Category Archives: DIY

Paper Roses and Marigolds . . . and Costumes!

vintageprintable-comflowerfairy

Image from VintagePrintable.com via Pinterest

This week I received a note from a friend. She’s read about my life through my newsletter, so I was very happy to finally get a glimpse into her life. When readers share, a connection is made. It’s beautiful!

Virginia (she signs her emails “Virg”) told me about her gardening history, how she’d had a lot of fun over the years tending gardens that she didn’t actually own. One she tended for 14 years, a church garden across the street from where she lived. When the Episcopalian priest went on vacation, she’d also take care of the “manse.” (Oooh, I thought, a manse! I wanted to see it, and the garden!) Other adopted gardens were a vacation rental by the water every August, and her son and daughter-in-law’s garden. As it was nearing Halloween, Virg mused on how she wished she had some marigolds. They would be just the thing for her black Depression glass salt and pepper shakers. Earlier she’d written to me about how her mother put garden flowers in the tiny containers, so fairy-like, so charming.

After mentioning the marigolds she wrote, “If I were my mother I’d just whip up a few crepe paper  marigolds! If I were only a witch I would conjure up a few. Concentrate, concentrate, visualize——I’m in a trance—I’ll let you know if it works.

No, no not daisies, marigolds!”

I grinned reading that—and thought about marigolds, the favorite flower of El Dia de los Muertos, or the Mexican Day of the Dead. I’ve been fascinated with that celebration for a long time—so much more meaningful than just dressing up and candy!

The thought of crepe paper marigolds really intrigued me. My mother had mentioned making flowers and decorations out of paper as a kid, but by the 1960s it was considered pretty “old-fashioned.” Decorations and fake flowers were now mass-produced.

I looked it up and found that others were intrigued by these delicate creations. Of course they sold them on Etsy. WHAT FUN!

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12 Button Mums, 1″ size, for only $4.80 on Etsy at ZoBeDesigns!

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From SnootyBlooms on Etsy – 12 for $12.99!

simplecraftideamarigolds

I thought these were amazing. They’re not for sale, but you can learn how to make them at the website Simple Craft Ideas.

I wrote Virg back with the links to these blooms. I asked her if I could share her thoughts on crepe paper flowers and the holidays. She wrote back,

“I’m flattered, be my guest. I remember sitting in my crib downstairs when I was sick watching  Mom making crepe paper flowers at the dining room table after supper while listening to Wayne King (the waltz king) playing The Waltz You Saved For Me, The Lady Ester program—radio, of course.  I Remember Dennison crepe paper. This was BIG business back in the day. Look up the Dennison crepe paper costume books from the 20’s and 30’s, you will not believe Marie Antoinette in crepe paper complete with roses.!!!!! Do you have your black candles ready?”

She then sent me the link to a book on crepe paper costumes, which I ordered, and then she sent me a link for a free PDF of the book, How to Make Crepe Paper Flowers, now in the public domain, from the Dennison paper company.

Again—WHAT FUN. I was especially happy to the marigolds! Maybe next year I would (finally) be all set for El Dia de los Muertos. Maybe I would have some black candles, too!

Last night I found another free book, this one from Internet Archives. How to Make Paper Costumes, also from Dennison. It gives instructions for all kinds of enchanting costumes, including those that celebrate nature—flowers, vegetables, butterflies, birds, even “the elements.”

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Lily, Sweet Pea, and Jonquil

Somehow I feel that I will try this craft—or at the minimum enjoy some beautiful flowers from Etsy.

Perhaps poinsettias?

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Crepe Paper Flowers, by Chris, via Wikimedia Commons

Thanks for connecting with me, Virg. You certainly brightened my Halloween!

—Sandra Knauf

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Sandra Knauf is the one-woman-show behind Greenwoman Publishing. Her books include the six-volume series Greenwoman, (a literary digest), her young adult fantasy novel, Zera and the Green Man, and an anthology of sexy gardening stories that she says is the feminist gardener answer to Fifty Shades of GreyFifty Shades of Green. She was a 2008-09 featured “Colorado Voices” columnist for The Denver Post and her humorous essays have appeared nationally in GreenPrints and MaryJanesFarm. Sandra lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado with her family, dogs, huge urban garden, and lots of books.

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Today through Saturday, October 1st – ZERA AND THE GREEN MAN – 99 Cents!

Zera Pin - Green Woman I'm a Firm Believer

Quote from Zera and the Green Man (drawing by Mike Beenenga). All posters are by Lisa Repka.

 

I should have told everyone about this Monday, but it’s been one of those weeks.

Anyhow, my young adult novel is on sale, Kindle edition, and I think you should download it today or tomorrow! I really want you to read it!

I’m currently making notes for the sequel, and will be writing it this fall and winter.

Here’s the link! Tell your friends!

XO,

—Sandra Knauf

 

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Apples are Ruling My Life

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“Eleven million apple trees in Virginia produce fine fruit for the markets of the world with plenty of culls for canneries.” From the Library of Virginia’s 1939 World’s Fair Photograph Collection.

When I close my eyes, I see apples. When I step out my back door, I smell apples. When I look out my front door and windows, I see apples clinging to the trees and lying on the ground. For several weeks as I lie in bed at night I hear them falling, landing with a hollow thud.

We recently moved to five acres in Penrose. The half-acre, wedge-shaped orchard has thirty mature trees, twenty-five of them are apple and twenty of those are loaded with fruit.

Everyone I talk to, I ask if they’d like some apples. I cut and core apples for sauce, crisp, and pies. I freeze apples, I juice apples, but mostly I pick up and sort apples.

Initially I had three grades; human consumption, horse or deer consumption, and compost. Now that the neighbors’ horses are “appled out” and we aren’t going to Cedar Heights to feed the deer, I only have 2 grades; consumption and compost. Wormholes, bird pecks, squirrel bites, bad bruises or sunburn doom an apple to compost.

If I pick up the apples that fall daily, it takes two hours; if I miss a day, it takes four hours. I can empathize with migrant workers and they do this all day every day, with no end in sight. My livelihood doesn’t depend on my speed, however my sanity does, so I try to work as quickly as possible.

The apples are various sizes. I can barely pick up two of the largest ones in one hand, but I can handle six of the smallest. The taste varies too, sweet to puckery. Some have thin skins and other thick, some have small dark hard seeds and others pale soft ones. The colors vary greatly: deep crimson, wine purple, rose to pale green and light yellow.

As I’m picking up apples, I am sampling the fruits from the trees, determining my favorites. One tree seems to have two different types of apples, on one side, the apples are considerably smaller. Maybe it is the amount of sunlight since I don’t see a graft line on the trunk where the branches connect.

One tree is the favorite of the birds. I don’t know if that’s because of its placement in the orchard (it is shaded by a large elm) or the quality of the apples. There are no apples left on that tree. I didn’t like those apples too much, I thought they were mushy.

I had to get a handle on all these apples. The boxes were filling up the garage and I’d contacted everyone I could think of that might like apples. I called Care and Share to see if they were interested in apple donations. The guy I talked to was thrilled. “We’ll take all you can bring us,” he said. I felt such relief. I’m composting apples that I’d be using in a lean year and feeling guilty about it, so now I can feel good about my apple picking efforts. So far, we’ve taken three loads of apples to C&S – about 1,000 lbs.

A few weeks ago when one neighbor told me that I should spray my apple trees, I never dreamed that I’d have this many. Of course, I told him no. I want my apples to be organic and safe. It’s nice to have plenty to share with the birds, squirrels, rabbits and of course with the hungry people of Colorado Springs.

I figure that I still have a few more weeks of apple-ing before all the trees are bare. The strange thing is that I still love apples. I eat stewed apples everyday for breakfast and have several while I’m working in the orchard. When I get thirsty and come into the house for something to drink, you guessed it – I have apple juice.

I’ll enjoy the fruits of this summer all winter and to encourage next year’s crop perhaps I’ll follow the tradition that Thoreau writes of in his essay, “Wild Apples.”

“. . . on Christmas eve . . . they salute the apple-trees with much ceremony, in order to make them bear well the next season . . . This salutation consists in ‘throwing some of the cider about the roots of the tree, placing, bits of toasts on the branches,’ and then, ‘encircling one, of the best bearing trees in the orchard, they drink the following toast three several times: —

‘Here’s to thee, old apple-tree,
Whence thou mayst bud, and whence thou mayst, blow,
And whence thou mayst bear apples enow!
Hats-full! caps-full!
Bushel, bushel, sacks-full!
And my pockets full, too! Hurra!’ ”

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Pat Cook Gulya enjoys Colorado living; biking, hiking, gardening and attempting to capture such experiences through words. She teaches and practices yoga and now has the luxury of living rather than worrying about making a living. She grows a variety of plants in her urban yard, and, thanks to Colorado’s legalization of marijuana, can now cultivate a favorite plant. Her work has been aired on NPR affiliate, KRCC’s, “Western Skies” and published in Greenwoman Magazine, Senior BeaconSprings Magazine, and The Gazette.

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The Green Wasteland

canstockphoto1881083 (3)vintage lawnmowers

Image from CanStockPhoto.

My sister and I ended many summer afternoons in the 1970s green from the knees of our jeans down, sweaty, and reeking of gas and exhaust. As servants of the Great American Lawn, we regularly mowed ours, the elderly Miss Howard’s next door, our grandma’s, and once in a while, our great Aunt Flora’s.

It was work that was necessary, and our lawn in particular was well used—the six kids in our family played games of tag, pitch and catch, badminton, and we used the space, as teenagers, for sunbathing. Dad saw physical labor as the best character-builder, so he “volunteered” us to maintain it. We received $5 a lawn, to share.

I didn’t mind the work, but Missouri summers were hot and humid, and occasionally at Miss Howard’s I ran over a toad (a horrifying thing).

I learned more about turf at age 20, verifying sales for a lawn-care company in Colorado Springs. I telephoned clients, confirming that they had joined our fertilizer/weed killer program, with insecticide and/or fungicide treatments as needed. With our help, their lawns would be the envy of the neighborhood!

During our one-day training, we learned to instruct clients with pets to remove dog and cat bowls before spraying, as there had been pet deaths from tainted water. We also cautioned them to keep pets and people off the grass until the applications dried. It sickened me to realize that the men who drove the trucks and sprayed these toxins daily would inhale them, get them on their clothing, their skin, and bring these toxins home. I wondered why people would pay good money for lawns you wouldn’t want a baby crawling on.

A decade later, as a college grad, mom, and hobby gardener, I had my own lawn—or, rather, weed/native grass lot. Seduced by the American ideal, we installed sod in our backyard. For a while, it looked gorgeous; but without pampering, chemicals, or a sprinkler system, it deteriorated fast. In Colorado, as in most parts of our country, lawns require not only constant maintenance but constant life support.

A few years later when I became a master gardener, I determined to get rid of our lawn. Bit by bit, with a tiny budget and lots of elbow grease, I created a garden instead—with fruit trees, herbs, flowers, native plants, sandstone paths, even a goldfish pond. I kept patches of grass/weeds for our dogs (and the occasional badminton game for the kids) and maintained it with a reel mower, enjoying a good workout in the process. Our established xeric garden requires less maintenance than a lawn. Except for the vegetable garden, I water once a week, deeply, and I do not water the grass/weeds at all.

I realize that turf is a multibillion-dollar U.S. industry and many are wedded to the old ways. Lawns, those pretty green carpets, do have an aesthetic charm, and they are good for sports. But they don’t support butterflies, honeybees, birds, or other wildlife, and caring for one is the antithesis of green. Five percent of all our nation’s air pollution comes from gas-powered lawn mowers. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, one gas-powered mower, used for one hour, emits as much pollution as eight new cars driven at 55 mph for the same time.

According to the EPA, Americans burn 800 million gallons of fuel each year trimming their lawns. Of this, 17 million gallons of fuel, mostly gasoline, are spilled each year while refueling lawn equipment. This is more than the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez. Fertilizer pollution is a huge problem, and lawns require significant water, yet another burden on our limited resources.

In addition, nearly 80 million pounds of pesticide active ingredients are used on U.S. lawns annually. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that “homeowners use up to 10 times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops.”

It’s past time to see traditional lawns for what they have become: antiquated, wasteful, and harmful. I propose that we return to our roots—cottage gardens. Gardens assist nature on a meaningful scale, and they are excellent outdoor classrooms/playgrounds for children and adults. My children had more fun in our back yard than I ever did in the 1970s as they had chickens, and flowers, and a pond—and lots of places to let their imagination run wild. Our home landscapes can also provide us with locally-grown food. You cannot grow luscious plums, pull up sweet carrots, snip chives for your potatoes (and grow potatoes, too), pick wildflower bouquets, or provide bird sanctuary or forage for honeybees with a grass lawn.

As the industrialized world races toward green living, homeowners everywhere can make a difference. It’s easy—take up your shovel and start getting rid of your lawn.

References:
People Powered Machines (much of their information comes from the EPA),
http://www.peoplepoweredmachines.com/faq-environment.htm

Environment and Human Health, Inc.,
http://www.ehhi.org/reports/lcpesticides/summary.shtml

CSU Extension Service,
http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/consumer/09952.html

Note from the author: This essay originally appeared in The Denver Post in 2009. I think it’s also one of the most important essays I’ve ever written, especially in light of the honeybee collapse that we now know is caused in great part by the use of insecticides and other toxins. The year I wrote this, turf was a billion dollar a year cash crop in Colorado. But the recession had just begun, and the numbers have changed as the lawn industry was impacted and continues to be. Times have changed (back then we did not imagine that marijuana would become our #4 cash crop in five years!), but lawns are still the norm for the home landscape. Fifty percent of all water used by homeowners in Colorado is used outdoors.

When I went to check the numbers last year, when this piece appeared in US Represented, I found few updates, but a new report on the EPA site showed, in alarming detail, the health impact on humans of not only lawn mowers, but all lawn and garden equipment. It is titled “National Lawn and Garden Equipment Emissions” and was written by Jamie Banks, PhD, MS, of Quiet Communities, Inc. and Robert McConnell of the U.S. EPA, Region 1. Here’s the link for this must-read.

—Sandra Knauf

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Michele Parker’s Garden Love

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I met Michele Parker last June, via email, when I sent a love letter to those who followed my newsletter. I wanted to make a deeper connection with my readers, I wanted to get to know those who were getting a glimpse into my life, my artistic dreams. A half-dozen souls answered my message in a bottle. Warmly and openly they shared their lives, their art, their garden dreams. I got to know them and was thrilled to share their beautiful paintings, poems, and stories.

I thought, Wow, how lucky I am to know these people!

I connected with them all, but Michele and I really hit it off.

This woman, who describes herself as “loving all things green, winged and dressed in fur,” is a force of nature (oh, the powers she embodies: a keen intellect, so many talents, and amazing energy), and yet the most beautiful thing about her is her wise, gentle soul. We connected deeply when we discovered that an experience I had written about years ago dovetailed (in a supernatural way!) to an experience in her life. It’s a long story that I hope to share one day, but let’s just say that it involved those who have passed on bringing us together. We call it “big magic,” a la Elizabeth Gilbert’s book. Michele and I became pen pals, shooting off dozens of emails, sharing joys, trials, ambitions, loves. You know something special is happening when you write a long email, press the send button, and the person you’re writing has written you at exactly the same time! That’s happened more than once.

I could go on and on about Michele, but I will instead do what I’ve set out to do and introduce you to her via an interview. You see, today is very special. It’s Earth Day and Michele is launching her new brand new blog, Garden Love! Her first post tells about her start as a gardener almost 20 years ago on her five acre, Zone 3, piece of land in Manitoba, Canada.

Sandra Knauf

Michele sitting by pond adjusted

Michele.

 

Flora’s Forum: Congratulations on your blog launch! Love and gardening, Garden Love. Yes, that says it all. How did you get your start in gardening?

Michele Parker: Thank you! The love of gardening is all down to my mother. Her greatest joy was nurturing the growth of plants. Each home we lived in growing up was filled with all manner of trailing, arching, bushy, spiky, flowering and upright plants. Seeds were started in the basement and transplanted in the backyard, trees planted, garden beds created . . . chives and herbs lived happily outside the back door and close to the kitchen.

The Findhorn Garden was one of her favourite books, and it led both of us deeper into the wonder and magic of co-creating with naturebeyond the practical aspects of planting and into the mystery of life itself. My website is dedicated in loving memory to her.

 

Bluebird Clematis in the garden

“The vine in this picture is Macropetala clematis ‘Bluebird.’ She’s been in place there for almost 20 years and I have a post on her in Garden Love. My blog will include Plant Profiles of some of my hale and hearty favourites every so often, just to highlight some of the plants that have been exceptional and admired for one reason or another.”

Flora’s Forum: I love your style—very cottage garden-y, with the vegetables and flowers, a blend of easy-going and organized. Who are your style influences?

English gardens have always been my first love. The novels of Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy and of course, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden are dear to my heart and have been a huge influence on my garden style. I admire the English garden designer, Rosemary Vereyshe designed many quintessential English Country Gardens, including the Barnsley House gardens in the Cotswolds. I own several of her books and often return to them for a good inspirational shot in the arm whenever I need it.

On a more contemporary side, I have also been deeply inspired by the writing and gardens of Patrick Lima, a Canadian gardener who lives on the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario. His writing beautifully illustrates the growth and changes within his beloved Larkwhistle garden. If you get a chance to read his book The Art of Perennial Gardening I highly recommend it!

Flora’s Forum: Do you have any unusual garden obsessions? 

Michele Parker: Oh myYES! Aquilegia is my garden obsessioncommon name is columbine. The native Aquilegia canadensis has happily self-seeded in my garden for years, which has led me to explore all the colourful hybrids as well. Two years ago I purchased 7 seed packets of varying colours, shapes and sizes and tossed them with abandon into the garden surrounding my pond. I started to doubt my haphazard approach until this spring as I scratched around the fallen litter to discover tiny aquilegia seedlings emerging from the ground. I just about peed my pants I was so excited! I will definitely be sharing their progress on the Garden Love blog.

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“This is a southfacing foundation bed at what used to be the front of the ‘little blue house’ that was on the property. (Our addition is to the left.) All the perennials have meshed together and run in wild abandon: shasta daisies, daylilies, hostas. Virginia creeper, hops, and clematis ‘Jacmanii’ are the vines you see climbing the side of the house.”

Flora’s Forum: If you could only grow flowers or veggies, what would you choose, and why? (I think this means practical or frivolous to some, but not to me!)

Michele Parker: Flowers. There are many ways I can feed my body . . . but my Soul requires flowers.

Flora’s Forum: I agree! Sometimes I feel guilty about that, a little, because I feel I should grow even more food, but I can’t help it! What are your favorite books (gardening, fiction, nonfiction), authors, and music? 

Michele Parker: The books which have struck a resonating chord with me . . . Richard Bach’s Johnathan Livingston Seagull, The Reluctant Messiah, and One all contained a theme of following your heart and a knowing that there is more to living than meets the eye. Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet was a book my brother Jim gave me which touched me deeply with its prose and message of unconditional love. Mary Stewart’s tale of a young Merlin discovering his natural gifts in The Crystal Cave was an enchanting thrill for me to readbut one of my favourite books of all time is the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor/philosopher from the first century AD whose insights and wisdom are truly timeless.

Music is where it gets eclectic for me . . . our family grew up surrounded by musicmy Dad would often play Glenn Miller big band type music and always brought home a huge variety of music from the radio station where he was the morning man here in Winnipeg. My mom was an accomplished pianist and my brother Scott writes his own music and plays guitar beautifully. I instantly loved the piano and practically begged for lessons as a little girl. Dearest to my heart though, hands down is Beethoven. The Allegretto from his Symphony No 7 can literally bring me to tears. It’s funny, of all the songs I learned to play on the piano, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and Fur Elise have never left the memory of my fingertips . . . he is in my blood.

Flora’s Forum:  I know you paint too, and you write! A life surrounded with ART. I love it. Okay, back to gardening. What do you enjoy most about gardening? What do you hate?

Michele Parker: This is really difficult to answer. When I garden it is such an immersive feeling that it’s really challenging to pick out one aspect which I enjoy most. To be honest, I’ve recently had an insight into the heart of my love for gardening and nature overall which came to me on a walk the other day with the dogs . . . lost in thought, my mind swimming with ‘to do’ lists and questions, the song of a robin cut through my distraction and captured my attention instantly. I became present again to the beauty surrounding me in that moment.

Gardening, even one perfect flower, has the power to capture our attention and safely deliver us into the present moment where life is happeningaway from our stresses and worries of the future or demons of the past. I love the power of nature to heal the human spirit in this way . . . it gently reminds us to be fully present. If our mind is elsewhere when we are gardeningwe might as well be doing the dishes in the kitchen.

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“This is the vegetable garden being watered in the early morning. The scarlet runner beans are growing up a teepee I made out of branches collected from our woods–the hummingbirds of course love the red flowers, and I primarily grow it each year just for their pleasure. Our vegetable garden lies to the east of our house and receives full sun for most of the day, although there are shaded areas in the late afternoon as the sun falls behind the tall trees and house.”

Flora’s Forum: Any big projects in the works?

Michele Parker: I have a major overhaul to do in two foundation beds at the front of the house this season. Tens years of certain plants running amuck (globe thistle I’m talking to you!) and others in desperate need of dividing means I’m planning some serious refurbishing!

I’ve also become interested in creating more habitats specifically for bees and butterflies in our yard. A new butterfly garden is in the works which will include many milkweed plants for the monarch butterflies in particular, but also another flower bed which will be a lot of fun, that will contain mostly colourful and nectar-rich annual flowers just outside the vegetable garden.

My husband Ray is going to begin work on the screened back porch off our living room as well, and part of his plan there is to include two large planters on either side of the stairs which will add some more wonderful plant life to that part of our yard as well!

Flora’s Forum: I know this is Flora’s Forum, but I could very well love having a blog called Flora’s Fauna, about animals! We’re alike in that way too; mad for our pets and the wild creatures. Tell us a little about your pets, please. 

Michele Parker: Cali and Max are the true heartbeat of our home in the country. We never went looking for any of our dogs, they all just kind of found us. Max arrived one Monday afternoon when I happened to be home with the flu from work. My older dog Lily was out on the back deck and I heard her barking so went to see what the fuss was all about. Standing shyly at the side of our house was an emaciated young dog. I said “Well hello there” and he ran over and pressed his body against my legs and looked up at me as if to say “Can you please help me?” He had grown into the collar that was around his neck and was desperately in need of food. I took him to the vet and we tried for a week to find his owners but no one appeared to be looking for him. The vet phoned after a week and told me they couldn’t hold him any longer and had to ship him off to the humane society. I said, “I’ll be right over to bring him home, thank you.”

Cali came on the heels of a summer where we had to say good-bye to our beloved first dog, Lily. I promised Lily in her last days that I would bring her home again if I could, and that I would watch for her and recognize her eyes when I saw them. A random email arrived later that fall from a rescue shelter in Saskatchewan with a handful of photo attachments of a litter of puppies they were trying to find homes for. One after the other I opened and each received the customary “Ahhhh!” then the last photo I opened sent an electric shock up the back of my spine when I saw the eyes looking back at me . . . I called Ray to come and see . . . at the same moment he was calling me to run into the living room and see this dog on television that looked EXACTLY like our Lily.

I don’t ignore synchronicity in my life. . . . We drove 6 hours to pick Cali up and bring her home and she’s been the Queen of the garden ever since. I brought my girl home again.

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Max is on the left, Cali on the right.

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This is Zeus, Michele’s handsome American Paint horse. She has an amazing story about how he came into her life as well, which I hope she will share one day on Garden Love!

Flora’s Forum: That is a beautiful story about Lily/Cali! One more gardening question—do you find any big differences between American and Canadian gardeners?

Michele Parker: I’ve had a chance to meet some wonderful gardeners from Americayourself includedthat share the same passions we do here in Canada, and I have never come across any discernible differences between us. I really do believe this is a universal language we all share. The types of plants which are native to each of our varying zones may differ in form and habit, and I can only DREAM of growing magnolia trees or massive rhododendrons here, but the impulse and desire which gets us all digging in the dirt and nurturing plant life is the same wherever we are on the planet.

Flora’s Forum: I believe you’re right. The gardening heart is universal. My final question: In the overall garden of life, what’s germinating for Michele Parker now? What beautiful things will Garden Love to be the jumping off point for?

Michele Parker: Well, I’ve spent close to twenty years working in the corporate world with some incredible peoplesome will be friends for the rest of my life. I learned a lot about communication, teaching through documentation and having to think fast on my feet in order to find solutions to immediate problems. But I feel an internal shift happening that is telling me, “It’s really time for a change Michele.”

Setting up Garden Love and preparing all the tech side of things was a huge learning curve for meand yet I’ve never been so excited, scared or engaged as I feel right now. I’m doing what I absolutely LOVE; writing, sharing, expressing myself creatively and talking about gardening!

I don’t know where this will lead . . . I only know I’m open and ready for more adventures in my own backyard and can’t wait to find out what I’m going to learn from fellow gardeners in the near futurethat’s the x-factor and that’s where the magic lies . . . just keep moving forward.

Flora’s Forum: Thank you, Michele, and Happy Earth Day, everyone!

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Flocking to Freedom

By Lilly M., via Wikimedia Commons

By Lilly M., via Wikimedia Commons

 

As fall begins and the daylight wanes, my chickens start molting and stop laying eggs.  I haven’t eaten an egg in weeks, but nature is seasonal. Earlier in the year, the peaches ripened and we ate, cooked, and canned as many as we could. Later it was frozen beans and pickled cucumbers, but what all this produce has in common is a season that begins and ends. So it is with eggs. The chickens lay a few in the winter, peak in the summer and stop in the fall.

Two years ago, I brought these four birds home as two-week old chicks. When I told people I was getting chickens, we always had some variation of this conversation.

“Are you getting them as pets or for eggs?”

“Oh, they are livestock,” I would reply. They’ll provide eggs and then I’ll eat them when they get older.”

The other person, especially if she had known me a long time, would smile indulgently and suggest I was more likely to open a Chicken Retirement Home.

Sure enough, the laying hens became pets and I learned from farmers this isn’t uncommon. A three-year-old hen of a breed known for eggs yields tough meat and a certain amount of sadness at slaughter. You’ve cared for her a long time and gotten to know her, maybe she even has a name. It’s hard to let her go. If you want meat, it makes more sense to buy a batch of “meat bird” chicks. They’ve been bred to mature in six weeks and, if not slaughtered, die of heart attacks soon after. It’s easier to maintain an emotional distance and you get the added advantage of meat that’s good for more than stew.

The transition from livestock to pets began when I gave my chicks names. It happened naturally, as I watched them grow and I learned to tell them apart by the feather patterns on their heads. They became Redhead, Specklehead, Blonde Chicken and, because her head was somewhere between red and blonde, Middle Chicken.

When they grew into their feathers and out of the brooder, I built them a coop, affectionately referred to as “Chicken Shantytown”. Chicken Shantytown consists of a long cage made of hardware cloth with homemade doors at both ends. I’ve boxed in four feet with plywood and straw to protect them from the weather and provide some privacy for laying eggs.

Technically, this 30 square foot coop offers enough space for four hens, but every morning they squawk at the door, dragging their beaks along the wire, like prisoners with tin cups.

“Let us out of Chicken Jail!” I imagine they are saying. “We’re innocent!”

They are. And so I do.

All day long, my little bird friends roam around the backyard, doing what chickens were born to do. They run around and flap their wings. They eat all the kitchen scraps in what used to be the compost pile. They hold meetings under the deck. They make me laugh and remind me how to greet every day as an opportunity for something good.

And don’t forget about the eggs.

During the summer, they gave me so many eggs, I started tipping service providers with them.

“Here’s the check for the invoice and these fresh eggs are for you,” I’d say, starting yet another conversation about the novelty of keeping chickens in the city.

“What made you decide to get chickens?”

“I can’t explain it,” I always say.  “It seemed like the right thing.”

In this middle season of my life, I want the simplicity and quiet to hear God speak. I want to live like the chickens, expressing the best of my nature. I’d had enough of the rat race and its mirage of success. I wouldn’t trade my homestead and the chickens for any of its offerings.

Every day, they remind me to be grateful for that freedom.

Bonnie_Simon (2)

 

 

 

 

Bonnie Simon writes about locally owned businesses, the power of community and the American dream in Colorado Springs, CO.  Her business, Hungry Chicken Homestead, helps locally owned businesses tell their stories and connect with consumers.  Read more about Bonnie and the chickens at www.HungryChickenHomestead.com.

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Seed Library Update

Isn't it cool how seed packets fit perfectly in the old card catalogues? (Photo by David Woolley)

Old card catalog file turned into new seed library! Brilliant! (Photo by David Woolley)

 

About two and a half years ago I wrote a post on our first local seed library. It was installed at the public library in Manitou Springs, Colorado by David Woolley and Natalie Seals.

Here’s the replay on what a seed library is, if you haven’t been to one yet:

“. . . it’s a place where you can check out packets of seeds–flowers, vegetables, and herbs—to plant. In return you’re asked to donate seeds from your future harvest; usually twice as many seeds as you checked out. To some, having to harvest seeds may sound intimidating, but it really isn’t difficult. Many seeds, such as tomatoes, peppers, beans, radishes, and quite a few species of flowers, are easy to save . . . and one tomato or sunflower can produce enough seeds for many return seed packets. (If you’re still unsure, there is a lot of information online and in books on seed saving.)

What is exciting is that people begin saving and sharing their locally grown (and hopefully organically grown) seeds. It makes for stronger genetic stock that is adapted to local growing conditions. It helps people who can’t afford seeds to grow gardens, and it creates diversity, because if the library is successful many, many people will participate and share. Probably the most exciting aspect is that we can reclaim the power of owning our own seed stock and won’t have to re-purchase seed every year or be dependent on outside companies. There are myriad other benefits, but these are the ones that come to mind first. Viva la backyard farmer!”

Now for the update:

For the last three growing seasons I’ve enjoyed this library. I’ve “checked out” seeds, grew them in my garden, and returned seeds from my own harvests.  I’ve made it a point to return at least triple what I took each year. This year I brought in almost 40 packets of seeds from heirloom tomatoes, snapdragons, calendula, lettuce, hollyhock, Italian flat-leaf parsley, garlic chives, and more. Everything I bring back is organically grown and local, and that makes me feel great about being a part of this.

How’s the library doing? Well, I haven’t been able to have an in-depth talk with Director David Woolley, though I did speak with him briefly after a very well-attended talk on backyard gardening a couple of weeks ago. Woolley said the seed library was doing very well. There were many people coming in and getting seed packets. They were excited to be gardening. “Were there any problems?” I asked. Yes, he said, they are struggling a bit with getting in enough donations. There are too many who take out seeds and don’t bring back donations.

I told him I’d be happy to help, to send a few emails out to seed companies and ask them for donations. He said it was a little more complicated than that with the big seed companies, as you have to fill out paperwork, and show that the seed is going to a nonprofit. (Always, the bureaucracy!) I haven’t been able to connect with him yet to move further on this, but I wanted to get this post out today, to ask readers if perhaps they had connections with any seed companies (or perhaps seed from last year that won’t be used, or home-grown seed) for donations.  I imagine there are a lot of backyard farmers who would love to share.

A gentle reminder to those who might have forgotten to repay this service with a donation—free seed libraries will only work if we all pitch in. I know it can be intimidating, saving seed for the first time, putting them in packets and labeling them, but trust me, it’s easy! And once you do it, it becomes pretty fun.

If you haven’t yet, I hope you’ll come and check out the library. You don’t have to live in Manitou Springs as it’s open to the entire region. You don’t even have to have a library or an I.D.! How cool is that?

Check out their website for full details. There’s a wonderful FAQ written by Natalie Seals that details the process.

See you at the library!

—Sandra Knauf

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Alex Wrekk (Author, Entrepreneur, Gardener, Singer) & Her Stolen Sharpie Revolution

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Alex Wrekk - Writing Revoluntionary

Alex Wrekk – Writing Revoluntionary

 

Today I’m hosting an interview with Alex Wrekk, author of Stolen Sharpie Revolution, a D.I.Y. book on zine making. (If you don’t know what a zine is, it’s a handmade, self-published magazine.) Zines are important to me as they were my first independent foray into self-publishing. I published Greenwoman zine for a couple of years before tackling a more traditional magazine form, and it was the perfect way to test the waters. It was also empowering and thrilling to produce something “real”—a publication that I could hold in my hands, holding stories written over the years that hadn’t found a home in traditional publishing. I first heard about zines through Ariel Gore’s book, How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead (great title, don’t you think?). In essence she told writers, “Just get your work out there, make a zine!” I didn’t know what zines were, so I researched, read many of them, and learned about their history. I am still  fascinated with this personal, authentic art form.

Wrekk’s book was one of the first I sought out to help me with the nuts and bolts, so it’s a pleasure to have her on this blog. In my research, I learned Alex is an avid gardener in Portland, so of course I had to ask her about that, too. I hope you enjoy the interview!

—Sandra Knauf

Book Synopsis

Since 2002, Stolen Sharpie Revolution: a DIY Resource for Zines and Zine Culture has been the go-to guide for all things zine-related. This little red book is stuffed with information about zines. Things you may know, stuff you don’t know and even stuff you didn’t know you didn’t know!

Stolen Sharpie Revolution contains a cornucopia of information about zines and zine culture for everyone from the zine newbie to the experienced zinester to the academic researcher. Stolen Sharpie Revolution consists of thoughtful lists and step-by-step how-to guides on everything from definitions of a “zine,” where to find zines, why they are important, how to make them and how to participate in zine culture.

This book has everything you need to get started creating your own zine, or to figure out what to do with the zine you just made. Stolen Sharpie Revolution serves as both an introduction into the wide world of zine culture and as a guide to taking the next step to become a part of it.

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Flora’s Forum Interview

First off, Alex, congratulations on your latest edition of Stolen Sharpie Revolution: A DIY Zine Resource. I am so impressed with the success of this book—26,000 copies, and on it’s 5th printing—it’s a huge success! I was thinking about how many writers and artists you’ve helped through the years, taking that first step in expressing themselves through zines. That has to be incredibly gratifying.

Now, on to the questions!

Flora’s Forum: As you’re a veteran in the self-publishing industry (zinesters were self-publishing way before Amazon and other companies made it easy for the mainstream) I guess I’d like to start with—what are the big changes you’ve seen in around 20 years of self-publishing zines and books?

Alex Wrekk: In general; technology. Digital layout is more accessible, photocopiers print crisper, and the internet has changed the way zine creators and reader can interact with each other. There was this whole “blogs killed zines” thing that people kept saying and it really bothered me for awhile. Blogs and zines aren’t mutually exclusive. If anything, I think blogs have made zines better. The people who wanted the quick outlet to say something could use a blog. Those that wanted to sit down and craft something physical could make a zine. If you really want to make a zine you have to spend time to do it from the writing, layout, getting yourself to a photocopier, and finding people to actually read it.

I’ve also seen a growing connected zine community. It is easier to find distros and new zines. There are also a lot more zine fest and it is easier to find out about them. [Ed.—I highly recommend Sweet Candy Distro as a great place to buy zines.]

Flora’s Forum: Making a zine is a very tactile experience. It’s a craft and an art. Even if you design and print out a zine on your computer, you still have to put them together with folding and stapling. If you’re artistically inclined, you go a lot further, with collages, drawings, and other artwork, special bindings. Can you talk a little about how this experience differs from, say, sharing your art and/or writing on a blog?

Alex Wrekk: I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I just see them a different medium or vehicles to convey ideas. I can’t exactly explain how I come to the conclusion that something is meant for a zine page or for a blog page, it just seems like the idea is already settled when it comes to me. I know that when I write something for a zine I think if it like a letter where I’m sending it to a person and that person is going to hold it in their hand and read it by themselves in their own space. It creates a direct line from creator and consumer, often that line is blurred because the reader is also frequently a writer of zines as well. Who knows how many people could be reading a blog at the same time and if they will ever even touch the same handrail I have touched? I just love the tangibility of zines. Sometimes I even see layouts before I have the words for zines.

Flora’s Forum: How has putting out over two dozen issues of your own zine, Brainscan, through the years formed you as an artist and entrepreneur?

Alex Wrekk: I actually put out issue 31 of Brainscan last year and I’ve done dozens of one off zines. I can’t stop making zines! I think the DIY spirit leads me to do things myself. If you keep doing that, you’ll find your style and hone your version of the craft. I have a weird mental distinction between my zines and my book. My zines are my hobby, my book is my business. Strangely, the same sort of things goes for my shop. I’ve made custom buttons since 2000 but I opened a brick and mortar shop 3 years ago where I press buttons like a workshop, sell my own button designs, and I also sell zines and books. You can’t make a lot selling zines and I sort of think of that part of the store as my hobby and the buttons as the business.

Flora’s Forum: What are the best things about zines? For yourself? For readers?

Alex Wrekk: Getting a glimpse of someone’s world and then, when you keep reading new issues of their zine, you get to revisit that world. That’s why I like to read zines, I’m not so sure about everyone else.

I also love the connections I have made through zines. I was hanging out the other night with some friends and one of their friends who I had never met before asked how we knew each other. My friend and I looked at each other and at the same time said “zines” These were people that had just moved to Portland 6 months ago but I had known the, through zines for years. Through zines I’ve let strangers stay in my basement and they have become some of my best friends. I started a band (with songs all about zines) with members from 3 different countries. I’ve been flown to France to be on a panel to discuss zines. I got a free ticket to Coachella because I helped with a zine workshop at the festival. I’ve been on cross country zine tours, one of them was with 5 friends from the UK. I’ve met some of the most amazing and intereesting people through zines. It almost feels like zines have been the backdoor into a lot of really cool experiences for me and for others.

Flora’s Forum: Are there any drawbacks/pitfalls to zine publishing?

Alex Wrekk: We all cringe at our early issues. Also, it’s not really something that will ever make you much money if you keep to zines. I’m ok with that. I see it as a hobby for me.

Flora’s Forum: Will you tell us about your garden? I read about it and enjoyed the Facebook album of your beautiful cottage-style garden. You have ornamentals, herbs, vegetables, a hummingbird garden, a compost pile—it’s obvious you have a lot of passion for many aspects of gardening. What do you have planned for the upcoming year? And how are the arts of gardening and zine publishing alike?

Alex Wrekk: I feel really bad because after opening the shop I haven’t has as much time to spend in my garden. When I worked at home I’d just let myself get distracted for a bit of gardening when I had a few minutes. This year I plan to do better, I’ve already been looking at seed catalogs and I have a friend who wants to help out. This year is a year of judicious pruning. I have a wisteria that is trying to eat my house and cedar tree and needs to be taught a lesson. There is a shrub that seemed to grow a few feet while I wasn’t looking that could use a lesson as well. Once spring comes around I’m going to take stock of the hummingbird garden and see what made it through the winter and figure out what needs to be moved or added. There’s a honeysuckle that has gone a bit wild over there as well. I think a lot of my garden need some firmer borders. We’ve been talking about taking out our chain-link fence and putting in a wooden one.

Hrm, I suppose gardening is a lot like writing. You just look at all your beautiful words/flowers and think you want them all, but that foxglove really would be happier at the back of the house and sometimes there is such a thing as too many daisies. Sometimes as beautiful as wisteria is, less would be more.

Flora’s Forum: Are there any gardening zines out there you could recommend?

Alex Wrekk: Off the top of my head I can only think of one that I have in the Portland Button Works shop called Growing Things that is good, especially for beginning gardeners.

Flora’s Forum: Thanks for sharing, Alex. It was a pleasure.

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Alex Wrekk’s Bio

Alex Wrekk’s life revolves around making things; primarily zines, custom pinback buttons(badges), vegan food, travel plans, and space for a cat in her bed.

Alex Wrekk has lived in Portland, Oregon since 1999 and has been creating the zine Brainscan since 1997. Brainscan zine has grown and changed with Alex over the years with stories ranging from travel, reproductive health, love and loss, emotional abuse recovery, zine culture, and even fiction all wrapped up in text and photocopier art. She also wrote the book Stolen Sharpie Revolution: A DIY Guide for Zines and Zine Culture that is now entering its 5th edition.

When Alex isn’t doing zine things she is doing other zine things like organizing the Portland Zine Symposium, establishing July as International Zine Month, commiserating with Zine Event Organizers around the world, updating the zine event listings on StolenSharpieRevolution.org, hosting the podcast Nobody Cares About Your Stupid Zine Podcast, fidgeting with her Risograph printer, reading from her zines out loud on zine tours or singing in a zine themed pop-punk band called The Copy Scams.

Alex has been making custom pinback buttons since 2000 under various business names. In 2012 Alex opened Portland Button Works and zine distro, an online and brick and mortar shop in Portland, Oregon selling zines and books and making custom buttons, bottle openers, and magnets in 4 different sizes. She also maintains an Etsy shop with the same name.

Alex Wrekk twitter http://twitter.com/alexwrekk

Stolen Sharpie Revolution Facebook https://www.facebook.com/stolensharpierevolution

Stolen Sharpie Revolution.org http://www.stolensharpierevolution.org

Portland Button Works Website www.portlandbuttonworks.com

 

GIVEAWAY INFO:

Alex is giving away 5 print copies of Stolen Sharpie Revolution + a Custom Stolen Sharpie with each one. This is an international giveaway! Please click the link below to enter.

Stolen Sharpie Book Sage Blog Tours

 

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P. S.:  I couldn’t resist showing a couple of covers  from my Greenwoman zines. I went from full-color to a more traditonal, much less expensive b&w cover over the course of the two years that I was a zinester. It was a great learning experience and a whole lot of fun.

 

The artwork for my very first zine! You can still get a copy of it on my Greenwoman Magazine website.

The artwork for my very first zine! You can still get a copy of it on my Greenwoman website.

The last issue, #6. I would highly recommend zine-

The last issue, #6. I love this fairy girl with her basket of figs.

P. P. S. I just discovered that Comments was “off” on this post. I fixed that but it looks like it won’t change it for previously posted work. Sorry about that!

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Short and Sweet – Bruce Holland Rogers’ Fiction Subscriptions

Bruce Holland Rogers

Bruce Holland Rogers

 

For over a decade Bruce Holland Rogers’ fans have been enjoying his work in small, regular doses. For $10 a year he sends subscribers 36 amazing stories, three per month. The tales are described as an “unpredictable mix of literary fiction, science fiction, fairy tales, mysteries and work that is hard to classify.” Those who know his work describe them as addictive.

You can visit his site here and even sample almost a dozen stories for free. My favorites are “Dinosaur” and “The Bullfrog and His Shadows.”

Subscribers to short.short.short are encouraged to forward stories to friends; that’s how I was introduced to Bruce years ago. Once I got a taste I had to sign up. Bruce’s work is masterful, and there’s almost always a twist that leaves you viewing the world just a little differently. I wasn’t surprised to learn Bruce had won many awards: a Pushcart, two Nebulas, a Bram Stoker, two World Fantasy Awards, and a Micro Award. His work is known world-wide.

One day he sent a story about a depressed woman, obviously a victim of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), who finds her healing medicine in quite a surprising way—through the earth (literally). Garden writing! I wrote Bruce, suggesting that he send “A Fine and Private Place” to GreenPrints, which was then the only garden writing publication around. He did, and Pat Stone published it. When I started Greenwoman, I wanted to share Bruce’s work. I asked if I could reprint another story that he’d sent via subscription. Then another. And another.

I’ve always wanted to interview him, to introduce him in a bigger way to my friends. This winter we finally got together. I offer this small glimpse into his work.

Flora’s Forum: As you know, I was introduced to you and your fascinating work through shortshortshort.com—when a friend of mine, also a writer, sent me a story. How many subscribers do you have now and how many stories have you written since it began in 2002?

Bruce Holland Rogers: My high-water mark for subscribers was one thousand, but that was a few years ago. For the last five years, I have done little to promote the service or even to remind subscribers to renew, so the list has dwindled to about 330. Those remaining subscribers, however, are hard core!

I have written over 400 stories for subscribers now, and in recent years I haven’t been very good about submitting them to magazines and anthologies. I have quite a backlog to publish now.

Flora’s Forum: How did the idea for sending out three short stories a month to subscribers come about?

In 2001 I read a book called Guerilla Marketing for Writers that referenced someone who had sold his limericks by email. The story was that he spammed the world with emails promising a limerick a day to anyone who mailed him a dollar, and that he soon raised one hundred-thousand dollars this way. (This was in early days of the net, before spam was such a scourge.)

I liked the idea of selling directly to readers. I loved reading and writing very compressed stories. The stories demand so much that I knew I couldn’t write a story a day. I would even be hard-pressed to write one a week. But if I had, say, one subscriber, I would happily send him or her a story a year for three dollars. And if I had five subscribers, I could promise a story every quarter to earn their fifteen dollars in total. So I created a sliding scale: the more subscribers I had, the more stories I would send. Eventually, when I had a couple hundred subscribers, I settled at three stories a month. I felt that was about my limit.

Over the years, the subscription rate went from three dollars to five, and then ten. A few subscribers are patrons, which means they subscribe at the twenty-five dollar level, helping to keep me in tea and biscuits. (Tea and biscuits are essential to writing.) Other subscribers give subscriptions as gifts. It’s great to have an immediate and appreciative audience!

I launched and grew mostly through friends and their recommendation to their friends. Now I get new subscribers whom I think discover shortshortshort because they Googled me after reading one of my stories. Unlike the supposed limerick writer, I never spammed.

After I had been running shortshortshort.com for a few years, I tried to track down the limerick writer, to see if I could put a name to the story. I haven’t found any evidence that he ever existed. Perhaps he did. However, I like to think that my fiction service arose from my belief in someone else’s invented story.

Flora’s Forum: I like that idea, too. After hearing your story, I also tried to track down the limerick writer, with no luck. I think he’s a writers’ urban legend! Do you know of anyone else who has used your subscription model to bring in an income as a writer? (Yes, I’m personally interested!)

Bruce Holland Rogers: With fiction I have seen a couple of attempts that did not last long. It’s hard to say for certain why these efforts soon ended, but a lot of things have to go right. In these two cases, I didn’t like the writing very much, and that may have been the first thing that went wrong. But there may well have been an audience for those writers, and they just didn’t figure out how to find that audience.

There is a subscription program for children, Sparkle Stories, that sends weekly audio stories for a year and has several such series categorized by the age of the child.

For distribution by email or audio download, the nonfiction writer has all the advantages that a nonfiction writer has more generally. The audience is sorted by subject. The writer can more readily identify potential readers and go to wherever, online or off, those potential readers congregate. The readers of nonfiction are also more likely to find the writer while searching for information on the writer’s topic.

Flora’s Forum: You write short-shorts in many genres. Do you have a current favorite?

Bruce Holland Rogers: I am allergic to the idea of favorites. Maybe that just means that I’m indecisive, but I’m never able to name a favorite writer, a favorite move, a favorite shirt. So I’ve never been good at having a favorite genre. I started out in my teens writing science fiction, and I still write SF occasionally. But I like humor, contemporary realism, historical fiction, expressionism (which looks like fantasy), fantasy, mystery . . . I like being able to generate a story from whatever is going on in my life, including my imagined life. My readers don’t know what they are going to get.

Flora’s Forum: You are not kidding there! This week you sent us an adorable personal story that you’ve also published on eBay! “My Girlfriend’s Shoes* (or a deed thereof”  where you have put your girlfriends’ shoes up for bid! (Click on the title to get the story.) Is publishing a story on eBay a first? 

Bruce Holland Rogers: It is, but it may not be the last. Unless, of course, this is the last time I ever do *anything,* which several women have informed me is likely.

Flora’s Forum: Ha! Women and their shoes! You’re a gutsy man, Bruce.

Three of the four stories that have been published in Greenwoman focused on women with a unique connection to the earth, or, in “Cows With Names Make 3.4 Percent More Milk,” to cows! I thought it would be fun to get some insight into how a couple of these stories came about.

We published your story “A Human Birth” in issue #1 of Greenwoman. As I don’t want to give too much away, let’s say it’s about a woman who discovers her unique connection to the soil. Why did you choose that connection and what’s your connection to the soil—(or what are your experiences with women and gardening—or both!).

It’s hard for me to talk about this story without spoiling its effect, so if your readers want to experience the story, they should do so before reading my answer. [Editor’s note: you can purchase a PDF version of Greenwoman Issue #1 here for only $2.95.]

Bruce Holland Rogers: The origins of that story lie in a practice that my ex-wife and I had, a joke about reincarnation. If we had an encounter with someone who behaved very badly, we would forgive that person and speculate on what he or she had been in a previous life. Sometimes the promotion from a non-human birth to a human birth is difficult. That is, this life might be that person’s first experience with being human, and the life of humans is a challenging one.

We might say about the man who had yelled because a line was moving slowly, “He doesn’t have much practice with patience, but even so, he didn’t yell for the first five minutes in line. That’s pretty good for someone who was a grasshopper in his last life.”

My ex, Holly, was a gardener. So was my mother. So was my friend Kate Wilhelm until, in her eighties, the physical demands became too much. In my little corner of the universe, gardeners have been mostly women.

My own connection with the soil has come from digging. As a toddler, I tried to dig as my mother gardened. (As my mother told the story, I was right next to her when her spade turned up a white grub. I said, “Candy!” and ate it before she could stop me.) As an adult, I have dug holes for posts or footings, and I’m always interested to see who comes up with the shovel. There is so much wildlife under out feet. Healthy soil is heavily populated soil. As much as I enjoy turning up a shovel-full of earth, it’s been more than fifty years since I ate a grub.

Flora’s Forum: I love that story, Bruce. And so true about the soilI’ve read that the number of organisms in a teaspoon of healthy soil can number up to a billion. Now to switch to bigger organisms; in the lighthearted and charming “Cows With Names Make 3.4 Percent More Milk” (Greenwoman #3) you write about a college student, Brenda, who is studying Dairy Science. She grew up on a dairy farm and loves to name cows, a quirky habit that serves her well when it comes to romance. One of the themes here is how naming forms deeper connections—and more milk! How did that story develop?

Bruce Holland Rogers: I attended a land-grant university, Colorado State University. I enrolled with a double-major in technical journalism and zoology, but I kept changing my majors. I knew that I wanted to write, but everyone said I’d need something to fall back on. But what? Every semester, I scoured the catalog, looking for a more appealing major. Going to a land-grant institution, the kind of school that used to be an A&M [Agriculture & Mechanical], meant that I read the requirements for all sorts of practical majors. I had classmates who had grown up on farms. I walked by the animal sciences facilities, drank unpasteurized milk from the university’s herd. In all, I had five different declared majors, and probably another four that I intended to pursue but never got around to officially recording. After six years, I graduated with the only degree that worked for my mishmash of courses, with the singularly impractical major of Humanities.

I had a truly generalist education, ideal for a writer.

Flora’s Forum: I have to ask, what were those five declared majors?

Bruce Holland Rogers: The five declared majors were technical journalism, zoology, English, history, and humanities. Majors that I planned my courses around but didn’t formally register included computer science, Spanish, physical sciences, and psychology. I also thought long and hard about engineering.

Flora’s Forum: Could you give a little more background into “Cows With Names Make 3.4 Percent More Milk”? I know it’s a very whimsical piece, but was Brenda based on a real student? Where did the idea of the naming of cows come from?

Bruce Holland Rogers: The title for that story is almost word-for-word the headline of a news item. No one knows why this correlation was found. Since cows tend to be a bit skittish and lactate less when they are stressed, it may be that the sort of dairy farmers who name their animals are also gentler with them, and that difference shows up in milk production.

Brenda doesn’t have a basis in any particular person, but I have a lot of experience with giving and receiving nicknames in intimate relationships. When the nicknames are ones that both the giver and receiver like, those names can become a part of their private language, part of what becomes reassuring and comforting between them.

Flora’s Forum: What is it like, gardening-wise, food-wise, living in Oregon? 

Bruce Holland Rogers: Eugene is very garden-friendly. We get our hard frosts, and even the occasional severe cold. Last winter, my fig tree died back all the way to the roots, for example, and I lost many of my landscape plants. But that was the first intense die-back in many years. Winters are mild compared to much of the country. I’ll risk starting this year’s salad greens in March. We have rain in abundance much of the year, but then our summers are so hot and dry that you really can’t have a garden without irrigation.

We have a thriving Northwest cuisine featuring salmon, hazelnuts and berries. An invasive species of blackberry is a tenacious weed for us, but it also produces big, sweet fruit.

Flora’s Forum: What are your plans for 2015?

This week, for the first time in years, I rationalized all my to-do lists on a spreadsheet. It came to 320 items. So my plans are to do a lot. A part of those plans is to write my 36 stories for the year and to write a book about money, the other cabbage.

Flora’s Forum: Thanks for spending some time with us, Bruce.

 

 

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Zera and the Green Man Interview with Sandra Knauf

Now on sale (over 25% off!) at Amazon.com.

Now on sale (over 25% off!) at Amazon.com.

 

This week I decided to make a new press kit for Zera and the Green Man. GMO labeling is on the Colorado ballot this November, and, as some of you know, this book’s all about GMOs. It’s a hot topic and I’m hoping there are journalists and bloggers (and readers!) who will be interested in learning more about the book.

I’ve also put Zera and the Green Man on sale for the soon-to-be-upon-us holidays.

Let me know what you think of the interview. I’d love to hear from you!

—Sandra

 

GMOs Gone Wrong: An Interview with Sandra Knauf, Author of Zera and the Green Man

By Cheri Colburn on September 21, 2014

 

Sandra Knauf’s Zera and the Green Man is a sci-fi fantasy for the YA market, but I and many other adults have reveled in it. It is “right on time” with current events—plenty of GMO Franken-creatures—and it features the timeless themes of love for nature and family. I recently spent an afternoon interviewing the author, and this is what I learned.

In your young adult novel, Zera and the Green Man, biotechnology has gone awry, and nature is in jeopardy. Fifteen-year-old Zera Green is called to save the world from genetically-modified creations designed by her own uncle. How did you come up with that plot line?

The spark for the story came over a decade ago when I started reading about GMOs. At the same time, I became interested in the mythology surrounding the green man. To me, GMOs seemed like a bad idea from the start, and the more I read about them the more I was convinced that we were playing with something that had repercussions beyond our understanding. At the same time I was reading about how the green man was an ancient symbol of humankind’s oneness with nature. It seemed like two sides of the same coin, and those ideas merged into a story.

How does the green man mythology figure into the story?

The protagonist, Zera Green, discovers her family’s centuries’ old ties to this ancient god. He returns to modern times because the plant world’s in trouble. And when plants are in trouble, so are we.

A Zera and the Green Man Pinterest pin by Lisa Repka. Green Man drawing by Mike Beenenga.

A Zera and the Green Man Pinterest pin by Lisa Repka. Green man drawing by Mike Beenenga.

Can you tell me a little about the green man?

The idea of the green man, a man who is one with the plant world, is thousands of years old and takes many forms. His image is all over Europe, in centuries’ old churches, but he goes back further than that. For example, the Egyptian god Osiris is a green man. He has green skin; he’s known as the god of the underworld, yet he is also the granter of all life, including vegetation. The green man is also a symbol of resurrection. Robin Hood, fighting for the underdog and living in the forest, is said to be another incarnation, and so is the modern day Jolly Green Giant. In the story, Zera discovers this history and begins to see how her family is connected with it.

This story is a rollicking ride. It takes place in various places in Colorado, in L.A., in a secret laboratory in the desert, and even on Colorado’s famous Pikes Peak. How did you choose the settings?

I’ve spent most of my life in Colorado, and my children were born here. So I wrote about what I know. Both of my daughters went to elementary school in Manitou Springs, which appears in the book as Ute Springs. The chapter with Zera’s vision quest takes place on Pikes Peak, which is called by its Ute name in the book, Tava. The biotech firm that creates the genetic monstrosities is in L.A. because L.A.’s a big money/commercial center where people can afford to make their own realities, realities that are often contrary to nature.

Even though the book’s about GMOs and our connection with nature, the heart of the story is really Zera’s relationship with her scientist uncle and her grandmother.

That’s true. This family’s relationships, with all its problems and secrets, are at the heart of the story. As in life, regardless of what else is going on, it’s the connections with those we love that matter most and give us the most trouble.

Zera rings true as an angst-filled teen. She’s struggling with the issues of losing her parents and having to live with her uncle, but also typical teen problems about boys, fitting in, etc. How did you model Zera?

Some of Zera’s personal struggles were based on struggles I experienced as a teen, such as having other adults besides my mother and father involved in my upbringing. Writing about those feelings through a character was cathartic. As my own girls were teens during the writing process it was easy to create a strong and smart teenage protagonist—I had excellent real-life examples at home.

Why this book now?

It has taken many years for GMOs to get into the spotlight of public concern in this country. Because of GMO labeling initiatives on ballots in several states, many previously oblivious consumers are finally learning what GMOs are. Once they learn the science they have questions. While my story is a sci-fi fantasy, it accurately shows the science and some of the real concerns behind GMOs. It’s kind of like how Jurassic Park dealt with cloning. I hope my book will help readers understand the science and the dangers of GMOs and the bigger picture of nature.

What are you working on now?

I have my own publishing company, so there are several projects in the works, but I am making notes for the next Zera Green novel. It’s going to be set in the British Isles, where Zera learns about her family history and, of course, runs into more trouble. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that Zera’s powers increase dramatically. She is, in fact, well on her way to becoming an American superhero.

Cheri Colburn

    Author Information: Cheri Colburn is editor of Six Years in Mozambique and Fifty Shades of Green.

Cheri’s previous projects are many and varied. You can see a business- and education-skewed sample of her work at her website, TheFinishedBook.com.

 

 

P. S. For those of you who don’t know what a GMO is, I highly recommend this video by Jeffrey Smith, founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology.

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