Dear Jane


Not long after we got hit by Hurricane Irene, a friend of my son’s sent me an article from the Chronicle of Philanthropy about the healing balm to be found in classic literature.

When we are under stress, the article stated, we find comfort in the familiar. And for readers, that comfort is most often found in classic literature.

When Marie sent me the article, I was re-reading Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, one of my all-time favorites. But as much as I enjoy Edith, it’s Jane Austen who rules my heart when it comes to comfort books.

For years, my collection of Janes was a rather dilapidated mess of old paperbacks, a couple of which had failed bindings. I once sighed over this, and told my husband that “someday, I am going to buy myself a full set of Jane in hardcover so I can read and re-read them to my heart’s content.” That year, for my birthday, he presented me with this wonderful set of Jane Austen done by the Oxford University Press from the earliest print editions of her work. They are a treasure of historical and literary pleasure.

The comfort of familiar books is powerful. It’s the reason why young children want to “read” the same book over and over because what Bartholomew does with the Oobleck on page 10 is exactly what he did on page 10 the last time the book was opened. Books are rational in that way, behaving as expected again and again.

And for me, when my whole life has been turned upside down by a hurricane or illness, there’s nothing better than Jane.

Today, I’m restarting my quest for Irene recovery funds to stabilize the bank on which our house sits. Please pass the Pride and Prejudice.

Un-Still Life with Birds


I love birds. Love to watch them. Love to collect their left-behind feathers when I find them on a trail. Love to find nests of eggs that we can watch hatch.

And I feed them. In fact, I would say that feeding the birds is a lifelong habit with me. One year when I was seven or eight, I asked for a bird feeder for Christmas. My Grampa Hakala kept three large feeders in his backyard every winter, and anything Grampa did was something I wanted to do too.

Anyway, my Uncle Don—handy guy that he was—made me a feeder that attached to the outside wall of our house so that the feeder itself was level with my bedroom window. We filled it with seed, and waited for the birds to show up.

They did. Chickadees first. They’re always the first to spy a new food source. And then the gray squirrels. Actually, I liked watching them too.

This winter, my two feeders are attracting flocks of wintering-over goldfinch. I’ve never seen so many goldfinches during the winter. And now their feathers are starting to change from their seasonal olive green to their brilliant yellow.

And then, three weeks early, a flock of redwing blackbirds showed up, eating seed on the snow before roosting in our big ash tree to trade gossip in their screeing voices.

Endlessly fascinating, these little critters. I’m so glad they’re a part of my world.

THE Book Sale


As winter begins to wane (and this year, it’s hard to tell because it never actually arrived), I look forward to one of my favorite annual events here in the greater UV. (Upper Valley, for the uninitiated.) For those of us in love with print media, this is THE book event of the year.

Folks from all over the region (and often beyond), strip their shelves of unwanted reading material and donate it to this fundraiser. Behind the scenes, dozens of volunteers cull the books based on their condition (no moldies need apply), price them, and then on the third weekend of April, everything gets sold.

I started volunteering to sort books about ten years ago, and last year, I wrote a long story about the sale for Upper Valley Life magazine to celebrate 5CBS’s 50th anniversary.

I just got the email yesterday—this year’s sorting site is ready, volunteers are revving up, and you’ll find my hands deep in the innards of a bag or box of books on March 3.

The best part is this: volunteers get first dibs on great reads. Just look at what I scored last year.

For my fellow book lovers, this year’s sale is on April 21 and 22 (half price day) at Lebanon High School just off exit 18 from I-89. Be there—or I get all your books.

Center for Cartoon Studies

The Schulz Library (as in Charles Schulz) is one of the many assets of the Center for Cartoon Studies

I spent this morning at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction. Great place, the first of its kind in the U.S., dedicated to comics and the graphic novel.

The students listened to me jabber about independent publishing and why, as writers and artists, it’s good for them. They asked great questions, we learned from one another (as in comic book stores are all served by only one distributor—yikes!), and I hope I get to go back.

My morning visit was the result of one of those serendipitous series of connections that happen more often than we notice. It begins many years ago when I met a fellow Vermont author named Joe Citro at a conference put on by the League of Vermont Writers. We kept in touch.

Joe knows writer and cartoonist Steve Bissette who now teaches at CCS. When I published Your Book, Your Way last May, I asked Joe if he would read it and, if the spirit moved, to review it on Amazon. He did. He liked it.

And as luck would have it, Joe had been contemplating indie publishing for his own work for some time. He brought my book to Steve’s attention. That yielded a getting-to-know-you period that culminated with my morning visit with a group that sure draws a whole lot better than I do.

Now that’s a win-win-win, eh?

Author of the Carding, Vermont novels, quilt books, and book publishing guides.