Category Archives: Guest Post

Guest Post: Canning’s Great Comeback

During my 2012 book tour for Get Your Pitchfork On!, Process Media then-publicity maven Carrie Schaff set me up with a contact in Wisconsin. I was super-excited to go to Milwaukee because 1.) I attended first grade at General Mitchell Elementary, south of town, and 2.) Supper clubs. Have I written about supper clubs? I really need to. This blog post is the closest I’ve come. Anyway, I didn’t know my hostess from Eve, but I figured someone 1.) from Milwaukee 2.) who’s a friend of my publisher has got to be cool.

“Cool” does not begin to describe Christina Ward. This braided-hair badass babe set me up for my reading in a cozy bar that was at once retro and modern, and then brought me to her favorite supper club, The Packing House.

The best we could do ... me in front of The Packing House

The best we could do … me in front of The Packing House

Christina is an artist and all-around domestic goddess. She is a bona fide Master Canner (ahem, Food Preserver) in the State of Wisconsin. So we should all thank our lucky stars that she agreed to wrote a guest post! About canning, of course!

Canning’s Great Comeback

By Christina Ward

Part I: History of Food Preservation in America

Before the advent of pumpkin-spice everything, fall was about harvesting and storing the results of hard-won gardening. There are many types of food preservation, but canning is on the comeback and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

See, I’m the Master Food Preserver for my county. (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin).  Aside from the ridiculous title, I actually serve as the resident expert on all things food preservation. Your jelly won’t set? Yup, I get that call. Your pickles are soggy? I can help. Your friend’s aunt who told you about her cousin’s sister-in-law who lost an eye using a pressure canner? I can dispel your fears and tell you the exactly correct way to operate one. (Hint: Think of it as a tool; just like with a hammer, if you do it wrong you’ll do damage.)

The Master Food Preserver is part of the larger university-extension programs, which are vestiges from our Land-Grant Universities. (Thank you, Congressman Morrill of Vermont.) Passed in 1862, the Morrill Act designated newly stolen Native American lands to be sold for the purpose of funding educational institutions focused on Engineering and Agriculture. One of the goals of these new universities was to serve as an incubator for ideas and training for the westward expansion, and to teach migrating farmers the latest and greatest Ag science practices. As well as use those actual farmers as living laboratories.

Wisconsin led the nation in both Ag research and working with farmers and their families. The Wisconsin-Extension program was formally introduced in 1907 and became a model for the rest of the country.  The Extension trained people in their communities on the best practices for growing, seed selection, animal husbandry, stock selection and nutrition, slaughter, as well as home services, like safe food-preservation techniques.  These folks would be chosen for their knowledge, standing in the community, and commitment to volunteerism. And that holds true to this day.

As counties grew more urban and away from rural traditions, so did the Master Food Preserver program. In 2009, I realized that Milwaukee County was on the bleeding edge of the Urban Agriculture and would be well served by bringing the program back. After all, if you’re going to install 500 Victory Gardens in a single May weekend, someone better teach people what to do with all those damn tomatoes.

I begged, pleaded, and cajoled the State of Wisconsin until they agreed with me.

Since January of 2011, more than 2,000 people have taken one of my classes on safe food preservation. Ten of them have gone on to start their own food micro-businesses. And, knock wood, not a single person has given themselves or their families botulism.

So, not sure if you’re canning it the right way? Contact your local University Extension office and ask them to hook you up with the local Master Food Preserver. The MFP may tell you that “You’re doing it all wrong.” If so, listen; they’re trying to keep you alive.

Part II: Reinventing the Wheel

As the “foodie” movement grows, there are now scammy practices I never would have thought of that have become detrimental issues for folks interested in food.

Who would have guessed that ten years ago farmer’s markets would become so chic that local farmers are being pushed out by Big Ag disguising itself. It’s gotten so bad that California passed a law verifying origin of produce at farmer’s markets. Here in Wisconsin, there’s a locally famous “genius” farmer who has his volunteers unpack the Sysco truck then relabel it as from his farm.

I’m seeing it in my little corner of the food world too. Food preservation in and of itself is relatively simple, once you understand the basic concepts and science of why it works. Canning is more putzy than anything else; lots of chopping. It’s often why many people have negative images associated with canning. ‘Cuz gramma was no dummy and made the kids help with all the grunt work. And that’s what folks remember. Hours of cleaning strawberries. Hours of blanching tomatoes. Hours of washing cucumbers.

The honchos at Jarden Brands (the makers of Ball and Kerr canning supplies*) have seen your Pinterest pages. They know that canning is on the upswing. They are also smart marketers. They know that at our core essence of being, we are lazy.

In the past few years, they have gone R&D cuckoo coming up with products no one needs to make canning “easier.” The Automatic Jam Maker, the Freshtech Home Canning System … have you seen this one? It’s the equivalent of a bread-maker for jam … you throw everything in the pot, push the button that says “strawberry,” and whammo, jam. And it’s only $299.95. (By the way, you still have to wash, hull, and cut those damned strawberries.)

What else? Oh there’s the Sure-Tight Band Tool to help you get your bands screwed on. Really? You need help with screwing on a band? Okay, pay them $9.99.  I could go on about the frivolity and excesses of Jarden, but they’re not alone. Kraft (maker of Sure Jell) is getting in on the act.

This past summer Kraft caused a huge kerfuffle in the canning community. For the sake of making it “easier,” they changed and “simplified” the directions included in all their packages. That simplification in combination with a colossal snafu (they mixed up the preparation directions for cooked versus freezer jam), caused jelly-makers across the country to have conniptions. Heck, I’m the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, MFP and I was fielding distress calls from Arkansas and Oklahoma.

And now Jarden is at it again. They’ve decided that you no longer have to “boil lids.” Sigh. Um, yeah, you do. But even saying that is a misnomer. You never did boil them; you’re supposed to soak them in very hot water (preferably taken from your canner) for a few minutes to soften the rubber.

Why? They’re claiming it’s not needed. Truth is, they’re using less rubber on the lids. They’re afraid if you take “boil lids” to heart that you’ll boil the rubber right off. I can tell you that the quality of the 2014 lids has been far below that of previous years. And that’s not just me saying that. We MFPs around the country, we talk to each other. We recognize trends and are the first to hear when something goes hinky.

These are specific examples of issues in the New Food movement I never thought I would see. Staid and boring food preservation is enjoying its moment in the spotlight. From every farm to table restaurant serving “haus-pickled vegetables” to bars concocting drinks with home-preserved syrups; every Tom, Dick, and Mary is putting it in a freaking mason jar. What’s the pH? Do they even know why a food needs to be acidified? And if I even see another jar of Bacon Jam on a shelf I’m going to poke someone with a sharp stick.

Really, I’m all for more people canning—in fact, it’s my mission. BUT, and my but is very large here, BUT trends should never trump safety. And safe food comes only from using safe food-preservation techniques. No short cuts. No gadgets. No making it up as you go along.

Have your read Wisconsin Death Trips? It holds a special place in my heart as it was primarily culled from my gramma’s homestead area of Jackson & Clark counties. People starved to death if they didn’t preserve enough food to get them through the winter. They resorted to boiling shoes and killing pets to survive. And even if they put up enough food, germ theory was still not fully understood and the techniques so primitive, they were often taking a chance on poisoning themselves.

Christina Ward "in the act of mixing some macerating fruit while talking to my buddy"

Christina Ward “in the act of mixing some macerating fruit while talking to my buddy”

Here’s the rule I begin every single class with: If you’re going to poison someone; do it on purpose and not accidentally. In case you think botulism is a rare bird; oh no. It, too, is making a comeback. Bad beets in Georgia. Bad pickles in Oregon. Bad elk in Washington. And saddest of all, three people died in 2012 in Vancouver from botulism-tainted watermelon jelly.

These shortcuts, these “time-saving devices,” these on-trend makers, only divorce you from the origins of the food you eat. Food is not easy. It takes time, skill, and labor to grow, to prepare, and to preserve. We do ourselves a great disservice by relying on a Thing versus relying on ourselves. And if you don’t want to grow, make, or preserve it yourself, find someone who does and support them.

If you’re in the mood to scare yourself food-safe, here’s my favorite food safety blog: http://www.barfblog.

*NOTE: Jarden Brands owns both the Ball and Kerr brands. They’re made in the same factory in Muncie, Indiana … so don’t pay more for the Kerr-branded stuff.

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Guest Post: Animal Arbitrators

I met Linda Jo Hunter at the home of friends Jurgen and Susan Hess. She wowed me with her tales of tracking bear, cougars, and other critters in the woods that surrounded us in the Columbia River Gorge. We got to know each other as Linda participated in, and later coordinated, the Plein Air Writing Exhibition. She is the author of Lonesome for Bears and has started a volunteer group to help landowners coexist with wild animals on their country property. She can be reached by email or on the Animal Arbitrators Facebook page.

Animal Arbitrators: Co-Existence Counseling

By Linda Jo Hunter

“Not under my porch!”

The lady was adamant that a skunk may not raise her young under the front porch of her house. She wanted the skunks killed, or maybe moved, but someone had to do something!

I watched the woman’s body language as she talked about her garden and house. She felt murderous and protective of all she felt was her own. While I listened, I noticed a small dish of leftover cat food by her left foot that had attracted several yellow jackets. As we talked the number of yellow jackets increased, each carrying away a little morsel of the leftovers and heading towards the woman’s garden.

I was trying to get to the bottom of why she hated skunks so much. There wasn’t a reason she could put her finger on, except that she objected to the smell of skunk and felt that if there were skunks under her porch that her whole house would be permeated with the smell of skunk spray. No, she didn’t have a dog. She had no cats either. But, she was feeding some in the neighborhood.

This is where my job starts. I pointed out that she was undoubtedly also feeding the mother skunk right there on her porch as well as several raccoons, whose tracks around the bowl were outlined in mud. My first suggestion was that she move the food, or at least take it indoors at night. Then we talked about skunks and I told her how they don’t want or intend to spray things but only do so when threatened. I described the body language that skunks use to warn that they are upset. They stomp their front paws and eventually, if you don’t get that message, they continue looking at you while their body makes a U-shape and the back end comes around to aim the spray.

Linda snapped this skunk using a trail camera near her home

Linda snapped this skunk using a trail camera near her home

When I mentioned that they eat yellow jacket nests she finally got interested. We found some chicken fencing in her shed and tacked it up to the edge of the porch to keep the animals out and she voluntarily moved her stray cat food bowl over in front of the shed. By the time I left, she hoped the mother skunk would move her family over to the shed and stay around.

When I visited her the next season, she was happily tolerating a family of skunks which she proudly pointed out had eliminated several pests in her yard, including yellow jackets. “Her” skunk had also sprayed a neighborhood dog, which left piles of unwanted poop in her garden. She was pleased as punch that the dog never came in her yard again.

Co-existing with wild animals is usually a matter of figuring out what exactly is going on in your personal habitat, rather than relying on what people have told you all your life. Any wild animal, no matter how cute or ugly has a place in the habitat or they wouldn’t exist or be there. Each time you make a change to your garden or grounds, you make changes in the habitat that affect these animals. Being aware of what eats what is one of the best ways not to make a mistake that will make you and all the animals uncomfortable.

For instance, if everyone in your neighborhood is insistent on killing coyotes because of something they “might” do, you could very likely have a problem with rabbits, mice, rats and ticks and other species too numerous to name. Ticks have an interesting reproduction cycle and must find a furry animal to hibernate on in order to multiply. The perfect candidates are in the squirrel family as well as other small mammals that coyotes control.

Oh, I can already hear the groans; “but they eat dogs and cats!” Yes, they do sometimes. However, so do owls, bobcats and other animals. Even domestic dogs kill pet kitties and cause mayhem that their wild buddies get blamed for. Some cats live for years around every kind of wild animal and have the wisdom to survive. Domestic dogs either have wild wisdom or they don’t. You know best about your pet; if it lacks the wisdom to survive in the face of wild animals it needs to be protected and supervised when outdoors.

Coyotes get a bad reputation for eating the occasional kitty, but mostly they catch mice and other pests

Coyote that caught a mouse

Coexisting with wildlife can enrich your life. The bottom line is, that is why you moved to the country to begin with. The deer who grace your neighborhood in the evening come with their predators, which are just as necessary as the deer. Seeing a cougar, for instance, is not a life-threatening event, but rather a gift and a wonderfully wild experience. Cougars have a job to do and if they can freely move with their food they will do that job.

One of the best ways to enjoy your habitat is to be more aware of the animals that visit, pass through, or make it their territory and how you can assist that animal to fulfill its function. To that end, I teach people how to see animal passages and set up trail cameras so they can see what uses different parts of their land. Changing unwanted wild animal behavior can be as easy as moving an access site or moving a food source as long as you understand what it is. If a bear, for instance, has always visited a wild apple tree in your pasture, year after year, and suddenly that tree is fenced in, the bear will become a pest when it breaks down the fence. Instead, when the apples fall on the ground and the smell of apples gets strong, you can take a bushel basket and move the unwanted fruit over the fence, set up a trail camera and enjoy the results.

Fear of wild animals is something we all grew up with or, if we didn’t, various news media will make sure you pick up some fear, even if it isn’t rational or real. If you are afraid of a particular animal, say rattlesnakes, that is the animal you need to study. If you learn about their lives, and how they use and benefit your habitat you won’t have a reason to fear them because you won’t go stepping on one.

Bears seem to generate the most fear, although statistically they are the very least of our worries when it comes to being hurt by wildlife. Understanding the habits of your neighborhood bears is fascinating. First, they eat different things in each part of the season and if you find out what those things are in your area, it is a huge step in understanding the local natural history. Cubs learn what and when to eat by following their mothers closely for a year and a half. They lick their mother’s mouth when she eats something new to make sure they get the right things, and they remember even individual plants from one year to the next. Slowly, the news media is allowing us to know that bears are not meat-hungry predators that will eat a person if they find them out alone. Bears are mostly vegetarian and prefer their meat to be killed by some other animal—they like it aged. It seems like when they kill an animal to eat it, it is almost because of an unusual opportunity.

If you still don’t like the idea of a bear eating on your property, just remember that bears avoid skunks!

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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.”

IMG_2203

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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Guest Post: Is Jackson Hole Rural?

My friend Meg grew up in Jackson, Wyoming, and then flew the coop as a young adult to become a world citizen, living in New York; Portland, Oregon; and San Francisco. She returned to her hometown a few years ago. I took advantage of my Get Your Pitchfork On! book tour to visit her last September.

We met when she lived in Portland because we’re both writers, and used to have epic walk-and-talks—we’d go up to Forest Park and cover miles while energetically debating current issues. We were excited last fall to get back to our old routine! One of the topics we considered was comparing “urban” and “rural.” I had referred to Jackson Hole as a rural place, and she demurred.

Hmm, a boardwalk ... rural?

Hmm, a boardwalk … rural?

“How do you define ‘rural’?” she asked. I thought it was an odd question—I mean, look around! Mountains. Livestock. Moose. However, I was asked twice more during my stint in front of the Valley Bookstore, hawking copies of GYPO and chatting with passers-by. “What do you mean when you say ‘rural’?”

My definition at the time related to population and proximity to an urban area. Jackson is a small, remote town. Isn’t that rural? To me, it has nothing to do with wealth/poverty or “sophistication.” But the question remains: What does “rural” mean, exactly? Here’s Meg’s take:

 

 

 

Is Jackson Hole Rural?

by Meg Daly

At the risk of sounding too relativistic, it depends on whom you ask?

Certainly my friends from unequivocally urban areas like West Hollywood or North Portland will encounter “rural” in all its cow-dotted, mega-cab-truck splendor. But many of us who live here espouse non-rural cultural values and interests one would expect to find in abundance on the funky streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We zip around in Priuses or (gasp) on bikes, listen to Vampire Weekend, and read articles about gastronomy and modern design.

Setting aside definitions of rural and urban based solely on population density and open space, and looking instead at values and aesthetics, then Jackson Hole is actually a little Petri dish of urban and rural in constant state of tension. The town’s main industry is tourism, and in the summer that means millions of visitors from all backgrounds coming through to see “the last and best of the Old West.” In the winter, however, tourists flock to Jackson for world-class alpine skiing, and they want the luxe amenities they’ve come to expect in cosmopolitan settings.

I think it’s a sign of the urbanization of the world. Much like globalization, the landscape is being flattened so that the texture and personality of rural America becomes a commodity rather than a place or way of life. In recent years, my town has endured heated debates about planning and development of the few remaining open spaces. Opponents to development started a campaign called “Don’t Let the Hole Lose Its Soul.” Proponents speak to the need for affordable housing, with the pragmatic view that open spaces tend to get developed eventually so why not do it in a thoughtful way.

Our local debate raises questions about who gets to be the representative of a town’s “soul.” In a little mountain town like Jackson, with severe winters and a super-short growing season, people have only been living here year-round for a century. The town has changed in personality with every passing decade. Why shouldn’t Jackson Hole become a place where skateboarders and cowboys ride?

On our main drag, Broadway, the Jackson Hole Historical Museum (where you can view an exhibition like “Homesteading the Hole: Survival and Perseverance”) abuts Nikai Sushi (where you can sip a Lotus Flower Martini while noshing on a Big Kahuna roll). These kinds of juxtapositions exist all over Jackson Hole. I’m less concerned with whether Jackson qualifies as rural or urban, or whether we lose or protect our so-called soul. I see Jackson the way I think people have always seen it, for better or worse, as a new frontier. The challenge is to be pioneers on that frontier, and to create healthy, vibrant communities living in balance with nature.

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Guest Post: From Field to Table

Ed Battistella’s greatest achievement, as far as I’m concerned, is that in 2012 he made up and posted a new English word every day on his Twitter account, @LiteraryAshland. In September of last year, he interviewed me about country living and book-writing for his blog, Welcome to Literary Ashland. Ed teaches at Southern Oregon University and is working on a book about the linguistics of apology.

From Field to Table

By Ed Battistella

Reading the section on animals in Get Your Pitchfork On (and especially the chicken idioms on page 136) got me to thinking about the way we refer to animals and food, and reminded me of this recipe for giblets from a 15th-century cookbook:

Take fayre garbagys of chykonys, as þe hed, þe fete, þe lyuerys, an þe gysowrys; washe hem clene, an caste hem in a fayre potte, and caste þer-to freysshe brothe of Beef or ellys of moton, an let it boyle; an a-lye it with brede, an ley on Pepir an Safroun, Maces, Clowys, an a lytil verious an salt, an serue forth in the maner as a Sewe.  *translation below

Recipes like this give us some clues to Middle English relationships with food and animals, and our own. The word for giblet was garbage, a precursor of Modern English, and in Old English (no e on Olde!). In Old English, mete meant food (as in sweetmeat, mincemeat and nutmeat) and the word flæsc (flesh) was used for animal-tissue food (check out your handy Oxford English Dictionary). And people ate animals, not meat: they ate picga (pig), sceap (sheep), cu (cow) and cíecen (chicken).

After the Norman Conquest of 1066, many French words were borrowed into English, resulting in the possibility of more than one way to say things. The French introduced words for the cooked forms of animals: pultrie (poultry), porc (pork), motoun (mutton), boef (beef), and veel (veal), as well as garbage and gysowrys, both meaning the edible entrails. The two levels of vocabulary allowed speakers of English to eventually separate the farm from the table—the cooked form of animals, the product, was rendered in French, while the field form was from Old English. But throughout the Middle Ages and beyond, boef and motoun were used as terms for the animals as well as for their meat (of flesh). The distinction between French terms for food and English terms for animals doesn’t get fully baked in until early Modern English (Shakespeare refers to the “flesh of Muttons, Beefes, or Goates” in the Merchant of Venice) and modern ranchers still sometimes refer to cattle as beef.

Bon appetit.

I love me some cíecen ... I mean pultrie ...

I love me some cíecen … I mean pultrie …

*Translation of above in Modern English: “Take good garbage of chickens, as the head, the feet, the livers, and the gizzards; wash them clean, and cast them in a good pot, and cast therein fresh beef broth or else (that) of mutton, and let it boil; and bind it with bread, and (add) pepper and saffron, maces, cloves, and a little verjuice and salt, and serve it forth in the manner as a broth.”

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Guest Post: On the Relocation Road

Helen Hiebert is one of my oldest friends in Portland (not that she is old—our friendship is!). We met because we had a friend in common who makes paper, and so does Helen—in fact, she teaches, lectures and exhibits her work internationally, and is the author of the books Playing With Paper, Papermaking with Plants, The Papermaker’s Companion, and Paper Illuminated. Helen is the vice president of the International Association of Hand Papermakers and Paper Artists and a regular contributor to Hand Papermaking Newsletter. Visit her website at http://www.helenhiebertstudio.com.

On the Relocation Road

By Helen Hiebert

My family and I moved to a resort town in Colorado (not exactly the country) in August. It isn’t something we really planned on doing, and although I like the idea of living on the land, I was not sure that it is something I would be well suited for. This is due to the fact that I am an artist, and running my own business keeps me busy enough (not to mention the family: two kids, a husband and a puppy).

We’d been living in Portland, Oregon, for the past 14 years and both of our children (and puppy) were born there. My husband Ted got a job offer in Avon, Colorado (where Beaver Creek Ski Vacation Resort is located), late last spring, and after weighing the pros and cons, it seemed like we should try it for two reasons:

  • We’d debated between Colorado and Oregon when we left New York City in the 1990s in search of a place to start our family.
  • It seemed like a good idea for one of us to have a stable income and benefits (Ted has been a freelance writer).

So, after a whirlwind visit in June (when we visited a few towns and saw a few schools) we decided to move.

Many decisions followed: Should we sell or rent our house in Portland? (We sold it.) Which school should we send our kids to? (We chose a charter school with an expeditionary learning philosophy, which has been okay so far, although different states have different learning standards, which has proven a challenge for our kids.) Where should we live? Ted moved out a month before we did and found a nice rental house in Eagle Vail (10 miles west of Vail and 2 miles east of Beaver Creek) that is within walking distance of the kids’ school.

So we’re settled, for now at least. But there is still the dilemma of when and where to buy a home here. That is, if we can afford to. Our rent here is double what our Portland mortgage, and homes in our price range are 10 to 30 miles away, which is another school district! But aside from the high rent, there are many perks to staying here: our rent actually includes most of our utilities (which can be steep in the winter; think “heat”); we don’t have a yard to tend to (no pitchforks in sight!); the kids can walk to school; so far we’ve managed with just one car (though there have been several conflicts); and we live between two of the nation’s premiere ski resorts!

In order to thrive here (while socking away a bit of money to help the kids go to college, pay for our retirement, etc.), I need to pull my weight in income. Thankfully, I’ve had a few projects lined up this year, including my newest book, Playing With Paper, which will be in stores January 1, 2013. I also travel to teach and lecture, which worked out pretty well when Ted was freelancing. Now that he has a full-time job, this has proven more difficult to coordinate with the kid’s schedules, especially since the Denver airport is two hours away.

A woman who was entering my information into the kids’ school database sent me a fan email after looking me up online. We got together, and she ended up offering to share her studio space with me in an old schoolhouse in Red Cliff (elevation 8,600 ft.; population 266). Talk about serendipity! We’ve split the space down the middle, literally. I cut out the carpet on my side so that I can get the floor wet. It is a bit awkward adjusting to a new space (I really liked my detached garage space in Portland), but I trust that things will continue to work out. I just have to be patient and let them unfold as they will.

Helen's studio in Portland

Helen’s studio in Portland

The schoolhouse in Red Cliff!

The schoolhouse in Red Cliff!

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Guest Post: More Than Just Riding

Julie was one of my go-to people when I was writing about horses for Get Your Pitchfork On!. I remember her trying to decide if her second horse, Laredo, was the right horse; negotiating with his owner; training him and coaxing him to want to obey her. But her first love is River, whom she met nine years ago. They have worked hard together so I knew she was devastated when she posted on Facebook that something was wrong with him. I’m glad everything turned out all right, and she could share this story. She has others on her website.

More Than Just Riding

by Julie Hatfield Jindal

Owning horses is neither easy nor cheap, and definitely not boring. A couple of weeks ago, I stopped by the barn where my two horses live with my friend’s horses. My friend was out of town so I was tossing hay to the herd and checking their water, which takes only a few minutes.

My bay mustang, River, was the last horse to arrive from the pasture, which was unusual. Normally he led the herd. I glanced over to tease him about being lazy, and then I saw why he was so slow. He was holding one of his hind hooves off the ground, limping to the barn on three legs.

No visible wounds, so I took off my gloves to feel his entire leg, but I couldn’t detect any heat or swelling in his joints. He held his leg out to the side, as if his hip were dislocated. My vet’s office had closed five minutes earlier, so I called my other vet, reached his emergency referral service, and left a message for the on-call vet.

Meanwhile, River limped the last fifty feet to his dinner and began to eat. His appetite was a good sign. But the way he held his leg off the ground, his opposite leg quivering with the effort of supporting all the extra weight – I lost it and began to bawl as I imagined the worst. I realized that if I had to put him down that night, I had no idea what I would do with his body.

Two hours later the emergency vet arrived and I was grateful. She suspected a hoof abscess, although she couldn’t locate the entry point for the bacteria in the poor barn lighting, which meant she couldn’t open and drain it. However, she gave him some “bute” (an equine anti-inflammatory) and advised soaking his hoof in Epsom salt.

River and I spent the next morning at the vet’s. I was groggy after two hours of sleep but I doubt River slept much, either. I learned that an abscess is a pocket of infection, and in a horse’s hoof it can become excruciating in less than 24 hours. The buildup of pus and inflammation between a hard hoof and the soft internal tissue makes every step literally unbearable. In River’s case, my vet believed that this summer’s extreme stretch of dry weather, followed by sudden wet weather, created a tiny crack in the “white line” at the base of the hoof which gave bacteria an entry point. Puncture wounds or even stone bruises can also cause abscesses.

Once the entry spot was located, excavated with a knife and then drained (the surprised expression of relief on River’s face was comical), the resulting inch-deep hole had to be kept clean and protected to allow the horse’s physiology to regenerate the sole.

My vet recommended soaking the hoof in Epsom salt water for thirty minutes. A friend loaned me her Soaking Boot (an equine galosh that secures around the ankle) which was a godsend, as River thought that keeping his foot in a bucket of water was a stupid idea. After soaking, per my vet’s instructions, I filled the hole with a poultice of sugar and betadine antiseptic to draw out any remaining infection. I covered the poultice with a square of gauze and duct-taped it into place, with the tape covering the bottom and sides of the hoof, but below the hoof’s hairline. Finally, I latched a device called an Easy Boot (in my case, a Not-Remotely-Easy Boot) onto the hoof and hoped it would stay on. The next day River and I would do it all again.

Soaking boot

“Not-Remotely-Easy Boot”

River also received doses of bute for the next couple of days, until he stopped limping. We soaked and poulticed for three more days after that, then I no longer needed to soak his hoof, and I could simply infuse gauze with betadine and stuff it into the ever-smaller hole (then duct tape, then Easy Boot) for about two weeks. The treatment was time-consuming and I had to be vigilant about not getting kicked. River is not a “kicky” fellow but he grew tired of having his hoof handled. My total vet bill–including the emergency visit–was nearly $600.

My husband thinks that I was crazy to do all of this, but it’s what it means to own horses. It’s more than just riding. When we came back from the vet that first day, River looked at me as if to say, “You know, you may not be totally useless after all.” For a once-wild mustang who has always been skeptical of people, that was a hearty “Thank you.”

River and Julie

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Guest Post: A Marvelous Tool

Today’s guest post was sent to me by my Columbia River Gorge friend, Jim Tindall. Jim is a librarian for the local middle schools, which explains his admiration for the table of contents and index in Get Your Pitchfork On! He was the subject of my previous post involving chainsaws.

A Marvelous Tool

By Jim Tindall

While Get Your Pitchfork On! is an entertaining curiosity to the country dweller, which I am, it is truly crafted for those who have never had to prime a pump or negotiate with rodents living in the heating system of one’s rig. Encyclopedically written, it is a marvelous tool to assess what you know about the real challenges of country living.

I have both learned and re-learned a lot of information reading this book, from the practical like selection of farm implements to the spiritual, such as knowing the inevitability of your dog’s proclivity toward the “exquisite debauchery” of rolling in rotting flesh.

There’s tremendous value in this book, for reading a few hundred pages potentially could save you thousands of dollars. For example, in Chapter Six: Sustainable Power, Athens writes: “The best green power is conservation. It’s a good idea to explore conservation strategies before investing in green-energy infrastructure. As one friend put it, ‘You must be prepared to basically own and operate a private energy company.'”

There is surely a great convenience in having the power company maintain everything to your door; imagine the many sets of expertise you must have not to electrocute yourself.

This is writing that reveres nature. In Chapter Twelve: Wildlife, pests and predators are addressed. Cougars and bears are a reality, at least in the Cascades. Coincidentally I was driving the road that passes Athens’ former farm, and something big came upon the road just in front of me. I braked to see no less than Elsa from Born Free pass a few feet before my compact car. The cougar was THAT big!

As you contemplate a move, you must give plenty of thought to exactly how you intend to interface with nature. While big animals, carpenter ants, and yellow jackets may be real obstacles to tranquility, wild fires, floods, and wind events are far more unpredictable and require your attention in transplanting from an urban to a rural universe.

My hat goes off to both the author and the publisher because they have accomplished what many who work with nonfiction neglect. Both the table of contents and the index are superb. One does not need to read a whole book to glean what one needs at the moment, and Get Your Pitchfork On! is highly useful for this reason.

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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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Guest Post: How to Get Rid of Grasshoppers

I met Diane Sward Rapaport while I served as writer-in-residence in Harney County, Oregon, in 2009. She has led a colorful life, not the least of which includes managing the band The Pointer Sisters in the 1980s, and has written a number of books about the music industry. Diane mentioned that I missed grasshoppers in my section about insect pests, and she is right! I’ve started a list of things to add in case there is ever a second edition of Get Your Pitchfork On! Meanwhile, I asked her to fill us in.

This is the first of, hopefully, many guest posts. If you are interested in appearing on the GYPO blog, please let me know. Share your moving-to-the-country experience!

Diane is currently working on a book about her time in Arizona entitled Home Sweet Jerome. This post is an excerpt:

How to Get Rid of Grasshoppers

By Diane Sward Rapaport

During a grasshopper infestation in Jerome, Arizona, in the early 1980s, I asked local gardeners what to do and got a number of answers:

1. Shake some diatomaceous earth on your plants. It contains ground-up skeletons of algae-like plants called diatoms, which contain lots of calcium, silica and other trace minerals. When the grasshoppers eat this, it cuts their intestines to pieces and they die.

2. Use an environmentally safe product like Nolo Bait, which infects them and cuts down on germination.

3. Distribute bottles containing one part molasses with ten parts water. The grasshoppers will jump in and not jump out.

4. Spray your plants with a mixture of soap and hot chile peppers.

5. Put garlic in a food blender, mix with water and spray it on the plants.

6. Go out early in the morning when the grasshoppers are sluggish and gather a bunch of them. Put in a blender and spray the plants with the mixture.

7. Get a battery-operated tone generator tuned to a frequency they don’t like.

8. Use more mulch so they can’t hatch.

9. Plant enough for you and the grasshoppers.

10. Put a larger fence around your garden and keep chickens. The chickens will eat the grasshoppers, and besides, then you’ll have fresh eggs and lots of fertilizer.

11. Get toads. Toads will eat anything that moves. There’s a lot of ‘em down at the Verde River.

12. Spray the plants with hair spray. They hate it.

13. Spread powdered sugar on the ground. The grasshoppers will eat that instead.

14. Connect a hose to the exhaust of your car, start it up, and hose ‘em with carbon monoxide.

15. Sprinkle bran on the plants. They eat it and explode.

16. Poison ‘em with Malathion 50 (or other insecticide).

17. “I don’t know. But I’m going to need an answer soon!”

18. If all else fails, you can eat them. Fry them up in a little olive oil—crunchy and tasty if you have good stuff growing in your garden.

After eighteen suggestions for entirely different solutions, I stopped asking. I understood why Jerome is sometimes called a town of 400 people and a thousand opinions.

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