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Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece, reflective only of my personal views. I welcome your feedback, questions and ideas, because it so often helps to engage in conversation about things that we care about. If you wish to comment, I would appreciate it if you read this entire article first. Although I tend to be quite direct with my opinions, I have no wish to offend or upset anyone. I think this is a case of a law needing to be questioned, so I am speaking up.

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I am weary of legislation. I agree that we need laws, in a society with enough people who cannot be counted on to behave with courtesy, common sense or respect for others. Washington’s newest distracted-driver law seems to assume that people won’t change their behavior unless they are threatened with punishment. However, do the lawmakers truly believe that this threat will guarantee the behavior will change?

The distracted-driver law in a nutshell

The new law, which took effect July 23, forbids all handheld uses of cell phones, including calls, reading or composing messages, social media posting, etc. Don’t pick up that phone even if you’re stopped at a traffic light! Allowed are “common built-in electronics,” such as hands-free phones and satellite radio. Ditto 911 calls. Then things get a little complicated. Using a phone mounted in a dashboard cradle is allowed for some purposes involving “limited use of a finger.” Depending on where you live, there might or might not be a 6- month grace period to let drivers get used to the new rules; the fine is $136 for the first offense, going up to $234 for additional offenses within 5 years.

A more detailed summary of all these rules is here.

In principle, I have no quarrel with the distracted-driver law. I absolutely agree that the handheld use of cell phones while driving is distracting. However, I don’t agree that the best way to effectively address this issue is to make it illegal to use a phone while driving.

I just missed being a millenial (OK, I missed it by 34 years). Many of you can’t remember a time when we didn’t have cell phones; technology has moved so quickly over the past 20 years or so that it’s hard to believe we ever thought it was okay to get in a car without having some means to communicate before reaching our destination. But even if you take all the electronic devices out of the mix, there are still many things that can and do happen while we’re driving.

Distractions don’t all involve phones

For example: When I drive, I seldom listen to the radio but I do like to play music. I like to sing along (how do you think I learned “The Elements” before auditioning for TomFoolery last year?). I occasionally glance down briefly at the stereo controls. Good idea? Maybe not. Distracting? Probably. Should we ban car stereos, make them all voice-activated, or come up with an app that senses when the car is moving and locks the stereo controls? What if, instead of driving a car almost as old as I am, I drive one in which everything can be done hands-free?

Do you ever drive with one or more children in the car? Lots of you eat and drink while you’re driving, or there wouldn’t be all those drive-thru restaurants and coffee houses out there. I’m perfectly capable reaching for my coffee cup without looking down at it, but sometimes I do look anyway. I sometimes wave at someone while driving. Blush.

Of course, there are many distractions on the road that are not a matter of your choice. Practically everyone has had the experience of that maddening itch that only seems to happen when you’re driving, usually between your shoulder blades just out of reach of either hand. Another driver tailgating me is definitely a distraction. Driving on a rainy night, reflections off the water on the road are confusing as well as distracting. Around here, all kinds of animals might run out into the road in front of you. I’m sure everyone glances to one side or the other at beautiful scenery; I mean, we are in Washington. I do that myself.

Laws need to make sense, and be reasonably enforceable

Obviously it would be ridiculous to try to legislate against these things. If nothing else, it makes no sense to pass a law that has very little chance of being successfully enforced. I understand why cell phones have been targeted in this instance; but I believe that this law is a well-meaning but ultimately failed attempt to mitigate the problem. Here’s why.

Any lawmaker, state or federal, will tell you that one of the main challenges in the 21st century is that technology continues to move much faster than the legislative process. In a relatively short time, we went from relying on home phones and pay phones to practically everyone having phone service with them constantly. Thus, many years have gone by between cell phones becoming ubiquitous and Washington enacting a distracted-driving law aimed at those phones.

This law doesn’t seem to take into account the force of this long-term habit. Most of us have had cell phones for enough years that we are thoroughly steeped in the routine of using them whenever and wherever we wish. Regardless of good intentions, many people will find it very hard to suddenly stop using their phones in the car. I’m not suggesting we don’t ask them to do it, I’m saying I don’t believe passing a law will necessarily result in the desired outcome.

So what’s the solution?

Clearly there is no way to completely eliminate distractions while driving. I usually turn off my phone or at least turn down the sound when I’m in the car, but I don’t always remember to do it; sometimes that damned chime reminding me about someone’s birthday takes me by surprise. When there are passengers in the car, talking can’t always be avoided. And listening to music or audio books is a real pleasure while driving.

My suggestion is that this is a matter of education, not legislation. When I was in Driver’s Ed, we regularly watched films that were intended to scare us into driving safely. Education about distractions, including phones and other electronics, ought to be included in the driver-licensing process. Personally I think when people renew their licenses, this should be included in that process, as well as information about changes to other driving-related laws. How about a town-meeting-type gathering, one in every county, where residents can ask questions of State Patrol officers and local government officials?

The Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WSTC) has implemented a program to educate the public about the risks posed by distracted drivers. It’s a start. Read about it here.

Most people I have spoken to about this subject simply don’t believe using their phones in the car is all that distracting. They also believe the chances of them getting caught on their phones is very small. We ought to be able to find a positive motivation to put the phone down, somewhere out of reach in the car, or better yet, simply turn the thing off until actually needed. I think most people are sensible enough to agree to not use their handheld phones while driving, but it will take some time, and some positive reinforcement, for them to get used to the idea (again).

I think it’s great that various laws have drawn so much attention to the issue of distractions while driving, and the potential risks involved. But as a whole, distractions simply can’t be eliminated, so it’s in all our interests to learn all we can about how best to minimize their effects.

I guess I’d better pull over and stop typing now. Those flashing blue lights behind me are really distracting.

I’ve been mulling lately a return, at least occasionally, to the kind of work I was doing in Seattle before we moved to the farm in 2006. For 5 years I had a successful niche doing repair and restoration work on all kinds of antiques and art objects. It was successful partly because at the time, very few people in the area were doing repairs. If your antique chair needed refinishing, that service could be found. If the chair had a broken leg that needed repair, that was something else. I also learned to do gilding, so I did my share of picture-frame and mirror-frame restoration as well.


One of the reasons I found a niche was because I was able to take small jobs. Mostly these consisted of items that often had more sentimental value than monetary value. Having grown up in a house full of antiques (my dad’s parents were antique collectors and we inherited a lot over the years), I felt a connection to the stories of these things, even the most mundane and functional of pieces. Recently, I had the distinct privilege of repairing just such an article for Mariana Parks, an old friend of mine: A plaster statue, a replica of the famous Mannequin Pis of Brussels, Belgium, which had been broken for many years.

This is what the statue looked like before I started repairs. As you can see, the head is completely broken off the body (photo 1). Both legs were broken below the knee (photo 2), and the right leg was badly shattered at the back (photo 3). This kind of repair can be tricky because the plaster legs are hollow, which means there isn’t much surface area for gluing. There were a few loose pieces which I fitted in place, then I filled the right leg with plaster to make it as strong as possible.

Once all the gluing was done, I applied fresh plaster to all the repair areas. This had to be done in stages, as it’s usually better to apply several thin layers than one thick layer. This is the statue after plastering was done and most of the plaster has been shaped and sanded down (photo 4). Photo 5 shows detail of the plaster repairs to the legs.

Now comes the really fun (and very challenging) part: Painting to match the original finish. It’s easy to see that this finish consists of a base color of a bluish teal, washed over with a diluted Mars black. Using water-base paint to match the original, I spent quite a while getting the base color right; acrylic paints dry a little darker than their wet color. Photo 6 shows the statue after the base color has been applied; note the numerous little spots of this color, which indicate places where the original paint was chipped off, showing white plaster.

Next, I diluted some Mars black paint with a semi-gloss clear medium (to match the satiny original finish). Using an open-textured sea sponge and a dry paintbrush, it only took a few minutes to get the black wash over the repair areas and chips and blend them into the original finish. Finally a couple light coats of a satin-finish polyurethane completed the restoration job.

Sound tedious and time-consuming? Kind of. It has to be done in stages; glue has to dry, plaster has to set, etc. All told, this entire job took less than 2-1/2 hours to complete.

This was a Mother’s Day surprise for Mariana, contrived by her husband John Hamer. This is often the best part of the whole process: Seeing the reaction of someone who may have given up hope of having such a thing repaired. This statue is a Plaster of Paris replica; it may not have great monetary value, but Mariana had kept it all these years as a memento of a year spent in Brussels when she was young.

I have always loved being part of the process of restoring this kind of thing for people who will truly enjoy having it back in their lives. And I am looking forward to doing more of this kind of work as the year goes on.


Last December, for reasons passing understanding, I decided to make a batch of English toffee for the first time in years. I used to make several kinds of candy around the holidays, but that habit fell by the wayside as life took some interesting turns. Somehow the recipe I had always preferred was still in my head; don’t be too impressed, it’s basically half a pound of butter and half a pound of sugar. Melt it in a saucepan over high heat, stirring constantly, until it gets to 290F. And there you go. The whole thing takes maybe 10 minutes.


Anyway, I made a batch of it, busted it up into pieces, mixed it all with melted Belgian dark chocolate and spooned it into those cute little gold foil candy cups. After practically inhaling way more than my share of the stuff, I took a few pieces to my favorite local coffee shop, Rainshadow Coffee in Sequim, to share with the owners and employees.


Well, as these things have a habit of doing, one thing led to another and we started talking about possibly selling the toffee at Rainshadow. It occurred to me that it would be good to somehow tie in the toffee with coffee. My first idea was some kind of swizzle stick; remember those colored rock candy swizzle sticks? I was talking to a good friend about it, and she mentioned toffee-chocolate-coated spoons, and that led to English toffee spoons.


Using compostable wooden spoons, first I dipped the spoons in chocolate and let that harden. Then I filled the spoons with a generous amount of crushed chocolate-coated toffee. Packed them by half-dozens in cello bags and brought them this morning to Rainshadow. You can buy them individually to stir into your coffee, or by the bag to take home. Either way, it’s a nice little self-indulgent treat, and guess what? You deserve it.


And that’s what happens when I have time on my hands. Stay tuned for what’s next!

Last month while I was down in Belton TX for the Mother Earth News Fair, I had the opportunity to be involved with several podcast recordings. This is a brand-new thing for me, and was a lot of fun.


All the podcasts were on various subjects related to poultry. Also participating were Pat Foreman, a popular author and regular speaker at the Mother Earth News Fair, and Alison Martin from The Livestock Conservancy.


Although I didn’t know ahead of time what questions would be asked, I felt quite comfortable with the process. I imagine my experience over several years of fielding audience questions at these events has been a big help.


Have a listen at any of these places, iTunes, Stitcher, and Podbean. And as Pat Foreman says, “May the flock be with you!”


Another podcast was hosted by Jennifer Pitino, of The Urban Chicken Podcast. Take a listen at

Here is a link to The Urban Chicken Podcast on iTunes:

This weekend I am in Belton, Texas, just north of Austin, participating in my 17th Mother Earth News Fair. In addition to doing 3 presentations, I have also been invited to record several podcasts on various poultry-related topics.


For me, these events are all about sharing. I’ve learned a lot over the 11 years we have lived on our off-grid homestead, and I appreciate every opportunity to share what I’ve learned, and to learn from you. So many of you are trying to make changes in your lives, to do things a little differently according to your values and hopes for the future.  Life is changing as time goes on, but I will continue to write and speak, as part of my own ongoing process of learning.


Here are 3 handouts I often include when I do these presentations. Feel free to download and use them. The sourdough bread handout offers my method of developing a wild-yeast sourdough starter. For those of you considering starting out with poultry, check out my planning worksheet which will help you get off to a good start. And the Craft Distilling handout includes a list of helpful resources, such as books and government websites.



Sourdough presentation handout

Poultry from Scratch September 2016

Distilling resources TX


If you are in the area, I would love to see you at the Fair this weekend. At 11:00 today, I will be talking about sourdough bread. At 5:00 I will be on the main stage for my Craft Distilling presentation. And Sunday at 2:00 you can find me at the Livestock Conservancy stage talking about free-ranging poultry.


The Mother Earth News Fair is a terrific event, chock-full of workshops, live demonstrations, exhibitors and vendors, and an amazing bookstore. It’s a beautiful day, so come on out to the Fair!













I’ve had quite a few speaking events this year, but the one coming up this week is something a little different. My friend Lisa Kivirist invited me to be part of a unique panel discussion as part of the Women in Sustainable Agriculture (WISA) conference in Portland, OR. I truly feel honored to have been asked, and am looking forward to the discussion, meeting more authors, and sharing the various passions we have related to writing and sustainable agriculture.


This event is happening this coming Thursday, December 1. The following is from the WISA website:


Farmer Author Roundtable – 7:30pm to 9:00pm

The written word mixed with a passion for a healthy, local food system can be a transformational and engaging combination, a tool we can all tap into to share our farming and food stories with the public. Join us for an intimate evening with a talented and diverse group of female authors championing the stories of sustainable agriculture. From memoirs to cookbooks, history to how-to, these women write from heartfelt experience that both fuels the movement and in various ways adds to a diversified livelihood and income mix. Come for inspiration and ideas to launch your own writing endeavors. A book signing will follow the discussion. Faciliated by Lisa Kivirist, author of Soil Sisters, Homemade for Sale, Farmstead Chef, ECOpreneuring & Rural Renaissance

Participating writers:

  • Natasha Bowens, author of The Color of Food
  • Lisa Kivirist, author of Soil Sisters, Homemade for Sale, Farmstead Chef, ECOpreneuring, Rural Renaissance
  • Betty LaDuke, author of Bountiful Harvest: From Land to Table
  • Claudia Lucero, author of One Hour Cheese
  • Gabriele Marewski, author of Farm Business in a Binder, Farm Production in a Binder & Farm Hospitality in a Binder
  • Melissa Matthewson, freelance writer
  • Nancy Matsumoto, freelance journalist, contributor to Civil Eats, Food & Wine, Edible Manhattan and
  • Victoria Redhed Miller, author of Craft Distilling, Pure Poultry
  • Carolyn Sachs (State College, Pennsylvania); co-author of The Rise of Women Farmers and Sustainable Agriculture
  • Julia Shanks, author of The Farmer’s Office; The Farmers Market Cookbook
  • Kirsten K. Shockey, author of Fermented Vegetables
  • Rose-Hayden Smith, author of Sowing the Seeds of Victory
  • Rebecca Thistlethwaite, author of Farms With a Future, The New Livestock Farmer

LOCATION:Double Tree Hotel

DATE:December 1, 2016

TIME:7:30 pm – 9:00 pm

For more information about the WISA conference schedule, click here.

As you know, my third book is now officially in process. The working title is “The Homestead Hearth: Naturally leavened bread and a wood-fired oven.” At long last, I am writing about a  serious passion of mine: Sourdough bread. Part of the book will be about baking with a wood-fired oven, but most of it will be about “real” sourdough bread; that is, bread that is raised with a wild-yeast sourdough starter, instead of commercial yeast.


This is the overview of the book, written as part of the book proposal process:


Is there any other food that evokes pleasant memories, warm feelings and emotions more than bread? The most basic of foods, everyone loves bread but many people are intimidated at the prospect of making their own bread at home. Still, with “artisan” bread, craft bakeries and wood-fired pizza so popular these days, you might be wondering if you can re-create these fabulous breads at home. Naturally-leavened breads in particular have captured the interest of home bakers. But isn’t relying on wild yeast, and maintaining a sourdough starter a complicated and time-consuming process? What the heck IS sourdough starter anyway?

The Homestead Hearth blends the author’s journey toward energy independence with her fascination with traditional homestead skills and love of good food: in particular, sourdough bread. From hand-building her own wood-fired oven, to cultivating a sourdough starter, to learning how to bake a wide variety of sourdough-based breads, the author’s curiosity and fearlessness come together to share with readers the magic of sourdough without the mystery. Plus, adding a wood-fired oven to your homestead lets you take one more small step toward less dependence on fossil fuels.

Topics include:

  • The advantages and challenges of working with your local “wild” yeast

  • The wood-fired oven as part of your self-reliance toolkit

  • An overview of wood-fired baking

  • Low- and no-gluten baking with sourdough

  • Many recipes adapted for use with sourdough, including bagels, flatbreads and skillet breads

  • Science alert” sidebars for those interested in more of the scientific details; the main text will be kept as simple as possible to minimize the intimidation factor

  • Chapter-end summaries to briefly review the main things to remember

The Homestead Hearth inspires readers to step out of their comfort zone long enough to discover the benefits of baking with sourdough. They will learn how to cultivate a reliable, low-maintenance sourdough culture that can be used for a wide variety of breads. Pizza and bagels, flatbreads and loaf breads, even gluten-free breads – You become the artisan when you make your own naturally-leavened bread, and The Homestead Hearth shows you how.


Poultry Unplugged talk, Pennsylvania September 2016

Fresh from my 4th appearance at the Seven Springs, PA Fair in September, I am heading out to Topeka, KS Friday, October 21, for another weekend of fun doing presentations and a book signing. This is my 5th MEN Fair this year and 15th overall, and I truly enjoy these events more each time.


sourdough-finished-on-peel-smSourdough bread baked in wood-fired oven


In addition to my Craft Distilling and Poultry Unplugged talks, this time I will be doing a 3rd talk, Sourdough is not a Flavor: Naturally leavened bread, simplified. As you may know, I have become a serious sourdough bread baker over the past few years. Last year, I started building my first wood-fired outdoor oven, using clay dug near one of our ponds as well as other materials scavenged from the property. It has been (and continues to be) a steep learning curve getting used to cooking in this oven, but the results have been fantastic.



Pizza just put on hearth

As you probably also know by now, this oven and sourdough bread are the subjects of my next book, which is in process. So this is a tiny preview of that book. I am also looking forward to questions from the audience, as this will help me better understand the audience for my book and clarify the direction I will take it.


The challenge for me with this talk is trying to encapsulate this subject in a 1-hour presentation. It sounds like a long time to be on a stage talking, but believe me, it goes by quickly. I am going to focus on the basics of creating and maintaining a sourdough starter, and an overview of the fermentation process involved with naturally-leavened bread. I will, of course, be continuing this discussion on this site and on Facebook, so please post your questions or use the contact form to let me know what you’re most interested in learning.


See you in Topeka this weekend!

When I signed up to participate in NaNoWriMo, I had to submit both a title and synopsis for my planned work of fiction. I didn’t have much time to plan or prepare to write before I started (see previous post), so when all was said and done, the story differed a bit from the synopsis. I’ve revised the synopsis to more accurately reflect the completed draft, and here it is:



Part One: Mothers and Daughters

Part Two: Daughters and Mothers

Part Three: Sisters


Emily and Elizabeth Palmer are twin sisters in their early 20s. Like many twins, they have been compared all their lives, although they are actually quite different in some ways. After a falling out between Emily and their alcoholic mother Ellie, Ellie confides to Elizabeth that the twins actually have another sister. Ellie gave birth to triplets but gave up one of the sisters for adoption; read the story to find out why!

Elizabeth struggles to decide whether to tell Emily, even though Ellie made her promise to keep her secret. Elizabeth tells Emily, and the twins decide to look for their sister without telling Ellie. An odd coincidence results in the girls meeting their sister, Marisa, who had always wished she had a sister. Sadly, Elizabeth and Emily learn that Marisa is dying of an inoperable brain tumor. Their all-too-brief interaction gives all three girls new perspective on their identity as individuals, and the true meaning of family.

After Marisa’s death, Elizabeth and Emily find that they have more in common than they imagined. After all, they are no longer “twins;” they are simply sisters. As a result, their relationship grows deeper and more loving, not only with each other but also with Ellie.

More to come; stay tuned!


I know, I know, you haven’t seen the story yet. I have been asked several times lately how I came to write this fictional story, as well as what I’m going to do next. So here goes.


Back in October 2011, I went to a writer’s retreat in southern California, hosted by Marilyn Friedman of The Writing Pad. This was a weekend event in the 29 Palms area up in the hills near Los Angeles. I had been looking for a writer’s conference or retreat to go to, and chose this one partly because Adair Lara (author of Naked, Drunk and Writing) was one of the teachers attending.


We did a number of writing exercises over an intense two days. Many of them were of the free-writing type, where we chose a topic and wrote for, say, 10 minutes. Then we read what we had written and received feedback. (I love this kind of exercise.) One of the things I wrote had to do with myself and my twin sister as children. At the end of the weekend, Marilyn suggested that I write a longer piece about my sister and I, but with us as adults this time.


I thought about this all the way home. I had never really seriously considered writing fiction, but I was inspired with the idea to the point where I couldn’t focus on much else. More or less on a whim, I decided to participate in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and try to write my story.



NaNoWriMo basically challenges writers to write 50,000 words of a novel within the month of November. I got home from the retreat on October 28, so I had barely 3 days to get myself ready. I came up with a title (“Inseparable”) and a synopsis. I had no idea how to do things like develop characters, and had little time to do it anyway. Many hours were spent over those 3 days just organizing the story; my hope was to keep the thing moving along and have it reach a natural conclusion by the time I reached 50,000 words. I had a large cork board which I had divided with masking tape into 4 horizontal columns representing the major story parts. I then used colored index cards (one color for each story line) and plotted out the story.


Then I started writing. As many of you know, I prefer to write my drafts longhand. I have found that I am actually more productive this way, even though it means spending more time later typing it all up. What worked for me in this case was to look at the board in the morning, decide which scenes I was going to work on that day, and then just sit down and write. I set a timer for 10 minutes and wrote steadily till it went off. Then I reset it and went on like that. It was actually quite easy to write around 2,000 words at a sitting over about 90-120 minutes this way.




There were 4 days in November (Thanksgiving for example) when I did no writing at all, but I still got to 50,000 words by November 28. Then I pretty much set it aside and left it alone; I had thought up no plan at that point for what (if anything) I was going to do with the thing. About 3 weeks later I got a contract for my first non-fiction book, Pure Poultry, and the novel was pushed even further down the priority list.


I’m not really sure what prompted me to pull out this file and revisit the novel just now, but I did. Interestingly, as I read through it, I discovered that much of what I wrote 5 years ago seemed to parallel things going on in my life today. I read through the whole thing in one sitting, then went back and began to revise. One thing near the ending seemed particularly trite to me (“cringe-worthy” as my niece Chaidie put it), so I re-worked that until it made more sense to me.


So now, as I prepare to travel to Pennsylvania for a speaking event later this month, and am assembling the proposal package for my third non-fiction book, I also find myself oddly drawn to this fiction project. An important next step will be getting additional eyes on it and feedback. Like poetry, I never really saw myself as writing fiction. But I’ve had a deal with myself over the past several years; to pay attention to inspiration, and act on it when it arrives. There’s a reason why I dusted off this file when I did, and I intend to see it through, wherever it may lead.