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.