Monday, March 16, 2009

Book Reviews: See You in a Hundred Years, The Backyard Homestead, and World Made By Hand

I finished reading a book last night. Lindsay picked it up for me at a local independent bookstore in Tuscumbia the other day on her way back from Mississippi (funeral). The book was See You in a Hundred Years: Discover One Young Family's Search for a Simpler Life . . . Four Seasons of Living in the Year 1900 by Logan Ward. I read it in about 2 days once I picked it up. I enjoyed it and empathized with parts of it. Here is Amazon's Ye Olde Product Description:
"Logan Ward and his wife, Heather, were prototypical New Yorkers circa 2000: their lives steeped in ambition, work, and stress. Feeling their souls grow numb, wanting their toddler son to see the stars at night, the Wards made a plan. They would return to their native South, find a farm, and for one year live exactly as people did in 1900 Virginia: without a car or electricity–and with only the food they could grow themselves. It was a project that would push their relationship to the brink–and illuminate stunning hardships and equally remarkable surprises.

From Logan’s emotionally charged battles with Belle, the family workhorse, to Heather’s daily trials with a wood-fired cooking stove and a constant siege of garden pests and cantankerous animals, the Wards were soon overwhelmed by their new life. At the same time as Logan and Heather struggled with their increasingly fragile relationship, as their son relished simple joys, the couple discovered something else: within their self-imposed time warp, they had found a community, a sense of belonging, and an appreciation both for what we’ve lost–and what we’ve gained–across a century of change."
I really did enjoy the book, but the ending bothered me a little. Well not so much the ending but the epilogue. If you ever watched the Frontier House that PBS did a number of years ago; this book is pretty close to those lines except they did it for a whole year in this book and only six months on the show. Interestingly enough both "experiments" were conducted almost simultaneously (the 9/11 attacks happened while both groups had "secluded" themselves).

One reviewer on Amazon says, "It's not intended to be useful, and it's not--though it is funny in spots and earnest everywhere else."And I guess I'd agree with that statement. It is a memoir after all, and not a how-to guide. It is somewhat interesting to get some insight into their thought process though. I just wished they'd turned it into a foundation for a new way to live rather than viewing it as a "sentence" or an "experience." I do suggest that you read it however. It has a 3/5 star rating on Amazon, but I'd probably give it a 4.

One thing that really struck a chord with me is when he is talking about how everyone acts towards his desire to start the small farm (talking down to him, doubting him, joking about his decisions) and the way he feels when going about certain things (asking questions, etc). I really understand what that can be like; everyone has an opinion. All the traditional farmers find it insulting, and the majority of the populous think you are off your rocker, but you do find people who are willing to supply advice without judging or condescending.

A quick note about a book I picked up at B & N, The Backyard Homestead. I saw a suggestion to read this book from another blog and thought it sounded interesting. I haven't really gotten deep into it yet, but the flipping through and spot reading I've done leave me with the first impression that it is more a compilation of other Storey publications dealing with said topics. It is also geared towards small acreage homesteading (more like 1/4 to 1 acre). I still think I'll find plenty of useful knowledge in here, but I hope it isn't stuff I already have in my Storey Library. I'll get back to you on this one.

The other main book I wanted to talk about was a recent read that Lindsay actually picked up for herself: World Made By Hand by James Howard Kunstler. I managed to sneak it away from her before she got to read it since it was right up my alley and polished it off rather quickly. It is a dystopian view of what could happen after the ongoing economic collapse. If you like post-apocalyptic stuff and back to the good ole days stuff, you should like this. I would probably give it a 4/5 also. The author does have a very unfortunate last name (I wonder what he got nicknamed in high school?).

Today I drove the tractor to the neighbor's place to pick up the plow he said we could use. It was a lot smaller and a lot more derelict than I expected. It had one handle repaired with a piece of iron duct taped to it as reinforcement and all kinds of rotting wood on it. We looked at some old rotting farm implements in the edge of his woods, but didn't really come up with much else that was usable. He did volunteer his tiller again this year, so I put it in the trailer too along with some discarded seed flats and pots that were scattered around his barn and a couple of quick cuttings from his crab apple tree. I got the other cuttings my dad brought into some water with a root stimulator and some willow water and added the new ones (Maybe some of them will develop roots).

After I got back to my place I started digging out another garden bed on the southeast corner of the house close to the new bed for Lindsay. I changed my plan slightly on the original bed so that I can use some of the timbers as borders for another bed instead of stacking them up to make a higher bed (which seemed like it was going to be an ordeal). I used the excess timbers to frame in the newly readied south bed that I am going to plant a bunch of strawberries in for Finn since they are his absolute favorite food (even without the chocolate covering his Gammy gets them with). I have to get some more good topsoil to top off the first bed and add to the second bed, but Josh came in and helped me get it looking respectable before we called it quits for the night. We did suffer one casualty though. I had some mums that my mother gave me planted in the same spot as the second bed and was just going to incorporate them into the bed. When Josh broke out the tiller his first action was plowing right over the mums without realizing it. No big loss, and we both got a good laugh.

Let me turn you Netflixers onto another good bit of entertainment for we who have the homesteading bug: Good Neighbors or The Good Life (in the UK). A 1970's TV show from Britain about a draftsman who gets tired of the daily grind and decides to turn his suburban lot into a "self-sufficient" homestead. They dig up their front and back yards and plant gardens, trade their car for a tiller, get a milk goat, get chickens, get pigs, etc. All this with their friends/neighbors fighting them the entire way (They are very snooty which adds to the comedy). Once you get into it you'll enjoy. If this tells you anything: it has 49 reviews on amazon, only 3 are lower than 4 stars, 38 are 5 out of 5. The Queen of England actually visits the set of the show for its last episode if that tells you anything about how Good it was...

I have a growing list of things to do while Lindsay and Finn are on vacation in the mountains with Gammy Rhonda. It includes things like: Paint the shed, find strawberry plants, till or disc gardens, install screen on the porch, paint the trim for the screened porch, get more dirt for the garden beds, build the well house, make some grow lights for my seedling flats in the garage, etc. They are coming back Wednesday night so I have a lot to do. Also I am contemplating buying 3 LaMancha Does from a guy near Anniston, but if I decide to that adds 2 more things to my list: build a goat shed, and build a goat pen...


  1. Love your blog! I know what you mean about people thinking you're crazy for wanting a farm. I grew up on a Kansas farm and 'escaped' to the city - only now to dream of returning, at least living bi-coastally and spending summers there. Thankfully, my work is via the internet, so I can work anywhere. City wages and country living? Why the heck not?

  2. Good reading, and makes me think I need to order some books from the library!

    Yes, they often times do think we are crazy, at least it appears that way. But feel proud that you are taking the step!

  3. Thanks for the support! You should see the looks I get at the Co-Op when I ask about LaMancha Goats.


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Yours Truly,
The Crowsons