Monday, May 30, 2011

Book Review: Dear Friends

Jon Stevens’ Dear Friends: Letters from the Farm - 2009 touches the hearts of people striving to live wholesome, meaningful lives.

Stevens began writing newsletters six years ago to customers and anyone else interested in hearing about life on their productive 2-acre farm on Camano Island. Encouraged by enthusiastic response, Stevens compiled a year’s worth of newsletters and published this charming book.

More than just growing produce for their own consumption and for their produce stand, Jon and Elaine Stevens share a way of life. Dear Friends not only describes the daily routine of producing food, it describes the essence of living close to the earth.

Stevens gives voice to their chickens and ducks who play vital roles in food production with fresh eggs, eating bugs and slugs, and providing laughs. As the calendar year begins, the book shows only monthly newsletters, but as spring begins to produce, so does the frequency of the newsletters. The farmer’s life rotates from mending fences, to poring over seed catalogs, tilling the soil, planting seed and finally harvesting. When you read the accounting of all that, you realize how complicated it really is, this simple farming lifestyle.

For Stevens, life is more than growing good food, even Certified Naturally Grown food. He is enthusiastic about sharing gardening tips for food, flowers and shrubs. Dear Friends teems with information about how to make even a small farm sustainable. In addition to practical advice, humor and a deep faith shine through these pages.

Whether readers are interested in growing their own food, or interested in how others do it, or perhaps seeking a dream to follow, Dear Friends is a treasure. With humor and infectious enthusiasm, Jon Stevens imparts a love for people, for the land and for good honest work. His weekly journal is a passionate book borne of embracing life to the fullest.

For more information about Dear Friends and Stevens’ piece of paradise, The Open Gate Farm, visit and click on “Visit Our Farm Store.”

Monday, May 23, 2011

Get a Kit. Make a Plan. Be Informed

We’ve witnessed a lot of disasters lately, both at home and abroad. Some disasters can be prevented. For instance, we can use caution when using candles in our home, and can ensure that our home’s electrical wiring is in good shape. But not all house fires can be prevented, no matter how careful we are. Still, we can make a plan to make sure that every member of the family knows what to do in the event of a house fire.

Some disasters give us warning, such as floods after heavy rains. We may have time to collect important items before leaving home for safety. If you’ve prepared an emergency kit in advance, you can move quickly to gather last-minute items.

Earthquakes don’t give warnings–they just strike. During an earthquake, it may be hard to grab even an emergency kit, but afterward you may be able to re-enter your home to gather supplies if you have to leave. Having an emergency kit ready will help. Make sure everyone in the family knows how to protect themselves during an earthquake.

We usually have some warning of a tornado or hurricane, but not much. You can save lives if you have a kit, a plan and are informed about what to do, where to go.

In major disasters, you may not be directly affected at all–your home may remain intact and you can continue to live there. However, it may not be possible for you to continue business as usual because of road damage, electrical outage, store closures, etc. Emergency management authorities now suggest you have enough supplies to last five to seven days.

Recent events have made it clear that we can’t be complacent about the possibility of a disaster. The American Red Cross urges everyone to prepare:

Get a KitKeep supplies in easy-to-carry containers such as backpacks, covered buckets and plastic tubs. Consider water, food, clothing, medicines, tools, enough supplies to last five to seven days.

Make a PlanMake sure everyone in your family knows what to do in the event of a disaster. Make a family plan about where to meet if you can’t return to the home. Choose an out-of-area contact whom family members can call to “check in.”

Be InformedLearn what emergencies may occur in your area. Identify how local authorities will provide information during a disaster. Know how to reach help. Make sure at least one member of the family is trained in First Aid and CPR–it can save lives.

For more information on disaster preparedness, visit

Monday, May 16, 2011

Book Review: Baby Doe Tabor: Matchless Silver Queen

Joyce B. Lohse’s Baby Doe Tabor: Matchless Silver Queen (Filter Press) offers a refreshing visit to Colorado history from the late 1800's through Baby Doe Tabor’s death in 1935.

Baby Doe, also known as Elizabeth, Lizzie, Mrs. Harvey Doe and finally, Mrs. Horace Tabor, is one of Colorado’s most colorful legends. Without sensationalizing, glorifying, or judging, Lohse tells Baby Doe Tabor’s compelling story drawn from skillful research.

Baby Doe isn’t afraid of hard work. She pitches in to help at her husband’s silver mine, driving a team of horses to lift heavy ore buckets up mineshafts. When her marriage ends in disappointment, she is determined to leave hardship and heartbreak behind. She seeks the finer things in life: beauty, love, comfort and riches.

She realizes all her dreams, and more, though not without struggle and censure. Horace Tabor’s impressive talent for making money brings riches beyond belief. But riches can become rags with a bad turn of luck.

Lohse’s nonfiction is reality based with no made-up dialogue or embellishment. Although much has been written about Baby Doe Tabor, Lohse’s meticulous research reveals fresh material never before recorded. One resource, Baby Doe’s cookbook, proved to be a wealth of insights with scraps of paper and notations in the margins, such as this gem: “Be kindly to everybody you meet, but don’t make everybody your friend.”

Baby Doe Tabor: Matchless Silver Queen is a nonfiction historical work worthy of notice. Lohse brings this character to life, revealing the truth about an amazing but often misrepresented historical Colorado figure.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Freeing the Elwha

Take a last look. Washington’s Olympic National Park is gearing up for the largest dam removal in U.S. history–the Elwha. This past summer was celebrated as the “last dam summer in the Elwha River Valley.” Actual removal will begin in the summer of 2011, starting a two and a half to three year project. Restoration for natural habitat will take much longer, up to 25 years for the salmon runs to fully recover and many years longer for restoring the tattered ecosystem.

What prompted the damming of the Elwha? Over 100 years ago, Thomas Aldwell saw the Elwha River and its narrow gorges as an economic opportunity. Between 1910 and 1913 Aldwell’s Olympic Power and Development Company constructed the dam five miles from the river mouth. Despite a Washington State law requiring fish passage facilities, the dam was erected without them.

Thomas Aldwell boasted that the Elwha is “.... no longer a wild stream crashing down to the Strait; the Elwha was peace and power and civilization.”

The Elwha Dam and another, Glines Canyon Dam (also known as the Upper Elwha Dam, built in 1927) originally provided hydroelectric power for growth as far away as the Bremerton naval shipyard. In later years they provided about 50% of the power for one paper mill. These areas are now receiving power from other sources.

The dams were also responsible for the decline of hundreds of thousands of fish–coho, pink, chum, Chinook and sockeye salmon, as well as steelhead, char and cutthroat trout. With the fish reduced to almost zero, 137 species of wildlife, from the tiny shrews to eagles, mink, elk and bear, were drastically reduced.

In the early 1900s, extensive environmental studies showed that dam removal was the only way to restore native anadromous fish stocks and thus the river’s ecosystem. The final decision was made and a timeline established. Several large projects were completed in 2009 and 2010 in preparation for the actual dam removal.

The removal of the two dams will restore the river to its natural free-flowing state, allowing all five species of Pacific salmon and other fish to once again reach spawning and rearing habitat.. Reforestation will gradually begin, giving habitat to countless other wildlife. Nutrients that link the sea to terrestrial ecosystems will be restored.

One of the important benefits of the Elwha River’s restoration is to the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, who have lived along the river since time immemorial. Tribal members will have access to sacred sites now inundated by water, and cultural traditions can be reborn. The National Park Service and the Tribe are primary partners on this project.

The cost for dam removal and supporting projects is staggering: approximately $352 million, which includes the purchase of the two dams, the removal of the dams, construction of two water treatment plants and other facilities to protect water users, construction of flood protection facilities, a fish hatchery and a greenhouse to propagate native plants for revegetation. The return, in addition to the restoration of the natural ecosystem, will be an increase in the local economy affected by tourism, recreation and fishing.

This project creates a living laboratory where people can watch and learn what happens when salmon return, after a century, to a still wild and protected ecosystem. What an exciting project to observe and view first-hand.

For more information about this exciting project, visit

Monday, May 2, 2011

Book Review: The Devil in the White City

Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America follows the events of the great Chicago’s world’s fair of 1893. Its official name, the World’s Columbian Exposition, known throughout the world as the White City, brought extraordinary splendor to the world May 1 through October 30, 1893.

The book begins at the fair’s conception and concludes with the ending ceremony, with a few vignettes at the end. First conceived as a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the new world, the fair takes on a life of its own, showing the world architecture and design never before seen or even imagined.

Today, planning an event of this magnitude would be daunting. In the late 1800's, it was unimaginable. Architect Daniel Burnham, encountered so many obstacles on so many levels the wonder is that it happened at all. This book delves into the personalities of those who persevered to create an almost mythological experience.

But along with the splendor comes the dark deeds of a psychopath, Herman Webster Mudgett, alias H. H. Holmes. Taking advantage of the fair’s attraction, Holmes draws people into his web of destruction and death.

Larson’s account of the planning, building, performance and conclusion of the fair leaves the reader in awe that such a thing could be possible. The chilling deeds of Holmes introduces a macabre reality that only the most persistent detective can unravel.

The Devil in the White City is a well researched work, backed up by documented resource notations. The non-fiction historical is a fascinating, while chilling, page turner.