Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Little House in the Suburbs by Deanna Caswell & Daisy Siskin

It's been a little while since I've posted a book review. This isn't for lack of finishing books-- it's more like, I finish too many books and get overwhelmed with writing reviews!

Today I'm going to review a book that Nick got me for my birthday a few weeks ago. I've been wanting it for a few months and was super excited when he gave it to me :)

Little House in the Suburbs - Backyard Farming and Home Skills for Self-Sufficient Living by Deanna Caswell and Daisy Siskin

The name alone encompasses exactly what I dream of having someday-- simple, self-sufficient living. Needless to say, I couldn't put the book down :)

The introduction of the book, titled "Why Simple Living in the Suburbs?" introduces readers to the idea that you do not need to live in the middle of nowhere with acres and acres of land to live more simply. You also don't need to jump with both feet forward into the self-sufficient lifestyle. You can take bits and pieces, find what works for you, change things up as needed, and ultimately find a balance that keeps you happy, healthy, a little more green, and connected with the simplicity that self-sufficient living can provide. Many of the ideas can be done at a relatively low cost with low commitment. You decide you don't actually love gardening? Well, just let the garden plot go and eventually the yard will take back over. Realize that chicken-keeping isn't your thing? Put the hens up on Craig's List and they'll be gone within a few days. Of course, like anything, you could easily spend a lot of money buying the latest technology and fancy items; but to start out, those things are absolutely not necessary. You may decide later, after you realize you'll be sticking to your new lifestyle, that you want those items; and that's totally ok, but don't buy them up front. 

Chapter 2 "I Grew it Myself! Or, But You Don't Understand, I Kill Everything." is all about gardening. According to the authors (and I very much agree with them) gardening is central to back-to-basics simple living. What I love most about the way this chapter is written, is that the authors state up front the tremendous amount of books and resources devoted to gardening, and that it can be an overwhelming feat to begin; however, they aren't looking for gardening to be an all-consuming hobby. The authors describe gardening as a trial-and-error process and talk about ways to make it fit the readers' time commitment. This gardening chapter begins by talking about compost and dirt, and from there dives into varying levels of gardening-- container gardening, raised bed gardening,and row gardening. They give sample garden plans and also a generic chart that lists when and how to start seeds based on anticipated last frost in your area. 

Chapter 3 "Did Your Backyard Just Bawk?" is all about chickens! My favorite chapter :) The authors discuss everything you need to know about getting started with backyard chickens. They start by addressing some common chicken-keeping myths (1) Chickens belong only on farms (2) I order for the hens to lay eggs, you have to have a rooster (3) Chickens are filthy and smelly (4) Chickens will wake the neighbors (5) Chickens carry bird flu and other diseases. There is information on some of the challenges presented to chicken owners in the suburbs; getting your chicks; choosing a breed; basic care and feeding; coops; and cleaning and keeping eggs.

Chapter 4 "Mini Goats: Interesting, Um,..Dog You Got there." is about goats. This was such a fun chapter to read (the pictures were entertaining too!). Miniature goats are the result of intentionally breeding a standard goat with a dwarf goat-- the result is a goat that's roughly 50-60 lbs or the size of a medium dog. The chapter begins by listing an entire page of reasons why mini goats make great pets, and the authors actually admit that, while milk and cheese sounded cool, they were just fringe benefits of owning these pets. As with the chapter on chickens, the authors address issues with goats in the suburbs. They then go on to discussing how you obtain a goat and how to pick a breed that suits your wants and needs; the benefits of owning a baby goat versus purchasing one that's already weened from it's mother; basic care and feeding; and breeding and milking. One of my favorite parts of this chapter is the author saying that she actually takes her goats on walks! She attaches a dog collar and leash, and they go on leisurely strolls around the neighborhood. I wonder if Sarge would enjoy walking with a goat :) I think she would.

Chapter 5 "Secret Beekeepers" discusses, obviously, beekeeping. To be honest, I didn't read this chapter in too much detail. I love the idea of beekeeping-- during the height of my garden this summer, I felt like I could watch the bees for hours going from flower to flower; but out of all the simple living endeavors in this book, beekeeping is the most costly, and I also don't think I'm quite ready for beekeeping yet. A brief rundown of the chapter includes benefits of bees; beekeeping in the suburbs; beekeeping the natural way; equipment; how to get bees; harvesting honey; health and safety in the hive; and benefits of bee products. 

Chapter 6 "My Pantry was Never So Yummy" is about homegrown food. There are recipes on homemade condiments, salad dressings, seasoning blends, herbal oils, canning, homemade dairy, miscellaneous treats, and homemade extracts.

Chapter 7 "I Never Smelled So Good" details how to make homemade skincare products. It includes recipes for deodorant, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion bars, lip balm, body scrubs; as well as basic soap making including how and where to purchase lye. Our society is getting  more concerned with what we put in our bodies, but what we put on our bodies (which gets absorbed into our bodies) is just as important. How cool is it to have beauty and skincare products that contain no preservatives, weird chemicals, and no animal testing! I just purchased all the necessary supplies to make two batches of soap. I'm super excited to get started :)

Chapter 8 "My House Was Never So Clean" is very similar to Chapter 7. It provides recipes on how to make homemade cleaning products that do not contain toxic chemicals. The chapter begins with a discussion on why you should make your own cleaning products, then goes into how to make general-cleaner formulas, kitchen cleaners, air fresheners, surface cleaners, laundry detergent, and even baby wipes.

Chapter 9 "I Made It Myself: Gorgeous Gifts Aplenty" gives some great gift basket ideas. Homemade gifts show people how much you care, by putting extra thought and effort into the gift. This chapter expands on some of the basic items in the homemade beauty chapter, and also includes some new crafty ideas. The themed gift baskets in this chapter are The Pedi, The Pet Lover, The Gardener, The Spa, and The Tushie. 

Chapter 10 "Small Town in the City" and Chapter 11 "It's Hard to Complain with a Mouthful of Cookies" discuss neighbors and working with like minded people to form baby-sitting and meal co-ops, and how to deal with potential problems that may arise from your new self-sufficient lifestyle. 

The book wraps up with an Appendix chocked full of planting charts, sample garden layouts, resource lists, and good-neighbor handouts.

Overall, this book was fabulous-- for anyone curious about self-sufficient living and even those who've already begun. I already do some of the things this books discusses, but I'm excited to try new things and add a bit to the simple living lifestyle. 

I give this book five stars.

If you've already read this book, or are planning to check it out, I'd love to hear you opinion! Or any ideas you might have to expand on what Deanna and Daisy discuss in the book. Please feel free to share in the comments :)