Monthly Archives: May 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

This was a very exciting week! It actually started May 15, when I drove out to my old stomping grounds in the Columbia River Gorge to début Get Your Pitchfork On! Suzanne and Aaron opened their fantastic restaurant, Solstice Wood Fire Café, just so Waucoma Books could host an event there! (And I’m not just calling them fantastic because they are nice to me; they’ve recently been recognized by via magazine and Portland Monthly.) The place filled with dozens of old friends, and a couple new ones, and I went to sleep that night with a big smile on my face.

Monday an interview with me was posted to “Seven Questions,” which features a different author every week. I was really impressed with Laura Stanfill; she had clearly not just read the book but also done a bunch of research.

On Tuesday morning, I went to KATU, Portland’s Channel 2 television station, to appear on AM Northwest. I shared the green room with a young woman who is launching a career as a vegan chef and two guys who are touring as impersonators of Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis. The hosts, Helen and Dave, and their staff were extremely accommodating and welcoming, and the interview went too fast! Next time I’m asked, I will simply say that I grew up “in the Midwest.”

Wednesday, I lived like an ordinary person and went to work. I do have a day job, as office manager of Oregon Humanities. My colleagues are extremely supportive of this little summer side-job. Thank you, Cara, Carole, Kathleen, Jennifer, Kamla, Annie, Sarah, Eloise and Alicia!

Thursday I reported to the Powell’s on Southeast Hawthorne for my first Portland appearance. The store expected 20 to 30 people and got a big surprise when at least 60 crammed themselves into every aisle in the store! I was pleased to meet “Seven Questions” blogger Laura in person, as well as Gregg Einhorn, the book’s designer.

I didn’t realize that the excerpts I chose to read were all kind of violent and depressing (cats getting eaten by predators, people accidentally cutting their hands open and getting arms torn off by farm machinery) until I was reading them. By the end, I felt sort of guilty. But the truth hurts—country life can be dangerous! Everyone looked like they were having a good time regardless—I just hope the children in the audience weren’t listening very carefully …

After the reading, friends wandered across the street to Nick’s Coney Island, whose friendly staff were waiting for us with cow-spotted balloons and a signature drink—The Pitchfork! It’s what I often drink at home: bourbon and grapefruit-flavored bitters. Carrie, one of the owners, emailed me a few days later and said that they plan to add The Pitchfork to their regular drink menu—so go in and ask for one by name!

Saturday, Mike and I packed the car and took off for Southern Oregon, where I arranged to sign books at Quady North Winery in Jacksonville. I enjoyed meeting people from all over Oregon and California, especially the owners and tasting room manager of the winery. Thanks for having me, Herb, Melanie and Emily!

Then we drove to nearby Applegate, home of friends Chelsea and Tyler—the very people who suggested I send the Get Your Pitchfork On! manuscript to Process Media. Visiting them is always an adventure—this time it was a prom-themed party. Pretty entertaining to see a bunch of 30- and 40-somethings carrying on in tuxedos and fancy dresses! Keep the tulle away from the bonfire …

There are more surprises in store next week and, in mid-June, I embark on a week-long tour of Eastern Oregon. At the end of June, I will hopefully reprise the standing-room-only experience at Portland’s Broadway Books. Stay tuned!

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Raspberry Mystery!

In my 43 years, I have lived in a number of different homes—fifteen, in fact. As an adult it’s always been a thrill, that first spring in a new house, because I have no idea what is going to come out of the ground. Especially the two homes I have owned rather than rented. All those plants are mine! Landscape and garden plants are the icing on the new-house cake.

My friend, Annie, and her husband, Aaron, bought a house in February, so for the last two months the treasure trove in their yard has been revealing itself. The catch—neither of them is a gardener, and they don’t know what they’re looking at. What is a plant and what is a weed? They want to learn, though, so one Saturday in April I stopped by.

As Annie pointed out the different corners of the yard, she thrilled and panicked with the growth that had occurred. “The sun came out, and everything grew a foot!” she said.

Annie gives me a tour

A previous owner had transformed what had been a regular American grass lawn into front-and-backyard oases featuring rounded, organically shaped beds lined with paths made of glass bottles that she pounded upside-down into the ground. The aesthetic was clearly one of blending the plantings as much as possible—while there are three boxy raised beds in the front yard, the blueberry bushes, rhubarb, kiwi and raspberries are all intermixed with the rest of the landscape. A spindly, 10-foot-tall fig tree was up against the fence, wedged between a stand of bamboo and a rhododendron.

“The good news is that this is a fig tree,” I said, pointing to it. “The bad news is you will never see a fruit on that thing; it’s way too stressed out.”

I pointed out how relocating some of the pine needles would benefit the acid-loving rhododendrons and blueberries. I suggested she dig out most of the compost that had seasoned in a barrel but save a few shovels full to get the new batch going. I confirmed her suspicion that the kiwi vine was supposed to be following the trellis and not shooting 20 feet into the air.

Errant kiwifruit vine

The main reason Annie wanted my advice was for the raspberries. They had been planted next to the garage, and everything Annie had read about raspberries suggested they needed some kind of support.

When I looked at them, I wasn’t sure what to think. They were certainly berry plants. They even looked like raspberry plants, but the canes were only 6 inches tall. Most had new growth, but because the canes were so short the plants were only a foot high. There were only a few new shoots coming out of the ground.

Raspberries usually grow in a two-year cycle. The canes that grow in Year One do not flower; they should end up 5 to 6 feet tall, or more, leaning over from their weight. Once winter ends, you trim them back to about 3 to 4 feet tall and thin them if necessary. Year Two plants grow from the ground. The new growth on Year One canes ends in berry blossoms, and then berries. Once the berries are picked the canes die out, and you cut them out of there before winter.

Mysterious plant

What I was looking at was, upon close inspection, definitely second-year canes. But they were so short! And then there was the matter of not having any support in place for them.

Investigating someone else’s garden made me feel a little like a forensics specialist. I had to observe the evidence and then consider motives—were these “everbearing” raspberries? Were they some other kind of berry altogether? I voiced my ideas aloud to Annie, my Watson.

After floating a few hypotheses, I presented my final answer: The previous owner trimmed the canes back severely in order to stunt their height, so that she didn’t have to put in supports.

I have never seen anyone do this before; time will tell whether that works or whether they’ll just be stunted plants. I instructed Annie to leave them alone, and look forward to hearing how they behave as summer rolls along. There’s always next year!

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GYPO Podcast

Short post this week: Listen to Growing Your Grub podcast!

I had the pleasure on Tuesday of speaking with Steve Howard, a retired technology guy who has a couple of podcast programs all having to do with country living. Steve is in the process of pulling up the tent stakes and moving to acreage he and his wife purchased in Northern California. So, he was very interested in Get Your Pitchfork On!

I appreciated the close reading he gave my book. I felt that he got it—he described it perfectly, as somewhere between a how-to and memoir. We had a great conversation. You’ll hear stories that didn’t make it into the book, and background to stories that did.

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Sustainability Champion

Reading the community notices on a Portland nonprofit’s bulletin board, I saw an ad for the
“Tod LeFevre Gorge Sustainability Awards.” Odd, I thought. Tod LeFevre was in his late forties, an engineer who lived in the Gorge and taught a series of sustainable-energy classes with the community education service. I had taken those classes in 2005 to learn about improving our seven acres with solar, wind and/or water power.

Tod was his own little power station, buzzing with energy at the evening classes even though he, like the rest of us who were swilling coffee to stay awake, had worked a full day. He had a bunch of print-outs for us to take home, ran a PowerPoint he had created, and ad-libbed extensively and enthusiastically from his notes.

Tod had built a net-zero house in Colorado somewhere in the late 1990s, and then sold it and moved to the Columbia River Gorge with his wife. They converted their house in Hood River to net-zero-or-close-to-it by adding solar panels and making other adjustments. Understanding and limiting electricity draw is a major factor in living with sustainable energy—as he demonstrated how to track household energy use, he presented his own home as a model. For example, you typically can’t run the dishwasher and the clothes dryer at the same time.

“So,” he illustrated, “if you run your vacuum about an hour a week …” I thought, Hm—I run my vacuum about once a month. On top of everything else, his house is immaculate??

A tireless advocate of sustainable energy, Tod fought for a number of local municipal projects, including solar panels that were installed at the school in the town of Mosier. He was the kind of guy who persevered by winning people over, not just advocating for ideas.

So I was pretty shocked to read that the Tod LeFevre Gorge Sustainability Awards were in memoriam. Unbeknownst to me, Tod suffered from pulmonary fibrosis and died in March 2011, before donor lungs could be found.

Though a year late, I am lamenting the passing of a bright bulb—lit by sustainable energy!

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