Finals Are a Good Thing

He was an ordinary mouse, much like any other mouse who was raised in a boathouse. He loved his job building boats. When the beautiful trade schooner, Wanderer, was finished, the little mouse had to make the decision of a lifetime. Wanderer was going to sail off to who-knows-where.
Would the mouse from the boathouse stay home with his family and friends? Or would he jump on the ship and have an adventure?
— Back cover of Boathouse Mouse

The making of an adventure story begins in the imagination. After that, all it takes is a lot of work! And when it comes to an illustrated book, it takes even more work. And more people too.

I am excited to report that Shawna is doing the final drafts of the illustrations now! Also, the final edit has been done on the story! And (I'm not done yet) the font, size, and page formatting is in the final stages! Everything is looking amazing!

Meanwhile, the world is asking: When can we get our grubby little hands on this book?

September is when we plan to have it available. That said, September is running us down like a cheetah chasing a gazelle! For now, we're sticking with the September answer. That does give us a thirty day window, right?

I will keep you posted. We will not compromise quality for a deadline. However, we are all very excited about the eminent release of Book 1 in The Adventures of Boathouse Mouse!

And, I'll let you in on a little secret that has me all giddy. Don't tell anyone, but I'm almost finished writing Book 2!

In Search of Discomfort

There is a disturbing societal trend taking place in our country. It may be infecting the whole world, for all I know.

The trend is toward adventuring. Now, I am all for adventures. I have lived my life as an adventure. I have many scars and near-death stories to share as a result. What I am bothered by is the heroification of “safe adventuring.”

If you want to go camping in a motor home, that is perfectly fine with me. I'm sure I would enjoy it too. But please don't confuse that with a genuine adventure. Adventure, by my definition, requires a bold step into the unknown, the uncertain, the potentially unsafe, and certainly the uncomfortable. Carefully calculated, risk-mitigated activities are not adventures.

I suspect this trend stems from two roots. The first is the notion that we are entitled to a life of comfort and satisfaction. We are not. That is neither a Constitutional guarantee, nor is it in the Bible. Second is the proliferation of “reality” TV show. I only have secondhand experience with the reality show stuff, as we do not have a TV. But from what I have heard, “people who live just like we did in Alaska,” do not live anything like we did in Alaska.

Maybe I should have posted a spoiler alert there. Sorry. Those shows are as staged as a Broadway musical. When I got hurt, or stuck, or lost, or threatened by a wild beast, there was no one else around to record the event. There was no one to call out to for help. There was no safety network.

It may have been foolhardy, but that was reality. Try walking thirteen hours out of the mountains after getting good and lost, soaked, and all but unconscious with hypothermia. First time, do it without anyone in the world knowing where you are. Next time, try it with a camera crew, aerial shots and all. One of these things is not like the other.

Okay, that's out of my system. I feel better.

Surprisingly, the primary objective of an adventure is not discomfort. The primary objective is learning or discovering something. No one ever learned the limits of their strength, character, or skill by watching someone else do something amazing. They learned it when they surpassed their own comfort zone. That would include discomfort.

No one ever discovered a new continent, or stepped on the moon, or climbed to the top of a rugged mountain, while walking on a sidewalk. They discovered those places long after the safe horizon had disappeared. I'm pretty sure that included discomfort too.

I could go on here, but I'm not actually promoting anything. I am only making a distinction between activities and adventures.

On second thought, maybe I am promoting something. Do you want to climb a mountain? Do you want to go to Kenya and volunteer at an orphanage? Do you want to build your own house? Do you want to study something? What are you afraid of?

Have an adventure! Live as if you are alive! Maybe don't do some of the really stupid risky stuff I have done, but stretch yourself. It will hurt. Do it anyway!

A Priceless Piece of Worn Out Rope

To the untrained eye, it looks like a piece of used-up rope. That is a shame. Every knot, every cut, and each abrasion has its own story.

This old rope may look like it has been through the mill. In fact, it has. But it comes with more than a twenty-five year history of adventure, service, and travel. It started its life in Alaska as a 200 fathom long floatline on a commercial salmon fishing net. The floats were attached to the line and the net was woven on around the floats. After the net was discarded, I salvaged the line. I can still remember the smell. It was a damp, slightly fishy, and a little bit earthy smell. It was also a hot day at nearly 70°. It would have laid in that pile and rotted over the years if I had not intervened.

As a matter of definition, a rope is a rope as long as it is on the spool. After it is cut for a purpose, it is a line. Don't ask me, I don't make up the rules. I can barely speak the language.

With a workload rating of 9500 pounds, I used that repurposed line for just about everything while we lived in Alaska. I used it as a safety line when I shoveled snow off of our roof. I used it to drag deadfall logs out of the woods for firewood. I tied down anything that needed to stay down for real. I pulled cars out of the ditch. I hung game meat in the woodshed as we processed it for winter. I probably made a swing for my kids with some of it.

When we moved back to the States in the early 90's, I used it to lash our awkward load of worldly possessions into the boat and truck. When we built a cabin in the woods in Minnesota, it was used to secure lumber to the trailer for transport, and to suspend heavy wall frames for construction.

I tied off wind-damaged trees with that line to tension and fell the tree away from the house. Amazingly, that worked each time. That success is not a universal guarantee, and I know of people who lost their lives doing that. (Don't try it, hire someone with a bigger piece of equipment.)

Through the years the line would get broken, abraded, or necessarily be cut. As an aside, I have a personal aversion to cutting line. I am sure that is a form of neurosis, but you can never uncut a line, so I do everything I can before I resort to the knife.

Eventually there were only a few pieces of it left. I saved them for use as the bowline on my boat. It is a traditional way of securing the boat to anything. I like it. But the piece in this picture was special: it was the very last piece. I was a young man when I acquired it.

As I unceremoniously tossed that piece of line into the trash can, I ended its long and interesting career. Oddly enough, all those memories were summoned into my recollection by cutting that damaged line and replacing it.

I'm looking around at the old damaged people I know. Every one of them has some story. No doubt some of them laid around in a coil and decayed. But some have been to interesting places and done amazing things.

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Adventures at 35 mph!

The old proverb goes, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” That is very true, but there are still a thousand miles to travel. Unless, of course, the trip is longer, which was our case. Actually, in all, our trip was about 7500 miles. Thankfully, only about the first thousand miles of that journey involved continuously brutal travel conditions.

We were moving out of Alaska, and everything we owned was packed into the back of our 1975 Dodge pickup and our boat, which was pulled behind it. I called that truck The Warthog, because it was so rusty, so ugly, and so tough. It was the only appropriate name. For our trip, The Warthog was grossly overloaded.

That first step was March, 3, 1993, at four in the morning. The sky was clear and it was a brisk twenty degrees below zero as we rolled out. It was an emotional event as we intentionally said goodbye to our chosen homeland and began our journey back to the States.

We had not gone far when the trouble began. Actually, we were probably still in the driveway when I noticed it. Frost heaves! Frost heaves were, and continue to be, part of northern living. The roadbed freezes and buckles upwards creating a speed bump effect. It's annoying for sure, but after so many years of driving on roads like that, I had become complacent. What made those frost heaves special was the fact that The Warthog was so loaded down, and there was so much weight on the trailer tongue, that driving over 35 mph was impossible.

We heaved, bounced, bucked, and jostled our way down the highway. It was like crossing a railroad switch yard for over a thousand miles. And that is how we spent the first thirty-odd driving hours of that trip. It did rock the kids to sleep nicely, I'll say that much for it. I had a less relaxing experience.

Our first stop was Beaver Creek, Yukon Territories. We pulled in at about two in the morning. After a few short hours of sleep, we got on the road again. That's where the lodge owner's oversized dog bit me on the shoulder as I was checking the tires in the morning. There were a few tense moments of standoff between me with an ax that magically came into my hands and the dog that evidently had never been threatened with extinction before then. The anti-social dog got a stay of execution due to an owner who hastily locked it up while I was deciding if it was worth the trouble in a foreign country. I had avoided injury due to a thick Carhartt coat. The owner never apologized or even made eye contact with me as we checked out. I was less than impressed.

The next night's stop was Watson Lake, Yukon Territories. I don't remember how late it was when we arrived there. I do recall that the motel was attached to some kind of night club, and seemed to be of questionable character. It was ridiculously noisy. It didn't matter, there were no other options for hundreds of miles, and I was too exhausted to drive any further.

Watson Lake was actually about 1100 miles into our journey, and the road conditions improved after that. Our travel speed average went up to 45 mph. Doesn't sound like much, but it improved morale.

By the third day, we were hopelessly behind schedule with no possibility of making the next planned destination. Fortunately, as we entered British Columbia, there were more frequent towns with amenities. We rescheduled our next stop to be realistic and pressed on. That day we stopped at Liard Hot Springs and took a fifteen minute dip.

All the emotions of leaving my life-long dream of living in Alaska, all the tension of the difficult driving through the icy mountains, all the stress of the horrible roads, all the pain in my lower back, washed away in that 105 degree spring. So did all my ambition and all my ability to stay awake. I felt like a rag doll after that stop. Somehow I managed to drive to our next destination. It has been twenty-two years now, and I still think about that hot spring.

There were yet thousands of miles to travel on that trip. It took a long time. But, in the end, we had a great, wonderful, horrible, delightful, frustrating journey in the books. We had encountered deadly cold, blizzards, treacherous travel conditions, wonders of nature, hostile animals, near brushes with death, mean people, wonderful people, breath-taking scenery, pleasure, pain, unexpected adversity, and unbidden assistance.

In all, it turned out to be a great adventure, and we had not even been looking for one.

Back to the Drawing Board

That title may sound like I have given up on something vital. No, I have not. That is actually a name.

What kind of parents, you may ask yourself, would name their child "Back to the Drawing Board?" Ahh, now we are getting somewhere. That is the name of the business owned by Shawna Apps! Shawna is the very talented artist with whom I am collaborating. She will be the illustrator of my children's books.

Yes, you read that correctly, it was plural books. There will be more than one. Book two is in the works already.

Sample patches. The process is very cool!

Sample patches. The process is very cool!

So what's with the picture? Is it test patches? It is indeed test patches, and I invite you to check out Shawna's work and keep up with our progress on the books. The picture should link you to the Facebook page. Be sure to Like the page, I'm sure you will not be disappointed.

Stay tuned! This is going to be good!

Gepetka, Prince of Gypsies

B-O-O-M!

The sound of the battering ram reverberated deep into the chest of the sleeping Gypsy. He sat bolt upright in a cold sweat with breath coming in short gasps and heart pounding in his chest. Gepetka's mind raced as he anticipated the second hit. It never came.


There have always been those whose sense of home is not rooted to a particular place, people whose allegiance is not devoted to a banner. They are their own community, with a sense of purpose that is not fettered to the expectations of their neighbors.

They are true sojourners in life.

They are completely unpredictable.

They are Gypsies … and they are full of surprises.

 

Gepetka, Prince of Gypsies - the third book in the Kingdom of the Falcon series.

Coming: May 2015

Soup with chopsticks! Where's the hidden camera?

Ahh, yes! That … was part of our Christmas in Japan.

The memory gate is opened and my emotions are suddenly flooded. They come like waves, one after the other, crashing into my mind and overwhelming my senses. We were in Japan: Okinawa, Japan, to be precise. And the trip was everything and more than we had ever expected. It was two years ago, and we were in Okinawa for eighteen days of adventure with the family!

As Hodge adventures rank, it was fairly low key, in that we did not intentionally plan anything that would put us at imminent risk of life or limb. As our travel experiences go, it was nothing short of amazing.

In our time there, we tried all manner of unfamiliar foods, eating at local establishments where English was not spoken and the menu was semi-mysterious. Then came the Udon Noodle Soup place.

Chopsticks for eating soup looked like a great way to prank Americans. Seriously, the operation looked impossible. But a quick look around the room revealed many locals happily eating their soup with chopsticks. It's no wonder they don't have a problem with their weight there.

My wife wisely ceded defeat and grabbed a spoon. I, on the other hand, stubbornly used the chopsticks. It was war from the beginning. Chopsticks make perfect soup stir sticks. I pretended to be getting the upper hand while chasing the little bits around the bowl. Microscopic quantities made it to my mouth. It smelled wonderful … maddeningly wonderful. I suddenly realized what the great krill-eating whales must feel like. Satisfaction seemed impossible.

My kids, between jokes about my skill level, offered that it would be okay to use a spoon. I must have looked pathetic. I don't normally growl at my food, but that seemed like an appropriate response. I think that part did not happen out loud, otherwise the normally very polite Japanese people may have responded with alarm.

With each frustrating technique attempt, the bowl crept closer to my face. Then at last I had a breakthrough. The victory was mine! With each sortie of those thin bamboo sticks I got flavor, texture, and volume! That soup tasted every bit as wonderful as it smelled. I mentally rode in the victory parade and with each successful scoop came another metaphorical shower of ticker tape confetti! That lasted about five bites.

Then, daughter Rochelle, who lived in Okinawa at the time, indicated a table near ours. She glibly pointed out that I was doing it just like one of the locals. My pleasure was checked only barely by the laughter of the kids. I was indeed using the same technique as the girl at that table. She was about four. I happily pointed out that she had a four year head start on me and I had already caught up!

Our Okinawa Christmas was indeed a wonderful experience. It flew by too fast as all pleasures tend to do, but each experience left us with great memories.

I pity people who have carbon copy Christmas experiences. We do have a few traditions that we repeat, but sharing the joy of different and sometimes surprising experiences really creates awesome memories for our family.

This year, who knows what surprise adventure may be lurking under the tree …

That Tacky Star

It's been nearly thirty years running that we have topped our Christmas tree with a hand-made aluminum foil star. It has seen better days.

It was hand made by me our first Christmas in our own cabin in Alaska. Our old star had suddenly become obsolete. The design was so inadequate that it required electricity to light up … and we did not have electricity. We did not have indoor plumbing either. For that matter, we didn't have much. We would have been considered poor by any standards, but we were so, so far from poverty.

While it is true we had very little of this world's “goods,” we had enough to eat and firewood for the stove, and we had our loving little family. Doesn't that just sound cliché?

Sorry, schmaltz may sell, but I don't do it. The real story is we had all of the above, and a huge sense of adventure. Actually I had a huge sense of adventure. And it was following that dream of adventure that led us to that point.

I had been “going to Alaska” since second grade. In my defense, I promised my wife adventure when she signed up to marry me. She probably got a lot more than she bargained for.

So there, in our tiny cabin that would have never made it into a Norman Rockwell painting, I cut out a star from the cardboard backer in a spiral notebook and wrapped it with aluminum foil. It was simple and crude, but it worked, and the foil reflected the lamplight very nicely. We were poor in money, but fabulously rich in imagination, and we were surrounded by adventure. It was not a vacation, it was real life.

In our real life, it seemed that there was always something going wrong and we would have to overcome the circumstances, sometimes at way below zero temperature. But we did overcome and years later we relish those experiences of long past.

Which brings us back to the tacky star. It is symbolic of so much more than I can share here. It is a small token of our life of adventure in Alaska. It is a testimony that being broke could not stop us from celebrating the birth of Christ. In fact, it may have helped. It is a reminder of times when we had so little, which in turn, reminds us to appreciate what we have now. And it faithfully sits on top of the tree, reflecting the lights around it.

It is sufficient, and we are pleased with sufficient.