Thursday, December 29, 2011

Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

If you’re looking for a fun, charming experience, pick up The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Dial Press) by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

The novel consists entirely of letters centered around writer Juliet Ashton. The book takes place in 1946 as Great Britain recovers from World War II. A unique relationship between Juliet and her publisher, Sidney, and Sidney’s sister Sophie, shows unique friendships that date back to their childhood, allowing the reader the benefit of insights into Juliet’s character.

Juliet receives a letter from farmer Dawsey Adams, who lives on Guernsey, Channel Islands, in the Atlantic Ocean’s channel between the United Kingdom and France. Dawsey is in possession of a book formerly owned by Juliet and, from her name and address written on the inside cover, writes to her asking for a name of a bookstore so that he can get more information about the book’s author.

Dawsey explains that The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society came into being as the result of neighbors gathering to roast a pig which they had to keep secret because of the German occupation.

As letters fly back and forth, it occurs to Juliet that there are rich stories to be written about the war years on Guernsey. By this time she has heard from many of the island’s citizens and there is much excitement about her arrival.

As Juliet weaves her way into the hearts of the Guernsey people, a spark ignites between her and Dawsey. At least from her perspective. Dawsey’s quiet reserve make his feelings and/or intentions difficult to read. Juliet befriends a young girl, an orphan, whose parents were war victims.

Through this charming book, readers learn about the German occupation and the ingenuity of the British people to cope. The many diverse characters manage to pull together during tough times.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a charming book, one I couldn’t put down. It’s beautifully written with British flair, understatement and subtle humor. I heartily recommend this delightful and satisfying novel.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Heroes Among Us

Most people don’t set out to be heroes. Their day starts out like any other day, but somewhere along the way, an incident happens and they respond. Sometimes these heroes-to-be have taken time from their busy lives to become trained to save a life if faced with such a choice. Most say they don’t consider themselves heroes. But they are heroes, and the world is a better place because of them.

It was my pleasure to be among more than a thousand attendees at the 2011 Real Heroes Breakfast held at the Tulalip Resort Casino, sponsored by the Snohomish County Chapter of the American Red Cross. In addition to a delicious breakfast, the morning was filled with moving, heartrending stories of real heroes, of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Pat Cashman emceed the event with his unique style and brought levity to the sometimes teary stories. It was an uplifting morning and the annual event has become a “won’t miss” on my calender.

Following are this year’s amazing stories. All these honored heroes live in Snohomish County Chapter’s jurisdiction.

DALE ASCHENBRENNER, a water inspector for Snohomish County PUD, was on his way to work, when through the fog he saw tail lights coming from a large swamp off the side of the road. He turned his vehicle around and as he got closer saw a woman’s hand waving out the window and heard her screaming, “I can’t swim!” Dale called 911, flagged down another car, got a tow rope from his vehicle and waded into the muddy waters. Just as he pulled the woman through the window, the car slid completely under water. He carried the woman through the water and up the hill, wrapped her in a blanket offered by a passerby, and they sat in Dale’s PUD vehicle until the paramedics arrived.

MELISSA KEATING: For some time Melissa had thought it would be wonderful to be able to save someone’s life through an organ donation. In good health, the timing was right for her to act on her heart’s desire. She contacted the University of Washington and began the process of becoming an anonymous kidney donor. The surgery was successfully performed. Melissa doesn’t know the person who received her kidney, but she has the satisfaction of knowing she made a difference in someone’s life.

GERRY ERVINE / BRANDON KLOES: A group of friends play Ultimate Frisbee at Garfield Park in North Everett twice a week at lunchtime. During their game, one of the players suffered a massive heart attack and collapsed on the field. Gerry and Brandon immediately began CPR, alerting other players to call 911. EMT’s arrived within minutes and, after administering shocks from their Automatic External Defibrillator (AED), transported him to the hospital. Gerry and Brandon had the skills to successfully perform CPR and because of their quick action were able to save their teammate’s life.

JOANNE VANLEUVEN: As JoAnne climbed out of her car and gathered materials for her day-care kids to make mother’s day gifts, she realized she didn’t have arm space to grab her purse, so she left it in the car. A co-worker noticed a thief carrying JoAnne’s purse away. While the co-worker called 911, JoAnne followed the thief. Physically fit, she hoofed it down a path through the woods to a motel parking lot. The thief slipped around a corner and disappeared into one of the upstairs units. JoAnne waited for police and told them approximately where the “two-bit thug” was. The policemen were able to recover her purse and arrest the thief as well as another man wanted on warrants.

OFFICER BRENDA GREENMUN had just completed a traffic stop when she observed a woman high above I-5, trying to climb over the railing of an overpass. After calling dispatch and asking for backup, Officer Greenmun walked toward the woman. The woman shaped her hand like a gun and gestured that she wanted the officer to shoot her. She was attempting suicide. They were able to save that woman’s life, but also prevented what could have been a fatal traffic accident had the woman been successful in jumping into the busy eight-lane freeway below.

DAVID ROBINSON and his three-year-old granddaughter Angel have a special bond. David had taken Angel to a swim lesson and then were going to a restaurant for dinner. As David carried his granddaughter across an intersection, he was struck by an SUV making a right-hand turn. At the moment of impact, Robinson lifted his granddaughter above his head to protect her from being hit. When they crashed to the street, Angel landed on top of him. With his body breaking her fall, Angel suffered only a bruise on her bottom. David’s injuries were severe with a fractured skull, two broken legs, internal damage and a fracture to a bone around the eye socket.

ED GRAVES, a Port of Everett part-time Security Officer, heard a 911 call that a vehicle had driven into the water at a boat ramp. Just as he arrived and saw a mini-van bobbing in the water, another car sped past him, sliding down the slick ramp several feet into the water. Ed thought, “This can’t be happening.” He quickly looked around, expecting to see lights and find himself in the middle of a movie scene. As the driver of the second vehicle pulled himself out of his vehicle, he yelled, “My parents are in the sinking van!” Ed helped the man ashore and together they approached the parent’s van as its front sank deeper and its rear-end bobbed on the surface. Together they used Ed’s “access tools” to break the rear window of the mini-van and pull the elderly couple to safety, just as the van completely submerged. The son and his parents were meeting at a restaurant for dinner and the son, following his parents, was giving his father driving directions. Instead of turning right, the man turned left and into the water. The son followed, at first not realizing they were driving into water.

CHAD DECROW / JORDAN LAPIER / CHRIS WALTER: Zamboni driver Chad, security personnel Jordan, and hockey team trainer Chris came to the aid of a heart attack victim during a recreational hockey league game. They immediately put their CPR/AED training into action using the arena’s defibrillator. The 56-year old man was revived and the three men took turns administering CPR until paramedics arrived. These heroes proved that quick action, proper training and willingness to act saves lives.

BENJAMIN KING / BEKAH STAUDACHER: While best friends Bekah and April Lutz’s put on makeup in the Snohomish High School girl’s bathroom, a fellow 10th grade student attacked the two, stabbing April more than a dozen times and slashing Bekah’s arm. Bekah ran outside the bathroom to call for help, then returned to the bathroom to help her friend. Classmate Benjamin ran inside the bathroom, saw April slumped to the floor, covered in blood. He held her in his arms and pressed paper towels to her wounds until paramedics arrived. These two students put themselves in harm’s way to save a fellow student’s life.

SNOHOMISH FIRE & RESCUE, called to Snohomish High School with the stabbing incident, were a critical part of April’s amazing survival. Their first instinct was to call for a helicopter that would have carried her to Harborview Medical Center, the region’s trauma hospital. But they quickly decided April would not survive the flight and instead rushed her in an emergency response vehicle to Everett’s Providence Regional Medical Center. Paramedics worked to keep the girl’s heart beating en route and delivered her to the emergency room 24 minutes after they reached her.

PROVIDENCE TRAUMA TEAM made the difference between life and death for stabbing victim April. When she was wheeled into the emergency room, she had only a 20 percent chance of survival. One of the stab wounds to her heart came close to being fatal. April’s heart stopped three times. In all, six doctors operated on April. Between these dedicated doctors and April’s own incredible will to live, she survived. April and those many heroes who worked to save her life received a standing ovation at the Real Heroes Breakfast.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Book Review: The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle (Scribner) by Jeannette Walls is an extraordinary book about a dysfunctional yet captivating family. Captivating because despite the flaws these parents have, they have managed to raise children with spunk, imagination, and determination. This memoir, The Glass Castle, is named after the home Jeannette Walls’ father promised to build for his family.

Rex and Rose Mary Walls have four children. Life in the beginning was fun–Jeannette who narrates this memoir, loves living in the Southwest and living a fun, nomadic life. Rex is a brilliant man and teaches his children physics, geology, and from him they learn to embrace life and to use their imagination. Rex’s drinking problem accelerates as the story progresses, but from their father the children learn many of life’s truths.

Rose Mary prefers to spend her time painting and writing. She resents having to cook a meal or do housework when she could be spending time at her easel. Her children cook for themselves, when there’s food on hand. Meals could be nothing but popcorn three days in a row. Jeannette learns early in life that “to do the skedaddle” means when the family can’t pay their bills, they move on.

Rex’s drinking affects his earning power and the family moves to a West Virginia mining town where his mother lives. The mother takes the family in for a short while, but that doesn’t work out and they soon move to a dilapidated house in the hills. Rex still has grandiose plans of becoming rich, but the reality is that the kids have to fend for themselves to get their basic needs. Jeannette describes spending her lunch hour in the restroom, going through garbage bins to eat what other children have thrown away. In the winters, their rickety house is freezing cold with no fuel to burn. Keeping warm is a daily challenge with shoes held together by strings, thin, inadequate clothing, and thrift store coats with no buttons. Kids at school mock and tease them and the Walls have few friends, but the siblings are fiercely protective of each other.

Still the children excel at school, are in the top of their reading groups, and Jeannette’s work on the school paper is exemplary. Rose Mary has a teaching degree, but doesn’t have the heart to work full time and makes a mess of grading papers and keeping her students in line. To keep a paycheck coming in, the kids chip in and help their mother grade papers. But there comes a time Rose Mary refuses to go to school to teach; she wants to attend to her own needs to paint and write.

The Walls story is remarkable in that Jeannette has the determination to become successful on her own terms, yet still holds unconditional love for her parents. The Glass Castleis a tribute to love, fierce determination and triumph.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Visit with Beverly Hooks

Recently, it was my pleasure to meet Beverly Hooks at the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association Cottage at Gilman Village in Issaquah, Washington where she showcased her newly released Come Walk with Me - A Poetic Journal (Tate Publishing).

Q: Beverly, I noticed your elegant book, Come Walk with Me - A Poetic Journal, has wide appeal. Do you find a commonality in interests among those who buy your book?

Yes, I find much interest from art lovers, other artists, poets, writers and journalists. I also enjoy speaking with those who purchase my book as a gift. I find a definite commonality with those who have visited the location of my paintings. I particularly love the responding resonance of internal peace.

Q: It’s a small book, easy to carry in a purse or pocket. It appears that its size is part of the book’s charm.

Thank you, the size is 5x7.

Q: How do you describe yourself?

I am thankful for the gift of creativity. I am an impressionist, landscape/garden painter. I enjoy commissioned paintings, which involve my clients’ homes/gardens and special venues. I have sold my work for over twenty years.

I am classified as a Romanic Impressionist which pretty much describes my writing style. For me, the combination of art and poetry comes as descriptive interpretive thought. I am extremely dedicated to both my art and writing, and pursue to insure peace to all who view my work.

Q: Many of your paintings and their accompanying poems have roots in the English countryside. Tell us how that came about.

My husband Michael and I spent almost a year in Northern England. We lived in the beautiful village of Lytham. While Michael worked, I joined the Lytham Art Society and met wonderful artists who included me in many art related and family outings. On Friday afternoons through Sunday evenings my husband and I traveled the length and breadth of the British Isles, along with other European jaunts.

This opportunity brought much joy with en plein air painting excursions as well as hours of studio time flooding my canvas with cherished memories.

Q: Tell us about some of your other artistic and/or writing projects.

I enjoyed a commissioned trip to Austria & Germany. The painting Schloss (Castle) Mitersill, a ‘hunters castle’ turned resort can be found on my website. The painting Silent Night Chapel, Oberndorf, Austria and poem can be found in my Poetic Journal and website.

September 2005, I was juried by the US National Park Service as the “Artist-In- Residence” for Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas. I spent the month painting the beautiful Park, concluding with a permanent painting in the Park Museum.

My website contains an art gallery of both sold and available paintings. I am an avid journalist in that as I paint or finish a painting, I write about the inspiration of the experience and location. My new blog consists of a journey to the actual painting locations and the particular situations prompting the memory. I share actual events and happenings driven from the selected painting on my blog via my website,

Q: The day we were together, I noticed many people earnestly sharing their thoughts with you. What sort of feedback do you normally get after people have viewed your work?

Most identify with the painting locations and share their visits and inspired moments. Some seem to enjoy the rhyme and rhythm of the poems while others want more information and viewings of my art.

It is my pleasure to spend time visiting, listening and sharing the many stories and experiences with such interesting people.

Q: Was writing this book something you had longed to do, or was it a sudden inspiration?

My personal note taking and journaling paved the way for the ‘sudden inspiration.’ I find my peaceful time in poets such as Yeats, Tennyson, and Frost along with many other classic and contemporary poets.

Q: How long did it take you to create your book?

Painting selection and writing took approximately six months.

Q: What challenges did you face as you wrote Come Walk with Me?

Time is my constant constraint. I paint for gallery, invitational art shows, and commission work. I teach beginner/advanced painting lessons here in Poulsbo. On March 7st I will be begin teaching every Wednesday at An Artful Touch in Kirkland, WA.

I, as many passionate artists and writers seem to add to a brimming plate. Why? Because we love what we do!

Q: Do you have a work-in-progress now?

Yes, and thank you for asking! I have written two children’s books that I thought ready for submission until I spoke with a literary agent, who suggested that I illustrate in my style of fine art painting. I am excited about spending the next several months focusing on a new adventure of fine art illustration.

The smaller in text of the two books is focused here in the Seattle/Olympic peninsula area. The longer book is of a descriptive journey from the beautiful Florida Everglades to the Great Pacific Northwest.

Q: You mentioned to me that you do commissioned work. Tell us about that.

I especially enjoy commissioned paintings and working with new clients. I love the opportunity to step into another’s world soaking up the reason and passion for the painting. It is a tremendously satisfying accomplishment to experience a pleased and happy client.

Q: Where can people learn more about your work?

My book is available through Bookstores nationally; if you do not see it shelved, just ask, it can be ordered for you.

For a personalized signed copy of Come Walk With Me ~ A Poetic Journal, visit my website My original art, giclee prints, and note cards, are also on my website.

To commission a painting, contact Beverly: (360) 649-453,

Thank you, Beverly. I appreciate your taking the time to be with us today.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Review: The Girl with No Shadow

The Girl with No Shadow (Harper Perennial) by Joanne Harris is a magical book. Literally. Its magic is in the form of witchery in three of the main characters. A sequel to Chocolat, the book’s main character, Yanne Charbonneau has changed her name from Vianne Rocher. Her daughter now nine, also has a different name, Anouk. Added is another younger daughter, Rosette, who is possibly autistic. The little French family has been forced to leave their former home and is starting over in Paris.

Yanne continues her vocation as a maker of exquisite chocolates. It’s a drab life she leads, but at least she and her daughters are safe. Her shop barely ekes out a living. If it weren’t for Thierry, her staid landlord, who has provided living quarters, she wouldn’t be able to care for her family.

Thierry asks Yanne to marry him and although she’s not in love with him, a solid family life is tempting. But she can’t bring herself to agree to marriage. Undaunted, he continues with plans to renovate one of his houses for them.

Along comes Zozie de l’Alba and we know from her first words that she is up to no good. Beautiful and charming, Zozie is an attraction to impressionable Anouk. Although for some time Anouk has realized she’s different from other kids, her exposure to Zozie helps her to define her special talent. She, too, is a witch.

Zozie manages to become part of the family, turns the chocolate shop into a bright, sunny place that draws customers in droves.

Just when Yanne least expects it, Roux appears from her past. Although he doesn’t know it, he is Rosette’s father. Even after four years, he stirs up feelings Yanne has tried unsuccessfully to bury.

Zozie’s true colors emerge. Pending danger and ruin become obvious. What tactic will she use this time to alter the lives of those who have trusted her?

If you’re a chocolate lover, you’ll enjoy the many descriptions of making exotic confections. Joanne Harris uses an interesting technique to spin her tale in that the story is told in three voices, all in first person. It was a bit confusing at first, but I soon noticed each of the three had a unique symbol at the beginning of a chapter.

Though my reading pleasure is normally stories with realistic plots, Harris spins an intriguing yarn. The Girl with No Shadow is a fairy tale for grown-ups. The author’s knowledge of chocolate is impressive and the Paris setting extraordinary. Harris’s lyrical writing style is a joy and keeps the reader engaged.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Book Review: Cold River

For a chilling Pacific Northwest experience, Cold River (Walnut Springs Press) by Liz Adair will keep you wondering about who’s putting a damper on the efforts of the new school superintendent.

When Mandy Steenburg accepts the job of Superintendent of Schools in Limestone, Washington, she feels confident her doctorate in education will be a valuable asset. She arrives in early spring, which in the foothills, is still very cold and rainy. The weather isn’t the only thing that dampens her spirit. The town’s chilly reception is less than welcoming. Limestone is a community with tarheel independence and these folks like their town just as it is.

Mandy’s younger sister Leesie appears, a senior in high school, hoping to live with Mandy in the A-Frame house she’s rented. Although Mandy’s pleased to have the company, it is one more responsibility to take on.

As superintendent, Mandy struggles to make improvements, but meets resistance. Although the former superintendent has been demoted to assistant superintendent, the town still looks to him for leadership. Organized and efficient, Mandy is determined to make a difference, but it seems the only change she makes is in her own well-being. Incidents begin to happen, dangerous, life-threatening events. After a nasty case of food poisoning, a mysterious house fire, a wheel spinning off her car, she realizes someone is serious about getting rid of her.

Along the way, Mandy does make friends, even experiences the beginning of a romance, but she’s getting a strong message that she’s not accepted professionally and she considers accepting another job. She stumbles upon a secret and in trying to get away finds herself in deep water in a very real sense.

Cold River is a suspenseful novel written with insight of the inner workings of a school district. Of particular interest to me was the correlation between music and mathematics, as the author depicts Limestone’s exceptional and unusual high school music program. Readers who enjoy cozy mysteries will enjoy this book. To read more about the author, visit

NOTE: For those who live in the Pacific Northwest, Liz Adair invites you to a Cold River launch party, 7:00 p.m., December 8 at the Sedro Woolley Library, 802 Ball Street, Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284-2008. Door prizes will be books and home-made apple pies!

Monday, November 14, 2011

An Inspirational Visit with Michael Lienau

After a life-altering experience, Michael Lienau is a firm believer in emergency preparedness. I recently attended a presentation of Michael Lienau’s in which he spoke of personal and business emergency preparedness.

Lienau was a close observer of Mount St. Helens during its second eruption on May 25, 1980. Too close. At age twenty and a life-long film buff, he’d planned to go to film school in Northern California. His plans were waylaid when Mount St. Helens erupted May 18, 1980. He made his way to the Mount St. Helens area to film the rivers that swelled with volcanic sediment. He joined a Seattle production company and flew through black clouds of ash, filming the blast from above.

When the second, smaller blast of May 25 occurred, Lienau and the production company were at the base of the mountain. The sky rained ash for seven hours, trapping the party in the backcountry for four days. They were unprepared for such an emergency and fought fatigue, hunger and turmoil.

It was a life-changing event, both professionally and spiritually. There was a strong possibility they might lose their lives. “It was one of those things that shaped my life,” he says. He began freelancing film work, inspired by his experience and the people whose lives were affected by the blast.

Lienau filmed “The Fire Below Us: Remembering Mount St. Helens,” which was first aired in 1994 on National Geographic television. He later made “Fire Mountains of the West” and “Cascadia: The Hidden Fire,” two films examining the present geologic and volcanic dangers of the Pacific Northwest.

Today, still an active cinematographer, Lienau encourages people to be prepared for disaster. “Preparedness is easy, inexpensive and you’ll never regret it.” Lienau’s particular concern is the strong possibility of a disastrous earthquake in the Northwest. The Cascadia Subduction Zone is one of the largest geologic faults in the nation, capable of generating a truly catastrophic 9+ earthquake.

By following FEMA’s recommendation--Make a plan, Make a kit, and Be informed--we can ensure preparedness. FEMA suggests a minimum 3-day Disaster Supply Kit that includes:
– One gallon of water per person per day, plus regular chlorine bleach for purifying more water
– Non-perishable food for each person per day
– Medications / first aid supplies
– Flashlight / extra batteries / light sticks
– Toiletries (including toilet paper, feminine supplies, soap, personal hygiene supplies)
– Important documents (wills, insurance papers, etc)
– Money, including small bills and change
– Multi-Purpose tools, garbage & zip lock bags
– Radio (battery or wind-up) / extra batteries
– Special needs for elderly, baby, pets
– Extra clothes / shoes / blankets

Lienau emphasizes the need to have food and supplies on hand. “If we give some time to preparedness in our families, neighborhoods and communities, it alleviates fear and strengthens our response systems.”

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Book Review: Loving Frank

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan (Ballentine Books) is an exquisitely written novel based on the world-renown architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mamah Borthwick Cheney.

In 1903 Mamah and her husband, Edwin, commission the locally famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, to design a house for them. Mamah and Edwin become friends with Frank and his wife, Catherine.

During the construction of the house, a powerful attraction develops between Frank and Mamah, a force so powerful they leave their spouses and children to live clandestine lives. They travel to Europe and Japan, following Frank’s quest for international architectural supremacy. Along the way, highly educated Mamah finds her intellectual fulfillment when she meets the Swedish feminist, Ellen Key and is commissioned to translate Key’s books and essays. When the truth about Frank and Mamah is exposed, their affair shocks Chicago society and brings shame and grief to their families.

Loving Frank is much more than a love story. It reaches into the possibility of freedom for woman and the cost and consequences of realizing those freedoms. Horan provides insights into the ambitions and quirks of Wright, an eccentric genius.

Loving Frank is a well-researched story of great passion, compassion, and timeless truth, an unforgettable historical novel.

Monday, October 31, 2011

How Important are Personal Appearances for a Writer?

Mary at Poppyseeds, Stanwood, WA

I have found that a big part of promotion is making personal appearances. Look around for opportunities to make this happen.

– Call on stores in person. Always have your books with you when you’re out and about. In my car, I keep a good sampling of my books in a wheeled carry-on. If you see a store that might feature your books, don’t hesitate to go in, introduce yourself and show them your books. Many times I have shown a store owner or manager my books, even though they currently don’t have books in their inventory. I’ve been gratified by their interest. For sure, call on bookstores, but broaden your scope to other stores your readers might frequent, such as drugstores, gift stores, tack shops, etc.. Non-book stores most often pay up-front rather than on consignment, and pay a higher rate than bookstores.

– Take advantage of writer group events. In the Northwest, Pacific Northwest Writers Association has a Cottage Event where members are encouraged to appear with their books. If you belong to a writers group (and you should!), help organize an event that will draw the public.

– Participate in community events. On Camano Island, where I live, an annual Women’s Expo draws a large crowd. Vendors display their wares at tables featuring health items, jewelry, gifts, clothing, seasonal items, hand-crafted goods....and my books. Often, I am the only vendor with books and I enjoy being a novelty. It’s gratifying when people stop by to tell you how much they enjoyed your book and will now buy another title, and perhaps one more as a gift. Watch for opportunities in your area–there are bound to be Christmas events, fall festivals, public markets, even flea markets. Sometimes there’s a fee to have a “booth.” You have to weigh the cost against the profit. But, if nothing else, your personal appearance has added to your name and face recognition.

– Become known at your local library. Inquire about the library carrying your books. Donate a copy of your book to show your good will. In my area, Friends of the Library has invited me to speak and it is expected that I will bring my books to sell to attendees. Friends of the Library regularly host writer events–readers love meeting authors. They also hold an annual book sale for which proceeds go back into the library fund. I save my slightly shop-worn books to donate to this cause.

– When we take a road trip, I always take an extra supply of books and call on stores along the way. I have found small town drugstores to be among my best customers. I don’t make a big thing of this–it is our vacation, after all. Sometimes I’ll explain we’re visiting the area and thought I’d pop in and introduce myself. The response has been gratifying. Throughout the year, especially at Christmastime, I follow up these visits with a phone call and often replenish their book supply.

– Team up with a friend. It’s fun to make personal appearances with a friend. I often team up with a writer from another community, giving us a wider selection of venues. Sometimes it’s fun going solo, but other times it’s good to share the cost of a booth with someone else.

– It’s always interesting to people to have a book written about where they live. Canvas that area, looking for stores or other possibilities for personal appearances.

As you make your personal calls, be professional. Be prepared to leave a brochure or at the very least a business card. Sometimes people need time to think new ideas over. Follow up with a phone call soon after your personal visit. You are unique. Show enthusiasm about your product.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Book Review: West With the Night

West With the Night (North Point Press) by Beryl Markham was first copyrighted in 1942, so don’t look for this gem on the just-released shelf. Since I’m researching memoirs and am always interested in all things African, I found this book extraordinary. Markham, born in England but raised in British East Africa, shows a powerful command of the English language.

In her childhood Markham hunted with tribesmen, endured the same discomforts, ran the distance with the best of them. Later, she followed her father’s passion for horses, raising thoroughbreds for the track and keeping them for her own pleasure.

In the mid-1930's, Markham became enchanted with flying and learned from a master flyer, Tom Black, who taught her in a D. H. Gipsy Moth. She achieved her “A” license, then later, her “B” license which entitled her to earn a living flying. In the early years, she carried mail, passengers, supplies to safaris and occasionally joined in a search for a downed plane. Often, her destination was marked by a single column of smoke, or at night, a row of small fires or lanterns.

Hunting bull elephant for their ivory was popular in the 1930's. As I read these encounters, I simply had to put aside what we know now about extinction and the injustice of killing an animal for a single feature of its body. Markham became enamored with the sport of spotting herds of elephant, working with one of Africa’s best known white hunters, Baron von Blixen, whom Markham called Blix.

In 1936, Beryl Markham met head-on a challenge of a trans-Atlantic solo flight, east to west, England to America. She would fly non-stop a night and a day. However, somewhere off the coast of Newfoundland ice lodged in the petrol tank’s air intake, partially choking fuel flow to the carburetor. The engine failed, caught, failed again and again, but finally would not restart and, after twenty-one hours and twenty-five minutes, Markham had to force-land in a Nova Scotia bog, burying the plane’s wheels and tipping it head-first into the mud. Markham managed to crawl out of the plane and wandered in the muck for an hour before being rescued.

Beryl Markham was a remarkable woman and West With the Night a memorable accounting of her life. Ernest Hemingway said of this book, “...[Beryl Markham] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers...” I won’t argue with that. It is an engaging, elegant book.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Book Review: Once Upon a River

Once Upon a River (W. W. Norton) by Bonnie Jo Campbell is a captivating novel that kept me terrified, heart-warmed, and fascinated by a girl who becomes foot-loose on a Michigan river.

Margo Crane and her dad get along pretty well on their own, though Margo misses her mother Still, she’s always had more in common with her father and grandfather, learning to live off the land, to fish, to shoot like her heroine, Annie Oakley. She can get along without all the trappings sixteen year-old girls usually feel they need. Margo isn’t one to talk a lot, and when she’s raped by a neighbor, actually a relative, the secret is kept.

Through a violent and strange turn of events, Margo is on her own. She’s always been as one with the river, and it’s the river that becomes her home. Life is harsh for a young person on her own and she soon finds comfort from someone she’s met before, a man her father had known, and she finds security for a time. She’s able to do what she loves–hunt and fish. When that situation turns sour, Margo is on her own again, briefly.

Margo meets people with whom she seeks refuge, but the past has a way of catching up and when that happens, she is again alone. She meets an old, dying man, and forms a bond, not unlike she’d had with her grandfather before his death.

Once Upon a River is remarkable on many levels. Hunting lore, skinning animals, cooking wild game–Margo is a master at these skills. Campbell has done her homework–most readers will learn more about living in the wild than they ever wanted to know. I found myself caught up in the daily living struggles of this young woman, cheering her on when things got tough, bursting with pride when she created solutions, but all the while terrified of what could happen next. I was riveted to this story from the first page to when I reluctantly turned the last.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Book Review: The Heirloom Murders

Kathleen Ernst’s The Heirloom Murders (Midnight Ink) is a cozy mystery written with flair.

A woman apparently commits suicide and Chloe befriends the deceased’s sister, Dellyn. Not only shaken by her sister’s violent death, Dellyn is still grieving over the recent death of their parents.

Both young women work at Old World Wisconsin, an outdoor history museum, Chloe as a curator and Dellyn as an agriculture specialist. Chloe is helping Dellyn sort through her parents’ household effects, many of which are antique treasurers. Among the numerous files, they find references to the missing Eagle Diamond, a legendary gemstone unearthed in 1876.

Sparks are reignited between Chloe and cop Roelke McKenna when he investigates the alleged suicide. When an ex-boyfriend appears on the scene, Chloe is reminded of a messy and sad previous life she’d hoped to leave behind. The old boyfriend’s presence leaves Roelke unsure of how to proceed with his hoped for relationship with Chloe.

A murder takes place on the museum grounds, someone breaks into Dellyn’s historic house, and Chloe is attacked when she discovers someone lurking in Dellyn’s barn. It becomes clear that murderous greed is behind these evil acts.

The book toggles from the present day to 1876 on Charles and Clarissa Wood’s farm. Hired hand Albrecht Bachmeier is helping Charles dig a well, when Charles finds an unusual gem. Once it’s washed, the pretty gem is placed on Clarissa’s kitchen windowsill.

Kathleen Ernst’s The Heirloom Murders is a great sequel to the first of the Chloe Eliffson Mystery series, Old World Murder. The author presents a captivating story with humor and more than enough mystery to entice readers to keep turning the pages.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Book Review: Year of the Angels

Year of the Angels by Erika Madden is a heart-felt novel about a ten year-old girl living in Germany during World War II. Inspired by Madden’s personal experiences, she describes war that few of us can imagine.

The Lindner family, a gentle mother and six children, including a new-born infant, struggle to survive the war as it creeps closer to their little village of Mainbernheim. Lisel’s father, conscripted by the Germain army, is away from his family, and they receive no word about his whereabouts or even if he’s still alive.

The family strives to make life as pleasant as possible, despite the black-outs, screaming sirens, crowded bomb shelters, the terrible shortage of food and other basic necessities. The children scrounge for coal along the railroad tracks, work in the fields in exchange for food, do whatever they can for the family’s survival. Through it all, their mother bravely and tenderly guides her children. and shows by example that the most important thing is family. Lisel and her beloved little brother Dieter have a special relationship and find play and enjoyment whenever and however they can. They escape to their treasured stone break, their secret, magical place.

War is terrible. Most of us believe that. Still, we reason, it’s necessary to preserve our freedom. But when you read an account such as Year of the Angels, you realize what it means to those most affected by the violence, the people who live there. The desperate struggles of being displaced, enduring shortages of food, clothes, and warmth, the misery of families being torn apart, is their daily reality. In the midst of this misery, the Lindner family shows kindness, sharing, and even humor.

Year of the Angels is a poignant account of one year of the European war as seen through the eyes of a young girl. It’s a treasure you will long remember. To learn more about the author and how to purchase the book, visit Year of the Angels can also be purchased through

Monday, September 26, 2011

Thanks for the Memories

The following are Erwin A. Thompson’s memories of an incident occurring during World War II. Mr. Thompson, born in 1915, was drafted into the Army in 1942. Thompson was awarded a Purple Heart for injuries sustained from enemy action and a Silver Star for "Gallantry above the call of duty," and discharged in 1945 to return to the United States. Mr. Thompson is known as a historian, poet, novelist, philosopher, whittler and fiddler. I would add that he’s a treasure among his community, family and friends.

Following are Mr. Thompson’s own words:

My memories of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby

By Erwin A. Thompson

In August 1944 I was in France. Two months after “D” day, the military situation was far from guaranteed safety. We had landed on the same beach as the combat troops who had gone ashore. That bloody day started our “liberation” of France, Belgium, our occupation of Berlin and the end of that portion of World War II. It was a bloody road to travel. Our tanks had gone through the hedge rows of France, and were pounding at the Siegfried line—that almost impenetrable line of defense Germany had set up to resist any move, such as we were making now. We were still subject to air raids.

A show was planned (carefully) with just enough light to see the stage and the performers. Bob Hope and Bing Crosby were the big names. There were girls. Pretty girls. Talented girls; but girls that I had never been introduced to on the TV screen.

They were performers. The show that they put on would have been appropriate as a part of a burlesque show but they left their clothes on (just barely).It was slanted for an all male audience; well planned and well put on. One of the numbers that they did was “All of me.” With the gestures that the girl made there was no question what she was referring to.

Bing sang ‘White Christmas,’ and received a great amount of applause. At that time we were hoping to be home by Christmas.(It didn’t work out that way.)

They were great performers and great people. My friend, Norman Grover, told this story about Hope and Crosby.

“They were traveling by truck convoy. The trucks were having trouble. The passengers got off and helped push the vehicle out of the mud hole. I looked around and saw both Crosby and Hope in mud up to their knees like I was, pushing the stuck vehicle. Not only great performers, but great people!”

Thank you, Mr. Thompson. To quote the title of Bob Hope’s theme song, “Thanks for the Memories.”

Monday, September 19, 2011

Meet Leslee Breene, author of Starlight Rescue

It is my pleasure to have as my guest Leslee Breene, author of recently released Starlight Rescue.

Thank you, Mary, for giving me the privilege of being a guest on your blog today.

Starlight Rescue, (August 2011), is my venture in changing horses, actually switching from historical western romance to contemporary romance. I’ve always been drawn to settings in the west, and this time my love of animals emerged. The heroine, a veterinarian, was born along with a cast of unpredictable four-legged critters.

A family of llamas emerged in my storyline. These regal and intriguing animals I had only seen from a distance. I turned to Jerry Dunn, llama expert and owner of Bear Track Farm of Golden, CO, for my research. At her invitation, I spent a magical day at the farm observing about twenty llamas. The males were quartered in a large rear stable, females on the side property. She informed me that too much male rivalry would occur in keeping them together. Jerry’s personal experience with a breech birth lent specific details to the birth scene in Starlight Rescue. Her sharing of recorded llama behavioral sounds was definitely enlightening.

Here’s the synopsis of Starlight Rescue in a nut shell.

Wyoming veterinarian Kimberly Dorn must keep her inherited animal rescue ranch from greedy developers. Rescuing abused and abandoned animals has been a lifelong dream ever since her youngest sister drowned in their lake, and Kimberly was unable to save her. Her new practice cannot yet support the ranch. The young man who answers her rental ad has a movie star smile and devilish green eyes.

Gabe Trent, a successful wildlife photographer and filmmaker, rents an outbuilding for his studio. When he meets Kimberly, they recall past summers when he worked in his uncle’s hardware store. She was a pony-tailed teenager then. Now, his sexy new landlady is a goal-oriented woman.

Still a free spirit at age thirty-two, Gabe wouldn’t mind sharing some good times with her. Kimberly introduces him to her rescue family: horses, llamas, dogs, and emus. Instantly captivated, Gabe offers her a percentage in a TV documentary he wants to film on the ranch.

But can she trust him with her animals…..and her heart?

Starlight Rescue ~ Romance Writers of America PASIC Finalist.

“Kimberly’s stubbornness is matched by Gabe’s patience in this story of saving the family ranch from greedy developers. Starlight Rescue is a wonderful story of determination, love and forgiveness.” ~ Linda Wommack, contributing editor and writer, True West Magazine, Wild West Magazine.

Starlight Rescue may be ordered directly from and at Softcover ISBNs: 978-1-936127074-0, 1-936127-74-1. Ebook listing is available in all format distribution (including Kindle).

Leslee, you obviously have enthusiasm for your new novel. I wish you every success and great fun on your journey with Starlight Rescue.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

I will Never Forget: 9/11 in New York

The events of 9/11 will reign in my heart forever. Along with the rest of the nation, I sat in horror watching the televised events of that awful day. Although a volunteer, it didn’t occur to me that the American Red Cross would take an active role in the recovery process, but it soon became evident that New Yorkers in all walks of life were affected. Apartments within a huge radius were evacuated, jobs evaporated, life as New Yorkers knew it was horribly altered.

My first three weeks after 9/11 were spent in Washington, D.C. helping to set up a national American Red Cross call center. Those affected needed one central place where they could inquire about loved ones, where to find temporary housing, get mental or spiritual help; others needed to know where to go to give blood, volunteer help, donate money.

Soon after Washington, D.C., I was deployed to New York and my life was changed forever. I was assigned to Pier 94, a huge FEMA facility in Manhattan that coordinated more than 100 agencies under one roof. It was a one-stop shop where people could come for financial and emotional assistance.

Every assistance agency imaginable was represented at Pier 94: New York Police and Fire Departments, Salvation Army, housing authority, child welfare, unemployment, missing persons, insurance companies. The American Red Cross assisted people who lost family members, they helped families through financial crises that occurred as a result of the bombing, they set up respite centers where relief workers could rehydrate and relax.

Pier 94 was a somber place. We were aware at all times how affected these people were on so many levels. No cameras were allowed. Confidentiality and privacy were high priorities.

The Red Cross had a huge team of Mental Health workers available to the public, first responders and aid workers, as well as a large contingency of chaplains who circulated around the vast building. We even provided child care, staffed by church groups, so that people could talk to agencies without the distraction of small children. My personal responsibility was to give financial assistance to people who suddenly couldn’t pay their bills, they had been thrown in financial chaos.

Even dog clubs organized to give comfort. Throughout the day, well-behaved dogs were guided through crowds, stopping when a child needed to bury his head in comforting fur, or when an adult, overcome by grief, just needed to look into soft eyes and cry. It was obvious to me that the dogs sensed profound sadness, a deep melancholy that prevailed on Pier 94. I marveled at these dogs and their gracious owners who spent hours circulating through the crowds bringing calming comfort.

Local restaurants donated their services and food, preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner for all those who served. It was my pleasure to share meals with people of all represented agencies. I had never spent time in New York, and talking with police, fire fighters, and those of other agencies was an eye-opening experience for me. I found New Yorkers warm and friendly, and so appreciative of people who were there to help.

When I had a few minutes, one of my favorite places to visit on Pier 94 was a long corridor decorated with gifts from the people of Oklahoma City who had suffered from the bombing in 1995. Flowers, dozens of teddy bears, pictures, notes from adults and children, it was an outpouring of love that brought tears to my eyes every time I visited that section of the building.

New York’s Thanksgiving parade had a special meaning that year. Sure, we experienced the relief of laughter–you have to laugh at clowns’ antics. There was pride, too, when school bands marched by playing patriotic tunes, their uniforms spotless, their instruments polished to perfection. But when the NYFD float came by with our tattered American flag we came to attention, saluting or putting hands over hearts. The fire fighters who carried that flag carried it with pride, and yes, defiance.

I continue to have mixed feelings about 9/11: horror that such a tragedy could happen on US soil, admiration for the strength and bravery New Yorkers showed, and pride in the American people for stepping forward to help. I am proud to have had a small part in the healing process after the worst day in America’s history.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Book Review: Inside of a Dog

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s been friend,
Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.

Those words of wisdom, attributed to Groucho Marx, are quoted by Alexandra Horowitz, author of Inside of a Dog, What Dogs See, Smell and Know (Scribner). The book delves delightfully into the inside workings of a dog. Horowitz often refers to a dog’s umwelt, a German word meaning environment or surrounding world. Through this authoritative and captivating book, we learn what the world looks like from a dog’s point of view.

Alexandra Horowitz, a cognitive scientist, explains how dogs perceive their worlds. Dogs are decedents of wolves but through breeding vast differences now exist. The author shows us what the world must look like through a dogs eyes and describes the actual construction of their eyes. She discusses the noise a dog makes and what it might mean. We might think of a dog licking our face as kisses, but what does it mean do a dog? You don’t want to know.

For me, one of the book’s most interesting discussions deals with dogs’ incredible sense of smell. A dog can sort with minute detail the information presented through his nose. Bloodhounds, supersmellers among dogs, can detect small changes in odor, such as a diminishing smell in footsteps over time. The bloodhounds large ears facilitate his sense of smell. By gently shaking his head, he can stir up more scented air for the nose to catch. The medical field recognizes the ability of dogs to detect distinctive smells of various infections, diabetes, cancer or even schizophrenia.

Horowitz backs up her facts with scientific research and presents it in useful context. Inside of a Dog is scholarly, yet a fun, witty read with practical application for dog lovers interested in knowing why their dogs act the way they do.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Book Review: Homer & Langley

Homer & Langley (Random House) by E. L. Doctorow is an engaging novel about two brothers, one blind and the other suffering the effects of mustard gas during the Great War.

The narrator of the story, Homer, blind since childhood, develops a highly self-sufficient way of getting around, depending on sounds, smells and the sense of closeness to objects. He is musically gifted and for awhile is the piano accompaniment for silent movies at a local movie theater. His brother Langley goes off to war and the Spanish flu takes first one parent, then the other. Left alone in the Fifth Avenue mansion with no one but servants, Homer manages to settle the estate and awaits his brother’s return.

Langley’s return, however, is filled with tragedy. He’s physically and mentally altered. The mustard gas has left horrific scars and damaged his vocal chords, changing his voice from a clear tenor to a rasping whisper. He’s left with bitterness and distrust toward the government and society.

The Collyer brothers live as recluses in their once grand mansion. Langley becomes obsessed with collecting things–newspapers, cast-off clothes, furniture, old TV’s. The mansion is filled with useless relics. Although the word “hoarder” is never used, that is, indeed what Langley becomes.

Homer at times craves romance, but loyalty to his brother and his own limitations discourage lasting relationships.

The novel covers several decades, and the reader follows society’s changes through the constant barrage of people streaming through the Collyer home: immigrants, prostitutes, gangsters, jazz musicians, hippies–they all become a part of the intricate web that forms the Collyer household.

Homer & Langley is a fascinating story, combining Homer’s insightfulness and blindness with Langley’s eccentric but brilliant idealism. The novel introduces points of view that I’d never considered. It’s beautiful yet haunting characters will stay with me for a long time.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Book Review: Adeline

Adeline (Tate Publishing) by Mary Ann Hayes is a little book with a big message. People of all ages will enjoy this story, but the wisdom and insights of Adeline will especially resonate with readers over forty.

Beautifully told in first person, Adeline observes her world and her precious family through loving eyes, eyes that have seen beauty, laughter and tragedy. Adeline’s story is an inspiring life’s journey, a chronicle of recollections of people and events that have shaped her life.

Adeline has lived her life to the fullest, even when life has been hard to bear. A wise woman who loves her vacation home and the people who fill it, she returns to her beloved lake house for her final journey.

People who love life and who find treasures in nature and in simple pleasures will love Adeline. To learn more about the author, visit Adeline is available at your favorite bookstore and various on-line outlets.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Book Review: Bel Canto

Bel Canto (Harper Perennial) by Ann Patchett held me captive from beginning to end. And being held captive is what this book is all about.

A prestigious party is being held at the home of a Vice President somewhere in South America. The occasion is a birthday party honoring Mr.Kosokawa, a powerful businessman from Japan. The famous opera soprano, Roxane Coss, has enthralled the international guests with her singing. It’s a grand event–until terrorists take the entire party hostage.

From the beginning, the take-over goes awry. The target being sought, the President of the country, isn’t in attendance. This causes great confusion among the three generals leading a gang of gun-wielding youths.

Nothing goes according to plan, but life goes on. From a panicked, life-threatening situation, people fall into a routine. They connect, cooperate, form bonds, friendships, even fall in love.

This is a marvelous, entertaining book, a New York Times Bestseller and winner of the Pen/Faulkner Award. For me, it hit a profound chord. When my husband and I were with the Peace Corps in The Gambia, West Africa, we were “detained” in a single house for 8 days, along with 118 people from many different countries. This book brought back vivid memories of that attempted military coup.

I highly recommend Bel Canto. You’ll find yourself bunking in with the rest of the house guests.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Book Review: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is a colossal novel in every sense. As a trade paperback, its six hundred fifty-nine pages teem with history many of us never knew existed. A 2001 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is an epic array of fiction woven skillfully with fact.

Sammy Clay’s imagination and enterprising spirit isn’t slowed down by his physical limitations, the effects of childhood polio. But, on his own, he can only dream of ambitions for which most people of the time aren’t even aware, a comic book empire.

Along comes Sammy’s cousin, Josef Kavalier, an escapee from Prague. Joe’s entire focus is to rescue his family from Nazy Germany’s oppression. Not only is Josef a talented former art student, he is a skilled magician and escape artist. The two young men combine their talents, each working toward their individual goals.

Together Sammy and Joe embark on the emerging comic book industry, making a name for themselves, along with the notable Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the writer-artist team that created Superman.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay covers a dozen pre- and post-World War II years. Chabon’s sweeping, intricately researched novel is a captivating read encompassing early comic book years, fantasy, magic, love and war, all richly drawn with believable characters. It’s no wonder this book received the Pulitzer Prize–it’s a triumphant, highly engaging work of fiction.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Book Review: The Color of Water

The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, by James McBride (Riverhead Books) is not a new release. The book club I belong to selected this book, the 10th Anniversary Edition, for discussion.

James McBride’s father died when his mother was pregnant with James. His Jewish mother, the widow of a black man, remarries, also to a black man, a man who accepted and took responsibility for this existing family of nine, which eventually grew to a family of fourteen.

As a young boy, James realizes that he looks different from his mother and questions her whether he is black or white. “You’re a human being,” she answers. “Educate yourself or you’ll be a nobody.” Later, as he attempts to sort out life, he asks his mother, now a Christian, what color God is and is told, “God is the color of water.”

Interspersed with James’ story, are chapters written in his mother’s voice. A rabbi’s daughter born in Poland and raised in the South, she fled to New York to get away from her father’s cruelty and prejudice. She finds kindness and understanding with a black man, a devout Christian.

The Color of Water is a refreshing look at a family of mixed race. It’s a story of a mother who manages to see all twelve of her children graduate from college with advanced degrees. Yet it’s a chaotic family, with mixed messages, financial struggles and confusion, yet strong with love and compassion. The memoir faces racial issues relevant today, but goes beyond race to reach justifiable pride, humor and compassion. It’s a story about what a family can achieve through faith and sheer determination.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Book Review: Until Tuesday

Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him (Hyperion) by Luis Carlos Montalvan was an eye-opener for me on several accounts: PTSD, war, and service dogs. This true account of a wounded warrior and his remarkable partner, a service dog named Tuesday is an amazing story of the manifestation of war, profound loss, and love.

After reading Until Tuesday, I finally have a grasp of the all-consuming affects of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). When highly decorated Captain Luis Carlos Montalvan returns from his second tour of Iraq with serious, multiple injuries, his physical condition is treated but not what is his most crippling injury, PTSD.

PTSD is many things to different people, but its main manifestation is that of a dwelling disorder, the inability to move beyond the trauma. This condition often prevents war veterans from being able to continue their former lives. Many are unable to concentrate, to work, even to resume their lives with loved ones. Such was the case with Montalvan. He received medical treatment for his physical wounds, but his psychological wounds kept him from living a normal life.

Montalvan also shares very personal views of the Army which he loves, but which he feels isn’t giving sufficient support to the men and women who are on the ground fighting. Rather, he feels the Army is allowing civilians to run the war effort. This, he feels, is often the cause of the trauma suffered by warriors, the frustration of decisions made that belie the reasons for U.S. presence.

When The Wounded Warrior Project, a veteran service organization, sends an email with the subject, “WWP and Puppies Behind Bars,” Montalvan finally sees hope. This organization provides 30 dogs a year to place, free of charge, with veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan who are suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries or physical injuries.”

The minute he heard of this program Montalvan knew it would be his salvation. And it was. Through East Coast Assistance Dogs, the agency which receives dogs trained by inmates in prison, Montalvan was matched with Tuesday, a beautiful golden retriever.

At first, it was tough going. Tuesday suffered from abandonment when she lost her prison trainer. Together they gradually gained confidence and respect for one another.

A service dog has different responsibilities than a guide dog for the blind. A service dog gives psychological assistance, is trained to sense what his handler needs, whether it be a nudge of reassurance or leading the way through crowds, a frequently terrifying ordeal for many who suffer from PTSD. Tuesday knows 140 commands, many of which are practical commands such as bringing shoes or opening drawers. But his real value to Montalvan is as a best friend, an anchor when crowds and strangers surround him, and a kindred brother.

Until Tuesday is a powerful account of a wounded soldier and his dog. Their love and devotion are a tribute to an organization who has found a way to make people whole again.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Farewell Bend: A Place to Rest

When I read about the grinding hardships the pioneers endured, I marvel that the American West was settled at all. There are still plenty of wild, open spaces in eastern Oregon–it’s not hard to imagine their arduous journey across this arid country.

In 1843, 1,000 people left Missouri to travel to Oregon, to the “Garden of the World.” During the next two decades, 50,000 more would follow the Oregon Trail, 2,000 miles of what in 1848 emigrant Riley Root called “Landscape without soil.” In many places, the land produced barely enough to sustain the teams, and the fragile landscape eroded even more as the numbers of emigrants increased.

The little water they encountered was often tainted and caused sickness among people and animals. The weary travelers often had to make a choice whether to press on and lose oxen teams to fatigue or to give them rest and have them die of thirst.

By the time the travelers reached the Snake River, they found relief in clean water and fish, but also hardships in crossings, where drownings were not uncommon. After following the Snake River for 330 miles, the pioneers rested above a bend in the river, at a place they called “Farewell Bend” where they found respite to fortify them for the travel inland to Oregon City.

Today Farewell Bend State Recreation Area, a state park in Baker County, is still a lovely respite, a place to camp and enjoy the refreshing coolness of the Snake River. An Oregon Trail exhibit commemorates the site where pioneers rested and viewed the river for one last time before continuing westward.

Wagon ruts can still be seen north of the park. A small iron cross, visible from U.S. 30, marks the location where Snake River Shoshone Indians battled with pioneer travelers in 1860. Restored covered wagons rest at the park entrance and next to the Oregon Trail kiosk.

Farewell Bend: A place to remember, a place to reflect, a place to rest.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Book Review: Riding the Edge of an Era

Riding the Edge of an Era: Growing Up Cowboy on the Outlaw Trail (High Plaines Press) by Diana Allen Kouris is a heartwarming memoir of a girl raised on a ranch bordering Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.

The youngest of six children, Diana Kouris grew up well acquainted with hard work and hard play, with the resiliency to thrive in both. Brown’s Park Livestock Ranch is situated in an area rich with history. Brave pioneers lived on this land; so did Butch Cassidy and others of his ilk.

Riding the Edge of an Era takes readers into the daily life of a loving family dedicated to each other, their livestock and the land that sustains them. As little children, they were entrusted with responsibilities that would be tough for adults to accomplish. High expectations were a part of life for this family and a necessity to exist in this rough country.

The three youngest siblings remain close to each other and to their parents through adulthood, returning to the ranch to help trail cattle to distant pastures, or to bring them in for market.

Throughout the book, photographs give additional flavor to Kouris’ story. Some characters, such as her father, seem bigger than life, but when you see his picture, you can see why. He’s the epitome of a tough, successful rancher.

Riding the Edge of an Era: Growing Up Cowboy on the Outlaw Trail is an extraordinary story written by a woman steeped in a western ranching environment.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Book Review: Baking Cakes in Kigali

Baking Cakes in Kigali (Bantam Books) by Gaile Parkin, is a wonderfully crafted story that takes place in the east African country of Rwanda.

Angel Tungaraza, is serious about the business she conducts in her home, baking cakes. To Angel, beautiful cakes are essential ingredients for celebrations. As she delves into the reason for the celebrations, she learns about her customers’ hopes, joys and sorrows.

Angel knows about sorrow. Both her adult children, a son and a daughter, have died and Angel and her husband Pius are raising their combined five grandchildren. As she balances her family’s life, Angel becomes entwined with her customers’ lives. We learn about the horror of Rwanda’s genocide and how it affected the people of Rwanda. During the genocide, the raping of women was a common occurrence, and along with that came widespread HIV/AIDS. The result of these horrific acts left shattered families and a society trying to carry on with the little they have left. Still, they strive to live with dignity.

As a huge fan of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith, I found myself relating Angel’s ingenuity and cleverness to Precious Ramotswe. Baking Cakes in Kigali, however, has its own message, rhythm and compassion. It’s an extraordinary novel, full of laughs, tears and great satisfaction.

Author Gaile Parkin was born in Zambia and served as a VSO (Volunteer Service Overseas) in Rwanda at the new university doing a wide range of work with the recovering country. Evenings and weekends, Ms. Parkin worked with women and girls who were survivors of the genocide. Many of the incidences in Baking Cakes in Kigali were inspired by stories she was told.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Five Wishes: The Path to Peace of Mind

I recently attended an enlightening seminar at our local library called Five Wishes, presented by Aging with Dignity. Five Wishes is an easy-to-read legal document that lets adults express how they want to be treated in case they become seriously ill and are unable to speak for themselves.

Five Wishes has become America’s leading living will because it speaks to all of a person’s needs: medical, personal, emotional, and spiritual. The document also provides an excellent prompt for family discussions.

The eleven-page document covers every aspect a person needs to consider when creating a living will. It’s easy to use with places to check a box, circle a direction, write a few sentences, or cross out a section. Once signed and witnessed, it becomes a legal document in most states.

Following are the topics covered in Five Wishes:

Wish 1 – The Person I Want to Make Health Care Decisions for Me When I Can’t Make Them for Myself -- Includes suggestions on how to select the proper person to handle these decisions. The form provides a place to name the Health Care Agent and list contact information.

Wish 2 – My Wish for the Kind of Medical Treatment I Want or Don’t Want --
Discusses what life support means specifically to that individual and the various ramifications of a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order.

Wish 3 – My Wish for How Comfortable I Want to be -- Itemizes the various personal acts you want performed on your behalf.

Wish 4 – My Wish for How I Want People to Treat Me – Discusses who you want with you, such as only family only , who to notify that you’re ill, whether or not you’d like prayers said on your behalf.

Wish 5 – My Wish for What I Want My Loved Ones to Know -- Expresses personal desires of lasting memories to be left with family and friends, such as expressions of love and forgiveness. Also discusses the disposition of the deceased’s body.

Five Wishes discusses issues many people find hard to communicate, all in a matter-of-fact, thorough manner.

For more information and to order Five Wishes, visit

Monday, June 13, 2011

Book Review: Olive Kitteridge

Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge (Random House) is a masterpiece in describing human behavior. The constant in the book, Olive, storms through people’s lives, concerned, condemning, critical. Those whose lives she touches have a variety of opinions, but most see her as intelligent, fearless and daunting. But no one really knows Olive.

Olive Kitteridge takes a glimpse of thirteen different characters, all with their own unique stories. A few stories touch on a younger Olive, but mostly the characters relate to her later years. In a few quick strokes, the author lays people’s lives bare, their secrets exposed. Olive weaves a binding thread, showing how our life-forces bind us to one another.

Olive’s caustic personality, though often humorous, sometimes made me cringe. She is a person I’d love to know, but I’m not sure I’d have the nerve to maintain a friendship.

Olive Kitteridge is a compelling book, full of surprises.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Don't Invite the Bad Guys

It’s vacation time and a time when your home is most vulnerable. Our local Windermere Real Estate furnished an excellent home safety checklist:

Make plans for the porch Even if you stop mail and newspaper delivery, you still might have other people call on you and leave notes or fliers, even packages. Ask a trusted neighbor to stop by to collect whatever may be there.

Hire out the yard work If you’ll be gone for an extended period of time, hire someone to mow the lawn and water the plants.

Install multiple timers Install automatic on/off timers on multiple lights, a radio or television. Some timers even let you vary the schedule. Step out onto your porch to test the volume of your radio, making sure it can be heard (but don’t make it obviously loud).

Put a car in the driveway If you’re leaving a car behind, park it in the driveway instead of the garage. Or, if you don’t have a second car, ask a neighbor to park there while you’re gone.

Silence the phone Turn off the ringer for your phone, or have your calls forwarded.

Take care of the trash If you must leave your trash out for collection, ask a neighbor to carry the trash cans back afterward.

Alert the neighbors Even if you don’t need the help of your neighbors, be sure to let them know what days you’ll be gone and if you’re expecting anyone to drop by.

Following these precautions will ensure you a more relaxed vacation and a pleasant home-coming.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Book Review: Dear Friends

Jon Stevens’ Dear Friends: Letters from the Farm - 2009 touches the hearts of people striving to live wholesome, meaningful lives.

Stevens began writing newsletters six years ago to customers and anyone else interested in hearing about life on their productive 2-acre farm on Camano Island. Encouraged by enthusiastic response, Stevens compiled a year’s worth of newsletters and published this charming book.

More than just growing produce for their own consumption and for their produce stand, Jon and Elaine Stevens share a way of life. Dear Friends not only describes the daily routine of producing food, it describes the essence of living close to the earth.

Stevens gives voice to their chickens and ducks who play vital roles in food production with fresh eggs, eating bugs and slugs, and providing laughs. As the calendar year begins, the book shows only monthly newsletters, but as spring begins to produce, so does the frequency of the newsletters. The farmer’s life rotates from mending fences, to poring over seed catalogs, tilling the soil, planting seed and finally harvesting. When you read the accounting of all that, you realize how complicated it really is, this simple farming lifestyle.

For Stevens, life is more than growing good food, even Certified Naturally Grown food. He is enthusiastic about sharing gardening tips for food, flowers and shrubs. Dear Friends teems with information about how to make even a small farm sustainable. In addition to practical advice, humor and a deep faith shine through these pages.

Whether readers are interested in growing their own food, or interested in how others do it, or perhaps seeking a dream to follow, Dear Friends is a treasure. With humor and infectious enthusiasm, Jon Stevens imparts a love for people, for the land and for good honest work. His weekly journal is a passionate book borne of embracing life to the fullest.

For more information about Dear Friends and Stevens’ piece of paradise, The Open Gate Farm, visit and click on “Visit Our Farm Store.”

Monday, May 23, 2011

Get a Kit. Make a Plan. Be Informed

We’ve witnessed a lot of disasters lately, both at home and abroad. Some disasters can be prevented. For instance, we can use caution when using candles in our home, and can ensure that our home’s electrical wiring is in good shape. But not all house fires can be prevented, no matter how careful we are. Still, we can make a plan to make sure that every member of the family knows what to do in the event of a house fire.

Some disasters give us warning, such as floods after heavy rains. We may have time to collect important items before leaving home for safety. If you’ve prepared an emergency kit in advance, you can move quickly to gather last-minute items.

Earthquakes don’t give warnings–they just strike. During an earthquake, it may be hard to grab even an emergency kit, but afterward you may be able to re-enter your home to gather supplies if you have to leave. Having an emergency kit ready will help. Make sure everyone in the family knows how to protect themselves during an earthquake.

We usually have some warning of a tornado or hurricane, but not much. You can save lives if you have a kit, a plan and are informed about what to do, where to go.

In major disasters, you may not be directly affected at all–your home may remain intact and you can continue to live there. However, it may not be possible for you to continue business as usual because of road damage, electrical outage, store closures, etc. Emergency management authorities now suggest you have enough supplies to last five to seven days.

Recent events have made it clear that we can’t be complacent about the possibility of a disaster. The American Red Cross urges everyone to prepare:

Get a KitKeep supplies in easy-to-carry containers such as backpacks, covered buckets and plastic tubs. Consider water, food, clothing, medicines, tools, enough supplies to last five to seven days.

Make a PlanMake sure everyone in your family knows what to do in the event of a disaster. Make a family plan about where to meet if you can’t return to the home. Choose an out-of-area contact whom family members can call to “check in.”

Be InformedLearn what emergencies may occur in your area. Identify how local authorities will provide information during a disaster. Know how to reach help. Make sure at least one member of the family is trained in First Aid and CPR–it can save lives.

For more information on disaster preparedness, visit

Monday, May 16, 2011

Book Review: Baby Doe Tabor: Matchless Silver Queen

Joyce B. Lohse’s Baby Doe Tabor: Matchless Silver Queen (Filter Press) offers a refreshing visit to Colorado history from the late 1800's through Baby Doe Tabor’s death in 1935.

Baby Doe, also known as Elizabeth, Lizzie, Mrs. Harvey Doe and finally, Mrs. Horace Tabor, is one of Colorado’s most colorful legends. Without sensationalizing, glorifying, or judging, Lohse tells Baby Doe Tabor’s compelling story drawn from skillful research.

Baby Doe isn’t afraid of hard work. She pitches in to help at her husband’s silver mine, driving a team of horses to lift heavy ore buckets up mineshafts. When her marriage ends in disappointment, she is determined to leave hardship and heartbreak behind. She seeks the finer things in life: beauty, love, comfort and riches.

She realizes all her dreams, and more, though not without struggle and censure. Horace Tabor’s impressive talent for making money brings riches beyond belief. But riches can become rags with a bad turn of luck.

Lohse’s nonfiction is reality based with no made-up dialogue or embellishment. Although much has been written about Baby Doe Tabor, Lohse’s meticulous research reveals fresh material never before recorded. One resource, Baby Doe’s cookbook, proved to be a wealth of insights with scraps of paper and notations in the margins, such as this gem: “Be kindly to everybody you meet, but don’t make everybody your friend.”

Baby Doe Tabor: Matchless Silver Queen is a nonfiction historical work worthy of notice. Lohse brings this character to life, revealing the truth about an amazing but often misrepresented historical Colorado figure.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Freeing the Elwha

Take a last look. Washington’s Olympic National Park is gearing up for the largest dam removal in U.S. history–the Elwha. This past summer was celebrated as the “last dam summer in the Elwha River Valley.” Actual removal will begin in the summer of 2011, starting a two and a half to three year project. Restoration for natural habitat will take much longer, up to 25 years for the salmon runs to fully recover and many years longer for restoring the tattered ecosystem.

What prompted the damming of the Elwha? Over 100 years ago, Thomas Aldwell saw the Elwha River and its narrow gorges as an economic opportunity. Between 1910 and 1913 Aldwell’s Olympic Power and Development Company constructed the dam five miles from the river mouth. Despite a Washington State law requiring fish passage facilities, the dam was erected without them.

Thomas Aldwell boasted that the Elwha is “.... no longer a wild stream crashing down to the Strait; the Elwha was peace and power and civilization.”

The Elwha Dam and another, Glines Canyon Dam (also known as the Upper Elwha Dam, built in 1927) originally provided hydroelectric power for growth as far away as the Bremerton naval shipyard. In later years they provided about 50% of the power for one paper mill. These areas are now receiving power from other sources.

The dams were also responsible for the decline of hundreds of thousands of fish–coho, pink, chum, Chinook and sockeye salmon, as well as steelhead, char and cutthroat trout. With the fish reduced to almost zero, 137 species of wildlife, from the tiny shrews to eagles, mink, elk and bear, were drastically reduced.

In the early 1900s, extensive environmental studies showed that dam removal was the only way to restore native anadromous fish stocks and thus the river’s ecosystem. The final decision was made and a timeline established. Several large projects were completed in 2009 and 2010 in preparation for the actual dam removal.

The removal of the two dams will restore the river to its natural free-flowing state, allowing all five species of Pacific salmon and other fish to once again reach spawning and rearing habitat.. Reforestation will gradually begin, giving habitat to countless other wildlife. Nutrients that link the sea to terrestrial ecosystems will be restored.

One of the important benefits of the Elwha River’s restoration is to the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, who have lived along the river since time immemorial. Tribal members will have access to sacred sites now inundated by water, and cultural traditions can be reborn. The National Park Service and the Tribe are primary partners on this project.

The cost for dam removal and supporting projects is staggering: approximately $352 million, which includes the purchase of the two dams, the removal of the dams, construction of two water treatment plants and other facilities to protect water users, construction of flood protection facilities, a fish hatchery and a greenhouse to propagate native plants for revegetation. The return, in addition to the restoration of the natural ecosystem, will be an increase in the local economy affected by tourism, recreation and fishing.

This project creates a living laboratory where people can watch and learn what happens when salmon return, after a century, to a still wild and protected ecosystem. What an exciting project to observe and view first-hand.

For more information about this exciting project, visit