Full Cycle wins Best Inspirational Fiction

I recently got some wonderful news: Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group has named my novel, Full Cycle, its winner of the Inspirational Fiction category in the 2017 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. (The Novels page of this blog has much more information about the book, which tells the story of a young boy who challenges himself and his father to tackle the 200-mile Seattle to Portland one-day ride.)

The Next Generation Indie Book Awards is the largest not-for-profit book awards program for independent publishers and self-published authors. The awards are judged by leaders of the indie book publishing industry, including many coming from long careers with major publishing houses, to identify books that deserve to reach a wide audience. Catherine Goulet, Co-Chair of the 2017 awards explained, “Our program has become known as the Sundance of the book publishing world.”

The award ceremony was this week in New York City, and I was very pleased to be able to attend. I flew out early Wednesday morning, and spent much of the day seeing the City and meeting with clients (I hope to say more about the trip itself in another post). The ceremony was that evening at the Harvard Club in Manhattan. I thoroughly enjoyed spending a few hours with other writers and literary professionals, talking about our books and the writing process, and sharing stories.

The highlight of the evening was receiving the award itself in person …

Winner Screen

and being able to meet the judges, who are professional literary agents.

With judges

As honored (and, quite honestly, also somewhat stunned) as I am to have won this award, what pleases me most is the additional exposure and credibility this will get for the novel. It’s a wonderful story, and one that I’d like to see read and enjoyed by a wider audience.

Whether you buy your own copy, or check it out from the Seattle or King County Library systems, I don’t care. Just read it. Enjoy it. And be inspired!

Backyard History

What are the three most historic places you’ve ever visited?

A friend recently posted this question to Facebook; dozens of people commented, listing a wide variety of places. The three that immediately came to my mind were the Colosseum (Rome), Ford’s Theatre (Washington, DC), and Dealey Plaza (Dallas).

Still, limiting my answer to these three places seemed so inadequate. I mean, how, exactly, can “most historic” be defined? The Colosseum seemed an obvious choice, for the sheer number of events which occurred there – including the martyrdom of so many early Christians, which would prove to be the seedbed of the Church’s growth. But is it really “more” historic than St. Peter’s, across town? Think of everything that’s happened there.

Back home in the USA, I gravitated toward the two Presidential assassination sites, because of the dramatic impact each one had on the course of our nation’s history. Each marked a major interruption. But, again, is Ford’s Theatre “more” historic than the White House, just a few blocks away? Or the US Capitol building?

All kinds of other places came to mind: Mount Vernon, Colonial Williamsburg, Arlington Cemetery, Faneuil Hall and the Old North Church in Boston, and so on. In the early 1980s, I visited the USS Missouri (when she was mothballed at Bremerton) and stood on the spot where the treaty ending World War II was signed. Historic? Of course, though I’d argue that the “Mighty Mo” made a bigger impact on history through her role in battle than for providing a location to sign a treaty.

As you search your own thoughts, and try to come up with your own list, keep something else in mind: the most profound impacts on history can be set in motion by events that now seem mundane — and in places that are now largely forgotten.

One of those places is lurking in our own backyard, and I had the pleasure of visiting it this week for the first time. Just a few miles from where we live, there is an 88-acre patch of woods called Meridian-Baseline State Park. I’d wager that most people in Michigan (including most people who live near us) have never heard of it. The entrance is not well marked, and I drove past it dozens of times before I even realized it was there. From the small sign along Meridian Road, you wouldn’t guess it included much more than a dirt parking lot and some nature trails.

And yet, on a spot that’s about a half-mile hike from the parking lot, something happened about two hundred years ago which has had an arguably bigger impact on our everyday lives than events which have occurred anywhere else in the state. Deep in those woods are the two bronze markers from which the entire rest of the state was surveyed and platted. Without that survey, we wouldn’t have reliable property boundaries today. Moreover, the roads could not have been properly laid out and aligned. I doubt many of us have stopped to think about how chaotic everyday life would be without the surveying work that was done to establish these lines.

Meridan - Baseline North Initial Point Marker

Why does the park have two markers? Why not a single “zero” point? The state does have only one north-south meridian, but somehow the east-west baseline got screwed up. Instead of a single baseline, we are the only state which has two baseline points along the meridian. The one farther north is the baseline for all points east, and the one approximately 935 feet south is the baseline for all points west. If you look closely at a map, you’ll notice that the Jackson – Ingham County boundary doesn’t exactly align. The 935-foot baseline discrepancy is the reason. (Many of the rural roads around here also take a sharp series of turns right at the meridian; I suspect this is due to the same issue.)

The kids and I had a fantastic time visiting the park this week. The trails are in good shape, and it’s a very pleasant walk through the woods. We got to experience an important (if unsung) historical site — and the “misaligned baseline” provided an excellent teaching opportunity about the importance of paying attention to even the smallest details, and executing one’s work with care. What may seem like a small mistake or oversight can end up having permanent repercussions.


What hidden historical places are lurking in your own neighborhood?

Mr. Raccoon’s Rocky Return

As usual, Mrs. Yeoman Farmer turned out to be right. In a recent post, I told the story of the odd-looking juvenile raccoon that turned up in our pasture on Sunday afternoon. Given how pathetic it seemed, and how completely non-threatening, I just didn’t have the heart to shoot it. MYF suggested, however, that it could be sick or have something else seriously wrong with it — precisely because it was sitting so lethargically in our pasture, and not running away from me. We agreed that if the animal turned up again, I should not hesitate to dispatch it.

Well, Mr. Raccoon did turn up again. And he did have something seriously wrong. Thursday morning, I found him in the pasture, much closer to the barn than on Sunday. However, I didn’t need to dispatch him. He was already dead.

As I found a paper bag in which to dispose of the body, I was kicking myself for not pulling the trigger on Sunday and putting him out of his misery sooner. Oh well. Live and learn.

Still, I couldn’t help wondering why this disoriented raccoon turned up on our property at all, looking like he had no place to go. Why wasn’t he in a den?

Then I started thinking about what had been going on around us. For the last couple of weeks, County work crews had cut down dozens of trees along our road. Some of these trees were on the small side, but others were enormous (our son counted upwards of 80 rings on one stump across the street from us).


All this work is being done in preparation for a major re-paving project this coming summer; in the meantime, it’s been like living in the middle of a logging operation. At least we’re getting a year or so’s worth of firewood out of it.


The County Road Commission crews used a forklift to pile all this wood in our pasture.

Anyway, back to Mr. Raccoon. With all the old trees that have been coming down, I wonder how many raccoon dens came down with them? I’m actually kind of surprised I haven’t seen more disoriented coons wandering around. It’s entirely possible this little guy got displaced from his den, and didn’t know where else to go. Given that he was so young, he may not have been familiar with other options.

It’s also possible that he was injured in some way when his tree came crashing to the ground. It wouldn’t surprise me if raccoons suffer traumatic brain injury in the same way humans do. And this raccoon certainly did look “dazed and confused.”

I suppose we’ll never know for sure exactly what happened to him. But at least we do know that an obviously-sick animal’s suffering is now over.

Temporary Truce

For years, I’ve considered our family to be in a more or less perpetual state of war with the local raccoon population. They’ve found ways to kill so many of our chickens, ducks, and turkeys … if I see a raccoon on the property, I tend to shoot first and ask questions never.

Until this past Sunday.

The weather here in Michigan has been unseasonably warm for mid-February, so my eldest daughter and I were able to get out for a wonderful 45-mile bike ride. We returned around 5pm or so, with about an hour of daylight to spare.

Before putting our bikes away, we gazed out over the property. Several of our ducks were still out in the pasture, splashing around in a flooded drainage ditch, having the time of their lives.

Then both of us spotted something just beyond the ditch: a smallish, dark-colored animal moving around. At first, I thought it might be one of our barn cats; she frequently goes out to the pasture to hunt field mice. “It’s not walking like a cat,” my daughter observed. I agreed. It was too far away to tell for sure, but it also seemed a bit too big to be a cat.

I decided this was worth checking on — especially since the animal could be stalking the ducks. They were so happily splashing in the drainage ditch, they seemed oblivious to all else. We hastily put our bikes away, I exchanged my cycling cleats for Muck boots, and then I grabbed the shotgun and a few shells of 00-Buck. Still wearing a cycling jersey and Lycra shorts, I then trotted out to the pasture. Our 14-year-old son, realizing something involving guns and wild animals was afoot, immediately stopped shooting baskets and trotted after me.

The noise we made with the gate evidently alerted the ducks that something was up, and they immediately abandoned the drainage ditch. As the flock waddled back toward the barn, I was relieved that at least none would fall victim to predators today. But I still needed to see if this intruder was in fact a predator — and take appropriate action if so.

As my son and I drew closer, it became clear that the animal was not a cat. It was too big, not carrying itself like a cat, and didn’t have a coat like any of our cats’ coats. Surprisingly, it was so intent on digging in the mud, it didn’t even notice us approaching. We drew to within 25 feet or so, and I chambered a round in the shotgun. At last, the animal looked up and I could see its face. Even more surprisingly, it just stared at us and did not run away.

I still couldn’t tell exactly what it was. It looked sort of like a raccoon, but not completely. The coat, and its coloring, didn’t seem quite right. The eye rings were evident, but not well defined. Its tail was tucked under it, so I couldn’t check it for rings.

Maybe I could convince myself it was a raccoon, but I wasn’t really sure. It didn’t look as clearly coon-like as the others we’d encountered (or even seen as road kill). If it’d stood and begun walking, I could’ve gotten a good look at its feet — and at its gait. That would’ve given me a much better signal. But the thing wasn’t moving. It just sat there, staring at us. Being in the middle of the pasture, I didn’t even have the option to pick up a rock to throw at it.

I drew a bead on the animal, but ultimately could not bring myself to squeeze the trigger. The way it looked at me, with its completely non-threatening demeanor, I just couldn’t kill it — especially since I wasn’t absolutely sure it was a raccoon.

But if it wasn’t a raccoon, what was it? My son and I went back to the house. I changed clothes, unloaded the shotgun and put it away, and jumped on the internet to search for “Michigan wildlife.” A long list came up, with pictures, but nothing really matched my memory of the thing. I looked at pictures of raccoons. I could see a resemblance, but also differences.

I returned to the pasture, this time with a camera — and my usual concealed carry pistol, in a holster. Much to my surprise, the animal was still in the same spot. I drew even closer than before, but it still didn’t run away. I took a few pictures. This is the best one:


Now, you might look at this and say, “Oh, that’s a raccoon!” Mrs. Yeoman Farmer did, when I showed it to her that evening. But trust me: when I was there, looking at the thing in person, under the fast-approaching twilight, it was ambiguous enough to raise questions. MYF and I decided it’s probably due to it being a yearling, emerging from its first winter with its first winter coat. Besides, I never got to see it walk around.

Standing there in the pasture, looking at how small, nonthreatening, and pathetic the thing was, along with some nagging doubts about exactly what kind of animal it was … I decided I just couldn’t shoot it. Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, or because we haven’t had a coon attack in a while. Regardless, I simply couldn’t bring myself to put a bullet in this animal.

When Mrs. Yeoman Farmer and I discussed it later that evening, she had an additional thought: given this little raccoon’s behavior (lethargic, just sitting there in the open for so long, not running away), it’s quite possible the thing is sick. We decided that if it were to show up again, it would be a good idea to dispatch it. I commented that if it were still out in the pasture now, in the dark, after all these hours, it definitely had something wrong. I grabbed the rail-mounted tactical light for my pistol and went out in the pasture to take a look. But by then, there was no sign of the raccoon. I shined the light all over the field, and even into the trees. No beady little eyes reflected anything back.

I wondered where the raccoon had gone, where it was now, and if it were healthy or not. Having been face to face with the little guy, and having looked into its eyes, I realized I didn’t really wish it any ill. As I walked slowly back to the farmhouse, under the stars and the moonlight, I even hoped it gets to enjoy a long and happy life — far, far away from our farm.

Free Feed

One fun part about having livestock is discovering the various ways you can put to use the various produce that others might simply discard. Goats, chickens, and even sheep are not terribly picky about what they eat. (I’d add that pigs in particular will eat virtually anything, but we have no personal experience raising them.) Especially in the dead of winter, the animals seem to appreciate getting an unexpected bit of variety in their diet. We’ve found a few ways to do this without much — if any — additional cost.

For example, this morning we stopped at Walmart to take advantage of 50% off wrapping paper and Christmas decorations. We discovered an even better deal, however: their leftover, fresh-cut trees were … absolutely free! Most people would scratch their heads and wonder what they could do with an extra tree now that Christmas is past. (Heck, I’m sure a lot of people are already taking their Christmas trees down today.) We didn’t have to wonder for an instant. The three oldest Yeoman Farm Children were with me, and our first thought was: the goats will love feasting on those pine trees. Every year, when the Christmas season is over, we dispose of our tree by tossing it into the goat pen; the animals go right at it, and before long nothing is left but the trunk and larger branches.

Fortunately, we’d taken our full-size van this morning. (It’s an extended Ford E-350, with the rear bench seat removed to give a huge cargo area.) Christmas would be coming early for the goat herd.

The store manager opened up the gate to the tree cage, we backed up the van, and then we loaded as many trees as we could fit. The manager was happy to see them go (he said they’d otherwise have to find a place to dispose of them), we were happy to get some feed for the goats (saving some hay in the process), and I’m sure the goats will be happy for some variety in their monotonous winter diet. A true win-win-win.


Over the years, we’ve become alert to this kind of deal. Another example that almost always becomes available: surplus pumpkins immediately after Halloween. There’s a big producer about five miles up the road from us, and virtually every year they have a lot of pumpkins go unsold. It’s mostly the blemished and odd-shaped ones, but that doesn’t matter to us. They pile the things up in huge bins by the road, and charge $10 per bin. One bin basically fills the back of a pickup truck. Or, if you don’t have a pickup truck handy, it’ll basically fill the interior of a Dodge Caravan.


The picture above is from a few years ago; I was so busy with election prep this year, I wasn’t able to get over there for surplus pumpkins. But when we can get them, we stockpile them in the upstairs part of the barn, along with the hay. Over the course of November and mid-December (until it gets so cold that the pumpkins freeze solid), we toss them to the sheep and goats a few at a time. (The Yeoman Farm Children actually have a blast smashing the pumpkins open for the animals.) As a bonus, the pumpkin seeds are a natural anti-wormer for the livestock. And the chickens clean up any scraps the sheep and goats miss.

If you keep your eyes open and learn what to look for, smaller-scale opportunities for free feed abound. For example, my oldest son and I are members of our parish’s Knights of Columbus council, and our whole family volunteers at the fish fry events held every Friday in Lent. As the evening progresses, there’s a fair amount of food waste generated in the kitchen that would otherwise have to be thrown out. Pieces of fish get dropped accidentally, potatoes and green beans get cold and can’t be served, and there’s always a lot of extra breading that doesn’t get used up. My brother Knights collect toss all of these scraps in a large box for me, and then I take that box home. It saves them some space in the dumpster, but above all it’s a nice treat for our chickens — and saves some perfectly good stuff from being wasted. We mix it in with their grain ration, a coffee can or so per day, and “recycle” those scraps into eggs.

And that’s really what all these exercises in frugality are about. The actual dollar savings to us are fairly minimal. The most meaningful, and satisfying, benefit is knowing that you’ve made good use of something that would otherwise have been wasted.

We may have to go back to town later today, to run another errand. I just hope Walmart still has some trees left. Just in case, I think I’ll take the old minivan that’s had all five rear passenger seats removed. We use it mostly for hauling animals and grain (and pumpkins!), but today it will hopefully be hauling Christmas trees.

One More Pearl Harbor Story

With today being the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, you’re no doubt reaching overload on stories commemorating the event. I’m hoping you can indulge me for a few minutes while I share just one more: our family’s.

My grandfather, Philip Gerhing, was a career Navy man. He enlisted in 1931, shortly after graduating from high school, remained on active duty until 1952, and then worked for the Navy as a civilian until his eventual retirement in the early 1970s. Growing up, my grandparents’ house was a trove of artwork and knickknacks that he’d brought home from all over the world (especially the far East).

In December of 1941, he was stationed at Pearl Harbor and serving as a “pharmacist’s mate.” My understanding is that he worked in the base hospital, assisting those who ran the pharmacy. He and my grandmother had three kids at the time: my mother (a few months shy of her fourth birthday), and her two brothers (aged five and two-and-a-half). My grandmother and the kids were living on the base with him, having come out to Hawaii on a civilian passenger ship to join him in early July.

Shortly before 8 am, seventy-five years ago, my grandfather had just finished an overnight shift at the base hospital. He was waiting for a shuttle to take him home, when he heard the drone of a large number of low-flying aircraft. He looked up, and said his first thought was: “Somebody sure did a sloppy job of painting those planes!” Of course, a moment later, when the bombs began dropping, he realized that the “sloppy paint” patterns were Japanese rising sun emblems.


Given that he was on his way home, and home wasn’t far, he continued on. He stayed at the house for just long enough to make sure his family was alright — and then went straight back to work. He seldom talked about what he did the rest of that day, but it generally involved assisting the medical staff in treating the wounded. My mother recalls him talking about being inside, and looking up, and noticing that large chunks of the building were missing.

Meanwhile, back home, my grandmother had three small kids to protect — plus some neighbor kids, who happened to be over. She pushed a large sofa in front of the window, and tried to keep the children entertained in the midst of the attack. Bombs were falling all over the neighborhood, as the family housing units were literally right on the base. Had so many of the bombs not been duds, the civilian death toll would have been much higher. One bomb in particular landed on the house next door to my grandparents’ house; had it gone off, there was apparently enough ordinance to level the block.

One thing that both of my grandparents told me: the Japanese planes were coming in so low, they could see the faces of the pilots. By far the most disconcerting part is that many of the pilots were looking down at them and smiling as they dropped their deadly payloads.

My mother, being just three years old at the time, has only hazy memories from that day — and my grandparents didn’t talk a lot about it. But for me, while growing up, having had family at Pearl Harbor personalized the event in a way that a history book could never do. And what’s really cool is that when the attack was over, my grandparents gathered up a collection of small artifacts (mostly shrapnel and parachute fragments). My mother had a small box with these historical souvenirs, and as a kid I remember being in awe every time she would bring it out. I became a junior Pearl Harbor buff, and read everything I could about the event.

There’s another chapter to the Pearl Harbor story, which is seldom discussed: what happened to the servicemen’s families afterwards. With a war now underway, and with the assumption that Hawaii itself would be a battleground, the Navy wanted to minimize the number of civilians in the area. In the weeks after the “day which will live in infamy,” the women and children  were loaded on passenger ships and evacuated to the mainland. The journey took upwards of a week, and for my grandmother it was a nightmare. Their ship was packed with women and small children, beyond its typical carrying capacity. The kids had very little to do, and the mothers were afraid to let them simply run around; it would be too easy to get lost or fall overboard. My grandmother ended up tethering her three kids together, so she could keep better track of them.

I never got all the details from her, but by all accounts it was an absolute nightmare of a trip. What made it even worse was the sense that they were sitting ducks, alone on this boat out in the middle of the ocean, days from anywhere. There were no naval escort ships. There were no patrol aircraft. The passenger ship of course had no anti-aircraft guns or other defenses. Everyone was fully expecting Japanese forces to materialize on the horizon, and send them to the bottom of the ocean.

This article has a nice summary of the civilian evacuation. What’s interesting is that the ship mentioned in the article, the S.S. Lurline, was the one my grandmother and her kids sailed on to get to Hawaii six months earlier. (I know they weren’t on it with the subject of this article, going back to the mainland, because they had no destroyer escort like is mentioned in the article.)

As a palate cleanser, I’ll leave you with this wonderful human interest story, about the oldest known Pearl Harbor survivor who was on active duty that day. He’s 104, and a couple of years ago resolved to keep himself in good enough shape to not only live to see the 75th anniversary, but to be strong enough to make the trip to Hawaii for today’s ceremonies:

He’s two years younger than my grandfather. Grandpa kept himself in incredible shape, and didn’t pass away until a few months short of his 95th birthday, but to my knowledge never went back to Hawaii for any of the commemorations. However, I’m sure my grandfather will be there in spirit with everyone today.

Turkey Time

On this chilly Michigan morning, I’m warming up a quart of rich, delicious turkey soup on the wood stove. Like pretty much everything else on the farm, it has a story.

We raised five turkeys this year. We brooded the baby poults along with a mixed batch of meat birds and pullet chicks we bought in mid-July. We didn’t really need five turkeys, but I figured it was a safe bet that at least two of them would die along the way. Fortunately for us, none did.

Anyway, after a week or so in the brooder, we moved all the birds out to a couple of movable pasture pens in the garden. All summer long, we moved those pens all over a large section of the garden that wasn’t being planted this year. All summer long, the birds happily mowed down their daily allotment of weeds and bugs. All summer long, they left their droppings behind for next year’s potato crop.

As weeks passed, and the birds grew, the pens got crowded. In early September, we moved all the pullets to the barn. They were easily old enough to free-range. We then began butchering the twenty or so Cornish Cross meat chickens. Every time I had some free time on a nice afternoon, I would butcher four or five of them. After a long day of squinting at a computer screen and building voter turnout models, I welcomed the opportunity to get my hands dirty doing something completely different. And there’s nothing quite as perfect as a summer evening with fresh pasture-raised chicken on the grill.

By late September, the five turkeys were down to one pen of their own. We used the remaining pen for a mother duck and her brood of ducklings. Day after day, they all continued to move around the garden. In late October, we turned Mother Duck and her brood loose in the barn.


That left the turkeys. They were now HUGE, and easily ready for butchering. Trouble was, I was still so busy with work, I didn’t have enough time to do it. Finally, when I returned from Washington DC after the election, I had my chance to begin chipping away.

A whole turkey, especially a fully-grown Tom, takes up an inordinate amount of space in the freezer. And how many families can use a turkey that large? We find it makes most sense to cut the turkey into pieces as we butcher it, and freeze the pieces separately. A leg quarter and a wing provides a full meal for our family. A breast piece can be thawed and used for two separate meals. And so forth.

That first turkey went into the freezer. I intended to butcher a couple more last weekend, but then we got some incredibly nasty weather; temps in the low twenties, blowing snow … sorry, but butchering just wasn’t going to happen. I threw a log on the fire and enjoyed an afternoon of football.

Tuesday afternoon of this week, the weather was clear enough to resume. Tom #2 woke up that morning having no idea he would become the centerpiece of this year’s Thanksgiving feast.


As I butchered, I carved off pieces of meat and added them to our large Crock Pot. I included a variety of white meat and dark meat. It ended up being able to hold basically a leg quarter, one full side of the breast, and part of another leg quarter. Both wings, a drumstick, the feet, and the carcass (including the neck) went straight into our big soup pot to simmer overnight. Everything else went into the freezer.

The Crock Pot was very full, but it could still take about a quart of water. I added this, and a quarter cup of salt, to make a nice brine solution. The whole thing then went in the fridge.

Early on Thanksgiving morning, I dumped the brine and rinsed the meat well. We then packed it back in the Crock Pot and seasoned it with basil, garlic, and paprika. I  poured in some apple cider vinegar, and put a couple of chopped onions on top. Then it cooked on High all day.

By mid-afternoon, so much liquid had come off the meat, the Crock Pot was overflowing. This ended up being the most moist and delicious turkey you could imagine.

If the whole “Norman Rockwell” carve-the-turkey-at-the-table thing isn’t important to your family, I highly recommend giving the Crock Pot a try next year.

In the meantime, I have three more turkeys to take care of. I think we’re going to turn them loose in the barn tonight, as they’ve done about as much as can be done outside. Hopefully we’ll have enough good weather this coming week, so I can get all three of them into the freezer. The only mystery is which one will end up being the centerpiece of our Christmas feast.