Sunday, December 29, 2013

Chico's troublemaker


"He was a little worried that he was sometimes more naughty than he should be, but his heart was nice. Surely Santa wouldn't punish him for his love of adventure." Thus the thinking of a rather rambunctious young man named Theodore Tribble (better known as "Terrible Tribble Ted"). He may not actually live in Chico, but his creator, Chico orthodontist Greg Tribble, certainly does. And therein lies a tale. Several, in fact.

The Fall 2013 issue of Chico Statements (produced by Chico State University) notes that Tribble's adult children remembered the stories he told about Terrible Tribble Ted and suggested a book. So, "Tribble approached journalism and public relations chair Susan Wiesinger with the rough stories in 2011, and they began working together on their development. In 2013, communication design faculty Carole Montgomery and recent communication design graduate Ashley Lee joined the project. Together, they created a book appropriate for fourth through sixth graders."

The nine stories in "The Adventures of Terrible Tribble Ted" ($7.99 in paperback from Tribble T Press, available locally including Lyon Books in Chico or from the author at emphasize kids playing outside. As Wiesinger noted in an email to me, you won't find video games or texting, though there is one tech mention when Terrible Tribble Ted hears his mom: "'Theodore Tribble! Get home NOW!' she hollered. Other kids had cell phones that would ring or buzz when it was time to come home, but Ted's mom preferred to yell."

Chapters in the book suggest that young Ted's life is not without its challenges, so for example: "Problems from Playing with Keys" (we're talking keys to a moving van); "Complications with the Clown Car" (when Ted tries to sneak into the circus without buying a ticket); "Trouble with Tractors" (they can run over bicycles if driven by a kid named Terrible Tribble Ted); and "Perils with Being a Popper Pirate" (mixing Halloween and fireworks).

Most chapters end the same way: "Terrible Tribble Ted was exhausted and went straight to bed. His terrific sense of adventure had again gotten him in trouble." The whimsical line drawings add just the right flavor. These are growing-up hijinks, and Ted one day will become an adult. Still with a twinkle in his eye, he might even become an orthodontist.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A small-town Christmas


Darien Gee, who lives with her family in the fiftieth state, is a novelist who also has a weekly column on writing in North Hawaii News (archives available at Her husband, Darrin, grew up in Chico and attended Pleasant Valley High School (class of 1985); his parents have lived in Chico since 1977.

Darien has been inviting readers, in a series of novels, to visit the small town of Avalon, Illinois (population 4200, more or less). In tracing the lives of some of the residents she mingles a contemporary focus on women in business while evoking, or awakening, a sense of how neighbors helped neighbors in the good old days. And what breaks down barriers is food--delicious treats and substantial meals that make a human connection.

Now, after "Friendship Bread" and "The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society" comes "An Avalon Christmas," a set of twelve intertwined stories that begins and ends with the residents of Harmony Homes, a care facility in Avalon. These are tales of quiet transformation in the lives of those "of a certain age," and others, who are lonely or ill or just disgusted with people (especially ex-spouses).

"An Avalon Christmas" ($5.99 in Amazon Kindle format from Gee & Co.) also has a companion audio version from, beautifully read by Carin Gilfry.

Food is lovingly described in the stories. In "And We're Wassailing," "Bartholomew Solomon slips on his worn oven mitts, then cracks the oven door and take a peek. The breadcrumbs are crisp and golden. Underneath the crust Bartholomew knows the thyme, garlic and cloves have mingled with juicy red tomatoes, bacon, kielbasa sausages, pork and white beans resulting in a scent so enticing that Bartholomew has to resist grabbing a spoon and taking a bite right there." (A half dozen recipes are included at the end of the book, including the one for Bartholomew's cassoulet.)

In "Room At The Tea Salon," there are "cranberry orange Amish Friendship Bread scones," and in "Cookie Exchange" "lemon icebox cookies, chocolate-dipped shortbread, candied stained-glass wreath cookies"--you get the idea. Along the way we meet a young woman who helps save a failing bookstore, a mysterious stranger who insists on gift-wrapping in the snow, and a surprise Santa. Welcome to Avalon!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A literary taste of Chico and beyond


Dan O'Brien bills himself as a "Northern California independent author and literary consultant," and his Amalgam Publishing ( is a small press that has begun publishing a series of regional anthologies of fiction, poetry and nonfiction.

The first offering is "The Northern California Perspective" ($12.95 in paperback from Amalgam; also in Amazon Kindle format), available locally at Lyon Books in Chico. Intended as a quarterly literary journal, the debut issue contains a good amount of reprinted material with some new pieces as well. The goal, O'Brien wrote in an email, is to focus on original submissions for future issues.

Deeply affecting short stories from Chico State University creative writing and American literature professor Rob Davidson bookend the journal's other pieces, with an additional story in the middle, all from Davidson's "The Farther Shore" collection. "What You Don't Know" begins simply enough: "Beau's house was one of my first sales in Chico, a crucial early commission that gave this new realtor ground to stand on." That ground begins to slip away soon enough, and perhaps that's one of the subtle themes pervading many of the pieces by the 19 authors represented. Something lost in the small towns of Northern California, and maybe something to be found, as in Butte College writing instructor Joe Abbott's contribution, "Burl Cutters (Spring 1979)."

"Disrobing Chico" is an excerpt from Timothy O'Neill's memoir of a Chico long past, and a boyhood long outgrown. "If you kept your sight low so as not to see the hills of the Sierras rising golden to the east of town, glanced left where the brick Presbyterian Church bell tower closed the horizon ... , and if you then quickly turned to the right where Broadway curled before the band of huge chestnut ... then you would think you were in some eastern college town--maybe Williams or Princeton."

Poetry abounds, too. Lara Gularte writes of "Living Above Paradise": "I have come to live here,/ neighbor with skunk, bear,/ mountains with discerning faces. ..." In "The Great Free State of Northern California," by Alec Binyon, the poet writes: "We are children of the West,/ sons of restless madness and daughters of/ destitute dreamers,/ born from the survivors of faithful mountain crossings. ..." Much to be savored here.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

A Chico writer's autistic preschooler


When Ian was just three, he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. What that meant in reality is told in "Strangers Together: How My Son's Autism Changed My Life" ($5.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also in Amazon Kindle format and available locally at Lyon Books in Chico) by Joan Goodreau ( It's an account of the year following Ian's diagnosis by a single mom trying to raise Ian, Monica (seven) and Jennifer (ten). It's a poignant, laugh-out-loud tragi-comedy that begins with an expletive from mom (the first word Ian learns to repeat, of course) and ends with a birthday candle (and Ian putting on his pajamas, all by himself).

In between those events Goodreau charts her own journey. She is living in Canada, and few people understand Ian's outbursts on shopping trips (which are few) or his penchant for pouring things on the floor (like wine or flour) when the family is invited to visit friends (and the friends become fewer). She tries to fend for herself, and yet is amazed at what Ian's Special Education preschool teacher is able to do. Attending a parents' meeting, watching a video of the children, she wonders: "Who is this kid? I didn't know my son could sign and follow directions."

In fact, "he looks like a different boy than the Ian we live with at home. We are strangers who live together. We look at each other, but he doesn't see our family. ... Silence and screams are his language, and we can't understand."

Much later, a compassionate presenter tells another assembly of parents "about the secret child we dream about when we're expecting a baby. We fasten our dreams and hopes on this baby. When our child has disabilities, we have to accept our child is different from the one we dreamed about. We need to grieve in our own ways for the child we thought we had, and for the death of our dream." And Goodreau learns that others can help.

She will be signing her book at the Rowell Family Empowerment Center, 3075 Cohasset Road in Chico, Friday, December 13, from 6:00-8:00 p.m. Call (530) 899-8801 for details. All proceeds from the book sale will go to the organization, which offers "support, education and advocacy to parents."

Sunday, December 01, 2013

A provocative study of evil from a former Chico State University professor


"Moral Evil" ($32.95 in paperback from Georgetown University Press; also in Amazon Kindle format), by Andrew Michael Flescher, might seem a strange holiday topic. Yet, ultimately, while fully recognizing the sometimes horrifying nature of human existence, it is a book of measured hope.

Andy Flescher taught in the Religious Studies department at Chico State University and is now, according an author's note, "a member of the Core Faculty, Program in Public Health, associate professor of preventive medicine, and associate professor of English at Stony Brook University" in New York. But put all that aside. His probing study of moral evil (and natural evil, too, such as a devastating tsunami) is brilliantly clear and mostly jargon free, well worth pondering.

The core of the book is a description of four (sometimes overlapping) ways of looking at moral evil, each put in conversation with the others. In the last chapter Flescher moves from description to prescription, suggesting the most satisfying (and hopeful) understanding of moral evil involves combining Augustine's evil-as-privation view with Aristotle's virtue ethics view of character development.

Augustine's view sees "evil as the absence of goodness," a lack of being what we should be when we do what we shouldn't or fail to do what we ought. We are no stranger to this evil--it seems part of the human condition.

A second view of moral evil envisions it in Manichean terms, evil as a substantial opposing force "radically separate from the good." This is "evil as the presence of badness"; the battle against evil may never be won. A third view proposes a theodicy, a justification of the ways of God to man, suggesting that evil is really a kind of good if we could only understand the larger picture. It is"evil as the presence of goodness." Finally, evil is only in the eye of the beholder, just a label some people slap on the actions of those they don't like. It is "evil as the absence of badness."

For Flescher, evil is a privation; in response we must "introduce goodness" with "actions that reveal a commitment to the building and rebuilding of human community and connection" and "go out of our way to choose the good." There is Hope.