Monthly Archives: July 2012

A Heart of Cheese

On Tuesday my book tour schedule brings me to the Midwest, what I like to refer to as “The Old Country.” I say that because I am, at my core, a Midwestern woman. No matter how far I roam there is still a Minnesota girl inside me.

There’s also a Wisconsin girl. My parents were dual citizens, born and raised in Wisconsin but who moved as adults to Minnesota. They rooted for the Vikings—unless the Vikings were playing the Packers. They always root for the Packers. I went to first grade in Milwaukee, and my sister was born there. My mom, to this day, refers to visiting our relatives in Wisconsin as “going home.”

Minnesota and Wisconsin share one of those regional rivalries that is all-too-real to the invested parties and incomprehensible to anyone else. In Oregon, where I live now, people don’t even know where these states are, let alone any silly subtle nuances between them. But ask a native Oregonian about California and you’ll get an earful.

The Minnesota-Wisconsin rivalry is less vitriolic than the Wisconsin-Illinois rivalry, and more substantive than the Minnesota-Iowa rivalry. I mean, really, what is the difference between southern Minnesota and Iowa?

To the trained eye, this is not nuance:

                     Minnesota                                             Wisconsin

















Stocking cap perched
on very top of head

No hat







Sweet white wine


Coffee so weak it looks like tea


Those Germans drink beer all the time, even on Sunday. Scandalous.

Most of my heritage is German (and Dutch, another one of those differences that no one but the invested parties can discern). My great-grandmother Hazel provided a splash of Scotch-Irish, English and French. I assume that this one aberration in my genetic code is responsible for my love of whiskey and dry red wine. The rest of me is cheese, sausages and beer. Ein Prosit!

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Hooray for Clarissa the Sheep!

In March, Mike, mother-in-law Kathy, and I packed up our car for a Trip to the Country. On the docket: shooting promotional video for Get Your Pitchfork On!. The weather was iffy at best, but it was the only weekend that we had our friend John’s camera and that would give Mike enough time to edit the video before the book came out at the end of April.

As we drove west from Portland to the country home of friends Shari and Joe, dark gray clouds hung in the sky. A bit of rain spattered the windshield. We had brought about ten extra layers for Kathy, who is notorious for under-dressing for the weather. She would doubtless refuse to wear them, but at least they were available.

We pulled into the driveway of our friends Shari and Joe, and were first greeted by their dogs, giant Harlequin Great Danes named Patch and Spot, and black Lab Bowman.


Patch gives Joe some love

It felt good to don my country hat, which mostly lies fallow on a shelf near our front door. My plaid wool shirt felt better than when I wear it in the city. And I put on my knee-high rubber boots, which I wear to take out the garbage more from nostalgia than any actual need to wear boots.

Until the equipment was ready, I had nothing to do but get cold. While Mike carefully arranged cables and tripods, he caught sight of me, shivering and rubbing my arms together.

“You look miserable,” he said. “Go run around the field to warm up.”

When I returned, Mike had set up under a lean-to to keep the camera dry. I, however, was out in the yard. It was the kind of misty, cold Oregon day that seeps into one’s very marrow. Even the stalwart Kathy had accepted an extra jacket and gloves. In between takes I jumped up and down, and blew warmth into my cupped hands.

By the time we went to Shari and Joe’s neighbors’ house, it had cleared and warmed up some. Heather and Robert have three sheep, Mopsy, Flopsy and Clarissa. The animals were usual sheep, curious but nervous. They would come sort of close to us but, as soon as someone moved or reached out a hand, darted away. Being herd animals, they acted as one unit.

Being livestock, they were also easy to entice with feed. Robert had a trough at the ready while Mike and Kathy set up the shot. When Mike gave him the high sign, he put the trough down and jogged away from the shot.


Key grip Kathy!

I began to deliver my lines, with Mike giving direction and prompts: “Where can one find this book?” “Do you have a website?” “Why is this book different from other back-to-the-land books?”

At one point, I delivered the wrap-up and Mike said, “Okay—fast! Do it again. There is a sheep standing next to you.”

I looked down and there was Clarissa, who had abandoned her sisters at the trough. I hadn’t even noticed her. What luck! I quickly ran through my pitch again and again, as many times as I could while she was there. She eventually lost interest and wandered off, but I felt like the luckiest person in the world.

View the video here!

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Guest Post: Writing at Husum

When I lived on my land, I started a monthly drop-in writing group called “Time to Write.” Friends came to my house with their pads of paper, journals or laptops to work on their poetry, fiction, letters to the editor, whatever. Some came every time and others every once in a while. We worked all morning and then shared a potluck lunch.

Susan Hess, one of the TTW regulars, contributed to all of the area’s publications. The following is a piece that ran in the Hood River News in 2006 as part of Susan’s column, “Second Story Views.”

Writing at Husum

By Susan Hess

I always sit in the same place—the southwest corner of this farmhouse. I get to come here once a month. Saturday morning. And write. Two hours of quiet. Peace really.

I hear cars going by on the highway, but we’re just far enough away that the sound comes here muted. Out the window to my right, the branches of a giant fir tree drape down. New brown cones bristle at the tips of the branches. In a field beyond the fir, is an oak tree—not chopped up to make way for electric and phone lines like in the city. This one is the way oaks grow in an open field: full, exuberant. Its dark green leaves cluster letting the tree’s structure show through.

Behind the oak, a ridge rises several hundred feet high. A dense conifer forest grows up its hillsides. Between the ridge and where I sit is a grassy field—that honey color of late August.

In the next room, “Moon River” is playing on the CD.

The window ahead of me is half-covered by Big Leaf maple. Its canopy shades the south side of this house. From my seat, I look up into the leaves fluttering in an occasional breeze.

Today is the end of my first week of vacation, and today my mind feels like energy has seeped into every part of it.

I sit here in a house surrounded by farm fields. Beyond the maple tree I look out across the grass to a linear grove of cottonwood trees. A Ponderosa pine guards the front of the group.

It’s sunny, warm outside, but cool in here. A nearby window is part way open. Out the east window, a stack of firewood sits on the front porch.

The house offers the comfort old farmhouses give when they’ve been added onto here and there through the years, and added onto for comfort not style. It comes from all the wood used. The windows and doors are trimmed with four-inch-wide fir stained dark. Windows wood framed. And it comes from open doors and windows, a garden out back and from the owners opening the house to friends and family.

Here, I hear no sirens or trains rushing by. There’s lots of sky and sun and shade. And now and then I feel the breeze pushing through the open window and brushing across the floor.

And I can write.

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The Art of Value-Added Products

For the most part, Get Your Pitchfork On! deals only with “farming” for one’s personal use, not for retail sale and certainly not for wholesale. However, I do discuss the idea of improving your profit margin on farm-based products by processing them into something more preserv-able and elaborate. This is generally known as “value-added.”

Take raspberries. Delicious. A country favorite! But they are extremely delicate and spoil quickly. If you plan to sell raspberries, your choices are:

  • Minimize transportation by selling them at the end of your driveway, or hosting a you-pick field (which brings a raft of other considerations).
  • Package them in those decidedly not-environmentally friendly plastic clamshell boxes.
  • Expect a large rate of damage, which is basically a financial loss (even if you eat the “losses” yourself).

But—if you take those same raspberries and make them into jam, syrup, or any number of other food items, you not only increase the price and eliminate loss by damage, you have something that travels well and has a much longer shelf-life.

Same with something like lavender. As a fresh crop, it’s basically just good-smelling purple flowers on sticks. But take those flowers and weave them into a wreath, or strip the flowers into a potpourri, or twist them into “fairy wands,” and you’ve got yourself a lovely home décor item! Or, get a little more involved and crush them to extract the oil for soap, lotion and other toiletries.

My mom makes beautiful “fairy wands” with her lavender

Splitting firewood is adding value. My friend Jon, who lives in Enterprise, Oregon, saw those $5 piles of firewood that people sell to campers and thought, “I can do better.” So, how did he improve on a great idea? Under the auspices of the Wallowa Mt. Campfire Company, he makes bundles that include matches, newspaper, kindling, and s’mores fixin’s, just for fun!

The most creative value-added item I’ve seen to date was brought to my attention by my friend, Annie, who was traveling through Sisters, Oregon. Her hotel’s grounds featured a small corral of resident llamas. The owners were really smart and, in their gift shop, stocked little stuffed llamas to which they added tags noting which llama it represents and a short description of her. Not only that, they named the llamas after human celebrities. Meet “Tori Amos” …

Brilliant! The hotel owners created a tangible item for a “product” that previously only existed as a memory. Now my friend could take home more than a photograph, and the hotel could keep a little bit more of her money.

You can’t take home a real llama, but you can take home a stuffed one!

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It’s Not the Size That Counts …

The chainsaw controversy continues! A few weeks ago, I noted in this blog that my friend Monica took exception to my having characterized her 12” electric chainsaw as a “child’s toy” in Get Your Pitchfork On! To be fair (to me), I said it looked like one in comparison to the chainsaws I’d seen ever since I moved to the country.

Turns out, this characterization also struck a chord with my friend and former neighbor, Jim Tindall. Jim wrote, “Don’t mock little electric chainsaws. [My wife] Pam was doing a training out at Big Sky, Montana, and I passed some time by visiting a second-hand store. I picked one of these up for $5, and it is one of my favorite tools now. While it does require juice, it is far, far lighter than my 24″ bar or my gas-powered 12″ bar. It makes using a chainsaw on a ladder (a stupid death-wish idea to begin with) safer.”

I asked him to send me a photo of him with his toy. Being a good sport, he did, replying “It’s not a frickin’ TOY!”

Geez, these country folks can get touchy about their tools. Jim sent a nice photo—it not only shows his electric you-know-what but also his gas-powered saw, with the tractor and the rig thrown in the background for good measure. He artfully trailed the saw’s extension cord across the driveway.

While we’re here, please note the safety equipment: gloves, boots, full sleeves and pants, hat/helmet, protective eye wear, and—for the noisy two-stroke-engine—earmuffs. If this were a big job, I would add chaps (not the rodeo kind).

During my recent trip to Eastern Oregon, I discovered a means of ending this controversy the ‘Merican way—sheer overpower. Displayed in the front window of this barbershop in Burns, my friends, is a CHAINSAW:

I rest my case.

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