Browsing Archives for January 2009

The book, Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, left a bad taste in my mouth. Something about it was off. Too ripe, too green, too moldy, too full of worms… I don’t know, but the book did not agree with me and it has resulted in a churning stomach for the past several days. Maybe my innards just don’t agree with a ‘locovore’ diet. Give me an orange, give me a pineapple, I never realized that eating fruit could do so much harm.

Ultimately I think it is because I simply don’t understand Ms. Kingsolver’s particular brand of lunacy, which quite frankly was not lunatic enough for my own personal tastes. If you are going to go off the deep end and live by an extremely narrow regime that revolves around eating for one entire year, only food that either you or your nearby neighbors produce then by cracky, you oughtta be able to make that experience a lot more interesting than Ms. Kingsolver did.

What makes a challenge, any challenge, interesting for people to read about is the suffering that occurs as a result. Personally, I try to avoid suffering at any cost. But I don’t mind reading about other people suffering… once in a while… maybe… not really.

Here is my definition of suffering…

Suffering – One single solitary second of discomfort.

The Country Doctor would disagree with that definition. His would be more like this.

Suffering – Proof that you are alive.

This is Barbara Kingsolver’s definition of suffering…

Suffering – Let’s not be unreasonable. Who wants another cup of coffee?

Kingsolver was not really willing to suffer for the sake of her ‘art’ in this book. Her family did not give up chocolate, coffee, olive oil, or spices. They ate out occasionally. If an item was really necessary to make a special dish they would purchase it. For instance, they were unable to find a local source for organic whole wheat flour, but they did not give up homemade bread. Just don’t ask for a banana at their house. It will result in a stern lecture in the car on the way to the store. Bananas are shipped on trucks from far away and that uses up gas. Evidently wheat flour, coffee, chocolate and exotic spices all fly to Virginia on the back of carrier pigeons.

The only time I felt the book had any intrinsic charm was when Kingsolver wrote about her chickens and her turkeys. A momentary spark would flicker and flare as she spoke of her birds. Her daughter Lily was the primary poultry farmer in the family and the chapters that revolved around her and her chickens were sweet and fun to read. Then Kingsolver would go right back to reciting depressing farm factoids, speaking of CAFO’s (whatever those are) and her one and only joke – the professional turkey masturbators .

Yes, I just said turkey masturbators on my blog. I have been de-sensitized to the term now that I have read it four hundred times in Kingsolver’s book. Everything else made me feel judged, paranoid, or wishing the book was over already.Oh and also – the book is almost entirely mirthless (except for the solitary turkey joke). Sorry Kingsolver fans, but I have spent far too many joyous hours wrapped inside of a book about one man or one woman or one family, embracing and rejoicing in a back to the land lifestyle . I have read too many wonderful books about people who live the dream of producing their own food, glorying in the natural world, and understanding their dependence on their neighbors and their community in a much more dramatic way. I am speaking of books like Green Mountain Farm by Elliot Merrick and We Took to the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich. These books tell with arching beauty the struggle to survive off the land underneath the author’s feet.

Then there are books like Back to the Damn Soil by Mary Gubser and It Takes a Village Idiot by Jim Mullen which celebrate a life lived in the grasp of Mother Nature due to either economic necessity or to quit smoking (ha ha) with wit and humor.

These books mentioned above revel in the non-stop wrestling match of attempting to grow all your own food and they manage to delightfully scissor a story from the unyielding earth, the wily livestock, the crazy neighbors, and the inevitable visits from the green horn city folk.

Barbara Kingsolver does not even use the terms ‘green horn city folk’ in her book. Nor does she mention any crazy neighbors. Did she really live in the country? Or did she just make this whole book up?

Kingsolver is not the first person to attempt to live off a patch of land and subsequently write a book about it. She is just the first person to make that experience excruciatingly boring while at the same time passing judgement on everyone who grows a crop outside of her narrow ideal. (Except for the coffee and the chocolate farmers).

Now, who wants a copy of Animal Vegetable Miracle?



Seriously, lots of people purchased this book. Whether they managed to slog through to the end of it, I don’t know. I have two copies to give away today. It is possible that you will enjoy it far more than I. You could also give it away on your blog, or to someone who you are trying to impress with your ecologically sound choices.

I also have a copy of Elliot Merrick’s book Green Mountain Farm to give away today. Merrick is the author of the adventure classic True North. I have never read True North, nor the subsequent Northern Nurse, which told the story of his wife’s life in Labrador, but I have been utterly swept away several times, by the literary beauty of Green Mountain Farm. This book is everything that Kingsolver’s book is not. Merrick shows.. he doesn’t tell. If his book does not make you want to run to Vermont and buy a derelict, windswept farm just so you can crash through the ice on your cross country skis, when you are not chopping wood, planting a garden or attempting to resurrect a house and barn from scrap lumber, I don’t know what will. Like Merrick himself, this book is layered in lyrical beauty, sparkling with wisdom gained from extreme hardship and crosshatched in wit. Perhaps I should send a copy to Barbara Kingsolver?

This giveaway has come to an end.

Drew’s Disease

January 15th, 2009

Note to readers, I wrote this last year and never got around to publishing it. You will be happy to know that Drew’s Disease seems to have been wiped out… at least for the time being.

My third born has a gift. The gift of faking illness. He could easily win an academy award if they had a category for faking out your mom on Monday morning.

It took us a while to understand Drew’s reoccurring bouts of sickness – which we eventually began to refer to as ‘Drew’s Disease’. Drew’s scheming, I mean agony, often began on Sunday nights. He would suddenly roll into a tight little ball of pain. He moaned. He groaned. He twisted and turned. Trust me, to the uninitiated, it was quite alarming.

At first, the Country Doctor and I did not understand the cyclical nature of this horrifying illness. After watching our son writhe in pain for several hours, while the typical antidotes seemed to have no effect, I demanded that the Country Doctor take Drew to the nearest big city emergency room. We did this because we knew that taking Drew to the local hospital would only result in him being transferred, and also, the local docs are all a bunch of quacks.

As Drew and the Country Doctor drove an hour to the big city ER, Drew’s symptoms seemed to subside. By the time they checked in, he was still in pain but much better. Four hours later, when he was finally seen, Drew was unclenched and relaxed. They ran a few tests, took some blood, poked him, prodded him, but nothing seemed out of order.

Drew remained at home for several days that week, missing school, and getting stronger every day. I sent him back to school on Thursday. He was fine, healthy laughing, eating, playing…until the NEXT MONDAY MORNING!

Suddenly, without warning, the extreme intestinal, abdominal pain came back and knocked him flat again! Drew missed a few more days of school, but then bounced back with the alacrity of a toddler, eating cookies, kicking his brothers, complaining about what I had made for dinner. We greeted the old familiar Drew with joy, glad he was back and in working order.

UNTIL THE NEXT MONDAY – when the illness struck again with a ferocity that brought us all to our knees. Drew crept into our room before daybreak – clutching his stomach, bent double, tears streaming down his cheeks. I placed him in our bed, gave him a Pepto Bismol tablet, and crept off to Drew’s bed to get a little more sleep.

As I lay in Drew’s twin bed… I slowly began to piece the past weeks together. This wretched illness – occurring on or around every Monday. I reflected for a while on Drew’s innate dramatic talents, his Irish brogue, his jigging skills, his wily Spaniard, his opera singer, and I wondered… COULD MY SON BE A GIGANTIC FAKER!!!

Drew went to school that Monday and he has gone every Monday since. We are winning the battle with “Drew’s Disease” one fake attack at a time. He continues to work on and improve his act, but his audience has grown weary of the same old, same old. Doubled over, tears streaming down his cheeks, clenching his ribs in agony, moaning, groaning, frothing at the mouth. it no longer moves us. Our eyes glaze over as we reach for the remote and tell Drew to please move over, we can’t see the TV.

Creating Memories and Helping

January 9th, 2009

We purchased a living, balled and burlaped blue spruce for our Christmas tree this year.

After three weeks in the house, we had an unusually warm day on December 29th and decided to plant it.

The Country Doctor called Drew over to help him.

“Let’s plant this tree together son!” the Country Doctor exclaimed, “As the years pass, we can look out the dining room window and watch the tree grow.  When you are older, you will remember with fondness the day you helped your old dad plant the Christmas tree.”

“Whatever.” said Drew.

“Now pay attention son.” instructed the Country Doctor, “I am going to stand this tree perfectly upright.  While I do that, I need you to hang your arms uselessly at your sides and remain motionless” said the Country Doctor.  

“Like this dad?” asked Drew.

“That is perfect son.  Now, while I shovel the dirt around the roots, I need you to take a drink of your Coke and stare off into space.”

“Are we done yet dad?” Drew asked, ” Cuz I am getting kind of tired.”

“Yes son”  said the Country Doctor, “You have worked very hard and deserve a break.  Besides, this memory is already so precious that I can feel my heart breaking inside.”  The Country Doctor paused and wiped a tear from his eye.  ”You run along and watch some TV,” he called to his son who was already gone.

This has been another tear jerking family moment brought to you by The Country Doctor’s Wife.