June 11

On Being a Writer and Becoming a Dad

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My son, Samuel, was born May 29, 2014.  I was 54 years old and, until then, childless.  I have a ten-year-old stepson who came into my life when he was six, and whom I love as my own.  But having a baby, and now a toddler, is a whole new world.

My wife lost a baby two years before, so the first sound of Sam’s heartbeat during the ultrasound was thrilling.  Then I got to see him born, and watch him take his first breath.  His head was smaller than the palm of my hand!

He’s a year old now.  He’s starting to make words like Mama, Dada, and Tiger.  He can stand while holding on to something, and has stood without support for a few seconds at a time.  I have no doubt he’ll be walking soon.  But he’s still at the “everything goes in the mouth” stage.  One day, he tried to eat the TV remote and shocked his mouth.  Another day, he chewed the label off a water bottle and choked on it.  He is fascinated with electrical cords, cell phones, computers, and anything electronic.  This demands constant supervision.  And he wants more attention now.  He’s less satisfied playing by himself.

I love my son.  But fifty-odd years of being childless has made me selfish and set in my ways.  I want to do what I want to do, when I want to do it.  When I’m inspired to write, I want to write.

Having a child has been a huge adjustment.  I can no longer write while I watch him.  Which means that sometimes when I am inspired, I can’t write down my thoughts.  And often, when I have the time to write, I find myself with nothing to say.

Sometimes I wonder how people with children keep their jobs.  But mine is a unique situation.  I work at home, so I’m always available but never quite off duty.

I’m told that these things work out over time.  I hope so, because my writing has continued to improve, and I look forward to finishing the projects I’m working on.  But during this period of adjustment, I still wouldn’t give up my son for anything!


March 26

When A Friend Dies

Lynn Patterson (right) died suddenly and unexpectedly Tuesday night.  He and his family run Red Acre Farm CSA in Cedar City, and we have worked closely with all of them over the years.  Lynn was an amazing man, always helping someone – sometimes us.

I spent yesterday with the family, who were still in shock.  There were plenty of people around, so I was as supportive as I could be, and I did my best to be useful.  I helped put their weekly farm shares together, moved heavy stuff, and went on an unsuccessful quest to find Lynn’s Sawz-all.  (“I can’t believe I can’t just call him up and ask him where he put it!” his wife Symbria said.)

Later, when I got home, my concerns shifted from the family to (as they too often do) myself.  Lynn was three years older than I am.  He never drank,  smoked, or drank coffee  He was thin and active, and ate an astoundingly healthy diet.

I can’t claim any of those attributes.

Recognizing my own mortality caused me to reflect on what I’m doing with my life.  What am I contributing?  Who am I helping?  Have I cleaned up my messes?  Who am I serving with my life?

The answers were unsatisfactory.  I’m an accountant, helping people to “render unto Caesar.”  No matter how you slice it, I help the government collect what people owe them.  Yes, often I am able to get someone a nice refund – but only in the context of the tax law, the purpose of which is to fund the government and its corporate buddies.  And no, I have not yet cleaned up all my messes.

What do I do with this new awareness?  I’m committed to tax work until April 15.  But today, I helped the Pattersons find their son, whose location has been unknown.  (He doesn’t know yet about his father.)  I made an amends that has been lingering for several years.  And I practiced playing “Amazing Grace” on the piano – not for the Pattersons, whose daughter plays piano better than I am ever likely to, but for myself, and if it’s not too corny, for God.

It is said that a person cannot serve two masters.  So long as I serve the government, I am not serving God.  But I have expressed my intention to find a “new employer,” and I believe that will work itself out over the next few months.

In the mean time, what can I do to serve God today?

(Donations for the Patterson family can be made here.)

March 17

The Man Behind the Keyboard


How does a person best describe himself?  I’m 55 years old, six feet tall, with brown hair and brown eyes.  I have a wife, a ten-year-old stepson, and a nine month old son.  I’m an accountant by trade.  And I’m a writer, including my popular novel Ordinary World, which has sold over 3,000 copies.  That’s not a New York Times Bestseller, but it impresses the heck out of me!

But that’s not all there is to me.  If you’ve read Domino Theory, you suspect that I might have some history of drug use.  You’d be correct.  I got clean and sober at the age of 25, when I was a total mess.  I’m nearly thirty years sober today, and that remains a central feature in my life.

I spent ten years making artisan cheese and selling it at farmers markets.  We shut the business down last June, after the baby was born, because we just couldn’t do everything anymore.  For much of that period, we raised goats, and I still miss them from time to time.  I especially love birthing the babies.

I spent seventeen years traveling back and forth to Sri Lanka.  This began in 1993, with an 18-month stay that began with my teaching computer classes, and evolved into my being on a team that tried to bring the civil war to a peaceful end.  Though we failed at our main goal, we did help bring about a four-year cease-fire, the longest in that nation’s three-decade war.

I studied Buddhism for many years, but my degree is in Theology, from a Catholic university.  I belong to the Mennonite church, and my dream is to become a minister.

I love music.  I play guitar, though not well.  I seem to have a mental block that prevents me from learning to read music, but I keep trying.

I love trains, especially the steam trains of the 1920s.  When I had the time and space, I built models.

Politically, I remain unaffiliated.  I object to the two-party system, because it seems impossible to me that there could be only two answers for any serious problem.  Nor could any two parties possibly represent the diversity of this great nation.  I consider myself a conservative, though I have much more in common with the community-oriented conservatism of my New England origins than either the corporate or religious conservatives who dominate the political right these days.

I read tarot cards.

I hate exercise, but I love hiking and kayaking.  I love the wilderness, and strongly support protecting it.  Do they have to build condos and strip malls everywhere?

I love to shoot, and have an appreciation for old rifles, especially from the World War I era.

Most of my writing is based on places and topics I know, or experiences I have had.  Many of them start with a “what if?” question.  For example, what if, before I got sober, I had come out of a blackout next to a murdered man, having no idea how I got there?  What if the economy collapsed, and my family had to survive?

To sum up, I am an accountant-cheesemaker-writer.  I am a liberal conservative (or vice versa).  I am religious, spiritual, and metaphysical.  I am a gun-toting, peacemaking, redneck advocate for social change.

I don’t think it’s easy to put me in a category.  But then, I think we tend to put others in categories far too easily.

March 16

When I Stopped

Today, in church, the pastor asked us to consider whether we had stopped along the way, and if so, when.

The question took me aback.  But the answer was easy.  I stopped when, in 2007, I began making cheese full time.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed making cheese.  People enjoyed eating it.  But it was a detour from my path, which had led me from bedside panels for alcoholics at County General Hospital in Los Angeles, to helping organizations in Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand provide basic needs for the extreme poor, to helping to try to end a war, to studying God and the Bible in college, to helping to build schools in the poorest neighborhoods of Tijuana, Mexico.

In 2007, all that stopped.  I became a full-time accountant in the winter, and a full-time cheesemaker in the summer.  Yes, we occasionally fed someone who needed it, and let someone stay with us who needed it.  But the focus of my life was no longer on serving others, but on serving cheese.

Perhaps it’s coincidental that 2007 is also when my previous marriage began its four-year collapse.  Perhaps it’s coincidental that was the same year I needed a pacemaker.  Perhaps it’s coincidental that my own mental health began to deteriorate.  And perhaps it’s coincidental that the cheese business sucked up all the money we had, and never quite became profitable.

I don’t think so.

I would like to thank my pastor for reminding me what’s important, and of how life was when I made it important.  God willing, I will make some changes in my life, and those things will become important again.

March 14

Vacation – Not Exactly What I Wanted

It’s been a long nine months, so long that I forgot my blog’s username and password, and returned to find 287 spam comments waiting for approval.  But it’s good to be back.

My vacation started, well,  with a vacation.  I took my family to New Hampshire to visit my family of origin.  And I got bronchitis.  (Ain’t nobody got time for that!)

After weeks of it not getting better, my doctor put me on Singulair.  But Singulair interacts with a triglyceride medication I was taking.  I didn’t know that.  Neither did my doctor or pharmacist.  The interaction is listed on the FDA website, but apparently not in any of the databases used by health care professionals.  Within two weeks, I had sunk into a suicidal depression and had to be hospitalized.

The hospital prescribed Zoloft, an anti-depressant.  I let them know I’d had a bad reaction to antidepressants once before, many years ago.  The shrink insisted that this one was different.

It wasn’t that different.  Soon, I was having a full-blown psychotic reaction to the Zoloft.  Eventually, I went back to a different hospital.  There, they gave me other medications that had me not only psychotic, but also aggressive.  Psych meds and I do not get along.

From there, I was able to spend 30 days medication-free in a rehab in Culver City, CA.  My brain finally started to heal.  I am forever grateful for that opportunity, because I think psychiatrists would have either killed me, or left me in a straight jacket in a dark room for the rest of my life.  For whatever reason, they don’t have an answer for me.

I am prone to depression, and I’ve learned that I have to manage it with lifestyle changes.  To be honest, I hadn’t been doing that.  So perhaps the medication interaction only accelerated changes that I would have had to make anyway.  In any case, it’s been a rough road, and I’m glad to be back.

March 2

Why I Make Cheese

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I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire where there was a lot of farming. Our milk was delivered from the local dairy by a milk man. Corn, tomatoes, and apples all grew plentifully. My dad was a CPA, so we didn’t do any farming ourselves. My recollection of our first gardens is that not much grew. But there was abundant produce in season, and I learned that there was nothing better than a fresh tomato grown nearby in real dirt, or an heirloom apple picked off the tree.

I recall one family reunion, held down by the ocean in Massachusetts, where fresh clams and lobster were cooked on a barbecue. My mom swam across the river and picked corn where it grew on the hillside, and that was cooked on the barbecue as well – straight from stalk to heat to mouth. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Fast forward to 25 years in Los Angeles. All food came from somewhere else. Tomatoes tasted like cardboard. Apples were one of five relatively-tasteless varieties. Corn tasted like school paste. “Fresh” meant it hadn’t sat around long enough to spoil yet.

When I moved to Utah in 2004, I bought 20 acres of land. It was mostly sagebrush growing on heavy clay, so it wasn’t much good for gardening. Still, it provided the potential to produce some of my own food.

My wife and I bought goats, and began milking them. That first year, we bought a milking doe and two kids. We collected the milk, and I made my first attempts at making cheese. They weren’t very good, but I persisted, and I learned. Soon, I was making Chevre that people enjoyed eating. We bought more goats, built a cheese facility, and went into business. At one point, we had 36 goats and were milking 16 of them.

Two things happened as we grew. First, we couldn’t produce enough goat milk to satisfy our customers’ demand. We began buying cow milk so we’d have more than just our goat cheese. Second,milking the goats became increasingly labor-intensive as the herd grew. One day, I ran the numbers and discovered that we were losing money on the goat cheese. That didn’t make much business sense. After exploring several options, we decided to stop milking goats and get rid of our herd. It was a hard decision – we had birthed many of them, and knew each one by name. They were almost part of the family.  But we weren’t in business to lose money.

At first, we kept several of the best milkers in case we changed our minds – or in case Ordinary World happened. But when my wife got pregnant last fall, we decided we had to simplify our lives. We sold the goats and the chickens, and the turkeys went to live in the freezer.

We still make cheese, though. We buy cow milk from a local dairy that doesn’t use hormones. And, with no goats to take care of, we can spend more time on making better quality cheese!  We also buy as much of our produce and meat locally as we can.  Not only does it taste better, it supports our local economy.

I enjoy making cheese. It is as much art as science. And it produces a product that feeds people in our community. I love when people taste a sample and their face lights up. Yes, there is great tasting food available from local sources! And, if the economy turns sour, we have something to trade.

February 24

Welcome to my Blog!

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Welcome to my blog.  If you’re wondering why I need a blog, you’re not alone.  I wonder myself!  But Ordinary World has sold over 2,500 copies, so it looks like I need to get serious about being an author.  Every site I’ve looked at on promoting books says a blog is essential.  So here it is.

On my blog, I hope to add: book excerpts, book news, free stories, and notes about my life and my writing process.

I hope you enjoy!