Sunday, July 20, 2014

Historic Glenn County


Orland High School agriculture instructor Anna Canon says “a visit to the lone grave of Glenn County pioneer Robert Hambright” opened the door to a deeper exploration of the county’s history. Through the courtesy of Glenn County families who provided photographs and perspective, and through historical records research, Canon found a way to give back to the community with the publication of “Images Of America: Glenn County” ($21.99 in paperback from Arcadia Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle).

Featuring hundreds of black and white photographs with detailed captions, the book is divided into five sections, covering the Sacramento River (“which defines much of the eastern border of Glenn County”), the foothills, the valley, irrigation, and the Glenn County Fair.

The county, not without contention, was carved out of the northern section of Colusa County on March 11, 1891. “The name of the county was proposed and financially supported by the family of Dr. Hugh James Glenn, a prosperous wheat farmer who came with his family to the Jacinto area in 1868.”

Along the way we learn that “Butte City has been known as Laramie, Gouge Eye, and Pin Hook”; “Hamilton Union High School was organized on July 20, 1917”; and “under the direction of Ernest G. Hamilton, the 600-ton capacity sugar plant was completed in 1906,” closing and opening again for 90 years.

Baseball was a hit. “Beginning in the late 1800s, Orland played baseball up and down the Sacramento Valley. In 1912, the team was known as the Bearcats. In 1941, they were the Tigers.” The book also features a picture of a Butte City pig with 6 legs, flooding by Stony Creek, and celebrity judges for the first Miss Glenn County pageant in 1954: Max Factor Jr. (the cosmetics impresario), actress Donna Reed, and actor Charlton Heston.

Times have changed a bit. A 1915 ad in Sunset magazine, from the Orland Real Estate Association, promoted “Cheap Lands & Cheap Water.”

Saturday, July 19, 2014

True stories of the Sierra Nevada


Gary Noy was born in Grass Valley in 1951 and, in later years, taught history at Sierra Community College in Rocklin for decades. He is the founder of the Sierra College Center for Sierra Nevada Studies and published, with Rick Heide, “The Illuminated Landscape: A Sierra Nevada Anthology.”

Now he’s taking up his own pen to bring to light some of the lesser-known events and personalities of the area. “Sierra Stories: Tales Of Dreamers, Schemers, Bigots, and Rogues” ($17 in paperback from Heyday/Sierra College Press; also for Amazon Kindle) also includes more than 60 historic photographs.

The book begins in the author’s home town. “There is a curious little street, basically an overgrown alley, dark, shadowy, and exotic, that leads up the hill toward the Empire Mine grounds in Grass Valley. It is called Kate Hayes Street.” It turns out Catherine “Kate” Hayes was born in Limerick, Ireland in 1818 and in 1849 sang for Queen Victoria in Buckingham Palace.

A few years later she toured the U.S., traveling to California’s gold fields in 1851. “With his unerring sense of how to make a buck, the great showman P.T. Barnum sponsored her tour. She was billed as ‘The Swan of Erin,’” competing in fame with Jenny Lind, “the Swedish Nightingale.”

John Bidwell makes a brief appearance or two, but the book focuses more on out-of-the-way stories, like the “1911 Tahoe Tavern Automobile Race” or the story of Scotsman George Anderson, who wanted to climb the slick surface of Half Dome.

He tried to scale the final grade in his bare feet when boots were too slippery, and eventually packed sacking around his feet, covering it with pitch from nearby trees, and then “the pine-pitch-plastered Anderson began drilling holes in the granite and inserting iron eyebolts through which he looped a climbing rope.” He made it to the top in 1875.

Lyon Books in Chico will be hosting a signing and slide show with Gary Noy this Thursday, July 17 at 7:00 p.m.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Bird names explained by Chico experts


The story is told of a writer, also an avid bird-watcher, who used a book called “Birds of the West Indies” to guide him at his Jamaica estate. He was writing a spy novel, needed a name for his protagonist, so he used the name of the bird book author, James Bond. Ian Fleming only met the real Bond toward the end of Fleming’s life, but the two shared ornithological joy.

A writer some years ago identified “true birders”—bird-watchers with a scientific bent—“in which the naming of things is an overriding hunger.” The husband-and-wife team of Roger Lederer and Carol Burr (who produced “The Birds of Bidwell Park,” where Burr provided the illustrations) have given birders a stunning compendium. “Latin For Bird Lovers” ($24.95 in hardcover from Timber Press) contains “over 3000 bird names explored and explained.”

Birds are listed by their binomial names, which is usually in a form of Latin or Greek; these are “double names” identifying the genus and species in a vast web of “evolutionary relationships.” These scientific names are more accurate since the same bird may have different common names in different areas. The fun comes in figuring out the sources of these (mostly) descriptive scientific names.

The Eurasian Hoopoe, for example, has a scientific name that is based on the bird’s call: Upupa epops (say oo-POO-pa EE-pops; all the scientific names in the book have pronunciations). Each entry contains a line or two about the meaning of the scientific name, and then gives the common name. But because there’s no common name index, bird-watchers can start with field guides, which will direct users to the scientific name.

The book is generously inhabited by full-color illustrations, “Latin in action” boxes discussing specific birds, genus profiles (Amazona to Zosterops), sketches of famous birders (including Phoebe Snetsinger of Missouri, who recorded a life list of 8400 species), and bird themes (beaks, colors, feathers, songs, and more).

I’d add one entry: the Elegantem lederburr, meaning “elegant work from two authors.”

Monday, June 30, 2014

How to lessen government fraud


Chico-based consultant William Sims Curry specializes in creating clear and equitable processes for government grant acquisition. He’s seen too many cases of a dysfunctional system, where, for example, those in Congress favor certain defense contractors not because those contractors are offering the best deal, but the best deal for them.

The sad story is laid out in “Government Abuse: Fraud, Waste, And Incompetence In Awarding Contracts In The United States” ($54.95 in hardcover from Transaction Publishers; also for Amazon Kindle). In 11 chapters Curry focuses on contracting-gone-bad (think of Hurricane Katrina); one chapter is entitled “Government of the Corporations, by the Unions, and for the Special Interests.”

Yet the book is not to be taken as a breezy denunciation of government corruption; rather, it is a careful, technical analysis of the flaws in the contracting process, especially relating to the Department of Defense (DOD), and, more importantly, how that process could be fixed. In the midst of all the outrageous examples of FIWA (“fraud, incompetence, waste and abuse”) Curry shows it doesn’t have to be this way.

He singles out two contractor selection rules used by DOD and other agencies as problematic. One is the “prohibition against using numerical scoring to rate contractor proposals.” The other “requires government agencies to assign the relative importance of factor and subfactors used in the evaluation of contractor proposals ….”

If two contractors are color-coded “good,” not scored numerically (say, from 70-100), the award may go to the one that makes the most campaign contributions. And if factors such as timeliness and quality of service are merely relative, that leaves it open for the unscrupulous to “adjust” factor weights to favor a certain contractor. If factors are given numerical weights ahead of time, the process is transparent.

Curry singles out the good work of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), that, while not perfect, has sustained numerous protests from losing contractors. Many of these issues could be resolved using a scoring formula yielding a single number.

May this book be widely read in high places.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Deep “ditties” from Hannie Voyles


Professor emeritus of English and linguistics, beloved Butte College instructor, Hannie Voyles seems to be more active in retirement than most folks are in their day jobs. She has shepherded many aspiring writers to publication and now, with a new book of poetry, offers her own take on a crazy world.

“These are thumbnail word sketches,” she writes, “intended to be/ short, easy, and immediate/ about—our best and worst selves:/ our moments,/ our moment in the mirror…/ May they encourage introspection.” Don’t call them “literature.” Rather, she writes in a “Disclaimer,” focus on the message. “These pieces aim to bring a smile, a frown, a fury… or perhaps an eyebrow raised. They are for fun because ‘fun’ is also serious stuff.”

“Moments In The Mirror” ($16.95 in paperback, self-published; available locally at Lyon Books in Chico), by Hannie J. Voyles, is divided into three sections. “The Whimsical” is a “collection of itty-bitty ditties that let us have it in the face.” There’s a bit of salty language here, so be prepared. And be prepared to think. In “Conundrum,” for example, Voyles writes: “I am no longer what I was/ yet what I was remains./ But each day my ‘what’ will change/ so the what will add/ to what remains/ for the who that I become.”

The second section gets “Serious.” In “Vapor, “Words are disappearing/ I don’t know where they go—/ Yesterday I had a word/ but today that is not so—/ Words are disappearing/ filling me with fear/ that they go into hiding/ and may not reappear….”

Finally, the third section, “Deadly,” about her wartime experiences and the children lost, always the children. “She was not the only one,” Voyles says in “Anne Frank,” “although it seems that way….” The others must be remembered, too. In “Children: 1940-1945,” she writes: “Searching through the earth and sky/ the universe and firmament./ Why did so many have to die?….”

Join Hannie Voyles for a book signing and reading at Lyon Books in Chico, Wednesday, June 25 at 7:00 p.m.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Romantic suspense from an Oroville novelist


Pippa Scott’s start in life was not auspicious, she tells Shade Avalon. “A cook found me right after I was born in the dumpster behind the restaurant where he worked.” Police and Child Protective services came; the cook “told them when he found me I was covered in garbage, including strips of green pepper. The social worker took pepper and turned it into Pippa.”

Raised in foster care, Pippa grew up “never feeling like I belonged. But I grabbed every fleeting moment of happiness I could. I also used my imagination to keep me company. …”

Most of Shade’s family perished in the crash of a private plane but now the handsome 33-year-old is running the family business. Pippa, a beautiful, naive, but scrappy 23, has taken a job with Shade’s grandmother, wealthy Lila Avalon, to help her write a series of children’s stories about animals. When Pippa meets Shade at Wolfhaven, the family estate deep in the Northern California woods, things do not go well. Shade is aloof and mysterious, and Pippa is sure her sarcastic barbs will get her fired.

“Fired up” is more what happens in Olivia Claire High’s new novel, “The Wolf Deception” ($13.95 in paperback from Fireside Publications; also for Amazon Kindle). Pippa is certain that she has seen a wolf on the property, and hears piercing wolf-sounds at night, but the residents of the house dismiss the reports. Pippa’s fears are stoked when Shade, on his late-night walks, seems altogether too wolf-like.

There’s indeed a family secret; also a female rival; Pippa’s abduction by some ne’er-do-wells; hints that Shade is something more than he claims to be; and a growing, passionate connection between them.

Pippa finds it hard to trust Shade (why won’t he answer her questions about the wolf sightings?) and, as she tells a friend, “My malady is being born poor. I’ll never fit in with someone like Shade Avalon.” But the reader knows, in this fun and fast-paced suspense story, that this is not the last word.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Tooth brushing made fun


It started when Chico writer Stacy Piper began telling her two youngsters about the “sugar bugs” on their teeth, and how brushing and flossing would send those critters packing. She and her husband, Sam, noticed that the silly story encouraged dental hygiene. So Stacy teamed with another Chicoan, illustrator Lori Escobar, to bring the tale to a larger audience.

What resulted was a big, full-color children’s book called “Sugar Bugz: They Live On Your Teeth” ($16.50 in hardcover from Bliss Bless Press; available at and locally at Lyon Books in Chico). Pediatric dentist Erik H. Roos writes in the foreword that “this book effectively shows children the link between cavities and poor dietary habits. Combining this link with the importance of brushing and flossing, along with regular visits to the dentist, this book is an excellent resource. …”

It’s night and the little green creatures waking up on a beautiful set of teeth. “Sugar Bugz, Sugar Bugz/ live on your teeth/ They do the most damage/ while you sleep.// They even play hide and seek/ in between your teeth.”

How did they get there? “Well, I’ll tell you their trick./ They hide in your food, thin or thick./ They sneak aboard/ what you eat and drink./ When they get in your mouth/ they make your breath stink, stink, stink!”

What to do? They don’t like fruits and vegetables, so eat those. And “brush up and down and back and forth./ In a circle and do it again./ Brush up and down and back and forth./ In a circle, and do it again!// Floss between those pearly white teeth,/ because those Bugz are way down deep./ Rinse them away,/ down, down the sink./ They will be gone/ before you blink!”

Finally, “You must visit the dentist/ a few times a year/ for good reminders/ that you need to hear.” The Sugar Bugz try to erase the appointment, but to no avail. The dentist sends ‘em on their way.

The pictures and the included Sugar Bugz stickers will have kids laughing, and that’s the tooth.