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The Moon Landing & Grandma

I’m old enough to remember the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Pearl Thornton Pratt with her husband James and first child William

I was in middle school at the time and my family lived in rural Colorado. Cable TV didn’t exist in my area and there was no such thing as satellite TV, so we did without.

Very early on the morning of Sunday, July 20, 1969, my father woke me up and together we drove down out of the mountains to my seventy-three-year-old grandmother’s home in Denver. Later that morning we sat in her living room and watched the moon landing on her small black and white television.

During the broadcast, I glanced over at my grandmother. I recalled her telling me that she homesteaded land in Arkansas with my grandfather when she was twenty years old. Years later my grandfather moved to Kansas to look for work. When he had a job he sent word and she drove a covered wagon with their possessions and children to join him.

Now, near the end of her life, she watched people walk on the moon. What an incredible life of progress, adventure, and marvel. But I never asked her to tell me her stories.

Recently, I joined a genealogy group at my Assemblies of God church. These last few weeks I’ve been trying to reconstruct her life, along with many others that have now passed on. Each of them might have told me so much.

I was young, shy and I did ask a few questions, but I could have asked so many more.


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The Farm Pecking Order

 

I confirmed my position on the farm pecking order one morning a couple years ago.

For my city readers, pecking order refers to birds, often chickens. They establish their rank in the flock by pecking on another bird, lower in the social order without fear of retaliation. The pecking order rank establishes who is boss and who gets what food and when.

On this particular morning I rose from bed a few minutes late and stumbled out to the dining room. My breakfast of cereal waited for me on the table, but I couldn’t find my wife Lorraine. Finally, I sat and started eating. Then, the back door opened and she entered.

“Where have you been?” I asked after another bite of cold cereal.

“It’s cold this morning, so I brought warm oatmeal to the chickens.”

That confirmed what I already suspected. When it comes to being pampered with food, my position in the pecking order is below every chicken.

Okay, I admit that isn’t really true, Lorraine has cooked some fantastic meals for me, but she does take very good care of the chickens. They have a large area to roam and forage for food but, as you can tell from the picture (which my wife didn’t like, but after some pleading allowed me to use) she still gives “her girls” watermelon rinds and leftover grapes. If any bread or cake gets dry it doesn’t go into the trash or even the compost, they go straight to the chickens.

They are a pampered bunch of birds.


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My Busy Friend Debby

 

Debby Lee, my friend, fellow author and Inklings critique partner, announced today that she’s starting work on her fifth anthology with Barbour Publishing!

The Mountain Christmas Brides, Courageous Brides and Pony Express Romance Collection have all been released and are available on her Amazon Page, https://www.amazon.com/Debby-Lee/e/B006AY0USW

 Author Debby Lee

Author Debby Lee

The Underground Railroad Brides is scheduled for release in June 2018 and The MissAdventurous Brides should be out in December of next year. She also mentioned to me that she wants to release a couple of short stories in the coming months.

I think Debby is going to be very busy for the next year.

However, there is still one more project she has agreed to do. Debby will be one of the writers on an as yet unnamed historical Christmas themed anthology with fellow Inkling writers, including Kristie Kandoll, Carolyn Bickel, Barbara Blakey and me. This as yet unnamed project is scheduled for October of 2018.

I look forward to working with Debby on that project in the months ahead. 


 
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Dorky Glasses and the Eclipse

 

What is it about an eclipse that brings out the child in us?

I know it was a rare event, the last one like it occurred in 1918, but several of my friends traveled hundreds of miles and camped out in farm fields just to experience the eclipse totality.

As the eclipse begins.

We read in the local paper that the recent solar eclipse would reach ninety-six percent of totality in this area so; I purchased dorky glasses and invited our sons over to watch from the backyard.

If I made a habit of sitting in the backyard, wearing paper sunglasses and staring up into the sky I think my wife might have my head examined, but on this day she joined me, along with the boys, and we looked like a rather eccentric family having a backyard picnic.

The backyard at ninety-six percent of totality

At first, as the moon moved across the sun, we didn’t notice any change. Even when half of the sun had been blocked we couldn’t tell any difference in the day. Only when the moon blocked the vast majority of the sun did the sky take on the deep blue of evening. As we continued to watch a cool breeze blew.

Still, it amazed me that with ninety-six percent of the sun blocked, it wasn’t even close to dark.

Then the moon moved out of the way, and the hot and bright summer sun shone once again and we returned to the house. What am I going to do with the dorky glasses?


Click on the following links to read my author bio, life in Lewis County or more about my life on the farm.

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Hot and Cold

 

I put on a new chain, filled the gas and oil tanks and went out with my chainsaw to tackle a large pile of logs and limbs in the backyard. My tendency to procrastinate had allowed the pile to grow all summer, but my son James had offered to help and this needed to be done. So, on one of the hottest days of the year, I cut wood to use on some of the coldest. We will probably burn these logs in the woodstove around January or February.

Our house has electric heat and in the Pacific Northwest electricity is affordable, but on those really cold days, the woodstove heats our home better than anything else does.

There is a natural rhythm to life in the country. In March as the days grow longer and warmer the chickens go into full summer egg production. In April we hive bees. In May the garden is tilled and planted. During the summer we cut trees (usually the dead or fallen), tend animals and care for the garden. Honey is spun from the honeycomb in September. Also during that month fruits and vegetables are canned and preserved.

Part of that natural rhythm is the cold of January and February. Some years our woodstove will burn for days on end during this time.

By late in the afternoon the chain on the saw had gone dull, but the pile had been reduced to logs and hauled into the woodshed. We were hot and tired, but ready for the cold days of winter.

As I drank a tall glass of cold water I made a pledge to myself. Next year I’m going to cut wood on a cooler day.


Click on the following links to read my author bio, life in Lewis County or more about my life on the farm.

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That Made the Difference

 

I’m reading Stephen King’s book, On Writing, and came across a passage that I shared with my wife.

On Writing by Stephen King 

 “If she (King’s wife Tabitha) had suggested that the time I spent writing stories … was wasted time, I think a lot of the heart would have gone out of me. Tabby never voiced a single doubt, however. Her support was a constant, one of the few good things I could take as a given. And whenever I see a first novel dedicated to a wife (or husband). I smile and think, There’s someone who knows. Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough.”

My first book, Titan Encounter, released in 2012, has this dedication; “Many authors say that their spouse is their biggest fan. My wife Lorraine most certainly is mine. This book would not exist without her constant encouragement and editing.”

Stephen King and I don’t have much in common, but it appears we share a love for writing and both have wives that believe, support and encourage.

Thank you, Lorraine, for all of your support. That made the difference.


 
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Working hard, so I can rest

I decided to build a patio on a shady knoll beside my home. However, due to my writing schedule and other commitments, it took a couple of months to gather all the materials and find the time to construct it. Finally, on the evening of July 2nd, I had everything I needed.

Stiff and sore, but trying to relax (click to enlarge)

After breakfast the next morning I began construction. It occurred to me that it would be nice if the family could use the patio on Independence Day, but that would mean all the work had to be completed that day.

I worked hard, very hard, on July 3rd. 

July 4th was a lovely warm day here in the northwest. The blue skies were welcome after a long rainy winter and spring. Also, as you can see from the picture, my family and I did enjoy the patio. My relaxation that day was tempered by many stiff and sore muscles. I’m sure I’ll enjoy the patio even more after I’ve recovered from building it.


Click on the following links to read my author bio, life in Lewis County or more about my life on the farm.

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Water and Rain in the Northwest

There is a saying that people in the northwest don’t tan—they rust. The coastal region of Washington is well known for ample precipitation. However, most of the rain falls in late autumn and winter. By the time the crops, garden, and orchard are really growing in the late spring and summer the rains have faded to a trickle. That means we irrigate and water.

Kyle checking the hand pump (Click for a larger image)

My place is small, more of a hobby farm than a real one, but watering remains a daily chore. In the picture I’m beside the well house, checking the hand pump. Fortunately, this is just an emergency backup and the electric pump is still working. 

This time of year we water the younger fruit and nut trees in the orchard and all the plants in the garden daily. Each beehive has a water bottle and there are several for the chickens that must be routinely checked. We also have flowers and ornamental trees.

Right now, with both my wife and I working, it takes about an hour each evening to water everything. As the summer continues, and days get warmer, we’ll be doing this in both the morning and evening. But, I'm not complaining, I love the life I have here and wouldn't trade it for anything.


Click on the following links to read my author bio, life in Lewis County or more about my life on the farm.

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Hiving the Bees

Spring is bee time on the farm

 Yes, those are bees on the box.

Yes, those are bees on the box.

The bees didn’t arrive yesterday, a warm and sunny day. No, they arrived today when it was cool and wet. We prefer driving to the delivery site in the farm truck. We can put the bee boxes on the truck bed and drive home, but because today was so inclement we took the car for the forty-minute drive. Have you ever driven with ten thousand bees in your car? Our bees were inside two boxes, but it’s still an experience. Some always find a way out.  

On our small farm, we keep bees both for pollination and for honey production, but we lost our last hive during the winter. This video, filmed on April 22, 2017, starts with me retrieving one of our two new colonies of Carniolan honeybees from the greenhouse where we left them while making final hiving preparations.

Lorraine, my wife, went ahead and waited to assist me in the apiary. My son, James, is the cameraman and isn’t wearing a protective suit while he films.

Hopefully, these bees will store up lots of pollen and honey during the summer and survive the upcoming winter.


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Simple Pleasures

In most ways yesterday didn’t stand out from the normal. Dreary and wet are what you get in the northwest this time of year. But living on a farm with forest all around means that you’re going to interact with animals and they often make the day interesting.

Six deer in the backyard

Recent construction required removing part of our backyard fence and I haven’t felt the need to repair it in the cold and rain. One reason we put up the fence was to keep the deer from eating apples from our orchard, but this time of year there’s nothing on the trees.

While I enjoy seeing deer wandering around the farm, the fence downtime has allowed an increasing number to amble into the yard looking for food. They’re welcome to eat the grass and they help themselves to any birdseed or chicken feed they find. Despite my protests that it will only encourage them later in the spring, my wife Lorraine has started throwing apples to them.  

One strolls by while I'm writing

Yesterday was a record setting day with six deer in our backyard at one time. One yearling was camera shy and ran out of frame, so there are only five in the picture.

Lorraine made sure they were fed.

As I finished this blogpos I looked out the window and spotted this deer stroll by the window. I’m going to have to fix that fence before the trees start to bud.


Click on the following links to read my author bio, life in Lewis County or more about my life on the farm.

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Death in the Apiary

We had a week of cold and snow on the farm. 

The weather made for some beautiful pictures, which you can see on the Facebook page, but it got very cold. On a mild day this week my wife came in from outside and said, “There’s no activity in the apiary.”

Author Kyle Pratt checks a hive

I like to keep two colonies, but one colony had died last year. I hurried to my one remaining colony.

Bees are very clean and will not defecate in the hive. So, on mild winter days they fly out to take care of business. As I approached it was clear no bees were busy doing business. I put my ear to the hive. No buzzing.

At that point I opened the hive. Thousands of bees were there in a tight cluster—all dead.

Since I see each colony as being in my care, it really saddens me if one dies. I feel there is always something more I could have, or should have, done.
 
After a few days of mourning, I’ll clean out the hive boxes and order two more colonies of Carniolan honey bees through my local bee association.
 
Hopefully, next winter will be mild. 


Click on the following links to read my author bio or read more about my life on the farm.

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Three Pictures

As I gazed at three recently taken pictures it occurred to me that each had something to say about where and how I live.

Kyle Pratt, and friend Pat, standing in the road.

The first picture is of my friend Pat and me (blue shirt) standing in the middle of the dirt road that passes in front of his house. We were waiting for a friend who had never been there before and the road seemed like a good place to keep an eye out for her. During the nearly ten minutes we stood there her car was the only vehicle that came along.

Kyle Pratt in his backyard.

It doesn’t often snow here, but when it does it’s time to get the camera out. My wife Lorraine took this picture of me in the backyard. For many years I lived on military bases and suburban communities and my backyard looked pretty normal for those areas, small with mostly grass and some flowers. In this picture an apple tree obscures the view of the hen house behind it. The apiary is hidden by more trees and a blind. The greenhouse is out of the frame to my right and additional fruit trees are off to the left, but my backyard still looks pretty normal—for this area.

One of my summer jobs is filling the wood shed (also in the backyard) with an ample supply of logs. I do this gradually as I clear trees that have grown to close, are dead or have fallen during windstorms.

Kyle Pratt keeping the home fires burning

The recent snow arrived with arctic cold and was the first time this season we fired up the woodstove. We could use the electric heaters to keep the house comfortable, but we’ve learned that the woodstove actually keeps the house warmer and, since all the wood comes from our property, it costs us very little.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words and perhaps I could write more, but I think these three photos say a great deal about the way I choose to live my life. I wouldn’t change any of it.


Click on the following links to read my author bio, life in Lewis County or more about my life on the farm.

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Winter is Coming

Living close to nature means that there are annual chores that must be performed.

On a sunny day last week I took some time off from writing and prepared the farm for winter. I opened the one beehive we have this year and made sure the colony was healthy. The workers had sealed every crevice and joint with propolis, a good sign. I added a special insulation box to the top and slid in a bottom board. Winter is a hard time for bees, but the colony is now as ready as they can be.

Preparing equipment was my big job of the day. I did some last minute chainsaw cutting, then cleaned the saw and put it on the shelf. I may need it during the winter if a tree falls, but the woodshed is already full.

Lorraine with the last of the 2016 crop

This place is really just an oversized hobby farm so I use mowers and tillers, not tractors or combines. I cleaned each and emptied the last of the fuel and oil.  

While I performed these chores Lorraine cleaned the hen house. This has to be done often, but it sure is nicer to do it on sunny days. After that, she harvested the last of the fruit from the trees and vegetables from the garden. In the days to come, she will be making pies, applesauce and dehydrating the rest.

Spring has its own special chores, but that is another story.

The Internet is down

Well, at least at my house.

As I write this, the service has been down for eight days. Fortunately, the phone part of the service still works so I’ve been able to call (nag?) my provider, CenturyLink.

 Author Kyle Pratt writing at The Station in Centralia

Author Kyle Pratt writing at The Station in Centralia

I have DSL service through CenturyLink. That’s the only option I’m aware of for high-speed Internet.  The service comes over the same copper wire that the phone uses, and is much faster than dial-up (which I had before) but it does go down every once in a while, usually for just minutes or a couple of hours.

Now CenturyLink is saying they’re waiting on something called a DSlam and have no estimate for the restoral of service.

As a writer, I’m online all day. So, for the last several days I’ve traveled to The Station Coffee Bar and Bistro in Centralia and done my marketing, and social media work there. Maybe the big monopoly CenturyLink doesn’t appreciate my business, but The Station seems glad to see me.

My Best Year

This has been my best year ever.

Since I released my debut novel, Titan Encounter, in 2012, my book sales have grown each year, but this year has been exceptional. With more than a third of the year remaining, my sales have already exceeded those of 2015.

When I released Titan Encounter I was a novice writer with a minimal website and no mailing list. While the novel received good reviews, sales were slow.

In August of 2013 I released Through Many Fires, and readers loved it. However, I still had only a basic website and no mailing list. When sales continued to be strong beyond the opening month, I talked with my wife, Lorraine, about quitting my job as a teacher and writing fulltime. It was a scary proposition. Typically, the sales for Through Many Fires would peak soon and then slowly decline. I had started writing the next book in the series, but it could bomb.

Despite my fears, Lorraine encouraged me to write. So, I turned in my resignation with the end of the 2014 school year. Sales of Through Many Fires remained strong well into 2014 and, when sales did slow, the second book in the series, A Time to Endure, was ready for release.

I've released other novels, novellas, novelettes, and short stories since then, and remain thrilled with how you have received them.   

Because of you, my readers, I have never regretted the decision to become a fulltime writer. Thank you, for everything, especially this incredible, year!

The Volcano Erupts

A minor earthquake at 8:32 a.m. on Sunday, May 18, 1980, caused the bulging and weakened north side of Mount St. Helens to collapse into the largest landslide ever recorded. The gas, steam, lava, and pulverized rock that it exposed, exploded toward Spirit Lake. Then a column of ash rose 80,000 feet into the air.

Our home at the time in Centralia. Notice the brown sky.

I was twenty-five at the time and worked as an assistant manager at a drugstore in Centralia, less than seventy-five miles northwest, as the ash falls. But the winds were blowing east that day. Friends as far away as Indiana sent pictures of their cars covered with dust. Those of us in Centralia watched the awesome display of nature’s might from vantage points around town.

As the day progressed we learned that entire forests near the volcano had been leveled, homes and bridges were swept away in the resulting flood and over fifty people died.

But in Centralia that day, no ash fell.

The following Sunday was when Mount St. Helens came to Centralia. At 2:30 a.m. the mountain erupted again.

My wife and I were asleep, along with our infant son, but some time before dawn the phone rang. My wife picked it up. “Hello?”

The street in front of our home at 9:00 a.m. on May 25, 1980

“Lorraine, do you have any windows open?” my mother asked.

“Yes.”

“Close them. Mount St. Helens erupted again and we’re getting covered with ash.”

While Lorraine secured the house, I went outside. Standing on the covered porch with the lights off the darkness was so total I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. With my foot I felt for the steps. It felt like snow falling on me.

After a few steps onto the sidewalk, I returned to the house before getting lost.

It was well after nine in the morning before there was enough light to take the pictures seen here. We escaped the worst of the mountain’s fury, but those of us who were there will never forget that May.

Spring on the Farm

The greening of the farm inspired me.

As many of you know, I live on a small farm and spring is always a very special time. After a cold and wet (Pacific Northwest) winter it is time to get outside and repair fences, gates and the broken hen house door.

 The redneck joke is on me--chickens in the house.

The redneck joke is on me--chickens in the house.

The greenhouse is so full of budding vegetables that my wife has many in Styrofoam cups on south facing window sills. Peas grow in the garden and the forest is green once again. Tadpoles swim in the pond and chicks are in the house.

That last one may have surprised you.

Those who grew up in the city would certainly find it weird to have baby chicks in the house, but it is still early spring and many days remain still cool and wet. Chicks need a warm and dry location to grow. The picture shows six Ameraucana chicks under a heat lamp in our entryway. Chickens can be really nasty to each other so, in a few months, when they are older, we’ll put them outside, but in a separate area of the chicken yard, and gradually introduce them to the other chickens.

Ah, the rituals of spring! 

Working on the Bucket List

Kyle Pratt with ham radio mentors Lorin and Veda Moline

In a blogpost titled Bucket List, I mentioned that I was studying to get my amateur radio or “ham” license. Well, I’m still studying the book and working with my mentor Lorin Moline and his wife Veda. I know I could have worked both harder and faster and been done already, but with writing deadlines and life in general, I thought it best to take it slowly. Lorin and Veda have been both understanding and encouraging.

Earlier this week I attended my first meeting of the Chehalis Valley Amateur Radio Society. I got a chance to meet several of the members and hear an interesting talk on 3D printing. Amateur radio enthusiasts are using the technology to make many parts for their radios, antennas and ham shacks.

I’m looking forward to taking the test soon, becoming more involved with hams here, and around the world.  

Talking with Simon

The Rocking Self-Publishing Interview recorded earlier is online!

A month ago Simon Whistler, of the Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast, interviewed me. I blogged about it then saying it would be available in a month. That month has gone by quickly. Today Simon released podcast episode number 142, with me as the guest. It is available now on iTunes, and the Rocking Self-Publishing website. The conversation covers a variety of topics from my own path to a writing career, to marketing and critique groups.

Simon, originally from England, currently lives in Prague in the Czech Republic. While still in school he sought an alternative way to make money, instead of doing the usual minimum wage service industry work. That led to narrating books for a small press, then freelance work and, eventually to the Rocking Self-publishing podcast.

This program has become a source of education and inspiration for the indie writing community. Previous guests are a Who’s Who of successful indie writers, Chris Fox, Ethan Jones, Bobby Adair, Mark Dawson, Scott Nicholson and many more. Every week I listen to the new show, and just finished listening to this last one. I’m really happy that I didn’t sound like a nervous twit.

I’m hope listeners will find the show a worthwhile addition to a very helpful podcast. Thanks, Simon.

A Meeting with Robin

I enjoy talking with students interested in a writing career.

Kyle Pratt and Centralia High School senior Robin McGrew

I spoke on the topic writing as a career in the digital age at Centralia High School back in November. On Thursday, I met with Robin McGrew, a senior at the Centralia, at The Station Coffee Bar in Centralia. Robin is thinking about writing as a career. We spoke for nearly an hour during which I told her that writing is a tough career to get started in, but I love it. I advised her, as I do with all novice writers, to connect with an effective critique group and hone her craft.

Robin, I hope you get an “A” on the assignment, and I wish you the best of luck as you start on your career.