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Another ‘staying sane in lockdown’ blog post

What are you doing to keep your sanity these days? We are just coming out of our third lockdown… (only two more lockdowns now until Christmas.) Restaurants can have patio seating, but still no indoor seating. Stores can now have limited numbers of people inside. So it’s a little better now, and most people have had their first vaccine shot – so things are looking up and maybe we are getting to the end of it. (I’m trying hard not to think of the new variants coming out. Eyes shut, ears covered, and I’m humming ‘nah,nah,nah,nah…’ to myself).

As those who have been following my blog will know, a favorite theme I’ve mine over the last 15 months is “staying sane in quarantine.” It’s about the various hobbies and other things I do to keep my sanity. I’m writing novels, of course. And blogging, which I find relaxing. And I’ve taken up cooking: I learned to bake apple turnovers a couple weeks ago, from scratch! I even made the pastry.

And I continue to do metal work. I forged this pair of fire pit tongs last week, for moving burning logs around.

Fire pit tongs forged from a truck leaf spring

I forged these tongs from the leaf spring of an F150 pickup truck. My wife came up with the idea one night while sitting around a campfire with the grandkids a couple weeks ago. We were roasting hotdogs and making s’mores, and my wife was struggling to rearrange some burning logs, when she said to me: “You know honey, we probably don’t need anymore homemade forged knives, as awesome as they are. The 87 you made, which are now filling up our kitchen drawers, are likely sufficient for our needs for the foreseeable future. But if you really feel like forging, we could use some fire pit tongs.”

I took the hint and had fun making them.

Having a pair of fire pit tongs made from a pickup truck is pretty awesome, not to mention manly. The ends of the tongs come together so they can be used to pickup small burning sticks and coals, as well as large logs.

We’ve all been doing different things to cope as best we can. I love to write, and I can write for hours at a time and not notice the time go by. But after sitting all day with the laptop, I enjoy getting out to the shop and hammering on hot metal.

Thanks for stopping by to visit my blog. Stay safe, and above all, stay sane!

My latest adventure is here

I’m excited about my latest novel – a fun blend of love, romance, dystopian future and time travel. It’s about Octavia, a woman from a dystopian future who has traveled back in time to our own day. She’s here on a mission: study us and learn how we lived prior to a deadly plague that almost destroys human life and brings on the dystopian world she grew up in.

Octavia never had a family, never knew a mother or father – she was raised on a eugenics farm by robots and impersonal guardians. She arrives in our time and meets Jake, the loving single father of an 11-year old girl, and it’s not long before they fall in love. For the first time in her life, Octavia becomes part of a real family. But she can never tell Jake that she’s from the future – how could he possibly believe it? And that’s not the only secret she has to keep from him.

But falling in love was not part of her mission plan, and the secrets she carries about herself and the terrible future awaiting them soon threaten to tear them apart.

I actually started writing this in 2016, thinking it would be fun to write a story about a world-wide pandemic and time-travel. I finished it prior to 2020 under a different title, and then covid-19 broke out. When covid-19 hit, I no longer felt like promoting a novel about a plague. Reading and writing stories about an apocalypse is fun until it starts to feel like you are really in one. So I shelved the project for a while.

In early 2021 I dusted it off and re-read it, and sent it to an editor for professional proof reading. I like the story and now that it looks like we are getting to the end of the covid-19 pandemic I feel good about publishing it.

It’s a fun, clean read with a feel-good ending. I’m a huge believer in happy endings… I mean, why read a book that leaves you depressed. I can go to CNN for that.

I hope you like reading the book as much as I liked writing it. Drop me a line and let me know what you think.

Available on Amazon

Epic Honduran Roast from Oddfellow Coffee Roasters

Coffee farm in Honduras

It’s 6:30 AM, and I am just finishing a 3rd cup of coffee I brewed with a Honduran roast from Oddfellow Coffee Roasters. Oddfellow is a local roaster in Brantford Ontario that I ‘discovered’ last winter at the Brantford farmers market, and I’ve been hooked ever since. What I like about Oddfellow is not just the amazing flavour of his roasts, but that the owner, Ryan Wlodarek, buys direct from just a handful of small growers in Honduras, El Salvador and Brazil.

Today I am going to talk about his Honduran roast, because Honduras holds a special place in my heart – especially when it comes to coffee. But I’ll get to that momentarily, after I rave a bit on Oddfellow’s coffee.

Ryan at the Brantford Farmer’s Market

Oddfellow’s Honduran Roast is semi-sweet and fruity, with a hint of toffee and citrus and easy on the stomach. He buys the beans directly from Finca La Fortuna farm in central Honduras.

Finca La Fortuna is run by Delmy Regalado, a 2nd generation farmer who inherited the land from her father. Originally it was a sugar plantation. Perched 5000 feet above sea level, this farm receives amazing tropical heat, sun and rain fortified by cool nights. Perfect conditions to produce some of the most sought after beans on planet earth. The beans must work harder at higher elevations to develop and ripen, lending to unique fruity and sharp sweet characteristics. The blend is made up of Pacas, a natural mutation in the Bourbon bean and Typica, one of the main varieties of Arabica coffee.

I love this coffee from Oddfellows, not only for its incredible flavour, but because, as mentioned, I have a soft spot for the country it comes from.

Coffee has been part of my morning ritual for my entire adult life, so it is safe to say that I’ve enjoyed thousands of cups of coffee over the years, yet there is one cup I had more than 3 decades ago that I still remember with vivid clarity.

I was in Honduras for a short visit, not as a tourist but to help an organization setup a computer system. The family I stayed with in La Ceiba knew a local farmer, and one afternoon they took me out into the countryside for a visit. The family was very hospitable, and we spent a very pleasant afternoon visiting under the shade of a palm tree. It was not long before they served coffee, with cream and sugar.

The coffee, of course, was excellent, but I soon learned that the most amazing thing about the coffee was that the family produced absolutely everything that went into it. They roasted the beans from coffee plants they grew on their own small farm. They also grew their own sugar cane and made the sugar that went into the coffee. And the cream came from their own cow.

Later, the farmer asked me if I would like a cup of water. I said yes, and he motioned to his young son and pointed to the palm tree we were sitting under. The young boy scampered up the tree, picked a coconut, and came back down with it. He gave it to his father, who used a machete to slice off the top and handed it to me. I drank from it, feeling like I was a supporting caste member in The Jungle Book movie.

That afternoon was three decades ago, a coffee experience I have never forgotten. Oddfellow’s Honduran roast transports me back to that afternoon every time a brew a fresh cup using the beans from Delmy’s farm, Finca La Fortuna.

Oddfellow Coffee Roasters has some of the best roast I’ve ever experienced. Their website is still under construction and Ryan tells me it will be ready shortly. When it is, I will add the link to my List of Best Coffee Blogs. In the meantime, you can reach him by email at oddfellowroaster@gmail.com.

Have a great day. Stay safe and stay sane.

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”, that I rather like coffee. I don’t think that should come as too much of a surprise.

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.

Roasting Coffee Beans at Home for Beginners. This article explains how to roast beans at home without special equipment, using a pan on the stove top, or in the oven, or using a popcorn machine. An excellent all-around article for the beginner who wants to try roasting without making a big investment in equipment.

Oddfellows Coffee Roasters. Small craft roaster specializing in beans imported from farms owned and operated by women in Central America. Ryan’s Honduran dark roast is fruity and full-flavoured, yet smooth and low in acid.

Paris Coffee Roasters. A specialty micro roaster, offering dark and medium roasts of beans from Oaxaca Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. Steve has been roasting for 18 years, and has learned how to bring out the best in every bean. His dark roast from Oaxaca is very popular with its creamy caramel and chocolate notes.

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!

** Updated May 23, 2021

Alien abductions?

It’s way too hot to take anything seriously, and it is expected to reach 45c today, so here is a bit of humour I hope will give you a laugh.

This expresses in a nutshell why I am very suspicious of so-called abduction stories.