The Birdhouse Chronicles:
Surviving the Joys of Country Life

by Cathleen Miller

Lyons Press, 2002. ISBN 1585744697.
Reviewed by Lee Ambrose
Posted on 11/18/2004

Nonfiction: Nature/Place/Environment

As if taking a step back in time, Cathleen Miller and her husband, Kerby, packed up their belongings and moved from San Francisco's upscale lifestyle into the rural community of Zion, Pennsylvania. Leaving behind the fast and competetive world of advertising, the Millers embarked on a journey that would not only prove to be challenging but life affirming. The transformation of themselves and the "Grandma's house" they purchased moves in the cyclic fashion of the seasons. With each new season, new challenges emerged for them as individuals, as a couple and as newcomers to rural life.

Zion is a tiny rural community near Penn State. The Millers actually live on the outskirts of that community. Their purchase of an old farm house located in the middle of Amish farms and families provides the backdrop for an engaging and enjoyable look about how they came to know and love the simpler ways of life.

The author's comfortable writing style allows her readers to feel as though they are right in the middle of the action. She describes tireless hours spent refurbishing the old country home, planting gardens, learning to can the produce from their gardens, and appreciating life's goodness in new ways. The book also brings a sense of familiarity with the Amish neighbors and their unique approaches to life.

Miller introduces us to the trials of learning to live in a home that is not filled with modern conveniences. Early in the book, she relates the story of her quest to learn how to start a fire in the old coal furnace and keep it going. Her readers are transported to a time and place that many have never experienced, and others have forgotten.

The author's passion for nature, her frankness about the rigors of her first months in Zion, and the refreshing style with which she meets her challenges make this a most enjoyable reading experience. She brings to light the unique lifestyle of the Amish from the perspective of a neighbor rather than a true outsider or tourist.

In a day and age when many strive to "have more," this book allows us to observe the meaning of having more of what is truly important—more time to spend nurturing home and relationships, more appreciation of nature's gifts to mankind, more respect for other beliefs and lifestyles, more sense of community, and concern for other members of that community.

For anyone who loves a good "back to the country" tale and for anyone who knows the beauty of the Amish country of Pennsylvania and perhaps longs to be in the midst of it once again as this reviewer does, The Birdhouse Chronicles is a book to be savored.

Cathleen Miller is a native of Missouri. She graduated from Penn State and is the co-author of an international bestseller, Desert Flower. Her writings have appeared in Old House Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and an anthology titled Wild Writing Women: Stories of World Travel.

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