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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 Paperback – October 6, 2014
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From Publishers Weekly
Stimson's predictable tale of uprooting to Vermont after an idyllic fall vacation has its fun moments, including "choosing the cheese" and experiencing Mud Season, the time in early spring when "the snow opens up the hard, bare ground beneath it," but never enough of them to outweigh the plodding narrative. Initial visions of a picturesque small-town life are immediately sidetracked by the day-to-day of historic home renovations and management troubles at the "Horrible Quaint Country Store" that Stimson and her husband decide to open. Natural descriptions provide moments of serenity: "There seems to be a whole, separate world just below the snowy, melty surface." Such instances, unfortunately, are often bogged down by repetitive footnoting. Stimson's story, which concludes with bankruptcy negotiations and a promise never to buy a store again, is fraught with anxiety and missteps. More than thirty appended pages of recipes, including three pet memoriam, supply cheerier resolutions than the story commands. Such additions detract from what would otherwise be a bittersweet story, making this book far more complicated, and less enjoyable, than it should be. (Oct.) --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
*Starred Review* Get your schadenfreude ready. Stimson’s fish-out-of-water memoir is chockablock with self-deprecating, belly-laughable vignettes. Not since Betty MacDonald’s The Egg and I (1945) has anybody seemed more ill-suited to country life. And yet this born-and-bred midwestern city dweller, having run up an enormous tab at her local Vermont country store, thinks, Maybe I could run a quaint country store. Visions of herself, husband John, and their Bernese Mountain dog, Eloise, greeting delighted customers with homemade breads and soups and cozy woodstove fires eclipsed all logic. They bought the store. Which sounds ominously like the phrase, they bought the farm. Which it may as well have been in the case of this former wholesale book businesswoman who seemed hell-bent on proving she had more money and credit than brains. Naturally, first thing, Stimson rearranged the store to suit her well-intentioned yuppie sensibilities. The locals stayed away in droves. Indeed, her first customers—staid, khaki-and-sensible-shoe-wearing native Vermonters—took one look at her swingy orange and purple outfit accessorized with jangly jewelry and thought she was a fortune teller. The experience foretold a very long acclimation and heaps of hilarious anecdotes. As for this book—come for the humor, stay for the recipes. --Donna Chavez --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
What happens when in following your bliss, you get a lot of blisters? Ms. Stimson's MUD SEASON is her outrageously written account that never ever even thinks of being dull of all the things these novice pioneers did wrong and, yes, they did some cleverly wonderful things right as well. From making the first mistake of hiring a "foreign" contractor from St. Louis with a crew from Alabama that the Dorset townspeople groused about and apparently never forgot or forgave anyone for to purchasing a lovely quaint country store, Ms. Stimson covers it all in glorious singing prose: On the store that she and her husband John eventually labeled the HQCS (horrible quaint country store) she gushes with beginner's enthusiasm: "We would stitch ourselves into the fabric of this historic place. . . The right family could really make it sing and dance. We had that notion that maybe we could even franchise these stores out to other places all over the country, bringing a bit of Vermont happiness to folks who's never experienced this little slice of heaven." All that glitters, however, even where the fall colors of Vermont must rival the scene of the first day of heaven, is not gold. Ultimately John, whom Ms. Stimson adores apparently for good reason, the quiet keeper of the store when she is scurrying about with other employment outside the state, is about to have his own meltdown-- that has nothing to do with the mud season that the book gets its title from-- and decides that he doesn't want gas pumps any longer, or a Coke cooler or to make crab cakes on Thursday nights either.
Many of these pages will make you smile; some of them will make you laugh out loud. My favorite hilarious passage has to do with the party these modern Swiss Family Robinsons throw to celebrate their purchase of the country store. Ms. Stimson dresses out in a silky skirt and scarves in purples and oranges with lots of clunky jewelry and makeup of course (think Mrs. Madrigal in the made-for-TV-movie of Armistead Maupin's TALES OF THE CITY) and sashays up to the townspeople who show up for homemade bread, Vermont cheese and cider. Can we say clash of cultures? One by one, the women of the town, dressed in what Ms. Stimson describes as "the standard Vermont uniform, khakis and sensible shoes with a blue chambray linen blouse and some version of fleece on top. No lipstick. LL Bean" approach her and ask her if she is giving palm readings. (I have told my wonderful friends in the neighboring state of Maine, the international home of LL Bean, for years that no Maybelline has ever been sold in that naturally beautiful state. )
A close contender for funniest event has to be Ms. Stimson's encounter with the local United Church of Christ minister. Her hopes are high when on a pastoral visit, he in sync with her view of all things spiritual opines that just like her, he "'wasn't much of a Jesus guy himself.'" But as we have come to expect by now, we experience if not another physical then a figurative mud slide. Suffice to say that, just as they home school their youngest child, all the members of the family remain home churched as well.
Ms. Stimson does something else besides make you smile that may be more important. She stops you in your booted tracks with her descriptions of this Vermont she loves and convinces you that it may be the most beautiful place on God's good earth. Her description of the silence of the first snowfall: "You stand amidst the tall pines watching millions of those fat flakes fall and swirl to the ground. There is so much beauty amidst so much action that the silence is amazing. . . At first, winter is a quiet lover. And you can't get enough." Or her first seeing a waterfall ten minutes by foot from her home: "It [the three-story waterfall] was rushing fast from the heavy spring melt. I caught my breath and sat on a fallen tree. The dappled light washed and waved through the tops of the tree branches. It was the most beautiful place I had ever been." And finally Ms. Stimson on Vermont in spring: "Some of the sweetest bits about a Vermont spring are the sweet fresh greens climbing back up the mountains. . . The spring sunlight is fresh and powerful. Stand in a puddle of it and you can feel its warmth spread across your cheeks. The sunlight is a special color for about four weeks. It's a bright pale yellow, glancing off the white clapboard houses."
As I walked -- sometimes I could almost feel the mud up to my ankles-- with the author through this really quite wonderful book, I kept thinking of the word "mud-luscious," probably a word that E. E. Cummings coined for his delightful poem about spring, "in-Just-." A New Englander himself, since he was born in Massachusetts and died in New Hampshire, Cummings surely would have loved this book.
On the other hand- she was clearly utterly tone-deaf about much of what she was doing. While she very much wanted to be accepted by the locals, she did not seem to spend much if any time or thought on what they might appreciate, instead rushing in where angels fear to tread, on a regular basis. An introvert myself, she looks like the most exaggerated caricature of the extrovert, blithely trampling over others because she just doesn't notice. While I admire her spunk, and enjoyed her writing a lot, I am utterly convinced we would not get along at all if we actually met.
My husband and I are contemplating retiring to Vermont. I hope that, if we do, we can read this as a cautionary tale, and insinuate ourselves a bit more effectively!
The recipes look tasty, though they were unexpected. I am particularly intrigued by the "Vermonter", a grilled cheese sandwich of ham and cheddar with maple apples on rye.
Recommended if you're thinking about moving to VT, or if you like a good fish-out-of-water tale!