TRENDY AND LIKING IT

image courtesy of - thetruthaboutguns.com

image courtesy of – thetruthaboutguns.com

We’re not usually ones to follow trends and such but, in this particular case, we’re really glad we did. We have developed a true passion for African keyhole gardens.

First, we should give you a bit of background. You would think that, living in the Pac Northwest, gardening should be as easy as sticking a seed in the ground and jumping back so that the instant sprout doesn’t hit you in the eye as it comes up. Now, that’s true is some areas but not ours. You see, we live along what is euphemistically referred to as the Hood Canal. It sound so much more romantic than “the leftover path of a long since melted glacier” – but that’s exactly what the Hood Canal is. This contrasts sharply to the alluvial plains found in Thurston, King, Snohomish and Pierce counties. There the dirt is rich, black and wonderful. Here – well we say – if you dig a one cubic foot hole you’ll get two bushels of rocks and a cup of sand. On the plus side, this makes for great drainage. Oh wait, plants need water – maybe that’s not as much of a plus as we’re trying to make out.

Anyway, we’ve tried several methods of vegetable gardening. We’ve tried it in the soil after adding tons of organic matter. We’ve tried raised beds. We’ve tried container gardening. Our best success has been with Hugelkultur, a method of gardening developed on the dry plains of eastern Germany and western Poland. We have mutant junkie sized chives and roses with this method so we decided to give it a go for vegetables as well.

Now, digging a pit three to four feet deep and measuring twelve feet across in this soil should have been one of Hercules’ labors. But, since the ancients probably didn’t know that Washington State was there it got left out of the list. (NOTE: I am not masochistic, stupid or Hercules) so, off I went to see our neighbor whose tractor has a backhoe attachment.

After finding out that I dug the first rose bed by hand over a week’s time, he very kindly made it available to dig the other Hugelkultur rose beds. Thus, I had every hope that he would lend it for the current project. And he would have, except the backhoe attachment was broken. He’s the same generous soul who had provided us with a bunch of old, broken concrete to use as a retaining wall for the new garden. (ANOTHER NOTE: The site we chose for the new garden is at the top of a small rise. Our plan was to excavate down into the hill and then build up a retaining wall on the downhill side.)

So, here we sat with a pile of concrete chunks and no hole for it to retain. For one brief, insane moment, I did consider tackling the project by hand – well, by spud bar, pick, and shovel. Fortunately, after a glass of Irish Whiskey (if you like whiskey, you really need to try Trader Joe’s SINGLE MALT Irish. It’s amazing! Sweet, full bodied, and very satisfying – but, as usual, I digress).

As I was saying, after a glass of ambrosia, I came to my senses and Colleen began to research alternatives that were less likely to result in my having a heart attack. (She DOES care! Amazing!). Her sister Judy, who was having imense success with a tiered garden, suggested that we look into African keyhole gardens. (HINT: Guys, women talk to each other about EVERYTHING. It’s part of the way they get things done. So, just expect that all her sisters and most of her friends know a whole lot more than you wish they did!)

Well, we tried them. There are some wonderful sites and several videos to help neophytes like us get started. It took about three days to break the concrete, excavate the water trap, stack the concrete, and fill the garden. It was a lot of initial work but now that it’s going, the garden is virtually effortless to maintain. Suffice it to say, we’ve never had results like this before. We’re sold and we encourage all of you to take the plunge. It’s fun, it’s attractive, and it’s very water efficient.

Be sure to check out the videos and links below the pictures. They’re the ones we found most helpful in our efforts.

The initial layout of the keyhole garden. It gets its name from the shape of the indentation combined with the round compost receiving hole. Seen from above they resemble the hole for a skeleton key.

The initial layout of the keyhole garden. It gets its name from the shape of the indentation combined with the round compost receiving hole. Seen from above they resemble the hole for a skeleton key.

Second course of broken up concrete.  It's starting to come into clearer focus now.

Second course of broken up concrete. It’s starting to come into clearer focus now.

The finished height of the garden. It stands about 24 inches tall and is 6 feet across at the widest part.

The finished height of the garden. It stands about 24 inches tall and is 6 feet across at the widest part.

Here's the moisture trap. This layer of rotten and old wood collects and holds water. The trap provides  improved soil moisture and helps conserve water that runs through. It's derived from the Hugelkultur experience.

Here’s the moisture trap. This layer of rotten and old wood collects and holds water. The trap provides improved soil moisture and helps conserve water that runs through. It’s derived from the Hugelkultur experience.

Next step, the compost tube. This is just a tube of wire mesh which measures 1 foot in diameter. I inserted a cardboard liner so that, when we filled the garden bed we would keep the dirt out of the compost tube. Also, notice that we've lined the bed itself with cardboard.  You see the alternating layers of green compost, brown compost (dry hay, straw, shredded cardboard, paper, sticks, twigs, etc) and dirt.

Next step, the compost tube. This is just a tube of wire mesh which measures 1 foot in diameter. I inserted a cardboard liner so that, when we filled the garden bed we would keep the dirt out of the compost tube. Also, notice that we’ve lined the bed itself with cardboard. You see the alternating layers of green compost, brown compost (dry hay, straw, shredded cardboard, paper, sticks, twigs, etc) and dirt.

It's really filling up now. Finally! A productive use for garden waste, tree trimmings and especially the ubiquitous and annoying Oak Ferns that take over everything around here.

It’s really filling up now. Finally! A productive use for garden waste, tree trimmings and especially the ubiquitous and annoying Oak Ferns that take over everything around here.

Here you can see that the compost tube is filling at the same rate as the garden bed. The trick here is to continually alternate layers of green and brown compost in the bed proper and cover each one with soil. We also added a whole bucket of dissolved worm castings (that's a nice word for poop) at this point. It smelled VERY agricultural and captured the attention of the otherwise bored dogs. However, the smell went away with the next layer of soil.

Here you can see that the compost tube is filling at the same rate as the garden bed. The trick here is to continually alternate layers of green and brown compost in the bed proper and cover each one with soil. We also added a whole 2 gallon bucket of dissolved worm castings (that’s a nice word for poop) at this point. It smelled VERY agricultural and captured the attention of the otherwise bored dogs. However, the smell went away when we covered it with the next layer of soil.

After the garden is filled to the rim, you continue piling up soil until it meets the top of the compost tube, about one foot higher than your wall. This gives you an incredible amount of 'plantable' space.  From now on you just dump your kitchen and yard waste into the tube. It breaks down very quickly. Ours goes down about one an a half inches a every four to five days - and it's fertilizing the garden as it does!

After the garden is filled to the rim, you continue piling up soil until it meets the top of the compost tube, about one foot higher than your wall. This gives you an incredible amount of ‘plantable’ space. From now on you just dump your kitchen and yard waste into the tube. It breaks down very quickly. Ours goes down about one an a half inches a every four to five days – and it’s fertilizing the garden as it does!

This is how the garden looked on May 25, 2015. We were so excited and it looked so good to us then.

This is how the garden looked on May 25, 2015. We were so excited and it looked so good to us then. You can just barely see the pumpkins on the back side of the mound. That green topknot is a basil plant from Trader Joe’s.

This is the same view of the garden three weeks later. Granted, we added two pepper plants, a Thai basil which you can't see behind the Sweet 100 tomato plant. but still, it's just phenomenal how quickly things grew. That green wall on the back side is made up of the pumpkins which you could barely see in the preceding photo.

This is the same view of the garden three weeks later. Granted, we added two pepper plants, a Thai basil which you can’t see behind the Sweet 100 tomato plant. but still, it’s just phenomenal how quickly things grew. That green wall on the back side is made up of the pumpkins which you could barely see in the preceding photo. And look at the Trader Joe’s basil! We take off a dozen or more leaves each week and we can’t even see where they were!

Here's a shot of the pumpkins. We've had to build a netting out of concrete reinforcing mesh in order to keep them off the ground. On the far side of the pumpkins are two lemon cucumbers which will share the netting. As of today, we're going to have to get another piece of mesh to extend the platform since the pumpkins have almost outgrown it already.

Here’s a shot of the pumpkins. We’ve had to build a netting out of concrete reinforcing mesh in order to keep them off the ground. On the far side of the pumpkins are two lemon cucumbers which will share the netting. As of today, we’re going to have to get another piece of mesh to extend the platform since the pumpkins have almost outgrown it already.

http://www.inspirationgreen.com/keyhole-gardens.html

http://www.hgtvgardens.com/raised-garden/keyhole-gardening-tips

THAT – AHA! – MOMENT

Image courtesy of sq-deal.com

Image courtesy of sq-deal.com

We’ve been blogging about education quite a lot lately. It’s an issue that we see as critical to our society. So, with apologies for being somewhat single minded, we are sticking with that theme in this post as well.

To begin with, we’d like to digress a bit. Our digression takes us into the realm of what might be thought of as ‘working assumptions.’

First Assumption: Human beings are, for the most part, egocentric creatures. That is to say, we tend to think that our viewpoints; our experiences; our situations is generally similar to those of the people around us. We also tend to believe that there are certain common experiences and values based merely on being citizens of this country but we’ll come back to that in our fourth assumption. Certainly, we recognize differences between ourselves and say, millionaires or the homeless, but we tend to think that everyone in our immediate circles such as our neighborhood, our school, our workplace has a relative degree of similarity to ourselves. Those who are radically different from ourselves we are tempted to view with envy, admiration, veneration, revulsion, contempt or indifference; depending on where they fall along continuum from wealth to poverty.

Second Assumption: Fairly recent research shows that as affluence increases, compassion tends to decrease. We believe that this is probably closely linked to the identification/ envy/ revulsion principal cited above.

Third Assumption: We live in a highly categorized, image driven, appearance dependent society. Given that, our responses seem most generous to those who are either most like us or those whom we see as able to best benefit us.

Fourth Assumption: All of us must recognize the role of cultural dissonance in policy making and implementation. To clarify, the word ‘cultural’ does not refer only to say the difference between national, ethnic or racial groups but between concepts like ‘equality’ and ‘liberty’ as described by Yuval Harari in his book Sapiens. (By the way, if you haven’t read this book, you really should. It’s packed with things to think about, whether you agree with Harari’s premise or not.)

Now, with our working assumptions clearly defined, we’d like to move on to an experience we recently had. As writers in the modern world, we need to self promoter through vehicles like this blog; our alternate history blog; and social media. Recently we’ve been very fortunate to see a sharp rise in the number of followers on our @masfiction Twitter account. For whatever reason, a large number of the followers seem to be young adults of either high school or undergraduate age. It was one of those recent young adults who gave us a real ‘Aha!’ moment in one of his tweets.

USA, California, Los Angeles, Portrait of teenage boy (14-15) with smartphone - image courtesy of huffingtonpost.com

USA, California, Los Angeles, Portrait of teenage boy (14-15) with smartphone – image courtesy of huffingtonpost.com

This young man was discussing the temptation and antics that arise whenever his teacher leaves the classroom for a moment. In the tweet he implies that the momentary absence took place during some form of test or quiz. At the risk of betraying our age, our assumption was that, most likely your pal; the cute classmate who has ignored you until now; or the class bully would whisper something like, “What’s the answer to number 7?” Apparently, that is a VERY antiquated viewpoint. His tweet dealt with the temptation to quickly whip out the old smartphone and look up ALL the answers in the intervening moments between the instructor’s departure and return.

Candidly, wasn’t even on our radar as a possibility because, when we last went to school, smartphones were imagined, not real. The current ubiquity of mobile devices which connect instantly to the internet causes us to forget that the first iPhone was released for sale less than eight years ago on June 29, 2007!

Toddler with a tablet - image courtesy of dailymail.co.uk

Toddler with a tablet – image courtesy of dailymail.co.uk

Since that time, mobile computing and mobile access have rocketed forward at a breakneck pace. What is more, the saturation of these devices is increasing even more. Our friend gave his “old” tablet to his three year old granddaughter. She wags it around with her everywhere and knows pretty well how to make it work. She also knows how to contact her grandparents and other relatives using her mom’s iPhone. This child is one year away from entering pre-K; two years from entering kindergarten; and only ten or eleven away from entering high school. That’s just barely longer than smart phones have been around.

Back to those assumptions made at the beginning of this rant. Remember that we said that we are all egocentric creatures and that there are certain common experiences and values based on the fact that we are all raised this country? Well, it’s here that we think the policy makers may be missing the boat. Most policy makers, whether they are from privileged backgrounds or the ‘poor kid who worked hard and succeeded’ background were educated long before the internet let alone before the profusion of mobile devices which now connect to it. Realistically, whether they went to a private or public school, the instructional methodology and base assumptions were very much the same as they were in the 19th century. Believe me on this one. I went to both private and public schools. I also went to good and not so good public schools. The simple truth of it all is that the methodology of instruction was almost universally the same despite the fact that resources, class sizes and such might vary widely, . There was a teacher, who not unlike Socrates, was seen as a reservoir of knowledge and the were the students; those empty vessels into which that knowledge was poured. And this may very well be the problem.

We are formulating curricula based on this antiquated assumptions. If our friend’s three year old granddaughter can use a tablet and a smart phone already, can we really see her as a completely empty vessel? If a high-schooler knows how to access the answers to test questions via the internet but struggles with the moral implications of doing so, is he too still part empty? And, realistically, how many times have we seen or heard that old trope of parents or grandparents asking their younger relatives for help learning how to use a computer, smart phone, or any other new technological device?

We live in a world where an 17 year old just won a $75,000 prize for inventing a low cost, easy to install, usable on existing aircraft, ventilation system which increases the flow of fresh air by 190% while reducing the number of pathogens in the cabin air by 55 times their current level. It’s a world where, in the same competition, an 18 year old won $50,000 for inventing “a better containment enclosure that should allow undersea oil wells to quickly and safely recover after a blowout” while also preventing “the formation of methane hydrate that could potentially clog the pipes”.

These teens are the contemporaries of the young man who resisted the temptation to take out his smart phone in the teacher’s absence. None of them are the empty vessels that they are assumed to be by policy makers. We contend that education needs to undergo a paradigm shift if we are to improve the performance of students in this country. Certainly, there is basic information which needs to be imparted. Fundamental principals need to be taught. But the children in school today and who will enter school soon are no longer empty vessels. They come to school with varying levels of skills and knowledge but it far exceeds the level of knowledge which we, as adults and policy makers, attribute to them.

Teenager using a computer at the San Francisco Public Library - image courtesy of sfpl.org

Teenager using a computer at the San Francisco Public Library – image courtesy of sfpl.org

Kids from impoverished neighborhoods have smart phones. They have access to all kinds of information. Homeless children, even those not attending school, have internet access through shelters, libraries, and friends. They are not ignorant because of their circumstances. They have a very clear picture of our modern world. Perhaps a picture that is much clearer than the one that we have. Their parents don’t aspire for them to remain in destitution. They, like we, aspire for their children’s lives to be better. But policies which shunt funding and talent away from poorer areas perpetuate rather than alleviate the problems. Increased class sizes and over stretched resources only exacerbate the problems. We would do well to remember that the acclaimed and brilliant botanist George Washington Carver and the inventive and innovative Thomas Alva Edison were both from poor families. Edison was even referred to by his teacher as being “addled”. These great America scientists found access to knowledge despite being poor; despite being shunted aside because of race and disability.

Students today also have found access to information outside of the school room. What we must do, if we are to maximize the potential of all our future Carvers and Edisons, is find a way to help them channel that knowledge into inventive, productive, and ethical channels. We need the empathy and compassion to reach out to them and help them up. We need to look past appearances, biases and superficialities to see that the mind which holds the key to the next quantum leap for mankind may very well reside in a poor home or no home at all. We must recognize the culturally dissonant fact that the least among us may have the native intelligence to become the first, to the benefit of us all, if we just recognize that he or she deserves a fair shot at getting there.

SYNCHRONICITY, THE ACTOR, & THE SCHOOL

image courtesy of  collective-evolution.com

image courtesy of collective-evolution.com

Sometimes it’s funny how synchronicity rears its disturbing head.

It happened to me last week. On Monday, I became aware of the hoopla about Ben Affleck asking PBS to omit any reference to a long dead relation who was a slave owner.

Then, on Friday, I read an article in the Oxford University Press Blog about an Australian grammar school that is teaching its Third Years using Positive Education.

The dichotomy of these two stories struck me with the force of a thunderbolt.
Mr Affleck, who is, for all appearances, a tireless worker for human dignity, human rights, and forward thinking was so fearful of the potential ‘taint’ over this accidental of fate, that he inadvertently set this tempest in a teapot in motion.

Another article today in CNN asked, “Seriously, who in their right mind would want to be tarnished by the sins of an ancestor you had no connection to other than a remote bloodline?” Really?

When are we going to stop digging in the muck of the past and focus on the very real issues which so desperately need our attention today? Here we have a man who uses his celebrity to foster and promote good works in a dizzying number of causes. And his concerns are not limited to our nation. No, his concern is for humanity. His interests and efforts span the globe, seeking to bring dignity, equity, and opportunity to millions
of people, regardless of their ethnicity, creed, politics or whatever.

image courtesy of  www.salon.com

image courtesy of http://www.salon.com

Ben Affleck is NOT his ancestor. He is a moral, upstanding man who happens to carry a scintilla of DNA from another person, in another time, and from a very different world. He should not have to worry about some narrow minded muckraker trying to use his accidental relationship to a long dead man to create their own 15 minutes of fame or percieved moral superiority. If you think about it, many of us might have less than savory antecedents. Anyone of us could be related to a truly reprehensible character of one sort or another.

Taking this line of thought a step further, it’s important to consider that slavery is an ancient institution. From the time that one person could impose their will upon another there has been a form of, if not actual, slavery. It is not an institution born of this nation. It’s taint has touched every corner of the globe at one time or another and still touches many of them today. We can know of Ben Affleck’s ancestor because the records relating to his activity were, by chance alone, preserved. But many of us could very well carry the same connection to former slave owners whether our roots are in America, the Middle East, Italy, Russia, China, Brazil, or wherever. It’s simply a caprice of fate that the records of our own “tarnish”, as the CNN writer called it, are unknown to us and the world.

I think it’s far more important that we look at who Ben Affleck is. Today. Here. Now. He is the antithesis of his ancestor. We cannot continue to define others and ourselves by what went before. We would do far better to ask ourselves who we are and who we are becoming. If we find failings then it is in all our interests to remediate them.

image courtesy of  www.ggs.vic.edu.au

image courtesy of http://www.ggs.vic.edu.au

This is where the contrasting OUP Blog comes in. The Geelong Grammar School in Australia is working to teach its Third Year students in a positive way. Granted, it’s a posh academy but their approach bears examination. An up coming overnight class activity can seem pretty daunting to 8 and 9 year olds. So, in anticipation of this event, the school is bending the thrust of its curriculum to build excitement and confidence. Studies are not only talking about the animals and plants the students may encounter but also about how they have adapted to their environment.

Students are also tasked with thinking of and relating times when they have faced frightening challenges and come through them. The school is helping them learn that many of them have faced anxious times and either learned new skills (adaptation to their environment) or successfully passed through them. Either way, they are focusing on who the children are becoming; not who they were. The article’s author, toward the conclusion states, “Character strengths such as gratitude, curiosity, forgiveness, leadership, and spirituality, provide an underpinning framework for Positive Education and help to bring core learning to life for members of the school community of all ages.”

Shouldn’t we all be using the ‘character strengths’ of people like Mr. Affleck as examples for our own growth rather than creating false failings to make ourselves feel superior?

CREATIVITY IN EDUCATION

This rant was spurred by the conjunction of several recent news items.

  • Our state is currently under court order to improve education which means our legislature is wrangling on how to fund smaller class sizes, improve instruction, etc.
  • Then there’s the whole furor over the efficacy of the national standards of achievement testing. Is it truly a measure of learning or is it merely a measure of how well we’ve prepped students to take the test?
  • There’s a never ending battle over teacher pay, tenure, seniority and how to determine what constitutes a “good teacher”. (HINT: It’s probably not the result of a customer satisfaction survey. Sometimes, the people who cheese you off the most are the best teachers.)
  • And, how do you fund needed educational reforms? Budget cuts? Salary cuts? Tax levies? Charter schools? Never mind what needs done about an increasingly outdated or even dangerous infrastructure.
image composite  Shuttle courtesy of springfieldnewssun.com - mule team courtesy of yooda.soup.io

image composite
Shuttle courtesy of springfieldnewssun.com – mule team courtesy of yooda.soup.io

All of these things cause my head to ache – a lot! I keep remembering a friend who (quite some time ago) described an organization’s approach to similarly complex problems as, “They’ve got the space shuttle hitched to the 40 mule team and are ready to pull onto the information superhighway.”

Now, our beliefs and opinions on these thorny issues are not the thrust of this blog post. Rather, we want to raise an issue that has largely been abandoned in the rush to demonstrate competency, performance, reform, fiscal responsibility, and more.

image courtesy of dealiciousmom.com

image courtesy of dealiciousmom.com

With all this focus on measurability we’ve lost sight of the vital role of creativity in education. We don’t mean figuring out new ways to convey information. We mean the including the arts as integral parts of an educational curriculum. Art is often the catalyst which make self expression and self confidence possible.

In public education (and let’s be honest here, public education still comprises the majority of preK – 12 instruction), arts programs have been consistently diminished over the past few decades. After all, you can’t measure the benefits of creativity in fuzzy pursuits like painting, drawing, collage making, woodworking, music, etc. Unlike subjects such as science, mathematics or even reading and composition the arts just have too much room for subjective interpretation.

But a recent article on cnn.com suggests that there could be long term benefits to be had from creative pursuits. They may actually help preserve memory. While the article specifically discussed this possible benefit as it relates to staving off Alzheimer’s disease, we can’t help wonder if it might not have broader implications.

image courtesy of greenbrook-montessori.com

image courtesy of greenbrook-montessori.com

Think about this for a moment. If you are a crafter, gardener, woodworker, artist, or whatever – don’t you find that as you are pursuing your creative endeavor, you frequently mull over issues, things you’ve heard, or problems? And just as often, don’t you find that new opinions, thoughts, and solutions present themselves when your subconscious is free to work on them? The mind benefits from cross training as much as the body.

Consider the possibilities for opening new avenues to difficult subjects which might be available through teaching the arts. Music is mathematical. That is a given. But painting can open the door to the chemistry of color or the physics of light. Woodworking and the properties of different woods can lead to inquiring about forestry, agriculture, soil chemistry, environmental effects, climatology, and so forth. Sewing, beading, and crafting can lead to questions of surface tension, material composition (geology, chemistry, thermodynamics, etc), or even to social science issues and the exploration of diverse cultures and communities.

image courtesy of weareteachers.com

image courtesy of weareteachers.com

We don’t intend this rant to be exhaustive but rather suggestive so we’re cutting it very short. However, as we weigh the issues of how to reform our approach to basic education, we would all do well to consider how much we are giving up by leaving creative education to privately funded sources or the “after school clubs”. The caprices of private funding and the economic and logistical limits of clubs may be robbing some of our best and brightest of the opportunity to shine through.  And, in the long run, that may be just as perilous as failing to improve performance in core competency subjects.

Blog Hopping with Tim & Valerie

We are thrilled that Valerie and Tim Hemlin invited us to participate in this blog hop. It’s designed to show our readers a more personal side to the shadowy figure of MA Scott. We have listed seven (hopefully) interesting facts to help cast light onto who we are as writers.

As many of you know, we are a spousal writing team. Now, writers tend to be solitary creatures. We tend to hide in darkened corners plotting mayhem, romance, subversion, surprise revelations, and character development, all for the imaginary people demanding attention from inside our brains.

But, at the same time we’re closet exhibitionists who really revel in being forced to disclose things about ourselves. That’s where things like this blog hop come in so handy.

The rules (as defined by our generous hosts) are that we share 7 facts about who we are and links to up to 15 blogs that we enjoy reading.

If we’ve nominated your blog, please don’t feel any obligation to join in but if you do, please link back to the blog of the person who nominated you (that would be us). Then have fun thinking about the things you want to share about yourself.

It’s invigorating, fun, and a chance to pass along some information about yourself and the people you like. Try it! You’ll like it!

FACTS ABOUT US:

1. We are avid readers. We tend to jump genres, consuming anything from science fiction to romance to fantasy, mystery, history, self improvement, technical or medical journals. We even go so far as to amuse ourselves by reading  cereal boxes and other packaging (inserts and all; because they can be so darned amusing). Basically, if it’s printed, we’re likely to read it.

* SIDE NOTE aka RANT:  Do we really need to be told to not eat a Boston Fern? No kidding: The tag actually says that you shouldn’t eat it. Really? I thought it quite obvious. But on further reflection, we do eat artichokes. Hmmmmm”

2. We are wanderers. In Jim’s case, it’s hereditary. He was born in Japan and then traveled around the western United States and the Pacific region with his military family. Like all good spouses, he cross contaminated Colleen, his lovely Arizona bride. Since marrying at the dawn of the color TV era, they have lived in Arizona, Missouri, Colorado, Nevada, now Washington State.

3. We’re a mixed marriage. Colleen has a healthcare background whereas Jim has law enforcement/ court system experiences. Don’t let that worry you, Colleen used to be an ER nurse before transitioning to rehabilitation nursing. She’s tough enough to deal with her spouse’s silly ‘man ideas’!

4. We love country living. Our happiest times have been spent in the mountains of Colorado at 9000 feet and now in the wilds of western Washington where the air isn’t so thin. We currently host two overprotective dogs (tho golden goes bats if a gnat burps. It takes a might more than that to excite the mastiff)  and a surly cat who spends his thankless days trying to whip us into some semblance of an adequate staff.

5. We are geeky – to a certain extent. We love our tablets and Roku which brings us the wonderful worlds of YouTube and Acorn TV. But we have crappy cell phones because, where we live, they don’t work very well. Seriously, there is a spot in the front of the house some 100 feet from the door where you can get a signal – sometimes. You have to know that’s a great place to be when it’s raining or snowing and the power has gone out. Guess who gets to go out and stand on one foot with his mouth contorted “in the right position” to report the mishap!

6. We are gaga for British TV. What we like is the emphasis on brains over brawn to solve issues. We truly believe that most issues are best dealt with through the liberal application of mental power. Although there are times when one must resort to brute force, like when that pesky cork just won’t pull out of the bottle.

The other attraction to our British cousin’s programming (at least as seen here in the US) is the use of character development as a series progresses. Whether it’s a mystery like Lewis or a comedy like As Time Goes By, the protagonists grow, develop, and worm their ways into your psyche. We like it when art imitates life. Humans are complex, multifaceted creatures. It’s nice to see time taken to reflect that in ongoing programs.

7. We are a study in contradictions. Despite the above rhapsody about technology, Roku, Acorn TV and British programming, most nights we eschew watching “the tube” on favor of beading, painting, sculpting, & other creative pursuits followed by reading. Our weekends are often spent gardening or; as the season requires; cutting, splitting or stacking wood. Over time, we’ve found that we sleep better, work better, and get along better when we actually engage the world and each other rather than sinking into the visual opium den of merely watching.

Now, for blogs that we follow.

http://timhemlin.com/ the host of our blog hop and another of those rare and brave souls who writes in tandem with his spouse. I’m sure he and his lovely wife Valerie would agree that you never really know the person to whom you are wed until you write a book together. Just like we live in the Other Washington, they live in the Other Fresno – the one in Texas. Who knew there was more than one Fresno?

masalthistory.wordpress.com okay, we don’t follow this one – we write it. But still, it is interesting. It is an expose of how the world changed because of that fateful October day in 1805. Desperation and technology propelled the still young British Empire to take a fearful risk that changed the world – forever.

http://mariahklein.wordpress.com/ written by the woman who drew the sting of starting blogging and tweeting in the first place. Mariah is a generous, kind, and wonderful author of urban fantasy whom we met at the 2013 PNWA conference and who, since then has shared generously of her time and encouragement.

http://dawlishchronicles.blogspot.co.uk/  is written by one of our earliest and kindest Twitter followers, Antoine Vanner. Antoine writes a blog filled with interesting, engaging stories of British and naval history from the age of steam. He is a true gentleman and a very accomplished wordsmith. We count ourselves very lucky to have his loyal following on Twitter.

http://mereinkling.wordpress.com/ written by our friend and good neighbor Rob Stroud. Rob is a retired Air Force chaplain and a wonderful fellow. He is bright, insightful and extremely articulate in both his writing and his argument. A devoted fan of CS Lewis, Rob has opened a new world of insight into the complex friendship between Lewis and the other Inklings as well as the realm of the role of faith in everyday life.

http://lindsayschopfer.blogspot.com/ offers insights to writers on sundry topics. Lindsey is another of the amazingly generous people we met at the PNWA conference. He is an author, musician, teacher, mentor, and coach. Generous of spirit, incisive of mind, he is another person we count as a true blessing and bright point of light along the twisted path of life.

http://georgianera.wordpress.com/  gives us a wonderful and frequently humorous glimpse inside the world of Georgian England. This is a world of seminal importance to our Nation and our modern world. Reading about it in all its complexity and with all its foibles goes a long way to enhancing the understanding we have of how we developed our modern world.

http://burnhamwycoff.com/ from the wild prairies of Wyoming comes this blog with thoughts on writing, being a writer, and more. We were recently privileged to be beta readers for a new fantasy from this talent. What an act of faith and courage to turn your hard work over to others and trust that they will be engaged enough to read and comment while being kind enough to help guide you to a better product. Our verdict: We can’t wait to see the final form in print so that we can experience it again!

http://adcochrane.wordpress.com/ written by a self described “London exile striding through a Glasgow miasma”. Prepare to find yourself engaged in travel blogging and commentary that reminds you of the early works of Paul Theroux. The prose is rich. The insight deep and profound. The subject matter, no matter what you think of it at first blush, is always engaging and engrossing. Truly a gem to look forward to each time it arrives in your inbox. PLUS, he’s the man who taught us to make berry infused scotch whiskey. Tried it with our huckleberries this year. A TRIUMPH!

http://interestingliterature.com/ provides quick snippets of fact about authors – both well known and obscure. Their blog is always entertaining and informative. The factoids have the habit of stimulating further investigation, which we suppose is the point of it all.

http://www.thismess.net/ is an impassioned look at the worlds of academia, disability, power, authority and privilege – from the inside as well as the outside. You may not always agree with the author’s arguments or his politics but you cannot deny the sincerity nor the strength of them. Regardless of your personal beliefs or convictions, David Perry is an essential read. He will give you much to mull over and will compel you to refine your own viewpoints through his inexorable logic.

Smarter Every Day is both a blog and a video series on YouTube. If you have ever wondered about how or why anything works, this is the place to start looking for explanations. Destin is a truly gifted presenter. He takes the complexities of science and translates them into engaging, informative, and riveting everyday English. The man is amazing. He will make you care about things you never even knew you were interested in. You really owe it to yourself to check out some of his posts.

HORROR OF HORRORS! We forgot an exceptional blog that we follow. http://shrineodreams.wordpress.com/ – this wonderful blog comes to us out of Canada and explores some of the dustiest, most obscure corners of history. We first found it when looking for information about Russian religious cults (hint: they figure prominently in our upcoming steampunk novel). We found a wonderfully detailed 4 part series on the doukhobors of British Columbia. What a find! Check it out. We’re sure you won’t be disappointed. Our most profound apologies to Mike Culpepper for this oversight.

 

CAN SCIENCE FICTION SAVE THE WORLD?

image courtesy BBC News

image courtesy BBC News

This was the title of a recent article in the BBC Magazine. It really got us thinking.

So much of modern fantasy and science fiction is depressing. I mean, think about all the dystopian, zombie apocalyptic, post nuclear apocalyptic, post climate change apocalyptic, and other ‘miserably ever after’ stuff there is out there. It seems like the central message of much of the entertainment industry is geared to the concept of ‘things are bad now, but wait! They’re going to be much worse!”

The keys to survival in the future appear to be distrust, isolationism, cloistering with a chosen few, retrenchment, violence, guns, criminal enterprise to fund the ongoing need for fortification materials and ammunition, and lastly (and perhaps most importantly) adapting and retasking old, outdated, technology.

I don’t know about you but I’m getting depressed just thinking about this. Whatever happened to the more inventive kind of science fiction and fantasy? Consider the genre from the late 19th to mid 20th century. The stories discuss the invention of new and wondrous technology. It was human innovation, inventiveness, and intellect that won the day. Not grim, grimy, hidebound determination.

Model and diagram of Nautilus as envisioned by the Disney Studios. Image courtesy of naturecoast.com

Model and diagram of Nautilus as envisioned by the Disney Studios. Image courtesy of naturecoast.com

Jules Verne envisioned a marvelous new energy source that powered his electrically lighted Nautilus.

Hugo Gernsback described the Telephot; a device which allowed you to see and speak to another person at a great distance. Edward Bellamy envisioned the credit card. Arthur C. Clarke posited both digital media and the immediacy of news reporting. Ray Bradbury talked of personal audio listening devices – aka the all pervasive earbuds. Mark Twain foresaw the Internet, or something very much like it, when he described his telectroscope. And who can forget Gene Roddenberry’s tricorders, communicators, voice activated and touch screen technology?

Gernback's telephot image courtesy of davidszondy.com

Gernback’s telephot image courtesy of davidszondy.com

All of these writers conceived of devices that lifted people up; helped them recover; saw them into a brighter, better future than the one that existed at that time. They packaged hope and innovation inside stories of high adventure and extreme adversity. Until the late 20th century and the opening days of the 21st, we have always thought of how we could use our intellect and innovative thinking to work our way out of problems and build a better tomorrow.

It seems that at least some writers like Neil Stevenson are trying to reverse that trend toward dystopian hopelessness. They have embarked on a bold venture called Project Hieroglyph. It is an effort to inspire innovation and invention through a collaboration of noted authors and progressive scientists.

Scientist and authors working for a better tomorrow from Amazon. com who also provided the photo.

Scientist and authors working for a better tomorrow from Amazon. com who also provided the photo.

This remarkable effort is available starting today, September 9th. We know, it hasn’t received anything like the hype surrounding the 1Phone 6 (ooh! It’s big claim to innovation is – it’s bigger! Even CNET doesn’t encourage you to rush right out and buy it unless your eyesight is failing you.)  But Hieroglyph may do more than let you post things to social media and admire your selfie on a larger screen. (Oh how I hate that term and the vain self centeredness it connotes)  It may stimulate your brain, cause you to think, and – dare we suggest it – hope for a better, brighter future.

As a side note, I encourage all of you to subscribe to another source of hope. I refer to a daily tech news letter out of Australia named Gizmag. It’s free and chock a block with interesting stories of innovation and scientific breakthroughs. Whether you’re interested in cars, motorcycles, space flight, technology, medicine, or just about anything else under the sun, Gizmag is going to have an article to inspire your imagination.

Gizmag for all the innovations under the sun. Image courtesy of ideum.com

Gizmag for all the innovations under the sun. Image courtesy of ideum.com

As we make our collective way toward a better and brighter future, whenever and wherever that may be, we encourage you to remember one of Gen. Colin Powell’s wise rules. “A positive outlook is a force multiplier.”

WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY?

Making fun, appropriately - image courtesy of stickywallpapers.com

Making fun, appropriately – image courtesy of stickywallpapers.com

Our family has always relied on the apt quotation to make a point. Now, let me clarify, we are not talking about quotations that one can find in Bartlett’s. No, I instead refer to the apropos quotation of movie lines.

When on road trips, we used to play “Quotations” in which a line was given and the correct answer required both the movie name as well as the name of the character who spoke the line. The name of the actor playing the character was worth bonus points but, since we never actually tallied points, this was more for the ‘show off’ kudos one could garner. The only real rule we had was that the quote had be from a film that the other players had seen or were likely to have seen. For example, when playing with the children when they were younger, there were few references to Fellini or Bergman films except as they might obliquely apply in relation to say, a Woody Allen comedy.

The cast - 25 years later. - image courtesy of insidemovies.ew.com

The cast – 25 years later. – image courtesy of insidemovies.ew.com

This kind of game, or obsession really, leads one to develop the thought that there are certain culturally ‘core’ films that everyone has seen. To wit,  The Princess Bride or perhaps The In-laws (permit me to clarify here, I’m referring to the Peter Falk/ Alan Arkin version not the later Michael Douglas/ Albert Brooks version. While I generally like the remake, I just find Arkin’s character less whiney and Falk’s a bit more endearing, despite his apparent psychosis and blithe disregard for anything other than his own agenda. But, as regular readers will note, I digress…)

The Princess Bride Cover - image courtesy of dealflicks.com

The Princess Bride Cover – image courtesy of dealflicks.com

Back to The Princess Bride and my point (or, is should that be the other way around? Never mind! Focus! Focus! And stop using the sodding parentheses!)  I’m better now. Ahem!

Back to …. oh yes. Imagine our surprise some time back when our daughter called all aghast. She was speaking to a friend of a similar age and background, and suddenly discovered that they could not respond to proffered line because – SHE HAD NEVER SEEN THE PRINCESS BRIDE!  We could not help but wonder; what kind of deprived upbringing the poor person must have had? We ran through the possibilities. Perhaps she was raised by wolves on the tundra. Or, perhaps she was really an alien sent here to observe the possibilities for conquest. We finally settled on the supposition that she had been abused as a child ; i.e. she had been denied access to comedic material by overweeningly serious parents.

Oh yeah! Did I mention that it's also a love story? - image courtesy of rockloveaustin.com

Oh yeah! Did I mention that it’s also a love story? – image courtesy of rockloveaustin.com

I guess that the point of this blog, if it indeed has a point, is to appeal to those of you who find yourselves in similar straits. Put down your chilled semillon, set aside your warm brie with honey and slivered almonds. Stop streaming your Wagner opera. Eschew your Bergman, Fellini, or Eisenstein films.

Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin, and Andre the Giant; may he rest in peace - image courtesy of kayfabenews.com

Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin, and Andre the Giant; may he rest in peace – image courtesy of kayfabenews.com

 

Grab a cold beverage, make a honking bowl of popcorn and pop in The Princess Bride. Enjoy the delights of watching Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin, Andre the Giant,  Carey Elwes, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, Fred Savage, and – yes – Peter Falk in one of the greatest films Rob Reiner ever made.

 

“Have fun storming the castle!”

Have fun storming the castle! - image courtesy of braindamaged.fr

Have fun storming the castle! – image courtesy of braindamaged.fr