Sourtoe Cocktail, a shot of whiskey garnished with a human toe

The Sourtoe Cocktail is a time-honoured Canadian tradition dating back a hundred years in Dawson City, Yukon Territory. This cocktail has a very simple recipe – a shot of 40-proof whiskey and a human toe.

The tradition started in the early 1900’s when a bootlegger in the Yukon lost his toe to frostbite. His brother amputated it and dropped it into a glass of Canadian whiskey, and a tradition was born.

The Downtown Hotel, Yukon Territory. Home of the Sourtoe Cocktail. Photo credit Mike Manto

You can order this cocktail at the Sourdough Bar in The Downtown Hotel, on Second Avenue in Dawson City. My son and I stayed at the Downtown last summer while on a road trip to the Arctic Ocean, and having one of these cocktails was just something we had to do.

Ordering a Sourtoe Whiskey comes with a few rules

We went into the hotel’s bar, sat down at the counter and ordered a Sourtoe Cocktail. The cocktail is served up by the “Toe Captain” who pours you a shot of whiskey, and then holds the mummified toe in front of you while reciting the rules: you must not bite, chew or swallow the toe, but it must touch your lips. Then he repeats the time-honoured rhyme: “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips must touch the toe”, and drops it into your glass of whiskey.

The rest is all up to you.

The Toe Captain also has another very important job. He certifies that the toe did, indeed, touch your lips and watches carefully while you down your shot of whiskey to make sure it does. Once you’ve successfully completed the challenge and the Toe Captain is duly satisfied that the toe touched your lips, he presents you with a “Sourtoe Certificate” with your name, date and member number.

Joining the elite Sourtoe Cocktail Club

I’m now an elite member of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club. It’s okay to be jealous, dear reader. Many of my friends and family are. It’s an exclusive club and you have to travel all the way to the Yukon to earn it. It’s not something you can just do online over a Zoom call, and it’s way more interesting than one of those boring business skill certificates that corporate drones love to accumulate.

According to my certificate, I am the 98,411th person to drink it. My son, Zach, is the 98,412th. As the Dad, I felt it my fatherly duty to set a good example for my son and go first.

My official Sourtoe Club Certificate and claim to fame.

The human toe used in the cocktail needs to be replaced from time to time and several different ones have been used over the years. One toe was swallowed, others have been stolen. Sometimes toes need to be ‘retired’ when they get too worn out. The Downtown Hotel replenishes their stock from people donating their toes for the cause, usually amputated as a result of frostbite.

The mummified human toe used in the cocktail. Photo credit Jimmy Emerson.

The Toe Captain is always on the lookout for a “toe-nation” to maintain their stock and keep the tradition alive. And the toe doesn’t have to be Canadian. Foreign toes are welcome.

“Toe-donations” are welcome

Recently a British Marine lost his toe to frostbite while training in the Yukon, and he donated it to the Sourtoe Cocktail club.

Apparently there is no shortage of frostbitten toes available in the Yukon.

Looking west down the street from the Downtown Hotel.

Dawson City was at the heart of the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1890’s, and is still very rustic with a distinct frontier feel. Many of the original buildings from the Gold Rush days are still there and unchanged.

2nd Avenue, Dawson City Yukon. Street view in front of the Downtown Hotel. Photo credit Mike Manto.

The frontier town in the heart of the Klondike

There are no paved roads, street lights or traffic lights. Even the main road through the downtown (shown above), is dirt. All the sidewalks are wood boards.

This is the traditional home of the mayor of Dawson City. Photo credit Mike Manto.

Dawson City is not only famous as the home of the Gold Rush and the Sourtoe Cocktail, it is also the entrance to the Dempster Hiway.

Road signs at the border crossing into the Northwest Territories. Photo credit yours truly.

The Dempster is an epic road trip hundreds of miles north that crosses the Arctic Circle and terminates at the fishing village of Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, on the coast of the Arctic Ocean.

But that will be the subject of a future blog.

This is us at the Arctic Ocean. I’m the good looking one on the right.

Heretic – my new dystopian sci-fi thriller

Announcing my latest sci-fi thriller, Heretic!

Heretic is set in a dark dystopian future, an Orwellian world in which saying the wrong thing can get you sent to a re-education camp for sensitivity counselling, and possessing books not approved by the government is a criminal offense.

An Orwellian Heresy

Intellectual courage in the face of official censorship.

~~~

It follows the story of Jack, who is raised by his mother to be a loyal citizen of the New Regime. The Regime has strictly defined what is acceptable to believe and think, and has banned all books that it does not approve of. Dissenters are arrested as intellectual terrorists.

Libraries are no longer for making books freely available, but for burning them. Anyone in possession of a book not approved by the Regime is expected to drop it off at the nearest library. The librarian’s job is simple: make sure they get properly incinerated.

Intellectual Heretic

Jack’s father was a famous scientist who went missing shortly after being branded a criminal for intellectual dissent. Later, his father is presumed dead in a suspicious car crash.

But Jack’s life is turned upside down when he finds evidence that his father is still alive – and on the run from the Regime. Jack risks everything to look for his father, and soon finds himself in a deadly race against shadowy agents of the New Regime who also want to find the missing scientist.

Orwellian censorship & free thought

The novel that George Orwell wrote – which gave rise to the term ‘Orwellian’ – is 1984. He was inspired by the autocratic regime of Soviet Russia for its cruel oppression of the common person, who had their personal freedoms stripped away from them. Orwell’s books were subsequently banned in Russia for its criticism of Stalin’s methods (and ironically by some states in the US).

Heretic is about intellectual courage in the face of censorship by the government and official media.

Available on Amazon!

See book page here

It’s Fun Friday, and time for more aliens and coffee humor

If there are aliens, they’d come for the coffee. Today’s humour brought to you by www.mjwahl.com

~~~

It’s Friday, and I’m sitting outside on my deck enjoying an unseasonably beautiful and hot November afternoon. Now, I think that has to be the first time I’ve ever used those words together in the same sentence – beautiful, hot, November. We’ve never had such a gorgeous streak of weather in November. It’s been warm and sunny for over a week now. But I digress. The real point of this blog is that it’s Friday, and time for another fun Friday post featuring alien and coffee humor.

I found this image of the coffee cup abducting a coffee bean on iStock this morning, and loved it so much I just had to have it and made up this humour meme.

Have a wonderful day and keep smiling!

Stay happy!

UFO Investigation Has Now Gone Mainstream!

A UFO captured on video by a US Navy pilot

Finally, UFO investigating is no longer the domain of fringe crazies and the tin foil hat brigade. It’s gone legit! Last year the Pentagon released its long anticipated UFO Report, and experts have been weighing in on it ever since.

Even NASA is getting in on the game. Last week NASA announced that they are kicking off their own study of UFOs, although they are now calling them Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, or UAPs. NASA can call them UAPs if they want to, but they aren’t fooling anyone. We still know what they are.

NASA’s Help Isn’t Needed

While I appreciate NASA’s intention to help us out, it really won’t be necessary. Since I’ve been writing on the subject for years, long before NASA came to the party, I’ve come to consider myself an expert in the field. And I’ve already figured out what these UFOs or UAPs or whatever you want to call them are. As I’ve blogged previously, it’s a proven fact that UFOs are aliens looking for coffee.

Thanks NASA, but we won’t be needing your help after all. It’s already sorted.

However, not all experts in the field of UFO investigation are agreed, and this is where you, dear reader, can help. My colleague and follow UFO expert, Gluplock, is also a regular blogger on this website. Gluplock argues that UFOs are not actually visitors from space, but some type of advanced technology from Earth. Likely Chinese drones or advanced top-secret American aircraft, according to Gluplock.

Has NASA joined the tin foil hat brigade?

As my fans know, (and all rational people will admit), UFO skeptics like Gluplock can’t be right. The UFOs must be alien in origin.

Chinese drones? I doubt it!

Gluplock disagrees. He doesn’t believe in aliens (or so he claims) and is convinced the UFOs are just Chinese drones or advanced US tech the Pentagon doesn’t want us to know about.

You can take the Russians out of the equation. They can’t launch an invasion of Ukraine without their equipment breaking down on the highway to Kiev, so I doubt they’re capable of any advanced tech. So it’s down to either the Chinese, Americans or aliens.

I money’s on aliens. Gluplock argues it’s the Chinese.

As you may well imagine, this has stirred up quite the debate among the bloggers, staff writers and owners at my publishing house, Franklin Street Press. And this is where readers of this blog can help. We’d like you to weigh in on this important debate and send us your thoughts. Are UFOs alien visitors, or advanced technology from Earth? Let us know what you think!

Are my colleagues secretly suppling aliens with coffee?

Personally, I think Gluplock is just trying to throw us off. I’ve long suspected that he has ulterior motives. Maybe it’s his name – I seem to recall it from somewhere but can’t quite place where. Interestingly, he owns a farm out in the country with several large barns. Jut this past summer Gluplock invited a bunch of us from Franklin Street Press over for a barbeque one Sunday afternoon. While Gluplock was occupied with flipping burgers on the grill, I took a beer in hand and went exploring. I wandered into one of the barns and found it stacked, floor to roof, wall to wall, with skids of coffee.

That’s a lot of coffee. You could keep an entire Caribbean island caffeinated for the tourist season with that much coffee.

Alien Shoppers

Aliens have been spotted at the local market looking for coffee.

~

Naturally, I confronted Gluplock with my discovery back at the patio, while everyone stood around us next to the grill. He feigned innocence, and claimed that he just really likes coffee and wanted to hedge against future price increases. But I have my suspicions. Curiously, I also noticed that no one else looked surprised. Several even quickly looked away, pretending to be suddenly interested in something else, or muttered under their breath that they needed another beer and went over to the cooler.

I’m going to be keeping a closer eye on all of them from now on.

The truth really is out there, and it’s time the public knew!

But now that UFO investigating has gone legit, maybe people will start paying more attention to what experts in the field such as myself have been saying for years. Aliens really are visiting us from space, and they’re here for the coffee.

Aliens like coffee. If there are aliens, they would definitely be here for the coffee.

However, despite the wealth of solid research and information I’ve provided in my blogs, the US government still claims they don’t know what these aerial phenomena are. But readers of my blog and popular novels won’t be fooled. We all know exactly who and what they are, despite what Gluplock and other skeptics say.

Thanks NASA, but this is one party you’re a dollar short and a day late for. Please turn your attention back to getting people to Mars. You’re a bit overdue for that.

Stay tuned for future contributions to this blog from both Gluplock and I as the debate over the true origins of UFOs continue.

Sci-fi escapism: this is beach reading at the very best!

You can’t please all of the people all of the time, an old sage once said. And you can’t be all things to all people. Books are like that too. No book, no matter how brilliant or witty or marvelously written it may be, can appeal to everyone.

That’s because we are often looking for different things at different times. Sometimes we want serious fiction, sometimes humour. Or you may be in the mood for something light and fluffy. Mindless escapism. Crime drama. Or a spy drama. Or a steamy romance. Fun-filled adventure. To help the reader find the sort of book they are looking for, books are classified into different genres, and within each genre are categories and subcategories.

‘Hard’ sci-fi or ‘soft’?

Take, for example, my own specialty: sci-fi. Within that broad genre there’s serious “hard” sci-fi. One of the key promises within that category is that it will stay within the boundaries of real science. The Martian is an excellent example of this. All the science and technology portrayed in that novel is real and current. Then there is space opera. In space opera you get to make up your own science, and use fantastical made-up things like worm holes, time travel, warp drives, alien civilizations, and so on. Star Wars and Star Trek are very obvious examples of this genre.

A good book, regardless of its genre and category, will deliver on the promise that’s inherit within its category. And publishers put a lot of time and effort into coming up with titles and covers for books that will give customers a good feel for what can be expected between the covers.

Judging a books’ intention by its cover

I think my publisher, Franklin Street Press, did a great job coming up with the covers and titles for the two books (to date) in my Jack Winters Detective Series, which is about Jack’s friendship with alien coffee smugglers who have come to Earth looking for coffee.

I think the covers and titles of my books make it pretty obvious – there’s nothing series here folks. This is not ‘hard’ sci-fi. I’m all about mindless escapism, frankly. I get enough “serious” drama from my day job and reading the news.

Looking for ‘hard’ sci-fi in all the wrong places

But there’s just no pleasing some people. No matter how brilliantly witty the title and cover of a book may be in accurately portraying what a reader might expect between the front and back cover, some people still manage to get it wrong.

Recently a reviewer on Amazon criticized “Aliens, Spaceships and the Occasional Latte” for not being very plausible. I kid you not. This reviewer also said that as sci-fi, it was a bit too “soft”. Now, that’s funny. Was this reviewer seriously expecting “hard” sci-fi with a plausible, realistic story line when they picked a book with a title like this, featuring an alien holding a steaming cup of coffee?

Hmmm…

Space Opera

Relaxing, humorous, and definitely not ‘hard’ sci-fi.

I wonder what his first hint was that this wasn’t hard science? Perhaps it was the cover with the picture of an alien holding a cup of coffee? Or was it the title, “Aliens, Spaceships and the Occasional Latte”? Or maybe it dawned on him in chapter 21, when Aunt Beatrice complains about alien visitors landing their spaceship in her cabbage patch. I don’t know, but it’s hard to grasp how anyone could pick up a novel with such a title and cover and expect anything other than fun-filled escapism.

A good book delivers on its promise

I don’t mind being judged on the basis of what my books are intended to be. But being criticized for something the book was never intended for is just plain silly. He may as well criticize my book for not having any good recipes for baked lasagna.

I think my novels deliver exactly what you might expect from the kind of covers and titles I’m using. There’s no subterfuge here. It’s beach reading escapism at its best. I like to think of my novels as modern day dime novels. Fun filled adventures in space.

We all need to take a break to recharge and relax

We often turn to forms of entertainment to relax, recharge, and take a break from the seriousness of work and daily life. Dime novels came into vogue during the American Civil War, arguably some of the darkest years of the country. People needed a break from the horrible news, and TV hadn’t been invented yet. Dime novels provided an affordable form of escapism. During the depression people snapped up cheap “pulp” fiction and went to the movies. They needed the break.

That’s what myself and other authors writing similar books are trying to do. Provide light-hearted escapism. We need it these days. I can’t remember a time when the news was so consistently depressing and awful on so many different fronts.

If you are looking for light-hearted escapism, you’ve come to the right place. If you want serious, hard sci-fi with “plausible” story lines, that’s not what I do. You won’t find it here.

That’s my rant for the day.

Zuckerberg wants you living your life in the metaverse

Welcome to the Metaverse

I don’t know about you, but there is only so much doomscrolling through world news I can take. After a stressful day at work, I cannot spend the entire evening reading the news, with it’s warnings of global famine, the possibility of tactical nukes getting used, and the daily outrages committed by the Russian military on the people of Ukraine, and endless American election cycles.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that we stick our heads in the sand and ignore what’s happening, but I can’t spend all my free time doing laundry and reading the news. I’m not sure that would be healthy. As I’ve blogged previously, I believe escapist fiction is a legitimate need. We all need to unplug from the daily grind of reality, the news, work, chores, and find a way to unwind and relax. Many people enjoy escapist fiction, and that’s why I write light-hearted sci-fi. Well-written fiction has a way of drawing you in so that you forget that you are reading and feel like you are living in that world. That’s when you know it’s a good book.

Too much of a good things isn’t necessarily better.

Relaxing and unplugging from reality with a good book or movie is one thing. What Mark Zuckerberg is trying to sell us with his Metaverse is something else entirely. Like most forms of mental illness and addictions, it’s a good thing that’s been taken too far.

According to Zuckerberg, the metaverse isn’t just about casual online browsing. He wants us to live there. In a recent podcast, Zuckerberg explained what that the metaverse is really all about: “It’s about a time when basically immersive digital worlds become the primary way that we live our lives.” (emphasis added).

“The primary way we live.” Did you catch that? Are you as disturbed by that as I am?

It reminds me of that cartoon movie that came out a few years ago, Wall-E. I remember very little of that cartoon, but the image of overweight adults in chairs glued to screens has always stuck with me. Remember? People lived on a spaceship, and never had to get out of their chairs. They spent all their time looking at virtual screens floating in front of their faces. Everything they needed was brought to them while they remained seated, completely absorbed in their screens.

They even sat around a pool, not even bothering to get into it, but remained in their chairs watching movies of people playing in the water. Morbidly overweight, they were so absorbed in their virtual reality that they’d even forgotten how to take care of their bodies. So lost in their virtual world, their real world and real bodies no longer mattered to them.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse is a big, horrid step in that direction.

Don’t be a Sucker for Zucker

Of course Zuckerberg and the other rich tech guru’s of the online world want us spending more time in their metaverse, to the point of living there. And of course they will position themselves as the bold visionaries of a bright new future. They’re not stupid. They know how insanely rich they will become if millions of people start actually, “primarily living their lives” there. It’s a great way to completely monetize our lives and make them even richer. Forget about billions of dollars. That’s now looking like chump change for these guys. They’re looking at becoming trillionaires.

I quit Facebook and deleted my account two years ago. I find Facebook, like most social media, a monumental waste of time. However, as silly as Facebook was (or is), Zuckerberg is trying to take us into even greater depths of nonsense. He wants us to quit reality, and join him in his new virtual world. We’ll be able to meet friends, hold business meetings, shop, work, socialize, all within the Metaverse. In other words, do our living there. Just like the people in Wall-E.

Apparently, millions of people spending hours every day on Facebook isn’t enough for Zuckerberg. Or isn’t making him rich enough. He now wants us to abandon reality and move into his virtual world. What is he going to try selling us next? Automated systems that will bring us snacks without having to get off the couch?

Enjoy escapist fiction, but don’t escape reality

Reading good fiction or relaxing in front of the TV is one thing, and I believe healthy and normal. What Zuckerberg wants us to do isn’t healthy, and we must never let it become ‘normal’. Escaping reality by living in his virtual metaverse for hours on end can’t be good for us. It may be great for Zuckerberg. After all, he’s looking to monetize us – our time, our lives – to an even greater extent by getting us to buy into his version of ‘reality’, so he can add to his already excessive fortune.

Don’t be a sucker for Zucker. Don’t unplug from reality – unplug from Zuckerberg instead. The Metaverse is the product of a sick prepubescent mind that doesn’t want to grow up. Stay away from it and read a good book. Or make popcorn and invite some friends over to watch a movie. Start a new hobby that gets you away from the screen and doing something real with your hands, in the real world. That’s what normal, healthy adults do.

Do yourself a favour, and keep living in the real world. That’s my rant for the day.

(This post was lightly edited Oct. 29, 2022)

Aliens, Spaceships & Latte on Goodreads

I just came across some really good reviews of my books on Goodreads. My overall rating is, as of today’s date, 4.27. Not too bad. I think its getting better, because the last time I checked Goodreads in the fall, my rating was lower.

Jack Winters, sci-fi detective

In an act of shameless self-promotion (I am in the business of selling books, after all!), I decided to post some of the nicer ones here in today’s blog. That way I get to say nice things about my books without having to think too hard. Just cut and paste! And just to keep myself honest, I’m including the link to Goodreads for my book.

As an author, it’s very encouraging to hear from fans who have liked my books. I really like my books as well… so it’s always good to hear from people who are on the same wavelength.

So here we go… Goodreads reviews….

Warren W. wrote: What a ride! I totally loved this book from start to finish! I love first contact books, and this one was really fun! I hope to see the relationships develop in a next book. I don’t drink coffee, but this made me appreciate the Interplanetary Java crowd! Well done, Mr. Wahl!

Phil wrote: Enjoyable Escapism. Different and humorous. Light hearted adventure akin to a 50s style sci fi show with better writing. An apolitical story where the writer just wants to provide an enjoyable read.

Tracy: Intriguing Storyline. When I saw the title I thought that the book would be funny but it’s more than that. It’s filled with action and great, relatable characters. It doesn’t get technical about the spaceship or space travel. The author doesn’t burden you with alien language, which can take away from the story. I look forward to reading more of Jack’s adventures!

R. J. wrote: A fun story. The author created an alien species I wouldn’t mind meeting. Alien science fiction is not my thing and I was pleasantly surprised. I read this book because I had the pleasure of meeting the author. I’m going to be looking for the next instalment.

Vancil: Excellent storyline! The title caught my attention and I just had to read the first couple of chapters. I was seriously hooked by then! Read this! You will enjoy!!!

Pat: Good…..real good ! This book was funny and thrilling. I am so glad that I took a chance on it. I am just about to download the next book in the series….so much fun.

UFOs are just aliens looking for a good cup of coffee

Do aliens like coffee? We think so! What intelligent being wouldn’t? As readers of my blog and fans of my novels have long suspected, UFOs are aliens just looking for coffee. For years, I’ve been the lone voice in the literary wilderness pointing this out to anyone who would listen, and writing a few novels about it. But now other serious writers are beginning to take notice. Joe Queenan, well-known columnist for the prestigious Wall Street Journal no less, has come around and now agrees. They’re here, and they’re looking for coffee.

The Wall Street Journal Finally Agrees With Me

In a recent WSJ column, “Are UFOs Just Aliens Looking for a Cup of Coffee?”, Joe Queenan argues this very point. And we think this is good news, because it means UFOs probably do NOT have hostile intentions or planning an invasion. If the aliens are just looking for coffee, then logic dictates they are nice, peaceful, intelligent and witty, because in my experience human coffee lovers are nice, peaceful, intelligent and witty. We prefer to sit and visit while sharing great coffee over interesting conversation, rather than invade foreign countries – much less attack someone else’s planet.

Now, the more cynical among us may argue the opposite. Since, to the best of our knowledge, Earth is the only known planet in the galaxy that can grow coffee, might not aliens be tempted to take us over? As their logic goes, the very fact aliens are coming to Earth might mean they’re planning an invasion so they can get their hands on our coffee.

But I don’t think so. Alien visitors are likely to be intelligent – after all they’ve managed to invent UFOs that can travel trillions of miles through space to get here. If they are smart enough to do that, they are smart enough to realize it’s much cheaper to simply buy the coffee from us rather than attack.

Planetary invasions can get pretty expensive.

Buying a Cup of Coffee is Cheaper Than Planetary Invasions

Do the math – it’s not all that hard. How much is a pound of coffee? My local grocery store carries it for anywhere from $5 to $10 a pound. I usually spend $20 on premium Rwandan coffee from a roaster here in town. It’s much cheaper – and quicker, by the way – to go shopping than it would be to invade Rwanda.

As a matter of fact, as I write this at 5 o’clock on a Friday morning, I’m getting low on coffee. And I think I’ll simply go see my local roaster and spend $20, rather than launch a military assault on an African nation at the cost of several millions of dollars (not that I have several millions, I’m just trying to make a point). If I can figure this math out, I’m pretty sure any alien astronaut can as well.

They Are Here for the Coffee

I feel confident our alien visitors have come to much the same conclusion. And the proof? Well – they haven’t invaded yet and apparently they’ve been visiting us for decades, at least since the 1950s when people started to notice UFOs, and have yet to take hostile action. If they were going to invade, I think they would have done so by now.

And what did it cost the US to invade Afghanistan? 1.2 trillion dollars! If it cost that much to invade a little country right here on Earth a mere 8,000 miles away, think of the cost to invade an entire planet across the galaxy. For an alien visitor, wouldn’t it just make more sense to come to Earth peacefully, find a human willing to trade, and spend the $5 to $20 dollars a pound?

And it would be much more pleasant for both the aliens and humans involved. They could sit down, enjoy a nice cup of coffee while comparing notes on our respective cultures. Launching military invasions is no way to make friends. A pleasant cultural exchange is much nicer than shooting at each other.

As readers of my popular novels have long suspected…

Aliens are here for the coffee.

Let’s hope the Pentagon is paying attention. If the American military brass realize that UFOs are just aliens looking for a decent cup of coffee, not to invade, then they are much less likely to start shooting and inadvertently start an inter-galactic war.

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).

What are you doing to keep your sanity these days?

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.

Visit michaelmanto.com for more great tips on this fun hobby.

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