Friday, June 25, 2010

Let's give the Farmer a Day Off

I went to the wholesale farmers market in Mount Vernon Thursday morning -- just being around all those sweet raspberries made me feel pretty good.

Farmers grow raspberries and sell them, and if they can sell them for enough money, then they can keep on farming. It is not the custom of farmers to brag on making money. That would be tempting fate. Even to admit they had a good year might bring on a plague of locusts or a punishing drought, so mainly you hear the bad news and "it could be worse."

Ray deVries farms near Mount Vernon. He's a major producer of leeks and beets and other vegetables. He has proposed a national Day With No Eating for all Americans. Ray said that most Americans could get by with skipping a few meals and that would give him a day off from farming.

On Ray's farm they don't work on Sundays, or on Thanksgiving or Christmas right now, but an extra day off would be appreciated, he said

I told him I would launch his proposal to the Frog Hospital readers and ask them "Who wants to skip a day of eating?"

Steamed Greens. Molly, my housemate, said I ought to wash out the pot with soap after steaming vegetables because it leaves a taste if I don't. She noticed this because I didn't wash out the pot with soap -- and then she made tapioca pudding, but the taste of the greens was still in it.

I told her I saw her point and I would use soap on the pot, whereas in the past I had merely rinsed it out.

It was probably the collard greens that caused the problem. They have a particularly strong scent. I grow collard greens and I give them to some friends who moved here from southern states. I call it my Feed a Cracker program. Everybody needs good greens, especially the people who have been eating them all their lives.

I also give my collard greens to genteel southerners of good breeding and refined education -- just in case they read this and think I was referring to them as Crackers.

And I share my collard greens with a family that comes from Harlem, which is located on an island at the mouth of the Hudson River. The island is known as Manhattan, the city is called New York, and my New York family loves their collard greens too.

"Feed a Cajun" is a new addition to the program. Our resident Cajun in LaConner lives on his boat at the marina.

They all get their greens. Greens are what makes America strong and free.

The lighter greens -- chard, kale, and beet greens -- are just as good and just as good for you.

In a garden, the greens produce the most food, over the longest period of time, for the least effort.

Mid-summer is a good time to think about planting a fall crop of greens. Start them now, and they will keep producing until Thanksgiving.

Housecleaning. I cleaned a trashed-out rental property this week and I discovered that housecleaning pays as well as gardening, but it's only half as hard. Heck, it's easy compared to landscaping. And you can do it in bad weather too.

I've done a lot of work on my hands and knees in the garden, so dusting off the baseboards is not too much trouble. Cleaning windows -- a breeze. Scouring the oven and scrubbing the tub -- no problem. Garages, basements, and attics -- that would be my pleasure. If you have work for me, give me a ring.

So, one way or another, Frog Hospital continues through the summer of 2010 and looks forward to an always uncertain future.

Birthday. Today is my birthday. I was born on June 25, 1946, in Evanston, Illinois. I want to thank my mother because she did all the work.

Subscriptions and Signed Copies of the Book. It used to be that you sent in $25 and did not get much more than my appreciation, but now you get a signed copy of the Frog Hospital book. This book is a treasure that will still be worth reading ten years from now.

Send a check for $25 to Fred Owens, Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to the Frog Hospital blog and pay with PayPal.

Thank you,

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Winter in South Africa

It's winter in South Africa. In Johannesburg, the BBC reports the current temperature at 45 degrees with a probable low of 37 degrees.

On a high plain at 5,500 feet elevation, Jo'burg gets a biting, freezing wind in June and July -- flu season. People bundle up in sweaters. Most houses don't have any heat.

People who work in offices sit at a cold desk all day because the office building has no heat.

Watch the coaches on the sidelines of the World Cup soccer matches-- they're wearing winter jackets.

And snow. It snows in the South Africa in the higher mountains.

Capetown. I was in Capetown in 1997. It was the opening of parliament, so all the politicians were in town. I interviewed a member of parliament in his office. His name was Jannie Momberg, an Afrikaaner who had supported the apartheid regime but switched to Mandela's party, the African National Congress.

Momberg said, describing his change of mind and heart, that he had been wrong all his life, and the power of Mandela's actions and words convinced him of that.

I suggested his change to the African National Congress may have been opportunistic -- after all Momberg had just joined the winning side.

This charge of opportunism made him angry. "I will make no attempt to convince you of my sincerity," he told me with an icy glare. "But many of my Afrikaaner friends no longer speak to me. They revile me as a turncoat, as someone who went against his own people. But the future is clear and I am with Mandela and a vote for every man and woman in the new South Africa."

Those were hopeful days, in 1997, when Mandela served as the head of his country, and the racial barriers came tumbling down.

I took a seat at the curb of the main street to wait for Mandela's motorcade -- to see the great man himself as he drove by on his way to Parliament.

I struck up a conversation with a middle-aged white man in a chauffeur's uniform. He said proudly, that he served the mayor of Capetown, and drove her to her appointments -- the new mayor was a colored woman, as she would be described in their culture, meaning a person of mixed African and European descent.

The chauffeur was effusive in her praises. "She is such a lady."

And we waited. Mandela was late. The street was lined with thousands of people who came to see the great man. Europeans come on time -- it's their invention. Africans are never on time -- they don't get it, or choose not to get it.

Mandela came by in a limousine with mirrored windows. He could see out, but we could not see in. He could see me -- maybe, if he was looking my way. So I didn't see Mandela, but he saw me.

Afterward, I took the train back to Kalk Bay, on the Indian Ocean side of Capetown. I was staying at an old hotel. Kalk Bay was a fishing village, boats in the harbor, seafood restaurants, shops and galleries with antiques.

Kalk Bay was a fishing village, a fish town -- Fishtown, get it? All you kids asking me about what it was like in Fishtown here in the Skagit.

Well Kalk Bay was Fishtown in Africa. We drank beer at a pub by the train station, watching the surf crash against the rocks just past our window. I listened to obnoxious Afrikaaners argue about rugby matches.

Everybody in Africa drinks too much. This year you can see it. Remember the opening ceremony for the World Cup? There was a news story about Nelson Mandela who could not come to the ceremony because his great-granddaughter had died in a traffic accident.

This was no surprise. South Africa has a rate of traffic accident fatalities that is close to five time higher than what we have in the United States. In South Africa, drinking and driving is a way of life. Truck drivers pull off the road -- not for coffee -- but for beer. Then they get back on the road and drive drunk, and crash into school buses loaded with children, and the school bus driver is often drunk as well.

So the children die by the dozen. The roads of South Africa are very dangerous.

At what point does one criticize the customs of another country? With traffic fatalities surely. South Africans drive like idiots, they should learn from us.

Then we should get rid of the vuvuzelas at the World Cup soccer matches -- those cheap plastic horns are driving every one crazy. You can even hear them on TV. All the beautiful music in the world comes from Africa -- so get rid of the vuvuzelas, please. They sound awful.

I spoke with my ex-wife two weeks ago. She is from Zimbabwe. She lives in Pennsylvania now. She told me about her many relatives living in Johannesburg -- people I knew when we lived in Zimbabwe in 1997. Her relatives fled the poverty and political violence in Zimbabwe, and went to the big city -- Jo'burg -- to find work.

Her relatives have found work , but several of them have died in non-political criminal violence. Jo'burg has an incredibly high crime rate. It is a dangerous city.

In Botswana. Botswana has the only decent, democratic government in all of Africa. The result is peace and relative prosperity. It's just like in the books about the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

The books have been made into an HBO special -- well worth watching, I checked the DVD out of the LaConner Library and watched Lady Detective Precious Ramotswe work her magic, which is really only common sense. Many real people in Botswana are very much like the fictional Precious Ramotswe. And yes, the ladies can be quite big, and beautiful too.

Our friend in Zimbabwe was Jerry Thebe. He was from Botswana, meaning he spoke Tswana -- their language. And went home to his village near Francistown.

The last we heard from him was by email from Gabarone, the capital of Botswana, where Jerry was learning about computers.

He was such a happy fellow -- I wonder where he is now.

Happy Birthday, Friday, June 25. This Friday, June 25, I will be 64. The coming year will have prosperity and good fortune. Join me in celebrating this important day.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Making a Vegetable Garden

I was watching President Obama on TV on Tuesday describing a "national mission" to get away from using too much oil. After I thought about his speech, I realized I was already doing that.

I built a raised-bed vegetable garden for someone in Anacortes. That's part of the solution. The customer is full of enthusiasm and absolutely new at it. This is her first year to try to garden anything and she's so proud. She showed me some basil plants that she grew from seed -- they looked healthy and strong.

Each plant would cost $3 or $4 if you bought them as starts, and "our family eats a lots of basil," she said. So she will grow her own and save money.

She had some old potatoes. They were wrinkled up but sprouting new buds and all ready to put in the ground. She said she got the potatoes from Charlotte Johnson at Mother Flight Farm. Charlotte drives her truck to the farmers market in Anacortes every Saturday to sell her vegetables. She always has time for advice to people with home gardens.

Anyway, Charlotte gave her the potato buds, and I told her how to plant them, maybe three inches deep. "Which side up?" she asked. "Doesn't matter," I said, "they will find the light."

I had built her a raised bed for the vegetables, two rows 15-feet long by 3-feet wide. I laid some weed block cloth on top of the grass, and heaped the soil up on top of the that -- soil she bought from Maillard's nursery on the west side of Mount Vernon.

It took four to six yards of soil to make the beds. The truck came last week for delivery and dumped the soil on a blue tarp I laid down near where we built the garden.

Then it was my pleasure to shovel that whole pile into the wheelbarrow and cart it over to where the garden is -- just pile it up and rake it out until it looked right.

That was quite a lot of work -- moving four to six yards of soil -- and it tired me out, but it looked quite fine when it was done, especially when I realized that I was supporting our national mission. We will do it and we will succeed.

Does building a vegetable garden support our national mission to get off foreign oil? Of course it does. And is it just me? No, there are signs of this happening everywhere. People are getting serious about it and not waiting for instructions from President Obama.

The other part of the garden project was to build a deer fence. Deer are a suburban plague if you ask me. I am not sentimental about their existence, but suffice it to say that the deer like to eat tender vegetable sprouts, and we sure didn't want that to happen. So she bought a hundred feet of deer netting and a bundle of 8-foot stakes. I used that netting and made a fence around the new garden.

When I left her yesterday afternoon, she was planting bush beans.

If you go to my Facebook page, you can see a photo of this garden. Go to "LaConner Views"

Ironing. I wrote a story about how my mother used to iron my shirts. She died in 1996 and I miss her.

But the story was too personal and the thrust of it was reactionary and patriarchal. I mean, who needs a fight?

I could use it in a book that I will begin to write in November. I have two different ideas for this book.

The first idea is about how my mother used to iron my shirts and why I went to Africa in 1997. You might not see the connection, but it will make sense if I write it all down in a story of great psychological depth.

The other possibility for a book is a story about California -- a subject that fascinates me. This is how I would write that book -- I would head south in mid-October, well before the rains set in. I would get myself set up somehow in Los Angeles or near by. Then I will just write it all down.

California is one of those places where a writer needs no imagination. You just look out the window and right it all down.
They say that the streets are paved with gold in California -- well, they used to say that.

1989. I would like to end this newsletter on a sour note. I just don't like living in the Skagit Valley half as much as I used to. I think it all went down hill after 1989. That was the year they tore down Fishtown. That was the year the Cascade Mall opened in Burlington -- when all the big box stores opened up and the pro-growth people won a resounding victory. All I have to say to the pro-growth people is "you won and I lost." I used to like the valley a lot better than I do now.

Because it used to seem so special. Now it seems a lot like every place else.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

"Fred, how is your book doing?"

Quite well, thank you. We've sold a lot of copies at the Next Chapter in LaConner. I'm getting it placed in various bookstores from Bellingham to Seattle.

I will have a book-signing and informal reading this Friday, June 11, at 7 p.m. at the Bookworm Exchange in Columbia City in Seattle.

Several newspapers will be reviewing the book this week, and that should ramp things up a bit.

Meanwhile I've been getting good reactions from the readers. One fellow bought a book, started to read it, loved it, and then bought three more books to send to his friends back on the East Coast.

The Wilson County News, down in South Texas, where I used to work -- they've ordered some books to sell on their website and over the counter at their newspaper office.

That's a great deal of support. And they're not just doing me a favor -- they think it's pretty good book.

Frog Hospital is not a local or regional book. It's about America. It starts in LaConner, because LaConner is my home. But Texas is part of my home too, and Boston and California, and everywhere in between.

Like Kansas. There's a piece in the book about Kansas called "Lunch with Bob Dole." It's funny. You try to make a joke about Kansas -- that's not easy, but I did it.

It's not really a funny book, but I keep it light with some jokes here and there.

Take this piece, "The African Woman." It's tragic and even harsh:

The African Woman

The African Woman told me that long ago she was Our Mother. She said, “I borned you. I taught you to breathe and I taught you to speak. Are you a Greek, are you a Jew, are you Chinese, are you a Celt, are you from America? I borned you all and I taught you. I loved you very much, all you children. I protected you, I fed you....”

“I don’t remember that,” I interrupted. “Can you prove it? Do you have evidence or any records that say that you were my mother?”

“No, I have no records, I have no proof. I only know it, I only say it.”

“You have no proof?”

“Then you must be my slave. Go back to work and don’t bother me with your foolish stories.”

This is so compact that it's a poem. It tells the whole story of Africa and African slavery in America. I could explain this at length, but that would ruin it.

The Publisher. Frog Hospital was published by Cello Room, a small outfit in Anacortes. The publisher himself is a private person, so I won't share that except to say we made a good deal.

He made the offer to publish my book in November. We drew up a simple contract and he paid me a generous advance for the manuscript.

He did not tell me how to write the book and made only the most general inquiries as the work proceeded. That was very good -- what any writer would want.

The Editor. Jim Bertolino edited the book. He's a poet and retired professor of creative writing. Jim lives in Bellingham and working with him was really an excuse to go to the pub and drink some beers. It was pretty easy.

The Cover. It shows me standing in a boat in front of a shack on the river. The river is the North Fork of the Skagit. The cabin was the summer home of Robert Sund, a poet who died in 2001. There is quite a bit of back story to this image and this place, but I won't tell that story and you won't find it in the book.

Better to see it as some quiet retreat -- it could be on any river, someplace near where you live, perhaps. The image is an invitation to look at the book inside.

You can buy the book at some local bookstores, or get it online at or

I will mail you a signed copy, if you send me a check for $25, made out to Fred Owens, Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or you can hit the PayPal button on the Frog Hospital blog for the same amount.
Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Commando Raids Widely Condemned

I read in the newspaper online about "the emergence of contrasting versions of the melee at sea."

Contrasting versions should be expected

My interest in this flotilla is huge. I am reading all over the Internet -- from the Jerusalem Post (right wing) to The Nation here in the states.

"Widespread condemnation" was a phrase I encountered often. But when I tried to think of who or what I condemned, I couldn't come up with anything.

I recommend -- as a credible, liberal source from Israel.

In a verse in Genesis, Jacob says to his sons, "... it is better to live and not die."

Truly the modern Israelis embody this verse. They live. Everything else is secondary. It is a nation without friends. It is better to live and have no friends, then it is to cease to exist and be mourned.

"To life" is the Jewish toast. Not to "long life and prosperity," but "to life."

The U.S. has no need to support Israel militarily or economically. They do not need our help, that is only our own delusion. If we cut off the aid, they would turn, within 24 hours, to the Chinese and make a deal with them. If the Chinese turned them down, they would make a deal with Iran -- without hesitation -- in order to live and not die.

To live and not die -- but with exceptions. In medieval Spain, when Jews were forced to convert to Christianity, some preferred a martyr's death, and they were honored. But others chose to abjure their faith in order that they might continue to live, and that choice was respected also.

I could say I admire the Israelis, but they do not ask for or need my admiration. And the "widespread condemnation" is of little concern to them as well.

But I wonder. Do they want or need the attention? The Israelis have once more demonstrated that they can command the attention of the world's media, and sweep aside the Gulf oil spill, and bury the Afghan war in the back pages, and take center stage with a commando raid -- just because they can.

Greece was trashing the Euro and shaking up the world economy only last week. Those upstarts. We're Israel, and we make the news!

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257