"I've got a thing for cheap bling," confesses MaryJane Butters, a "farmgirl at heart." "Maybe it's the Dolly Parton in me."
Cheap bling, Dolly Parton and farm girls?
They don't seem to mix, but MaryJane Butters makes the combination work.
In fact, Butters makes lots of seemingly unrelated things work together, like a piece of old wire fencing that turns into an outdoor candle chandelier, or a child's old shirt that turns into a clothespin holder, or tin cans that make a scarecrow.
Butters is a crafter, mother, seamstress, entrepreneur, cook, collector (the "cheap bling" she mentions is flashy costume jewelry, which she loves), domestic-arts diva, organic-farming maven, self-made millionaire - and now, author and photographer, too.
Her book is "MaryJane's Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook" (Clarkson Potter, $35), with 600 color photographs and 416 pages of crafts, recipes, tips on wholesome living, designs for how to build a greenhouse, and advice on celebrating friendships, outdoor fires and the taste of home-dried fruit.
People, especially women, are searching for lives with simpler pleasures, and "I just want to give them a few ideas," said Butters, whose farm is near Moscow, Idaho.
"For the Farmgirl in All of Us" is her book's subtitle. A farmgirl, says Butters, is someone "who believes in the strong arm of community, someone who takes a knitting class at the Y, someone who values a homemade wool scarf, someone who loves to grow herbs in the window."
Farmgirls want to enjoy friends and deeper connections, they long for community, and they love working with their hands, even if cell phones, takeout dinners and computers take up 10 hours of their day, she said last week.
They also want the best for their loved ones: "You really do want your kids to eat healthy, you want to eat healthy, you don't want to live in a polluted world," she said.
Don't call her the next Martha Stewart; she's heard it a few times before, and it gets to be a drag. In one interview, she called it an insult to Stewart - and to her.
Butters, who will visit Missoula this month, grew up in a supportive Mormon family in Utah and once was a single mom raising two kids. She now is living her dream on a farm in northern Idaho, growing organic food, overseeing more than 60 products in her line of organic goods, publishing a magazine (MaryJanesFarm), and running a Web site (www.maryjanesfarm.com) that brings together women who share farmgirl dreams and hearts.
There's a reason so many farmgirl chapters are cropping up across the country, she says. "Women get it," she said. "Isolation eats at us."
"We are nesters. We are silly about it sometimes, like when we put a basket on the table, step back, adjust it a little."
The book is part inspiration and part information, imparting such tips as keeping garden dirt from under your fingernails (scrape the nails on soap first) to building a floor for a wall tent.
There are seven chapters covering the themes of keeping a home, raising a family, enjoying the outdoors, socializing with friends, contributing to your community, creativity and crafts, and everyday organic foods - each of which could become a spinoff book unto themselves.
Butters earned a reported $1.3 million advance for the hardcover book, but first there were many, many lean years at the farm. Butters writes about how she came to find and pursue her passion, mixing tales of her life with hundreds of down-home trivia for anyone interested in home, family and friends.
This month, Butters wraps up a national book tour that took her to New York, Illinois, Vermont, Missouri, Indiana and the Northwest; her last two stops are in Missoula (see sidebar) and Jackson, Wyo.
Summer is the perfect time to enjoy farmgirl pleasures, Butters said. Fields are planted, fresh food is abundant, and the weather is ideal for outdoor living.
"Campfire time is what I love most about summer," Butters said. "Here's what's important: When people gather without a roof over their head, they bond better. Even if all you do is take a sleeping bag out in your backyard ... There is a guard you let down when you are outdoors."