Thursday, December 05, 2019

"Creative And Connected"

Dr. Joni Samples, former Superintendent of Education for Glenn County and past columnist for this newspaper, asks an important question: "I have become concerned about the huge upsurge of adult opiate use. ... How does living with a parent having some issues, whatever they might be, affect a child’s brain development?" 

Together with Early Childhood Specialist Leigh Shannon the two have published a detailed fourteen-lesson curriculum "specifically for at-risk preschool children." "Creative And Connected" ($19.95 in paperback from Engage Press,; purchase includes a password for teaching materials access) is designed for preschool facilitators, but its insights can be helpful for anyone caring for children. (A faith-based version is also available.)

Lessons address four domains: Feeling (identifying emotions and responding responsibly); cognition ("how to think first in resolving conflict"); psycho-motor (bodily expression); and what the authors call "mindfulness" ("learning a sense of self and the beauty within, sense of others, sense of beauty in nature, classical music, and sense of love and peace").

Because "some at-risk children ... have difficulty dealing with emotional pain," each lesson emphasizes "building self-confidence and exploring and mastering connectedness" all within an environment of encouragement (which, the authors add, "does not alter consequences"). "When these children begin responding ... the teacher will be quick to say, 'Lisa, you did it! You did it! You didn't hit! You didn't kick! You yelled, "I'm mad!" You are learning!!'"

The authors lay out the purpose of each lesson and offer "brain connections." For example, "Children who are at-risk and lack self-trust are coming from stress and fear much more often than other children. Their amygdala is activated much more often from fear. Improvisation allows them a safe place to be spontaneous and to feel joy."

Three lessons cover "sexual abuse, violence, and addiction" and note that facilitators need permission from parents or guardians before bringing children into the discussion. 

"Some children," the authors write, "have been taught not to trust. Three dysfunctional rules 'taught' in substance-abuse homes are: We don't feel, we don't trust, and we don't talk about real issues." But "through movement, the children's natural language, and through music that reaches his heart, the child begins his/her journey toward self-trust."

Thursday, November 28, 2019

"Burnt Offerings"

Paradise illustrator Steve Ferchaud ( lost his home, including his studio, in the Camp Fire. But thanks to many "angels" his pen is active again. 

In 2017 and 2018 he had taken up the "INKTOBER" challenge for artists to post a drawing each day in October in response to the word for that day. After the fire he decided to compile all 62 sketches into a book, the proceeds of which would go to helping Camp Fire survivors. His original drawings were destroyed, so he redrew each one and included a short commentary. 

"Burnt Offerings" ($9.95 in paperback, self-published with the help of MC2 Design Group) is available on Amazon and locally at ABC Books in Chico. It also contains a short narrative of Ferchaud's escape, and the aftermath, and nine drawings of "special Paradise landmarks," including the Gold Nugget Museum and the Honey Run Covered Bridge. Be prepared for a rush of feelings.

Though his drawings are whimsical Ferchaud focuses on adult concerns; there are a couple of raised middle fingers, a swear word, and plenty of monsters: greedy televangelists, politicians on the take, war profiteers. Wry humor abounds.

Take October 3, 2018; the word is "roasted." "Thanksgiving Day: We say our thanks, and then eat like there is no tomorrow. Maybe we should just eat, be thankful every day, because the odds are pretty good that there will be a tomorrow, even though it is always uncertain what tomorrow may bring." 

The drawing shows snarky pigs around the dinner table as they pass the serving platter with a plump little man roasted to perfection. Ferchaud adds: "My vegan and vegetarian friends loved this cartoon. Friends that lived in Vegas said it ruined buffets for them for the rest of their lives."

There are sweet moments, too, as Ferchaud responds to "precious." Yes, there's a Gollum-like creature in the drawing. "And speaking of rings, one of the things I found after the fire amongst the ashes was my Grandfather's ring. I found it after I stopped looking for it. Before the fire, I only wore it on special occasions. Now I wear it every day. A reminder that every day is a precious occasion."

Thursday, November 21, 2019

"Out Of The Ashes: One Survivor's Journey In The Aftermath Of Two Historic Wild Fires"

On September 6, 2016, the Saddle Fire, six miles southeast of Paradise, burned hundreds of acres. Antoinette Peppler and her husband lost everything but decided to rebuild.

They "moved in & celebrated being home again in 2018. Then the Camp Fire hit. We struggled to leave our home once again after just moving in. We were evacuated for 2 weeks. We came home again on Thanksgiving Day." Fire had spared them this time, but "we lost our town, our community, family & friends."

Peppler, a poet and professional cake decorator, created a blog to "encourage & inspire others"; those entries, reflections on paintings and photographs by friends and family members, have become "Out Of The Ashes: One Survivor's Journey In The Aftermath Of Two Historic Wild Fires" (self-published paperback; send a money order or cashier's check for $25.00, which includes $5 shipping, to Antoinette Peppler, PO Box 1646, Paradise, CA 95967).

The paragraphs Peppler writes never minimize the hurt--she's been there. In "17 Treasures More" she writes: "A treasure box of remnants & charred burnt jewelry. ... Oh my heart... deep down, my soul just ached, as I felt the sorrow drop me to my knees." "Sometimes," she writes, "I’m just so emotionally & mentally exhausted. Like I have been physically running, almost sprinting, in a long-distance race. ..."

The cleanup overwhelms: "The multiple choices that add to our list, are too many decisions to make or to fix. Want to scream but no time, need to cry but no tears, have to work but can’t move, just don’t know what to do!" 

But her faith is strong: "Though we were protected this time from the flames, it has left a scar upon our hearts & souls. We feel it, but this we know, we are alive because God’s grace still abounds. He is our shelter & I am trusting in Him!"

"We can’t change the past, though that’s what we want most, but we can paint today with a vision of hope. A plan to set forth a new life for ourselves, begins with a start to finish the race."

Thursday, November 14, 2019

"Fire On The Ridge: A Collection Of Poems"

"I am neither a writer nor a poet," Bill Hartley says. But in the wake of the Camp Fire, which destroyed Joy Lyn's Candies, the business he owned, he became both.

"Writing about the disaster is a release of the sorrow. It is also an acceptance that I am facing a new chapter of life, and it is up to me if I want to be happy or sad. I choose to move on; I choose happiness."

Hartley describes himself as "a chocolatier helping my son and daughter-in-law who now own Joy Lyn's." But he's an author now, too, with "Fire On The Ridge: A Collection Of Poems" ($18.50 in paperback from Gold Dust Press; available at the Gold Nugget/Depot Museum, 5570 Black Olive Drive, Paradise, and Treasures From Paradise, 969 Bille Road, with profits going to the museum.)

Each of the almost four dozen poems features a photograph by Doug Keister, and there are paintings by Pam Hartley (one of which graces the cover). Collected into five chapters, the first two, "The Fire" and "Grief," give way to "Acceptance," "Moving Forward," and "Resilience."

"My world was turned upside down," the poet writes early on. "All I saw was black and gray;/ My friends are scattered all around,/ I'm a lost soul in Paradise." 

In "Paradise Lost," memories are carried away: "As the trucks rumble and crumble the roads,/ They carry remembrances of young and old;/ The towering trees are scorched and the red earth torched black;/ We dream it didn't happen, we want our old life back."

But there's no going back: "The toll of his disaster weighs heavily on me,/ And insurance forms are all I see./ Now I just sit and muse--/ I'm suffering from the paperwork blues."

Yet later, in "Soul of Paradise," "You discover an inner strength you did not know,/ it came from hope that ebbs and flows,/ it's the love of our fellowman that shows." 

Bottom line? "So, believe in Paradise, you can't go wrong;/ The sense of community is vibrant and strong./ Although the road to recovery has many a twist,/ I'll be back in Paradise, the town I miss."

Thursday, November 07, 2019

"The Camp Fire: Dreams, Nightmares, Hopes"

"In an instant," writes J.R. Henson, "the Camp Fire wiped out the community I lived in." He traces his emotional journey through poems and essays until "I reach a more settled location with the feeling of still being displaced from my home town."

"The Camp Fire: Dreams, Nightmares, Hopes" ($10 in paperback from Valley View Press) starts months before the fire; life is good, especially with "Gabie, the small curly-haired poodle." 

Yet during this time, Henson writes, "I kept seeing everything in my house through a cracked lens." The haunting vision subsides, not to return. 

Later, after the fire, Henson sees a picture of his house, and it's hard to believe. "I focus and enlarge the picture on the single object in the backyard. Now I can see the object to be a concrete birdbath with a concrete squirrel sitting at the top. That's when I know the burned down house is mine."

His escape on the day of the fire is more harrowing because his truck is low on gas. "I climb halfway up the last hill before reaching the main artery out of town. The feeling is like being stuck at the top of a Ferris wheel. All I want to do is get off this amusement park ride." 

He imagines Nature "intent on scorching every last home and big building.... Weeks later, Nature's rage slips away. Cleanup crews chop down healthy and unhealthy trees.... Finally, after many years, Nature wakes up just to see that nothing has changed for the better, and many of the human beings are just as inhospitable as they have been in the past." 

"God takes away the stewardship from human hands for being incompetent," the poet writes; "White hot flames cleanse the Paradise because of the promise that has been broken."

"It's hard for me to imagine hope's return," Henson writes. But it does, and with it the prospect of love. Maybe humans have been given another chance.

The author will be presenting his book at the Chico Library Meeting Room on Monday, November 11 from 7:00-8:00 p.m. and Saturday, December 7 from 4:30-6:00 p.m. Meetings are free and open to the public.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

"The Camp Fire 2018: Living On The Ridge"

Paula Link writes that she was "born, raised and lived in Rio Linda, CA most of my life. Upon retiring from my job of 26 years and much thought I decided on a change of environment. With mixed emotions I pulled up my roots and moved to Magalia...."

That was in 2013. In some ways it was a difficult adjustment for Link and her husband Frank, but they soon settled into their upper Magalia home. They are surrounded by wildlife, part of the charm of the place, and also provided a home to a gaggle of animals, including big dogs Ziva and Zoe, little dog Daisy, Bella Bunny, house cat Oreo, birds, and seven feral kitties. When they had to evacuate on November 8, 2018, it proved quite a challenge. 

She writes about that experience in "The Camp Fire 2018: Living On The Ridge" ($21.95 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle). "The smoky sky and air was threatening and to think that if we had taken the Paradise roads out we may not have survived. There were many others with the same idea, as there were a good number of vehicles ahead and behind us on that dirt logging road called Doe Mill Road but when we reached Highway 32 over an hour later the line of vehices coming from the Butte Meadows route with those who took the high road was just as packed and the line of headlights in the rearview mirror seemed endless."

But they survived, and so did their home. The book is less about a traumatizing ordeal (it was that, of course) but about the loss of a community, especially Paradise. Link summarizes some of the harrowing accounts of escape found on YouTube and there are dozens of full-color photographs by Frank and her son Justin Mohorich and daughter Alison Mohorich (Alison Ann Photography).

Link's reflections end on a mixed note. She is thankful for many friends who helped but writes that wildfire devastation "is just too much for someone to be ready for, especially when you have all the animals that we do. ... I hope and pray it never happens again."

Thursday, October 24, 2019

"Spectral Pegasus / Dark Movements"

The Welsh tradition of Mari Lwyd (sounds like "mary loyd") hearkens back to ancient Roman and Celtic veneration of horses. 

According to Sarah Parvin, a Jungian-trained psychologist who blogs at The Curious One, "the cult of Mari centres round a mare's skull bedecked in sheet and ribbons, which is carried from door to door to mark the passing of the longest nights of midwinter. The Mari is accompanied by a band of mummers, in the guise of the dead, who ... seek admission into the houses of the living. Upon gaining entry, food and drink are enjoyed by all and blessings bestowed for the coming year."

Welsh artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins recalls his father being incredibly scared as a child when the Mari Lwyd came around; a series of paintings Hicks-Jenkins subsequently created serve, Parvin says, as a "personal meditation on the death of his father and an elegy to the friends and colleagues he had lost during his theatre career to the AIDS epidemic." 

Now, American poet Jeffery Beam (, who lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina with his husband, has collaborated with the artist to produce a book of mesmerizing poems about, as the writer told me in email correspondence, "the transformation of masculine and horse energy into ... something else." Both writer and artist take American dancer Jordan Morley as their muse.

"Spectral Pegasus / Dark Movements" ($21.95 in paperback from Kin Press, includes fifteen poems, one song, three essays (including the one by Parvin), and nearly two dozen paintings.

In one sense the Mari Lwyd is Halloween-frightening. "I am Pegasus Spectral/ Pegasus Reversed" the poet writes; "I am your nightmare-longing toward dust/ Be not afraid. // Stop shaking/ Every funeral prophesies resurrection...."

In "Drift," "Mari Mari Lwyd having never spoken your name/ your name becalms me/ Right hand to heart left hand gloved closed holding a secret/ Void's origin waiting to be opened/ for you as you are for me my stalwart."

A secret? Two, actually. In "Pegasus," the words have a particular resonance: "Liberty and Love the two Great Secrets/ Making the Divine Mind smile/ Making Death forget himself and sing/ Paradise regained/ Without contraries is no progression."