Book Review: "The Rural Diaries" by Hilarie Burton Morgan

Summary of "The Rural Diaries: Love, Livestock, and Big Life Lessons on Mischief Farm" by Hilarie Burton Morgan

The Rural Diaries is Hilarie's memoir, which tells the story of her life from the moment she left the cult classic teen drama, One Tree Hill, in her mid-twenties. Feeling lost and desperate to find the bigger purpose of her life, Hilarie plans to move to Paris to do some soul-searching. However, days before she's supposed to leave the country, Hilarie meets her now-husband, Jeffrey Dean Morgan. For those of you who don't know, we're talking about the beloved Denny Duquette from Grey's Anatomy.

The memoir goes on to unpack the beginning of their life together: raising their first child while operating on a long-distance basis due to both actors shooting roles all over the country, and the strain that put on their young relationship and journey into parenthood. Despite the difficult challenges they faced, Hilarie and Jeff were determined to make their relationship work—the glue that kept them together ended up being a small cabin in Rhinebeck, New York.

While continuing their careers in the film industry, Hilarie and Jeff found a passion for a simple life in their newfound community, which welcomed them with open arms—a stark contrast to life in Los Angeles, Hilarie frequently notes. Hilarie took on the renovation of their cabin, in which she fondly recalls doing various DIY projects as a kid and teen with her family in her childhood home. Hilarie balances home renovation, being a new mother to her son, Gus, and continuing her work as an actress between it all.

After cultivating a deep love for taking care of their cabin and the land it lives on, Hilarie and Jeff decide to look for a farm of their own. The pair both have familial roots to farm life, recalling days spent in vast fields with friendly livestock at family members' farms. With the help of many new friends in their local community, they find their forever home: Mischief Farm, named after the aged graves of cats Mischief One and Mischief Two on the farm's property.

Hilarie spends her time figuring out all aspects of homesteading, caring for various farm animals, teaching her son about life by using real-world examples from their farm, and bonding with community members while Jeff is away on acting jobs. She successfully remodels their new home, plants flower and produce gardens, raises chickens, cares for llamas, and teaches her son to appreciate it all.

After the small family settles into their new routine and becomes ingrained in the Rhinebeck community, tragedy shakes the town: their beloved friend and candy-shop owner, Ira, suddenly passes away. Ira and his shop, Samuel's, are town institutions, and it comes to light that Samuel's had been in deep financial trouble for some time. As such a beloved and revered friend to everyone in town, Ira was able to keep his shop afloat on the graces of good friendship and many favors.

However, now that he was gone, the shop was in jeopardy. Hilarie, Jeff, and a few other community members, including actor Paul Rudd and his wife, Julie, purchased and fixed up the shop to keep Ira's memory and life's work alive.

Although her hands are full with being a farm owner, a business partner, a mother, and a wife in an often long-distance relationship, Hilarie is ready to expand her family and have another child. This ends up being an arduous five-year journey for her and Jeff, in which they suffer three back-to-back miscarriages that plunge Hilarie into depression.

In need of a distraction, Hilarie learns about Astor, a home for intensely abused children that has been in Rhinebeck for years, but few speak of. Some of her friends and fellow community members are on a mission to renovate the extremely deteriorated dorms in the building, and Hilarie decides to get involved as well.

Combining her love for theater and acting with her experience in DIYs and renovation, Hilarie, Jeff, the Rudds, and other community members band together to plan a ghost storytelling event to raise funds for the project, and afterward, they partner with various businesses to renovate Astor. The overwhelming gratitude from the children of Astor paired with the new community she finds in the volunteer group save Hilarie from the grief of her struggle to become and stay pregnant.

The memoir nears an end with a miracle: the pregnancy and birth of Hilarie and Jeff's daughter, George. In the midst of George coming into the world, the #MeToo movement kicks off—a movement that Hilarie has a role in, as she was groped by Ben Affleck on TRL and suffered years of sexual misconduct on the set of One Tree Hill by its creator, Mark Schwahn. Afraid to speak out after so many years, Hilarie finds strength in her soon-to-be-born daughter, determined to do what she can to ensure George never has to endure the same unacceptable and horrific abuse.

Throughout the memoir, Hilarie recollects the ups and downs of she and Jeff's ten-year relationship, the joy farming and homesteading has brought both of them, her vast love for her children, how intensely grateful she is to have found their community in Rhinebeck, and how, although her dream as a child was to become an actress, her real dream come true has been owning Mischief Farm with her soulmate and their two miracle babies.

Personal Thoughts & Feelings on the Memoir

I picked up this book because I've long-loved Hilarie, who starred as Peyton Sawyer in one of my favorite tv shows, One Tree Hill. I found myself in complete and total awe of her for so vulnerably and honestly sharing her life's story.

Through her memoir, Hilarie has inspired me to find my own way in homesteading, gardening, renovating, and DIYing within my future home. She's strengthened my deep desire to find a community that Tyler and I fit into. Hilarie's journey into small town living has made me more thoughtful as to where we should purchase our first home. I feel obligated and inspired to do more volunteer work, knowing that it will benefit both the organization / individual in need as well as myself. Hilarie has made me look forward to becoming a mother, and has made me feel immensely grateful and respectful of whatever that journey will look like for me. She's also further ingrained the idea that while lasting relationships take work, they're very, very well worth the effort you put into them.

All in all, I feel humbled to be a witness to Hilarie's life story, and I deeply appreciate how raw, honest, inspirational, and down-to-earth she is. I can't recommend her memoir enough to anyone looking for a moving story and a great read.

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