Columns

To all the books I’ve loved before…

In my previous column, I wondered if a love of literacy was hardwired in our family DNA. All four of my sons are book lovers like me. I invited readers to share their bookish memories, and it seems that many of you also caught the reading bug young and have no desire to be cured.

Christy Himmelright of the Tri-Cities wrote “I have all the Little Golden Books that my parents bought and read to me. My very favorite was ‘All Aboard!’ about a train trip from home to see Grandma. The protagonist was a girl, and that was almost impossible to find in any adventure story. Also, it appeared that she was an only child (as I am), so identifying with her happened on a very personal level.”

Like me, Himmelright eagerly anticipated trips to the library.

“The best time was summer vacation when I could go to our little town library and check out the maximum number of books that I could read in two weeks. It seems that I was trudging back there often before the two weeks were up and loading up again with the next selection. I also participated in the summer reading contests, and clearly remember the ‘trail’ that wound through the Reading Forest. It started at the checkout desk and meandered along the top of the walls that showed above the box shelves. To go each time I went into the library and find my marker as it moved along the trail was a thrill that I still feel in my long-ago child’s heart.”

Her lifelong love of the written word endures.

“To this day, I have at least two or three books at my living room chair-side, and one on my nightstand for bedtime relaxation,” she wrote. “I cannot imagine life without books, especially the real ones of paper and binding and covers.”

Patricia Garvin of Spokane recalled the magical moment when words came alive for her.

“In 1948, I was in the first grade. We students had a workbook in which there was a story; we were to remove the pages, which folded on dotted lines, into a small booklet. I vividly recall sitting next to my mother and reading the story to her. I still see the line drawings and remember reading to her, ‘…and down the hill came Wee Woman.’ She was as delighted as I!”

Beverly Gibb of Spokane still has a copy of the first book she remembers her mother reading to her.

“My first reading experience was Mom reading me ‘Winnie the Pooh.’ We both loved Piglet the best,” she wrote. “My favorite books were ‘Anne of Green Gables.’ I’m guessing your boys didn’t read those!”

She guessed correctly. My sons didn’t embrace Anne, but on Christmas morning a couple of years ago, my oldest gave me the complete “Anne of Green Gables” collection. He knows how to delight his mama.

Sometimes literature love leads to book-custody issues. That’s what happened to Bernadette Powers of Helena.

She recalled parents joining the Weekly Readers Book Club, which delivered books directly to their door.

“I was in hog heaven getting books in the mail. I still have most of them including my all-time favorite, ‘Half Magic’ by Edward Eager,” she wrote. “The story is delightful and the illustrations are amazing. It also became a favorite of my son, Gannon. He appropriated it when he went off to college. When I went to visit him I appropriated it back. We’ve been stealing it back and forth ever since. He moved from Seattle to California a few years ago. There’s a small part of me that suspects he made the move so it would be harder for me to steal my book.”

Joan Becker, who grew up in Spokane, wrote of her eagerness to start first grade, so she could learn to read. Her best friend was a year older and would read comics to her as long as they were getting along, but if they disagreed? No more comics for Joan.

When she could decipher words by herself, the material the school provided proved disappointing.

“Dick and Jane stories comprised the love and hate relationship of others selecting my reading agenda,” she wrote. “After Dick and Jane made their debut, their interactions were way too repetitive to be captivating. I couldn’t wait to purchase my own comic books and go to the library.”

All who responded still retain their passion for the written word.

“As my 90th birthday approaches, I remember as a 9- or 10- year- old growing up in Capitol Hill in Seattle, going on the bus by myself downtown to the library. In those days there were no branch libraries, and it also seemed OK for a little girl to go alone on the bus,” wrote Muriel Rubens. “My parents read to me as I was growing up, as did my two older brothers and sister. I learned to read at an early age, and I loved it and haven’t stopped since,”

As I write, my suitcase sits open beside me. I’m packing for a trip to Ohio to see my twin grandsons, aka “The World’s Most Beautiful Boys.”

My husband glanced at the mound of stuff I intend to pack. Board books for the boys and a paperback for their big sister lay scattered among clothes. My own stack of reading material teetered nearby.

“You’re never going to fit all that in your suitcase,” he said.

He may be right.

However, one thing is certain, even if I have to wear the same outfit every day for a week; the books are coming with me.

Columns

Raising Readers

Hval boys

The photo tells the story.

“Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss opens across Alex’s lap. He beams because he’s the designated reader. Ethan clutches 6-week-old Sam. Ethan smiles because he’s the chosen baby-holder. With neither baby nor book to hold, Zach sits glumly chin in hand, pondering his new role as middle child.

As far as I can tell, it’s the earliest picture with all four of our sons together – and of course, someone is holding a book.

Lest you worry about Zach, another snapshot shows he’s finally achieved story-reader status. A toddler Sam leans against him as Zach reads, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

Sam and Zach

Bookish moms tend to have bookish kids, which led to unforeseen consequences. More on that later.

Perhaps a love of reading is genetic, imprinted in our DNA. All I know is my parents were readers and my siblings are readers. As soon as we could print our names we all got library cards.

I still remember the thrilling moment when I realized I could read. I huddled in the children’s area of the South Hill Library with a picture book in my lap. Suddenly, the letters became words. I was reading! I was reading “Fun with Dick and Jane!” I haven’t been without a book nearby since.

Few things are as magical as picking up a good book and finding yourself transported to another world, another time, another life.

From the moment I knew I was expecting, I read to my unborn children. I wasn’t hoping for a baby Einstein, I just wanted them to learn the rhythm and flow of language.

Cloth books and board books filled our nursery – as indispensable as the stacks of diapers and wipes on the changing table.

Bedtime rituals always included stories, songs and prayers – each offering a different experience of the wonder of words.

As the boys grew, storytime at the Shadle and later Indian Trail libraries became a weekly outing we all eagerly anticipated. Soon my sons could sound out words, choose books by themselves, and discover favorite authors and series independently.

Even as the three oldest approached adolescence and outgrew the bedtime ritual, I’d frequently read aloud to them after dinner. When Sam discovered Patricia Polacco books and brought home “Pink and Say” from the school library, I read it to the family. The book is based on a true story of two teenage boys, one Black and one white, who fought during the Civil War. Every single one of us cried at the ending – even the teenagers.

That’s the power of reading aloud – it offers a shared experience that television and movies cannot replicate.

Often the boys would read to me, especially Ethan and Sam. In fact, Sam 21, and I recently read “A Monster Calls” aloud together as he prepared a lesson plan on the book for a college class. He loves literature so much; he’s halfway through earning a master’s degree in English at EWU.

All of our adult sons are readers, which resulted in the aforementioned consequences – they tell me about books they’ve enjoyed and loan them to me. Now, a stack of their recommendations teeters next to my pile of library books.

When I mentioned I wanted to read “Talking to Strangers” by Malcolm Gladwell, Ethan said, “I have it. You can borrow it.”

Zach read a book about modern media he thought I’d enjoy and brought it over. Derek started reading it before I got to it.

Sam buys books like the printed page might grow obsolete. My son-stack grew when he added another book by Patrick Ness, the author of “A Monster Calls,” and a book of short stories by Ted Chiang.

With twin toddler sons, Alex doesn’t have much time to read, but he loved Stephen King’s “11/22/63,” so I’m currently 100 pages into the 849-page volume.

I couldn’t have imagined all those Dr. Seuss books ago, that my grown-up sons would aid and abet my reading addiction, but at this rate my to-read stack won’t shrink any time soon. And that’s a consequence I’m happily enjoying.

Columns

Silver linings in cloudy COVID-19 world

My doorknobs and light switches have never been cleaner.

The banister absolutely gleams.

Four months into the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m working hard at counting my blessings, and having much-touched areas of our home that rarely got a wipe-down, sparkling is one of them.

With no end in sight to restrictions and shutdowns, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by daily helpings of bad news.

I still haven’t been able to visit my mother. If I’d known when I saw her in February how many months would pass before I could see her again, I would have moved her spring and summer clothes to the front of her closet, so she could easily find them.

“Getting dressed every day is hard when I can’t go anywhere,” she said. “But I’m not staying in my bathrobe.”

And I’d looked forward to a quick break out of town when Derek had to go to the Tri-Cities on business. Last summer, I lounged by the pool when he worked, and we visited wineries and enjoyed a river cruise when he was done.

When I called the hotel to make the reservation, I was told the hotel pool and all its restaurants were closed.

I stayed home while Derek traveled to COVID Central and back.

Such small complaints when compared to those who’ve been sick, or lost jobs, or loved ones because of the virus.

So, I’m committed to counting my blessings, even though a recent grocery store visit vexed me.

How the heck do you open those darn plastic produce bags without licking your finger first? I spent most of my shopping trip trying to open them. I even rubbed them between my hands, but all I got was wrinkly bags.

When I posted my lament on social media, a friend suggested swiping my finger across damp lettuce or celery.

I tried it on my next shopping trip. Success! It worked like a charm, but I’m sure the produce clerks wondered why I was fondling the lettuces without buying any. Also, this is why you should always, always, wash your produce at home.

On the same outing my irreverent sense of humor caused me some embarrassment when a woman across the aisle from me sneezed. At home, I’ve taken to saying “Corona” instead of “Bless you,” when someone sneezes. Luckily, my mask muffled my response, and hopefully her mask muffled her sneeze.

Also, I learned the hard way that folks can get somewhat panicky when you say you’re not going somewhere because you feel a bit “corona-y.”

One of the biggest complaints about COVID-19 restrictions is folks feeling stuck or trapped at home. This is where introverts like me have it made. I love being at home – especially when I have it all to myself. Our son has been back at work for the past month, and Derek’s business is essential, so now at least a couple of days a week I have stretches of solitude.

When I’m done with work, I take my daily walk, and then relax in our backyard gazebo. Then I harvest zucchini, radishes, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries from our garden. Soon there’ll be tomatoes, green beans, beets and carrots.

Our garden goodies fill our plates every Sunday when our three sons join us for supper – and since corona we’ve revived our family game night tradition.

Another coronavirus blessing is library curbside pick up.

I’ve always selected my books online and then picked them up at the library, but now I don’t even have to leave my car! It’s like a literary drive-thru.

While I am doing more in-person interviews for work, I still do a lot more phone interviews than before. The time saved on driving is a boon.

In fact, I actually picked up a new hobby – the daily crossword. My mom always did the newspaper puzzles and had books of crosswords, but I never felt like I had the time.

Now, I take the puzzle page with me out to the gazebo every afternoon. No New York Times in ink for me – just the Daily Commuter. It’s easy enough to finish quickly, which makes me feel accomplished and smart.

The daily puzzle reawakened my love for pencils. I hadn’t used a pencil since I was in college, and it’s such a delight to rediscover the joy of good old No. 2’s. Even better, the Chic and Shab shop on North Monroe has a whole line of pencils with edgy sayings etched on them.

The beautiful thing about pencils is that anything can be erased – mistakes, misspelled words, incorrect answers.

It’s really too bad 2020 wasn’t written in pencil.

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War Bonds

Happy 2nd birthday War Bonds!

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Two years ago today, I was humbled and amazed by the turnout for the launch of my first book.

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In the five years it took to write and publish War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation, I lost so many of the couples featured. It broke my heart that some weren’t there to see their stories in print.

In the two years since publication, I’ve lost several more. Each death leaves an ache in my heart.

Yet at the front row of the book launch party many of my War Bonds couples were present as well as widows and widowers. They were in awe of the size of the crowd and watched with joy as every single copy of War Bonds sold out at Auntie’s Bookstore.

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I’ve learned a lot about publishing, publicity, book tours and public speaking over the last two years– knowledge I know will serve me well when my next book  comes out.

Today I’m still somewhat disbelieving that War Bonds is on bookshelves, in libraries and for sale in bookstores all over the world.

I’m so thankful for those who stood with me during the long journey from idea to pub party.

Thankful for readers who bought the book, read the book, reviewed the book and recommended it to others.

Thankful for bookstore owners, civic groups and organizations who invited me to share the message that true love can survive anything– even a world war.

But more than anything I’m thankful for my War Bonds family. They opened their hearts, homes and lives to me and allowed me to poke around. Then they trusted me to share their stories with the world.

What a journey.

What a blessing.

What a privilege.

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War Bonds

Library Friends are the Best!

I don’t know any authors who are not passionate about public libraries– and I know a lot of authors!

I’ve had a library card since I was six years old. No, I’m not going to tell you how long ago that was.

When the opportunity came to serve on the newly formed Friends of the Spokane County Library District board, I jumped at the chance. For two years I’ve worked alongside some wonderful community volunteers, library lovers and fabulous library admin staff.

We drafted a mission statement: Inspiring passionate lifelong learners to invest in their community libraries, hosted two After Hours at the Library events and raised lots of $$ to supplement library programming. Here’s a few of last year’s highlights.

  • Sponsored NaNoWriMo Readiness Conference
  • Provided funds for Mica Peak High School Great Stories Book Club
  • Provided funds for small business owners/employer workshop series
  • Provided funds for Thinking Money Exhibit and related programming
  • Provided funds for Spokane Is Reading

But after two years on the board it’s time for me to move on to a new volunteer project I’m equally passionate about (more on that in another blog).

Perhaps it’s time for one of you to step up and serve? Check out the website. Become a friend. And contact Spokane County Library District at 509.893.8233 to see if serving on the board would be a fit for you.

I may be off the board for now, but I remain passionately committed to supporting our public libraries and the programming they provide.

Here are some photos of our most recent After Hours event. Long live our libraries!

 

War Bonds

Sharing space with C.S. Lewis

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A friend posted this picture on Facebook the other day. His home had been badly damaged in a fire and the remodel is almost complete.

He just got his new bookshelves in his library and is happily placing his collection on the shelves.

So. There’s War Bonds nestled between The Screwtape Letters and The Inspirational Writings of C. S. Lewis.

As far as bookshelf real estate goes, nothing could make me happier.

A spot on the New York Times Bestseller List might be nice. A Pulitzer Prize? Well, that would be swell. But for now, sharing space with one of my all-time favorite authors feels mighty fine!

How do you arrange your bookshelves? By author? Subject? Color? Favorites? Genre?

War Bonds

Favorite Moments

I just finished a series of author events for the Spokane County Library District.

“Bonds of Love and Remembrance” paired stories from War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation with music of the era from Hot Club of Spokane.

We had such a great time at each of the four libraries we visited.

At every event a reader will tell me about their parents or grandparents, or about a family member who served in WWll. The stories are heartwarming and it’s a wonderful thing to trigger happy memories.

My two favorite moments from these events also came from attendees.

A lady at Moran Prairie came up to have her book signed and ask how Milo and Thor are doing. Those aren’t my kids– those are my cats! She said she enjoys reading about their adventures in my column in the Spokesman Review.

And a toddler tapped my knee at Spokane Valley Library, and said, “Thank you for WEEDING (reading)!”

Is it any wonder why I love libraries so much?

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War Bonds

Two down, two to go

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Hot Club of Spokane

We’ve had two great “Bonds of Love and Remembrance” events this week, one in Cheney, WA., sponsored by the Friends of the Cheney Library and one in Deer Park, WA., sponsored by the Friends of the Deer Park Library.

These events combine the music of the Greatest Generation with stories from War Bonds.

Hot Club of Spokane sets the tone with sweet songs like “The Nearness of You” and “Stars Fell on Alabama,” then I share a few excerpts from War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.

Spokane County Library District specifically wanted these events during the first week of December to commemorate Pearl Harbor Day and honor the men and women who have sacrificed so much for our county.

You still have to time to catch us. We’ll be at Moran Prairie Library Tuesday, December 8 and at Spokane Valley Library Wednesday, December 9. Both events are at 7 PM and admittance is free.

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War Bonds

Recapping Night at the Library

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Auntie’s Bookstore was on hand with copies of the author’s books.

What a great event! Night at the Library featured readings by six authors. PEN/​Robert W. Bingham Award winner Shawn Vestal read from his soon-to-be-published novel Daredevils. Sharma Shields read from The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac.  Bruce Holbert read from his as yet unpublished 3rd novel. I shared from War Bonds and poets Maya Jewell Zeller and Laura Read, shared some of their work.

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Best of all, new friends were added to the Friends of the Spokane County Library, so we can schedule more fantastic programs like this!

Thanks so much to all who attended and for all who support their local libraries!

War Bonds

Lifelong Love of Libraries

When I was a child my dad was in the Air Force, so we moved a lot. Finding the library in each new town made the transitions easier– walking through the doors felt like coming home, no matter where those doors were.

That’s why it’s such a thrill to find copies of War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation on library shelves.

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And tomorrow I’ll be one of six featured authors at a special event called Night at the Library.

Night at the Library invite

Emceed by KXLY’s Kris Crocker, the event will showcase The Friends of the Library and provide information on how you too, can be a member! It’s free! Snacks are provided, a no-host wine bar will be available and Auntie’s Bookstore will be on hand so you can purchase signed copies of your favorite authors latest books!

I love libraries and I hope you do too!