August 22, 2020

During my internship atop Mt. Fuji, I learned the ancient art of… Just kidding! Here’s the recipe:

Quick note: This one was actually passed down to me from my good friend Roger. I’ve altered it slightly, but nearly all credit goes to him!

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 2 cups of diced cabbage (If you like cabbage.)
  • 1 tablespoon diced garlic
  • 1 box spaghetti noodles (Get thick spaghetti. Rice or egg noodles get slimy when re-heated.)
  • Sesame oil (This is key for that “Asian flavor”!)
  • White rice/wine vinegar
  • Soy sauce
  • Sugar
  • 1 big sauce pot and 1 big frying pan
  • Tongs if you got ’em.

Instructions:

  1. Prep first!
    1. Chop up all those veggies and have ’em ready. (You can also add cabbage, carrots, zucchini, or whatever hell else you want!)
    2. In a clear bowl, prep the “secret sauce”. It’s 1:1 soy sauce & vinegar. I’ve found 1/2 cup of each is the magic number for this amount of food. Get them whisked together and have your sugar on deck. 
  2. Start boiling spaghetti in the big sauce pot.
  3. In the big pan, start browning 1 lb. ground pork with the garlic, some dabs of sesame oil, and a bit of soy sauce over medium heat.
  4. While the noodles and pork are cooking, finish up the secret sauce. Keep whisking and start adding sugar until it won’t hold any more. Hint: check the bottom of the clear bowl to see if sugar is piling up.
  5. Now throw the veggies in with the meat. Add a little more sesame oil and a splash of the secret sauce you just made so it all soaks up more flavor.
  6. Drain noodles and put them back in the big sauce pot.
  7. Throw cooked meat/veggie combo on top of the noodles in big sauce pot. Turn on med-high heat.
  8. Whisk up that sauce again and pour half of it in with the meat and noodles.
  9. Start mixing everything together (tongs work best). Keep adding sauce as you mix and everything will turn a nice brown color. Once the sauce is good and sizzled on, you’re done! (The only thing you don’t want is a pool of liquid at the bottom of the pan so if you don’t use it all, that’s fine!)
  10. Serve it up! Goes perfect with Sriracha drizzled on top.

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August 22, 2020

When I was three years old, my grandmother… Just kidding! Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 4 or 5 big ol’ garden tomatoes (6 – 8 store-bought.)
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1/4 yellow onion
  • 1 habanero + 1 jalapeno (This has a good zing to it. If you want “green-lid-mild” go with 1 jalapeno.)
  • 1/2 tablespoon of diced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (Or regular if that’s what you have.)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin (Or cumin seeds if that’s what you have.)
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoon salt (Keep this handy, you’ll need it later.)
  • 1 freshly squeezed lime
  • 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro (If this tastes like soap to you, leave it out!)

Instructions:

First thing’s first, the ingredients above are just a guideline. I rarely measure and just toss in a bit of each until I get the taste to how I like it. If you don’t like something, toss it out. If you want to add something, toss it in!

  1. I use a Ninja blender, but literally any blender will work. Just make sure everything fits!
  2. Cut everything to manageable bits and toss ’em in the blender. (For example: I cut the tomatoes into 8 pieces first.)
  3. Squeeze every drop of that lime in.
  4. Put the lid on and blend until the inside looks like salsa.
  5. Unplug the blender!
  6. Dip a chip in there and taste it. Chances are it needs more salt, so salt to taste. If you like more of that cumin flavor or want it a little spicier, toss a bit more of that in as well!
  7. Plug the blender back in and blend again.
  8. Repeat 5 and 6 to taste.
  9. Now it’s YOUR World Famous Garden Salsa. Enjoy right away or put in the fridge for later! (Lasts about 2 weeks.)

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August 4, 2020

In the distant past, a masterpiece was a piece of excellent work that earned its creator a membership to some sort of  guild or academy. Today it is considered an artist’s greatest achievement. A career-definer.

No, I’m not about to sit here and tell you how I’m on my way to greatness. That I’ve almost achieved a masterful manuscript and will be joining a master’s guild of writing excellence. Hell, I’m BARELY considered published at this moment. But I do want to list out some works that I believe are masterpieces with the hopes that you’ll get a better understanding of who I am and what makes me tick. The list is meant to be fun and I will continue to update it as I discover new pieces. Enjoy!

My Criteria

  • Does this work stand out from its peers?
  • Did this piece of work invoke a strong emotion in me?
  • Did it make me think hard about the world around me?
  • Had I ever seen/heard/read/played anything else like it?
  • Do I want to see/heard/read/played it again and again and again?

Novels

  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (Duh)

Short Stories

  • The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber by Earnest Hemmingway
  • The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
  • The Color Out Of Space by H.P. Lovecraft

Graphic Novels

  • Watchmen by Alan Moore
  • The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
  • Saga by Brian K. Vaughan/Fiona Staples

Movies

  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  • Avengers: Infinity War & Endgame

Television

  • Watchmen (2019)
  • Futurama
  • The Last Man On Earth

Video Games

  • Fallout 3
  • Halo: Reach
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
  • The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
  • Batman: Arkham City

Music (Entire Albums)

  • Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
  • Blink 182 – Self Titled
  • Cat Stevens – Tea for the Tillerman
  • Kid Cudi – Man On The Moon: The End Of Day

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April 22, 2020

First and foremost: Happy Earth Day!

It will be a beautiful 77° day here in Sioux Falls, SD and I plan to celebrate by filling up my bird feeders and enjoying a book in my backyard. I’m currently reading The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien for the second time (first as an adult) and I can’t think of a book more appropriate. It’s no secret Tolkien loved nature and it bleeds through into every paragraph in his novels. Also, Isengard was literally one fat metaphor for the industrial revolution…

Which leads me in to the current state of our fragile Earth in 2020. Throughout the COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) pandemic, you have no doubt seen uplifting posts on social media celebrating the dolphins returning to polluted Italian canals, India gazing upon the Himalayan ridge line for the first time in 30 years, and Elephants in China taking naps in tea gardens. Wow! It’s as if this widespread and deadly human disease has given nature the few months it needed to reclaim the Earth!

But the thing is all those too-good-to-be-true blips of uplift are exactly that: too good to be true. Well, mostly. It turns out people just like you or me happened to snap a picture of dolphins in the water, typed out a few of their personal opinions, and waited for the “likes” to roll in. Pop-culture media had not acted responsibly either. They quickly nabbed up these stories, posted them without further research, and conveniently added taglines like, “Nature Hit A Reset Button!” Well the button I’m thinking of is small and red and says, “That was easy,” when you slap it.

However, for Earth Day, I want everyone to stay positive and remember this: The feeling those posts and headlines gave you was 100% real. How excited did you get when you heard that the air in long-polluted cities was now crystal clear? Did your heart flutter when you watched dolphins swimming joyously through public waterways? And how much did you love this picture of a coyote enjoying the barren San Francisco Bay?

So, if you are so lucky, take time on this peculiar Earth Day and head outside to a backyard, balcony, or nearby park. Leave your phone behind. Take a seat and think about what you could do to improve the environment around you just a little bit. It could be as simple as picking up some litter each time you go out or as noble as eliminating single-use plastic bags from your household. Recently, I designated a section of my backyard to becoming a “pollinator paradise” using a website called Prairie Moon Nursery (more on that in a future post). Just know that every little bit helps!

Happy Earth Day!

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April 6, 2020

It’s not hard to be a scientist. All you need to do is observe and record, well, anything, really! Since my wife and I moved into our new house, one of my favorite activities for when I need a brief break from the toils of writing and web designing is to look out the window of my office and see what sort of critters inhabit our back yard.

We get the typical squirrels, rabbits, and other small rodents, but I’m particularly drawn to birds. I’ve been fascinated with them ever since I read Jennifer Ackerman’s “The Genius of Birds” in 2018, and, more recently, “The Thing With Feathers” by Noah Stryker. They’re just so damn interesting! Each species has their own little quirks, skill sets, and social nuances, and became more appreciative once I set up my own bird feeder.

I get teased by my friends because I have a weird ability to correlate bird brains in nearly every conversation, but I promise I’ll keep the sciency stuff to a brief remark:

Birds were here long before humans. Duh. They’re essentially dinosaurs. But that’s where their relation to lizards ends. In fact, bird brains evolved to address complex problem solving and social structuring much like what we’ve had to do. The kicker? Their brains look and operate different from ours, but still reach the same goals. Mind blowing, right?!

But back to my back yard. Having a basic understanding that there are little ideas rattling around in those tiny beaked heads makes them so fun and interesting to observe. So for this post I just wanted to list my bird feeder’s frequent fliers (ha!) and the basic things I’ve observed from my office window.

For context, here is the bird feeder I use. It’s a mesh-guarded cylinder with four u-shaped landing rings on the bottom.

Downy Woodpecker

Wearing spotted black wings, a white shirt, and a little red backwards cap, the Downy Woodpecker visits nearly every day. He’s too big for my feeder, but has improvised by hanging at the edge of the landing rings and reaching his head around to one of the side openings. He’s not quite a bully, but definitely prefers to dine alone.

House Sparrow

These are just tiny brown birds. They typically hop around on the ground below the feeder to snack on fallen seeds, but occasionally 4 or 5 will all be perched if the coast is clear. Sometimes a cloud of them will swarm inside a lilac bush that’s in my backyard and they’ll chirp and chase each other around until suddenly flying off!

*Note* Just the other day I witnessed two mating near the fire pit on my concrete pad. At first they “locked” necks and rolled around as if they were wrestling, then the male strutted back and forth in front of the female with wings partially out like a human with hands on their hips. Definitely bizarre, definitely cute.

House Finch

The males have a reddish head that eventually bleeds down into brown and white patterned feathers. There is usually only one at a time and they spend as long as they want on the feeder.

Northern Cardinal

This solid red bird wears a black eye-mask that always makes him looks grumpy, like you just woke him up. My wife calls him Cardi B. He chirps incessantly from a tree before finally landing on the feeder. Then he picks out the seeds that aren’t his favorites and tosses them on the ground. Judging by the pile on the ground, it would seem that he is very hard to please.

There is always one male and one female hanging around our yard, but this winter we were fortunate enough to see up to 10 at a time fluttering around the feeder! The bright crimson color is always beautiful against the backdrop of undisturbed snow.

Black-capped Chickadee

These entertaining birds are tiny and grey. They have a black “cap” over their entire heads that’s separated by a white stripe on other side. I love them because they travel in pairs and always take turns at the feeder. One will grab a seed, flutter back to the lilac bush, then the other will zip over to the feeder. Watching them go back and forth is the epitome of cute politeness.

White-breasted Nuthatch

By far my favorite visitor, this little slate-blue bird has a white breast and a scrunched posture that makes him look as if his neck is constantly being tickled. He flies solo and ALWAYS lands on the grating of the feeder and eats upside down! When he’s finished, I love watching him “walk” up and down tree trunks and telephone poles as if they were level. Truly a goofy character.

American Goldfinch

This was an odd, cloudy day in the fall of 2018. I had gotten home from running errands and went to look out the back window. Suddenly there were dozens of bright yellow birds with black wings in the yard with nearly ten of them perched on the feeder/feeder pole alone! They hung out for a bit, then disappeared. I haven’t had a chance to see them since. Passing through on their way to breeding grounds, perhaps?

Dark-eyed Junco

And finally, the Juncos. They are extremely similar to the House Sparrows, except they’re solid grey with darker heads and white beaks. They are more than content to hop around on the ground and pick up seeds that were dropped by the other birds.

Conclusion

And there you have it! These are all very common species in the Midwest, yet they all have their own behaviors that are unique to themselves, and not so different from our own. Whether it be the grumpy husband-like Cardinal, or the turn-taking Chickadees, or the inexplicable eccentricity of the Nuthatch, we can always find a little of ourselves in their personalities.

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March 5, 2020

Slicing Apples

Most people use their teeth. Others use a knife. But some members of the elite, like myself, go out and invest their hard earned cash towards a designated apple slicer.

Once this incredible piece of produce engineering is in your hands, gone are the days of sticky fingers, unequal partitions, or biting into that hard bit near the apple’s core. What a relief!

That is, until you set your freshly picked apple (Red Delicious, preferably) on your plate, line up the patterned blades, press down, and the piece of fruit betrays you by tilting off course. Ugh! Now you have eight slices, two of them housing seed and two that are barely slivers. Can life get any worse? The answer is no.

But I’ve found a solution. Have you ever noticed that while the bottom of an apple is typically uneven, the top side is usually level as a lake? It’s simple, really, because thus is the nature of growing with gravity. So next time you want to enjoy eight perfectly identical slices, twist of that stem, flip that bad boy over, and slice from the bottom up. While you’re scooping up your first glob of peanut butter, you’ll thank me.

*Note* Don’t waste any of the apple. Toss the stem and core outside for nature to enjoy!

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September 9, 2019

If you all thought I was sleepin’ I promise you I am still hard at work writing stories! A lot of traveling, life, and my day job took up most of my summer (I know, no excuse…), but I do have some cool things coming down the pipeline. For anyone who liked The Mother’s Eye (and other curiosities), or doesn’t quite want to give me money until they see what I’m all about, I’m sharing my latest short story The Traveler with everyone for free! It’s only 6 pages and I think it’s quite a fun story. I hope you enjoy and please email, text, contact me with your thoughts!

Click below do download The Traveler by Chris Berke in .pdf or .epub format.

 

The Traveler – PDF
The Traveler – ePUB

 

 

 

 

 

 

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January 11, 2019

Disclaimer: This is the question I’ve heard the most, but I do not claim to be an expert. I’m simply sharing my experience and what I learned from the process.

So you’ve been typing away for the past year or so and you want something physical to hold in your hand. How do you acquire it? Well, there are a zillion options out there for self-publishers and it’s difficult to decide which is best for your story. You could go all-in on Amazon, you could do Lulu, you could try Ingram, or you could find someone local to print a bunch of copies at presumably a higher cost. You could also settle for an eBook at virtually no cost to you and hope people are excited to download it. I chose to start with a company called Blurb.

Blurb is an online publishing company that is well known for printing beautiful photo books. I learned through a bit of browsing that they also print trade books and allow you to sell the physical copy, a digital copy (.pdf), and an eBook variant on their marketplace. Plus, the only cut they take is their own printing cost to you (more on that later). Since my goal was to get 100 copies on my doorstep before the 2018 holiday season, Blurb sounded like the simplest option and I went ahead and pulled the trigger.

First thing’s first, make sure you have proofread your stories at least three times and have gotten at least one extra set of eyes on them. This is especially true if you have a word processor with auto-correct built in. I made this mistake and my first print first editions all have a few spelling errors that were ALL created by auto-correct. Yeesh!

Now head to Blurb. Blurb will have you download a program called BookWright. BookWright is a great, though sometimes clunky, software that allows you to create what your book will look like. Do not rush this process. You spent all that time writing your story, you should devote the same amount of effort with formatting it. Just for the sake of word count, here are the metrics I chose for my short story compilation, “The Mother’s Eye (and other curiosities)”.

  • Cover: Paperback, glossy
  • Size: 5×8 inches (I like a smaller book, especially for reading short stories.)
  • Paper: Economy black and white, cream colored, 50 weight
  • Pages: 108 (must be divisible by 12)
  • Margins: BookWright calls them layouts. I chose the most surface area of text space from the options but I wish I would have gone one size down (larger margin). Red cut-off line is pretty accurate.
  • Cover: I designed my own and imported it as an image. Take your time with this because it will attract potential readers!
  • Spine: At 108 pages, my spine was just thick enough to have my name/title printed on it. If I would have had a larger margin inside, my book would have been preferably a bit thicker.
  • Copywrite: Google “what copyright info do I need for a self-published book”.

Now, moving on. Once you’ve taken great care to get everything perfect, (and you did, right?) it’s time to upload your finished product to Blurb. Here’s the tricky part that I’m still not 100% sure if I got correct, but is working out so far. BookWright/Blurb will ask you if you want to enter your own ISBN, or if you want to be assigned a free one. ISBN’s typically cost around $100 and the sites that sell them are kind of confusing. I chose the free ISBN from Blurb which they will automatically print on the back cover of your book in the little square that has the barcode. You can not access the ISBN ahead of time to type on your Copywrite page. That is extremely annoying so I just typed “ISBN: See online or on back cover” just to have something there. As far as I can tell, there are no other downsides to the free ISBN except that some places will recognize Blurb as your publisher even though Blurb says not to say they are your publisher. Who knows!

Now your book is on Blurb! My recommendation is to sell it strictly on the Blurb marketplace until you’ve exhausted your friends and family income. Blurb is by far the lowest cost to you so you will see the greatest profit. The only downside to your buyers is that Blurb’s shipping is a bit spendy and much slower than Amazon. For that reason, I chose to order 100 copies myself (that’s the least amount of books to order to receive that maximum discount per book.) The cost to me for each book was around $3.00 and I sold them for $10.00. They arrived in a few weeks, in two boxes, nicely packaged, and extremely high quality. I couldn’t be happier with how they turned out!

Alright, so what about an eBook? This one is a bit more confusing. Initially I wanted to sell it on Blurb, but BookWright currently has a problem when you justify your text. It adds a bunch of random characters at the end of each page and the only current fix is to left-align. Since you’ll never find a book that’s left aligned, I decided to go with Amazon Kindle KDP. From there you’ll download a tool called Kindle Create which has a pretty straight-forward interface. I just copied and pasted all of my short stories, set my story titles as “headings”, and now the whole book is neatly searchable for kindle readers. Pretty cool!

As for eBook pricing, there are two ways to do it. You can charge your paperback price until your friends and family income runs out, but then you’ll want to go cheaper. Kindle allows you to keep 70% of your profit if your eBook is $9.99 or cheaper, with the highest number of sales sitting right around $2.99. Then you can do Kindle Unlimited. Unlimited is a subscription service where subscribers can read any eBook for free, then you get paid for each page that is read in a given month. The only downside to this is that Amazon owns all rights to your eBook for three months at a time. You can choose not to renew after 90 days, but you cannot sell it anywhere else during that time. Your choice! (I’ve heard even crappy books get something like $15 a month just for being available for free.)

Now you’re ready to share on social media. Hands down the most important tool for you is to become an author on Goodreads. Create a profile, click on the “become a Goodreads author” section, fill out your credentials and your ISBN (the one Blurb provided you with for free works fine!) and they’ll approve you within a day. A personal website comes in handy, too, but book lovers all flock to Goodreads. In the long run, you’ll want everyone who reads your book to rate and/or review it here so other potential readers will know to read, or stay away, from your work! 🙂

Once that’s completed, make your heartfelt post across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc about how you just worked hard and published your first book! You’ll be prepared with all the infrastructure you put in place and you won’t need to worry about how you’ll get copies to friends, family, and local author supporters. Big sigh of relief!

Finally, your book has been out for a few weeks, and you feel that all of your early adopters already have your work. What then? This is the stage I am currently at. In my opinion, the biggest push is to get those who have read your book to give it an honest rating/review on Goodreads. (Hype is a powerful tool when people accidentally stumble across your book someday!)

The next is to re-evaluate how and where you book is being sold. Blurb, although vague and not crystal clear to understand, will allow you to switch your book from being sold on their market, to the Global Retail Network. That means it will be taken off the Blurb marketplace and put on Amazon, Barnes & Nobile, and other retail networks; offering them a discount to buy in bulk. You will make less profit per book, but you will reach a wider audience. (Not many people even know about Blurb, much less go there to buy books!) Goodreads will automatically find these link by ISBN and tie them to their purchase options on their site as well!

As an example, I had to increase my paperback from $10.00 to $12.00 so I made a bit on each copy, and I lowered my eBook price on Amazon KDP to $3.99 to attract the most interest. (I haven’t done KDP Unlimited yet). I make less money, but the important thing is to have more eyes on your book, right?

The last little tidbit I want to give is to embrace your local audience. Go to every place in town that you know sells books or local merchendise and ask if they will carry your book. I have never been met with a no and all of them have worked on a consignment deal: meaning you pick the retail price and they take a few bucks off the top. Someone walking by might just recognize your name, notice your eye-popping cover, or just want to read something someone nearby wrote. Chances are you’ll sell a few, they’ll tell their friends, maybe review it online, maybe re-gift the book, and who knows where it will end up in six months!

Happy publishing!

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December 7, 2018

Wow!

After over a year of typing away on my computer during my free time, I finally have something to show for it. I took my time, I worked quietly, and I stressed over every page before I convinced myself to print and publish this work of fiction. I hope you enjoy the weird tales in The Mother’s Eye (and other curiosities) as much as I enjoyed writing them.

As a side note, and some selfish self-promotion, it would mean everything in the world to me if you, the reader, would head to Goodreads and gift me with an honest rating and/or review. It will help encourage, or warn, future readers about picking it up. Thanks to everyone!

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