Monthly Archives: June 2013

Playing Fair … Or, Not

On Tuesday evening, at 7:45, I was casually scanning my Facebook feed, where a friend in New York said that something interesting was going on in the Texas Senate.

I knew that a woman had been filibustering that day to defend Texas women’s right to safe abortion procedures, but I hadn’t paid much attention to it, considering it a noble but lost cause. I mean, this was Texas we were talking about. Rick Perry’s Texas. I posted a link to an article about the filibuster—my small contribution to acknowledge Senator Davis’s effort.

Regardless of one’s personal convictions about abortion, the evening that unfolded was an incredible display of the political process in this country. Legislators learn the system and then figure out ways to “work” it, and sometimes lose sight of their mission as public servants, which is to actualize the will of the people and defend the Constitution of the United States. Sometimes, their focus shifts to personal gain and/or personal beliefs. On Tuesday, it was the Republican party demonstrating this, but it could also just as well have been Democrats. As John Dalberg-Acton noted 150 years ago: Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

I clicked on my friend’s link, which brought me to a live feed on YouTube that had about 35,000 viewers. It was standard CNN-style documentation: a camera at the back corner of the room, taking a long shot of the senate chamber. Boring. People in suits were milling around or conferring in small groups. No one was saying anything; in fact, there was no sound at all.

I noted this on Facebook. “They’re discussing a point of order,” my friend posted.

Not interesting, I thought, and moved to my email. I left the window open, though, just in case they came back.

A few minutes later, they did. What I’d missed was Sen. Davis’s filibuster having been challenged for the third time. A few of her colleagues were suggesting that her discussion of sonograms—a mandatory step in the abortion process in Texas—was not “germane” to her discussion of the bill in question.

Over the course of the next two hours (the legislative session ended at midnight, and I live in the Pacific time zone), I sat, spellbound, as some senators tried to defend the filibuster by calling for parliamentary procedure inquiries, and the senate president begrudgingly allowed them, unless he felt he could get away with not allowing them, which he also did a bunch of times. As my Facebook friends and I exchanged impassioned color commentary, the ticker of how many people were tuned in kept climbing. By 8:30, it had doubled to 70,000. Then 80,000. Then 120,000.

Screen shot at 9:49 (11:49 CST)

Screen shot at 9:49 (11:49 CST)

A few minutes before midnight, Senate President Dewhurst called a vote to end the filibuster. Doing so required ignoring parliamentary procedure and, specifically, ignoring Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who had already moved to adjourn in order to block said vote. She argued that he had ignored her; he replied that he hadn’t heard her. Sen. Van de Putte, desperate for parity, asked, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?”

The crowd erupted. The noise was incredible. The number of YouTube viewers rose. The live feed remained focused on the senate floor, but there was no mistaking the presence of hundreds of people in the gallery. After midnight, when I found other videos, I saw that the entire capitol building was packed to the rafters with Texans supporting the filibuster. More were outside. The cheering went on for a few minutes, and then a few more, and then it was clear that, ten minutes before the end of the session, they weren’t going to stop. President Dewhurst and his GOP colleagues had cheated—boldly, over and over, in front of a whole mess of Texans. And, as he should have known, you don’t mess with Texans.

Screen shot at 12:05 CST. The gallery was still going crazy

Screen shot at 12:05 CST. The gallery was still going crazy

There is much more to the story: Misogyny and racism are still pervasive in U.S. politics. Social media had an incredible impact on the outcome of this session. All of this is to say that this particular senate session was small-town politics writ large. I saw unfair things play out many times when I lived in the Columbia River Gorge. People in power sometimes feel like they can get away with things. Sometimes, they even feel like they deserve to.

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Is Homemade Jam a Bargain?

There is no doubt that organic homemade jam can be exponentially better than store-bought jam. But is it cheaper to make? I decided to do the math.

Since I’m currently gardenless, I had to buy my berries. Without even getting out the calculator, I’m going to guess that this is the deal-breaker for my batch of jam. If I were still in White Salmon picking berries from my own established beds, the only expense for them would be water and my time (and lord knows how much that is valued in today’s economy!). Anyway, the flat of organic berries (approximately 12 pounds) cost $27 from my friend Nellie, who sourced them from a farm that pays its workers a fair wage yada yada.

Thanks, Garcia Farm!

Thanks, Garcia Farm!

Oregon strawberries are spectacularly flavorful and tender. They are also, not coincidentally, fragile. They begin to deteriorate immediately once off the plant. Since I was unable to pick my flat up for a couple of days, I lost at least a quarter of them to rot and bruising. That left approximately 9 pounds to work with.

IMG_1822I went to one of Portland’s dozens of “natural” groceries and bought pectin, made from citrus peel and requiring half the sugar of conventional pectin, and organic cane sugar. The pectin cost $5, and the sugar (4 pounds, of which I used about half) cost $6.

I already own canning equipment, but let’s say I had to buy new lids: $2. And let’s say about $10 in water, electricity and gas to cook and process the jars. I have amortized the original cost of my equipment to the point of not including it. And then there’s my time again … about two hours.

My yield was 7 pints in 8-ounce (half-pint) jars, so:

Strawberries     $27
Pectin                  $5
Sugar                   $3
Lids                      $2
Power                 $10
Total                $47

That’s $3.36 per jar. A quick internet search produced Ikea lingonberry preserves on a discount website at $8.47 for 14 ounces. My jam actually came out all right! If I had access to a free berry patch, it would be even cheaper, just $1.43 per jar.

But I guess Ikea jam could be considered kind of fancy, so I kept looking. I found Smucker’s strawberry (conventionally grown, high-fructose corn syrup, chemicals aplenty) on sale at a corporate grocery store at $2.50 for 32 ounces! I guess organic can’t compete with that. On price, anyway.

My family would rather go for quality, not quantity. So, now I will enjoy my jam—not only for the satisfaction of making something and its high-quality ingredients and delicious taste, but also for its relative cost-effectiveness!

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Nurturing a Neighborhood, One Plant at a Time

Not long before Mike and I left our St. Johns neighborhood in 2003 to move to the country, we were invited by friends Rachel and Greg to a fun party—a plant exchange! The idea is, you pot up your extra tomato starts and the like, and then trade for starts you don’t have. We were unable to attend, and then we moved away. Upon returning to Portland, I learned that the plant exchange was still going strong. In fact, like the plants, it had grown!

IMG_1754St. Johns is one of those areas city planners like to call “transitional.” A small town in the late 1800s, it was annexed by Portland in 1915. Most of the neighborhoods built thereafter housed dock workers on the nearby Willamette and Columbia rivers—the homes are modest, mostly one-story Craftsman-types with tiny bedrooms and simple yards. The second wave of people who owned them, in the 1950s, upgraded them as per the era: painted woodwork, carpeted floors, chain link fences, aluminum window awnings, and lawn, lawn, lawn. Our house, when we moved in, even had one of those wooden wishing wells in the backyard. The recession of the ‘80s resulted in many of those homes falling into disrepair, and St. Johns is still working to pull itself out of that funk.

Rachel and Greg’s house is close to Pier Park, one of Portland’s original city parks that dwarfs the adjacent neighborhood with majestic Douglas firs and cedars. Their landscaping blends right in—they’ve replaced all of that lawn with an incredible naturescape of native plants and gravel paths, essentially creating a mini-park of their own. Greg’s previous job had him on major construction projects, so he made a habit of rescuing native plants as they fell to the bulldozer’s blade. The yard is resplendent with fringe cup, fern, rhododendron, Solomon’s seal, and even hard-to-transplant poet’s shooting star.

Rachel (right) admires Zoe's face-painting handiwork

Rachel (right) admires Zoe’s face-painting handiwork–she did it ALL BY HERSELF!

Greg talks about native plants in the sideyard

Greg talks about native plants in the side yard

These days, Rachel starts preparing for the spring event the previous fall, potting up extra growth from her yard. “Our goal is to populate St. Johns with native plants,” she says.

Bring home one of these little pots of fringe cup ...

Bring home one of these little pots of fringe cup …

... and you might have this in a few years!

… and you might have this in a few years!

After 11 years, there are dozens of people on the mailing list. They trickle in and out over the weekend, rain or shine, bringing everything from lettuce starts to massive stands of bamboo. They come with baskets, wheelbarrows and little red wagons. The yard is full of kids, swinging in hammocks and decorating their faces at the painting station. The grill is going and bottles of wine are open.

As they spread plants around the neighborhood, Rachel and Greg also spread neighborliness.

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Guest Post: Living a Local Life

I met poet Penelope Scambly Schott at the Columbia Center for the Arts’ annual Plein Air Writing Exhibition. Her work became some I looked forward to most. I learned that she lived in Portland but was spending a good deal of time in Dufur, a tiny town about 40 miles east of Hood River. She recently published a book of poetry dedicated to her half-time home.

Living a Local Life

By Penelope Scambly Schott

I’ve been thinking about what constitutes a local life.

As for me, I live two lives, one on a hill in Portland, Oregon, about four miles from the heart of downtown, and the other right next to the K-12 school in Dufur, Oregon, population 600, on the dry side of Mount Hood in a valley embraced by wheat fields. In Portland I go to theater and attend poetry readings; in Dufur I attend the threshing bee and go every Thursday evening to the knitting group at the school and community library.

Yes, I have had previous lives. I grew up on the upper west side of Manhattan and spent my childhood at the Museum of Modern Art and Broadway shows. I spent 30 years outside Princeton, New Jersey, among the intellectually pretentious before I moved to Portland where I learned the word “spendy” for what is overpriced or ostentatious. Three years ago, in a conjunction of circumstances, I bought this small house in Dufur, and every week from Thursday to Saturday I come out here to write.

I am telling you a love story. When I started coming here, I had various other writing projects but I kept interrupting myself to wander about with my dog, Lily, and then go back to my house and write poems about Dufur. This spring Windfall Press–which is concerned with “poetry of place”–published my book Lovesong for Dufur. The collection opens with the meadowlark announcing Spring up on “D” Hill, runs through all the seasons, and ends with my buying a plot at the local cemetery and discovering that “I have never been happier.”


Penelope and Lily on top of “D” Hill above Dufur, Oregon (photo: Margaret Chula)

I recently gave a reading from my book at our local historic hotel, the Balch, which was built in 1907 from bricks made right here in Dufur. Samantha, the current hard-working owner, served fruit and cheese, and there was a cash bar but almost everyone drank the free water. My many Dufur friends, and some of their friends, came to hear me. As far as I know, nobody in that crowd had ever attended a poetry reading before. I have no idea what they were expecting. My publisher read a few poems from his own book and then introduced me to the waiting crowd that already knew me.

I began with the dedication to all my local friends. In my second poem, “How to Move to a Small Town,” I described a return trip to the local hardware store and read the line, “Let Molly the owner be there drinking coffee.” Well, everyone cracked up. I guess I was just about the only one in the room who didn’t know that Molly is usually drinking beer. I read about the grain elevators, the local sewage plant, the food bank, the nun with six cats–Sister Patricia was there and corrected me; she’s up to nine cats. I concluded with a poem:

Do You Want to Visit Dufur?

Is the world too much with you “late and soon”

as the poet Wordsworth complained?


Call the hotel.  It’s the Balch.  Or email them.

We’re quite modern:


up on “D” hill, we have many fancy antennas

between the cows.


The Balch boasts running water in every room.

And steam heat.


When the hotel opened in 1908, it had electricity

twelve hours a day–


at night when the Dufur sawmill wasn’t using it.

These good solid bricks


were made right near here on Mr. Balch’s ranch:

three stories of Italianate brick.


Salesmen who rode the Great Southern Railroad

set up their wares in the parlor


Witness this big black safe standing by the wall.

Don’t try to unlock it.


Rest assured.  Whatever you want is safely there,

I promise.


Though the knobs conform to fingers long dead,

you are still breathing.


See what Dufur can do for you.

It’s our town motto.


People loved it.  They bought multiple copies of Lovesong for Dufur to give to their children who had moved out of town.  It was a great evening.  After signing a bunch of books, I went home and served Dufur sausage casserole to seven people.  Now, that’s local.

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Get Your Country On!: The Official Workshop

Bring me to your leader!

I have something new to share: a companion workshop to Get Your Pitchfork On! As I mentioned in a recent post, I had a fun first year presenting Get Your Pitchfork On! to bookstore audiences across the country. Now, I’ve created a workshop for both large and small groups.

Last weekend, a dozen generous souls suspended their Memorial Day weekend plans to join me for beer and chili, and a practice run of “Get Your Country On!”


Thanks Joe, Shari, Leah, Rebecca, Bill, Evan, Judith, Karla (pictured) and Suzy, Ryan, Mike, Laura

This presentation is interactive; participants break into small groups to discuss their own ideas of what a perfect rural life would entail. People who are contemplating a move to the country have already thought of a few contingencies. “Get Your Country On!” brings up things they probably haven’t.

For example:

• Gardening zones and other landscape issues

• Environmental hazards like road spray and orchard smog

• Cell phone coverage

• Culture shock

• Pervasiveness of death (not yours! of plants, insects and animals)

Feedback from this practice run was great; I have incorporated it and am ready for my first prime-time showing—today at the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Washington!


I would love to discuss the joys and pitfalls of country living with you!

Later in June, I’ll present “Get Your Country On!” at Regards to Rural, in Corvallis.

A reader recently said of the book: “You’re doing a great service to people. If I were considering a move to the country, your book would save me a ton of time and money. For those on the fence, it would certainly help answer the question of whether it’s the right move or not.”

Do you have a gardening group, CSA, book group, farm-to-table event, community education class or other opportunity for “Get Your Country On!”? Please check out my website or contact me at kristy @

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