Sunday, October 14, 2007

Fifty Acres and a Poodle

Fifty Acres and a Poodle: A Story of Love, Livestock, and Finding Myself on a Farm by Jeanne Marie Laskas is a wonderful, heartwarming story of a couple who fall in love with the idea of owning a farm before they understand the reality of owning a farm. Fifty Acres and a Poodle was originally published in October 2000. My hardcover copy is 272 pages. It really is a humorous, delightful story. Laskas even discusses some very serious problems with grace and wit. This was the perfect book to read and I'm planning to look for more of Laskas' books. I would highly recommend Fifty Acres and a Poodle.
"Jeanne Marie Laskas is 37, with a house, garden, dog, cat, flourishing writing career--all of the perfect ingredients, in fact, of a happy city-person's life--when a childhood dream resurfaces. It is a farm dream, this "song I couldn't get out of my head," and it would make more sense, she ruefully admits, if she were "at least the farm dream type. A person with some deep personal longing to churn butter." But not Laskas. She likes malls. She eats Lean Cuisine. She believes "very deeply in the power of air conditioning, microwave ovens, and very many things you plug in." Nonetheless, she spends weekends on make-believe "farm shopping" excursions with her boyfriend, Alex, who is another city person, a shrink and the owner of an honest-to-goodness poodle--a farm dream disqualifier, if ever there were one. Then, one summer afternoon, the perfect place appears, and it's very real: fifty acres, a pond, an Amish barn, and a magnificent view out over the rolling hills of Pennsylvania's Washington County. They fall in love. They buy the farm. Goodbye, city-person life.

But the scenery with which they fell in love is not quite like the scenery in postcards. Things need to be done to it, and all of these things involve buying and learning how to use different kinds of tractor attachments. And then there are the neighbors: the sheep farmer who shoots dogs, the curious proliferation of Joe Crowleys, everywhere the hunters. ("Congratulations on your ... dead deer," is all Alex can think to say to them.) Over the year that follows, the two city slickers find out a great deal about livestock, tractor attachments, and themselves; all of which is related in Laskas's funny, warm, conversational style. As she leaves behind her ordered, interior world for one that's gorgeously, chaotically exterior, Fifty Acres and a Poodle becomes much more than just a book about learning to live in the country; it is, in fact, a book about learning to live--dead groundhogs, emotional messes, and all. You don't need your own farm dream to fall in love with this witty and winning memoir, but it wouldn't hurt to look through the real estate pages, just in case. --Mary Park --"

"Thank God for writing. It was a way of getting all the inward stuff out. It was like installing a ventilation system, a link of fans blowing through ductwork, releasing emotion and thought to the wind."

"Yes, I know. I practice saying that, too: 'My boyfriend is a shrink.' When I'm feeling very courageous I practice saying the whole thing: 'I am in love with a shrink with a pet poodle.' Whew. You never know where you're going to end up."

"See, now, I never knew tractors even had attachments. I mean, I never really thought about it. To me, a farm tractor is a thing you see in the distance when you are on the Turnpike going somewhere, and it is out there on those fields doing very important farm things. That a tractor is made up of parts - attachments and levers and hydraulic-powered thises and thats - was not in my consciousness."

"Most of the pickups appear to be hauling nothing, leading me to wonder why, exactly, people have pickups."

"And anyway, when I get anxious, I buy electronics. Stereos or speakers or computers or little hand-held gizmos that store phone numbers. Electronics calm me down. The more complicated, the better. When the world feels like too much, when friends are betraying you or family is all worked up... there's nothing like installing a new hard drive in your computer to calm you down...Electronic things offer the most concrete opportunity I know of taming chaos."

"I pull out my cell phone. I have to call Alex, I have to tell him that Wal-Mart is so much nicer than Kmart... I am becoming a person who appreciates Wal-Mart."

"Is this really in line with my values? Do I really want to be a person who has access to five hundred million thousand TV channels? Well, yes."

"Sheep, I am told, are stupid. I'm not sure why this matters, but every time we tell someone around here that we're thinking of putting sheep on these fields, we get the same response: Sheep are stupid." (My own father will drive by a field of sheep and mutter loudly, "Stupid sheep.")

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