If we were having coffee today we’d probably still be relegated to sitting six feet from one another at some outdoor venue. These are sad times for coffee shares. Actually, I just got the news that Reed’s Coffee & Art, my favorite local coffee spot, is closing this weekend. It is another casualty of the ongoing pandemic.
If you think about it, coffee shops, despite the huge markups for fancy drinks, struggle to make any money anyway. Locally, they didn’t have to close like bars were forced to do but that difference of people hanging out seems to have tipped the scales against them. I feel guilty that I haven’t been a good customer the past few months but then again, I’m pretty much a medium cup, black coffee kind of guy.
I may have mentioned before, I was a part-time barista for about eight years so I am pre-disposed to not spend the extra money on … oh, how can I put it … extra milk. But, that’s just me. I made awesome lattes and cappuccinos. I occasionally bought pastries from this shop, but not since my diabetes diagnosis. Basically, I had become a low-end customer, but they still treated me like I was one of their best and it was a welcome quiet port in the storm of daily life. Oh, and they had good wifi. I even managed a bit of writing and revision, sitting and sipping.
If we were somehow having coffee today I’d probably be in a hurry to get back, so here is a truncated narrative on my views of all the current issues.
Masks. Wear them. It is NOT a political statement. It is NOT an action based on fear. If you are a conservative like me, yet think that means you are anti-mask, understand this, if it helps. I consider wearing a mask to be an extension of my second amendment rights. Period. I will arm myself however I wish to protect me and my family. Period. If you don’t wear a mask on principle, I hope you at least wash your hands after going to the bathroom, but I don’t hold out much hope.
Black Lives Matter. Of course they do. This choking stuff? Where did that come from? It’s obviously a bogus tactic. Here’s the deal: if someone is being choked to keep them from continuing to struggle, it is completely counter to human nature. Not being able to breathe is one of the strongest fear responses ingrained into every human being. Can’t breathe… must struggle. It is a counter-productive tactic.
To the ‘all lives matter’ people: yes, of course they do too, and I’ve seen a lot of videos of the same thing happening to all races (and the same thing above applies) but you have to understand that the highly disproportionate numbers of these cases involve blacks. Period. And for what? a counterfeit bill? Another guy in Texas didn’t dim his headlights? No one faults police for reacting with force when someone points a gun at them. The cases people are protesting weren’t like that. They were convictions, trials, and executions for infractions that should in no way involve execution. I think people have a right to be worked up. Enough is enough.
What about the rioting and looting? Wrong. Never a justified response. There is a big difference between protest and riot. It doesn’t help the valid cause people are marching for … not at all. Kudos to the brave souls who worked to stop it. It could very well have escalated into something no one wants to experience.
Military bases named after Confederates, and Statues honoring them? I’m from the south, and I have a degree in history so I can add a little perspective. Grant has a great observation on this in his memoir (an awesome book), reflecting on the surrender of Lee: “I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”
We, in the south, were influenced by teachers themselves influenced by a flawed narrative known as “the lost cause.” It involved rationalizations that do not hold up to historical scrutiny, in my opinion. Most of the monuments are extensions of the lost cause mentality and were erected to displace shame. The fort namings are an extension of this … no doubt something to placate the suspicions of placing “US” forts on southern soil by naming them after southern “heroes.” Oddly, some of them were awful military leaders … Hood and Bragg? People call Grant a butcher (part of the lost cause narrative) but Hood literally squandered his army in fruitless frontal attacks. Sigh. People say “they” are taking away our heritage. No, our heritage was the enslavement of human beings. In realistic terms, by pushing the nation to the point of secession and war, the south ironically fast-tracked abolition. Slavery would have persisted for decades without the war. The south was never going to “win” … the best they could hope for was a stalemate and even if that had happened, they’d find out their expected European markets had sourced raw materials from other more stable sources and continued border conflicts would have bankrupted them pretty quickly.
In closing, understand that change takes time. I know, there has already been a lot of time wasted, but attitudes and habits need a lot of nudging to get them in the right place. Shoving them in place usually doesn’t work. Patience and persistence. We all have a long way to go. It doesn’t have to take a long time, it shouldn’t, but it will take time.
I’ve just released my fourth novel, The Hag Rider. It is historical fiction set during the Civil War and because of that setting, it covers subject matter that can generate an emotional response in many people. In normal times I’d let it go at that and leave it to the reader to draw their own conclusions. But because of the nature of the book, I want to offer just a little more introduction.
It is written as a Civil War memoir from the viewpoint of a Confederate cavalryman, who was just fifteen-years-old when he enlisted. Early in the book, we met Jack, a broken boy in Texas who runs away. He manages to discover parental love and wisdom through Moze, an enslaved man who in essence becomes his family. Moze is anxious and reluctant when Jack is enticed by fiery secession fever and decides to enlist, to join the Civil War campaign. Concern for Jack leads his mentor to seek protection for his young friend through the only source available to him. A local witch, Vanita, who is also a slave, embodies a source of mysterious power in spite of her life situation. Jack makes his way through the violent and confusing time of war, with her help, and through his reflection on lessons gleaned from Moze’s discourses about dignity, respect, and humanity.
Yes, it is set in the south during the Civil War, but this book is far from a glorification of the antebellum era. At its core, it is a soldier’s story told through young eyes. Jack is against slavery and he strives to overcome the prejudices of the time while at the same time knowing he is a product of those times.
If we were in some way able to meet for coffee today I’m sure we’d be drawn to the events of the past week. The overbearing question is, why are we still at this point? Frankly, it amazes me that we haven’t figured it out yet … Rodney King put it plainly:
“People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along?”
It was a profound statement from a guy whose suffering at the hands of heavy-handed police officers was broadcast far and wide. Yet this continues and continues and continues.
Frankly, I have only had good experiences with law enforcement, even when I was on the short end of their efforts. I have always found them polite and supportive. Frankly, I am white.
I grew up in the South. I grew up knowing two branches of racism. I did not grow up in a blatantly racist home, I grew up in a home that more practiced paternalistic racism. Many people don’t see any difference but understand, I did not grow up thinking poorly of people of color. Sure, we had a black maid. Believe me, I knew a LOT of kids whose families wouldn’t hire a black maid, they had white maids. My folks hired a black contractor too, to build an addition to our house. In many ways I think my mother wanted to provide jobs and opportunities where she could.
When I was about eight I was with some friends riding our bikes around a nearby shopping center (the early 60’s, right?). It was a hot day, and I was thirsty and I saw a water fountain so I stopped to get a drink. My friends were horrified.
“What are you doing? You can’t drink from there!” he said, pointing at a sign on the fountain. “Colored Only!”
I just shrugged and took a drink. “You can be arrested for that,” I was told. I look back now and can only say, “Yeah, right.”
I wasn’t raised to really care about such distinctions. Am I perfect? Nope. Bias is a deep wound that is not easily healed but you know what? I’ve always been aware of it and I try to keep myself on an even keel and rise above it.
A few years ago I worked in a convenience store and this cemented my overbearing current view of blacks: they are just folks, like anybody else. They work, they love, they hurt, they cry. Just like me. Just like you. When you look at someone in this country, you need to not see white or brown or any other color, you need to see a person who deep inside is pretty much just like you.
=============================== Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC … his novel THE HAG RIDER will be published on June 1, 2020. More information: http://thefensk.com
I know a lot of people are stuck at home right now. What a great time to catch up on your reading! The safest way right now to get new books to read is to embrace eBooks; they provide a wonderful combination of low price, easy online shopping, and immediate delivery.
Wait, you don’t own a kindle? Amazon has you covered: https://amzn.to/39U6Rno
All you need is a tablet, iPad, computer, or even a phone.
If we were having coffee today, well, hopefully, we wouldn’t be, would we? Maybe we picked up to-go coffee at the drive-through and we’re talking in the parking lot like two cop cars comparing notes, me in my car and you in yours.
I’m sorry that I’ve been out of touch. I’ve been busy putting the finishing touches on, not one, but TWO novels. In this case “finishing touches” means working through the changes from the editing process (third-party editors) and then working through the galley approval process, for one at least. I still have that to complete on the second one.
My historical novel, THE HAG RIDER will be out in June. It is set in the civil war and involves a bit of paranormal activity. More later, but I can assure you my history degree came in quite handy while I was researching this one. Hey, I’m finally working in my other field of study! (I have a degree in English as well … so I’ve put that into use too).
The fourth installment of my Traces of Treasure series, PENUMBRA, will be published in August. Still working on this one. Same characters, plus a couple of new ones, a new mystery to unravel … early reports indicate this one surpasses all the others.
In other news: COVID-19, Coronavirus, or as I like to call it, C19.
Demographics at this early stage of the game are useless. This is why I get tired of the endless talking heads on 24-hour news. We’re not even getting other news. How many people know a whack-job was stopped from bombing a hospital in KC last week? Not many. It’s true, look it up.
Here’s a statistic: A virus like this has the ability to spread exponentially. If unchecked, it WILL spread exponentially. It can be like an out of control wildfire. Social distancing is the firebreak.
ANYONE can get this disease. Young, old, healthy, sick, male, female, and no matter the race and ethnic background. It does not discriminate. Do not draw conclusions from the talking heads … if it gets into you, you have no idea how your particular metabolism will react to it.
The only defense against it is for people to refrain from socializing. Period. You can protect from the required occasional need for shopping by strenuous adherence to common sense: keep your distance and no face touching prior to effective hand cleaning or sanitizing. I keep sanitizer in the car
Yes, probably more people won’t get it than get it. A high percentage of people who get it survive it. Our fatality rate is small compared to Italy, but in Italy, it is at least 10% … it is what happens when the hospitals are swamped and they run out of supplies and equipment. A high percentage of the people who survive but are hospitalized do so because of respirators. When they run out, the fatality percentage increases. It will happen here too, in most areas. Also, when protective gear runs out, more health professionals get sick.
One other thing: yes, people who have some underlying condition have a real problem surviving. But a LOT of people get sick and die of this who had nothing else wrong with them. The truth be told, it will be years before the demographics on that are known. I don’t want to flip a coin on this thing …
“Let’s be careful out there …”
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC. Remember, ebooks are the safest books to shop for and read and they are immediately available, virus-free! I have a specialized page with links to my books and some handy tips into joining the ranks of electronic readers. My books are also available in paperback, but right now … well, I hope nobody coughed on them. http://thefensk.com/fd.html
If you are able to, please work from home. If you have never worked regularly from home, I “telecommuted” for the last twelve years at my last job and here are some tips for success I suggest you review.
Have a special work “place” in your home … another room like a spare bedroom is ideal. In my job, we HAD to do this and the door had to be lockable (gov security stuff)
Keep to a daily/hourly routine. (although my job was more like “hey, you can work 24 hours a day”). You need to police yourself.
My company had a special work-related instant messaging that worked great for co-worker interaction. If you have that, great. You might want to use FB messaging if nothing else.
I had a dedicated ip serviced phone/phone line, but you may not have that option. Skype might be a work option. It does not have to be video skype. It’s another good option for messaging too.
Learn to work from PDF copies because you’ll soon find yourself buried in pieces of paper if you print (and you’ll need extra supplies). In my last years at work, I had printer cartridges go dry because I printed so rarely.
I saw on TV someone suggested get dressed like a normal workday. I’d say that is optional unless you video conference.
Some people may want to do video conferencing, but I’d say voice conferencing is good enough. BUT, research screen sharing apps if you ever need to have someone look over your shoulder.
Most important: keep liquid beverages at least an arm’s length from your laptop/keyboard. Lean away from your workstation to sip. Hardware support is much farther away when you work at home.
Keep the TV off.
Do your work.
Get into a routine.
It all seems like common sense but for me, it required a learning curve. It’s a great and convenient option, so don’t squander the apparent freedom of it. Remind others at home that you are, in fact, at WORK.
It is hard to do at first but if you stick with it, it becomes normal.
If we were having coffee today, I’d catch you up. The holidays, am I right? I was also busy working on the fourth book in my Traces of Treasure Series.
Truth is, I’m about posted out. I had a great post yesterday, and I confess I was originally going to re-edit the beginning and update it as today’s weekend coffee share, but today I hesitated. It’s a good post just as it is.
It’s about a seal encounter at the Outer Banks in NC last week. Christmas was good with our family, but this encounter put a cherry on the top of the holiday.
It was a rare and amazing encounter. Read about it here:
Beyond that, book sales have picked up after a very successful promotion in December. “Picked up” is a relative term. But it is definitely a blip in the right direction. I’ve declared 2020 to be the Year of THE FEVER! Catch it! The trilogy awaits.
We decided to spend Christmas at the beach this year. It was glorious. We rented a nice oceanside beach house on the Outer Banks, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, taking advantage of off-season prices. I took a number of sunrise photos. It was only natural because I got up early every day. I took the photo above the last morning. Nice, huh? Look on the left side, near the waterline. I didn’t see this when I first took the photo.
As I admired the view, I finally noticed it. At first, I thought it was a large piece of driftwood. Then I figured it was a large dead fish. Then I noticed what looked like whiskers.
“Oh, great,” I thought to myself, “A dead seal on our last day!”
I kept trying to comprehend what I was seeing; then it happened. The tail flippers moved ever so slightly.
“Even better, a dying seal on our last day.”
The tide was coming in. I checked it on-line. High Tide was in about an hour. I could see the waves extending a little more up the sand every few minutes. The seal raised its head once.
Then a flock of seagulls came up and started a wide circle around the deck and the shore, including the seal. In my mind, they were focused on the body.
“I’m not going to stand here and watch breakfast being served.”
So I tromped out into the sand, in my shorts and croc-style clogs; not my sand footgear of choice. I was intent on at least inspecting it with a bit more detail before I called somebody. It was a bit chilly and the sand at the end of the deck was deep and loose, so I made my way toward the body with some difficulty. Somewhere between fifty and a hundred feet from it the status changed. Forgive me for being less-than-accurate because what happened next greatly diverted my attention.
My approach caused the seal to suddenly perk up. It looked up, then turned toward the water. It looked back and then started its funny seal-walk toward the waiting waves. It wasn’t dead or sick … it must have been sleeping!
I fumbled with the phone in my pocket and quickly fired up my camera, and caught these shots of the rush for safety.
The entire sequence of events took maybe thirty seconds. It was a rare and remarkable nature sighting and for me, it seemed to last much longer.
Finally, all that was left was this:
I saw it one more time, about twenty feet out, its little head poking out of the water, probably wondering what the heck happened and who the heck had barged into the room.
Since then, I’ve learned a bit more about seal sightings along the North Carolina coast. In the winter, seals move south, down the coast. A few go as far as NC, some even make it down to South Carolina. It’s a rare thing to see, but not unusual. A lone seal like this is not unusual either. The young ones, probably teen-agers in seal years, often take off on their own. Being on the beach like this is not unusual either. It’s termed “hauling out” … and it is considered quite normal for seal behavior.
I did the wrong thing by approaching him. I had no idea. It turns out there is a number to call to report sightings … they would have told me what to do: just keep back and watch. This one was probably waiting for the tide to be the alarm clock. I did report the sighting after the fact, which is another thing they say to do.
Anyway, it was a great last day, and it was an awesome bookend for the year 2019.
Happy New Year.
BTW: Here’s a link with resources;
… I wish I had this available at the time: NOAA Link
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. Make 2020 the year you catch THE FEVER … read it and the other two books in the trilogy. You won’t be sorry. http://thefensk.com
If we were having coffee today, I’d offer you this piece I wrote on The Pie.
In the early 1990s, I was a moderator on what was called a USENET newsgroup; the newsgroup existed specifically for users to share recipes. Before the web, USENET was basically THE internet. It actually worked a lot like facebook does today, with forums, posts, immediate access, and worldwide access. But it was all text. It was pretty much self-regulated too, by a cadre of computer professionals who helped form the early beginnings of the internet. It was a fascinating time to be internet savvy.
Anyway, a guy who was starting up a new recipe web page contacted the moderators and asked us to send him some recipes so he could flesh out the beginnings of his website, recipezaar.com. He wisely did not want to just steal recipes, he was looking to create a recipe sharing site where people could freely exchange.
Sometime before that my wife Gretchen had seen an intriguing “Amish” Buttermilk Pie on a recipe segment of a local TV station. All she managed to do was copy down the list of ingredients. I used similar custard pie recipes to figure out the procedures and baking specifics. We loved it. But shortly after that, we lost the list of ingredients before we had recorded them elsewhere. They were scribbled on the back of some envelope.
At one point I put out a request for buttermilk pie recipes on the newsgroup.
I bet I gained ten pounds testing the various recipes that were shared but not one was as good as that original. Just when everything seemed hopeless I opened a cookbook and … there was the envelope!!!!!!
I did two things … made a pie to verify that yes, this WAS better than all the others, and then I wrote it down in several places. By some serendipitous accident, this was the precise time this gentleman was requesting recipes so I submitted it, as sort of a fail-safe. I forgot about this for about four years until a friend of mine noticed it on recipezaar and asked me about it. He said it had a bunch of positive reviews. I hadn’t even registered as a user yet … but I got signed up and got the recipe attached to my profile. Fame at last.
This has continued to this day, but recipezaar was sold at some point, at least twice and possibly three times. The original recipe has survived intact, along with all the reviews. It is now the foundation of food.com.
All through its life, it has generally turned up first in searches for “Buttermilk” or “Buttermilk Pie” … and there is a reason for this. Food.com no longer prints recipe numbers but the previous websites did … this recipe is #56, which I am sure is used as a unique database identifier (I am an IT guy). A search with no other criteria will turn them out in numeric order. This is still the case. If you look at the link I provide below, you’ll still see “56” … this is 56 out of over five hundred thousand recipes.
Now … a couple of years ago I concocted a free promotional cookbook … a companion book to my novels and I decided to include the buttermilk pie recipe (with minor modifications).
In the past month, I have heavily promoted the cookbook, most of that on Twitter. So a few days ago when I received a message on Twitter about the pie I assumed it was from one of my thousands of new readers (seriously, this promotion month has been pretty good).
I probably confused her with portions of my response because I referred to other recipes and asked for a review. After a few messages back and forth she informed me she got it from food.com! With my big promotion, I didn’t even think about that location!
I call the recipe in the cookbook “The Best-Danged Buttermilk Pie” and it is listed as a customer favorite in the fictional cafe. I even mention that fact in the latest novel, LUCKY STRIKE.
I’ll tell you this … get it from the website or get it from the cookbook, I don’t care. Just GET IT. This pie is that awesome.