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DIY, littlehaven

books that inspire me

I love reading at any time of the year, and usually have a few books on the go at any one time. However, I find that mid-winter is the most perfect time for catching up on all those books I wanted to get to through the busier seasons and nothing is better than a hot cup of tea, sitting in front of the fire with a good book while it rains outside.

When it comes to sustainability, environmental awareness and connecting with nature, despite coming from an academic background, I strongly believe that the best way to engage and connect people with these themes aren’t books that aim to scare you or present dry scientific data. I think the key is engaging through stories – having people remember where we come from and helping to re-establish our connections with the natural world. Stories that bring joy, enlightenment and shine a light on the wonders that come with engaging and forming relationships with the plants, animals and the very land itself that we are a part of. For once someone starts forming these relationships, earth stewardship and changing behaviours come naturally and is more likely to be sustainable over the long term.

Therefore, with that in mind, here are my winter picks and if you have read any book that has inspired you or brought you joy I’d love to hear your recommendations.

Braiding Sweetgrass – Robin Kimmerer

“Sometimes I wish I could photosynthesize so that just by being, just by shimmering at the meadow’s edge or floating lazily on a pond. I could be doing the work of the world while standing silent in the sun.” – Robin Kimmerer

When anyone asks for book recommendations this tops my list. This piece of literature completely changed how I viewed my relationship with the natural world and from everyone I have spoken to, after they read the book, it is clear I am not alone. Robin Kimmerer is a scientist and a professor of biology, whom came to the realisation that plants are not subjects of study, but instead are teachers to learn from. Drawing on her own heritage and viewing our relationship with plants through an indigenous lens she brings to light the importance of reciprocity and gratitude that is missing from current society when it comes to the relationship with the land, and one another. The book is amazing, however, I would highly recommend the audio book as the authors voice is so enchanting and soothing that the stories come to life in a special way. Get it! You won’t regret it.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life – Barbara Kingsolver

A highly entertaining and thought provoking memoir of a families journey, filled with highs and lows, on disconnecting from the industrial food pipe-line for one year and only consuming food that they either grew themselves or was raised in their own neighbourhood. Although based in America it has a lot of lessons for us here as well and will likely motivate you to examine your relationship with food, knowing where your food comes from and the importance of community. Thanks to this book I will never look at asparagus the same way again either, “(on asparagus) Europeans of the Renaissance swore by it as an aphrodisiac, and the church banned it from nunneries.”

The Art of Frugal Hedonism: A Guide to Spending Less While Enjoying Everything More Annie Raser-Rowland & Adam Grubb

In our society all to often success and happiness are promoted to be a result of wealth and consumption so it is no wonder that despite living in one of the richest countries in the world so many of us are unhappy and struggle to find a sense of purpose and fulfillment. This is not some pious, self righteous book about living on the cheap – its quirky, fun and a very easy read. This book is about finding joy in things that matter, reevaluating our lives and finding what brings us genuine happiness – and surprisingly (or not) those things are not tied with wealth. It’s something that my partner and I have discovered slowly over time, moving from a high paying jobs to a life out in the country, and finding the pleasure of recognising we don’t care if all our dinnerware matches or not, or what model of car we own as we know that the money could be spent on experiences or items that bring us actual joy. It’s about taking pleasure in things like a brilliant op shop find, the taste of a sweet peach on a summers day and the satisfaction of a good day’s work in the garden. Have you ever thought about what truly makes you happy? Well this book will and it will bring more mindfulness to your spending choices so that instead of that hollow feeling you get after buying yet another item that you don’t really need you start choosing to spend money where it bring you pleasure and joy.

The Hidden World of Trees – Peter Wohlleben

“If a tree falls in the forest there are other trees listening.” – Peter Wohlleben

This is one I have recently started and am half way through at the moment but did not want to delay in recommending it. I challenge anyone to go into a forest or sit by a tree and not see them with completely new eyes after reading this book that explores the magic that transpires within and around these stoic guardians. Peter discusses scientific discoveries of ways in which trees communicate, form communities, share nutrients and warn one another of impending dangers. There is such a warmth to his writing, although this book and Robin’s Braiding Sweetgrass overlap somewhat in subject matter they look at it through very different eyes and the tone of each book reflects this. A very interesting read.

The Lost Words – Robert Macfarlane & Jackie Morris

This book originated after in 2007 when the Oxford Junior Dictionary dropped 40 nature-centric words such as acorn, bluebell, dandelion, magpie, willow, weasel and wren to make room for technological words such as, broadband, blog or cut-and-paste. This inspired the British authors to create a stunning book of 20 words that each have beautiful water-color inspirations and instead of definitions enchanting poems. This is not a kids book nor an adults book. It’s a book adults could read to kids, but a book that adults can enjoy completely on their own as the poems can be quite complex and layered with meaning. It is a beautiful, large coffee-table style book that is a wonderful discussion starter and quite simply a work of art (see below).

That’s my list for the time being, and remember if you have any books of a similar theme that you would recommend we would love to hear your suggestions in the comments below!

DIY

DIY Calendula Salve

Calendula salve is the first salve I ever made so I can attest to how beginner friendly it is & how useful it is to have around the house. It soothes sunburns, dry/itchy skin and is anti-fungal. I was astounded by the prices of calendula salve online & in retail shops, so if it is something you use I really encourage you to make your own as not only will it save you money, the feeling of having created your own product and knowing the origin of each ingredient is well worth it.

So first, make sure to check out my post about making calendula oil as that is the essential first step. Once you have a calendula infused oil its just a few simple steps before its turned into a luscious salve.

Ingredients

1 cup of calendula oil
1/4 cup of grated beeswax
3-4 salve tins (I purchase mine from here)
4-6 drops of lavender essential oil (optional)

Method

  1. Over a double boiler slowly heat the calendula oil.
  2. Add in the grated beeswax and stir gently (I tend to just swirl the saucepan around to allow it to blend)
  3. To test if you like the consistency, put a spoon with some of the salve into the freezer for a minute or two. If you want a firmer slave just grate slightly more beeswax into the mixture, if you want it softer you can add more oil.
  4. If you want some lavender in your salve now is the time to add a few drops, depending on how strong you want it to be.
  5. Pour the mixture into the tins and let it cool for a an hour or two.
  6. Put the lids on the jars and store in a dark, cool place. These should last at least a year.

Additional info: Sometimes I want plain calendula salve & some tins with lavender. So I pour the plain salve in first, then bring the pan back to the heat to ensure it is still a smooth liquid consistency, add the lavender and pour the rest of the mix into other tins. It takes a minute but you will have best of both worlds.

See how easy that was? And if that inspires you, I recommend checking out my favourite herbal beginners book by Rosemary Gladstar that has many recipes and also teaches you how to grow wonderful herbs in your garden that you can turn into teas, tinctures, salves and balms.

DIY

DIY Calendula oil

One of the things I have always looked forward to in owning our own home was that I’d finally be able to plant all those flowers and medicinal herbs in the garden, and now we have that opportunity. The bright orange petals of calendula (Calendula officinalis) who follows the sun & is filled with fiery, nourishing energies is one of my favourite flowers to work with. It is a humble flower, often overlooked but is found in many gardens and vegetable patches. People have known about the benefits of the calendula flower since ancient times, from the Egyptians who used it to rejuvenate their skin to the Greeks & Romans who used it as a culinary garnish (I highly recommend it for giving your salad some colour or making it into pretty ice-cubes). It is useful in repelling unwanted insects and attracting beneficial ones and it was one of the first flowers I planted when we moved to little haven.

Calendula is high in allantoin which helps promote healthy cell proliferation, is an anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal. In other words, the best thing to mix with beeswax and make into a soothing salve to help ease skin irritations which, while working in the garden means I have quite a bit of through spring-autumn. Before we get to how to make the salve, we need a vital component for it – the calendula infused oil.

Now to make the oil is the simplest thing in the world but it requires patience and a daily reminder to shake the jar. All you need is a clean jar, dried calendula and a carrier oil. Now the key is to ensure that if you have picked calendula from your garden it is fully dry as you do not want to give any opportunity for mould to grow, or if you do not have calendula available you can use organic dried calendula from your health food store.

As for the oil you can use olive oil, sweet almond oil,  or jojoba oil. Do not be tempted to use coconut oil for this step (you will be able to use part of it for your salve later on), because coconut oil will solidify. Lastly ensure your jar is super dry. Then follow the instructions below:

Ingredients:

Dried calendula flowers
x1 clean jar
Carrier oil (olive, jojoba or sweet almond)

Method:

    1. Fill your jar with dried calendula roughly up to the half way mark.
    2. Pour the carrier oil until it is almost full.
    3. Gently stir to ensure there are no air bubbles and that all plant matter is submerged.
    4. If you have a metal lid use a piece of baking paper in-between the jar and the lid so it does not come into contact with the liquid/flowers.
    5. Tightly screw the lid on and leave on a sunny window sill for 4 weeks, ensuring to shake the jar  every day.
    6. After 4 weeks strain the oil through a fine mesh strainer or a muslin cloth into a new clean jar. Be patient and ensuring you get every last drop.
    7. Discard the flowers.
    8. Label your jar/bottle with what it is and importantly – the date.
    9. Store in a dark place and use it up within a year.

Now if you do not wish to take the next step and turn it into a salve, or if you are just feeling lazy, you can use the oil as it is. Here are some uses for it:

  • Apply to insect bites to calm itching
  • Use to soothe sunburned skin
  • Apply to dry, cracked hands and feet or skin irritations (I prefer the salve as it won’t leak in my bag and easier to transport)
  • Use a small amount as a moisturiser to calm you skin ease inflammation.

Health warnings: Using calendula is not recommended for pregnant & lactating women, can cause allergic reactions in some people as it is part of the Asteraceae family.

My oil has currently been infusing for around 2 weeks, after which time I will be making it into a salve so keep an eye out for that upcoming post.

Lastly, thank you for all the Instagram messages and emails with kind words about the blog. I have been told it looks like a dream, however I want to show that country life is not always as idyllic as our pictures may suggest and some days you unexpectedly end up covered in clay mud, have it caked through your hair and spend the day digging looking for a leaking pipe that has flooded the front yard. Like we did on Sunday.

It’s all part of the adventure of country living!