End of August 2012 Foraging


We are still waiting for the big tomato crop to come in, but it seems that all the tree fruit in Michigan is ripening early (if at all—let’s not talk about the cherry crop in Northern Michigan), so Chris and I thought we’d go out and check on the pawpaws. At our first stop, which happens to be in a field of a friend’s cattle, inside an electrified fence, I found a few on the ground. I picked those up and shook the trees a bit. (Remember, you cannot pick pawpaws, but can only pick them up—they don’t ripen nicely off the tree.) Meanwhile, the cattle noticed me. They must’ve been hungry, because at first they walked in my direction, and within a minute they were thundering toward me.  Chris said, “I’m glad I’m on this side of the fence,” and opened the gate for me to slip out. About a hundred thousand pounds of cattle stood there, a few yards from me, asking me where was their dinner.  I left many pawpaws behind. This is the nicest crop of pawpaws, and I am figuring that the cow manure doesn’t hurt the fertility of the trees.

ImageWe moved on down the road to a little forest not too close anyone’s house, and I hiked through briars and collected about twenty more pawpaws. The dangers there were thorns and broken glass (bottles tossed from cars.)  I exited the woods only a little bloody.

At my mom’s house we found three puffball mushrooms, small ones, out by her fuel oil tank. It’s kind of nice to have a small puffball, since a big one is such a commitment. Above are pictured the pawpaws and puffball, alongside a locally procured award-winning beer. I ate the first installment of puffball with scrambled eggs for dinner.

My niece Kellee came over today and told me that she’d been hiking in Michigan and had found both chanterelles and chicken-of-the woods mushrooms.  Not sure about the black walnuts; they’ve been falling for more than a month, but they seem hollow.  The elderberries are now ripe, so we need to get going on the 2012 elderberry wine making this coming weekend. Jamie Blake has been taking lovely artistic photos of elderberries with her smart phone.  Here are two of them.



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Ford Tri-Motor Photos – Long Time No Blog Post!

This is one of twelve Ford Tri-Motor planes, circa 1929, that are in flying condition.  You can take rides on it at the Kalamazoo Air Zoo for a small fortune. Chris has been wanting to go up in it for a long time and so we finally did, and it was great.

Here is a guy putting fuel into the Tri-Motor.  The pilot told us that he didn’t care if we used our cell phones, we wouldn’t be able to hear anything. It was pretty noisy.  There are two doors, one on the side for boarding and one on the roof, for an emergency.

One of my favorite things about the plane was that there were vent windows that you could open or close, so you could feel fresh air as you flew. Originally the plane had glass slider windows, I think.

I included this photo because it shows the non-retracting landing gear and our own shadow on a lake below.  When we landed, we smelled burning rubber from the tires.

Here is my darling Christopher in the front of the plane, checking out the controls.  What a great ride, and I owe it to Chris! We’ve been hearing this Ford Tri-Motor flying over our house for twenty-four years, and finally we went up in it.

(Okay, it’s been a long time with no blog, and I was a little nervous at getting going again, but I think I’m remembering how to do it. Thanks for your patience, readers!)

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My bike is my truck

I used to run bicycle tours in Eastern Europe with my Lipson cousins and friend Mary Szpur, and these were self-contained trips, for which each participant carries all their own stuff. Folks on these kind of tours learn what amazing machines bikes are; we regularly carried fifty pounds worth of tools, clothes, food and drink, souvenirs. Now at home, I have these open baskets on my bike, and even when I’m on a pleasure ride I keep them on. First of all, I think it’s safer, since I’m a wider presence on the road, and second so that I can pick things up along the way. Among the objects I’ve brought home are wrenches, a table, an almost dead Luna moth, grocery bags of black walnuts, and grocery bags of groceries.

I loaned my car to my niece and her husband for a few days, and so I set out to do some grocery shopping at the health food store on the other side of town, and then on the way back, when I was almost home, I stopped at a yard sale (held in an empty storefront  available for lease) and bought this chair. The guy running the yard sale offered to deliver it for me, but I said I’d be fine with a piece of rope. The gentleman of a fellow strapped it on for me.

The guy was kind of well dressed for our neighborhood, and I asked him if was from the the area, and he said yes, he’d grown up back there (pointing to a side street that dead ends at the Kalamazoo River). My neighborhood is poor and struggles to attract and keep any businesses. The jail is right there and the dog pound, which is a sad place that will accept your donations of food and treats gratefully. The streets leading to the river flood every couple years and a lot of the houses are filled with mold from having the water over their floor boards.

At the sale, I saw a guy I knew, Pat, who lived his whole life (he’s maybe 65) in one of those houses that have suffered floods, and I was telling him about some stories I’d come across from an old man who’d grown up on the river–the guy’s wife had written down stories as he spoke them–and his guy Pat sounded very interested, and I said I’d make photocopies and bring them to him. He nodded politely. I forgot that Pat couldn’t read. I was thinking I’d like to go over and read them aloud to him, but I wasn’t sure about offering. I don’t know him very well.

My bike, a Cannondale touring bike from the year 1990 made it home just fine with the chair on it, no problem at all, even with my 30 lbs of groceries. Turns out it’s a pretty good chair, but not as good as it looked. The ladder back is a little too straight to be comfortable. Still some visitor might choose the chair over the others because it’s neat and not held together with duct tape.

The phrase “my bike is my truck” comes from a great guy named Richard Sanford who came on one of our bicycle tours in 1987. He lived in NYC and insisted that he could carry anything on his bike that he could carry in a truck, and he had a trailer he pulled behind for the big loads.  He wrote a book about bicycle touring. Our tours went to Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Austria, Bulgarian, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Russia.

Here’s the chair.

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Down By the River

Well, there I was downbehind the Comstock community center, checking out the new wildflower walk, going along the mowed trails that lead you to the Kalamazoo River, and I found this bottle.  I figured I knew what it was, the residue of the one-pot method of synthesizing crystal meth, but I touched the top of it anyway, just to get a better look, and to pose the bottle for this photo, which I took with my phone. Then I looked around and felt an eerie silence and was not sure that the meth makers weren’t there hiding out. I looked around for a weapon, spotted a nice sized rock, but decided to leave anyway.

I swatted at mosquitoes and called the non-emergency number for the Kalamazoo County Police, and ended up tangled in a complicated phone tree. After pressing four options, I hung up and called 911. The guy asked me where I was (we had a big back and forth about that, since he thought by “river” I meant River Street). I waited for forty-five minutes and called back, and got the same operator. He said there was a shift change and could I wait longer. I said, I had things to do and you guys can find it without me, surely, and so I left.

On the way home, I touched my neck and whatever was on my fingertips burned my skin, and so I was in a hurry to get home and wash myself off. But I got myself behind a school bus full of teeny tiny kids, and I was slowed down a bit in a way that was sort of stressful, but also comical and sweet, because kids that age are so cute getting off a bus with their little backpacks and lunchboxes and such.

Then I kind of regretted not waiting.  I mean, I had a bunch of things to do, stuff to prepare to mail at the post office and phone calls to make before five o’clock, emails I’d neglected.  But I think I would have liked meeting the cop, walking with him or her down by the river, asking some questions about the meth situation. Maybe we would have seen the culprits in their hiding places. Maybe I would have defended the cop with a big stick. It would have been something different anyhow. Maybe the cop would have said something that I hadn’t heard before.

So I’m thinking of changing my ways.  I’ve got all kinds of obligations (work, writing, household, family) and then I’ve got some things I would like to do that aren’t necessarily obligations, such as meeting new people, following mysterious trails, visiting with people I like, but haven’t seen in ages, cracking black walnuts.  I think I’m going to start neglecting some of my obligations instead.  June is all tied up, but  I’m going to start slacking off in July. I’ll apologize in advance to those who will feel let down by my neglect,  but if you’ve got something interesting I just have to see or do, drop me a line.

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Come celebrate the paperback release!

Hometown Book Release Event

The initial release of Once Upon a River was a wild event, and so for the paperback release we’ll keep it calm and cool and relaxing.

Two Events this June

The cover of this book says that Once Upon a River is a National Bestseller.  Go figure!  Well, that’s just fine, and now that it is coming out in paperback, I want to invite all of you to celebrate \

June 3, Sunday, 3-6pm Reception

Old Dog Tavern, 402 East Kalamazoo Ave., Kalamazoo, MI (269) 381-5677

  •  Come in and get your book signed and have a drink and a snack with the gang.
  • Listen to Steve Barrett and Leonard Duke play fine acoustic music.
  • Meet folks from the Kalamazoo River Cleanup Coalition, who will be there to talk about what their organization is doing to help get PCBs out of the Kalamazoo River.
  •  Michigan News Agency will be selling books

June 4, Monday, 6-8:30 pm

Comstock Township Library      6130 King Highway  (269) 345-0136

 6:00  pm  River Walk

with BJC and Gary Wager of the Kalamazoo River Cleanup Coalition (meet outside the library at 5:45)

7:00 Author Reading, Talk, Q&A

at the Comstock Township library, followed by a book signing. Come on in and say hello to me, my friends and family, including her mom, Susanna Campbell.

Kazoo Books will sell Books at this event.

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The Night for Notable Michigan Books

We all had a great time in Lansing, Michigan last Saturday when Michigan luminaries got together and shared our love of books.  I somehow got tapped to moderate a panel with the two heavyweights, National Book Award fiction winners, Jaimy Gordon (Lord of Misrule) and Jesmyn Ward (Salvage the Bones.) The event was at the Library of Michigan and darling Christopher took some photos.


Here we are, the three of us, Jaimy in the middle, up on stage in front of the assembled crowd, which included former governor Jim Blanchard, among other Michigan notables. I was very happy to be asking the questions rather than answering them, and if you want to know whether two glasses of wine affects my ability to moderate, well, you will have to click on this link to the videotaped interview. (I’m not recommending it, but am merely offering it



Chris took this photo of all of us assembled on stage. I was a notable author this year, so I’m in the photo, while Jaimy Gordon was notable in 2010.

1st row, left to right:  Susan Whitall, Kevin John, Sara Fitzgerald, Thomas Wilson, M. Christine Byron, Bruce Kopytek, Jack Dempsey, Jane Shapiro

2nd row, left to right:  Dan Johnson, Bill Vlasic, BONNIE JO CAMPBELL, Ellen Airgood, Scott Sparling, Keith Taylor, Anthony Youn and Colleen Murray Fisher

Though very notable, Jesmyn’s book was not officially a Michigan Notable book as she only lived in Michigan while she was getting her MFA in creative writing at U of M and she writes about her native Mississippi.

I was so happy to snag some extra tickets to share with my friends.  Here are some of them:


Here are my girl pals Susan Ramsey and Jamie Blake, who were great company in the car on the way there. (Chris drove, so we chatted).


And it was great fun to have my Lansing bookselling pals here too, Scott Harris (owner of Everybody Reads) and Randall Glumm (former owner of Way Station Books). These guys make any party funner.


Here’s a photo Chris took of Sandra Seaton (playwright and librettist), Peter Blickle (Jaimy’s Peter) and Jaimy Gordon.


Here I am talking to Governor Blanchard.  By now I’ve had another glass of wine, so I just kept grinning at him. The thing behind us is a little rock garden

Here’s a photo in which Jesmyn is smiling. I think she is not drinking before going on stage. Smart gal!

And this is another photo of Jesmyn, here looking thoughtful.

If you haven’t heard enough about this event or the Michigan Notable Books program, here is Bill Castanier’s column about the evening’s event:


And here is the Library of Michigan’s official site listing their twenty choices.


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Story Week – Columbia College – Chicago

What a great time was had by all at the 25th Annual Story Week, eight days of events put together by and supported by the Fiction Dept. at Columbia College. The topic this year was “Surviving the American Dream.” Chicago was alive with fiction.  I felt fortunate to be a special guest, along with Heidi W. Durrow, Dagoberto Gilb, Young Jean Lee, Samuel Park, John Sayles, Christine Sneed, Nami Mun and Patricia Ann McNair, along with the whole fiction dept. at Columbia. Here’s the link:


If you missed it this year, be sure to catch it in March 2013.


The Columbia folks put me up in a great penthouse apartment, which afforded me a 270 degree view of the city, and because the weather was unseasonably warm, I got to hang around outside on the roof. The above photo is taken by Jason Pettus of the Chicago Literature and Photography Center, and you can hear his 45-minute unedited interview with me here:



Here’s a night photo I managed to inexpertly take with my own camera.


I shared my fabulous penthouse apartment with an artist couple, Loy McWhirter and Bruce Greene.  Loy McWhirter is an artist and musician who was at Columbia for the Book Arts Department, and she showed me her homemade scrabble game. Isn’t it gorgeous?  Bruce Greene is a fiddler from North Carolina. Here’s his old tyme music hall of fame page:  http://www.oldtimemusic.com/FHOFGreene.html


This is a photo with Cyn Vargas, one of the brilliant Columbia College graduate students who took my mini-course on modular fiction.


This was a fun bunch of Columbia students who stayed after my reading to apply American Salvage Tattoos.

Here’s a big fan, Alex Kretchmar, who wanted a signature, but didn’t have his book with him.

And then there were the official events.  Don DeGrazia interviewed me in the afternoon, and we talked about sex, among other things.  In the evening, Donna Seaman, Booklist editor, and interviewer extraordinaire, raked me over the coals and made me answer the hard questions. (Actually, I’m kidding. Donna Seaman, who has a radio show on WBEZ, is the smartest reviewer and kindest person in the literary world)    Also, it was great to be on a panel with Patricia McNair, Christine Sneed, Samuel Park, and Nami Mun. I’m wondering why I didn’t get any photos of those events.

Samuel Park did get some photos and he put up a great blog about Story Week that includes a detailed account of our panel: http://samuelpark.com/2012/04/15/storyweek-festival-of-writers-16/

I want to thank Randy Albers and the whole fiction department for making Story Week happen, and for giving me the opportunity to work with Columbia’s graduate and undergraduate students. Cheers!

Below is one more photo from my penthouse, showing how the El Train looks.


And here’s Unca Terry on the roof, looking over Terry’s Alma mater, Roosevelt University.

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Oakland University visit

Oakland University is a lovely place to visit!  The folks there brought me in to visit some classes (Jeff Chapman’s Advanced fiction and Susan Hawkin’s Literature class) and then give a reading.  I was taking a lot of cold medicine,  and so I may have said some wacky things during the Q&A.   After my reading, Gladys Cardiff generously escorted me to dinner at Rojo Mexican Bistro in Rochester, along with Dawn Newton and two smart students.  Here we are posed in front of a mural in the restaurant Gladys Cardiff (back left with turquoise necklace) was getting her PhD at Western Michigan University at the same time I was getting my MFA; Dawn Newton (back right) and I are pals from numerous writing events; in the blue shirt is Liz Silverman and in the red sweater is Christina McDaniel. I slept very well in the Royal Park Hotel and ate delicious oatmeal with berries in the morning.

Below is a photo that James Tomlinson sent me of the two of us.  He also wrote about my reading of “Shotgun Wedding” on his blog http://motorcityburningpress.blogspot.com/

Thanks, James, for you thoughtful review.

While I was in Rochester, I learned that there was a Whole Foods and a Trader Joe’s there, so I was a little slower getting out of town than I would have been otherwise.  Those of you who do not live in Western Michigan may not be aware that we do not have a single Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods East of Ann Arbor.  Yes, we are suffering.

So I want to thank everyone at Oakland University for a great visit.

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Eating at AWP 2012 in Chicago

Okay, here’s my second WordPress blog.  I think I forgot all I learned by putting up my first blog.  I’m sharing some photos from AWP in Chicago, most of which were taken in restaurants. At home I pretty much eat the same thing every day, so it was pretty exciting to be eating fancy foods in respectable establishments.

This is taken of me and some of my brilliant former students from Pacific University by a kind stranger at The Bean in Chicago (BJC, Ellen Michaelson, Heather Sappenfield, Sue Staats.)  Below see a photo of our food at the Gage restaurant, 24 S. Michigan Avenue, we went to together.

Heather and I both had beet salads, and I wished they were more generous in proportion. Sue had a wild mushroom sandwich and a cup of soup with fries.  Ellen had a seared steak salad.

In the Gage bathroom, we found this great old sink, and all three gals washed their hands at the same time. Later we went to the Corner Bakery and ate pastries

Here Karen and I are at the great tapas restaurant Mercat a la Planxa, 638 S. Michigan.  Angela took the photo. Karen and Angela V. are from the nonprofit organization Literature For All Of Us http://www.literatureforallofus.org/  Below, find a close up of my bowl of trufflized turnip soup with stuff on to

The stuff on the cracker is proscuitto, fig, goat cheese, and green stuff.

The evening after taking part in the National Book Critics Circle reading, I was honored to go to dinner with some NBCC folks, in an event organized by Jane Ciabattari, and we sat in a private room at the back of a restaurant called Gioco, 1312 W. Wabash. I sat next to Bruce McPherson, who published Jaimy Gordon’s National Book award winning Lord of Misrule. Across from me was Jaimy.  On my left sat YA author Lucy Silag, and next to her sat her mom, Jane Smiley, and on the other side of Jane Smiley was Darrin Strauss (2011 NBCC winner in autobiography). Jane, Lucy, and Darrin left early to go to the Literary Death Match, in which Jane was either competing or judging.  Jaimy and Bruce also left early to go to a second dinner with other people.  Those of us who remained are pictured below.  We all loved that the doors to the private room in which we were eating became book shelves.

From left to right: Christie Cooke (who teaches at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence,Kansas), Isabel Wilkerson (winner of the 2010 NBCC award in Nonfiction), Denise Low-Weso (President of Board of Directors of AWP, Jane Ciabattari (National Book Critics Circle Vice President and organizer of NBCC AWP event), Noreen Tomassi, (Director of the Center for Fiction in NYC).

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Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress.com. After you read this, you should delete and write your own post, with a new title above. Or hit Add New on the left (of the admin dashboard) to start a fresh post.

Here are some suggestions for your first post.

  1. You can find new ideas for what to blog about by reading the Daily Post.
  2. Add PressThis to your browser. It creates a new blog post for you about any interesting  page you read on the web.
  3. Make some changes to this page, and then hit preview on the right. You can always preview any post or edit it before you share it to the world.
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