Category Archives: Country News and Notes

Sew Fine

August 1999 – The Babe slips quietly out of the big brass bed that has been in her family for four generations now. She goes into the kitchen and starts the coffee, then into the bathroom to turn on the bathwater in the deep, old claw-foot tub. Back in the living room, she runs her long, delicate fingers over the white cowhide stretched across the regulation-size pool table as she moves toward the far corner of the room.

“Good morning Juan Carlos,” she says to the inscrutable iguana that takes up most of the length of his six-foot-long aquarium enclosure. Juan Carlos just blinks.

Freshly bathed she pours a steaming mug of coffee, steps out onto the second-floor deck and sits at down at the table. Absent-mindedly she watches the play of sunlight through the leaves of the cottonwood trees down by the river. Had she said too much to that gal from the local paper yesterday? She wonders, no, she has nothing to hide, not really.

She’d been a wild child, yes. Born Tammy Lynn Spohn back in Ohio, genetically she had a mixed heritage of mostly Anglo blood, but with enough Shawnee to account for the high cheek bones, a strong jaw and well-defined nose on her sculpted face. Her family had relocated to California in 1960 when, at two-and-a-half, she had pigtails, dark sparkling eyes and dimples, perfectly captured in a studio photo taken at the time. It was one of several she had loaned the reporter to use with the story.

But the family didn’t hold together. There were what seemed like countless moves, culminating in a divorce. By age 14 she felt her father was a stranger and she took off for Hawaii where he was then living, to get to know him better. She didn’t get to know him any better, nor, she reflected sadly, was she ever able to please him. The wild child dropped out of high school in the 10th grade and married an Islander, a Hawaiian whose Polynesian blood, primarily from the Asian sector, was as mixed as her own.

Twenty-three years later she would get her GED, mostly to please (impress) her father, because she thought her life was on a track that a high school diploma, or the lack thereof, would have no significant bearing. But Dad didn’t seem to care.

Motherhood at 16—her daughter, Fawn, was so beautiful, so precious—the former wild child became a determined young mother. Sadly, her Hawaiian marriage ended before the birth of her second daughter. Tammy returned to the mainland. Daughter Nicole was born in Porterville. It had been a struggle, no two ways about it. But she is so proud of them now, Fawn is living right here in Springville with Tammy’s adorable grandson, Xavier, and Nicole, now 22, is teaching school in San Francisco and going for her doctorate. Who’da thought. . .

About the only recreation and relaxation Tammy had managed back in those difficult times was participating in a little sport she picked up as a wild child—shooting pool. She was good, really good. The guys saw a babe. She saw a game. She beat them royally and walked off with trophies. It wasn’t for money. She never bet. The guys bet between themselves over her. She just loved the game.

Eventually she landed a sgood job at Sierra Forest Products in Terra Bella. She put in ten years of hard work, aiming for lumber grader, a solid position with a serious paycheck.

To master the art of lumber grading, a person must learn how to identify each of the species of trees; and each of its characteristics—if they’re natural, or the effect of manufacturing, or of seasoning; the allowable sizes and amount of characteristics permitted in the different grades and where they are permitted in each piece—known as “flipping boards.”

Tammy was tutored by Dave Edwards, the best in the shop. Dave was a twenty-year veteran and sixteen years her senior. They worked closely. Dave fell deeply in love. Tammy wouldn’t give him a tumble, no way José! He was previously committed, as they say. But Dave wouldn’t, couldn’t give up. He dissolved the commitment and then began seriously pursuing Tammy.

This August morning Tammy sees Dave as he exits the house, and blows him a kiss. He waves and heads up the path toward his car, on his way to that same job he will be retiring from in another four years. She would have fixed him breakfast, but Dave doesn’t do breakfast, hasn’t for the ten years they’ve been married.

She’s been musing long enough. It’s time to go to town. In her bedroom, she slips into a svelte, floor-length sleeveless blue dress with slits up the sides, puts her feet into matching blue sandals and deftly selects the perfect pair of earrings from the 500 pairs (that’s not  typo) she has hanging from lace trim tacked to several shelves above her dresser. She checks herself in the mirror. Not bad she thinks. She laughs softly as the thought flits through her mind of the birthday party her daughters threw for her last year. Everyone wore black—as the invitation requested—in appropriate attire for celebrating Tammy turning the big four zero. A little fun on her daughters’ part.

Up the path, she gets into her hot red Camaro and tools into town. The vanity plates read “Tamz Kam.” She loves this town, Springville, knew she wanted to live here the first time she laid eyes on it. And the house by the river—she knew she would be living there, sensed it, on her first walkthrough. Back in Porterville, when she would mow a neighbor’s yard for mad money, special money she wanted to put down on antiques she had collected her whole life, she had paid off that beautiful Belgian tapestry that fit so perfectly, like it was meant to be there, on one living room wall.

She parks the Camaro on the street across from her shop, Tammy’s Country Crafts—In the Hills. She always knew she could make some kind of living with her sewing machine. Since her mom taught her to sew on their old Kenmore, she took to it like a duck to water. She was so adept that in her seventh-grade sewing class, the teacher ran out of assignments for her by midterm and had to invent projects for her to do. She didn’t plan this—she planned to be a lumber grader. But her back gave out. She could no longer do the heavy work involved. “Our bodies get older even when we don’t,” she’d told the reporter.

Tammy’s sewing area is so tight, she has to move display items outside to make room for customers. Customer friends, crafter friends and just plain friends would be stopping by to pick up sewing repairs, drop off handcrafted gift items on consignment or simply to chat and gossip. Before they start arriving, Tammy goes out back to open the annex, The Backyard Boutique holds the overflow, including greeting cards, dried flower arrangements, dolls, t-shirts, pillows, quilts, steins—all handcrafted. The new coat of paint looks sharp. Inside, the pleasant aroma of dried flowers fills the air. Friends had done it all. Her sewing work was too backed up for her to have time for the Boutique. Tammy gets a stipend for providing space for craft classes including beading, dried flower arrangement, crocheting, doll making, knitting, tole painting and scrap-booking. She also sells craft supplies.

Now it’s time to get at it. The sewing is, as always, backed up. What with customers not only from here in town, but also from neighboring communities all the way to and including Visalia, a fifty-mile trip, each way. The word is getting out and she is getting more new customers all the time. She knows she’s not going to get rich but that was never the plan. She just wants to get to the place where she can afford help so she can spend more time with her husband when he retires.

As five o’clock rolls around, Tammy brings in her outside displays. With an armload of sewing projects to take home, the babe locks up and crosses the street to her Camaro. She spins a U-turn and heads up the hill toward her own beautiful home.

“Will the reporter embarrass me? Probably. Will I care? Nah,” she laughs and hits the gas.


Afterword: Tammy’s business, like almost every other small business start-up, including the antique business to her right and the Sweet Shoppe to her left, folded (or changed hands) within three years (usually less). Such is the nature of small, resort-like towns in the southern Sierras, the ones that don’t particularly cater to tourism beyond holding a couple of weekend public events (in spring and fall) each year.

This story originally appeared in the now defunct Tule River Times, gratis.




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Springville Library Celebrates Centennial Birthday

Springville librarian Donna Ellis displays proclamation.

Old women, young children and a few good men, the backbone of library supporters, made for a full house as Springville Branch Library celebrated its centennial birthday on Saturday, Jan. 14. A big blue bookworm book chocolate cake and book covered cupcakes supplied by Lindsay Library Friends provided refreshments for the attendees.

Librarian Donna Ellis accepted a proclamation from the Tulare County Board of Supervisors celebrating the “lifelong learning for all” that enrich users lives. Springville library is one of 16 branch libraries in the Tulare County Library System.

The first person I spoke with was author, illustrator, poet and former teacher Sylvia Ross who invited me to join her at her author’s table where one could purchase anthologies to which she contributed, her children’s books and Ross’s latest contribution, a 390-page novel, her first, titled Acts of Kindness, Acts of Contrition and called “A Love Story” although Ross admitted that it was in large part memoir which is how it reads so far (I’m up to Chapter 11).

Messrs Monte Reyes, Bill Horst and Jeff Edwards presented a reenactment of the early days in Porterville and Springville. Reyes played the part of Royal Porter Putnam, fresh off serving as co-chair for Porterville’s sesquicentennial which they celebrated as Royal Porter Putnam Day and where Horst was in charge of the reproduction Civil War Cannon which he blasted eight times. Edwards, the moderator or interviewer, has been the proprietor of Edwards Studio, Main Street’s oldest business established in 1947, and the collector of historical photos and negatives of Porterville of which he has more than 50,000—many reproduced in some 50 books he has published on local history. He also had a book table with books available for purchase at the event.

Horst played the part of Springville founder Avon Coburn with aplomb, bringing titters from the audience when he spoke of Old Man Hubbs’ wariness of drinking scotch and soda using water from the town’s soda springs, famous for its restorative properties, but which turned black when mixed with the liquor. This writer happens to own and live in Hubbs’ house which he built of solid lumber planks inside and out in 1880. Horst told how the lumber business brought the train spur from Porterville to Springville and increased tourism to its soda springs.

Meanwhile, in the children’s area, Lindsay elementary school librarian and thespian Cheryl Cook read aloud with great drama to children of all ages.

Lifelong Lindsay resident and local historian Virginia Radeleff, whose own history is intermingled with that of the library, entertained the gathering with her first person tales.

It took a request from seven prominent residents to get a library deposit station in the Springville Hotel in March 1911. The following year it was moved to the Roschdale Store and open six days a week. In 1914 they tried the Post Office as a location, but the library moved again in 1917 to the store of Peabody & Hubbs. The following year it came full circle back to the hotel where it would stay for more than a decade with Mrs. Minnie Elster as custodian.

Then, in 1929 the Radeleffs took over when Juanita Radeleff was appointed custodian and the library was moved into their home where she operated the town switchboard. Virginia was 10 years old. Can you imagine being privy to all the town’s telephone calls and housing its library—a stimulating environment indeed for a child in a remote rural environment. Virginia said the library was just a small bookcase with maybe five shelves and once a month a big wooden box of books would come from the county to be exchanged with the previous load. She said her mom found it kind of a nuisance to have borrowers underfoot but the bookcase stayed for more than a decade before being moved to the variety store. A real estate office was home from 1947-1972 before the library got its own building and present home at Sequoia Dawn senior citizen complex, a record 40-year tenure to date.

Also present at the festivities were former Springville librarian Carolyn Giddings and retired Lindsay librarian Deanna Pettus representing the Tulare County Historical Society. This was the library’s second 100th birthday celebration, the first one being on June 10, 2010.

Author Sylvia Ross displays her books.

Historical reenactment participants Bill Horst, Monte Reyes and Jeff Edwards.

Springville Library building at Sequoia Dawn

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Happy Trails to You

Easter fell on March 23 in 2008 and this year, 2011, on April 24, so we can’t be too surprised that Earth Day came on Good Friday and the Springville Rodeo, yesterday, thanks to the full moon, the vernal equinoxand the Julian and Gregorian calendars that keep the religious holiday moving around.

However, around California’s Central Valley, there is only a narrow window between the rains of winter and the blazing summer sun that produces crops that help feed the world. It seems every town has its spring festival: orange blossom, iris, asparagus, raisin, cherry, etc. plus rodeos, classic car shows, street fairs, arts events and anything else they can think of to celebrate the good weather and hopefully bring in some tourism dollars.

I read a lot of blogs but there is only one I participate in regularly, written by a literary agent and followed by a lot of mostly older, somewhat salty and outspoken writers. As writers do, someone suggested a fantasy scenario of getting together at a cabin in the woods, picking blackberries for jam, drinking wine and eating fine cheese. I offered that I actually had a cabin in the woods, being that I live within a few miles of the Sequoia National Forest, in the Sierra foothills on the East Side of the San Joaquin Valley.

Although I am quite happy to spend the majority of my time in my cabin by the woods, it’s hard to ignore a parade forming right at my doorstep, per the one yesterday for the Springville Rodeo—so snapped a few photos, proving that I am indeed out in the backcountry. As you can see there is nobody watching the parade out here at the staging area. They are all waiting downtown. Here comes the parade. Happy trails…

What does spring bring to your door?

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The Good Egg

Good Eggs for Easter

Have you ever eaten a fresh egg? I mean farm fresh like still warm from the chicken.

As a little girl, between the ages of four and five, on my grandparents’ farm one of my duties was to collect the eggs. I didn’t understand why some chickens were so cranky until I managed to get an egg away from one fat bird who complained bitterly. Then I dropped the egg and discovered I had just killed an un-hatched baby chick. I felt terrible and stopped arguing with the “nesting” hens, although I have since discovered that chickens are not thrilled to give up their eggs whether they are fertilized or not.

We all know that factory farms are brutally efficient at egg and chicken production (which ever came first), turning out an inferior product from what nature intended. And paying another dollar or two per dozen for “organic” eggs at the supermarket is no guarantee the poultry has been treated properly or politely. Some of the factory farm operators literally raise millions of birds (both conventional and organic) with as many as 85,000 “organic” hens in single buildings. Source:

Good eggs have yolks that are deep yellow and firmly rounded in shape. The whites are thick, clear and the white doesn’t spread out much. The shells are thick and take a good whack to crack. if you crush the shell in your hand, it doesn’t crumble but cracks into sharp shards. Good eggs are healthy eggs (despite all of egg’s bad press). Good eggs contain:
• 1⁄3 less cholesterol• 1⁄4 less saturated fat• 2⁄3 more vitamin A• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids• 3 times more vitamin E• 7 times more beta carotene

Read more:

Raising your own chickens is one sure way of getting fresh eggs. Another is buying them from a reputable dealer at your farmers market. (Even here in the backcountry it’s rare to find a farmers market where there isn’t at least one “farmer” selling foodstuffs they purchased from a commercial wholesale market.)

With Easter coming, I bought a flat of 30 eggs at my local farmers market for slightly less than the “organic” eggs cost at the supermarket. So be a good egg and buy good eggs for your good health.

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Moses Mountain: Can you see him?

Moses Mountain, Sequoia National Forest, Tulare County, CA

This weekend is the beginning of Daylight Savings Time with one more week until it is officially spring. It is easier to see Moses when there is snow on his face. Do you see his profile, with his beard flowing to the left and his long hair flowing to the right? You can see a thick eyebrow over the dot of an eye, with his pert nose the highest point at the center top of the photo.

Just wanted to share while it is officially still winter despite the 70 degree weather this afternoon.

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Mighty Oak Felled


Tree down. Cutters inspect work.

White oak, a dead tree standing.

Trees are poems that earth writes upon the sky,
We fell them down and turn them into paper,
That we may record our emptiness.
~Kahlil Gibran

Recently Cal Fire knocked on my door to tell me they were cutting down the old oak tree whose branches hung over my yard. So I said great. The tree is dead and I have been fearful for at least a decade that its heavy branches might fall on my truck. I have the good fortune to live next door to these buff young firefighters here in fire country in that I live in a 130-year-old wood house, and can’t get fire insurance despite the fact that my house has been here from before there was a town.

Just up the road is the Sequoia National Forest, a corner of which is managed in a section called Mountain Home. Trees are one of those environmental flashpoints. Many dream of a forest primeval but was it ever so?

“American Indians’ use of fire as a management tool changed the entire ecology of the forest. Burning increased the range of pines, oaks and other forest types that flourish under a frequent fire regime. Agriculture in the Americas originated more than 5,000 years ago. By 1500, indigenous people had cleared millions of acres for crops. Everywhere in the Americas they also regularly set fire to hundreds of millions of acres to improve game habitat, facilitate travel, reduce insect pests, remove cover for potential enemies, improve conditions for berries to grow, and drive game.”

A tree’s a tree. How many more do you need to look at? </>–Ronald Reagan

And what does any of this have to do with electronic publishing? Your thoughts?

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Going Postal

Hi Snicklefritz,

(A very old term of endearment for a rambunctious male toddler from the low German dialect spoken by Mennonites. Also what my grandmother sometimes called me—amazing what you remember when writing your memoir.)

I wanted to let you know a small package may be coming your way. Or not. I went POSTAL at the post office this week, a big No No.

I bought one of their sturdy little boxes about the size of a VCR cassette tape, took it home, put some homemade goodies inside and brought it back for mailing. Ten bucks postage she wanted!

“I’m sorry but it weighs more than a pound,” the lady said. “You should have gotten one of our Flat Rate boxes.” She said they were a half-inch shorter but only cost five dollars to ship.

“You leave your expensive ($3.29) boxes out here for patrons to serve themselves, and keep the Flat Rate boxes over there behind the counter and they look just the same,” I exclaimed. “It’s no wonder you’re going out of business. I could have shipped it FedEx for less.”

I more or less accused the post office of deceptive practices. She said I could send it parcel post for only $8.60, but it would not arrive until Tuesday, the day after Valentine’s Day (if at all I was thinking), so I sent it parcel post saving a whole buck-forty.

And then there’s the price of the enclosed card. Anyway, just wanted to let you know and say thanks for your e-mailed Valentine.

Much love,

(My nickname as a small child—some memories are better forgotten.)

What do you think, dear reader, about the U.S. Postal service, time to give it up?

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Just us Chickens: A Valentine’s peep

Dear Chix Pix:

I love chickens, and feel a close kinship to Gonzo on the Muppets. Your chicken story is precious. My grandparents had chickens on the farm in Santa Ana where I spent my first six years. I have since, twice tried raising chickens, but failed to make a secure henhouse and, well, EVERYTHING eats chicken.

My son was going to build me a chicken house when he visited at Christmas, but we had 200 percent more rain this December than normal, and he didn’t make much progress. We had so much rain that a waterfall appeared over a rocky promontory on the mountainside across the highway, flowing for about a week, very pretty. But I have a plan B that I hope to get to this year. I can’t see paying five dollars a dozen for organic eggs when I can grow my own for chickenfeed, so to speak.

I gave my manuscript to a professional editor who is also a creative writing instructor. Two months later, just after Christmas, I got it back. Overall, she said, it lacked plot structure and tension as a novel, but needed very few changes as a memoir. So now I am working on THE MEMOIR. The “novel” was about a couple of years in the ‘60s, the two years before THE MEMOIR. The memoir is tentatively titled “BICOASTAL: A Kidnapping/Custody Battle.” I am 50,000 mostly painful words into the first draft. But I think it will serve the overall good for women in any kind of custody battle, if only as a how-not-to.

Happy Valentine’s Day. I made the butter brickle, not real pretty, but very tasty. Bought the cookies at my local farmers market and, of course, the almonds are locally grown and processed. Enjoy.

Much love,

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Toothaches and Wild Turkeys

A week ago my dentist filled a tooth that didn’t hurt, and now a progressive toothache will have me back in his office this morning sans appointment. That’s okay out here in the sticks where becoming friends with one’s dentist is more common than not.

Still fixing teeth in his 70s, Doc said he tried retirement and found it boring. But there is nothing boring about his holidays. He hooks up with a group of motorcycle enthusiasts and bikes across continents. As a reporter, I did a story about his solo trip around the perimeter of Australia, and another with this group who traveled the Silk Road from Turkey to China, which was chronicled online. His most recent trip was to Vietnam and Cambodia, biking through a monsoon, he said.

With Thanksgiving coming, I am reminded that Doc invited me to his property a few years back, to photograph wild turkeys, roaming free and safe from hunters. The photos were used on the front pages of two local papers put out by one publisher, my boss.

So, I didn’t think I would be writing today because of my toothache, but blogging is distracting me from the pain while I wait for Doc’s dental office to open.  

As a side note, I was surprised to see that the toothache has seriously spiked my blood pressure. What about you? Any toothache tales?

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