Note: In order to combine two of the author’s blogs, this post has been relocated from KathleenCremonesi.com. For those of you who have already viewed this post, my apologies for the repetition, and thank you for your patience. Original post date: February 28, 2015.

It’s wonderful to discover, and rediscover, a gem in your backyard. While attending the Seafood and Wine Festival in Newport, Oregon, I had the pleasure of rediscovering the amazing artisan cheeses of Oregon’s own Rogue Creamery.

Located in the Willamette Valley, Rogue’s cows graze in pastures that sit at 1,650-foot elevation along the Rogue River. The creamery was opened in the 1930s by Tom Vella and originally produced cheddar. According to their website, they produced 1 million pounds for four years running during WWII to ship to troops. After an enlightening trip to France in the 1950s, the creamery began to produce the first blue cheese produced in caves west of the Missouri River.

The creamery currently handcrafts a variety of cheeses from raw, certified sustainable, rBST-free milk — cheddars from delicate rosemary to spicy habanero, and blues from the lighter Oregon Blue to the earthy Smokey Blue. My hands down favorite, at least this year, is the Rogue River Blue.

Rogue River Blue is made but once a year, from milk gathered between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice, and is cave-aged for one year. After aging, the forms are wrapped in syrah grape leaves that have been macerated in Clear Creek Pear Brandy. Doesn’t that sound amazing? It’s not cheap, and it shouldn’t be with what goes into making it, so I ponied up and brought a wedge of heaven home from the festival.

Oh, what a beautiful cheese. Tiny crystals speckle the deep blue veins, producing a party for your tongue which is creamy and crunchy, smooth and striking all at once. Although there are certainly myriad ways to enjoy this beauty, I’m not willing to dilute its flavor just yet and have focused on simple pairings, such as a slice of perfectly ripened pear.

It’s no wonder Rogue River Blue has won so many awards, including Best Blue Cheese in the World (London, 2003) when up against such powerhouses as British Stilton, Italian Gorgonzola, and French Roquefort. It has also won Best American Cheese, Super Gold World Cheese Award, and Best in Show twice at the American Cheese Society (2009, 2011).

Rogue Creamery’s motto, “handmade locally, celebrated globally,” is spot on. Yet, I’ve never turned an I5 road-trip into a “Rogue trip.” With all the times I’ve made the jaunt between Eugene and San Francisco, I’ve never detoured five-minutes off the interstate in Central Point, Oregon, to visit their shop. Next excursion south, I will, and I expect it will be the highpoint of the drive. In the meantime, specialty grocery stores, here I come.

The Grateful Dead are turning 50 this year, and a party is in the works for the July 4th weekend at Chicago’s Soldier Field. I too am turning 50 this year, and I’m more than happy to share the celebration with them.

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I’ve shared a lot with the Dead over the years. It started quite by accident, way back in August, 1982 in Veneta, Oregon, home of the Oregon Country Fair – or as us high school kids called it: When the Hippies Came Town. I was working at the local Dairy Queen, and ratty-haired freaks in flowing clothing had been wandering in all day. Of course my coworkers and I were curious why these hippies had come back to town – the Country Fair had ended a month ago. I recall this one lanky guy with a turban of dark dreadlocks cradling his head telling me, “It’s the greatest show on earth. An experience you’ll never forget, and can never get enough of. You should come over and check it out.”

And that’s exactly what I did, thanks to a coworker’s boyfriend who mistakenly showed up at that DQ an hour too early to collect her – right at the moment that I was finishing my shift. So we tooled on over to the Country Fair lot to see what we could see. I remember sun reflecting off the long line of chrome motorcycles parked in the grassy lot, how we meandered into the concert unchecked, the craft booths lining the perimeter selling things such as hair wreaths of dried flowers. Most of all, I remember the dancers – this one blonde girl in particular, twirling circles in her paisley halter dress, hair streaming out behind her like the tail of a comet. I do not remember the music.

Another three years would pass before the Grateful Dead whirled onto my radar again, and that too was a serendipitous accident – or fate, depending on how you look at it. I was in L. A. at the time. One of the security personnel I worked with ran another outfit which provided security for the Dead’s Ventura concerts. When he mentioned his upcoming gig to me, I did not recall the band’s name from that concert in Veneta three years before, but this coworker was convinced I’d like what I saw and offered me 4 backstage passes. Who would turn that down – for any band?

My roommate and cohortJamaica with Tonya in all crazy adventures at the time promptly borrowed the American Beauty LP from our local library. Music is what kept our hearts beating in those days. Beatles, Bowie, Stones, Doors – we immersed ourselves in it all, drunk on an era we could only imagine, saddened that those days of beauty and freedom were long gone. Two flower children, born 20 years too late. The Grateful Dead tunes we listened to from that scratchy LP did not evoke the same sense of wonder. They were okay, we supposed, or at least good enough to hitchhike up to Ventura to see a show.

I don’t recall even trying to go backstage. Walking through the crowd was like a carnival fun house filled with smiling hlast day of workippies, beautiful freaks that welcomed us into their space, taught us to dance from our heart, and cracked our minds wide open. The music was all right too. Turns out these Dead guys were “good enough” for that friend and I to hitchhike all the way up to Tahoe the following month and down to Chula Vista the month after that. Good enough that, by winter of the following year, we quit our jobs, sold most of our worldly goods, bought a VW Bus, and “dropped out” to follow their tours across country.

The friend fell in love, her first true love, and we didn’t end up traveling together on tour, but we still saw each other regularly at concerts. The world that we dropped into was quite a place, filled with the most free-thinking, generous and beautiful characters I’d never imagined. I put nearly 40,000 miles on that bus over the next 18 months as I toured back and forth across country on America’s blue highways, selling bead work to pay for gas and food. Though I never had a ticket ahead of time, I boogied my way through 100-some concerts, venues such as Brendan Byrne, NJ; Hampton, VA; Alpine Valley, WI; Red Rocks, CO; and Angels Camp, CA; and each one felt like home. I learned to fend for myself and live life on the road, to adjust that VW’s engine valves on the fly and to navigate my own path. I learned to enjoy life deeply, and I learned that detours were an integral and inextricable part of living, no matter which direction they veered.

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I didn’t realize the lessons I was acquiring at the time, or how those years prepared me for the next stage of my life – dashing off to Europe in search of adventure, landing in a traveling circus, and spending then next two-plus years with an even zanier cast of characters, one of whom I would fall in love with. My own first, and only, true love. Things didn’t always work out as I hoped during those circus years, in fact, sometimes things went very wrong. But they did work out, due to those years on Dead Tour, a strong thirst for life, and the fortune of sharing that path with someone I loved.

The centrifugal force of the circle of life is drawing me “home” again. This July, as the Dead take stage at Soldier Field, I’ll be there in the audience, with that “love of my life” at my side, waving my freak flag wide and high. And I will feel immensely grateful for one last party with the counter-culture which provided the lessons I needed to make my way in a traditional world.

Fare thee well ~

Note: In order to combine two of the author’s blogs, this post has been relocated from another site. For those of you who have already viewed this post, my apologies for the repetition, and thank you for your patience. Original post date: January 16, 2015.

Most of my friends and acquaintances know that I ran away with an Italian circus in my twenties, and some know that I have been writing stories about those years for some time. A few know that my memoir, Love in the Elephant Tent, will be published in May of this year. But not many know quite what has gone into that process.

 I began to compile stories from my under-the-big-top adventures in 1994, a few years after I returned to the US from Italy. It was slow going. I mean slow. Perhaps that’s to be expected when you run off with the Grateful Dead and then a circus in lieu of college. By the time I helped form a local writers critique group in 1998, I had but a handful of chapters completed, none of which would make it into the final book. Over the next five years, I worked my way through the remaining story — laughter and tears, joy and frustration, and an incredibly patient writers group were regular and indispensable companions. By late 2003, I held a completed first draft in my hands — all 135,000 words of it. Another 5 years would pass as I hacked away at revisions and shepherded some 40,000 words, hundreds of hours of work, into the recycling bin.

In 2009, it was time to find an agent, and I did. Then it time was to find a publisher. And that came too, but that’s another story, another post. For now I’ll just say that it took another 6 years. In spring of 2014, I had a contract and a publishing date set for May, 2015.

A publishing date. A specific point in time when others — anyone — could peer into my heart simply by opening a book. Oh dear.

The reality of sending such personal stories of a crazy and tumultuous period of my life out into the world makes me catch my breath — especially after hanging onto them for 20-plus years. But I do have to let go, see if this book will find its way into readers’ hands and hearts and bookshelves. So many concerns: Will anyone connect with my story? See themselves and their experiences in my own? Did I represent my feelings accurately? Treat others fairly? Spell foreign words correctly? And what about those damn commas?

Oh dear.

I received my Advance Reading Copy in late December. I pored over it and adorned it with so many sticky notes that it looked like a 1920s flapper dress. And then I went back and pondered my notes, one by one. Fixing and unfixing passages. Moving commas. Correcting those foreign words. Checking accents, dates, and weights. And then I unstuck those sticky notes, piled them up in a corner of my desk. They reminded me of confetti.

Sticky Note Confetti, Love in the Elephant Tent

And it is time to celebrate. The book may not be perfect, but that’s okay. I’m not perfect either, but I seem to be making my way through this world nonetheless. Not everybody “gets” me, so I won’t expect everyone to “get” my book. But some will, and I will be thankful for that.

It’s time for me to let go. Fare thee well, my friend.