Full Cycle

My new novel has just been published!

Full Cycle tells the story of eleven-year-old Alex Peterson, whose physical disability makes him the least-athletic boy in his school. When he first hears about the 200-mile Seattle to Portland (STP) bicycle ride, he’s immediately intrigued and inspired — and begins dreaming of how he might somehow be able to take part. He soon discovers that the key lies in getting his father, Rob, to return to the sport and train with him as a partner. Over the course of the next year, the two of them end up on an adventure (both on and off the bike) to places that neither could have gotten to on his own.

Full Cycle Front Cover

Is this a story about cycling? Of course. But, more than that, it’s a story about growing up. About growing together as father and son. About overcoming what we think are disabilities. About supporting and encouraging our kids when they strive to push beyond their limits. It’s a story about pursuing a crazy dream — and how much more meaningful that pursuit can be when it’s shared with someone else. Above all, this is a story about family. It’s a story for everyone, no matter how many or how few miles you rode your bike last year.

Every novelist draws on his or her own experiences when writing. I’ve been an avid cyclist since my youth, and loved the freedom it gave to go as far as my own efforts would take me. However, when kids started coming along, I found it increasingly difficult to put in the training miles necessary for the ultramarathon events I’d been doing. Late in the year our second child was born, I chose to hang the bike up. Only when the kids grew older, and became interested in riding, did I reconsider. We ended up buying a tandem, which proved to be the perfect way to ride together.

Homeschooled Farm Girl got bitten by the long distance cycling bug as badly as I did as a young adolescent, and her enthusiasm got me back in the sport full force. By the time she turned ten or eleven, she was already wanting to travel with me to Seattle to ride STP. She got her wish when, the year she turned twelve, our whole family went to the Pacific Northwest for a summer vacation. She did 130 of the 202 miles with me on our tandem — and would have done the whole thing, if her brothers hadn’t wanted their own turns. In many ways, her dedication inspired me to tell the story of Alex and Rob.

Above all, I’m indebted to my kids (and HFG in particular) for helping me discover that sports don’t have to be a wedge that divides parents from kids. Sports don’t have to be something that parents pursue on their own. Sports don’t have to consume the family’s time and attention, as parents shuttle kids all over creation to practices and games. Sports, done right, can bring parents and kids together.

And in that vein, I wrote Full Cycle to be enjoyed by parents and kids alike. It’s completely G-rated. It includes no profanity, no sensuality, and no violence. I wanted to be able to share it with my own kids. It is not a “young adult” (YA) novel, however; it has an adult-level vocabulary and length, and does not follow YA conventions. It’s an adult-level book. But, that said, adolescents and pre-teens who enjoy reading beyond the typical “YA” genre will enjoy it a lot. It’s a fast-paced story, and a quick read.

Full Cycle is available in print at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and in Kindle format at Amazon.

What is Home?

My apologies for the slow posting of late; I’ve returned to Michigan after several days visiting Seattle, where I grew up, for the first time in nearly two years. It was a wonderful trip; altogether too short, but when you have a farm…getting away for even a few days in the middle of summer is asking a lot. I went alone, and am grateful that Mrs Yeoman Farmer and the Yeoman Farm Children (particularly the older two) were able to carry the burden in my absence.

The purpose of my trip was to ride the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic on July 11th, and I will be putting up a separate post describing that adventure. It’s an event I’ve done many times in the past, but not since 1996. Being able to get in shape again, and manage all the logistics of getting myself and my bicycle to Seattle (and then to Portland) once more, fulfilled a dream that had been simmering in my mind for several years. As I pedaled along Lake Washington Blvd on Saturday morning, with the rising sun framing the Cascade range in purple, and Mt. Rainier standing with all its immensitude in the crystal clear summer daybreak, my heart overflowed with joy. I’m really here. I’m really doing it. This is truly happening. Everything in the world is exactly right.

It occurred to me that this could be a rough working definition of “home”: not simply the place where a person happens to be living at the moment, but the place in the world where everything seems right. The place where a person senses he belongs, and the place from which a person feels exiled when he is not able to be there. Circumstances and grave obligations may force a long — even permanent — exile. But it takes much more than relocation to change one’s sense of “home.”

I had several days, largely to myself, to reflect on these and other thoughts. In a sense, the trip was not unlike a retreat. I spent last Wednesday getting to Seattle and retrieving my bike from the mechanic to whom I’d shipped it. Then, apart from reconnecting with an old friend for dinner one night, and the big event on Saturday, and spending Sunday afternoon with relatives, I had few scheduled obligations for the rest of the trip. I was able to spend much of Thursday and Friday simply riding all over…and thinking, and praying, and reflecting. I rode the Burke-Gilman trail to the small town where I grew up, pedaled past our family’s first house, and rolled around town.

The community swimming pool was still there. So was the football field. And the Ranch Drive-In. But there were also uncomfortable changes: the local library — my favorite spot as a young child — was now a cold municipal office building; the books had been relocated into a larger and more modern structure nearby. One of the grand old school administration buildings had been razed and was now a parking lot. Other buildings had disappeared. There were new buildings I didn’t recognize. And so on. And so forth.

And I couldn’t help asking myself: Is this where everything seems right? Because it’s funny how, the longer you don’t live somewhere, the more it lives in memory … even if the reality has become quite different.

In that town, and all over Seattle, I did see plenty of other places and things that were familiar and comfortable, and were reassuring in their seeming permanence. But despite the joy of being in Seattle, it was hard to avoid a simultaneous sense of melancholy…because nothing in Seattle is truly “mine” any longer. I couldn’t stay. I couldn’t be attached to it. As much as I may feel a sense of belonging in that city, I don’t truly belong there now. And it was these two competing senses about “belonging,” pulling in opposite directions, that triggered the melancholy.

Because no matter what I might feel, the inescapable reality remains: I chose to leave and go to college in Chicago. I chose to take a job in Detroit after college. I chose to attend graduate school in California. And, above all, I chose to marry a woman who grew up in Michigan, with deep roots in that part of the country, who very much dislikes the part of the country in which I grew up. One of the better definitions of “adulthood” that I’ve come across goes something like this: doing the things we ought to do and need to do, and not necessarily the things we want to do. And in our family’s case, there is no doubt about what we ought to be doing, and need to be doing: living in rural Michigan, near the town in which MYF grew up and has so many friends and so much family. And I have no doubt that “adulthood” was calling me to do all the other things (education, career) that took me farther and farther away from Seattle, one step at a time. Funny how easy it was to take each of those steps, without reflecting on the larger picture of how much distance each of them was putting between me and the city I loved so much. And yet even if I had seen the whole picture, with all its consequences, I wouldn’t go back and change any of those steps.

I will no doubt be living in Michigan for many years, and I have few illusions that the passage of time will make it seem any more like “home” than Seattle always will. I will always be, in some sense, an exile here. But you know what? That’s okay. And the more I pedaled around the region where I grew up, and the more I thought about it, the more okay with everything I became. My family is infinitely more important to me than getting to live in any particular place…and at the end of the day, I’m much happier living with my family in a place that is so completely right for them than I ever could be if they were compelled to live in a place that was “right” for me but completely wrong for everyone else. Because it’s ultimately not being in any particular place that makes us happy…it’s being with the people we love, and above all it’s living our lives in the way God wants. And I have absolutely zero doubts that that this little farm in this little town in this Rust Belt state is exactly where God wants me — and my family — to be.

Can You Really Go Home Again?

I’m back from a brief trip to Seattle; it was my 20th year high school reunion last night. I flew out there Thursday afternoon, enjoyed a couple of days of seeing the city and some friends and family, and then spent yesterday evening at a big bash getting caught up with folks from high school. And then it was a mad dash to Sea-Tac Airport to hop the redeye back to O’Hare. I got just enough sleep to make the drive home and to do the morning chores at the farm, but I’m going to need a nap this afternoon.

Some initial thoughts:

1) I was shocked to discover things I now had in common with people I barely knew 20 years ago. One person, for instance, had moved his family to a ten acre cherry orchard in central Washington State ─ for many of the same reasons we moved to the country ourselves. I didn’t even know this person in high school, and yet we spent quite a bit of time last night comparing notes about rural life. Another person has made business trips to Gibson City to visit his company’s suppliers ─ that town is just 15 minutes from our house, and where we buy all our livestock feed. When I heard the words “Gibson City” come out of his mouth, I had to pause to pick my jaw up off the floor. Simply astounding.

2) The Seattle area has grown so much in recent years, the outlying communities are unrecognizable. Woodinville, for example, is now a solid patch of pavement and chain stores. When I was in grade school in the late 1970s, a good friend lived on a heavily wooded lot on what was then the edge of Woodinville. It was so private, we would shoot rifles in those woods. Now, that entire hillside is covered with tract homes. And our grade school has basically doubled in size. They ought to rename the place “Pavementville.”

3) Everywhere you look, driving around Seattle, there are signs signs advertising “green” this and “environmentally friendly” that. And yet, the “green” was disappearing everywhere. And the massive developments going in sure didn’t look like they were trying to minimize any kind of footprint. As my thoughts drifted back to the very green organic farm that Mrs. Yeoman Farmer and I have sweated to build up these past six years, I couldn’t help wondering how many of the people who put up these signs or buy those products would tolerate a neighbor who wanted to pasture a goat and a few laying hens in their residential area ─ as was common in all big cities as recently as the 1940s? Or is “green” becoming just another consumer product that people can purchase at a natural food store?

4) Particularly dismaying was visiting the neighborhood where I’d grown up and where my family lived for over 25 years. The neighborhood had basically been carved out of a thick cedar forest, more than 40 years ago. The roads and lots followed and respected the natural contours of the land, and many original old-growth cedars had been left near the homes themselves. Even as new houses had been added over the years, the heavily-wooded perimeter (and remaining old-growth trees in people’s yards) ensured that the neighborhood maintained a quiet and private feel. But in just the last year or two, one of the major bordering landowners sold out to developers. An enormous swath of trees has been completely ripped out and bulldozed, and a road has been put in to establish a new subdivision of tightly-packed popup houses. No respect for land contours, or any existing trees — just blow it all down, re-shape it to maximize the number of building lots, and put those houses up. My neighborhood no longer has the sense of being carved out of the forest. It now looks like one big piece of pavement.

5) About a mile or two away from our neighborhood was a huge horse farm and pasture; it took up literally hundreds of acres. Somehow, as shopping centers went up all around it, this farm always managed to preserve itself. Even when I was out to visit last summer, it was a relief seeing that piece of pasture holding out. I nearly cried when I saw what has happened since: the farmhouse where we used to buy fresh eggs has vanished, along with all the barns and outbuildings. Bulldozers have swept the whole thing clean, and are beginning to chew up the pasture.

Apparently, I’m not the only person dismayed by what’s going on out there. Just a half mile from the ruined horse farm, yet another stand of trees had been bulldozed and was being prepared for yet another subdivision. But look what someone spray painted on the developer’s sign:

I don’t usually approve of vandalism, but sometimes the truth is the truth.

Made it all the more poignant when I went to Mass yesterday evening and heard a booming homily about “stewardship.” God made the earth so beautiful, with all its complexity, because (as Aquinas explains), that way it is a more perfect revelation of God’s goodness and love than if he had only created a few simple things. And while the earth is here for us humans to use and have dominion over, when we simply exploit that creation for our own naked ambitions and profit (the priest didn’t use the same word the spray paint vandal did, but it fits) we diminish and cloud the revelation of God’s perfection. I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

God have mercy on these developers. And on all of us who, directly or indirectly, have fueled the out-of-control demand that keeps the trees falling and these developments coming.