We finally got everything for the book uploaded to the printer.  We were pleased to see that its already showing up on Amazon in pre-order status.  Here’s the Amazon USA link.

It’s also showing up on Amazon UK and Amazon Europe.

 

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The weather in our part of Tennessee has been, uh, interesting lately. We had a spell in February when the daytime highs reached 70 degrees. Then we had below-freezing days again, including one day with snow.

I assumed that was an unusual weather pattern. But shortly afterwards, I happened to be listening to a book titled Jack Hinson’s One-Man War, which tells the true story of a Tennessee farmer who was a Union loyalist during the Civil War … that is, until two of his young sons went hunting in the woods one day and were captured and executed by Union troops who assumed they were guerilla fighters – simply because they were carrying hunting rifles. After that, Mr. Hinson became a sniper who terrorized Union troops for the remainder of the war. He killed dozens of officers – including the lieutenant who ordered the execution of his sons.

Early in the book, the author mentions that “as often happens in February in Tennessee,” the days were as warm as June days in Iowa. The Yankees assumed spring had arrived and abandoned their heavy wool coats and blankets. A few days later, “as often happens in Tennessee,” winter returned and the Yankees were fighting battles in freezing rain and snow – without their wool coats.

Okay, so the “unusual weather pattern” has been around for at least 150 years.

Along with the wild variations in temperature, we had a tornado touch down in the area one day, and a couple of hellacious thunderstorms with high winds. Last Sunday, I was yanked out of a deep sleep by a BOOM! that seemed to rock the house. Boy, that one must’ve hit pretty close, I thought. Then I went back to sleep.

Turns out the BOOM! knocked down a big ol’ tree.

And as you can see, it landed rather close to the house.

Well, I can’t complain. Shift the angle a few degrees, and that tree would have bashed in the window of my office upstairs. Instead, it landed just outside Sara’s bedroom window. Naturally, the girls had to climb out the window and onto the tree.

So in addition to a film to finish, I now have a big-ass tree to cut up. It’s a pine tree, so we can’t use it for firewood. Chareva wants to save some of the long, heavy branches to serve as barriers around the chicken yards. Perhaps the local predators will be discouraged from digging under the fence. I’ve had to shoot two chicken-killing predators in the past few weeks, so I’m all in favor of discouraging them.

I also have to cut up the tree that fell in our side field awhile back. That one will become firewood.

Meanwhile, Alana took delivery of a new batch of chicks this week.

Some of them are Bantams, which means they’ll grow to perhaps a pound-and-a-half and look something like this:

I asked Alana what purpose a flock of itty-bitty chickens is supposed to serve. It’s not as if we’ll make big breakfasts from their eggs. She ended the discussion with “I wanted Bantams because they’re cute.”

Cute, sure, but I don’t envision them putting up much of a fight against predators. I’d best start cutting up that pine tree to provide Chareva with reinforcements for the chicken yards.

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I spent a good chunk of the afternoon sleeping. That’s because last night I made the mistake of going to bed at 9:00 PM and trying to convince my brain it was actually 10:00 PM because some idiots in government say so. Just what a natural night-owl’s brain with insomniac tendencies needs: a reason to lie in bed awake. So, as seems to happen every year when @#$%ing Daylight Saving Time kicks in, I couldn’t sleep and gave up. I finally managed to get in a few hours this afternoon.

The good news is that when I woke up, Chareva told me some interesting reading material had arrived.

Yup, that’s our preview copy of the book. Actually, it’s the second preview copy. In the first copy, the left and right pages were swapped. That might not sound like a big deal, but Chareva spent an extraordinary amount of time designing two-page spreads that cover a concept. Often a cartoon on the left continues onto the right-side page.

So we now have exactly one copy with the left/right mixup. Maybe it will be like one of those mis-stamped coins and become worth an extra buck or two because it’s rare.

Anyway, we have to give the copy that arrived today one more careful look before calling it final. I expect to be able to announce the release date very, very soon.

In the meantime, I’ve got a @#$%load of work to do on the film, and not many weeks left to do it.

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While I’ve been busy trying to finish the book and make serious progress on the film (which I’m supposed to show on the low-carb cruise in just 10 weeks), my inbox been piling up.  So here are some interesting items.

Why Arctic natives are getting fat

Here are some quotes from an article in the Siberian Times with the provocative title First-ever cases of obesity in Arctic peoples as noodles replace traditional diet:

Subtle changes in traditional lifestyle of native ethnic groups in the Yamalo-Nenets region have brought the first-ever cases of obesity. Until now, fatness has not existed in these population groups, but scientists say there has been a marked change.

Alexey Titovsky, regional director for science and innovation, said: ‘It never happened before that the small local indigenous peoples of the north suffered from obesity. It is a nonsensical modern problem. Now even a predisposition to obesity is being noticed.’

And what’s driving this unfortunate development?

Changes have seen the intake of venison and river fish cut by half, he said. ‘Over the past few years the diet has changed considerably, and people living in the tundra started eating so-called chemically processed products.’

Well, it sounds to me as if the natives are eating less red meat.  According to the experts at various government health organizations, that means they’re getting healthier.

Researcher Dr Andrey Lobanov says nomadic herders nowadays often buy instant noodles in villages on their pasture routes and this has led to  ‘dramatic changes to the rations of the people living in the tundra’.

Wait … are these whole-grain noodles?  Because if they are, according to the experts at various government health organizations, that means the Arctic natives are getting healthier.

‘The problem is that carbohydrates do not contain the necessary micro elements which help survival in Arctic conditions,’ he said. ‘The seasonal diet has also changed – the periods when they do not eat traditional food and replace it with carbohydrates has become longer.’

No, no, no!  Carbohydrates don’t make people fat.  I’ve heard that from countless internet cowboys.  If these people are getting fat for the first time in their culture’s history, it’s because they’ve become weak-willed and started eating too much. And they’re probably not exercising enough.  Maybe some of them should become contestants on The Biggest Loser and learn how to stay healthy through long sessions of tortuous exercise.

Biggest Loser trainer has a heart attack

As I replied to The Older Brother when he sent me a link to this story, if I were still a Catholic, I’d have to go to confession because of my reaction.  Here are some quotes from Yahoo news.

Fitness trainer and host of NBC’s “Biggest Loser” Bob Harper says he is recovering from a serious heart attack that left him unconscious for two days.

During which time he was on a very-low-calorie diet and lost some weight.

Harper tells TMZ he was working out in a gym in New York City this month when he collapsed. He says a doctor who also was in the gym performed CPR on him.

Jillian Michaels was spotted in the background saying, “I’m happy he had a heart attack.  He doesn’t work hard enough.”

The 51-year-old Harper, whose mother died from a heart attack, says he spent eight days in a New York hospital and has not yet been cleared to fly home to Los Angeles.

Harper has been a fixture on all 17 seasons of “The Biggest Loser.” He served as a trainer on the show from 2004 to 2015. He took over as host of the reality weight loss program last year.

Perhaps because the public grew tired of watching Jillian Michaels say she was happy when she drove contestants into throwing up during exercise sessions.

How Breaking Bad star dropped the pounds

I admire Bryan Cranston because of his amazing range as an actor.  Subtle humor in Seinfeld as Dr. Tim Whatley.  Slapstick humor as the father in Malcolm in the Middle.  And then … wow … the dramatic chops he put on display during six seasons of Breaking Bad.

Some years ago, Chareva and I attended a charity event featuring several big-name comedians … Robin Williams, Paula Poundstone and Jonathan Winters, to name a few.  Cranston was the emcee, and he was a stitch.  Very charming and very quick-witted.

Anyway, here are some quotes from an online article explaining how Cranston lost weight to make the chemotherapy treatments in Breaking Bad believable:

Howard Stern interviewed Bryan Cranston on March 4, 2014 and asked him how he lost weight so quickly for his role as Walter White on Breaking Bad.

HS: When you had chemo and was getting sick playing the part of Walter White, in order to go through rapid weight loss you deliberately didn’t eat for 10 days? True or false?

BC: False.

HS: How’d you lose all that weight?

BC: No carbohydrates. I just took out all the carbohydrates.

HS: How much weight did you drop?

BC: 16 pounds, in ten days.

HS: Painful?

BC: No. The first three days are really hard, ’cause your body’s changing and craving sugar and wants, you know, and then you deprive it of the sugar and it starts burning fat.

No, no, no.  That can’t be right.  People don’t lose weight by giving up carbohydrates.  If Cranston lost weight, it just means he finally had the willpower to eat less and consume fewer calories than he burned.

Obesity blame and politics

Speaking of willpower, do Republicans and Democrats have different opinions on whether getting fat is about willpower?  Apparently they do, at least to some degree.  Here are some quotes from a EurekaAlert article:

People’s political leanings and their own weight shape opinions on obesity-related public policies, according to a new study by two University of Kansas researchers.

Actually, Republicans — no matter how much they weigh — believe eating and lifestyle habits cause obesity, the research found.

But among Democrats there is more of a dividing line, said Mark Joslyn, a KU professor of political science. Those who identify themselves as overweight are more likely to believe genetic factors cause obesity.

I’m not a Republican or a Democrat, so I guess I’m allowed to say it’s both.

Of course genetics figures into it.  There’s a reason some people never gain or lose weight despite eating whatever and whenever they choose.  That’s how their bodies are programmed.  It’s genetics.  But among those of us not so genetically blessed, it’s largely about what kinds of foods we eat.  Genetics loads the gun, diet pulls the trigger.

Would you like actual chicken in your chicken sandwich?

When I order chicken at a fast-food restaurant, I kind of expect most of it to be made from chicken.  That seems to be the case for many chains, but not for one.  Here are some quotes from a CBC (Canada) article online:

A DNA analysis of the poultry in several popular grilled chicken sandwiches and wraps found at least one fast food restaurant isn’t serving up nearly as much of the key ingredient as people may think.

An unadulterated piece of chicken from the store should come in at 100 per cent chicken DNA.  Seasoning, marinating or processing meat would bring that number down, so fast food samples seasoned for taste wouldn’t be expected to hit that 100 per cent target.

So researchers bought some fast food and tested the DNA of the chicken meals.  Here are the typical results:

    A&W Chicken Grill Deluxe averaged 89.4 per cent chicken DNA
    McDonald’s Country Chicken – Grilled averaged 84.9 per cent chicken DNA
    Tim Hortons Chipotle Chicken Grilled Wrap averaged 86.5 per cent chicken DNA
    Wendy’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich averaged 88.5 per cent chicken DNA

And now for the big exception:

Subway’s results were such an outlier that the team decided to test them again, biopsying five new oven roasted chicken pieces, and five new orders of chicken strips.

Those results were averaged: the oven roasted chicken scored 53.6 per cent chicken DNA, and the chicken strips were found to have just 42.8 per cent chicken DNA.

So what the @#$% is taking the place of half the chicken in the chicken?

The majority of the remaining DNA? Soy.

Yummy.  But at least their sandwiches are low in fat.  And as we all know, that low-fat movement has done wonders for the nation’s health, especially among the younger generation …

More young people getting colorectal cancer

Obesity is on the rise among young people.  Diabetes is on the rise among young people.  And now there’s this startling development, as reported in The New York Times:

Cancers of the colon and rectum have been declining in older adults in recent decades and have always been considered rare in young people. But scientists are reporting a sharp rise in colorectal cancers in adults as young as their 20s and 30s, an ominous trend.

The vast majority of colorectal cancers are still found in older people, with nearly 90 percent of all cases diagnosed in people over 50. But a new study from the American Cancer Society that analyzed cancer incidence by birth year found that colorectal cancer rates, which had dropped steadily for people born between 1890 and 1950, have been increasing for every generation born since 1950. Experts aren’t sure why.

Well, maybe we can guess.  Let’s see … every generation born since 1950.  I was born in 1958.  By the time I was 20, we were all being told saturated fat and cholesterol will kill us, while grains will make us healthy.  Grain consumption rose sharply for the next 35 years or so and has only recently started declining.  During the same period, food manufacturers added more sugar to foods to hide the fact that many low-fat foods taste like cardboard unless you make them sweeter.

Most colorectal cancers are considered a disease of aging, so any increase in young adults, especially when rates of the disease are on the wane in older people, is both baffling and worrisome, experts say.

By the way, red meat consumption dropped rather dramatically during the same period when colon cancer rose sharply among young people.  Don’t the vegetrollians always tell us red meat causes colon cancer?

You can’t buy Kerrygold butter in Wisconsin

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it at least twice:  when politicians rush in to “protect” the public from some supposed hazard, it’s rarely about protecting the public.  It’s almost always about some protecting some established business or industry.  Here’s an example from a Chicago Tribune article:

When Wisconsin resident Julie Rider shops for groceries, there’s one item she can’t legally buy at her local market — or at any stores in her state.

Because of a decades-old state law, Rider’s favorite butter — Kerrygold, imported from Ireland — isn’t allowed on Wisconsin store shelves.

The law, requiring butter sold in Wisconsin to be graded for taste, texture and color through a federal or state system, effectively bans butter produced outside the U.S., as well as many artisanal butters that also aren’t rated.

This means some residents of the Dairy State have to drive across the border into Illinois just to buy their favorite butter.

Whether Wisconsin’s law was intended as market protection for the state’s dairy industry or is simply a means to ensure quality, Rider, for one, thinks it’s “crazy.”

Oh, I’m sure the law was passed to protect the public after thousands of cheese-heads became violently ill as the result of eating imported butter.

People might not have noticed if butter weren’t making such a comeback.  But it is.

Though the rule has been on the books since the 1950s, it is churning new controversy at a time when butter consumption is on the rise in America as it’s increasingly thought to be healthier than margarine. Butter made from grass-fed cows, such as Kerrygold, is a staple in some diets and for the “bulletproof coffee” movement, where such butter is mixed with coffee and MCT oil for purported — but debated — weight-loss benefits.

A spokesman for the company that sells and markets Kerrygold in the U.S. and Canada, Evanston-based Ornua Foods North America, released a statement confirming it’s “currently working with the Wisconsin authorities on a solution.”

Well, thank goodness the government authorities are working on a solution.  Perhaps they’ll nickname it something like “If you like your butter, you can keep your butter.”

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Sorry (he said again) for the long absence. We’re in pedal-to-the-metal mode, trying to wrap up the book and make some serious headway on the film. After all, we’re supposed to premiere the film in late May. I believe we’ll get it done, but YOWZA, we’ve got a lot to do between now and then.

The book is (we think) in its final form. Now we have to upload it to the printer and have a printed copy sent back to us.

Meanwhile, we’ve been spending a lot of time doing this.

The fancy voice-over booth in the pictures is a closet in my office. When I was recording my narration, I had to hire a junior audio engineer to operate the controls in Adobe Audition.

I’ve got pretty much the whole family doing voices. We drove to Illinois over the recent three-day weekend so I could record The Older Brother’s Younger Sons as three of the main characters – again, in a closet. I even got The Older Brother to step in and do a few lines for other characters.

Chareva drew around 200 cartoons for the book. After a breather lasting approximately 15 minutes, she had to get drawing again for the film. In a book, you can pick and choose which bits of text to support with an illustration. In a film, there’s no picking and choosing. You can’t just toss up a title that says WE CHOSE NOT TO ILLUSTRATE THIS SECTION. Something has to be on screen every second.

So while I’ve been pounding through Adobe After Effects tutorials and learning to animate, Chareva’s been busy drawing cartoons that aren’t in the book.  She’s also been redrawing her book characters in the style required for animation. Each character has to be drawn as body parts that can be linked at the joints and rotated. Characters who talk need seven mouth shapes. Characters who do things with their hands need several different hand shapes.

That’s Marty Metabolism, one of the main characters, on Chareva’s screen below. She has to draw him from five different angles, with different head positions in some of those angles.

And here’s Marty again at his control panel. The control panel had to be drawn — from three different angles — with parts that can be moved in the animation software.

It’s a ton of work, but I hope it will all be worth it.

I’ll post when I can.

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When we finished Chareva’s big spring project a couple of years ago, we had two chicken yards and two areas for gardens, all within a big square surrounded by fences. In addition to being talented egg-makers, chickens do a bang-up job of fertilizing the ground. So part of the plan was to eventually rotate the chicken yards and the gardens.

Most of our weekend and evening time lately has been dedicated to the book and the companion film, which is why I’ve only been posting once per week or so. But on Super Bowl Sunday, Chareva asked if I’d mind spending some time before the big game working outdoors, preparing the chicken yards for the big rotation.

“If we’re going to rotate the chickens and the gardens later this year, we really need to break up the ground in those chicken yards so I can plant my vegetables. I know we have a tiller, but it’s just too much of a bucking bronco for a little ol’ gal like me to handle. I need a big, handsome, masculine male to rescue me from this awful situation and tame that beast of a machine. Would you be willing to step into that heroic role for me, my dear, wonderful, impressively strong husband? I’d be ever so grateful.”

That’s not exactly what she said, but it’s what I heard.

So even though the Guinness Extra Stout was already cold and the pre-game shows were already mildly interesting, I replied, “Well now, don’t you worry your pretty head, little lady. I’ll slide on my boots and tame that beast for you.”

That’s not exactly what I said, but it’s what I heard.

The tiller is heavy and doesn’t roll especially well, so I’d already gotten a leg workout by the time I finished dragging it up the steep hill to the chicken yards. The nets I put up over the chicken yards have sagged (raising them will be another weekend project), which means I often had to duck as I took the bucking, jumping tiller for a first pass around one of the chicken yards. As usual when tilling ground in our part of Tennessee, I turned over more rocks than soil.

I was stuffed up from my first real head cold in a couple of years, so I took a break after the first pass to catch my breath. I told Chareva that with the hard ground broken up, I’d take the tiller around a second time. Then I’d do the same for the other chicken yard. Then I’d call it a day and get back to Super Bowl festivities.

“Actually, I only used that story about needing a big, strong man to do the tilling to lure you out here in your work clothes. We’ve had hay piling up in the chicken coops for two years, and now it’s thoroughly mixed with with chicken $@#% and urine. That’s perfect fertilizer for the gardens. So even though you have a runny nose and sound a bit like a deep-voiced Elmer Fudd with your cold and all, I want you to stop the relatively pleasant job of tilling the ground and spend a couple of hours in the chicken coops — stooping of course, since you can’t possibly stand up in there — and use a pitch fork to dig up all that $@#%-soaked hay and toss it outside so I can start spreading it on the ground.”

That’s not exactly what she said, but it’s what I heard.

“Are you @#$%ing kidding me?”

That’s exactly what I said.

She explained that it had just occurred to her that yes, we should till the chicken yards, but we should get the large loads of chicken-generated fertilizer out of the coops first.  That way we could till it into the soil.  I tried to think of a reason her explanation didn’t make perfect sense, but couldn’t.  After all, our old chicken yard in the front pasture became a jungle once we moved the chickens out back. That’s how fertile the ground is now, thanks to all the chicken droppings.

So I grabbed a pitch fork and squeezed myself into the first chicken coop, then began excavating layers and layers of old hay. I banged my head and elbows a few times in the tight quarters, which gave me the opportunity to hear what a deep-voiced Elmer Fudd sounds like when saying words the Warner Brothers censors would have never allowed in a cartoon.

The chickens were delighted by the whole process and jumped on each new pile of hay I tossed out the doors, looking for (and apparently finding) yummy grubs and bugs to eat. They also began spreading the hay around for us by kicking and scratching at it.

Meanwhile, Chareva took some of the hay and spread it over what will be her spring gardens. The current chicken yards will become summer gardens, and we’ll build new coops and hang new nets before moving the chickens up the hill.

I finally finished pitch-forking and shoveling the old hay out of the coops sometime in the mid-afternoon. By the time I sat down in front of the TV with my first cold Guinness, I was pretty sure I’d earned it.

Sometimes farm work is chicken-$@#% work. But that goes with the territory. I’m pretty sure the fresh vegetables will be worth it.

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