Detroit: Outriders meet Lolita Hernandez


The Facts: Jenni Fagan arrived in Michigan, departed Michigan.

The Artifacts: More than we can list at the Heidelberg Project in Detroit, objects that might once have been garbage, but are now art. Also an 80-foot-high Uniroyal Tire, Murals and more murals, Monkey Bread, traveling cheese.

Jenni Fagan and I wasted none of our precious Michigan time. We drove out of the airport,  past the super-dooper Uniroyal tire











at 77 miles an hour (the speed you can usually drive on the highway without getting pulled over), to arrive at the home of Lolita Hernandez, fiction writer and poet


who gave us some of her neighbor’s macaroni-and-cheese casserole, introduced us to her big handsome dog Mona Mi , and took us on a whirlwind tour of some of her favorite Detroit venues, starting with the Eastern Market (best farmer’s market in the country, if you ask me); at the market I ran into high school English teacher Jim French and five of his AP students who’ve been reading Once Upon a River in their classroom  (see photo). At the Devries & Co. shop, I chose from a list of 2000 cheeses some Manchego that I thought would travel well without refrigeration. We also visited Bert’s music club (see photo of Jenni below entering the Motown room.)

We saw a lot of murals—Detroit is full of murals—and one of them included a painting of Lolita Hernandez (see her photo). We spent some time wandering through the Heidelberg project (see photos–I also have videos and I can post them if you want to see them.  Also see the Joe Lewis arm sculpture below, referred to as “The Fist” and finally the train onto which I loaded Jenni to send her to Chicago, where I will join her on Tuesday.




We met Lolita Hernandez at her apartment in Lafayette Park.














sculpture in Heidelberg project.


Heidelberg project


Heidelberg project.


Portraits including Lolita Hernandez.


River Rouge.


Joe Lewis statue, “The Fist.”


Below is a paragraph about the Heidelberg Project that I swiped from Jenni Fagan’s site, which you should check out–she has a lot more photos.

Heidelberg Project in the McDougall-Hunt neighbourhood. It was created in 1986 by artist Tyree Guyton. His wife and grandfather (Grandpa Sam) got involved too. Tyree Guyton began the project as a political protest after watching the childhood neighbourhood he grew up in go radically downhill after the 1967 riots. He said when he came back from serving in the Army his home area looked like a bomb had went off. This transformation in an area where people used to be afraid to walk even during the day, has evolved over decades. Tyree works with kids on the block making the artwork a true part of the community. In 2005 it go the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence. There is something really magical about the Heidelberg Project and the art sculptures just next door — I will always remember it, it’s one of my favourite memories of this Outriders trip so far.

For more info about why I’m traveling like this and hanging out with Jenni Fagan of Edinburgh, check out the Outriders site:


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Jenni at Bert’s Music Club!

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Michigan Awaits Scotland

The Facts: Scottish writer Jenni Fagan is coming to Michigan.

The Artifacts: Petoskey stones, Stormy Kromer hats, fireflies, photos of Ellis Island, Scottish shortbread, screen porch, Steve Amick, Jack Driscoll, Susan Ramsey, Christopher Magson, a poem by Bob Hicok.

Scottish Outrider Jenni Fagan is in New York meeting artists, writers, and other citizens of the world as she visits Ellis Island, Harlem, Broadway, Poukeepsie, and Woodstock, and I’m in Michigan, getting ready to meet her in Detroit on Saturday.

Pasted in is one of her photos from Ellis Island.  I just grabbed this one off Twitter, and she’s posting lots more.  She is posting blogs at The Dead Queen of Bohemia site, that being the title of her forthcoming poetry book.  You can follow her @Jenni_Fagan

Mysel20170518_105111f, I’m here in Michigan briefly, enjoying my home place and my husband for a few days, while trying to un-muck my house enough to entertain a guest without bringing shame to my people. Being away from home does remind a person who she is and where she belongs for the long haul. In Gloria Steinem’s new memoir, it turned out she belonged on the road, as a traveler, and that is a kind of place as well.

Steve Amick visited us from Ann Arbor last night, and he was the one who put it into words best, how nobody comes to Michigan by accident—we are a peninsula, and you don’t get to anywhere else by coming here. You just go out on a limb, and here you are. Susan Ramsey was also with us on the screen porch, and those two Michigan minds are voluminous. Steve talked about leaving Michigan, because his extended family will probably be selling a family cabin—I hope he stays.

For a lot of us Michiganders, The West Coast of America seems like a fabulous foreign land, and that’s true for20170517_185937 (1) me even though I’ve lived in California and worked in Oregon. When I visit this time, I want to bring a little bit of my own state along, so I’ll be wearing my Stormy Kromer waterproof hat when I trek through the Redwoods.  I have also brought along a bunch of Petoskey stones to give away, along with a few other souvenirs.

Recently I read an article by a Michigander who remarked about how folks from elsewhere are sometimes confused by the gift of a Petoskey stone (“You’re giving me a rock?”), but we love these little rocks profoundly, and we continue to give them, like we give love and hospitality with humility and a sense of proportion, however well they are received.

(about the stones:

Jenni said she will be bringing books and shortbread from Scotland for gifts.

Last night, fiction writer Jack Driscoll and I talked about  our writing  and writing in general in front of an audience at the JenniEllisIslandKalamazoo Public Library, and while we both agreed that characters are in a profound way connected to their places (I said that landscape reflects character in my fiction, and vice versa), he said that person and place used to be the same thing; consider, he said how people were once used to be named for the place they came from: Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Leonardo da Vinci, William of Orange, Eleanore of Aquitaine (I didn’t remember the exact ones he said, so Susan Ramsey suggested these), and of course Jesus of Nazareth. In a real-life world that is increasingly globalized this is not true for everyone, but I think it holds true for me, Bonnie of Michigan, or possibly even Bonnie of Comstock.

Jenni Fagan of Scotland will be in Michigan for about 21 hours. This is more than most visitors will have of Michigan, and so many more of our middle (fly-over) states. We’ll get a several-hour driving tour of Detroit by writer Lolita Hernandez, and then drive back to Kalamazoo for some donkey, some Susanna, and river and a modest grilled dinner on the screen porch. It’s possible that we’ll also get some of my visiting cousins from Boston—fingers crossed. I know she may not love Michigan, but I want her to see that it is a place important to the people in it and with some interesting characteristics and conversations, of the kind that often take place on my (and Christopher’s) screen porch.

One thing I’ll miss showing Jenni is fireflies. There are so many of them here, or will be in a few weeks, but there are no fireflies in California.  I’ll finish up by inserting the best poem about Michigan ever written, or the best one written by Bob Hicok, which appeared in the New Yorker in 2008

A PRIMER   By Bob Hicok

I remember Michigan fondly as the place I go
to be in Michigan. The right hand of America
waving from maps or the left
pressing into clay a mold to take home
from kindergarten to Mother. I lived in Michigan
forty-three years. The state bird
is a chained factory gate. The state flower
is Lake Superior, which sounds egotistical
though it is merely cold and deep as truth.
A Midwesterner can use the word “truth,”
can sincerely use the word “sincere.”
In truth the Midwest is not mid or west.
When I go back to Michigan I drive through Ohio.
There is off I-75 in Ohio a mosque, so life
goes corn corn corn mosque, I wave at Islam,
which we’re not getting along with
on account of the Towers as I pass.
Then Ohio goes corn corn corn
billboard, goodbye, Islam. You never forget
how to be from Michigan when you’re from Michigan.
It’s like riding a bike of ice and fly fishing.
The Upper Peninsula is a spare state
in case Michigan goes flat. I live now
in Virginia, which has no backup plan
but is named the same as my mother,
I live in my mother again, which is creepy
but so is what the skin under my chin is doing,
suddenly there’s a pouch like marsupials
are needed. The state joy is spring.
“Osiris, we beseech thee, rise and give us baseball”
is how we might sound were we Egyptian in April,
when February hasn’t ended. February
is thirteen months long in Michigan.
We are a people who by February
want to kill the sky for being so gray
and angry at us. “What did we do?”
is the state motto. There’s a day in May
when we’re all tumblers, gymnastics
is everywhere, and daffodils are asked
by young men to be their wives. When a man elopes
with a daffodil, you know where he’s from.
In this way I have given you a primer.
Let us all be from somewhere.
Let us tell each other everything we can.

(Thank you, Susan, for reminding me of this poem)

(for general information about the Outriders project, check out this website 


Petoskey Stones and such of Michigan. Tweets use #edbookfest #outriders


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Outriders: Scottish Writers come to the U.S. to hang out with Americans!

I got lucky this spring!

(It’s true I haven’t blogged lately, but I promise to restart in a fast and furious manner.)

When the Edinburgh Book Festival folks decided to send five Scottish writers away from home to travel in North America, they chose Jenni Fagan to be one of those writers. Jenni is a poet and novelist, author of two brilliant voice-driven novels, The Panopticon and The Sunlight Pilgrims, plus several books of poetry, including The Dead Queen of Bohemia, soon to be released in the US. And then, as luck would have it, Jenni chose me to travel with her from Detroit to Chicago to the West Coast. Jenni arrived in NYC today, and I’ll meet up with her in Detroit on Saturday, May 20. Our mission is to seek out the truth, more or less. And I hope we get to meet up with some of you along the way.  In Oregon we’ll be in Portland and Eugene, and in California we’ll try to see everything a person can see in ten days.   Below, you’ll find a bit about Jenni’s journey (with me!) from the Outriders page–it you visit the page, you’ll find info about all five writers.

See Jenni's journey map
Jenni Fagan

Jenni Fagan

Joined by: American novelist Bonnie Jo Campbell
Journey: USA: The Rust Belt to Silicon Valley
Dates: 15 May – 4 June
Follow Jenni:

bio: Jenni is an award-winning novelist and poet, whose debut The Panopticon is being made into a film. Jenni says “The changes in our political, social and natural landscapes have never been more present or important. I will use this trip to connect with the vast array of people I’ll meet on the road, and to ask the question that underpins my work — what is truth? What are the truths of individuals, their inner lives and values, communities, traditions, peripheries? How do people define their own truth and create lives of depth while being confined by a value-based system created around falsehoods of wealth, power and dominance? It is the job of artists to seek truth without flinching but also to celebrate, protect and honour those uncovered truths – and to use them to create literature, generate debate and conversation and provide a connection for the communities and individuals encountered.”





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Tatiana Szpur 1918-2014

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Tatiana, age 78, in Marin Headlands, near Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA. (1995)


    My friend Mary Szpur is one of the very best people, and her remarkable mother, Tatiana Szpur, has just died at age ninety six after living an incredible and full life. Tatiana, who is Ukrainian by birth, would have loved to share her stories with you, and so I am posting Mary’s remembrance here with some photos. Mary delivered the following eulogy February 8, 2014 in Chicago. (please note the photos are mixed up chronologically and in every other way, and Mary is going to provide descriptions of each soon.) 

Mary Writes

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Tatiana, age 89, with daughter Mary, on grounds of Kyivska Pecherska Lavra (Kyiv Monastery of the Caves, established 1051), Kyiv, Ukraine. (2007)

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Party in Turiysk, Ukraine. Tatiana, age 17, is 3rd from right. Brother Levko, age 19, is rightmost standing person, 2nd row. (1934)

Thank you all for coming. I am Maria Szpur, daughter of Tatiana. I would like to talk a little about my mother’s life. My mother always had a very strong desire to tell and retell her life story, to anyone who would listen. I think this is because her life spanned major events and she experienced societal and personal traumas. Tatiana was born at the end of the first World War, during the Russian Revolution, both of which had a profound effect on her family. She grew up in an area of what is now western Ukraine that during the years of her youth changed hands several times, from Russia, to Poland, then to a newly created Ukrainian Republic that only lasted for 4 years. Tatiana lost her mother, the beautiful, blue-eyed Valentina, when she was only 3 and her brother Levko was only 5. This event left a wound and a yearning for creating her own family that drove my mother for the rest of her life.

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Debutante Ball, sponsored by Ukrainian Veterinary Medical Association, Chicago Branch, Palmer House, Chicago. Tatiana, age 55, seated in 1st row, 5th from left, Mary behind her, age 17. (1973)

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Centralia, IL. Tatiana, age 39, with sons Walter, age 8, and Orest, age 6. (1957)

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Tatiana, age 30. Berchtesgaden, Germany. Photograph for sponsorship document to US. (1948)

Tatiana was in her early 20s when the second World War began, and spent the war years with my father fleeing west, from country to country, enduring the bombing, and trying to survive and outwit their circumstances. All the while my father was trying to complete his veterinary studies. My parents finally ended up as stateless refugees in a displaced persons camp in Germany, waiting to be sponsored to the United States. In their 30s, with two young sons, they would be starting a new life in a new country speaking a new language. Though my parents eventually came to love their new county and were grateful for their lives here, life in the United States for displaced persons, or DPs as they were called, after the war was not easy. There was one move after another, from New York City, to Rapid City, South Dakota, on to Centralia, Illinois, and finally to the city of Chicago. All the while my father was trying to get his veterinary medicine diploma recognized in the US, and trying to learn English and get better-paying jobs to help support his five children, four boys and one girl. My mother was also always working, at jobs ranging from cleaning office buildings to baking and decorating cakes, to cleaning cages and assisting my father in the operating room of his animal hospital in Chicago. The stressors of life for immigrants affected all our family members in different ways. There was drinking, and hard times. My oldest brother Leo volunteered to serve in the United States Army as a paratrooper in Vietnam at the age of 18, an experience that changed his life forever. Despite his having a good wife and four beautiful sons, Leo never got over the terrible experiences of war, which scarred his psyche, and he killed himself when he was 56. My brother Orest, to whom my mother was very close, died at the age of 48, a victim of alcohol. Despite the loss of two of her sons, both of whom she loved dearly, Tatiana did not break and her spirit remained strong. She kept on living for the sake of those of who remained.


Cemetery, Turiysk, Ukraine. Family-restored gravesites of Tatiana’s grandmother Pavlina Kontsevych, Vichnaya Pamyat (“Always in our Memory”) on left, and of Tatiana’s mother, Valentina Kryvistka, on right. (2007)

Tatiana Krywicka Szpur was born on January 10, 1918, in the town of Turiysk, on the river Turya, in the region of Kovel, province of Volyn, in western Ukraine, though it was then part of Russia. My mother’s father, Lonhyn Krywitsky, started out as a high school teacher of chemistry, math, and music. He was also an accomplished musician, playing guitar and mandolin, and conducting choirs. Due to the tumult of the Bolshevik Revolution, he needed to change careers and became a Greek Orthodox priest before my mother was born. His first assignment was in Turiysk. My mother’s mother was Valentina Kontsevych, of the town of Kupichov, one of nine children of an Orthodox priest and member of Parliament, known as the Duma. Valentina and her sisters were educated at an elite high school in Kyiv known as Blahorodets Divits. My mother’s parents had returned to Turiysk after fleeing east to Belgorod, a town in southern Russia, for the duration of WWI. Turiysk was a crossroads where soldiers often asked to stay at residents’ homes to await further orders. From one of these soldiers who asked to stay at my mother’s home, Valentina contracted typhus and died at the age of 28. Lonhin was forbidden by church law to remarry and so my mother and her brother were raised by servants and relatives.

My mother attended a Lyceum for teacher training in Siedlice, near Warsaw.  Her father Lonhin was transferred to head a church in the tiny village of Ozeryany, a demotion due to his Ukrainian patriotic activities in Turiysk.   At the start of my mother’s third year at the Lyceum, she heard the first rumors of war, then one day, while she was visiting  the town of Kovel, she saw planes dropping bombs and heard people shouting, “Viyna, viyna!”  It was war.   Germany had invaded Poland, and Poland fell in a matter of weeks.  My mother was 21 years old.

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University of Chicago, IL. Tatiana, age 68, at son Andrew’s graduation from U of C, with daughter Mary. (1986)

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Tatiana, age 35, with sons Walter, age 6, and Orest, age 4 In Rapid City, South Dakota. (1954)

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Berchtesgaden, Germany. Tatiana, age 29, with husband Arsen (on left, holding 1 yr old son Leo), and friend. (1947)

My mother finished her teacher training in Lviv, the beautiful city in western Ukraine, which was then under Communist occupation. She got her first job as a teacher and principal in the village of Hrabovets, and worked 7 days a week teaching children and adults, including young soldiers, whom she taught Russian. One day Communist soldiers came to the village. As a school principal my mother was considered a responsible citizen so they took her as a hostage. They threatened to kill her if they found a single gun in any of the village homes. Her life was spared but she was shaken by this incident so she returned to Lviv, which now had changed hands to the Germans. She got a job at City Hall after she learned to speak enough German, and enjoyed the next few years with young friends in this lively city, despite the hardships of war. In Lviv, she met our father Arsen, a veterinary student, on the street, and then, as she said, by a miracle she ran into him again at a party. People tried to warn her away from my father, who had a wild reputation, and after they married, people would ask her, as she liked to say,”Tania, how did you catch that LION?” My father served in the army for a time but was released to continue his veterinary studies. At this point, the Germans were losing, the Communists had returned to Lviv, and fear was everywhere. My parents decided to flee west on the last train our of Lviv with just the clothes on their backs. My mother had asked her father Lonhin to leave with them, but he refused to leave his village of Ozeryany and his parishioners. He was killed in the street by Polish freedom fighters in 1943, and my mother always felt remorse that she hadn’t been able to convince him to leave.

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Tatiana, age 89, in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, holding landscape painting she brought to her host during her first trip to Ukraine in 1996. (2007)


Portrait of husband Arsen, painted by Tatiana.

Then followed the flight west, with time in Vienna, in Leipzig during the terrible bombing, and Munich, again in the height of war. All the while my father was trying to finish his veterinary studies. While in Vienna, my mother took an ill-advised trip by train to Poland to try to buy food and other supplies with some leftover Polish zloty currency, a trip which if not for my mother’s ability to speak Polish and the efforts of a sympathetic Polish secretary, would have resulted in her being sent to a labor camp. After the war ended, my parents, along with many thousands of other refugees and stateless people, were placed in a displaced persons camp in Germany. They lived in the DP camp in Berchtesgaden for 5 years, waiting for sponsorship to the United States. Their sons Leo and Walter were born in the camp. Berchtesgaden was also the location of Hitler’s winter retreat, known as the Eagle’s Nest.


Portrait of father Lonhin Krywitsky.


Portrait of mother Valentina, done by memory, as no photos exist.


Portrait of son Leo, age 10.

My mother was never able to reestablish contact with any of her relatives in Ukraine. To this day, we know nothing about the whereabouts of my mother’s aunts, uncles, and their children.

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Tatiana, age 82, with son Dr. Walter Szpur, age 52. (2000)

My parents raised four sons and a daughter, all of whom completed university or higher in the United States. She was so proud of her children’s education, and she and my father produced an environmental specialist, a physician, a teacher, a physician assistant, and a school psychologist. Tatiana has six grandchildren and many great grandchildren, all of whom she loved dearly.

After we were grown, my mother wanted to travel and was eager for any opportunity offered her to go anywhere. So we took her to Ukraine twice, the first time at the age of 78 and the second at the age of 89. We visited her home towns of Turiysk and Ozeryany, and met elderly village babushky who remembered my mother, and dreamily asked about my mother’s handsome brother Lyova, whom they still remembered 60 years later. These babushky had kept up Tatiana’s father’s gravesite for decades. My mother loved visiting her grandchildren in New York and Tennessee. We had a number of trips to Canada, to visit my mother’s brother Levko and his wife Lida, our


Banff, Alberta. Family reunion. Tina, Lida, brother Levko, Tatiana, Walter, Andrew and (in the back) Lee. (2005)

cousins Tina and Levko and their families in Toronto, then in Calgary and Edmonton. In Edmonton she also saw our cousin Roman and his family, who had emigrated from Ukraine. My brother Andrew took Tatiana on several road trips, to California, the southern United States, including Graceland, and Canada. We traveled to Washington, D.C., and Douglas and Kalamazoo in Michigan. As my mother grew older and infirm, she would often say, “I wish we could get in the car and just drive, drive, drive.”

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Chicago River, ArchiCenter boat tour, Tatiana, age 80, with daughter Mary and partner Nancy. (1998)

When I think of my mother, many things come to mind. Tatiana was kind, energetic, hard-working, selfless, nonjudgmental and never prejudiced, physically and mentally strong and resilient. She was also funny and warm, was a lover of fashion and fur coats, and always up for anything. She loved her children’s friends like her own family, as many of you here know. She tried to fix everyone up romantically, all the time, and loved to hear about girlfriends and boyfriends. She loved music and singing. She was an accomplished painter, especially of portraits. And despite the loss of her mother as a young child, despite the hardships of living in the bloodlands and having lived through wartime, and having to forge a life in a new country, and finally despite the devastating loss of her two beloved sons, she retained a strong spirit, an optimistic attitude, and remained unbowed by hardship or tragedy. A triumphant life. She was a great role model for all of us and I am very proud that she was my own dear mother.

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Hanging with Upper Peninsula Writers

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What a great bunch of folks I got to meet on my recent adventure in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. These are photos that my darling Christopher took of events.

At Lake Superior State College I got to be on a panel with Sue Harrison (middle, in black with wine glass), who just received the Writing the (inaugural) 2013 Writing the U.P. Award, and Ellen Airgood, author of the wildly popular South of Superior, which I’m reading right now. It’s good! Sue Harrison is the bestselling author of Mother Earth, Father Sky and many other Prehistory books.  Here some of us are having a drink after our event at the Soo Brewery in Sault Ste. Marie. (beside me is author and LSSU professor Mary McMyne), in black shirt at the back is Diane Pingatore, who asked us all brilliant questions at the LSSU event, and on the right are Ellen Airgood, Ron Riekki, and Scott Hamilton).

Here I’m with librarian and program organizer at Peter White Library in Marquette, Michigan, Margaret Boyle. The following day I conducted a workshop for new writers.

Here are five of us at the Tahquamenon Public and School Library in Newberry, Michigan .  (Tour organizer Ron Riekki (writer, editor of the anthology The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula Works), BJC,  Steve Hamilton (author of the Alex McNight detective series), Ellen Airgood, and the fabulous fiction writers John Smolens.

Here are Steve Hamilton and Ron Riekki and I at the Falling Rock Cafe and Bookstore in Munising, Michigan. The owner Nancy Dwyer treated me to a yummy salad with Lake Superior whitefish on it.

Here are a bunch of us on a panel at the North Winds Bookstore in Hancock, Michigan.  (Book store manager Alana Nolan,  poet Randall Freisinger, Native American writer April Lindala, Ron Riekki, and poet and fiction writer Phillip Sterling.) The bookstore is part of Finlandia University, formerly Suomi College. We stayed three nights in Hancock, and especially enjoyed Finnish pancakes at the Suomi restaurant.

Grandpa’s Barn Books in Copper Harboar was a great place to visit, and some might even want to live there.  Here on the porch are Keith Taylor, owner Lloyd Wescoat, poet Randall Freisenger, and Ron Riekki. Lloyd loaned me a bicycle and I tore all over town. Chris and I drove out to the tip of the peninsula, where I found and ate many handfuls of thimbleberries.

We had fun here too, at the Dickinson County  Library in Iron Mountain, with Ron Riekki, Sue Harrison, poet Beverly Matherne from Northern Michigan University (who writes in English and French), and Keith Taylor. What a panel!

One of the highlights of the trip to the Upper Peninsula was meeting poet and professor  Catie Rosemurgy (in yellow) in Escanaba, Michigan.  Ron and I are flanking her, and the head librarian Carolyn Stacey is behind us.

DSCN1514A Manistique Library BookWorldIronMountain BookWorldMarquetteHere is a photo taken at Harbor Springs (a few miles below the bridge, but part of the official UP Tour).  Here you’ll see Steve Amick wearing the Pacific University shirt, the owner of Between the Covers, Katie, kneeling in the flannel shirt, and a few others. We had a fun visit from my old friend Donna Deal, and we loved meeting the other  folks in the photo.

And here we are at the Manistique Public and School Library, with poet Amber Edmondson, Phillip Sterling, poet Elinor Benedict, and Ron. There are only a few places in the state where the public and school libraries are joined, and we visited two of them.

There are three more photos below. In order of where appear:

Book World in Iron Mountain: I’m with Ron, Beverly Matherne, and a bookseller,

At Marquette Book World, here are Russell Thornburn (2013 Poet Laureate of the UP), Jane Piirto, April Lindala, Ron and I).

There’s one of Ron and me with children’s book author Janice Repka (dark hair) at the St. Ignace Book World. The blond woman is the bookstore manager.


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When equines mix it up

There are three species of equines surviving in the twenty-first century: horse, donkey, zebra, and they can all interbreed, producing sterile offspring. Recently a beautiful donkey-zebra mix was born in an Italian zoo (my friend Alicia Conroy alerted me of this). Mama was a donkey and daddy was a zebra, so the baby Ippo (below) is a zonkey, or a zedonk, zebonkey, zebronkey, zebrinny, zebrula, zebrass, and zedonk, zeedonk, even zebadonk. Whatever you call him, he’s darned cute.


Americans like to think that our country was settled by horses, but really the land was tamed by mules, which are created from daddy-donkeys and mama-horses.  In my experience, the male donkey is eager to jump on mares.  There are not so many mules these days as there used to be, but there are a lot at the Grand Canyon, and you they are sure-footed enough to carry you comfortably across rough ground down into the canyon.


I just love looking at mules.  Here’s a pair of gorgeous mules in harness:


And there is another creature you don’t see so often, a Hinny, which comes from a mama donkey and papa horse. From what I’ve heard, the male horse is less interested in the female donkey than vice versa, but a friend of our family Drew Anderson used to try to breed for Hinnies.


Of course any of these animals can be female or male. While the males are not fertile, most owners still castrate them, because of behavior issues.  Twice in the history of human observation, a jenny mule has given birth, and nobody knows what to call the baby. Some call it a chimera. Here is a photo of it nursing


And because the baby is so sweet, I want to show you another photo. You can read about this outrageous birth here:


A zorse is the offspring of a male zebra and a female horse. This cross is also called a zebrula, zebrule, zebra mule or golden zebra.  They can look sort of horshish:


Or their coloring can be very exotic. A zony is the offspring of a zebra stallion and a pony mare


The rarer reverse pairing is sometimes called a horbra, hebra, zebrinny or zebret, and I can’t seem to find a photo of one of these.  I’ll just finish up here with my own donkey Don Quixote. I’m wearing my Southern Review T-shirt in honor of Jeanne Leiby (RIP).


OH, and let’s add one more, a photo of writer Claire Davis with her horse Scout:


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Upper Peninsula or Bust!

It’s all about the Far North around here.  Chris and I are gearing up for a whirlwind literary tour of a big swath of the upper peninsula of Michigan this August.  Here is a map of the UP so you can get inspired, too. Think of cool Lake Superior breezes!


Ron Reikki is the organizer of the tour, and he invited me to be the “headliner” and visit a lot of bookstores and libraries in our great north, and I said that I would try to make it something like a vacation for me and my darling Christopher, who will be driving the more than 1500 miles.  Here is my schedule:

Dates for my portion of the 2013 Upper Peninsula Book Tour:

Thursday, July 25 – Official UP Tour kick-off:

Kazoo Books II (2413 Parkview. Kalamazoo, MI  49008) 6:30 pm, reading/signingw/ Bonnie Jo Campbell, Nancy Eimers, Kim Kolbe, William Olsen, Janeen Rastall, Ron Riekki, Keith Taylor, Eric Torgersen (info about the event here:

Sunday, August 4: Lake Superior State University (Superior Room, Walker Cisler Student and Conference Center, 650 W Easterday Ave, Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783), 6:00 pm, reading/Q&A/signing w/ Ellen Airgood, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Sue Harrison

Information about event here:

Monday, August 5: Tahquamenon Public Library (700 Newberry Ave  Newberry, MI 49868), 6:00–8:00 pm, panel w/Ellen Airgood, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Steve Hamilton, Ron Riekki, John Smolens

Tuesday, August 6: Falling Rock Café & Bookstore (104 E Munising Ave, Munising, MI 49862), 2:00–4:00 pm, signing w/Bonnie Jo Campbell, Steve Hamilton, Ron Riekki, John Smolens

Wednesday, August 7: Peter White Public Library (217 N Front St, Marquette, MI 49855), 7:00–9:00 pm, signing w/Bonnie Jo Campbell (books supplied by Snowbound Books)

Thursday, August 8: Peter White Library (217 N Front St, Marquette, MI 49855), 1:00 pm, writing workshop with Bonnie Jo Campbell (sign-up required, call 906-226-4312.) Here’s an article about the workshop:

Thursday, August 8: Book World (136 W Washington St, Marquette, MI 49855), 4:30–6:00 pm, w/Bonnie Jo Campbell, April Lindala, Jane Piirto, Janice Repka, Ron Riekki

Thursday, August 8: Snowbound Books (118 N Third St, Marquette, MI 49855), 6:30–8:00 pm, w/Sharon Dilworth and Bonnie Jo Campbell

Friday, August 9: North Wind Books (601 Quincy St, Hancock, MI 49930), 2:00-4:00 pm, reading/signing w/Bonnie Jo Campbell, Randall R. Freisinger, April Lindala, Ron Riekki, Phillip Sterling

 Saturday, August 10: Grandpa’s Barn (385 4th St, Copper Harbor, MI 49918), 2:00–5:00 pm signing with Ron Riekki; 2:30-4:30 pm, signing w/Randall R. Freisinger, Keith Taylor; 3:00–5:00 pm, signing w/Bonnie Jo Campbell

 Monday, August 12: Book World (1104 S Stephenson Ave, Iron Mountain, MI 49801), 5:00–6:00 pm, signing w/Bonnie Jo Campbell, Ron Riekki

Here’s an article from the Iron Mountain Daily News:–Book-Tour-announced.html?nav=5066

Monday, August 12: Dickinson County Library (401 Iron Mountain St, Iron Mountain, MI  49801), 6:30–8:00 pm, panel w/Bonnie Jo Campbell, Sue Harrison, Beverly Matherne, Ron Riekki, Keith Taylor (books supplied by Friends of the Library)

Tuesday, August 13: Book World (301 N Lincoln Rd, Escanaba, MI 49829), 2:30–4:00 pm, signing w/Bonnie Jo Campbell, Ron Riekki, Catie Rosemurgy

Tuesday, August 13: Escanaba Public Library (400 Ludington St, Escanaba, MI 49829), 7:00 pm, reading/Q&A/panel w/Bonnie Jo Campbell, Ron Riekki, Catie Rosemurgy

 Wednesday, August 14: Manistique Public Library (100 N Cedar St, Manistique, MI 49854), 1:00-3:00 pm, panel/Q&A/readingw/Elinor Benedict, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Amber Edmondson, Phillip Sterling, Ron Riekki, Philllip Sterling

Wednesday, August 14: Book World (52 N State St  St Ignace, MI 49781), 6:00-7:00 pm, signing w/Bonnie Jo Campbell, Janice Repka, Ron Riekki

 Friday, August 15: Between the Covers (152 E Main St  Harbor Springs, MI 49740), 2:00–3:00 pm, signing w/Steve Amick, Bonnie Jo Campbell

Here’s an article that Yvonne Zip of the Kalamazoo Gazette wrote about the tour.

The tour is much bigger than me and my events. Ron Reikki’s number one goal is to showcase Upper Peninsula writers, and so I’ll get to meet a lot of them at our venues.  There are 41 writers appearing at 31 venues.  Here’s a more complete list:

This fourth annual upper peninsula tour will be featuring a new book edited by Ron Reikki and published by Wayne State University Press.  It’s an anthology of new writing by Upper Peninsula writers and you can find more about it here:


Mostly I’ll be reading,  signing my books, and chatting with folks, but I’ll be doing one free writing workshop at Peter White Library. There’s info at this link:

CIMG8677So Chris is getting ready for the drive to Sault St. Marie to start things out. (Here’s a photo of him at the cottage).  On our one day off, we’ll go to the Porcupine Mountains and see what that’s all about.  And I sure hope we run into Joe Heywood, author of the Woods Cop series. He’s got a great new book of Woods Cop short stories out this year, Hard Ground. And maybe we’ll see some of you, too.  Cheers! Bonnie

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Eulogy for my dad, Rick Campbell

Eulogy for Frederick L. Campbell (by Bonnie Campbell)

Photo of Dad taken by Chris Magson on our screen porch.

Photo of Dad taken by Chris Magson on our screen porch.

We are together here, on this day before father’s day, 2013, to mourn the death and celebrate the life of Rick Campbell, father of seven (Mike, me, Thomas, Sheila, George, Erin, Brennen). Other people might have the good sense to keep their comments short, but I’m not going to do that. My father never mentioned my writing his eulogy. He did not think he was going to die, certainly not now, maybe not ever. And neither did the rest of us.  Dad had his home health remedies, and we expected him to keep going to Meijers to pick up a couple of things, to keep lugging bags of topsoil to his garden, and to keep changing his own oil in his truck. We expected him to keep driving around looking for the cheapest gas prices—one time I know he drove all the way to Indiana to fill up. We expected him to keep showing up at our barbeques and parties and going out on my brother Tom’s pontoon boat and making goofy jokes. I figured I’d be making him a carrot cake for his 79th birthday in a few weeks.

Susanna & Five kids, photo by Rick Campbell

Susanna & Five kids, photo by Rick Campbell

My mother is Susanna, Dad’s first wife, and when they met, she was riding a horse, and he was looking up at her. If it was love at first sight, he never would have admitted it.  When he met his second wife Leslie, to whom he was married 31 years, he might have been looking up at her on the roof of a house, for she worked back then as a chimney sweep. That seems a good start, his looking up to a woman. He always looked up to Clarian Campbell, the mother who raised him in Richland a woman who fed and clothed and somehow, with Herculean strength and the patience of Job kept in line five boys: Don, Rick, Phil, Bob, and Jim.

Dad's Senior Picture

Dad’s Senior Picture

On his first or second date with my mom, he drove her from Comstock to a movie at the park in Augusta, and on the way home, there was a car crash that resulted in five fatalities, as Mom put it, “Bodies were spread all over the road.” So Dad jumped out of the car and took pictures, and that was life with a photographer. 

When I asked my little brother George recently for a memory of dad, he said, “Well, I was about ten, and he picked me up at school, we delivered some photos to the Gazette, and then we came across a car accident and we had to stop and pull over. He took photos of the wreck and we had to go back to the Gazette to develop them.”

In his years at the Gazette, Dad photographed not only accidents and ceremonies, but characters from the world stage such as Richard Nixon, Jimmy Hoffa, Richard Dyer Bennet, Lily Tomlin, and Timothy Leary—and that, by the way, is why my brother is George Timothy Campbell.  And he photographed all the local dignitaries as well; through his job, Dad knew just about everybody in town.

Jerry'sRick3Rick took photos for the Gazette for 53 years. He was part of a dream team of Gazette Photographers including his pal Jerry Campbell, Bob Maxwell, Carl Bennett; and later, Duane Scheel and Phil Mitchell, all (and here’s the miraculous part) making regular, if modest, full time salaries with benefits. You don’t see that anymore. It isn’t exactly clear how he became a Gazette photographer. When he was seventeen he was mowing J.K. Walsh’s lawn (that’s the old Gazette editor) and the next year the guy hired him to be a photographer for the paper.

My dad had some famous photos early in his career. He won awards for a photo of a swan fleeing a motorboat, for a picture of a pet deer following a boy to the school bus, for a young woman falling off a horse during a show, as well as for a picture of jobless youths on the north side, which my mom says was completely staged.  Maybe the most famous photo he took was of Arthur Bremer at a Kalamazoo Wallace-for-president rally.  Here I’m going to quote from Dave Persons writing in the Gazette: “A close inspection of Campbell’s photo revealed that Bremer was applauding Wallace from the audience. Bremer, who was convicted and served 35 years in prison for his assassination attempt on Wallace, later revealed he had planned to shoot Wallace in Kalamazoo.” But he hadn’t gotten the chance. 

Dad with all 7 kids at Kalamazoo Gazette retirement party.

Dad with all 7 kids at Kalamazoo Gazette retirement party.

So Dad won awards for his Gazette photography, but those who knew him knew the Gazette material wasn’t his best stuff. My mom has albums full of black and white photographs of everybody we knew.

Some of the photos are good just because we like seeing the people in them, and there are way too many pictures of kids with spaghetti sauce and chocolate frosting on their faces. Others, however, are brilliant works of art, some of them portraying a single kid looking so earnest, so vulnerable, so windswept that you want to cry. His best photos might be the groups of kids and adults.  He demanded that people pose for his photos and he was quick and bossy about it. Go there, do that, he’d say, and we’d do it because we were a photographer’s kids. He could capture in a birthday cake photo a smorgasbord of emotions: heartbreak on one kid, pride or fear on another, and giddy excitement on yet another. Snap. And he did this on film—some of you remember film.

Dad & other Kalamazoo Gazette photographers.

Dad & other Kalamazoo Gazette photographers.

Jerry Campbell explains how it was in the beginning, back when they started at the Gazette, before film came in rolls, when it was in “holders.” He says, “We had a limit for how many photos we could take. For a headshot you were only supposed to take one or maybe two photos.  If we went out on a regular assignment in those days, we never shot more than four or five max. It meant that you had to really pay attention to your subjects, predict their movements, keep track of them and hope you caught them in good pose.” We take photos differently now.


In the early seventies, Dad was able to capture something quintessentially American and Midwestern in his photos He took some amazing pictures of groups of kids in 1976 (and I think we have some copies here), the year of the bicentennial, when everything in America was a little brighter and sparklier and funkier and funner than it was before or after.  I remember spending time with him in the maze of Gazette dark rooms, where he dodged and burned during the enlarging process so that faces would be brighter, backgrounds darker.  

In his last ten years or so at the Gazette, he mostly did advertising shots, rather than news; he said this allowed him to be creative in a different way. And one of his coworkers (Kim “Mac” MacKellar—I guess he lives in Florida now or he’d be here) wrote “Rick was THE GUY I always requested for photo shoots both in studio and at advertisers’ businesses. He had a knack for putting the most persnickety client at ease and they were always dazzled by the results of his keen eye for the best shot. In addition he was a heckuva NICE GUY.”


My mom says she turned Dad from a conservative to a liberal. She says it was partly those years 1956-60 they spent living just off the Donaldson Air Force base in South Carolina, seeing Black citizens living in brutal poverty, having to drink from separate fountains, having to attend separate movie theaters and schools. Mom says that while they were there they might have been shot dead by their white neighbors for the fraternizing they did with Black neighbors. Dad then spent a tour of duty in Weisbaden, Germany and he became an Airman First Class. Leslie has made arrangements for some of his ashes will be to laid to rest at Fort Custer National Cemetery in Augusta, where there will be a marker for him.

Dad photographed by Chris Magson at Bell's Brewery.

Dad photographed by Chris Magson at Bell’s Brewery.

My granny, Betty Herlihy, my mother’s mother loved my father, and not just because he was so handsome. She called Dad “a real trencherman,” which is a phrase in my family for a hearty eater.  My mother tells me that she never had a leftover the whole eleven years she was married.  Leslie says Dad was a great help to her in cleaning her plate all through their marriage. He really favored chicken, and gradually  became an artist at the barbeque grill.  He brought the beer-butt chicken into many of our lives—in case you don’t know, beer-butt refers to a method of cooking a chicken on a grill by sitting it upright on an opened can of beer and then the chicken cooks from within (with steaming beer) as well as from the outside.  He actually perfected the method to make the wine-butt turkey, which was sensational—he used a big soup can instead of a beer can, and put sherry wine in it.  He would sometimes even bring his own grill to my brother Tom’s, so his turkey or chicken wouldn’t be disturbed by somebody else’s brats and burgers. Dad always liked to be with people eating and laughing.


I asked my little sister Sheila for her favorite memory of Dad, and she remembers way back in the day, when all five of us kids and Dad would climb up on the big green couch that used to be in our kitchen. We’d all pile on and he’d play the guitar and sing “Puff the Magic Dragon” and a song he made up himself called the “Da da” song. And she also remembers being at the Gun Lake cabin that he and Jerry Campbell had for two summers, 1968 and 1969.

Mike Campbell, 1976

Mike Campbell, 1976

My big brother Mikey lived with my dad his last three years of high school.  He says my dad encouraged his creativity. Electronics was something Dad had learned from his dad, Harold, and he encouraged Mike to build his own radios, and also to play piano and draw. Mike says, “I was drawing a doodle at the table one day, and Dad liked it so much, he gave me a calligraphy pen and India ink and poster board, and I still have that first drawing. It took me three months to finish it.”  Dad signed Mikey up to be in an art show in Bronson Park when he was about 19, so he could display his work. Mike says that Dad also encouraged him to be a “mad scientist” in the kitchen and devise his own cuisine.

People feel sorry for kids of divorce, and they did especially back in 1969, but we figured we kids had it made.  Before the divorce I’d never even been to a restaurant, but Dad took us out to eat, took us camping, and took us to downtown apartments that had shag carpeting and beads hanging down instead of interior doors, and then to his house on Fourth Street, near Red Arrow Highway. For quite a while, I knew my dad as a swinging city guy, with his microwave oven, and candle-making, and his knowledge of what yin yang meant.  He often had a rakish mustache and a Sonny Bono haircut, and for a while drove a Firebird, and then he married the lovely Leslie, so I remember the moment many years later when I realized he had really changed.

Photo Dad took of Sheila and pals playing softball.

Photo Dad took of Sheila and pals playing softball.

There was an old Saturday Night Live skit called “Middle Aged Man” and Mike Myers was a super hero who would dash in and show people how to hang gutters, how to protect a car’s battery from corrosion.   He knew where all the appliance warranties were. So my dad came over one time when I was trying to build a raised garden bed in my front yard, and he told me that I should use a garden hose to outline it to figure out just how I wanted it to be, for that would allow me to mess around until I got the right shape and size. And then he told me how to prune my lilac bushes.  I realized, in that moment, that Dad had become middle-aged man. He knew how to operate a Coleman lantern.  He could install a water pump in his truck, and just a year ago, he helped my brother install a well pump in my mom’s house. The only difference was that my father was still handsome, unlike the Mike Myers character.

Dad shaved head

Dad shaved head

Rick’s dad, my grandfather Harold, was a Freemason, so we know he had a secret life. Rick was not a Freemason, but there was a part of him that was mysterious and secretive. Maybe it was a kind of shyness that would make him hold part of himself back. Maybe it was because of the mystery of his birth mother, Marcella Loesser Campbell and his first year and half of his life orphan ward of Borgess Hospital. (My mother says he was cared for there by Mary Florence Harrington.) I  got the impression that Dad was always questioning, keeping his mind open to the mystery, poking around for something more, something spiritual, maybe even something magical. I think that seeking part of him is what came through in those perfect compositions he created with his camera, those perfect frames of groups of people and individuals, filled with life. His best pictures were his visions of the wilder worlds he could imagine, more beautiful and strange and revealing worlds. Through his photos, we can see his secret self.  

One of Leslie's favorite photos of Dad.

One of Leslie’s favorite photos of Dad.

He wasn’t a person who would be bossed around. A lot us wish tried to get him to go to the doctor in these last 35 years, just to see the lay of his land, maybe to have those old arteries checked, but my dad lived on his own terms. And he was able to heal himself for a lot of years.


Dad was Dad to a lot of people. Certainly to my husband Chris Magson and Sheila’s husband Matt Schwartz, both of whom had lost their own fathers too young.  Family friends as well knew him as Dad, the man at the barbeque. And we usually had a barbeque to celebrate Dad’s birthday around the fourth of July.  A family friend Gina Betcher posted a poem about Dad, and it starts out:  “July is going to seem different, as though he’s gone off to the store, and will be coming back.”

Erin, Leslie, Bonnie at Dad's memorial at Susanna's.

Erin, Leslie, Bonnie at Dad’s memorial at Susanna’s.

So thank you Dad for all the beautiful photos that will last forever because we’re finally scanning them. Thank you for helping and advising us with our home improvement projects. Thank you for giving Chris and me the crab apple tree to plant after Chris’s mom died. Thank you, Dad, for helping my brother Tom in 1997 when both his legs were broken and filled with hardware and when he was fighting infection, when the doctors said Tom might never walk again—Dad, you cleaned bedpans and cooked food, gave moral support and physical support, and you are a big part of the reason Tom can walk today, and not just walk but climb ladders and earn a living in his chosen trade. You nurtured him and taught him how to heal himself. 


Dad & I at Kellee's wedding.

Dad & I at Kellee’s wedding.

Thanks, Dad, for taking Sheila to meet movie star Jon Schneider with your backstage pass—that’s Bo Duke from Dukes of Hazard, for those of you who don’t know. Thanks, Dad, for coming around when we needed cheering up, and for always offering your help. Thank you for coming to every grandkid’s and great grandkid’s and son-in-law’s birthday party in the last dozen years with a wrapped gift. Thank you for Christmas of 1967. That was the year you hung the Christmas tree upside down from the center of the ceiling of the living room and let us decorate it that way.  Thank you for setting up the jungle gym in the kitchen, so we kids could play on it in the winter, as well as the summer. And thanks for the da-da song—if I’m not mistaken the full set of lyrics was “da da da da da da.” And I wish I remembered the tune. Thank you for being our handsome, helpful, mysterious artistic dad. We’ll raise our glasses to you later today and tomorrow on Father’s day, and we’ll tell stories about you in a few weeks on your birthday—maybe over some carrot cake—and we’ll think about you and miss you every day.

Dad & Thomas at the lake.

Dad & Thomas at the lake.


(Next Erin spoke at length, told some wonderful stories about Dad, including stories about Dad and their various family pets.)

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Submission of Eggs


I gave Deborah Gang a dozen eggs at our opening at the Book Arts Center, or rather I should say that I submitted the eggs to her, and here was her response:

Thank you for your submission, Happy Eggs. We received an unprecedented number of excellent entries, and while your work was not chosen as a finalist for the contest, we would like to use seven of the twelve eggs in our next issue: we have chosen eggs numbered 2,3,5,6,9,10,and 12, counting across from left to right. Please note that our editors strongly agreed that Happy Eggs numbered 1,4,7,8,and 11 tasted better than either Target’s cage-free organic or D&W’s cage-free organics. This was not a blind test. We do not judge submissions blind because we need to avoid the embarrassment of rejecting Mary Oliver, Ted Kooser and Alicia Ostriker. These are actual examples. Please let us know if you would like to be in V 12. #4. The theme will be The Egg Was First. Most likely. It is still under debate. Thank you, unpaid intern

I’ve concluded that my success rate in submitting farm fresh eggs from happy chickens is greater than my success rate in submitting stories. Perhaps Deborah needs a break from all things literary, but she made my day. Cheers! Bonnie

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Kalamazoo Fruit Follow Up

2012 Elderberries

When you don’t blog for a while, it gets harder and harder to start again, so I’ll just quickly give you the fruit wise developments as we head into late autumn. Brrr. The elderberries were plucked beautifully by many friends including Susan Ramsey, Jamie Blake, Sass Havilar, Chris Magson, DAvid Magson, LeeAnn Johnson, Mike Campbell, Kellee Campbell, Nic Martin.

This was fifteen pounds of elderberries, which made five gallons of wine. Here it is fermenting under a table in the back room.  Meanwhile I also found a lot of pears on the only pear tree in Kalamazoo that was fruitful, and boy oh boy, it was fruitful. I brought home hundreds of pears, enough to eat every day and feed to the donkeys and also to make five gallons of pear wine, which is fermenting in the kitchen.  Oh, the sweet smell of sugar turning to alcohol.  On the nonalcoholic front, I managed to can pints of pears, which I can honestly say are organic, since nobody even knows about the tree, let alone fertilizes it or applies pesticides. It is a very popular tree with the yellow jackets, one of whom stung my thumb.I also managed to get quarts of tomatoes, which will be very delicious in the winter.  So I have preserved, and I have blogged.  Yea!

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