Columns

Twin grandsons make heart grow two sizes

2,142 miles. That’s the driving distance between Spokane and Columbus, Ohio. Even if you fly, that’s a heck of a long way, especially now.

But our recent pre-pandemic-planned trip was worth every mile and occasional discomfort, to celebrate our youngest son’s graduation, and to see our twin grandsons.

Sam recently earned his BA in English with a focus on Literary Studies from Eastern Washington University. He’s 20, graduated cum laude, debt-free, and is already enrolled in the Masters program at the university.

We wanted to celebrate his amazing accomplishment in a meaningful way – and for him nothing could be more meaningful than seeing his brother, Alex, and meeting his identical twin nephews.

Sam hasn’t seen Alex in five years, and Derek’s 76-year-old mom has been longing to meet her first great-grandchildren. So even when the airline changed our flights to include a five-hour layover at SeaTac on the way over and a four-hour layover on the way back, we were just relieved our flights weren’t canceled.

Apparently, air travel is picking up. SeaTac seemed busier than ever and everyone – and I do mean everyone – wore masks and endeavored to maintain social distancing. Even better, Alaska Airlines is continuing to limit seating. Every middle seat was empty on our flights to and from Columbus.

We arrived in Ohio, with just enough light to find our Airbnb house a few blocks away from our son’s place. However, it was dark by the time Derek and I finished our grocery store run, and we got hopelessly lost on our way back. Our GPS was no help. Thankfully, Alex and Brooke are night owls and were able to talk us in by phone.

And then? Four blissful, baby-filled days with The World’s Most Beautiful Boys. At just shy of seven-months, Adam and Nick had already changed so much since our last visit.

Of course, great-grandma Nita and Uncle Sam promptly fell in love with the perpetually grinning, good-natured boys.

“You know, I wasn’t sure if I wanted kids,” Sam said. “But I love those babies. I want some of my own.”

Sam and twins

Sam meets Nick and Adam

That right there was worth the price of the trip, though I did ask him to wait a few years, and maybe not move any place as far away as Ohio.

He and Alex spent hours together, making up for lost time, making new memories, making every minute together count.

They went to the Book Loft in the German Village in Columbus, one of the nation’s largest independent bookstores. It’s so big; they lost Grandma Nita in the two- story maze of book-filled nooks and crannies.

And then while the guys lunched at the Thurman Cafe, featured on the television shows “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” and “Man vs. Food,” we girls bonded over babies.

And oh, those babies! I was filming great-grandma tickling Adam’s bare feet, when he turned and saw me. Recognition, excitement and love beamed from his face as he reached for me.

I thought when I became a mother I couldn’t love anything more fiercely than my sons. And then my grandsons arrived, and my heart grew at least two sizes that day.

Sam, Adam, Nana, Nick

Spending Father’s Day watching my son dote on his sons, filled me with indescribable joy. I never doubted Alex would be a wonderful dad; after all, he had the best role model.

Speaking of Derek, true to tradition, every time a twin nodded off in his arms, Papa fell asleep, too.

“I can’t help it,” he said. “Babies make me sleepy.”

But when Adam or Nick fell asleep in my arms, I didn’t want to miss a thing.

In fact, if I could freeze one moment in time it would be this: the feel of my grandson’s head heavy on my shoulder, the rise and fall of his chest against mine.

If I could bottle one scent it would be this: the sweet smell of his head tucked beneath my chin.

If I could capture one sound to listen to repeatedly it would be this: his sleepy sighs, soft against my ear.

After 2,142 miles, and more time at SeaTac than anyone would ever want to spend, we’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Twins

Adam and Nick

Columns

Taking out, dining in: Supporting local eateries

You never know how much you miss something until it’s gone.

Derek and I have entered the blissful state of the almost-empty nest. With just one kid at home our budget has relaxed enough for us to enjoy dining out at least once a week (and that doesn’t include Friday night pizza.)

Then COVID-19 arrived and poof! No more date nights or happy hours at our favorite eateries.

As small business owners ourselves, we worried about the fate of our locally owned restaurants. So we decided to do something about it. For the past several weeks we’ve ordered takeout meals for three from locally owned restaurants – places that we regularly patronized prior to the pandemic.

We eschewed delivery services and picked the food up ourselves. We wanted the staffers (usually the owners) to be able to see our faces and to let them know they weren’t forgotten during this difficult time.

Honestly? Altruism aside, I enjoy cooking, but this grueling, six-hot-meals-a-week thing is getting exhausting. Soups or stews on Mondays, seafood on Tuesdays, crockpot meal on Wednesdays, Derek usually grills on Thursdays and Saturdays, and on Sundays I make a big supper, plus dessert for extended family. So, you can see why Friday is now my favorite day of the week.

Here’s our culinary calendar thus far. And these are only nine of the hundreds of restaurants that need your support.

McClain’s Pizzeria: Since Friday night pizza has always been a staple, we started our Friday night foodie tour with this North Side gem. The Ostendorf, featuring sausage, fresh basil and Sriracha hot chili sauce is a family favorite, and their hand-tossed, chewy, slightly charred crust is delicious.

Red Dragon (Hillyard): When we’re in the mood for Chinese food, this is our destination. Sam loves the Orange Chicken, and I’m a huge fan of the Spicy Chicken and Cabbage.

Lost Boys’ Garage: This casual burger and beer joint is a frequent stop for Derek and our boys, and I love the Cod and Chips. Bonus: You can get growlers filled. Extra bonus: Their Facebook page frequently features fun videos.

Pizza Rita: We’ve got a soft spot for this place. Owner Brian Dickmann regularly supports local causes and events. In addition, he gave our son, Zach, his first job at the Indiana Avenue store. Zach worked his way through Spokane Falls Community College slinging pizzas. Plus, it’s the home of the Five Pounder – 11 toppings on one huge pizza.

Poole’s Public House (North): This is our regular Sunday-after-church stop. It’s also where we often watch the Seahawks or World Cup soccer. Sam craves the Whiskey River burger, while Derek loves Scottie’s Favorite Hottie, loaded with grilled onions, jalapeños and peppered bacon. I tried the Lucy Mae (a chicken sandwich, named after the owner’s first grandchild) and found a new favorite, just like that.

Prohibition Gastropub: A frequent Happy Hour stop for us. The burgers feature fresh ground beef mixed with a secret blend of spices and coffee grounds. Since it’s one of our kid-free date night destinations, Sam hadn’t sampled the burgers. He was wowed by the Spicy Bootlegger, featuring grilled jalapeños, blue cheese and candied bacon. Bonus: Cocktails to go. Derek got an old-fashioned and treated me to a margarita.

Pete’s Pizza: One word: calzones. While Derek stuck with Pete’s Favorite and Sam tried the Sicilian, I ventured into new territory with the Chicken Cheddar Deluxe. Yum.

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Calzones from Pete’s Pizza

Craft and Gather: When an errand took me to Spokane Valley, it was a no-brainer that this would be our takeout meal of the week. Another date night staple for us meant once again Sam got to try a new place without ever leaving the house. He loved the Steakhouse burger and fries. Derek tried the Lamb Burger with pasta salad and pronounced it, fabulous, while I ordered the Chicken Sando – fried buttermilk chicken breast, tomato, lettuce, tarragon aioli. So good, I can’t wait to get it again.

The Onion (North): We were so glad this neighborhood family favorite finally started offering takeout service. Since we live nearby, we knew an order of the fabulous onion rings would travel well. We each got our favorite burger; America’s Best Cheeseburger for me, Jalapeño Bacon for Sam and a Gourmet Bacon Cheddar Burger for Derek.

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Gourmet Bacon Cheddar Burger from The Onion

I hoping reading this makes you hungry to support locally owned restaurants, but of course, these fabulous meals may result in a less fabulous waistline.

All I know is instead of the “freshman 15” college students often gain; we’ll most likely be emerging from Stay Home with the COVID 15.

Bon appetit!

Columns

A mugful of Monday

Bewildered, I stared through sleep-fogged eyes at the rack above the kitchen sink.

I saw Sam’s Star Wars cup, Derek’s Three Stooges mug, and a few others, but my Monday mug was missing.

One of the advantages of working from home is that there are no co-workers to steal your coffee cup or pilfer your lunch. (Well, there was that time in 2014, that Zachary ate the last piece of leftover meatloaf I’d saved for a sandwich. But I’m mostly over it, and only mention it every time I make meatloaf.) So, I was puzzled by the absence of my personalized Spokesman-Review mug.

I checked the dishwasher, but I’d emptied it the night before.

At the kitchen table, Derek shook out the newspaper and took a slurp of coffee.

“Have you seen my Monday mug?” I asked.

He glanced at the cup in his hand.

“You mean this one?”

Sure enough, he was sipping java from a pinwheel-decorated cup with my name on it.

I’d worried that anarchy might rear its ugly head during this time of pandemic, but I never expected the decline of civilization to begin in my own home.

“That’s my deadline day cup!” I sputtered. “It’s got my NAME on it! How can I be expected write newspaper copy without coffee in my Monday mug?”

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My husband frowned and pointed to a cup with a cat and a newspaper on it.

“Can’t you use that one?”

Horrified and uncaffeinated, I gasped, “That’s my SATURDAY mug!”

Before he could inquire about the other days of the week, I pointed to my “But first coffee” cup and my Wonder Woman mug.

“Those are for Tuesdays,” I explained. “I vary depending on my workload.”

Sighing, Derek poured his coffee into another cup and handed me my mug.

As someone who leaves the house every day and goes to an office, he doesn’t understand the sanity-saving sanctity of a well-established routine for those of us who work from home.

I swiped the newspaper and headed back to bed, coffee in hand. That’s when I stepped in a puddle of cat barf and went puke-skating down the hallway.

Apparently, Thor had upchucked his breakfast while I was explaining mug protocol to Derek. I was able to stop my slide by hitting the wall with a resounding thud. I didn’t fall, and more important, I didn’t spill my coffee.

“Nice save,” Derek said.

He got to scrub the floor while I cleaned bits of cat vomit from between my toes. Suddenly, he seemed anxious to get to work.

“Don’t forget our new mattress will be delivered today,” he said on his way out.

And I didn’t forget, exactly. I just got engrossed in my work. So, when the doorbell rang I was still in my bathrobe.

No worries. A pandemic plus is having a kid at home all day.

Sam obligingly answered the door and began to wrestle the mattress-in-a-box inside. It quickly became apparent that this was a two-person job, and I was the only other person present. I wasn’t strong enough to pull the box up the stairs, so I got pushup duties. Which is how I ended up on my front porch in my pink plush bathrobe at 1 in the afternoon.

Apparently, most of our neighbors are “staying home, staying healthy,” because there was quite an audience to observe our progress.

The box was heavy, but on the small side for something containing a queen-size mattress.

“I think it explodes or something when you open it,” I explained to Sam. “Let’s not touch it till Dad gets home.”

My last phone call of the day involved hashing out a complicated medical story. Thankful to be able to discuss it with a colleague, I said, “It really helps to have two brains.”

She quickly ended the call.

When Derek got home, Sam helped him unpack the new mattress. It didn’t explode; it just kind of sighed and got fluffy. When I described the scenario on Facebook, a friend said, “Just kind of sighed and got fluffy – the story of my quarantine.”

Pretty apt description for many of us.

Late that night, Derek and I stretched out on our new mattress. I was almost asleep when he nudged me.

“Tomorrow’s Tuesday,” he whispered. “Can I use your Monday mug?”

 

Columns

It’s not what I miss; it’s who

March 29.

For those keeping track at home, that’s the last time I wore mascara. I’m putting that extra five minutes a day to good use, though. For instance, I posted that fascinating tidbit across my social media platforms.

Seriously, for all the frustration and inconvenience of the stay-home order, there are bright spots. Not only am I saving money on cosmetics, but my gas use has plummeted. Doing all my interviews by phone from home means the only time Ruby Sue and I leave the driveway is for groceries.

And new routines are replacing the old. Knowing my family’s screen time has increased exponentially, I dug out a deck of cards, and introduced our youngest son to Gin Rummy and Kings Corner.

Sam wasn’t so sure about this old-fashioned nondigital form of entertainment, and I was horrified to discover he didn’t know how to shuffle.

I’m proud to say that after several weeks of nightly card games, our son can shuffle the deck almost expertly, and has actually won a few hands. If the stay-home order isn’t lifted soon, we’ll have to teach him poker, and I fear for our stimulus money.

Some friends are using their mandatory confinement to explore new hobbies or tackle remodeling projects. I’m a wee bit jealous, because I’ve always worked from home, and I’m busier than ever. But I’m extremely thankful to be able to continue the work I enjoy. And honestly, I’d probably spend my bonus time napping.

Speaking of naps, Sunday is now a lot more relaxing. While I miss corporate worship, I have to be honest – livestreaming the service in my bathrobe, ensconced in my recliner, is heavenly. I did make more of an effort in honor of Easter. I wore yoga pants and sparkly slippers.

Still, I miss lots of things – happy hour with girlfriends, picking up books at the library, getting a haircut, and Saturdays with my mom.

Feb. 29

That’s the last time I visited Mom in person. She lives in an assisted-living facility that was extremely proactive in quarantining its residents. I’m so thankful for their foresight and diligence. They quickly went from screening visitors to no visitors to residents staying in their rooms at all times. And so far, no residents or staff has been infected by the virus.

But this is the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing my mom. We’ve always lived in the same town, always within 3 miles of each other. Even before she moved into assisted-living, I’d stop in and see her every Saturday.

She’s been in great spirits for the most part. Even though she has Alzheimer’s disease, she usually remembers why I haven’t been to see her.

“Don’t worry honey, they won’t let your brother in here anymore, either,” she said.

Having all her meals in her room isn’t much fun, but she seems to understand the reason for the quarantine.

She teases the staff.

“I tell them I’m going to be extra good, so they’ll let me out of my room again.”

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Mom turned 89 on March 21. We dropped off gifts at the designated area, and the staff delivered them to her room. Then I called her from the parking lot, and she came to the window so we could see each other.

“You look so cute with your hair in a ponytail!” she said.

I explained I couldn’t get a haircut, and she laughed.

“Me either, I think I’m just going to leave a curler in my bangs so I can see.”

But recently she seemed a bit down.

“I miss you,” she said. “This is getting hard.”

Then she told me a story about how she and Dad never went to church alone. They were always stopping to pick someone up and give them a ride. One woman’s name was Aleece.

“She told us her daddy named her that because they had a lot of boys and he said, ‘At least this one’s a girl!’ ”

Sure, I miss the freedom to dine in a restaurant, shop in a bookstore, or get a haircut, but I miss Saturdays with mom a whole lot more.

Mom and Me

Columns

My Corona Diary

Unlike many writers, I don’t journal. I write for a living, so by the end of the day I’m all out of words.

However, we’re living in extraordinary times, and frankly since the governor issued the stay-home order, I seem to have a bit more time, and a bit more difficulty keeping track of it. Jotting journal notes seems like a good way to commemorate this unprecedented era, or at least help me track the days of the week.

Here are a few excerpts from my quarantine diary.

Stay Home Day One: Tightening the belt on my bathrobe, I slip my feet into my bunny slippers, grab a cup of coffee, and make the morning commute to my downstairs office. In other words, it’s just like every deadline morning I’ve had for the past 15 years.

Day Three: As the designated shopper, I venture out to forage for food. I’m an introvert, so I adore the 6-foot distance guidelines and the taped X’s that mark where to wait with your cart. One store has the cashiers back away from the register while you swipe your debit card. Push cart up. Back away. Unload cart. Back away. Swipe card, cashier backs away. It’s like the shopping Hokey Pokey. I wanted to “shake it all about,” but I settled for “turning myself around.”

Day Five: Having an ample flour/sugar supply on hand I begin baking in earnest. Chocolate chip cookies, Texas sheet cake, banana bread. Though my men folk consume the bulk of it, I start to worry about my own bulk. I’m thankful for the lovely weather and my well-established walking routine.

Day Seven: I’ve worn nothing but yoga pants for a week, so I take a pair of jeans out of my closet just to make sure I can still button them. Success!

Day Nine-ish: I apologize to Derek for being annoyed with him earlier this year when he bought two Heritage pigs and half a cow from a local farmer. We’ve got plenty of pork chops, sausage and steak in the freezer, but it’s time to trek to Costco to buy the essentials: jelly beans, peanut butter whiskey and salted caramel chocolates.

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Day Eleventy-five: What fresh hell is this? My hair salon isn’t considered an essential business? I peer into the mirror at my overgrown bangs. Then I phone a friend. “Talk me down! I’ve got scissors and Cousin Itt bangs!”

She reminds me of the Great Hair Hack of 2013, and asks if she needs to call Derek or one of the kids to hide the scissors from me.

Day 666: Mother Nature has turned her back on us – snow, hail, rain and an earthquake.

“Did you feel that? My desk was shaking!” I said to my son, Sam.

“I didn’t feel anything. You’re probably having a stroke,” he replied.

Day Something: Desperate times call for desperate measures. Horrible walking weather and a shutdown gym means I have to exercise at home. I dig out my Jill Ireland and Richard Simmons workout videos. The next day I’m incredibly sore.

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“I can’t even sweat to the oldies,” I tell Derek. “No way can I do ‘Buns of Steel.’”

“That’s OK, honey,” he says. “I prefer buns of cushiness anyway.”

We are still married.

The day after whatever day that was: In the darkened bedroom I decide to try on my jeans again. I reach into the closet and grab a pair. They slide on effortlessly. In fact, I’m swimming in them. I’ve done the impossible! I’ve actually lost weight in the midst of quarantine!

I flip the light switch.

I’m wearing Derek’s jeans.

Days later: Panic sets in. Who cares about toilet paper – I’m down to three library books! Then I remember my nightstand is chock-full of books I either haven’t read or want to read again. Also, we have three overflowing bookcases. Crisis averted. Panic wasted.

Another day: Everyone on social media is posting about wearing their jammie pants all day. I’ve never owned pajamas. Choosing between gray yoga pants or gray sweatpants is getting old. I open a tab on my browser, but quickly close it when Derek walks in. He may like cushy buns, but I don’t want him to catch me googling flannel.

Apocalypse Day: Pulling my hair back into a now necessary ponytail, I decide to use a hair clip to get my bangs out of my eyes. That’s when I notice my untended eyebrows edging toward catastrophic caterpillarlike configuration. Salon shutdowns mean no access to my aesthetician with her handy hot wax.

From the far reaches of the bathroom cabinet, I pull out an old hot wax kit. My hair keeps slipping into my eyes and I realize hot wax and overgrown bangs are a bad combination. My fate is sealed. Taking a deep breath, I pick up the scissors.

Some may bemoan the extension of the stay-home order. Not me. I’m hoping by May 4, my hacked-off bangs will be long enough to hide what I did to my eyebrows.

Columns

Grateful for Trip Before Pandemic Havoc

Earlier this month when we left for Ohio to visit our twin grandsons, there were just two cases of COVID-19 in Spokane – the remaining cruise ship passengers that had been sent to Sacred Heart Medical Center to recuperate. There were no reported cases in Ohio.

By the time we returned home, Ohio’s governor had closed schools, libraries and restaurants, as had Washington’s governor, and coronavirus cases in both states had skyrocketed.

A lot can change in a week.

But the change that happened to me over the course of the week had nothing to do with viruses and everything to do with love.

How to describe the feeling of holding your son’s son in your arms for the first time? The joy of discovering your child’s blue eyes peering at you from a new face or, in our case, faces.

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Adam and Nicholas are identical twins and, in my completely unbiased opinion, worthy of #TheWorldsMostBeautifulBoys hashtag I created for them.

Born 7 1/2 weeks early on Nov. 23, they had a lengthy stay in the neonatal intensive care unit before coming home in January. Thankfully, they are healthy, and did I mention beautiful?

Derek and I rented a small Airbnb house near our son’s home, so we could watch the twins and their big sister, Farrah, 6, as often as Alex and Brooke were willing to part with them.

To our delight, we got to have them every day. We timed our arrival with Brooke’s birthday, and Alex surprised her by taking time off from work so he could ferry the boys back and forth for her.

We wanted her to be able to rest and enjoy some much needed self-care time. I remember well the exhausting days and endless nights of caring for infants who seemed to rarely sleep – and I only had one baby at a time.

After our first stint of babysitting, Derek and I sprawled on the sofa, exhausted.

“How does she do it?” he asked. “How does she do this every day? I mean, she’s by herself when Alex is at work. Look how worn out we are and there’s TWO of us!”

Two of us, whose only agenda was cuddling, feeding, burping and changing our adorable grandsons. Our only other objective was to be able to tell them apart by the time we left. More on that later.

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When the boys napped I cooked meals for the family – another reason I’m so glad we chose an Airbnb over a hotel. But I didn’t have to clean, or tackle laundry, or do any of the myriad things Brooke has to do on a daily basis. We are simply in awe of her.

On our first full day in Ohio, we bundled up the boys and took them on their first walkabout in their double stroller.

It was a new adventure for them, and Adam was not a fan. Nick, however, took in the sights, sounds and smells with equanimity and wonder.

We slowly began to get a sense of their personalities. Alex and Brooke weren’t kidding when they told us their boys are very opinionated and not shy about making their preferences known. We thought it was mighty kind of Adam and Nick to let Nana and Papa know how they like to be held and fed, but the first time they both cried at the same time, we looked at each other, stricken.

Nick hollers, but Adam’s cry is more dramatic and heartbreaking. It quickly became clear my job was to calm any tears, and Derek’s job was to fall asleep with a baby in his arms.

Not much has changed in the 20 years since we had our last baby.

Initially, Brooke dressed them differently, so we knew who was who, but when Alex dropped them off wearing identical outfits, I panicked.

“Which one is which?” I asked.

“Hmm, I’m not sure,” he said.

Then he showed me his dad trick. He swiped his thumb across their foreheads.

“This is Nick,” he said. “He has drier skin.”

That was helpful, but Nana’s no dummy. I quickly popped their labeled pacifiers in their car seats.

The boys have their dad’s beautiful lips and when they smile, it’s like cuddling Alex all over again. They love to “talk,” and enjoy lying next to each other and kicking their legs like crazy.

Of course, I took oodles of photos and videos. Leaving them to come home was incredibly difficult because I know how much they’ll change before we see them again.

And we will see them again.

Coronavirus restrictions and protocols won’t last forever. We’ve already scheduled our next visit for the end of June. Grandparents are optimistic to a fault.

I understand our world has been forever altered by this pandemic, but not all change is bad. For instance, I’ve discovered my heart really can be in two places at once.

Me and my boys

All Write

Children’s Author Donates First Book Proceeds to Feed Out-of-School Kids

What do you do when your debut children’s novel is released during a pandemic?
If you’re my nephew, Jake Burnett, you  find a way to use the launch to help hungry kids.

Jake and his publisher are donating 100% of of the novel’s proceeds through April 30th to the Food Bank of Eastern & Central North Carolina (https://foodbankcenc.org/).

I’m incredibly proud of my nephew. Read more about the book in the press release below and please consider purchasing The Chaos Court. You’ll be helping launch a fabulous book and feeding hungry kids. What could be better?

RALEIGH, NC—Like most of us, Jake Burnett didn’t expect to have his world turned upside down by a pandemic. His first children’s novel, The Chaos Court, was scheduled for release this month from start-up publisher South Window Press.

“I was running in a dozen different directions,” Burnett says, “figuring out how to do a launch party, a book tour, school visits.”

Then COVID-19 hit.

Schools are closed. Book signings are off. Social distancing is the hot new thing.

“My first reaction was to put it all on hold,” Burnett continues. “But, weird as it sounds, I knew my heroine Patience Fell wouldn’t stand for that kind of thing. She’d want to do something to help people.”

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Patience is a lowly 12-year-old servant girl who uncovers an ancient conspiracy of fairies to tear down her town. No one else stands up to them, so she decides to fight by herself—armed only with a kitchen broom.

“It’s a story about being brave in the face of the unknown. About doing what you can, where you are, with what you’ve got,” Burnett explains.

School closures threaten school lunch programs and the students who depend on those lunches. So that’s why Burnett decided to act. He and South Window Press are donating 100% of the novel’s proceeds through April 30th to the Food Bank of Eastern & Central North Carolina (https://foodbankcenc.org/).

“Books are food for the mind,” Burnett says, “but first you have to feed the body. No kid—no person—should have to go hungry. I’m proud to be able to support the great work the Food Bank does.”

The Chaos Court is available from Amazon March 20 (https://www.amazon.com/Chaos-Court-Whosebourne-Chronicles/dp/1734664207/). Stay tuned at http://www.southwindowpress.com/ for bookstore availability as the current situation develops.

Jake Burnett is also available for remote school visits (contact information at: http://jakeburnett.com/contact/).