Sunday, December 25, 2011

New Testament scholar on the meaning of Jesus


"Mary treasured all these words," Luke's Gospel says, "and pondered them in her heart." There is much to think about. For N.T. Wright, Chair of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, Jesus was born into a "perfect storm" in the Middle East.

The "gale of Rome" heralded Caesar as "Lord"; the high-pressure national hopes of Israel told of God's people triumphing over their oppressors; and the "hurricane of God" "cut clean against the national narrative": "God called Israel, so that through Israel he might redeem the world; but Israel itself needs redeeming as well."

Wright tells the story of these storm systems colliding in the life of Jesus Christ. In lucid, though-provoking chapters, he ponders the meaning of the Gospel narratives of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. "Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters" ($24.99 in hardcover from HarperOne; digital editions for Amazon Kindle; Barnes and Noble Nook; and from Google e-books) focuses on what Wright calls the "New Exodus."

If the Exodus story told of the liberation of the children of Israel from a tyrant and a new vocation of being a blessing to all the nations (though that didn't quite work out), the New Exodus is about Jesus himself completing God's project.

"The presence of Israel’s God would be the presence of Jesus himself, coming to Jerusalem as the embodiment of Israel’s returning God, the fulfillment of Isaiah 40 and 52. This, Jesus believed, is what it would look like when Israel’s God came back to Zion. It would not be ... the pillar of cloud and fire ... but a young man on a donkey, in tears, announcing God’s judgment on the city and Temple that stood on the cosmic fault lines, establishing his own still incomprehending followers as its surprising replacement, and then going off to take upon himself the full weight of evil, the concentrated calamity of the cosmos, so that its force would be annulled and the new world would be born" in the resurrection.

Our human vocation, says Wright, is what Luke means by "witness": “tell someone else that Jesus is the world’s true Lord.”

Go tell it on the mountain.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

If cars could talk: A fictional memoir from a Chico State University grad


Michael L. Oliver lives in the Napa valley with his wife, Barbara, where he grows wine grapes in his retirement. He has deep ties to Chico State University as well as with a succession of cars which seemed to mark phases in his life. What if those vehicles could talk and give their own perspective? In Oliver's new book, seventeen of them do.

"Through the Headlights: An Auto-Biography" ($20 in paperback from Henway Publishing, is an inventive romp through the minds of an AMC Rambler, a Porsche Carrera 2 Cabriolet, a VW Bug, and fourteen others, all owned by the central character, "Leroy." Coincidentally, Oliver's first car, and Leroy's first car, were both 1931 Model A Fords. Cars, Oliver writes in a Foreword, all have their own "personalities, quirks and needs which they make known to us." Listen to you car.

The Model A found itself in Chester in 1956, having first been purchased back in Oklahoma for $750. But after a succession of owners, the car came into the possession of young teenager named Leroy, not legally old enough to drive, but who's counting? Leroy was a delivery boy, but one frosty day the Model A took a spin right into a snowbank. No one was hurt, but, writes Model A, "One of many flaws with teenage boys is that they tend to worry about their consarned image when they ought to be worried about their mortality." Leroy will meet Model A again many years later.

Then, in 1960, came the 1955 VW sedan. In Chico, at the frat house parking lot filled with cars, the sedan writes, "I was the only German car around. A few of them made fun of my accent, and pretty much all of them thought I was odd looking. I could sense it. And when they learned that I had only 36 horsepower it caused a few headlights to rise."

Cars follow Leroy throughout his life. In an Epilogue, Leroy is lying sedated in the hospital, the victim of a heart attack. All of his cars return and there is deep conversation about life, purpose, and, mostly, death.

One can learn a lot from a car if one doesn't blow a gasket.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Local history professor delivers a compelling work of scholarship


Laird Easton, Chair of the Chico State University History Department, has completed the monumental task of editing and translating a long-lost portion of one of the greatest diaries ever written. (Samuel Pepys, step aside.) "Journey To The Abyss: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, 1880-1918" ($45 from Knopf; also in digital formats for Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, and from Google eBooks) is the compelling story, in his own words, of a cosmopolitan German free spirit who became a secret agent.

Easton will be giving a book talk on Kessler at 1078 Gallery (820 Broadway in Chico) tonight at 6:00 p.m. during a reception in his honor (5:00 - 8:00 p.m.).

Kessler's journal, which he added to over fifty-six years, opens up a "life led at the center of European art, literature, and politics during the greatest cultural and political transformations in modern history." But, as Easton notes, the section of his diary Kessler began in 1880, when he was twelve, through the First World War, was lost until 1983 when it was found in a safe on the island of Mallorca. Easton's work is the first English translation which, at 900 printed pages, is only a quarter of what Kessler produced during those years.

He was ambivalent, says Easton, about his homosexuality; even in his journal "he tiptoes around the subject of his own sexual feelings. ..." His father was a banker but Kessler was drawn to the avant-garde, influenced by Nietzsche (whose death mask he made), working with Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Diaghilev, Vaslav Nijinsky, Auguste Rodin, and lunching with George Bernard Shaw.

In San Francisco, 1892: "On the way through Golden Gate Park; wide boulevards shaded by pines, colorful flowers, tropical plants. I would have enjoyed their beauty more without the signs with endless Latin names stuck between them." Berlin, 1897: "Unfortunately I am once again drawn more and more into social life. Result, work = zero." Bern, Oct. 5, 1918: "The blackest day of the world war. ... The war is lost by our own confession."

Kessler survived (he died in 1937). Easton's work will survive, too; it is scholarly yet grandly accessible, inviting one to lose oneself in the "Belle Époque," that grand time before the abyss.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Holiday cheer - Aylworth is here!


Roger Aylworth is the contact-wearing, keen-of-hearing, direction-challenged, sentimental, long-time ER reporter married four decades to the saintly Susan. For many years his weekly humor column, filled with family foibles and gentle wit, has graced this paper, and now, for the holidays, there's a new collection of favorites.

"Senior Showers" ($16.95 in paperback from Delphi Books) gathers 99 columns, most from mid-2006 to mid-2010, arranged in broad categories like "on growing older," "computers and other mechanical carnage," "on being, or being with, Roger," and "widgets and grandwidgets." Here are true tales of the couple's seven children, their spouses, and most especially the grandkids on visits to Casa Aylworth (here's looking at you, 2-year-old Caleb!).

Aylworth will be reading from and signing copies of his new collection at Lyon Books in Chico this Thursday, December 8 at 7:00 p.m.

The book starts with the title essay, and Aylworth explains that he's not "advocating a group lathering" but rather something akin to wedding showers only on the other end of life. "I can see the invitation that would summon those who love me to my senior shower: 'Roger has registered at the "Golden Years Adult Care facility" where you can sign up to cover as many months of residency as you wish. An account has also been set up at Dr. Krutch Walker's hip replacement clinic for gifts of any size!'"

More practically, Aylworth details the effort required to put together the clan gathering called Aylapalooza III. It's expensive to find housing for nearly three dozen family members. "While as a group we might have filet mignon tastes," he notes, "we tend to have a Spam budget." Speaking of kids, Aylworth provides some helpful suggestions on creating "homegrown mythology": "My dear bride, the saintly Susan, and I told our seven widgets that the belly button was the place where the screw went in that holds on your posterior."

Here are manly-man stories (don't mess with "MAH TRUCK"!), the death of a washing machine ("It toils not," says Susan, "neither does it spin"), and sage advice: "Best way to plan for golden years: Ask kids for gold." And "Roger's words of wisdom" at the end includes an observation from son Paul: "There is always one more idiot than you planned for."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Paradise artist helps kids understand Parkinson's Disease


Alison Paolini is what she calls a "Parkinsonian." Diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 1999, she has remained a "creatively active" artist and poet, teaching for many years at the Paradise Art Center and lending her illustrator's talent to a new children's book.

"Carson And His Shaky Paws Grampa" ($15.95 in hardcover from Innovo Publishing; also available in digital formats for the Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook) is by Kirk Hall, a fellow Parkinsonian in Colorado. Diagnosed with a movement disorder called Essential Tremor in 1991, and Parkinson's in 2008, Hall wanted a way to talk to younger family members about what was happening.

The simple story is told by Hall's seven-year-old grandson, Carson. "When I was really little," he says, "Granma and Grampa Hall lived in a log cabin with lots of trees and a big fireplace." Later his grandparents move closer to the family, and Carson notices the tremor in Grampa's hands. "I asked him what was wrong. He told us not to worry and that he just had 'shaky paws.' 'Besides,' he said, 'I can stir my coffee without even trying!'"

As the condition worsens, Grampa tells Carson that "he was very excited because his doctor was going to help with his shaky paws. He said he would be going to the hospital three times for a special procedure that would take away his shakiness." The procedure works for Grampa Hall, and he is able to have more fun with Carson. The story ends at Easter dinner, with Grampa "giving thanks for his special procedure. He got choked up and couldn't finish. It seemed like he needed a hug," Carson adds, "so I gave him one."

A "note to parents and grandparents" at the end of the book provides a wealth of resources, including information on "deep brain stimulation" surgery which helped the author. It's "described as a 'pacemaker for the brain,'" and though it's not a cure, "it should effectively eliminate my shakiness for years to come. By the time Carson is older, other symptoms may become noticeable. At that time, I will share more with him."

Paolini's colorful sketches will help allay children's fears, giving adults an opportunity to explain something about Parkinson's or Essential Tremor in an age-appropriate fashion.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Fifty diaries, illuminated by a Chico visitor


The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley houses special collections, among them a trove of personal diaries. "In acid-free boxes," writes Bancroft librarian and researcher Susan Snyder, "arranged on shelves in temperature-controlled darkness, they have come as donations, tag-alongs, bequests, purchases, or hotly contested auction lots." They "supply humor, pathos, grime, existential angst, and vision to the entirety of the human record."

Now, from the Bancroft and other sources, Snyder has assembled an extraordinary book. "Beyond Words: 200 Years of Illustrated Diaries" ($45 in hardcover from Heyday Books) gathers excerpts from fifty journals, written by the famous and the unknown, between 1776 and 1981. Snyder, a guest yesterday at Lyon Books in Chico, presents stunning color photographs of key diary pages. She also provides historical context for each diary as well as representative quotations and period illustrations.

Mark Twain is represented here, as is John Muir and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. But so is a man named William E. Voigt. The two pages of his journal (at least it's attributed to him, but no one really knows who wrote it or why) are part of a large, "well-thumbed compendium" "containing the secrets to 575 feats of magic." The entry for Thursday, October 7, 1943, shows how to palm a coin.

From 1917, Snyder writes, "bits of plant fluff, grass stalks, a lock of mountain sheep hair jubilantly found in a crack in the rock face she was climbing, fern fronds, and feathers of all sort illustrate the many field diaries of Florence Merriam Bailey." Adds Snyder: Bailey was "at the forefront of the movement to use binoculars rather than shotguns to observe birds."

In 1878, 14-year-old Caroline Eaton LeConte chronicled her camping trip with her parents and best friend Nona Dibble "in Yosemite Valley and the Calaveras Grove of giant sequoias." Others were along, too, including student Charlie Butters and one Lt. Greenough. One entry: "'Come now,' said Mr. Butters with beaming eyes, ladling out the milk as fast as he could, 'don't let's let all this fine milk go to waste.' 'Don't be afraid,' returned the Lieutenant with a sort of choking gurgle in this throat, 'it'll all go to waist anyhow.'"

We are thankful for the writers who dared turn over a new leaf.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

How a Chico high schooler saves the universe


"In the year 2098," novelist Blair Palmerlee writes, "everything and everyone in the city of Chico seemed to be a well-adjusted part of the well-oiled machine, which began life each day. This, however, was not the case for a young boy named Malcolm Thomas. For Malcolm the day would begin the same way it would end: Not soon enough." This particular day Malcolm is not quite late to his favorite high school class, quantum mechanics, taught by Professor Manuel Clarick. Good thing, too. This day Clarick shows off his experiment, and Malcolm has to save the universe.

In "The Universe of Malcolm: The Biggest, Small Problem" ($12 in paperback from CreateSpace) Palmerlee has crafted a wildly inventive sci-fi tale for 'tweens and young adults about a nerdy kid who discovers the meaning of courage. Palmerlee, a recent guest at Lyon Books in Chico, grew up on a farm near Bangor, attended Chico High School (the name of Malcolm's school is never mentioned), and is now studying psychology. His plot keeps pages turning as space battles alternate with deadpan humor.

That fateful morning Malcolm had zapped his hand with his Neutron Razor, and now his hand is beginning to disappear. As his science teacher explains, "You see, the razor works by breaking the electron barrier on the atoms in hair, absorbing the remaining neutralized particles, and recycling their energy for smaller tasks like nostril grooming." But something has gone wrong. Buried in Malcolm's disappearing hand are galaxies and nebula but--surprise!--"a huge war-like spaceship, emerging from what looked like a strange green worm hole. 'Houston,' said Prof. Clarick, as he stared at the pictures. 'We have a problem.'"

Clarick's experiment is not something you or I can understand, but it enables Malcolm to descend into the universe of his own hand so he can put things right and, if everything goes according to plan, emerge before he went in. So in he goes.

There is war in space. The Order, headed by a long-eared Dorexian name Kail, is desperately trying to stop the evil Fults, who will stop at nothing to take the ancient power of Moltor and so rule the universe. Malcolm, who is the universe, must stop him.

No wonder he misses Chico.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Willows writer remembers combat service in Vietnam


In 1989 Dan Roach was showing scouts from Sacramento and from Willows Troop 57 the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC. One of the vets standing vigil at the Wall asked the scouts if any of their fathers who served in Vietnam talked about their experiences. The reply was a resounding "no!" "At that," Roach writes, "my eyes welled up and tears rolled down my cheeks." He determined to give a voice to his own memories.

An "infantryman in the South Pacific during World War II saw about 40 days of combat in four years," he writes. "The average infantryman in Vietnam saw about 240 days of combat in one year thanks to the mobility of the helicopter. I saw 210 days."

Roach's memoir is called "Gifts of War: Once Upon A Rice Paddy" ($50.48 in paperback from AuthorHouse, Included are dozens of color photographs that transport the reader back through the mist of decades. "These stories are all true as I experienced them and written to the best of my recollection." They "aren't any more significant than any other soldier's; they are just mine and I own them." He also chronicles the trip to Vietnam in 2007 made by his son, Shane, to the places he had operated. It is a moving account.

First Lieutenant Roach "reported to Vietnam in March of '68 as a replacement officer" and became a "platoon leader for the 3rd platoon of Delta Company, 1st Battalion of the 501st Infantry, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division; the original U.S. Airborne unit." Later, before his assignment ended the next year, he became Delta's XO (Executive Officer).

In his assignments Roach witnessed the ugliness of war first hand, the terrible mistakes that can be made in the midst of combat, and the "gift" war provides as a kind of desperate laboratory for leadership development. Roach learned the dangers of complacency; that sometimes "when a serious mistake is made, often times living through it is sufficient punishment"; and to "maintain an honorable vision."

There was another gift as well. A Bay Area radio station in 1968 encouraged listeners to write to the troops, and a Christmas card sent to Roach by one woman changed his life forever. "It was a match made in Vietnam."

Sunday, October 30, 2011

First-hand account of a haunted Chico apartment


"I moved to 125 Parmac Road in Chico, California, in the year 2000," writes Jodi Foster (not the actress). "Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined the terror and confusion I was about the experience: lights flashing, the hands of a clock turning, and my three-year-old daughter's toy--a 'Sing and Snore Ernie' doll--mysteriously relocated in the center of my living room, screaming, 'I feel great! I feel great! I feel great!' ... And this was just the first night I moved in."

The story links to the case of Cameron Hooker of Red Bluff, who, with the complicity of his wife, Janice, abducted Colleen Stan for use as a sex slave for seven years. As a friend of Foster's told her, "I believe there was another young woman living in Chico who went missing and was never found or heard from again." Janice eventually told Red Bluff police that in 1976, before Stan's abduction, the couple had visited Chico and Cameron had tortured and murdered 19-year-old Marie Elizabeth Spannhake after she returned to her apartment--at 125 Parmac Road.

Foster's account is given in "Forgotten Burial: A Restless Spirit's Plea For Justice" ($17.95 in paperback from iUniverse; also available in e-reader formats for Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook and from Google ebookstore). Learning about the Hookers on Halloween, 2000, she began putting the pieces together, attempting to make sense of her psychic experiences (which she reports having since childhood).

Foster will be signing copies of her book at Lyon Books in Chico on Thursday, November 10 at 7:00 p.m.

The story she tells is also about her own spiritual journey. Fearful, given to panic attacks, plagued by nightmares which seemed to fit what she later learned of the Hookers, Foster years later writes of a new perspective. "I had been tortured by the mystery for years and, at one point in my life, having paranormal experiences and clairvoyant abilities had been scary. Now it was intriguing--an adventure full of possibilities."

Her story is one of odd coincidences and visitations from the spirit world, all within the context of ordinary life in Chico. Foster seems convinced that Spannhake wants to be found, but so far the case has not been resolved.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Chico visitor on the treatment of native remains


"In the summer of 2006," Tony Platt writes, "my forty-year-old son died. Daniel left a clear written message that he wanted a funeral at Big Lagoon, the northwestern California village on the coast where we have a vacation cabin. We honored his request, sending his ashy remains off into the lagoon. Some eighteen months later I discovered that the Yurok who lived in this area 'since time immemorial' had been buried a few hundred yards away from my cabin."

Only in the last few years has Platt, a CSU Sacramento emeritus professor, come to realize that that area in Humboldt County, called O-pyúweg by the Yurok, was the scene not only of bloody violence but of plundered native remains. His scholarly research--and passion--are on display in "Grave Matters: Excavating California's Buried Past" ($18.95 in paperback from Heyday Books).

"Many local 'Indian relics' preserved in university labs, museum display cases, private collections, and tourist attractions," he writes, "were taken from inside graves; and that often collectors also removed skulls and bones to show off to their friends or ship off to anthropologists in Berkeley." Those acts are illegal now in California, "but until the 1970s digging up native burial sites for pleasure, science, or profit was for the most part authorized and popular, despite longstanding and persistent native protests."

Platt will be speaking in Chico Wednesday night at 6:00 p.m. at Barnes and Noble; and Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. at Lyon Books (which will also feature Heyday Books founder Malcolm Margolin).

"'We bury our individuals with the trappings of their life,' says the Yurok tribal historic preservation officer, 'in order to show their status in the afterlife. To separate the dead from their artifacts is to separate them from their identity.'" The story of desecration and repatriation is a complex one, involving anthropologist Alfred Kroeber (associated with Ishi) and a host of others.

For Platt, what happened to native populations in California amounts to genocide, making us "pay attention to the magnitude of a decade of butchery, and invites us to consider 'family resemblances' between California in the 1850s and 1860s, Turkey in 1915, Germany in the 1930s, and Rwanda in 1994." It is a horrendous story, one told with nuance and compassion.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Finding love in all the wrong places


Recent Chico visitor Ethlie Ann Vare, screenwriter, humorist, and a woman with a past, is now, thankfully, a woman with a future. The Hollywood resident spoke last month at Lyon Books about what she calls "affection deficit disorder." Her cravings almost got the best of her. She graduated with high honors from UC Santa Barbara and was busted and jailed for drug possession. But that was not the half of it.

"By twenty-two," she writes, "I was twice married, once divorced, once annulled, and had a felony record. I had slept with seventy-five men (yes, I counted), a remarkable feat considering I didn't start until I was eighteen and had been locked away for a year." She tells her story, with clarity, wit and unblushing language, in "Love Addict: Sex, Romance and Other Dangerous Drugs" ($14.95 in paperback from Health Communications, Inc.; also available in e-book formats for Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook).

Love addicts come in three overlapping categories. "The infatuation addict flits from one romance to the next, rarely getting into a long-term relationship because ... novelty is the great aphrodisiac." "A relationship junkie is the gal with the black eye who insists it was her fault for making him jealous." "The sexaholic's life revolves around--you guessed it--sex; ... being thought of as a bombshell or a stud is paramount." The bottom line? "Love addiction is a chronic, relapsing, and potentially fatal condition. Left untreated, it can kill you."

So "Love Addict" also offers a treatment, but a realistic one. Vare has done her research on the part neurotransmitters might play in the seduction-withdrawal downward spiral, the compulsive craving for dangerous relationships followed by the intense need to escape. But, she says, one can't blame one's situation on chemicals, nor can one think one's way out of love addiction (rationalizations, anyone?). "Addiction," she writes, "is a disease of loneliness. Recovery is a process of community."

The author present several case studies of men and women who faced their "love addiction" and brings in insights from a number of therapists. She commends a 12-step approach, though while it's clear one must say no to alcohol, how does one say no to love?

Vare's answers are a journey toward hope, not hype.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Urban homesteader to speak in Chico


"Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living" ($16.95 in paperback from Skyhorse Publishing; digital editions for Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, and from Google ebookstore) is a spirited manifesto by Rachel Kaplan with K. Ruby Blume. In 2008 Blume founded the Institute for Urban Homesteading in Oakland; Kaplan "works as a somatic psychotherapist and teaches homesteading skills."

Together, they write, "our work reflects a commitment toward a regenerative, living culture, rather than the consumptive consumerism our country has refined to a sick art. We opt out by digging in."

Kaplan will be speaking at Lyon Books in Chico this Thursday, Oct. 13 at 7:00 p.m.

Chapters in the profusely-illustrated book cover such practical matters as creating community gardens, making cheese, butchering chickens, using a composting toilet, growing herbal medicines and building structures with cob ("just soil dug from the backyard and mixed with water, sand, clay and straw"). This is radical stuff: "The front lawn must go the way of the dodo. No longer will we spend our time in submission to the manicured lawn, wasting water and energy. Our rallying cry is: Turn Your Lawn into Your Lunch! Sheet mulching reclaims the lawn with an organic 'lasagna' of cardboard, compost, and mulch."

The goal is "permaculture," not a back-to-the-land movement or a self-sufficiency movement. It's about permanent culture, which means creating community sufficiency and resilience through collaboration." It involves neighborhoods, not just households.

This is not a call to sacrifice. "We love our lives as homesteaders," the authors write. "Don't confuse this lifestyle with a fear-driven mentality of scarcity and lack. This kind of living is about the richness of the present moment and the joy in living a simpler, uncluttered life."

"And so we find ourselves in our backyards fighting gophers, pulling carrots, harvesting rabbits and eggs, tending bees, and gathering raspberries, grapes, broccoli, and kale. We save our seeds. We pee in a bucket and dump it on the compost bin. We harvest our rainwater and drain our bathtubs into the garden. On hot summer afternoons you'll find us preserving jars of peaches, plums, and nectarines that have fallen from the trees. We bring people together to learn how to can, make yogurt, hold a meeting, or turn a lawn into a garden."

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Chico writer teaches kids about law enforcement


Linda Mobilio-Keeling teaches in the School of Education at Chico State University. She has a passion for educating young people about the work of law enforcement professionals; to that end she's written "Feeling Safe With Officer Frank" ($14.95 in hardcover from Mascot Books). For kids 3-8 or so, the tale, illustrated by Silvia Faschi, follows young Luke who gets lost walking to the park.

Luke is befriended by Officer Frank, who lets him ride in his patrol car and watch as the officer helps direct traffic after a fender bender, responds to an elderly man in need of assistance, fixes a broken bicycle chain for a little girl, and more. Luke gets to help take safety workbooks to the school where Officer Frank will be teaching. It turns out that the officer and his family live near Luke and his mom. "Luke knew he would be safe with Officer Frank nearby."

The book is dedicated to the late David Mobilio. "In the spring of 2003," the author writes in an email, "my husband’s name was added to long list of names already engraved on the police officer memorial wall in Washington D.C. While filling in on a shift for a fellow officer, he was ambushed and fatally shot while refueling his patrol car in the middle of the night. David was not only a patrol officer for the City of Red Bluff, but acted as the DARE officer, dedicating time and energy to teaching hundreds of kids how to say no to drugs and violence. His tragic death devastated our entire community – young and old alike."

Linda Mobilio-Keeling, married since 2005 to a Butte County Sheriff's Office Patrol Sergeant, will be reading from and signing copies of her book this coming Saturday, October 8, from 2:00 - 4:00 p.m. at Barnes and Noble in Chico. The public is invited, especially kids with questions about law enforcement.

For Mobilio-Keeling, her book "gives a face and a voice to an officer who wears the uniform to serve and protect, and carries on the mission of positively connecting law enforcement and youth. My goal is to provide a resource for officers to use when visiting classrooms, while promoting respect and honor for our fallen and active uniformed personnel."

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Salman Rushdie's magic carpet ride graces Chico


Luka's father, storyteller Rashid Khalifa, the "Shah of Blah," is Asleep, lost in his own world and, growing weaker by the moment, unresponsive to anyone around him. His twelve-year-old son must enter the World of Magic with Bear, the dog, and Dog, the bear, in a desperate effort to find what will bring his father back to Reality.

"Luka and the Fire of Life" ($15 in paperback from Random House; also available in Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook and Google eBook formats) is Sir Salmon Rushdie's follow-up to "Haroun and the Sea of Stories." Left-handed Luka is Haroun's younger brother, and now it is his time to enter the world which exists "in parallel with our own non-Magic one."

Here are the sources of "White Magic, Black Magic, dreams, nightmares, stories, lies, dragons, fairies, blue-bearded genies, mechanical mind-reading birds, buried treasure, music, fiction, hope, fear, the gift of eternal life, the angel of death, the angel of love, interruptions, jokes, good ideas, rotten ideas, happy endings, in fact almost everything of any interest at all."

But the keepers of the World of Magic cannot abide the upending of the flow of Time that imagination wreaks on their precious Order of Things. Luka is almost vanquished, but one must never discount one's friends, especially if they have a magic carpet.

The Order of Things in our Real World is not so sunny, either. As part of Chico State University's President's Lecture Series, Rushdie will speak on "Public Events, Private Lives: Literature and Politics in the Modern World." The presentation is Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the university's Laxson Auditorium. Tickets are available online (, through walk-up at the University Box Office (corner of 2nd St. & Normal Ave.), or by phone (530-898-6333). Premium tickets are $40; Adults $35; Seniors $33 and Students/Children $25.

Nobodaddy, Luka's nemesis, the being sucking the life from his father, is clear that the tale is not just a story. "You of all boys should know that Man is the Storytelling Animal, and that in stories are his identity, his meaning, and his lifeblood. Do rats tell tales? Do porpoises have narrative purposes? Do elephants ele-phantasize? You know as well as I do that they do not. Man alone burns with books."

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The hardest summers


Bill Carter has a penchant for putting himself into difficult situations. In "Fools Rush In" the Pleasant Valley High School grad traveled to Bosnia during its civil war. Now he faces the brutalities of nature.

"Red Summer" ($16.95 in paperback from Schaffner Press; also available in e-book editions for Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, and Google eBooks) is subtitled "The Danger, Madness, and Exaltation of Salmon Fishing in a Remote Alaskan Village."

The village is called Egegik ("pronounced Ig-GEE-gek") "which would not exist," Carter writes, "except for one thing: salmon, specifically sockeye salmon. Every year, in June, for at least the last eight thousand years, sockeye salmon, also called reds, enter Bristol Bay. They do not come in the hundreds or even the thousands. Tens of millions of sockeye salmon come, loosely gathered together in the shape of a giant ball, swirling in a counterclockwise motion, resembling an underwater hurricane." Then the fish leave the hurricane and "enter the river systems of Bristol Bay."

Carter had gotten a phone call that took him to Egegik, where he was to spend the next four summers as a set netter. Their "operations are stationary, with one end of the net tied to the shore, the other end to an anchor somewhere in the river, usually three hundred feet offshore." It is humbling work. "We have been at it for almost nineteen hours," he says at one point. "In the end we deliver 28,000 pounds of fish. ... My take is 10 percent, or $1,120 for nineteen hours of work."

Why do this? "The weather is brutal and the work is both difficult and dangerous. And at the end of each season I promise myself I will never do it again. I return to Egegik because I need a place where nature still has the upper hand, reminding me that my existence is fragile and fleeting."

Carter works for Sharon and her fishing partner, Carl, and the book not only connects with their lives but the rhythm of Egegik itself, where the only law is Fish and Game. In the end, he is married, and feels "like I've fully arrived in this place. I relish the silence. I feel connected to these people, to this river." And now, finally, he can leave.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Harrowing tales of Orland's first responders


Marianne Paiva grew up in Orland where she worked from 1993 to 1997 first as an emergency medical technician and, in the last two years, as a paramedic serving Glenn County and Chico. Now a Chico resident, and a former Northstate Voices columnist, Paiva teaches sociology and has done extensive field research on paramedics. She is also a gifted writer, and the experiences she relates grip the reader with unforgettable, brutal images.

Those stories are contained in "Breathe: Essays From a Recovering Paramedic" ($14.95 in paperback from Memoir Books), available online at and in Chico at Lyon Books.

Paiva will be signing copies of "Breathe" tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. at Bella Day Spa, 15 Williamsburg Lane.

"In paramedic school they never teach you how to treat a patient who has tried to commit suicide by slitting his own throat," she writes. "They teach you to bandage a stab wound, a sucking chest wound, a slice on the arm. They tell you how to splint a fractured femur and how to help a baby breathe again, but they never tell you how to bandage a throat that has been slit from ear to ear. I think somewhere, they assume that the person will be dead and there will be no need for bandages." In part, because of the work of Paiva and her teammate, the patient (they are always patients, never victims) survived.

There are other stories where the outcome is far different. Paiva captures the moment-by-moment urgency in the mind of the paramedic: "What do I do now?" Sometimes it is not enough. And sometimes there is that one call that calls an end to a career. "I am done, I realize. I am done. I can't take any more babies beaten and scalded with hot water. And mothers who extinguish cigarettes on their children and fathers who rape their sons and the people who cover it up. ... I can't take one more boy struck by a car on his way to school and my best friends being shot by their boyfriends."

Now, years later, "sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and wonder when the pager will go off." There are many who are grateful that, back then, it did.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Corning olive grower remembers the sixties


Charles Rouse was 23 and an Air Force vet when he transferred from Citrus Junior College in Glendora to Occidental College in northeast Los Angeles. His junior year at "Oxy" began on September 22, 1966. Now, half a lifetime later, he has endeavored to come to terms with the forces that shaped the age--the War in Vietnam; recreational drug use; the rise of the hippies--and with his own experiences. The story unfolds in "Two Years At Occidental College In The Late Sixties" ($14 in paperback from CreateSpace; also available in Amazon Kindle e-book format).

"This is not a young man's story," he writes, "or a young man's point of view or a young man's memory. This is me telling the story of more than forty years ago." Then, Rouse adopted the Objectivism of Ayn Rand (her work drew him to major in philosophy). Now, "I retain my civil libertarianism but have been for many years a middle-of-the-road pragmatic Democrat." The book is in part a meditation on the ever-changing patterns of life.

Rouse was recently interviewed by Nancy Wiegman on Nancy's Bookshelf on KCHO (Northstate Public Radio), 91.7 FM. The archived program is available at

Each academic term receives its own chapter, and Rouse begins by listing his classes and setting the context with reference to events in the larger world. He remembers the language: Folks were "freaked out" and everything was "amazing" if it wasn't "gross."

He was shy and awkward around others, yet eventually welcomed female companionship--only to have his heart broken when they moved on.

But it was the drugs that precipitated the biggest crisis. By the late sixties Occidental was no stranger to LSD, marijuana, and even meth. A "friend" gave Rouse some kind of hyped up dose of something, and that led to panic attacks, flashbacks, and years of therapy.

The book helps remind us of "the spirt of the time, the zeitgeist whooshing down the corridors of the dormitories, the awakening in the students, the young people wearing button-down shirts one week and paisley the next." The music was "Donovan, Dylan, The Beatles, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and it all sounds so dated now."

And yet, as events unfolded, maybe things were not so Occidental after all

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Former Chicoan's best-selling novel speaks the language of flowers


For Vanessa Fleming Diffenbaugh, who attended Chico public schools, graduated from Chico High School and studied education and creative writing at Stanford, it all began in a used bookstore. There she found a volume by Kate Greenaway detailing flower symbolism.

What bloomed is a novel of emotional depth and uncommon force. "The Language of Flowers" ($25 in hardcover from Ballantine Books; in e-book editions for Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook; and in audio book format) tells the story of Victoria Jones. At age 18 she has had a stream of foster families but nowhere to call home. Meredith, her social worker, takes her to transitional housing. But soon she finds herself homeless on the streets of San Francisco. All she knows are the flowers.

In the third grade Victoria stayed with Elizabeth, a single woman who taught her about the language of flowers. "It's from the Victorian era, like your name," Elizabeth says. "If a man gives a lady a bouquet of flowers, she would race home and try to decode it like a secret message. Red roses mean love; yellow roses infidelity. So a man would have to choose his flowers carefully."

Now, years later, Victoria must answer the question: How can someone love who has never experienced love? A neighborhood florist discovers her skill with flowers; soon Victoria is creating extraordinary arrangements that seem to bring into being love and desire in those who purchase them. But for Victoria, life is lavender. Mistrust. She is hiding a secret that perhaps can only be expressed in flowers.

Diffenbaugh will be talking about her novel at 7:00 p.m. this Thursday, September 1, at the Chico Women's Club, 592 E. 3rd Street, in a free literary event. Lyon Books in Chico can provide more information.

It comes as a shock when Victoria realizes that the definitions Elizabeth had called "nonnegotiable" (an appendix provides Victoria's dictionary) were not actually settled. "Columbine symbolized both desertion and folly." She realizes "I had given Meredith peony, anger but also shame." Just what messages are the flowers sending? And that flower vendor, Grant. What part does he play in all this? "Perhaps the unattached, the unwanted, the unloved, could grow to give love as lushly as anyone else."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Los Molinos poet brings together "a chorus of voices"


"I like to take pictures at dawn and dusk," Stephani Schaefer writes, "in rain and fog, where what you see and what you feel changes with the changing light." Such images "go looking for words." She eventually picked five. "The five chosen make a portrait of my neighborhood, from Josephine Street to the back road I wander daily with camera and notebook."

The first photograph chosen lends itself to the cover and the title. "Fog and Woodsmoke: Behind the Image" ($14.95 in paperback from Lost Hills Books,, or in Barnes and Noble Nook Book e-book) brings together the work of almost three dozen writers. They offer poetry and prose poems, some previously published, most freshly written for the project. You'll find familiar names here, including Rob Davidson, Sally Allen McNall, Lara Gularte, Patricia Wellingham-Jones, Schaefer herself, and more. (The book would be useful for creative writing workshops and writing prompts are available from the publisher.)

Each of the photographs, including a cross tied to a tree as a roadside memorial, trees full of blackbirds at dusk, a flooded road, and an "end of pavement" sign shrouded in mist, suggests some mystery, some deeper story ripe for imagining, and Schaefer's arrangement of the pieces is superb. The reader is enthralled. The poems are a kind of many-voiced commentary on the five images; they point out small details not seen at first and offer surprises on almost every page.

"Dreams are fragile as a spider's web," writes Nancy Paddock about the cover image, "blundered into by moonlight, / the pattern torn, threads drifting" ("In the Dark of Morning"). "Outside the fog grows dark as any sea," writes Bruce Henricksen. "It parts from time to time to show / the ancient starlight--worlds beyond / worlds, the layers of time / beyond need" ("Solitude").

Alan Catlin's "Still Life with Dead Zone" is a series of haibun ("two prose poems linked by a haiku"). The poet muses on the image of fog and woodsmoke: "Nothing moving but the smoke. The haze. The strange rings of the overhead street lights. // Dead air with black / smoke; impossible / to breathe. // Smoke from the burning thatched huts. ... A naked baby, sitting amid the wreckage, screaming."


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Chico psychotherapist teaches Buddhist techniques of self-compassion


Steve Flowers conducts the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction clinic online and at Enloe Hospital in Chico. In his private practice he teaches meditation techniques to help his clients come to terms with the "narrative-based self": a self constructed by stories of one's own inadequacies and failings.

"The Mindful Path Through Shyness" addressed some of the issues; now, in a new book co-authored with Bob Stahl (who founded mindfulness stress-reduction programs at several Bay Area medical centers), he offers a more comprehensive Buddhist approach to "Living With Your Heart Wide Open" ($16.95 in paperback from New Harbinger Publications; also in Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, and Google e-Book formats).

Flowers will be speaking about the way of "radical acceptance" at a presentation and book signing this Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. at Lyon Books in Chico.

The book's subtitle is "How Mindfulness and Compassion Can Free You From Unworthiness, Inadequacy and Shame." The authors begin with "key concepts from both Western and Buddhist psychology" in examining suffering. "The modern psychologies of the West," they write, "have developed interventions to repair problems with the self, using techniques such as investigating how we think and learning skills to change dysfunctional thinking. Buddhist psychology also acknowledges that thoughts create suffering, but rather than working to change thoughts, this approach considers the act of witnessing thoughts without getting caught up in them to be an effective way to dispel their power."

Slowly, carefully, through stories of those helped by meditation, and by meditation exercises, the authors take the reader into a deeper understanding of what it means to make peace with oneself and with others. The ego is not necessarily bad; "a healthy ego" is needed "to get free of the delusions your ego spins." But the Buddhist perspective is that the ego is not permanent, is not really "us." We don't have a self to "fix." Acceptance of that idea is tantamount to "awakening" to loving-kindness, "self-compassion."

"Mindfulness meditation," the authors say, "is an investigative practice. You enter a space of awareness in which you can witness and examine the thoughts and emotions from which you fabricate a sense of self." There is no judgment; only freedom to practice "wisdom, virtue, and concentration," and, like the velveteen rabbit, to become "real."

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Chico writer on ethical government contracting


The rancorous debate over the Federal debt ceiling reminds us afresh that decisions made in Washington often have profound effects on Main Street. That includes billions of dollars paid to private companies by government entities contracting for needed goods and services. With so much money changing hands, the temptation to "nefarious, amateurish, and criminal behavior" is ever present. William Sims Curry, a Chico-based government contract consultant (, addresses the issue head on.

"Government Contracting: Promises and Perils" ($69.95 in hardcover from CRC Press) provides "best practices" for those doing business with the government. Written "primarily from the government perspective," the book "includes recommendations for actions for contractors to avoid government sanctions, corporate fines, seizure of employee assets, and suspension or debarment of contractors." Though careful to praise the vast majority of contractors (and government officials), Curry focuses on negative examples where the process has gone off the rails, including Boeing scandals and the FEMA response to hurricane Katrina.

The book is technical in nature, dealing with contract processes; decisions about "sole source" or competitive bids; social objectives through contracting; proposal solicitation, evaluation, administration and auditing; and contracting during emergencies. A CD is included with the book presenting many of the forms and other document referred to in the text. But the lay reader may find the discussion fascinating, especially in contemplating the "government procurement corruption wall of shame," which includes bribery, abuse of power, contract fraud, ineptitude, partiality, poor planning, larceny, and more.

For Curry, the key to honesty in the contracting process is having a transparent process to begin with. It's not as easy as one might think. For example, if several contractors bid on a project, one company might have better management and past performance, but another might have better technical competence and be cheaper. Unless the criteria can be boiled down into a single number, it's likely losing contractors will file protests.

Curry notes that emergencies often lead to single source contracting, but that's often a mistake. "Obtaining competitive proposals or bids does not necessarily slow the contracting process because a solicitation can be sent concurrently to multiple prospective contractors." Though the company selected may not be the least expensive, competitive pressures may lower overall bids. Something to remember when the envelopes are opened.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A lesson for kids from a Chico writer


First introduced in "Crowlyle Finds His Caw," a tale about the importance of honesty, Crowlyle the crow is back with a bouncy story that shows the power of volunteering. "Crowlyle's Plan To Save the Zoo" ($12.95 in paperback from North State Children's Books) by Vic Sbarbaro and Marcia Pezzella is graced with delightful full-page, full-color illustrations by Ashe Lewis. The book is available locally at the Chico State University Associated Students Bookstore and Lyon Books in Chico.

Sbarbaro is a Certified Health Education Specialist who teaches at both Chico State University and Butte College. According to an author's note, he also "specializes in ... multicultural education issues, emergency care and aquatic safety." Pezzella, his sister, "was born and raised in Weed," had careers in the entertainment field and special education for disabled children, and now in retirement helps her husband in the restaurant business.

Lewis is "majoring in Communication Design and Applied Computer Graphics" at the university, where she was lead illustrator for the Orion. Her whimsical art invites the reader into Crowlyle's world, which is always on the move. Eli Elephant "walks the ropes," Tia tiger approaches the ring of fire, Hop Hippo belts out a tune, as all the animals put on a talent show to raise funds for the beleaguered local zoo. "When you do a good deed / Surely you can earn respect / Helping those in need / For a worthy zoo project."

Everyone will have to hurry. No time for Crowlyle to sleep in. "The children are full of sorrow / And are feeling very blue / The zoo will close tomorrow / They don't know what to do."

Crowlyle "has a plan / The idea is so cool / His friends take a stand / Then go to the school." He enlists volunteers to set up a "veggie shack" to raise funds, and his animal friends strut their stuff.

Together the animals save the day. "Crowlyle thanked everyone / With pride in his heart / Be very proud for what is done / Since you all did your part." The lesson for readers? "Take some time from your day / Giving thanks for all you do / Watch animals as they play / And support your public zoo."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Paradise author tells the adventures of a street mutt


At the age of 78, J.T. Brown of Paradise has become an author. She writes me that her story--suitable for middle grades and up--is based on real life experiences but told from a dog's perspective. "My desire," Brown says, is "that young and old will be made aware of the heartache when one is abandoned whether as a puppy or a child."

"Torno" ($15.99 in paperback from Xlibris; also available in Amazon Kindle e-book for $7.69 and Barnes and Noble Nook book format for $7.99; available from is short for "tornado," a fast little pooch but not the handsomest of canines.

"Could someone out there like me?" he wonders. "Lookin' at the other mutts, I saw they were pretty good lookin'. I looked down at my reflection in my water bowl and took inventory. My feet looked too big. My legs were long and skinny. My white hair was more scraggly than ever. I had a black spot on my tongue, plus one ear stood up and the other hung down. I couldn't see much of my tail, but there was no doubt it was funny lookin'. Who would want a mutt like me for their very own?"

Torno is impounded and on the verge of being put down. No one seems to want an ugly dog and he wonders about his life's purpose. He pours his heart out to his "superior being" and is convinced he is watched over, cared for.

Then Tom arrives and Torno has a new master. An airline pilot, Tom takes the dog home to his family, but Torno soon realizes all is not well. Tom's marriage is crumbling and the children face an uncertain future. Torno tries to bring happiness to the household--he has a great personality--but soon Tom's wife leaves and it feels like love has left, too.

Eventually Tom moves on with his life, and one day, returning from a trip, finds a new neighbor has moved in. Tom decides to introduce himself, and Torno tags along: "The door opened and a lady stood there beside the most beautiful German shepherd I'd ever seen.... I was in love."

The conclusion is poignant, mingling love and loss. So it is with life.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Robots behaving badly


Daniel H. Wilson has a Ph.D. in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University. He lives with his wife and daughter in Portland, but two or three weeks ago found himself near Colusa. He was, he writes me, "in an RV with eight guys on a bachelor party, on my way to a wedding in Calistoga. Incredibly beautiful place! I ended up getting on NPR Science Friday, and so a black towncar picked me up from a dusty RV park over in Meridian where we stopped for the night. Took me down to SF and then back up. Pretty hilarious."

He was receiving the VIP treatment because of his new, best-selling can't-put-down "Robopocalypse" ($25 in hardcover from Doubleday; $12.99 in Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook e-book). Word is that Steven Spielberg will direct the movie version.

In the future, humanoid robots are deployed as housekeepers and cars have smart chips in them so they can talk with other cars. People in offices depend on smart copy machines and kids play with smart dolls.

A researcher in northwest Washington pushes the limits of computer intelligence and succeeds a bit too much. His creation, "Archos," is quick to put things straight: "I am not your child," Archos tells the scientist. "I am your god." It's not long before Archos brings other robots under its sway and soon an apocalyptic conflict breaks out between humans and robots. It's intense and pretty gruesome.

The story of the war, and what happens afterward, is told in many voices, from Tokyo to Oklahoma, transcribed by a single soldier, Cormac "Bright Boy" Wallace, using documents preserved by a robot hidden in Alaska. Here are the stories of Mr. Takeo Nomura, a Japanese bachelor, assaulted by his robot companion; Paul Blanton, an American soldier fighting in Afghanistan; and groups of human survivors who will one day mount an attack on the Archos intelligence. The action seldom lets up, but this is not a simplistic humans-against-robots yarn.

Wilson raises the question whether the triumph of Archos would actually liberate the robots. Maybe not. But, then, what is true robot freedom? Perhaps the war against Archos is a war for a new kind of liberation.

Just to be on the safe side, I read the printed version of the book.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Local author on sustainable living with native plants


An author's note says that Alicia Funk, who lives "off the grid with her husband and three children," "first learned plant based medicine in 1990 from an indigenous grandmother in Ecuador's rainforest." With her co-author, landscape architect and Nevada City resident Karin Kaufman, Funk has crafted a full-color reference, "Living Wild: Gardening, Cooking and Healing With Native Plants of the Sierra Nevada" ($29.95 in paperback from Flicker Press).

A recent visitor to Lyon Books in Chico, where the volume is available locally, Funk facilitates "living wild" workshops. According to the authors, "our modern-day American diet relies upon a mere 30 or so plant species, while 200 years ago an indigenous Californian's diet would have included about a thousand. We have lost the Native Californians' valuable 'user's manual' that could guide us to the plants we would enjoy eating and help us to learn the best ways to prepare them."

The largest part of the book is a color compendium of native species for the garden, from the White Alder to the evergreen shrub Yerba Santa (which is deer resistant). Each listing points (as appropriate) to the Foods, Medicine, and Cultural and Functional Arts sections. For the Manzanita, one can fix Manzanita Blossom Jelly for breakfast. Manzanita has been used to treat Poison Oak; its wood has been fashioned into kitchen utensils.

The section on making medicines (including teas, herbal syrups, salves and poultices) notes that the process "is a fun, relaxing experience that provides a way to personally engage in health and wellness." The authors carefully note that the uses listed often come from Native lore and haven't been tested scientifically; and in many cases the preparations shouldn't be used by those who are pregnant. Yerba Santa tea is considered a decongestant by "by Miwok, Pomo and Yuki tribes and by doctors who listed it as an official remedy in the US. Pharmacopoeia in 1894." The Maidu "used the dried and powdered inner bark (of the White Alder) as an astringent to clean wounds."

There are some 70 recipes in the food section. Elderberry wine, anyone? Oak Nut Gingerbread? (Oak nut flour is gluten-free.) It's a way to "enjoy nutrient-rich, carbon-free food from the plants growing around our home. ... We allow the wild in."

Sunday, July 03, 2011

New Mia King/Darien Gee novel has baked-in goodness


Independence Day celebrations evoke images of small-town America, so it's easy to imagine Avalon, a place that "isn’t more than what it seems to be—a small, simple river town in northern Illinois." In the midst of buzzing cell phones and economic downturns it is also a place of broken marriages and fractured relationships. And then one small act of kindness, its origin a mystery, turns the town upside down.

Best-selling author Mia King, writing under her real name, Darien Gee, weaves together the lives of several women in Avalon in "Friendship Bread: A Novel" ($25 in hardcover from Ballantine Books; $12.99 in Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook e-book format; and an audio book version narrated by Nancy Linari). Gee's husband, Darrin, has relatives in Chico. The couple lives on the Big Island of Hawaii with their three children.

It begins on Julia Evarts' front porch with a Ziploc bag full of starter for "Amish Friendship Bread," instructions, and a note that says: "I hope you enjoy it." But for Gracie, her five-year-old, Julia would have tossed the strange substance. Now she is prepping it for baking in ten days, thinking of her husband Mark's sweet tooth. But she is thinking, too, of Josh, their son, who died tragically at the age of ten in the care of her younger sister, Livvy. She doesn't talk to Livvy anymore, can't forgive her, or herself.

Hannah, a master cellist, has settled in Avalon with her husband, but the marriage is not going well. Madeline, an older woman, has opened a tea salon in Avalon, and when circumstances bring Julia and Hannah together, Madeline provides the emotional glue. All the time, loaves of Friendship Bread continue to multiply as new starters are passed from person to person.

The novel is about finding true freedom. As Julia realizes, "I want to be free. Only it wasn’t the freedom she had toyed with before, that singular independence that excluded Mark and Gracie. It was a freedom that included them. She wanted to be free to love them, to be with them."

Readers can download a free PDF booklet with more than 50 Amish friendship bread recipes from now until July 10, 2011. Visit The password is er.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Two codgers on horseback from Paradise to Idaho's Snake River


Back in June 1990 Loyal McCammond and his friend Bert Lefevre told their wives they'd be making a 700-mile horseback ride from Paradise to Glenns Ferry (where Bert's brother-in-law lived) near the Snake River in Idaho. Loyal was 50-years-old, Bert 70, and the two set out with three mules and two horses and not many smarts.

When it was over, Bert wanted to write the story of the 27-day trek but passed away before the project could be completed. Loyal took up the task, recounting their misadventures in Bert's voice and in so doing introducing readers to a plain-spoken man with an eye for beauty, given to understatement and deadpan humor. Bert comes alive in "We Poked A Hole In The Wind: The Story of Two Old Codgers Fulfilling A Dream" ($10.95 in paperback from JADA Press) by Loyal McCammond.

McCammond, who now lives in Orland with his wife, will be signing copies of his work at Lyon Books in Chico this Wednesday, June 29 at 7:00 p.m.

The trekkers "crossed the Skyway at the Lovelock Inn," says Bert, "and, oh man how I wanted to stop for a beer. I've always been a very reliable beer drinker, and I sure wanted a beer mighty bad." But it was not to be. There were deserts to cross and parts of four states to traverse. So no beer--until they, uh, pulled into the Inskip Inn.

But now onward! Along the way the travelers meet a succession of nice folks, people who provide a place to crash, food for the animals and the adults, and a bit of trail guidance. Bert and Loyal don't hew to roadways if they can help it, and sometimes there's not much of a trail. Here and there they find lonely windmills still pumping fresh water, abandoned barns in which to take shelter, and even places that serve beer.

Preparing to cross into Nevada, they spend the night in an empty cabin. The next day, says Bert, "when we were about five miles out from Wemple's cabin, I made a terrible discovery. I had either lost my teeth or left them in the cabin."

Intrepid, Bert soldiers on, leaning forward, living the dream, poking a hole in the wind.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Local investment advisor teaches through humor


If you are responsible for handling someone else's money, you may be a fiduciary. Investment advisors are fiduciaries, but so are people managing the finances of an aging parent or acting as a trustee for a family trust. Fiduciaries are regulated by the Uniform Prudent Investor Act (UPIA), a code of conduct expressed in formal legal language.

That's where Guerdon Ely comes in. He's the author of "Uncertainty Is a Certainty: Fables for Fiduciaries" ($14.99 in paperback from Xulon Press). The Chico-based Certified Financial Planner ( presents the duties spelled out in UPIA using stories and analogies that anyone can understand.

His self-deprecating reminiscences are sometimes hilarious, but Ely has a serious purpose. Proper stewardship of another's money is not just about following a legal process; it's about developing honest character not tempted by Wall Street greed or swayed by "sucker bets."

Ely will be speaking at the Chico Branch of the Butte County Library on Wednesday, June 22 at 2:00 p.m. as part of a series entitled "Transforming Life After 50." He is scheduled to focus on global economics, the financial meltdown, and how individuals can respond. The two-hour presentation is free and open to the public.

It's vital for a fiduciary to determine the "time horizon" of investments; but the time horizon may well change with changing circumstances. Early in his marriage Ely was living from paycheck to paycheck. He told his wife: "'My most important short-term goal is this month's rent payment and my most important long-term goal is next month's.' ... Things were so tight that a big night out was splitting a turkey sandwich and a cup of soup at Denny's, and then going window-shopping at the grocery store." Later, Ely and his family were able to look a little farther ahead.

A fiduciary is judged not by portfolio performance but by whether he or she follows a process that rests on appropriate skill and good judgment. "Knowing isn't enough," Ely writes, "because we are hardwired to do dumb things when it comes to money. Therefore, as a fiduciary, you need the courage to do the right things and the discipline not to do the wrong things."

If this sounds like a philosophy of life, the reader has made a prudent observation.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Holocaust survivor Voyles offers remembrances of wartime in the Netherlands


The 1st Montessori School in Amsterdam opened its doors as a public institution on October 27, 1927. Almost 75 years later, a former student wondered how many of the children from the school had died in World War II. That sent one of the teachers, Ronald Sanders, on a quest. "When the war started," he writes, "about 20 percent of our students were Jewish. After the war, fewer than ten students came back to the 1st Montessori School; the Nazis had murdered more than 90 percent of the Jewish population of the Netherlands."

Hannie J. Ostendorf Voyles, longtime Butte College writing instructor now in active retirement, attended the school starting in 1939 with her sister Joosje. "Before that," she remembers, "we had been students at the 6th Montessori School with Anne Frank. Anne was older than I was; she was in the upper grades, but I remember seeing her at school and in the neighborhood."

Anne and her family went into hiding. "Before long, many students in our new school met a similar fate. Like Anne, they simply vanished. We were little children and could only watch as our friends were first deported to JEWS ONLY schools, and then were rounded up and carted off for extermination. From my own school, 173 students were murdered."

Some of the stories of those who survived, and those who didn't, are told in "Storming the Tulips" ($17.99 in paperback from Stonebrook Publishing), written and compiled by Ronald Sanders and translated and revised by Hannie Voyles.

Voyles will be speaking about the days of Nazi occupation at 7:00 p.m. this coming Wednesday, June 15, at Lyon Books in Chico.

The various accounts in the book are anchored by a love of 1st Montessori. Here are the stories of teachers who hid Jews; those in the Dutch Resistance who gave their lives; Jewish children who barely escaped the incinerators. In 1942, as "friends and neighbors were torn from their homes and sent off to the camps," the Pinkhofs, including three children who attended 1st Montessori, "committed suicide as a family." Another student, who stopped by on the way to school, discovered the bodies. That student was Hannie Voyles.

"The children have no monument," she writes. Now, they do.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Paleo for the family: A guide from a local mom (and Crossfit Trainer)


Sarah Fragoso is not only a trainer at Robb Wolf's NorCal Strength and Conditioning gym in Chico. She's an ardent exponent of what has come to be known as "the paleo solution" (the title of Wolf's recent best-seller). Fragoso says that "eating paleo is an easy concept: We should eat as our ancestors once did, we should eat based on how we are genetically wired to eat."

That means out with processed foods along with "dairy, legumes, any form of sugar, and grains!" Grains? Fragoso writes that they "are gut irritants, especially grains containing gluten such as wheat, barley, and rye. When our gut lining gets irritated, we are unable to properly digest our food." So bread is out. But it's okay to bring home the bacon since the right kind of fat is not bad. Fat is not what is making Americans overweight, it's the "non-fat, high-carb diet."

For those who want to try paleo at the family level, Fragoso has written an intensely practical guide. "Everyday Paleo: Embracing a Natural Diet & Lifestyle To Increase Your Family's Health, Fitness, and Longevity" ($29.95 in softcover from Victory Belt Publishing) tells what happened when she, her chiropractor husband, and three kids embraced the paleo idea. But that's just the beginning.

Fragoso will be signing copies of her book, and talking about the paleo lifestyle, at 7:00 p.m. this Wednesday, June 8 at Lyon Books in Chico.

The largest part of the book is a compendium of recipes (including shopping lists for trying "30 days of paleo") that will feed the entire family. Recipes (with full-color illustrations) include "perfect pork pot roast," "everyday meatloaf," and "Thai shrimp soup" (with more recipes available at

The last section introduces basic fitness showing the author's family in a series of full-color, step-by-step moves from "stroller sit-ups" to "partner push-ups." There's a chapter on fitness for kids and one on "advanced body weight and bar movements" (for those a little more advanced), as well as a series of beginning and intermediate workouts.

How about cheating on eating? Fragoso recommends a strict adherence to the paleo diet the first thirty days--no gluten--but she's a realist. Readers will respond to her verve--and honesty.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Local writer on the roots of her postpartum depression


"When my parents got divorced," writes Melissa White in a harrowing account of abuse and depression, "any semblance of a family fell apart." In her senior year of high school she lived with her dad, a prison guard who physically and emotionally abused her. She made plans to "run away" to her mom, who seemed to care little for her, ninety minutes away in Chico. But her father, whom she refers to as "the Monster," retaliated. It is a heartbreaking story.

Today White lives in Chester with her husband and two daughters. The birth of her first, Hailey, produced a depression in Melissa that wouldn't go away. In her late twenties she began counseling with Lisa Jellison, a Chico-based licensed clinical social worker. The results form the basis of White's first-person account, "It's Not The Baby Crying: A Woman's Struggle With Postpartum Depression" ($11.99 in paperback from Tate Publishing; $9.59 in Barnes & Noble Nook e-book format).

The author, who recently signed books at the Chico Barnes & Noble store, is a courageous chronicler. Violent thoughts would assail her, always about Hailey. "As I transfer dishes from the sink to the dishwasher, I find myself being extremely careful with the steak knives. As I gently place them into the silverware holder in the dishwasher, placing them pointy-end down, I catch myself in the following thought: The sharp end of the steak knife is plunging into my daughter's abdomen."

Melissa began to practice the "stop sign technique," saying no--out loud if need be--to those nightmarish thoughts. From moment to moment she was imagining all the terrible things that might happen to her daughter--and trying to protect her. But this was ultimately about her father and the "fear of my father walking through my front door and shooting us dead in my living room." It was "not a rational thought" yet Melissa succumbed to terrible fear.

Then, hope. "I learned that in order to recover, you must clean up all the broken pieces. If you leave the mess on the floor, you could walk through life continually stepping on those sharp shards of glass." Counseling saves her life; her faith sustains her.

And she must face the question: Can she forgive her father?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Anthropology educator and Ishi researcher to speak Wednesday


Did Bryan "Pancho" Beavers, born in 1901, hold the key to Ishi's heritage? Before Beavers died in 1971, a researcher recorded his stories of Konkow Maidu culture (Beavers's father was Scots-American and Maidu). According to educator Richard Burrill, who obtained the transcripts, Ishi was not only Yahi/Yana, but Maidu (as many Maidu believe). Beavers said "the Maidu here were always at war with them [the Yana]. They didn't like 'em. They wasn't exactly at war. ... But the Yana didn't have any friends anyplace."

Then, writes Burrill, "it is believed that in about 1830, the Yahi raiders kidnapped Beavers' great aunt from the fishing grounds downstream from Pulga on the Feather River. ... Upon coming of age, she was made the wife of one of the Yahi raiders named Yètati, a Northern Yana man. In about 1854, they produced a baby boy [who] remarkably survived the many massacres dealt the Yana. He became the man we have come to know as Ishi."

The fruits of Burrill's research are compellingly displayed in "Ishi's Untold Story In His First World: A Biography of the Last of His Band of Yahi Indians In North America" ($22.95 in paperback from The Anthro Company; The large volume contains a dozen maps and hundreds of historical photographs.

The author will talk about his research at 7:00 p.m. this Wednesday, May 25 at Lyon Books in Chico.

"In 1864," Burrill writes , "a general massacre reduced [Ishi's] entire tribe to no more than fifty souls. Compromised, and yet still proud, a small group of about twenty of Ishi's Yahi/Yana tribe retreated deeper into their remote hiding places along Antelope Creek, Mill Creek and Deer Creek. With few exceptions, the outside world was unaware of their existence. ... On August 28, 1911, Ishi was captured at the Charles Ward Slaughterhouse, forty miles south of the tribe's homeland. For observation, the Indian stranger was locked up in the Butte County Jail and placed in the solitary and padded cell for the insane."

The book reconstructs "the secretive years" before Ishi's capture, and details his cultural heritage as well as "his inner strength and ability to assimilate." He died of tuberculosis in 1916, "the passing of the last Stone Age Indian in North America."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Gifted San Francisco artist and writer to appear at Chico book signing


Paul Madonna's stunning pen-and-ink cityscapes appear in the comic section of the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle. His drawings contain short stories, snatches of conversations, philosophical observations, forming strange juxtapositions with his intricate architectural renderings.

The weekly strip is called "All Over Coffee" (I suspect the multiple meanings are not accidental), which gave the title to Madonna's first compilation. Now he's out with a new collection of panels, "Everything Is Its Own Reward" ($27.95 in hardcover from City Lights Books), and it's a mesmerizing journey, as the author puts it, "from an introduction, into autobiography and fiction, to a climax of creative questioning, then to resolution."

Madonna will be signing copies of his books Wednesday, May 18, at 7:00 p.m. at Lyon Books in Chico.

An Afterword provides context for each of the drawings and a rationale for Madonna's project. "What was it that was its own reward? Everything was, the more I thought about it. And that was the answer to life as much as it was to making art. Anything I did had to be for the sake of doing--from getting out of bed in the morning to pursuing my grandest aspirations."

One picture shows a little trailer against a large hill. The words in the upper left: "There is, for all of us, no matter what we've mastered, something incomprehensible." Madonna points out that the pictures are not meant to illustrate the words, or vice versa. There is something more subtle going on. Humans are never depicted. Yet they are there, on every page. You just have to read them into the houses, imagine the goings-on behind the walls.

There are hints of color in the sepia renderings. One shows a dizzying view of the blue sky looking up from several apartments. And the text: "The guys who sit on my stoop, doing deals out of bass-thumping cars, they don't care if I make something today, how I phrased these lines, or if this drawing turned out the way I wanted. Every doorway in every city, every cafe, church or town hall, every profession, passion or pursuit, is its own microcosm." And so it is with each page, a delight to the eye and provocation for the mind.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

True tales of flight from a Chico pilot


Mike Paull's interest in flying was piqued in 1978 and he's never looked back. Though a dentist in San Carlos, California, he also managed to log "3500 hours of flying time" as a private pilot and flight instructor.

Who better to get into the hearts and minds of the pilots who frequented the little eatery near the San Carlos Airport? A dozen of their stories are brought to life in "Tales from the Sky Kitchen Cafe" ($14.95 in paperback from Skyhawk Publishing).

Paull, retired and living in Chico with his wife, Bev, will be talking about his work at Lyon Books in Chico, Wednesday, May 11, at 7:00 p.m.

Many of the stories are (need I say it about flying?) uplifting. Paull tells how two pilots, Jeanne and Fran, developed the "Fear of Flying Clinic." Then there's "Crazy Dave," a test pilot and racer. "Dave has competed in more races (216) than anyone in the history Reno Air Racing."

One of the Sky Kitchen denizens was a pilot named Herb. The conversation around the counter would frequently move to flying mistakes, and Herb would say that "there are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old bold pilots ... The difference between a big airplane and a little one, is that the little one will kill you just a little."

The emotional heart of the book, though, is the story of Phil and Hap. On March 10, 1945, "Phil's B29, Sentimental Journey, had just dropped the first bombs that would lead to the largest fire ever known to man. Over 100,000 people would burn to death in the next twenty-four hours. ... As his fellow B29 crews flew overhead just 5000 feet above him, an American B29 navigator huddled in his cell, terrified he would die that night in a Japanese prison camp. The navigator, Hap, survived that night, survived the war and fifty years later wandered into the Sky Kitchen for lunch. He sat at the center counter and coincidentally sat next to a guy named Phil, the Pathfinder of the March 10th raid over Tokyo."

The war left terrible scars, but both men would later return to Japan--a testimony to the courageous fellowship at the Sky Kitchen Cafe.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

New book from award-winning Chico poet


Troy Jollimore teaches philosophy at Chico State University, and his philosophical sensibility informs his poetry as he explores the intersection of inner and outer experience. "Truth be told," the poet writes in "The Solipsist," "the whole place, / everything that the eye / can take in, to the sky / and beyond into space, // lives inside of your skull." But that "raises a question // that comes up again and again, / as to why / God would make ear and eye / to face outward, not in?"

The poem is included in a masterful collection, "At Lake Scugog" ($16.95 in paperback from Princeton University Press, $9.99 in Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook e-book). Jollimore won the National Book Critics Circle Award for his first collection, "Tom Thomson in Purgatory," and the new book, part of the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets, includes fourteen poems that get inside the head of a mellower Tom Thomson.

The book's publication was celebrated last Thursday at the Blue Room Theatre with a literary event sponsored by Lyon Books in Chico.

In the title poem, "who I am / maintains an uneasy truce / with who I fear I am. ..." In "Meme, I, Self, and Eye: Fifteen Self-Portraits," the poet is "An inward facing projector / lighting a screen / that is its own audience."

But there is another out there, "On Location": "Even in the midst of silence the words of my language swarmed around me like flies. // Even in the midst of that swarm I could hear the director shouting Action! / Even in the midst of all that action I managed to take your hand. // Even in the midst of that swarm, that song, that silence, I found the resolve to kiss you. / Even in the midst of that kiss I knew you and I would end up on the cutting room floor."

Yet, in "To His Lover," "If you mistake me for / a solid and persisting thing, we both / will come to tears. Whereas, if you but grasp / the truth of what I am--then we'll still come / to tears; but there may first be time, before / this doom arrives, to get some kissing in."

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Noted Bismarck biographer set for Chico book signing


Who is Otto von Bismarck? As Prussian Prime Minister in the last half of the nineteenth century, he unified Germany and established the German Empire. When he died, in 1898, his son Herbert wrote that "I have lost the ... most splendid and noblest spirit in the world." Others did not have such salutary thoughts. Bismarck was ruthless, devilish even, a man given to rage--and a political genius.

"The real Bismarck," writes Jonathan Steinberg in an extraordinary new biography, "was a complex character: a hypochondriac with the constitution of an ox, a brutal tyrant who could easily shed tears, a convert to an extreme form of evangelical Protestantism, who secularized schools and introduced civil divorce." Steinberg's stated aim is to understand Bismarck by listening to his friends and his enemies, and to what Bismarck, in voluminous writings, had to say about himself.

The result is "Bismarck: A Life" ($34.95 in hardcover from Oxford University Press; $9.99 in Amazon Kindle and $14.97 in Barnes & Noble Nook e-book formats). Henry Kissinger, writing for the New York Times Book Review, called it "the best study of its subject in the English language."

Steinberg, Professor of Modern European History at the University of Pennsylvania, is in Chico for a short stay and will be signing books and talking about Bismarck at the Chico Barnes and Noble Store this coming Saturday, April 30, from 3:00 - 5:00 p.m.

Steinberg's work is large, like Bismarck's personality, but accessible and compelling. His curiosity about this man drives him onward and the reader is swept into a Europe that became the "ready room" for two world wars.

Bismarck "held office for twenty-eight years and transformed his world more completely than anybody in Europe during the nineteenth century with the exception of Napoleon, who was an Emperor and a General. Bismarck did it while being neither the one nor the other. ... He ruled Germany by making himself indispensable to a decent, kindly old man, who happened to be a king. ... His rule depended absolutely on the bond between William I and his chief minister and on nothing else." ... "With perfect justice, in August 1866, he pounded his fist on his desk and cried, 'I have beaten them all! All!'"