Staying Sane in Quarantine

The Writer

We just got through a period of roughly 3 months of almost complete lockdown in which we were barely able to leave the house. Recently things have gotten better. In my province, Ontario, they’ve allowed restaurants to re-open, and just last week I sat inside a restaurant for the first time in 4 months. But we still need to be careful, and medical authorities are already warning of a second wave. We might be subject to another lockdown come the fall or winter.

Knowing how to maintain your sanity has become a vital new life-skill in 2020, and not everyone is coping so well.

How do you stay sane while in quarantine during a pandemic? I’ve kept my sanity with hobbies, two of my favorites being: writing novels and making knives.

This is a knife I forged from steel cable, using deer antler, brass and leather for the handle.

As much as I love the creative process of writing, it has one serious drawback: it involves sitting down at a laptop, which is essentially what I do for a living all day long. I’m a Project Manager at a large financial services company, in which I spend most of my day on the phone with my laptop in virtual meetings. It had always been a dream of mine to write a novel, and I’ve spent the last fourteen years getting up between 4 and 5 AM to put in a couple of hours writing before going to work. People look at me like I’m crazy, but that’s what you have to do if you’re serious about writing. It’s worth it and I feel really proud of my writing. To-date I’ve completed 7 full length novels.

And I’m glad I’m pursuing that dream, but I also needed to find something that got me on my feet, is physical and hands-on and kept me in shape (more-or-less). Gym memberships never worked for me, even before Covid-19 made them unwise. I’ve tried them several times and I’ve always found it too boring to keep up, and they are not a viable option during a pandemic.

What I needed was something physical that wouldn’t bore me to death, and keep me interested enough to stand and use my muscles for hours. So in the summer of 2016 I started another hobby – knife making.

I forge them by hand from raw hunks of high carbon steel. It seems to be working. One hot Saturday in the summer, I rolled my forge and anvil out into the backyard under a shade tree and spent the entire day forging.

I was in complete bliss, and lost almost 10 pounds. It was in that moment that I realized I’d found something that holds my interest enough to keep me physically active for hours at a time.

I didn’t want to spend a lot of money, so I made my own forge out of an old barbeque I found abandoned at the side of the road. For an anvil I use an old piece of railroad track that was given to me. Some good files and a couple of heavy hammers, and that’s basically all you need to get started.

The knife I made pictured below won’t win any prizes for beauty, but I had a lot of fun forging it.

I forged this knife from a car leaf spring. A piece of the leaf spring it came from is shown above it. The handle wood is from an old horse yoke that was left on the wall of our den by the previous owner when we moved into our house.

It’s important to have interesting hobbies when you are stuck at home self-isolating. Forging steel may not be your thing, but you could try baking bread. Take up cooking. Learn to sow and make masks. Take up carpentry. Start blogging or write that novel you’ve always wanted to. All these things have become huge since the pandemic. In my area stores can’t keep flour in stock because of the numbers of people who’ve taken up baking. I see that as a very positive thing. Stay safe and above all, stay sane!

Blogs for Coffee Lovers

Best Blogs for Coffee

As one might suspect, with novels such as “Aliens, Spaceships and the Occasional Latte”, and “Coffee to Go, With a Spaceship”, I rather like coffee. I don’t think that will come as much of a shock.

In today’s post I thought I’d share links to some of my favorite coffee related blogs. Sometimes it’s just really nice to ignore the news, Facebook, Twitter and anything else on the internet that can get too serious, and go to a website to relax and read about something you enjoy without having to hear anything about pandemics, Trump, US Presidential elections, economical calamities, financial collapse, or Justin Bieber.

And 2020 is still only half over, but we won’t talk about that right now …

Not that I don’t take what’s happening seriously. I do. But sometimes we all need a mental break. So here are some good coffee blogs, carefully screened to exclude anyone who might be tempted to talk about Trump. I’ll be updating this list from time to time.

The Bean Ground Coffee gear buying guide and reviews. If you’re shopping for anything related to your favorite addiction, this is a good place to start. Also, good indepth info on coffee beans.

The Coffee Channel. A great all-round website for coffee lovers, with reviews, blogs, buying guides and recipes all about coffee. They also have a list of what they consider the best coffee blogs.

I Love Coffee. This is a fun website that focuses on coffee related humour, coffee quotes and fun infographics about the world’s greatest beverage.

Brewed Coffee. As they say in their About Us – “We are All about Coffee, including coffee news, tips, recipes, and more!”

The Coffee Hunters Journal These folks search the world for the perfect bean!

Have a great day and stay safe!

A “nothing whatsoever to do with Covid” post

It seems there is no news except Covid news. And for the last 8 weeks or so, what other kind of news has there been? What else mattered?

But some of us still remain preoccupied with much more interesting issues, such as “Do aliens exist?”, leading up to the most pressing question on all of our hearts and minds these days: “And do they like coffee?”

I don’t actually have the answers, but I’m pretty sure that …

Do aliens drink coffee?

I’ve become a front-porch-sitter

When it is warm and sunny I have a great capacity for sitting outside. I’m very talented at it. I can sit for hours accomplishing very little, something I am very proud of. Maybe I’ll read a bit, maybe write a bit, or maybe I’ll just put my feet up and drink coffee and enjoy being outside. I get a lot of thinking done that way, but my wife says it doesn’t really count as ‘doing’ something. We continue to disagree on that point. But more on that in a future blog, perhaps.

However, I digress… my real point is that I’ve converted.

Before the crisis I did all of my serious sitting on the back deck, completely ignoring the front porch. Too many people out front, more private in the back. Up until this April, I probably only ever sat on the front porch maybe 4 times during the 12 years we’ve lived in our house. I much preferred the privacy of the back deck.

Since the crisis, I’ve converted to a front-porch-sitter. There aren’t many cars going by anymore, but lots more people out walking. I sit outside with a coffee several times a day now. And I get to say ‘hi’ to people. It’s exciting. Many of them are complete strangers and often they will stop and ask me how I’m doing – at a socially responsible distance, of course. And the question ‘how are you doing?’ is no longer rote pro forma, but has become freighted with genuine feeling. And a meaningful answer is actually expected and even welcomed. It’s wonderful. It makes me feel less isolated and actually part of the human race again.

I don’t even have the chairs setup on the back deck yet. Why would I? There isn’t anyone back there.

…I also get excited about taking a car ride once a week to the grocery store now… but more on that in a future blog post.

Hobbies In Quarantine

Can’t go out. Going to the grocery store feels like I’m putting my life at risk. I can’t just watch Netflix or be on Facebook all the time. They’re about to outlaw going for walks, and in Toronto they are now handing out $7500 fines for going to the park…not that we should anyway.

In times such as these hobbies are important. People are learning to sew and are making face masks. People are learning to bake for themselves in huge numbers. There is something very comforting in homemade bread and buns. If there is one good thing that comes out of this crisis – and I think there will be many good things, actually – is that people are re-learning how to make and bake and do things for themselves. The kind of things our grandparents always did for themselves, but we’ve found it easier to just go shopping instead.

That’s changing now, since shopping for anything but necessities has been cancelled, and the necessities are getting hard to find.

Keeping yourself occupied with hands-on, practical things is important to maintaining ones sanity while in isolation. I’ve been learning to work with leather and make knife sheaths. I’ve also been learning to make knives.

Here’s a sample of what I’ve been making. Made from bulk, raw materials, not from a kit. I ground and polished the blade down from a bar of high-carbon tool steel. Solid brass bolsters are set off nicely by the black micarta handles, secured with brass pins to the tang. I hand-stitched the leather sheath.

Now, some of you may be wondering why, as a writer, I’m talking about making knives as a pass-time instead of writing. Shouldn’t I be using that extra time to get that next, long over-due, Jack Winters sequel finished? When loyal fans are patiently awaiting the next sequel, why am I fooling around making a knife? Good question. But here’s the thing. I spend all day in front of a laptop writing and sometimes it feels like, well – work. So I need a fun diversion that is also physical, hands-on and gets me off my bottom and on my feet. Otherwise I’m going to get fat and out-of-shape, suffer health complications, and then I’d never get the next Jack Winters sequel finished!

Staying healthy and fit is very important to surviving a crisis.

Thanks for visiting. Keep sane, and stay healthy!

Does anyone else feel like this?

I no longer find post-apocalyptic movies entertaining.

Some of my favorite books over the years have been: Lucifer’s Hammer, Alas, Babylon, Childhood’s End, and One Second After. And who will ever forget great classics like The Day of the Triffids, On the Beach and A Canticle for Lebowitz. I loved these post-apocalyptic books. I’ve read them all more than once. I even wrote one myself about 4 years ago: The Girl With No Shoes, about time travel and a civilization ending plague.

And some of my all-time favorite movies have been The Quiet Place, The Bird Box, Signs, and I Am Legend, to name just a few. I own the DVD of Signs and binge-watched The Bird Box three times one week on Netflix about a year ago. I loved it.

But now that I feel like I’m in one, I no longer find them quite so entertaining.

I’ve had a few co-workers make comments along these lines (over the phone, of course, while on con-calls). One said that he “feels like he’s a supporting cast member in a sci-fi movie.” Another one said that she “feels like she’s been dropped into a sci-fi plot.” These comments all came unprompted, without a leading question. I found it interesting because I was feeling the same way. When I commented on this to my brother, he quipped: “What took you so long? I’ve felt like I’ve been in a dystopian nightmare ever since Trump got elected.”

I was really looking forward to the release of The Quiet Place II this March in movie theaters. But I never got the chance. All the theaters closed due to the virus the same week it was released. (Does anyone else see the irony in that?) Maybe Netflix will stream it, but I no longer care. It’s going to be a very long time before I’ll be in the mood to watch it.

In the past I’ve had to watch these movies alone or with a friend or one of my adult kids, because my wife doesn’t like them and will leave the room if one is on. She much prefers stuff like Call the Midwife, Doc Martin and Downton Abbey. At Christmas time she binge watches cheesy Hallmark holiday romances. Shows that usually put me to sleep before the opening credits are done.

Like everyone else around the world, my wife and I are in self-isolation at home. Fortunately we both have jobs that are suitable for work from home. My work sent us all home with our laptops two weeks ago and told us not to come back until further notice. My wife’s employer sent them home with their computers and telephones last week. She’s setup in the dining room and my ‘office’ is now in the living room.

We won’t be going out anytime soon, and there is suddenly a lot of time after work to read books and watch TV. And I have absolutely no interest in apocalyptic books and end of the world movies. My wife found out that Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey, has a new series on Netflix: The English Game, about soccer in the 1870’s. She wants to watch that.

Sounds good to me Honey. I’ll make the popcorn. And after that’s over, I’ll even watch Call the Midwife with you.

Reading Not Cancelled

Everything, it seems, is being cancelled. When hockey gets cancelled in Canada, and football is cancelled in the UK, you know things are getting serious.

But the cancellations are for a good reason. Social distancing is the best way to curb the spread of this virus. Social distancing and self-isolation is the responsible thing to do. I saw a thing on FB yesterday that made me laugh so hard it brought tears to my eyes. It went like this:

“Our grandfathers were called to storm the beaches of Normandy. We are being called to sit on the couch. You can do this.”

Yes, we can. The isolation won’t be fun, but it is the socially responsible thing to do. Even if you are not in a high risk category, you can still become contagious – so this is about protecting other people as well.

The good news is that reading hasn’t been cancelled. And with the entire world going into quarantine, restaurants, bars and all public events closing, there is going to be a lot of time to read.

This week, from March 16 to March 19, 2020, I am giving away for free the Kindle version of “Aliens, Spaceships and the Occasional Latte”. Available on Amazon now. It is a fun, escapist read that is by no means serious SF and has nothing to do with viruses, so I hope people will find it a refreshing and enjoyable diversion.

This is the first book in my Jack Winters series, about a detective and a group of alien smugglers who come to Earth for our coffee and have all kinds of adventures around the galaxy.

The second book in the series is also available now – “Coffee To Go, With a Spaceship.” The 3rd book is planned, and I hope to have that ready later this year.

Various promotions will continue after the free giveaway ends March 19. After March 19, I will raise the price up to 0.99 in both the US, Canadian and UK markets. (0.99 Euro for UK, and 0.99 USD for the States and something like 1.35 in Canada – whatever the conversation rate works out to.)

The book will be featured in a series of online promotions and email blasts between now and April 5, with BooksGoSocial, Bargain Booksy and BookSends. The price will remain at 0.99 throughout this time and to the end of April.

Please drop me a line and let me know what you think!

Stay safe and stay healthy… and don’t forget to wash your hands!