Tag Archives: books

Book Review: Depletion and Abundance


Sharon Astyk’s book, Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front, is one of the most useful books I’ve read this year.  Like many folks in the blogosphere, I enjoy following Sharon’s blog, Casaubon’s Book.  When her book came out, I was so happy to win a copy in Crunchy Chicken‘s random drawing!

One of the things I like best about Sharon’s blog is that she has a deep understanding of the environmental, social and economic problems of peak oil, but she chooses to focus on the solutions, not the problems.  Instead of preaching about the inevitability of climate change, fossil fuel price hikes and energy shortages to scare the heck out of me, Sharon gives me suggestions for things I can do to survive and thrive in a changing world.  Her book is a go-to resource for a simpler way of life that lets you live to the fullest.

I agree with much of what Sharon has to say.  She stresses the importance of inter-generational bonds and believes that everyone, from young children to the elderly, will learn and benefit from these bonds.  She values families and talks about living with her husband’s grandparents, which really hit home for me.  Growing up on a farm with extended family, including my great-grandmother, grandparents, parents, brothers, aunts, uncles and cousins, I learned to value these relationships.  It’s sad that families lose these connections, but I like how Sharon makes it clear that people can get these relationships back.

Sharon talks about living in the unofficial economy, and how having a foot out of the official economy can be a good thing.  I think it’s true that it helps when I trade work at my family’s farm for groceries or when Ed trades his woodwork for a friend’s skills, or for firewood.  However, for right now, the reality is that our roles in the official economy are the ones that pay for our mortgage and healthcare.  If I didn’t have my teaching job, we’d be without health insurance, which is not something we can do without.  However, having that foot in the unofficial economy will add to the variety of our lives, if anything, and will form and keep strong ties between us, our families and the community.  Sharon’s take on healthcare is interesting, too.  She believes we as a country are over-medicated, and that there’s no reason why medical care has to be so expensive.  I think lots of people agree there.

Toward the end of the book, talking about producing our own food, Sharon states:

“This work of putting food-producing gardens, trees and shrubs on our existing properties may be the single most powerful thing any of us can do to save the world.  If you do nothing else I suggest in this book, I hope that all of you will begin to garden, whether in the smallest window box or on an acre or more.  There is nothing potentially more transformative on the earth.” 

I believe that growing our own food and getting what we can’t grow from local farmers is one of the best ways we can show our independence from fossil fuels and industrial agriculture.  Ed and I continue to work on growing our own food and plan to put in some fruit trees in the spring.

The suggestions that Sharon makes, from growing our own food, conserving energy, living simply, and valuing family are all realistic.  Living this way may be harder work, but as Sharon points out, we may just enjoy it more.  There is a sense of accomplishment that goes along with gardening, canning food, working with what you have and cooking from scratch.  Think about it: many of our grandparents or great-grandparents lived this way and look fondly back on their simple lifestyles.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed about hard times, global climate change, economics, peak oil, or are just looking for a way to live more simply, Sharon Astyk has answers for you and I suggest you read Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front.


Filed under Gardening, Home, Local Agriculture, Outside, Review, Sustainable Living

Vegetable Garden Update

We’re still picking lettuce, tomatoes, parsley, chives, and the occasional green bean.  The carrots look like they might be ready soon, and I’ll pull one up to check on them this weekend.  The little seedlings that I planted back in September are what’s really exciting! The idea of picking these veggies late into the fall is so wonderful!





This afternoon was so crisp and beautiful that I just had to get outside into the garden.  I weeded, which was a task after all the rain we’ve had, and thinned the lettuce, broccoli, spinach and carrots.  After that was done, I sat in the warm sun and started reading Eliot Coleman’s Four-Season Harvest.  I’m enjoying it so far, and it’s so encouraging to read about a family in Maine that has fresh vegetables from their garden year-round.  If they can do it, then certainly it can be done in Connecticut.  From the book:

Once the year-round harvest has begun to flow, the productivity is unbelievable.  Let’s say you want fresh salads every day from your garden.  There are about two dozen popular salad crops, all of them easily grown in the home garden.  Some, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and New Zealand spinach, are limited to the warm months.  Others, such as lettuce, beets, cabbage, scallions, and Swiss chard, are spring, summer, and fall crops.  Spinach, radishes, kohlrabi, mizuna, and peas do best in the cool months.  Mâche, sorrel, arugula, escarole, endive, chicory, and claytonia will feed you daily from the winter garden even in the coldest climates.  Carrots, parsley, onions, and sorrel can be harvested almost year-round.  The edges of those categories will overlap depending on your climatic zone, but the message is clear:  year-round fresh salads offer all the variety anyone could want.

Wow! I’m so excited to eat salad from my garden all year long. I don’t know if we’ll accomplish it this year, but the fall garden is certainly a step in the right direction.


Filed under Food, Gardening, Outside, Sustainable Living

Planting Sugar Maples

Labor Day was the perfect day to plant our two new sugar maples.  We planted two of them last fall, but for some reason they both died.  We speculate that the holes weren’t big enough, the soil was too hard, or we shouldn’t have unwrapped the root ball (although we did for our 30 white pines, and they were all fine), but whatever the reason, we had to get new ones.

My brother Nathaniel helped by lending his truck, mini-excavator, and time on his day off! We picked up the trees, took out the dead ones which had developed no root system, meaning they died shortly after we planted them, and planted the new, bigger trees.  We hope that with these bigger trees, digging bigger holes to loosen up the soil, and taking the advice of the garden center by leaving the wire on the root ball and slashing the burlap, that these trees will make it through the winter and we’ll see leaves next spring. 

Ed and Nathaniel unload the two sugar maples.

Ed and Nathaniel unload the two sugar maples.

Nate digs a hole for the first tree.

Nate digs a hole for the first tree.

We get the first tree in the ground.

We get the first tree in the ground.

A picture of the first tree and our house.

A picture of the first tree and our house.

Nate let's Ed dig the hole for the second tree.

Nate lets Ed dig the hole for the second tree.

Ed digs the second hole.

Ed digs the second hole.

Nate and Ed plant the second tree.

Nate and Ed plant the second tree.

Our new sugar maples!

Our new sugar maples!

Today reminded me of a chapter in Michael Pollan’s Second Nature, which is the wonderful story of Pollan’s gardening adventures in Connecticut and throughout his life.  While many people prefer his more recent books, I’m a big fan of this one because his stories are similar to my own, he’s gardening in my home state, and I can relate to moving to a new place and making your own mark with your gardens.  While Pollan started with an old farm, I have a blank slate, piece of my great-grandparents farm.  This book was a great read to make me think about what kind of gardens I wanted, and I would suggest it to anyone who lives in my area or is new to gardening. 

Regarding planting a tree on his property, Pollan writes:

A great tree changes the look of the landscape, of course and not only from a distance; it shapes space in the third dimension, too.  An old sugar maple–that was the tree I had in mind–sponsors a distinct kind of light and air around itself.  Its shade is dense, but always sweet, I think, and never oppressive.  The space that a maple articulates seems particularly hospitable to people–it’s an intimate, almost domestic space, more imposing.  No matter how large it grows, a maple never drops its tie to the human scale; a few of its boughs invariably reach down to us so that we may climb up into them, if only in our imaginations.  Maples suggest haven.  They always look comfortable next to houses, in summer gathering the cool air close around them and then ushering it toward open windows.

A single great tree can make a kind of garden, an entirely new place on the land, and in my mind I was already visiting the place my maple made, resting in its shade.  I knew it wouldn’t happen overnight, probably not even in my lifetime, but wasn’t that precisely the point? To embark on a project that would outlast me, to plant a tree whose crown would never shade me but my children or, more likely, the children of strangers? Tree planting is always a utopian enterprise, it seems to me, a wager on a future the planter doesn’t necessarily expect to witness…

‘To plant trees,’ Russell Page wrote in his memoir, ‘is to give body and life to one’s dreams of a better world.’


Filed under Gardening, Home, Outside, Review, Sustainable Living

Bookworm Challenge

Another challenge!  After signing up for Crunchy Domestic Goddess’s Five-Minute Shower Challenge yesterday, I decided to sign up for the “I’m Still a Bookworm” challenge from Grean Bean Dreams today!  Since I read all of the time, especially over the summer when I’m not teaching, and I just finished my latest read, Michael Pollan’s Second Nature, this challenge came at the perfect time! 

I’m planning to read Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon.  The only problem is… I like to read in the tub! How am I supposed to conserve water and read! This will be a challenge!



Filed under Sustainable Living

Summer Reading

I love to read.  I always have loved to read, when I get to choose the book.  I remember reading Caddie Woodlawn, American Girls books (I liked Kirsten best), Charlotte’s Web, Farmer Boy, and other classic books while growing up.  Now, as an adult, I still enjoy reading.  I love to read books about sharks, including The Devil’s Teeth, the Earth’s Children series, especially The Valley of Horses, and in the last few years my collection of earth friendly books has grown. 


Last year, I got the idea to assign a book review to my AP Environmental Science students, because I thought that they would really enjoy being able to read an environmental book of their choice.  OK, I admit it, I enjoy hearing about a bunch of books without reading them.  It helps me broaden my literary horizons and it also helps me make mental notes of which books I would like to read.  For example, I read Omnivore’s Dilemma after a student presented about it last year. 

We just finished this year’s round of book reviews, and I’ve compiled a list of the books my students read.  I’ve already borrowed a couple of them, and I’m thinking about which other ones I want to read over the summer.  I asked students to write a sentence or two to sum up the book, although because many of them are overachievers, some descriptions are a little longer.  I’ve organized the books into categories here, and I hope that one or more of these books will strike you as a good read. 

Sustainable Living

The Ten Trusts by Jane Goodall and Mark Bekoff 

  • This book gave 10 different guidelines that we should follow to respect our planet, animals, and people more.  Some of the trusts included “going green,” teaching kids to love animals, and accepting animals as companions, not slaves.

Go Green Live Rich by David Bach

  • This book described 50 ways we can help save the environment along with saving money.  It showed that not everything people have to do to help the environment is a big expense like buying a hybrid car or putting solar panels on your house.  It shows that there are simple things that cost nothing that someone can do to save money.

Sustainable Planet: Solutions for the 21st Century (collection of essays)

Solar Water Heating by Bob Ramlow and Benjamin Nusz 

  • This book is about the home conversion from petroleum to solar water heating and if it is the right things to do in your home.  It tells you how to build a system while also trying to save as much money as possible over time.


Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynas 

  • The book has 6 chapters, one for each degree, which each explain what will happen when the earth warms to each point.

The Live Earth: Global Warming Survival Handbook by David de Rothschild 

  • This book was a list of 77 things the average person can do to help stop global warming.  In the back, there was a list of things to do if the 77 steps fail (like move to another planet).

Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore 

  • This book talks about how global warming is happening and how it is different than the natural trend of global increase or decrease of temperature.  It also talks about how current emissions of CO2 pollution are affecting the temperatue of the earth.

The Weathermakers by Tim Flannery 

  • This book is about how global warming affects the climate and what would happen if the world’s climate was changed.

Is the Temperature Rising? by S. George Philander 

  • This book was about the scientific causes of possible global warming.  The author, a geoscientist at Princeton puts complex science ideas into generally comprehendable language suitable for the curious reader.

The Hot Topic by Gabrielle Walker and Sir David King

Environmental Contamination

Fallout by Juan Gonzalez 

  • This book was about how the EPA lied to the public about the hazmats and toxic substances found after the 9-11 attacks.  Also it focuses on what all the chemicals found can do and how we didn’t protect our rescue workers from them or learn from past mistakes.

The Killing of Karen Silkwood by Richard Rashke 

  • Karen Silkwood worked at a plutonium plant and found many safety and health issues wrong with it.  She was poisoned with plutonium and then killed in a car crash.  No one knows who caused this tragedy, but some believe it was Kerr-McGee, the company she worked for.

World Environmental Issues

Dancing at the Dead Sea by Alanna Mitchell 

  • This book is about Alanna Mitchell’s journey around the world to environmental hotspots.  It talks about environmental degradation and the possibility that humans may become extinct like dinosaurs.

The Population Bomb by Paul R. Ehrlich 

  • This book is mainly about the cause of overpopulation and how it is affecting our world.  Ehrlich predicted that millions of people will die from the 1970’s to 1980’s. 


Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv 

  • This book was about how children may be suffering from Nature-Deficit Disorder.  It told us why we all need nature in our lives to be healthy, well-rounded people.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson 

  • Bryson and his friend Katz attempt to hike the Appalachian trail from Springer Mt. in Georgia to Mt. Katahdia in Maine.

Into the Wild by John Krakauer 

  • This book describes the journey of Christopher McCandless, also known as “Alex Supertramp.”  We learn how hard it is to survive with very little and survive in nature, and we also learn how he met his demise in Alaska.


Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat 

  • This book was a story about Farley Mowat’s experience living in the Barren Lands to observe wolves.  Originally sent to see if wolves were the cause of the decrease in caribou, Mowat finds the wolves are of no threat to the caribou.  They essentially help the caribou population by only feeding on dead carcuses.  Mowat finds the actual threat is humans to the wolf population and becomes very attached to a specific wolf family.  Later on he goes home to raise awareness of the dangers wolves face.

When Elephants Weep: The Emotions of Animals by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson 

  • This book was about the different emotions that animals are capable of obtaining and projecting to other animals, even to humans.

Polar Bears by Ian Sterling

Among Grizzlies by Timothy Treadwell and Jewel Palovak 

  • Treadwell lived in Alaska every summer for thirteen summers with no protection or communication.  His goal was to study grizzly bears and allow them to gain the same respect for him as they have with their fellow bears.

Elephant Destiny by Martin Meredith 

  • This book gives a full description of elephants and their place in history, along with the problems they currently face.

Fiction and Novels

The Day After Tomorrow by Whitley Strieber 

  • This book is about a climatologist named Jack Hall who discovers a climate change that affects the world as we know it.  The whole planet freezes over leaving his son, Sam, stuck in Manhattan.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood 

  • The aftermath of nuclear war leads to government and military dictatorship of reproduction due to widespread infertility.  In the struggle to create a Utopia, the government finds that the fear of declining birth rates have pushed the people of the society to take their own measures to survive.

Adrift by Steven Callahan 

  • This book was about a man who loves to sail but during a race across the Atlantic his boat sinks.  He has to endure sharks and watch ships pass him while he tries to survive in a tiny raft.

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman 

  • This book detailed the earth’s existance after humans left the earth, whether from extinction by plague or from moving to a different planet.  The book follows various manmade things, and how long they last and why they fall, as well as how species adapt without us here.

Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert 

  • This fiction book is about the increasing problems of natural distraction due to global warming.  This book mainly focuses on the long-term effects of greenhouse gases on the arctic.

Children’s Books

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss 

  • The Lorax is a story about the once-ler who cuts down “truffala trees” and makes “theeds.”  The lorax warns him that his cutting and polluting is bad for the environment but the once-ler continues until all the trees are gone and the forest is destroyed.

Earth Day-Hooray by Stuart Murphy

Why are the Ice Caps Melting? by Anne Rockwell

Where does the Garbage Go? by Paul Showers

The Kids’ Guide to Global Warming by Glenn Murphy


I hope you found a book to read! Happy reading!


Filed under Home, Outside, Review, Sustainable Living