Sunday, December 07, 2014

A children’s book about gifts

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“My mom,” the otter tells the skunk, “said that I have a really special gift! I am wondering if it is something that sparkles! She said if I went out and played and found something that I loved to do, I would surely find it! So I am looking for my gift … but I haven’t had any luck yet.”

That’s about to change when “Ruby The River Otter Find A Lucky Penny” ($14.95 in paperback from CreateSpace Independent Publishing) by Thersa Mallinger, illustrated by Bonnie Lemaire. The book is available in Chico at Lyon Books, Made in Chico, and Apple Blossom Baby.

An author’s note says that Mallinger “lives with her husband, three boys, and her hyper-active dog in Chico.” With her background in teaching kindergarten, middle school language arts, and her training in Montessori methods, Mallinger encourages “self-exploration and discovery through creativity.”

That’s what happens to Ruby. Her new-found skunk friend is named Penny. “‘A penny does equal one cent, and phew-eeee, you sure do have one stinky scent,’ giggled Ruby. ‘You really should work on that! Maybe try rolling in the mud or wiping fresh pine needles under your armpits!’”

Ruby’s not sure of the meaning of her own name, nor why her mom “gave me this special key” which hangs around her neck. But she knows she has a friend, and together they will search for Ruby’s gift to unlock.

Eventually they find a treasure box, and Ruby’s key opens it. It’s not quite empty. Inside is something that helps Ruby understand. “Your gift is not something that you can hold in your hand. It is something that you hold in your heart! Find the key to unlock your heart. Then, open it up. There, deep in your heart, your special gift will be sitting, just waiting to come out!”

As the friends unlock their own gifts, the message at the end resonates: “Listen to your Heart Voice and find your treasure.”

Mallinger will be a guest of honor at the author open house at Lyon Books in Chico Sunday, December 14, from 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Local writer embraces the wisdom of the Native Peoples

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Garth Nielsen of Paradise, now in his mid-70s, writes that “I’ve always been a seeker, aware that my spirituality was at the center of my being and that the Creator was guiding me onto the less travelled spiritual paths.”

Nielsen’s journey is given voice in “The Odyssey Of A Spiritual Nomad” ($9.95 in paperback from Heather and Highlands Publishing), which includes a number of the author’s drawings.

It began in 1946 when his father showed him an “enormous cave. Part of the roof had fallen in, and a shaft of bright sunlight illumined part of this room. Kneeling in the pool of light, my father picked up fragment of finely woven basket. Then, with a stick, he stirred the surface of the talcum-fine dust. In doing so, he uncovered another object, a human tooth. Placing  both the tooth and the basket fragment into my hand, he said to me, ‘This was someone’s home a long time ago. I’ll bet little boys like you lived here once.’”

It was a never-to-be-forgotten experience. “I have become convinced that there are beneficent and benevolent spirits, sent by the Creator, to guide each of us. I believe that such a spirit became a part of me and my life in that ancient place so many years ago.”

Eventually, Nielsen writes, “I realized that Turtle Island was sacred. Through this earth, the people who live upon it communicate with the Creator in a constant, reciprocal cycle.” Indeed, he says, “I have found that traditional Native teachings enhance the words of Christ, bringing clarity to His teaching on how to walk in balance and harmony with all creation.”

Adopted in a private Iroquois ceremony, Nielsen found his life phrase in the Lakota Sun Dance. “When the prayer is completed, the one speaking ends his words with: ‘Metakuye Oyasin,’ or, ‘All My Relations.’ In this way, the prayer is never ended, but merely passed on to the next one to pray.”

A serial mystery from Dan O’Brien

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Local writing entrepreneur Dan O’Brien is venturing into the world of the mystery serial with a series of six episodes to be released over the next few weeks. Copiously illustrated by Paradise artist Steve Ferchaud, the first of the six is “Mobsters, Monsters and Nazis” (in digital format from Amalgam; available for Amazon Kindle). The story is the tale of a hard-bitten detective named Derrick Diamond who receives a strange package from a courier only to have the package stolen by a human-sized lizard.

Diamond follows the thief to the Yellow Monarch nightclub. The thief proves elusive, but the Yellow Monarch draws the detective’s attention. “Patrons called it the Yellow Monarch because of the iridescent, winged, creature that seemed to rise from above the foyer. Derrick approached slowly, feeling as if he was being watched from a distance.” 

Of course he’s being watched. “Serpentine and dressed to the nines, the reptilian thugs watched through thin eye-slits as Derrick walked across the empty street and past the board announcing Ava Harpy as the crooner of the night. They slithered along the wall, bodies bending to get a better vantage point.”

Inside the club, Roaring 20s jazz. The “music filled the air and women with blood-red corsets carried trays filled with cigars and scotch.” At one table in the back is the Fat Man, whose face “seemed cluttered with a mass of tentacles that created a slimy beard beneath beady black eyes.” Derrick has to tell the Fat Man the mysterious object has been stolen.

Over there at another table, “crisply dressed Nazis who were looking in Derrick’s direction.”

This stuff is straight out of pulp comics, and it’s a hoot. There’s a strange logic at work here, and in the second installment, “Phantasmagoria,” the Object is the subject of the Nazi’s attention. It turns out to be an “antikythera mechanism” which will help them achieve some nefarious end. Derrick and Ava escape assassins in the first episode; in the second they become something of a team. Maybe Ava is more than a floozy singer.

O’Brien promises it will all make sense—in time.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sword and sorcery from a Paradise author


Though his day job enables Ken Young of Paradise to build custom homes, in his first novel he has built an entire realm, populating it with strange creatures and a central mystery that drives the adventure forward to its satisfying conclusion.

With a background in literature, Young has written screenplays, short stories and poetry, and his talents are on full display in “The King’s Frog Hunter” ($15.95 in paperback from North Point Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle). It’s a gripping quest story suitable for early teens and adults as well.

Something is wrong with old King Ahmbin. His mind, twisted by the evil magician Metro, refuses to accept the magnificent statue of himself, carved by the sculptor Veracitas, because what is carved in stone looks too much like the King himself in his aging humanity. Ahmbin rejects the truth. Veracitas is thrown into prison but he escapes under mysterious circumstances.

His daughter, Boschina (“bah-sheen-uh”), reaches out to Thalmus, the mysterious frog hunter to the King, for help in finding her father. In the land of Ameram, frogs are the size of humans, crafty and deadly (though their legs are a delicacy), and Thalmus is legendary in his skill. But he is also the keeper of an ancient prophecy: “When the king’s only child is a woman and the daughter of the stone cutter searches the land….” Boschina had set in motion forces that would change the land forever.

Thalmus is aided by his extraordinary friends: “a great horned owl, a giant shell creature, and a paint stallion.” Hunted by the King’s troops seeking a reward, the companions encounter evil in Rainland, on Table Top—and in a dark tunnel. Thalmus’ words are frightening: “There are powerful, wicked forces in there that can grab hold of you and keep you in darkness if you let them. You must strengthen your thoughts.”

Young excels in describing the landscape (even an odd place called Jarbo Gap). The battles are thrilling, the writing superb.

A journal for local naturalists

Scott Huber of Chico, and his young photographer son Liam, have issued an invitation for readers to step outside and look—really look—at the world of nature. And then to write down their experience. The invitation takes the form of “NorCal Naturalist: Journal And Calendar” ($16.75 spiral bound, self-published, available at Lyon Books in Chico as well as local nature centers).

The format is simple. On the right-hand side are seven numbered blank boxes (each week of the year gets an undated page) so you can turn to the appropriate week of the month and start writing. The left-hand side may contain one of the 24 color photographs (most taken by Liam) or one of Scott’s 48 short nature essays. Huber’s stories of his and Liam’s encounters with the natural world exemplify the work of a true amateur—a lover of nature (and words) with a keen eye and intense curiosity.

As the reader’s own journal takes shape, Huber recommends comparisons, month-by-month and eventually year-by-year.

The essays are miniature excursions into the natural world, one graced by hummingbirds, butterflies, bobcats, deer, wild turkeys, newts, Black-headed grosbeaks, and more. Here are photographs of White-whorled lupins and a Humboldt Lily from Chico Creek Canyon, curling manzanita bark in Butte Creek Canyon, a Blacktail deer in Forest Ranch, and a bobcat hunting voles in the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve.

“As avid birders,” Huber writes, “my son and I have spent countless hours listening to recorded bird songs and practicing the recognition of birds using only our ears. … My friends will confess that it’s not uncommon to see me suddenly hush them, cup my hands around my ears and tilt my head towards some sound no one else has noticed, and then exclaim, ‘Did you hear that?’”

In March 2013 it was Lawrence’s goldfinch. “There, just thirty feet away, swaying on the arcing stocks of fiddleneck flowers was not one, but a male and female pair of these striking little yellow and gray birds with dark black masks.”

My observation? It’s good to share the love. Get the book.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

A children’s book for Thanksgiving

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“Many years have come and gone and Anna is now an elderly woman. Anna gets out her keep sake, scrap book, photo album every Thanksgiving and fondly tells her children and grandchildren one of her favorite stories about the miracle leaf and how it was used for the table centerpiece decoration that brightened up everyone’s spirits.”

The story is told in “Please Don’t Leave Me” ($12.95 in paperback from Northstate Children’s Books) by Vic Sbarbaro and Marcia Sbarbaro-Pezzella. Vic is a Certified Health Education Specialist; Marcia worked as a special education teacher before her retirement “and helps out in her husband’s restaurant, Pezzella’s.”

The tale begins years ago in the small town of Leafton. The full-color illustrations by Josh Smith,  now “a freelance painter and illustrator,” are simply delightful, especially in showing the fall colors on the trees and one very special leaf.

There was sadness in Leafton, the families “struggling with their businesses due to the floods and fires throughout the previous year.” In spring, in the Thompson family’s backyard, it turned out each tree, flower, and leaf had a name. There was “Daffy the daffodil, Tula the tulip, Levi the lavender bush, Rosita the rose, Ashley the ash tree”—you get the idea.

But there was also a little leaf that had sprouted on the maple tree below all the other leaves. “Hey!” he shouted. “How did all of the leaves get so high on the branches?” The other leaves called him “small fry” or even “runt,” and he wondered “what is my mission in life going to be?”

By fall, the other leaves had fallen to the ground, and Mr. Thompson was busy raking. Ms. Thompson and her daughter, Anna, returned from town to report the table decorations they had purchased had been stolen. That was when Anna noticed the maple tree. “Please, Dad, LEAVE ON that last leaf of the maple tree, it looks like a miracle leaf because of its shape and array of bright colors.”

And then, for Thanksgiving, Leave On the leaf had a central part to play at the holiday table. He had found his mission.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Tibetan Buddhist teacher returns to Chico

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The Venerable Lama Losang Samten, a frequent visitor to Butte College and Chico State University, has returned to Chico to present a series of teachings and construct an intricate sand mandala, now through November 8. A schedule of events is available at http://bit.ly/12qeHSD; those interested can contact Bejay Moore in Chico at bejaymore@sbcglobal.net and she can provide details.

Born in Tibet, Losang Samten lives in Philadelphia where he is spiritual director of a number of Buddhist centers. The former monk was a personal attendant to His Holiness the Dalai Lama (“lama” means “teacher of the dharma”) and an advisor for (and actor in) Martin Scorsese’s film Kundun.

To enable a fuller understanding of Tibetan Buddhism, Losang Samten has written “Ancient Teachings In Modern Times: Buddhism For The 21st Century” ($20 in paperback, self-published, available at losangsamten.com), edited by Lori Petruskevich.

In a conversational style that includes a number of anecdotes and reflections on his life (he is no stranger to suffering), the author explores karma, finding a guru (he is bothered by teachers who have succumbed to the lures of material possessions), meditation varieties (in Tibetan “samten” refers to “concentration meditation”), enlightenment, retreats, and more.

The author notes that “in Buddhist teachings there exist two different Truths: conventional truths and ultimate truths.” The conventional truth is that the self exists, but the ultimate truth is that the self “does not exist independently; rather, it exists interdependently.”

For the author, “the goal of spirituality is to overcome suffering, and suffering is caused by delusions, as a result of the three poisons (anger, attachment, and ignorance), with ignorance being at the root of all delusion and suffering. … The delusions and imprints of delusions are like a debilitating disease, and the dharma is like a medicine or antidote. From the example of the garlic and the smell, it is clearly much more difficult to remove the smell of the garlic than to remove the garlic itself.”

“It is my dream that everyone is kind to one another, showing deep respect and compassion for all humanity, all sentient beings, and Mother Earth.”

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Local author on the lure of fishing

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Garry Cooper writes that “even though I don’t claim to be an expert in any type of fishing, the fact remains that after fishing for nearly sixty years, landing thousands of fish and other creatures and making over a thousand spear-fishing dives—along with undertaking so many other water-creature-slaying adventures that it would be impossible to count—it is hard not to accept that I am somewhat of an authority in this field.”

The Chico State University grad reels you in with fishing experience and stories in “Not Just Fishing: A One-Of-A-Kind Book Sure To Interest Every Fisherman” ($19.95 in paperback, self-published, available at Amazon.com). The book includes black-and-white photographs (including one of the author with “the biggest shad he has ever caught”) and a ton of fishing advice.

It’s evident Cooper loves all aspects of fishing, including cleaning. “Sturgeon have a gizzard like a chicken, believe it or not,” he writes. “This gizzard has rocks and such in it, and you can slice it open to clean it. It is very good to eat. Some folks marinate it in milk and fry it swearing it is the poor man’s abalone.”

In addition to sturgeon fishing, the book has chapters on striped bass, salmon (including a section on “lure fishing from shore—an unusual but effective method”), trout and steelhead, catfish and crappie, shad, as well as the author’s tales diving for abalone (an “in depth” account, of course), clam digging (wherein the author reveals his “clam pump” method), and frog gigging.

“The most stupid thing that I ever did while spear fishing, without a doubt, was attempting to spear and land a twenty-foot giant pacific octopus when I was free diving by myself in Northern California in Mendocino County. … I won’t do anything that stupid again—although last time out (by myself) I decided to spear a seven-foot mouth full of dangerous teeth known as a wolf eel”—but, well, it didn’t work out.

Cooper’s writing is exuberant, plain spoken, and practical. The author invites interested readers to take the bait.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Making sense of C.S. Lewis

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What is the power of Clive Staples Lewis, author of “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Screwtape Letters,” to lead contemporary readers to an understanding of Christianity, to deepen the faith of believers, and to be a faithful companion for those facing some of life’s biggest decisions? The Oxford scholar died in 1963, and yet his popularity is undiminished. Why?

Greg Cootsona, Pastor of Adult Discipleship at Chico’s Bidwell Presbyterian Church, and an academic in his own right, says of his own journey that “Lewis taught me that Christian faith could withstand serious intellectual engagement.” As a student at UC Berkeley, he writes, “My crisis of doubt found an answer in the gospel, and I can attribute a fair measure of this to Lewis.”

In “C.S. Lewis And The Crisis Of A Christian” ($16 in paperback from Westminster John Knox Press; also for Amazon Kindle), Cootsona weaves Lewis’ own life story around its central decision-points, the crises that shaped his writing.

As a young atheist, Lewis wrestled with the crises of materialism, meaninglessness, and anomie (no source of moral guidance). Eventually, describing himself as a “reluctant convert,” Lewis the Christian had to face the question of  the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the nature of the Bible. And as a human being, he dealt head on with the crises of suffering and death, and with feelings. If God feels close one day, why does he feel absent the next?

Through rereading Lewis’ works and research in Lewis archives in the US and UK, Cootsona finds renewed guidance for his own life and ministry.

Lewis experienced a lifelong sense of “poignant longing. He described it as a search for joy (which Lewis frequently capitalizes because he uses it as a technical term). The taste of joy—and the desire it evokes—began early in his life and gradually expanded, like a time-release capsule that drove him to God.”

This book gives another taste of that Joy.

The author will be speaking about Lewis and signing copies of his book at Lyon Books in Chico on Monday, October 27, at 7:00 p.m.