Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Book Review: Mud Season: How One Woman's Dream of Moving to Vermont, Raising Children, Chickens and Sheep, and Running the Old Country Store Pretty Much Led to One Calamity After Another by Ellen Stimson

I was overjoyed to get this book unexpectedly in the mail, after the publisher saw I had noted it as a book I was eagerly waiting for. As it is not only a memoir (my favorite genre) but a faux-farming memoir (one of my favorite sub-genres), I jumped on it right away. And Ms. Stimson didn't disappoint. It read like Jen Lancaster had moved to the Beekman Mansion of The Bucolic Plague. Ellen and her family of five had lived in and near St. Louis all their lives but traveled extensively. One day, one of the kids asked, do we have to live here? And Ellen and her husband thought about it and decided no. Ellen had wanted to sell her half of her business anyway, and after having successfully started multiple businesses, she figured she could do it again elsewhere, so why not? After much exploring and thinking, they decided on Vermont.

Throughout this book of "flatlanders" trying to fit in, in a place where third-generation families aren't considered "Vermonters" yet as they're too new, images from Newhart and Baby Boom continually floated through my mind. I have spent a little time in Vermont myself. My family went up for two weeks every summer when I was a kid, and when I traveled New England selling books, it was a favorite state, particularly the next town over from Ellen's town, Manchester, home of the awesome Northshire Bookstore. But I shook my head and closed my eyes at the very obvious mistake they made in buying the town general store, and thinking they could improve it by bringing in a dozen varietals of balsamic. I knew they were in over their heads and wondered if they had ever spoken to an actual Vermonter. But they were well-intentioned if naive and foolish (who personally guarantees a business loan!? No!!!)

I have also experienced the horror that is mud season (and as a sales rep, I did it in heels and a skirt, crazy as that might have made me seem to my customers), although I have not driven into a snowbank or had a fish fall on the roof of my car, thankfully. Ellen certainly experienced the full gamut of Vermont experiences, from the gorgeous landscapes and brisk hikes, to seeing her breath in her kitchen and chasing after an errant goat. It is a good cautionary tale for any of us who think a change of scenery is both a cure and an easy thing to accomplish. I do wish she'd given us an update about how things were going now, as the events in the book were several years ago, especially as she did give us an update on which of her beloved animals had passed away since the writing. But overall it was a fun, fast read. Ms. Stimson launches into things headlong, cares passionately, and is willing to make the mistakes so we don't have to. I appreciate her honesty and humor, and it was a great breath of fresh air. Now I want to visit Vermont again, but I think two weeks is probably long enough.

The publisher sent me a copy of this book, but not with any expectation of a review.

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