We grow a lot of things on our farm. Celery, lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower. Those are the bigger crops, but we also grow strawberries. The sad thing about strawberries is that most people don’t really know what a real strawberry should taste like. The berries you get in the store are never picked at the proper sugar level (that’s due to transportation issues), so they’re never the real sweet-sunlight taste you get from a berry picked at peak ripeness. We don’t pick our berries for transport, so the ones in this photo are the real thing. They have to be eaten right away, or turned into jam, pie, crisp, or frozen for smoothies. No shelf-life, due to all the sugar in them. I’m not trying to make any profound literary point here. All I’m saying is that, if you can, you should grow your own strawberries. If the deer and the rabbits and the birds will let you.Strawberries

Dark Matter Holds Everything Together

Interesting news story out today about how astrophysicists have discovered a galaxy relatively close to our own that is comprised almost entirely of dark matter. Our Milky Way has about 100 times more stars than the galaxy in question, yet they’re both about the same size. Fascinating.

They (the proverbial they–though, in this case it refers to more of those astrophysicists) calculate that the universe is about 85% dark matter, with the balance being made up of visible matter: us, stars, planets, etc. Dark matter earns its name by not absorbing or reflecting light. Its invisible. You can only detect it by observing its gravitational effects on other things.

Which means if you see someone staggering oddly down the street, they’re either inebriated or under the influence of dark matter.

And dark matter, even more interestingly enough, holds the universe together. Some might say the word holds the universe together. The first spoken word. Rather, the word that came before the first spoken word. Dark matter or first words. They’re bother difficult to see, yet we see their effects everywhere.

I wanted to be an astrophysicist when I was a kid. I never wanted to be a fireman or a policeman or a mutual fund manager. It was always an astrophysicist for the longest time. Funny how we end up in other places. I’ll chalk it down to the unseen influences of dark matter. The gravitational pull of that which cannot be seen.

Under the Cushions

When was the last time you cleaned underneath your couch cushions? I did that today with our living room couch and what I found was pretty surprising. One of the items looked radioactive. I think I also found the missing link (that should make Richard Dawkins happy), as well as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from last year.

Let me know what you find inside your couch. Don’t be shocked if you find things like pirate treasure, a long-lost relative, mice, etc.

An occasional, obligatory post for the NSA

To all the dozens (perhaps hundreds) of NSA employees reading my website regularly:

Statistically, a majority of you are not regularly reading good books. This is due to several reasons: education, the condition of your moral code, bad habits, fatigue, etc. I would therefore urge you all to stop following Kim Kardashian on Instagram. You should also consider taking a break from binge-watching the Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, etc.

Now that you have a hole in your life due to following my wise advice, you may pick from the following options to fill the hole back in (it is a gaping hole, isn’t it?):

1. Read the complete works of Tolstoy, Dickens, and Charles Williams. Afterwards, spend several months reflecting.

2. Take up power-walking. Listen to self-improvement lessons while walking (such as learning Hebrew, an overview of the Constitution–free from Hillsdale College, or an audio compilation of Shakespeare’s plays).

3. Befriend an ex-con in a halfway house. Take him to church, out to coffee, find him a job, go to AA meetings with him. Buy him the complete works of Graham Greene, Dorothy Sayers, and Walker Percy.

4. Invade a small country. Pass a law compelling them all to read Chesterton’s Everlasting Man, The Man Who Was Thursday, and the complete Father Brown omnibus. After which, they must all eat fish on Fridays, including you.

Presidential Elections and Anagrams

A lot of people vote based on what sorts of anagrams can be derived from a candidate’s name. I often vote that way as it is more scientific than watching the news.

This presidential election, according to the analysts in my research department, we have an odd confluence between two names. In astronomical terms, this is equivalent to Mars and Venus coinciding (occluding) in the sky. The two in question are Trump and Clinton. I thankfully will not refer to them as heavenly bodies, as we’re done with the astronomy metaphor. If you anagramize their names, the results are: “Chilly Loin Rant” and “Odd Lump Rant.”

I know. You’re exclaiming “Uncanny!” or “Mysterious!” or “Egad, they are Illuminati puppets!”

Things get stranger when you analyze the anagram for Bernie Sanders. At first glance, it is merely “Snares Inbreed” which, while unsettling, can be dealt with by ingesting Tums or hard alcohol.

Upon further analysis, the real anagram is actually “E Nerbs Sardine.” That’s Latin for “He has pickup lines like a sardine.”

Sardines, as you know, have a specific style of flirting, consisting of things like “Cuddle up, honey, it’s packed in here tonight!” or “Love the way this olive oil makes your skin shine.” or “Hey babe! Didn’t we meet in school?”

Anyway, keep that all in mind when you vote.

Selective Deafness

I’ve noticed that having small children is making me go deaf. Not because of their screaming and yelling and shrieking and toppling over of tall wooden block towers and stomping about the house like small elephants, even though they do all five incessantly. Heck, if they had access to dynamite, they’d be blowing things up in the backyard everyday merely to enjoy the noise. No, I’ve noticed that I choose to go deaf because they talk so much. My eldest is practicing to be an auctioneer. He rattles off speech like the sun gives off light. Endless, powerful, fast. So I choose to be deaf.

This is a bad choice on my part because it results in some miscommunication. My sons say one thing. I, due to being selectively deaf and not paying attention, hear something else. A typical conversation goes something like this:

Son #1 (what I hear): Dad, I’d like to devote my life to taking care of the poor. Mostly unwashed minority lepers, probably.

Me: Sounds good.

Son #1: (what he actually said): Dad, I’m going to borrow your skillsaw and cut a new doorway for my room. Two new doors, probably.

Me: Sounds good.

Son #2: (what I hear): Dad, can I practice piano for two hours today, followed by several hours of Latin memorization?

Me: Okay.

Son #2: (what he actually said): Dad, can we sell Tobi to the gypsies and then use the money to buy a Deathstar Lego set?

Me: Okay.

Thankfully, Son #3 doesn’t really talk much yet, other than monosyllabic shouts and bouts of deliberate burping (the wonder of free will at work). This latter behavior of his causes his brothers to scream with laughter. Which can be rather loud.

So, being deaf really isn’t a bad thing. Though, when they reach their teen years, I suppose I’ll have to sharpen my hearing.

fantasy and a child’s point of view

Children see the world in such a profoundly different way than us adults. Most children. And most adults.

My three boys are still young. And with that youth they still have a clarity of eye in how they see life. They enjoy it. They’re delighted by it, surprised and pleased by it. They take a great deal of pleasure in simple things that most adults would not even bother noticing.

Life is still magical for them. I suppose it won’t be for long, and that’s a melancholy thought. But, for now, I can see their eyes light up over the smallest and oddest things. For instance, the other day I think I randomly mentioned the idea of cats secretly baking pastries at night (or something equally silly–silly from my adult perspective). They laughed uproariously at this, but, in a certain way, they took it seriously as well. I could see the wheels turning in their heads as they considered the idea of Duster (our cat) silently and sneakily baking croissants and bear claws in the kitchen at 2 in the morning.

I’ve realized lately, considering the perspective of my boys, and the sheer joy they get from that perspective, that the fantasy genre offers the same possibility. The possibility of a new perspective. Of joy in seeing things afresh again. Of seeing the world’s first day, of new vistas and quests and danger met cheerfully. Worlds beyond worlds.

Oh, yes, I know there’s plenty of anarchic, nihilist fantasy out there these days. More and more, I suppose, popularized by George Martin’s Game of Thrones series, and copy-catted ever since in dreary, factory output. Conveyor belts of the stuff coming through Amazon.

But I’m not talking about that kind of fantasy. I’m talking about Tolkien and Lewis and Chesterton. Patricia Mckillop’s Riddlemaster trilogy, Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series. I’d humbly include my Tormay trilogy in that tradition as well. Certainly not as one of the greats, of course, but with that same peek through the window at the world’s first day.

Unless you become like children, right? They’re the ones who still have a worthwhile way to look at things these days (not if they’re already preoccupied by that dreadful nitwit Miley Cyrus or glued to their iPhone or whatever, but you know what I mean), and, I suspect, that’s why fantasy as a genre has something going for it that you really can’t find in other genres. Not often, at least.

Some of you reading this might think I’m babbling like a soft-minded fool. That’s alright. Others of you might understand. If you do, well, think on it for yourself for a while. Promise me that.

The power of words and Brookside Chocolate

A chocolate commercial? I’ll explain…

Not so long ago, in a fit of exuberance fueled by Brookside Chocolate, I wrote a review on Amazon about said chocolate. I don’t often write reviews, primarily because I’m loathe to review books as a writer (it can have bad, unintended consequences). When I do write reviews, they’re of other things, such as chocolate.

Anyway, to my surprise, the Brookside marketing people contacted me one day and asked if they could quote part of my review in some marketing material. I said, yes, of course. Why wouldn’t I? They make a good product. My review ended up in a TV spot.

This summer, Brookside contacted me again and asked me if I wouldn’t mind being in one of their commercials. I said, yes, of course! I’m not one for being on-camera (I don’t even like being in still photos), but Brookside is a good cause.

Anyway, a camera team showed up at my house several weeks ago and filmed here and there. They spent some time on our main ranch and then filmed some bits in front of my house with me and their main actor (George, the chocolate delivery man). That commercial is live now, and is the one at the top of this post. Rather fun, and I think they did an excellent job.

So, if you’re interested in seeing me in action, take a look. That’s the front of my house at the end, of course. Built in 1890 and still standing, regardless of California earthquakes. And, yes, they did give me one hundred pounds of chocolate. The commercial is part of a promotion they’re doing–an actual contest to win 100 lbs of chocolate (you know you want to enter!).

Creatives being creative. I have to say, the folks at Brookside have inspired me to get back to writing.

Happy Halloween or Samhain

Actually, Samhain.

I’ve always thought Halloween a weird holiday. Kind of a non-holiday, really. My skeptical disposition toward it began back when I was a kid. Our father made us go trick-or-treating for UNICEF instead of the usual amassing of candy tonnage. Me and my brothers would go house to house with those little orange UNICEF boxes. How depressing.

Knock! Knock!

The door would open and some old kindly lady would stand there, peering at me through her bifocals.

“And what might you be, little boy?”

“I’m dressed up as a Swiss bureaucrat from the World Health Organization. Trick or treat for UNICEF!”

And then I’d hold up that wretched orange box, jingling the change inside to prime her psychology. She’d usually plunk in a coin or two and then hold out the bowl of candy.

“Would you like a Mars Bar as well?”

“Uh, no thanks. The nickel is fine, thank you, ma’am. The starving children in Botswana will really appreciate the half-ounce of gruel you just subsidized.”

We didn’t take the candy because my parents were pretty strict about sugar back then. We only had sweets a couple times a year (birthdays and Christmas), and even then it was only molasses or maple syrup.

Later in life, I actually spent a fair amount of time working overseas for a subcontractor of the United Nations, specifically for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. The amount of graft and waste in that organization is astounding. Very depressing.

Anyway, now that I’ve grown up and become grumpy, I’m even more skeptical about Halloween. I mean, who in their right mind is going to celebrate a day based on the Druidic festival of Samhain? That was a day when the druids, who apparently were pretty frisky people with some odd ideas, celebrated by burning other people alive in wicker baskets and having a lot of sex out in the forest. The way I think, that sounds like a bad combination. Bad for the people in the baskets and bad in terms of pine cones and gorse bushes and other prickly things getting in the way of intimacy. Not to mention the fact that these were obviously crazy people and, as such, they really shouldn’t have been having babies (which I imagine they would’ve brought up to be just as crazy).

Thankfully, the Romans came along and also recognized that the Druids were insane. The governor of England, Suetonius, put an end to most of ’em.

But, here we are, carving pumpkins and traipsing around with our little goblins and ghouls. I have to admit, we carve pumpkins as well in our house, but instead of saying they’re carved to ward off demons, we carve ’em to ward of government bureaucrats.