This book is the first of three volumes of At Home in Dogwood Mudhole books, and the subtitle is "Nothing That Eats". The books are actually a compilation from the monthly newsletter that Franklin Sanders wrote for seventeen years, The Moneychanger. In the first volume, which covers the years from June 1995 to September 2002, Sanders regales readers with tales of his family's transition to living a more agrarian lifestyle in rural Tennessee. And yes, Dogwood Mudhole is indeed a real place!
The Sanders family includes Franklin and his wife, Susan, and seven children. Even the adult children move to Dogwood Mudhole with their growing families, and their multi-generational adventure in adjusting to a slower-paced and more self-sufficient country life is definitely a learning curve! The decision to move to the country and change their lifestyle was inspired by the looming threat of what might happen at Y2K. Readers like me will remember that although the Y2K fears came to nothing, most of us didn't know that in the late 1990s, and there were real concerns about financial crises and computer glitches that might affect everything from banking to electricity supplies to purchasing daily groceries. While Y2K prompted their move and preparations, the Sanders family seemed to handle it all with humor, faith, and commitment to family and community.
Susan can read my mind. I know this, and have come to accept the humiliation over the years. Friday evening she says to me, "Now let's not bring anything back from First Monday that eats." She says this all general-like, as if to nobody in particular, but I'm the only one in the room, and she knows I have chickens on the brain. (pg 115)
The subtitle of the book, "Nothing That Eats", comes from Susan's expectation that they would not acquire any pets or animals on their farm. This wish is thwarted early and often, as the book opens with Franklin's request for another dog and his fascination with poultry. The book is full of both touching and hilarious stories of the dogs, horses, cattle, poultry, pigs, and sheep that populate the farm. Franklin's humorous accounts of their early attempts at doing farmwork with horse-drawn implements and handling the pigs had me laughing out loud! Their experiences with sheep-handling are accented with photos and are a must-see/must-read. I'm laughing just thinking about it!
Raising pigs is only slightly less trouble than raising children. They can escape any pen; hence our boar's name, Houdini. Once they get out, they can run 1,400 miles per hour, and make right-angle turns like a flying saucer. This is what Susan wanted to capture and train to an electric fence. (pg 214)
The chapter titled "Working Cows" describes the process of herding up the cattle for vaccinations, pregnancy checks and converting little bulls to steers (as Franklin says). They came up with a supposedly foolproof plan to lure the cows through an unjuiced electric fence path from the pasture, through the barn, and into the paddock; but this plan proved to be -
"Simple. Clean. But not cowproof." (pg 254)In fact, Franklin includes a diagram showing the planned vs. realized cow trajectories through their property, and the combination of story and diagram had me laughing out loud. Between the process of trying to herd the cows and the mishaps involved with milking the cows (one of which is nicknamed The Demon Milch Cow), Franklin eventually declares -
I tell you, I'm losing my taste for milk. (pg 257)Anywhere you have livestock or poultry, or any kind of animal, really - you will also have manure, and there are a few guffaw-worthy stories about misadventures with this farm commodity as well. Told as tastefully as possible, I assure you, but just plain funny. The following is part of a story about trying to jump-start the four-wheeler at dusk so he could go herd up the escaped pigs from the neighbor's pasture!
Now lest you think me less than a good sport, I want you to understand that nothing on earth has quite the same viscosity as turkey poop. It combines all the unique properties of motor oil, molasses, and Super Glue. It cannot be washed off. The smell must be surgically removed. (pg 304)This isn't just about their farm how-to's learned firsthand, though those are among my favorite stories - Franklin includes lots of historical tidbits and Southern perspective about the War Between the States, personal accounts of their travels and the community (including his recommendations for restaurants and places to visit, complete with contact information), news of the family, and his reflections on economic issues and faith experiences. All of it is told with wry and gentle humor, and I felt like I was reading a very personal family newsletter that really allowed me to get to know the Sanders family, and get a sense of which flea markets or small-town eating establishments I'd have the best chance of running into them if I'm travelling in the South.
What I liked best:
- I laughed, I learned new things, I thought about things with new perspective, and I was moved - there's a little bit of everything in almost every chapter.
- the chapters are very short, making it a great book to read whenever I had a few minutes.
- I absolutely LOVED that he gave names and addresses of the places mentioned. When he describes delicious barbecue or fried pies, and then tells me exactly where I can find that restaurant, I make a plan to visit on a vacation if I am anywhere near the area. (Because we do plan restaurant visits into our vacation agendas, especially barbecue and diners!)
- Franklin Sanders is very open about his faith and beliefs and the role they play in their family's life, but I didn't find it "preachy".
- I loved the very personal and conversational feel of the writing. I could imagine these stories and personal reflections being discussed around a family dinner table. I loved that they nicknamed their house The Shoe, that Susan painted a sign on the chicken coop that says "Home of the Dixie Chicks", and the way Sanders told all the stories - even those of disasters in farming, and of sorrow and trials - with such affection and humor.
What I need to mention:
- although there's plenty of practical information, remember that this is a memoir and not a step-by-step guide to farming or survival preparation.
My bottom line: I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and am enthusiastically recommending it to my husband now that I am almost finished. I actually want to visit many of the places mentioned in the book, and would truly enjoy meeting Franklin Sanders and his family. I feel like I've come to know them already! At Home in Dogwood Mudhole should appeal to a wide variety of readers with its combination of memoir, humor, animal stories, history, and faith.
Would you like to explore Dogwood Mudhole? Here's what you need to know:
Visit the website: http://dogwoodmudhole.com/
Sample chapters of both Volume 1: Nothing That Eats, and Volume 2: Best Thing We Ever Did are available at the website.
Recommended Ages: grown-ups and older teens.
Pricing: The paperback (379 pages) is available for $22.95. A Kindle/ePub/pdf version is available for $16.95. (Volume 2 is available now for Kindle/ePub/pdf, and the paperback is scheduled to begin shipping on November 15th.)
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