the wind chimes next door– they rattle instead of ringing because they are filled with snow.

I sat because I was sad; it’s no fun being housebound alone when you’re used to having someone with you, to share the thoughts, and the boredom and the rugelach. But after a few minutes, the view becomes hypnotic and your mind empties. It’s not so much that you’re not sad, or not thinking, but that you’re just a vessel, filling up like the garden with the beautiful, blowing, soft and drifting snow.

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I couldn’t have chosen a better week to be sick as a dog, because the U.S. Figure Skating Championships are this week. So fortunately, I only had to do one thing all week- watch the live stream.

There’s nothing more boring than being kinda sick. If you’ve got the full out flu, you feel like you’re going to die, but at least you sleep through most of it. Illnesses like this one– low grade fever, general lethargy–don’t even come with a loss of appetite and I always say what the hell is an illness good for if you don’t even lose any weight. Of course, I probably lost weight anyway, because my husband kept forgetting to feed me.

So here are some things to keep you from being completely stir crazy:

1. Technology
What in the world did we do when we were sick before there was broadband? In addition to figure skating, I’m pretty sure I got to the end of the internet. Also, you can still talk to people, even when you can’t talk, via chat and texting. Forget the tv– that’s so last century.

2. Rooms
As in, move from one into another. Fortunately, I just finished upgrading my kids’ rooms into guest rooms, so I spent the week moving from my bed, to the side bedroom to the front bedroom to the living room and back again. At least the scenery was different.

3. Complaining about the nursing
This is easy in my house, since they all learned their nursing skills from me (see above, re: meals), and I’m the world’s worst nurse. I am also extremely crabby when I’m sick, not that it’s all that easy to tell the difference.

4. Georgette Heyer novels
Just respectable enough to not be embarrassing to buy, but trashy enough not to require too much brain power.

5. Baths
Okay, while technically not “in bed,” you’re still prone, right? Don’t do this if you have a high fever, because it will raise your core temp, but it’s fine for a low grade fever, and again– change of scenery. Plus, sweetie, you know I love you, but after 3 days in bed, you’re a little ripe. Get your nurse, such as s/he is, to change the sheets while you’re in there.

6. Make lists
I always keep a pad of paper in the nightstand, on the theory that I can jot stuff down in the middle of the night so I don’t forget in the morning. Things like “Don’t forgetl;kajdao[kerh” So helpful. While you’re lying there semicomatose, however, you can take the opportunity to mentally walk through the house and write down all the projects that you’re not going to do when you’re better anyway.

7. Get your own damn dinner
I’m sure he meant well, but seriously, somebody fix meals for the poor patient. This is the major drawback of a whole foods (no, not Whole Foods) diet. You always have to cook, because there’s no prepared foods.

What do you do to entertain yourself when you’re sick?

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For the past 24 hours my kitchen table has been covered with a mound of seed packets, envelopes, and small paper bags. The other writers here at NDiN and I are organizing a private seed swap so we can share our excess between the (now) nine (!!!) of us. Since I’ve gotten the seeds out, eight inches of snow has fallen here on the lakeside and I’m finding myself more and more anxious for spring to get here. I’m excited to try out a potted garden this year and I can’t wait until the Farmers Market opens up again. Until then I’ll be daydreaming about having our own property again where I can grow a 4-season garden.

One of our lucky readers won’t be daydreaming – you’ll be planning how to extend your harvests throughout the next winter referencing The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses.

Using a random number generator, I got our winner!!

Comment number 32, Susan from Maine, will have the opportunity to learn about how to extend her crops through the brutal northeast winters!

Congratulations, Susan! Contact me via email (at whirliegigs at gmail dot com) so I can send a package your way!

Thank you all for joining and sharing your winter desires. It’s been fun to read through what each of you would like access to over the coldest months of the year. An interesting tidbit: Most of you desire to have the ability to grow your own greens – specifically kale, followed by spinach, then lettuces!


You can also find me at Unearthing this Life, on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and a smattering of other places on the interwebs.

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I love old books…the yellowed pages, the stained covers, the old book smell.  There is something about an old book with out of date writing style and pictures of people from long ago that I just adore!

My favorite bookstore to hunt for old books is Powell’s Books.  If you old book obsessed then Powell’s Books in Portland Oregon is truly a spiritual experience,  if there is a bookstore in heaven it will be Powell’s!  A few years ago when I was wandering its maze of aisles I found myself in the gardening section…ok I admit that is usually where I end up!  I spotted among the new and shiny garden books, with their covers of perfect cabbage roses and sophisticated Japanese maples,  this plain water stained cucumber green, enormous but squat book. It had  nothing on the cover but the words “The Complete Book of Composting by J.I. Rodale and Staff”  My first thought is how in the world could there ever be over 1000 pages worth of information on just composting?  My second thought is darn this is one ugly book!  I flipped to the Introduction page,

“Compost is the core, the essential foundation of natural gardening and farming.  It is the heart of the organic concept”

Across the page was written “SIXTH PRINTING-DECEMBER 1969”.

I didn’t know that there even was an “organic concept” in 1969!  Next I checked out the Table of Contents, here are just a few of its 27 chapters:

The History Of Compost,   The Basics of Compost,   Composting Methods For The Gardener,   Applying Compost On The Farm,  The Earthworm’s Role In Composting, Personal Experiences,   Compost And The Health Of Animals and Man,   Humus-The End Product, and even Compost And The Law

I was hooked, its old, its about composting, and not just a superficial look at composting either but a 27 chapter 1000 page behemoth of composting . With its great old black and white pictures and price tag of only $8.95 how could I resist?

After owning this for years and referring to it often I can say that anyone who has either an old book, or compost fetish that this is a great addition to your library…if you can find it!


Never judge a book by its cover!


You’ve got to love a woman who composts in a dress with her hair done up!  Very attractive compost bin.


I thought this was a novel idea.  A compost bin with a cement floor that slopes down to grooves that funnel the rain water turned ‘compost tea’ in sunken cans in the ground.  With the amount of rain we get around here I would need a couple of 5 gallon buckets instead of little coffee cans!

So do you collect old books?  How about old garden tools?  Maybe even great old farm signs…

Kim can also be found at the inadvertent farmer where she raises organic fruits, veggies, critters, kids, and… a camel!

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Life is a bumpy process.  Sometimes the road is filled with potholes, speed bumps, or police barriers. Other times some bit of the machinery of life gets neglected and starts thumping and shaking things about (this is happening with one of our cars right now).  Usually we can fill the potholes, fix the wonky bit of the system, or bump our way through, riding out the rough bits and moving on.  This happens to everyone, and is one of the things that makes life interesting (at least in retrospect.)  Every once in a while as you are cruising down life’s super highway something else happens.  The wheels start falling off the wagon for no apparent reason.  Makes a BIG mess.  This happened to us recently.  CC and I each realized that what we were doing wasn’t working.  She hated her job (loved the people individually, and the work with the kids, but hated (to the point of feeling ill every day) the job.  I hated the stupid broken-down, under-funded farm, the livestock, the kids, the crappy old house, everything.  One day things just snapped.  We each, almost simultaneously said, ” it’s time to move.”  Things just weren’t working.  We have been over this ground before, and usually we find something new and interesting to do somewhere else.  Lots of moving, lots of adventures.  EXCEPT… this was a really bad time to move.  The real estate market is terrible, jobs are hard to find, and we would have to do a ton of fixing to even be able to sell this place.  The other thing that is different this time is our reason for being here.  In the past we have taken interesting jobs in fantastic locations and gone for the adventure.  Once the adventure was over it was time to move on.  This time we picked a spot that wasn’t very interesting because it was where we wanted to create a home base.  It was close to family and friends.  It was enough space to live the life we wanted.  It was affordable.  There were jobs in the area.  It is a nice, mostly safe community where we are happy with the people we know, the connections we have made, and the lifestyle we have.  We should be happy, but we were not.  The wheels were definitely coming of the wagon at high speed.  Then it happened.  Huge, gaping pothole.  Crash and burn, bits go flying everywhere.  Goats in the garden.  DESTRUCTION!  The produce for the market was ruined.  It would take at least 6 weeks to get back in production.  The worst 6 weeks of the year.  It’s hot, dry, and the things we had planned for the market won’t germinate well.  Our costs will go way up because we will have to shade a lot more and irrigate a lot more.  Profits out the window.  Why are we doing this anyway?

Five years ago when we were planning this move we worked our way through a brilliant book At Home With Holistic Management by Ann Adams.  As we worked through this book we wrote a plan, starting with a vision of the life we wanted to create.  Then we moved out here and set to work creating the place and the enterprises we thought would get us what we wanted.  Somewhere along the way we lost sight of the vision.  If we had been following ALL  the steps in the book we would have been checking every decision against our vision and adjusting what we were doing to ensure all our actions moved us toward our vision.  Instead we worked on creating successful enterprises.  CC worked on job success and kept moving up in responsibility and pay.  I worked on successful market gardening and had really hit my stride this year.  The enterprises were really ticking along.  Successful.  Except the number one thing in our vision was time together as a family doing the things we love doing.  The more successful our enterprises were the less time we had that fit our vision.  CC hated her job and resented us because she had to work away from home.  I resented the kids, the animals, the house, and CC because they always demanded my time and I wasn’t getting things done the I needed to in order to be a successful market gardener.  Fortunately the gods gave us goats, and they helped us stop, analyze what we were doing, and get back with the program.  The past month and a half we have spent building a new plan that fits our vision better.  CC is renegotiating her contract for something that is a better fit and beginning to create a private practice.  I’m gardening for the family, growing things I love with lots of help from the CC and the kids.  I’m also launching a new line of goat milk fudge.  It has been a great success at the market, and I’ll be offering it on line soon.  We are checking back with our vision and our plan as we make decisions, and working our way through Ann’s book again.  We’ll soon have the wheels back on the wagon and be moving down life’s byways again.  The road will still have bumps, and the wheels aren’t the same ones we started with, but we are still together, in this place, living the dream.

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i have a lot of cook books floating around here. i like to have a variety of recipes to choose from. who doesn’t?

one of my all time favorites is the fanny farmer cook book. there are so many helpful tips and information in addition to the recipes. it’s quite a hefty little cook book! the pages are covered with splatters from a sloppy cook. i like how each type of meat is broken down with diagrams of cuts and descriptions of the cuts, along with the best way to prepare them. the same is done for fruits and vegetables too. it’s a cook book i highly recommend to anyone wanting to cook from scratch!

the nourishing traditions cook book is another great book that talks about preparing foods in the ancient tradition, soaking foods and keeping them alive (as opposed to just baking them such as granola which is supposed to be a no-no…we love it here so i make it anyway!). in addition to recipes, the columns are filled with customs of tribes around the world on food preparation and statistics of their health.

the sunburst family cook book is a hippy style cook book that offers alternatives to cooking with sugar and refined flour. recipes usually use honey and whole grain flour as well as other types of flours and sweeteners. it is vegetarian based.

putting it by with honey is excellent for jelly and jam recipes using honey instead of sugar. they generally turn out a bit runny but around here, sweet is sweet.

those four preside within easy reach for reference. the rest of my varied stash hang out on a higher shelf, some being rotated during the season they are needed the most:

dry it, you’ll like it! is about dehydrating just about anything, including meat.

wild fermentation is useful during harvest season to make krauts, pickles and such.

solar cooking gives me ideas during the summer on how to use my solar oven.

in addition to those perennial favorites, i have another assortment that sits even higher:

the vegetarian epicure

the vegetarian epicure, book 2

fields of greens

vegetarian times

moosewood cook book

moosewood restaurant cooks at home

the barefoot contessa

the naked chef

the little house cook book

cooking by moonlight

that is the short list! there are plenty more hidden around the house as well. the problem with that is i use maybe 1-2 recipes out of the majority of the cook books and so they sit around collecting dust and getting in my way, thus the reason they are up high on shelves.

to solve that problem, i have compiled my own cook book of sorts for my household binder. i type the recipes on a page created in word, including the source book and page number for easy reference and then print the pages out and keep them in my binder. i have 4 sections: entrees, sweets, breads, misc (sourdough, kefir, kombucha, etc). when i try out a new recipe, i’ll add it to my word document and print the page once it’s full and add it to my binder. that way, i’ve always got my tried and true recipes within reach without trying to remember which cook book i found a particular recipe in and spend half the day trying to find it. and even though i love my fanny farmer cook book, having all the recipes i truly enjoy all in my binder saves me from trying to remember the name of the recipe. i still use my fanny farmer book weekly but if there’s a specific recipe i want, i go straight to my binder. the bonus is, when i travel, i generally take my binder along since it always has travel information in it as well. so, if i’m staying away from home, i still have an arsonal of recipes at my disposal any time i feel like whipping something up. and yes, even when camping, i use it!

now that i’m organized, who’s got some more cook book suggestions for me??? what is/are your favorite cook book(s)?

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Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by Gina

applehead-002It is with much regret and reluctance that I admit to you that I lack any sort of crafty gene(-ius). Really, I cannot even say on an elementary level that I am skilled at making homemade art. Oh, but I do love craft books and blogs! I spend way too much time reading tutorials, drooling over other people’s craft-art, and even thinking about attempting a bit now and then. I’m a craft peeking tom! Unfortunately, I will never be able to offer you anything more than a simple project and even that will be truly the extent of my crafting ability. I’m not even good at copying!


Case in point, around Halloween I really wanted to do a tutorial-type thing on making an apple-head witch. Well, I didn’t get her finished beyond her scary, dried apple face. So, a week or so ago, I thought of finishing her into a him, a Mountain Santa to be exact, using felted wool recycled from thrifted sweaters and alpaca yarn for his beard. Well, I accidentally placed a stack of books on the head and let’s just say grand-PA got ran over by a stack of books. Sigh.
There is one thing in this department I am good at, though, and that is seeking out other people’s gorgeous creations online and literally turning green with envy (is it okay if I admit that to you? We’re all friends here, right?) Fortunately , there are plenty of craft voyeurism’s to be found on the web, folks who don‘t seem to mind if you take a little peek at their skills. This time of year I always want to broaden my homemade gifts beyond canned goods and sweets, but I can’t seem to master this sort of art. I have more hope for you, however, so I offer you some of my favorites mined from that great vast Internet world (and a few books). I hope you share your creations with us if you are a bit crafty yourself (but know I will be several shades of ivy and chartreuse at your photos!) or at least your favorite links!

1. I’m starting with a couple of our favorite Women not Dabbling Women: Tansy and Kathie. Both are so incredibly talented! I hope they share some tutorials with us in the future (hint, hint!) In fact, I am including them as teasers because I am sure we are going to see some of their incredible creations as time goes by! J

2. Okay, I am adding this one some what reluctantly because I find myself way too jealous when I look at her creations. She has turned her crafting skills into a successful online business. Plus, her family is just too darn perfect!

3. I wanted to make a stuffed owl for my niece’s birthday so I went to Google Images and typed in “Hand made stuffed owl”. I found this tutorial. I may try this one soon as I happen to have all the items needed (I never said I didn’t covet supplies; I’m just horrible at using them! 😉

4. Really, it seems so generous to me that people share their crafts with all of us online. I am particularly fond of handmade animals. I adore this turtle (o, cripes it’s that talented Wee Wonderful woman again!) My first tattoo is a turtle. My second one is a tree.

5. Someday during the dog days of summer (when the eggs are plentiful), I plan to try Pysanky artwork. If I could chose a teacher, it would have to be Shannon who has obviously mastered this art!

6. Many of the crafty bloggers I have been reading for years have gone on to write books or be featured in popular craft magazines. However, they still generously offer tutorials on their blogs. This turkey is so cute and it is made out of her kid’s hand (well a tracing anyway!) 😉

7. I love this little stuffed house. She even drew furnishings inside the house. This would make such a great gift giving recepticle. Her Easter Birdy is also mind-numbingly cute.

8. Okay, eight is not exactly a bloggy find. I actually found Ms. Tudor in my youth (at the local library where I checked the books by and about her over and over again. I recently found the book Tasha Tudor’s Heirloom Crafts at a used bookstore (you have no idea how high my heart leaped!) The book doesn’t have tutorial, per say, but it includes some of the most gorgeous craft-art eye candy in existence (my absolute favorite is her Nubian goat kid). If you have never looked at any of her books, check out the library! (As an aside, Tasha was also an extreme homesteader by choice!) I hope to find the Tasha Tudor Christmas book as it seems to have disappeared from my local library. L

9. Darn, I was only going to pick an example or two from this blog, but I see she put up a “Master Homemade Holiday List”! My favorite for holiday gifts are the tote bags. In fact, if I find a clear schedule day before the holiday festivities, I may attempt to stitch up a few out of my thrifted fabric stash. I’ll be sure to include this link on the tag with the Pocono Record on plastic bags to help explain why I’m giving away such bags. Of course, if you want to really get “the point” across, make up one of these candy wrapper bags. However, be pre-warned, this tote bag takes 792 candy wrappers. If you count dentist bills, it’s probably cheaper to buy one.

10. This one I went back and forth about including. We tend to shy away from politics here, at least the best us opinionated girls are able to, and she is a prime example of love her/hate her, but darn, Martha (or at least her creative staff), have some great handmade ideas! Her site has so many tutorials! Here are a few of my favorite (Martha) things!

Shoo, after all this great inspiration, I may actually be stimulated enough now to actually try some of these ideas myself!

P.S. Don’t you just love, love, love anything gnome, elf, fairy, toadstool, and brussel sprouts?




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Homesteading and Ag Mags

It may not qualify as a necessity, but one of the things Jack and I most enjoy related to homestead interests is homesteading magazines themselves.

It’s hard to believe there was a time I was not even aware there were such, and I had to content myself with Martha Stewart Living, Country Living, Better Homes and Gardens, and Southern living…all greats in their field, but still leaving me wanting…something.  Jack will always have his favorites…Popular Mechanics, and scientific magazines. We both love National Geographic. But where were the magazines telling us how to do the not-so-mainstream projects, sharing collections of anecdotal advice, not vilifying the process of raising/slaughtering/cooking a home-grown chicken?  I was probably the last person on earth who didn’t know about Mother Earth Magazine…

Some years back, as I tried to trim budgetary extras, I pretty much left behind reading things that encouraged me to seasonally redecorate the entire house, buy fancy imported foods, or make continual crafts projects. I love decorating, but couldn’t spend much time reading about it without wanting to spend…and that went for a lot of other subjects, too.  It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy them…I really did, but I didn’t NEED them.  I bypassed magazine reading for many years simply because I had a problem being content with what I had, and reading certain things regularly didn’t help with that.

That’s before I discovered homesteading magazines. They don’t show up in the stores around here very often, but for some reason I seem to have H-mag radar. I can pick a cover featuring pygmy goats out of a wall of fashion, auto, and fitness magazines, pronto! Same thing for anything with a cow, horse, chicken, goose, or sheep on it…or solar panel, cordwood house, period clothing, loom, cast iron kettle or cookstove, or piles of fresh produce. Zing! Somehow I can justify buying THAT sometimes because I will reread the thing till it’s worn out, and even then it’ll be saved in a stack of other mags to be returned to later. Spotting the word “compost,” or “artisanal,” or “pastured” on a front cover kicks my adrenaline up to a really happy place moreso than seeing any youthful Hollywood star or airbrushed abs ever will.

After marrying Jack and having many of the same interests in common as well as more ability to access the internet, we began looking for great homesteading magazines, and I feel we hit the Mother Lode. Maybe there are simply more of them out here now. Maybe more folks are interested in homesteading, or we’re only now just aware of these great mags that’ve been out there all along, I don’t know…

It helps that Jack loves them as much as I do. They are in our vehicles, my handbag, bedside tables, bathroom, bookcases. We discuss a lot of things we find in them, and the articles or readers’ letters spark an interest in something we can go look up further on the internet. Whoever gets first dibs on a new one found in the mailbox has a limited time before they have to relinquish it for a read by the other…ha! It may not seem practical, but when the necessary is also something you love, as are so many areas of what we consider a homesteading lifestyle, magazines that touch on a wide range of these are simply a delight to relax with.

This article is not to promote a particular publication, and any specific ones mentioned herein are ones we’re familiar with…but no, I don’t get any money for endorsing them.

 Some of the topics that better-known publications only skirt, homesteading and ag magazines indulge thoroughly. How do you make a really good butter? Can I clean a cast-iron skillet with oven cleaner? (the answer is No) What do you do for certain chicken diseases? Is the avian flu publicity accurate? What are fermented foods and what are some easy ones to make? How to utilize that jumbo crop of zucchini?  How do you build a homemade chicken coop, nesting box, meat smoker, chicken plucker, water storage system? What are the pros and cons of the different solar products out there? 10 tried and true recipes for (fill in the blank with the featured veggie of that month). How do I extend my growing season? What’s an heirloom plant, a heritage animal? There are articles on tiny houses, planted roofs, wildflower meadows, lowline and heritage cattle, companion planting, herbal tinctures, quilting, necessary and unnecessary tools. Want to raise llamas? miniature animals? meat animals? dairy animals? Which chickens lay those fabulous deep chocolate-colored eggs, or the pastel ones? How can I control poisonous snakes, ticks, mosquitos? How high does a fence need to be to be deer-proof? What plants are deer-resistant? 

There are magazines specific to pasture-raising livestock. Others are general and comprehensive, covering many homestead subjects and interspersing the featured articles with favorites such as recipes, how-to sections, letters from readers, Q&A, and photos, not to mention the great ads and upcoming events. Love poultry? There are poultry mags. Hobby farms? Ditto. The same thing can be said for Organic gardening, Herbals and herb gardening, specific types of livestock, farm equipment, homeschooling, homemaking, alternative energy, construction, homebuilding, and so on.

If I’d read this list to the man on the street, most likely I’d get a concerned stare…heehee! But it’s questions like these I’m HUNGRY to read more about…both in magazines and here online. Magazines are simply easier to get comfy with when we’re unplugged, which we try to stay most of the time. They can be dog-eared, highlighted, flagged with sticky notes, and passed from person to person. Homesteading magazines are one of our ways of satisfying some of that enthusiasm to see what others are doing and learn so many things.

This is the sort of enjoyment that is so much fun, we don’t even realize how much we’re learning. Someday, we’ll have an opportunity to put more of those things into practice, but we can’t underestimate the impact they’ve had on us now. Along with the voices of blog friends documenting their own homestead particulars, these magazines have rounded out our enjoyment and learning in practical ways.

Our only potential problem is addiction. Now we have so many favorites, we simply can’t afford subscriptions to more than one or two at a time, so we rotate a bit. Some of the ones we’ve enjoyed in the past include Mother Earth News, Countryside & Small Stock Journal, Back Home, Grit, The Stockman Farmer, Acres U.S.A., Backyard Poultry, Down to the Roots, Backwoods Home, Farm Show (a favorite of Jack’s).

The enjoyment of these is right up there with the happiness of hours spent poring over stockpiled seed catalogs, another favorite seratonin boost…

Do you enjoy a favorite ‘Steading or farm magazine? I’d love to know what’s on your coffee table along those lines…you know, so I can feed the addiction!

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