Saturday, August 1, 2009

Review: Made from Scratch by Jenna Woginrich

Starting off as a young, single woman with a desk job and a city apartment, Jenna Woginrich set out to build a more self-sufficient lifestyle by learning homesteading skills. She didn't own land or have much practical experience beyond a few forays into knitting and soap making, but she did have a strong desire to opt out of what she saw as a consumer-driven culture. After moving across the country to a rented farmhouse in northern Idaho, she learned to raise chickens, keep bees, and grow her own food.

This is the story of her joyful, dramatic, and sometimes sorrowful journey toward self-reliance. Along the way, she learned that an abundance of enthusiasm and a willingness to experiment could make up for a lack of knowledge, and that reaching out to others for mentoring and guidance could help her reconnect with her community.

From the satisfying work of starting a new garden and installing honeybees, to the bliss of gathering fresh eggs to be baked into a quiche served with warm-from-the-oven bread and hand-churned butter, Made from Scratch shares the deep satisfaction that comes with providing for oneself. In an encouraging and entertaining voice, Woginrich weaves into her narrative easy-to-follow instructions for making your own clothes, teaching yourself to play a musical instrument, and much more.

In any setting - urban, suburban, or rural - with any level of experience, it's possible to take small steps toward self-reliance. Windowbox vegetable gardens, a batch of homemade strawberry jam, a hand knit sweater, or a small flock of backyard chickens all satisfy the craving to homestead. It's not about having a rustic cabin on five acres, complete with a pickup truck and a barn full of livestock. For Woginrich, it's about being more receptive to learning the simple skills most of us have forgotten, and finding joy in the process.

I found myself thinking numerous times while reading the book "I don't like you.". The author really grated on me as a person. I didn't like her at all. I was also a bit surprised that the author mentioned only knitting as a fiber craft and completely ignored crocheting. As a crocheter myself I found that quite rude. I did, however, love that she called her loudest and crabbiest hen "Ann Coulter". That said, the book was really a collection of essays about her experiences, more than a cohesive book. It was a decent enough primer for the completely uninitiated.

I also did not like the author's dogs. They were a menace and clearly untrained. They killed her chicks and then caused one of her bunnies to wound itself so severely in fear of them that it had to be put down. And what sort of person, let alone a supposed "Buddhist vegetarian" animal lover was she to leave the obviously injured bunny to suffer overnight? What a bitch. Even though the dogs are evil murderers, I feel some sympathy for them as she uses them as pack animals. No, really. She actually has them carry her stuff home from the farmers market for her. Seriously. They're pets, not slaves! I mean, get off your lazy ass and carry your own crap around! Why should your dogs have to do it for you? She's got a car - use it!

The author also claims to be a Yankee (born in Pennsylvania!) yet she consistently talks about bluegrass music and dedicated an entire section to banjos and other such instruments. Honey, you are no Yankee if you're playing bluegrass. Really, as if! I say this actually being a true Yankee, born and raised in New England. Her calling herself a Yankee is like me calling myself a Down Easter. Totally bizarre.

This one gets seven stars. The stories themselves were fast, interesting, and occasionally a bit inspiring, but the author just bugged me. The various sections were divided nicely, but lacked any real, practical information. The only thing I did appreciate was that the author accomplished all the various projects on her own. There was not a word about how she needed a man to do something for her, or that she put off X until she was married, etc. There was no "I'm just a girl" nonsense from her, which was extremely refreshing. I also liked how she included both her successes (baking and sewing) and failures (beekeeping), which made for a more complete view of her experiences.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆


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