Saturday, May 31, 2008

Texting Pomp and Circumstance

Kasey Cox

Ah, it’s that time of year again: lawnmowers roaring up and down at every hour of the day and night; flowers in profusion from every tree, bush, prom-goer’s wrist, and grocery store display; and “Pomp and Circumstance” being practiced in band rooms and on high school football fields in anticipation of the big day. And, while most new graduates like to see the gift of green bills in “Congratulations” cards, most givers also like to give something a little more concrete, something that lasts a little longer than a gallon of gas to drive to one day’s work at the summer job. Books are often the next choice, since we are hoping that the graduate learned to read and perhaps may use this skill again in the near future.

Books from the “inspirational” section are, of course, an excellent choice for a graduation gift that hopefully keeps on giving. Words of comfort and wisdom to reflect on, at this major crossroad and milestone, and for all those in the future. Timeless titles, often passed on with words like “my mother gave this to me when I graduated”, include Anne Morrow Lindberg’s “Gifts from the Sea”, Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet”, Antoine St-Exupery’s “The Little Prince”, and more recently, Mitch Albom’s books like “Tuesdays with Morrie” or “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.” When I graduated, the newest book on this scene was Robert Fulghum’s “All I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”, still a favorite of mine. Certainly, I’ve also mentioned several times now how much I love Ruth Gendler’s lovely and transcendent descriptions in “The Book of Qualities.” I’m also very partial to the gift of a highlighter and Barbara Ann Kipfer’s “14,000 Things to Be Happy About”. All of these books serve readers well to remind them what’s important in life, to lift them up a little, to help them refocus when the way seems cloudy and the path steep. My review and my words about these books are trite, but the books themselves and the words they share breathe life and beauty across the years.

There’s usually some good advice in graduation speeches, but who remembers what was said at their graduation? Luckily, some of the best of that advice has been captured. Choose one of your favorite writers, like the inimitable Dr. Seuss, whose “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” was penned as a graduation speech; or Ann Patchett’s “What Now?” Or, avoid choosing one favorite and embrace parts of many with Sandra Bark’s collection: “Take This Advice: The Best Graduation Speeches Ever Given.”

If you’re looking for something a little more practical for your graduate, think cookbooks. Once given only to women about to be wed, families who are afraid their young loved ones may only ever eat fast food or Ramen noodles have many gift options. For some college-bound folks, the Better Homes & Gardens or Fanny Farmer Cookbook your family always relied on may need to wait a few years when an apartment replaces a dorm room, but there are things that can be cooked in a dorm kitchen, and ways to eat healthy from the college cafeteria, as attested to in books such as: “The Smart Student’s Guide to Healthy Dorm Living” and “College Cooking: Feed Yourself and Your Friends.” Although I have not yet had a chance to read this book, I’m betting the advice-and-inspiration guide “No More Ramen: The 20-Something's Real World Survival Guide: Straight Talk on Jobs, Money, Balance, Life, and More” to be a pretty solid choice. (Even though my last 20-something birthday is a few years behind me, I might just have to buy a copy of this book for myself). For the truly desperate, or for those with a weird sense of humor, perhaps Paladin Press’s tome on “Survival Poaching” is the just the ticket for your graduate.

The last kind of book I usually recommend that people consider gifting to those about to fly the nest is a book about the nest. We have some wonderful local authors, and a lot of special books about the area. What better way to send them on their way then to remind them where they came from?

Hobo remembers his home, his roots and his journey, in his memoir, “Hobo Finds A Home”, soon to be arranged with interpretative dance. Set to “Pomp and Circumstance”. Check out production dates, as well as other arrangements for his Summer 2008 Book Tour, at

Venomous Snakes

Kevin Coolidge

Humans have always been afraid of snakes. Maybe it’s a vague mammalian memory from when timid, chipmunk-sized creatures scurried in the looming shadow of the giant reptiles. It is no wonder we discovered fire, and invented the repeating rifle -- just to make sure it’s “really, really dead”. Ophidiophobia, the irrational fear of snakes, is quite common. Although fear of snakes may be instinctive, it is increased by ignorance and lack of factual knowledge. With accurate information about venomous snakes, you can enjoy the great outdoors, and learn to appreciate these interesting creatures.

I recommend picking up Wild Guide: Venomous Snakes by Cynthia Berger. Cynthia and her publisher, Stackpole both reside in Pennsylvania. She is also the author of Wild Guide: Dragonflies and Wild Guide: Owls. Also a contributor to the NPR radio program “Earth and Sky” and “The Ocean Report” and Cynthia has written for Birder’s World and Sports Afield, among other magazines.

Cynthia’s Wild Guide is especially informative about the species that live in North America – including rattlesnakes, copperheads, water moccasins, and the coral snake, found in specific environments. Cynthia Berger vividly details their habits and behaviors -- how they hunt and catch their prey, the effects of their venom, where they live, and how they survive in the wild. The book includes a mini-field guide with descriptions and photographs of twenty species.

It is important to note that venomous snakes are not common in the United States. Most states are home to just a few species, though Pennsylvania does contain three of the four venomous species -- rattlesnakes, copperhead and the cottonmouth. You aren’t likely to see them if you don’t know where to look. Venomous snakes make up only a small minority of the snakes you might encounter.

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, only 7,000 people per year are bitten by venomous snakes, and those bites result, on average, in about five deaths per year. It is of interest to note that alcohol is often involved. Medical professionals report that forty to a hundred percent of venomous snakebite victims they treat are intoxicated. Therefore, it would seem most bites could be avoided. Cynthia Berger gives sensible precautions that will reduce the risk of a dangerous encounter: never go hiking alone, don’t touch snakes, and teaching children to stay away from snakes.

If you do happen to get bitten, remain calm. Do not cut the wound and suck out the poison. Do not apply a tourniquet. Do not offer the victim a Jelloä shot. Get the victim to a hospital. It is helpful to identify the snake, but not necessary. The antivenin formulations contain a mixture of the most common venomous snakes in the region. Keep the patient calm. Be reassured the likelihood of dying is extremely low.

As a naturalist, Cynthia includes a chapter on conservation and ecology issues. The focus of this chapter in Venomous Snakes is that snakes are an important part of the ecosystem, and like many animals they are threatened by a loss of habitat. Cynthia gives some basic conversation tips, including how to keep a snake-free yard if you live in rattler country. She also discusses the rattlesnake roundup – a mountain tradition -- and its often-detrimental effect on the rattler. Though only one venomous snake is on the U.S. federal endangered species list -- the New Mexican ridge-nosed rattlesnake -- many others are threatened by habitat loss, past bounty hunting, and rattlesnake roundups. It is important to understand that anyone who is so passionate about animals that she’d write several guidebooks will have grave concerns and strong opinions about activities which are potentially threatening to that species, be they owls, snakes, or sidehill mooties.

Snakes figure prominently in religion and literature around the world, and Venomous Snakes also features a chapter on venomous snakes in folklore and mythology. The Bible may connect snakes with old Scratch, but not all cultures portray snakes as evil. Some see them as a symbol of rebirth or immortality, and regard them as the wisest of animals. So, enjoy the outdoors, put down that stick, save that cold brew for later, observe, and maybe you will come to appreciate instead of fear the snake.

Kevin Coolidge’s den is at From My Shelf Books on 7 East AveMain Wellsboro. Check it out at He won’t bite, unless poked with a stick.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The acme of mystery's evolution: THE CAT!

Kasey Cox

Hey, all! Hobo here. Kevin keeps pestering me to get working on my next book, but I’ve been a little intimidated by all his insistence on showing him a solid marketing plan, providing him with statistics on popular genres, profit margins, and projected trends in the bookselling world. Usually when he starts digging me about this stuff, I turn in circles on the bed, show him my rear, stretch, kneed the blanket a little, and curl up to nap.

I didn’t want Kevin to think I was taking him too seriously, or that his lectures actually work on me – can’t let humans think they have any real control over cats – so I conducted my online research when Kevin wasn’t home. (Ha! Lest he wonder why there was so much hair in his keyboard, I threw him off by rubbing along his arms as he was trying to type, and by walking on the keys when he was playing games the other day!) That’s when I knew for certain: my next book should be a mystery.

I found that the genre of the mystery has been around for more than most cats’ nine lives. Mystery stories have their origins in the spooky tales that were part of Edgar Allen Poe’s repertoire, followed soon after by the novels of Wilkie Collins, and then the first real famous detective, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. It seems lots of humans enjoy reading “whodunit” stories, and the mystery genre has continued to spark the imagination, taking on as many forms as colors of cats, producing some of the most beloved popular writers ever, including Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock. Kids got in the action early with super-sleuths Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.

As the mystery has moved into contemporary American culture, we now have a true American melting pot of folks who catch the bad guy and save the day. The Superhero genre is one great spin-off, and so is the Western. Think of all the choices! Today’s mysteries feature perky bounty hunters, gritty private investigators, sharp young lawyers, otherwise burnt-out investigative journalists, leftist ex-governors, forensic scientists, smart kids with nicknames like “Encyclopedia” or “Cam” (for Camera), women who run catering businesses or B&B’s. And, the superlative of sleuths, the obvious pinnacle to the evolutionary process of crimesolvers – THE CAT.

In order to check out the competition, maybe steal a few secrets for my own mystery series and avoid re-inventing the wheel, I decided to read one cat mystery by several of the most popular cat mystery authors. And before those of you nay-sayers or cat-doubters start snickering into your newspapers, let me tell you that not only are cat mysteries popular, but they have incredible holding power on bestseller lists, and yes, there are many authors who write in this sub-genre. So even if you think little old ladies who wear cat sweaters and hold up the line at the grocery store with huge bags of cat food aren’t exactly cute, you’d better admire their influence.

I chose one book from Lillian Jackson Braun’s long-running “The Cat Who…” series, one book from Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s Joe Gray mysteries, and one book from Rita Mae Brown’s pet mysteries that she writes with her cat, Sneaky Pie Brown. What I found surprised me. I was certain that Braun’s cats who, as the longest and most successful of these series, would be the one that I enjoyed the most. I know I’ll probably offend a lot of humans when I tell you that I thought the cat characters in these books are stupid. First of all, the two cats are Siamese, and even friendly cats like myself have some issues with Siamese. I mean, I love everybody, and I’m a pretty laid back guy – except when Kevin’s parents’ dog Buster comes to visit – and even I think Siamese cats can be pretty obnoxious. Anyway, these two cats in Lillian Jackson Braun’s series could be okay, even as Siamese, but they don’t talk or anything!! They don’t really help out that much, at least not in the book I read. I did like the setting for this book, in a remote part of the northern United States, like Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and I really liked the main human character, Mr. Qwilleran, but my respect for him was greatly diminished by the dreadful names he gave his cats – Koko and Yum-Yum. Isn’t Koko that famous gorilla they taught sign language to? And Yum-Yum? Please. I do feel a bit sorry for those cats.

Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s supernaturally-smart feline detective, Joe Gray, and his pals, made for a pretty great read, one I warmed to the deeper I got into the book. Unfortunately for me, I chose a book from near the end of the series, and this is a series you should probably read in order. Although Murphy provides recaps of important events from earlier books, I would have enjoyed these cats and their community more if I’d read the full stories myself.

The winner of these three authors, in my not-so-humble opinion? Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie, hands and paws down. These stories are well-written; all characters, human and animal, have interesting, fleshed out, individual personalities and voices; the community in a little town in Virginia had echoes, albeit in a Southern tone, of small-town life in Wellsboro; and it didn’t matter at all which book I picked up first.

Now I just have to think of a title for the first book in my mystery series…. Hobo and the Missing Aquari-Yums? No, I guess that’s not much of a mystery. If you have any ideas, email me at Searching for past reviews? Get a clue about books at

Hobo and Kevin's Summer Book Tour!

Look out, world .... or at least Twin Tiers .... as Hobo and Kevin go on tour! That's right, check out when Hobo will be at a library or senior center near you! If you'd like to schedule Hobo to come to an event at your school or community center, email or call us: (570) 724-5793 or And now, on with the show!


Thursday, May 22nd Mansfield Senior Center 12:30pm
Saturday, June 14th Galeton Library children's story hour
Friday, July 11th Wellsboro Senior Center 11am
Monday, July 14th Elkland Senior Center 11am
Tuesday, July 22nd Millerton Senior Center 11am

As many of you know, Hobo has already made successful appearance at the Blossburg Library, and had his book read to the kids at the Bradford-Tioga Head Start. He'd love to go see the kids at Head Start, or other story hours, or go sit in the laps of folks at other senior centers. If you have an idea for people or places who would benefit from time with Hobo, let us know!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Go Local!!

Kevin Coolidge

"Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza."
Dave Barry

I was born naked, wet and hungry. The situation, thankfully, has improved, but I've never lost my appetite for good food. I was born lucky, because I've always found some of the best food and cooking right here in Tioga County. I love the black diamond steak at the Steak House, the French fries at the Hornet's Nest, and the mix and match six-packs you can get at Your Mama's Mug. Yep, if you want to know the best places to eat local and drink local, you ask a local. One man that has applied this wisdom to his travels is Ken Hull, author of Going Local: An Adventurer's Guide to Unique Eats, Cool Pubs & Cozy Cafés of Central Pennsylvania.

Ken Hull is a self-taught artist who resides in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania. When he's not creating and painting, he likes to spend his time riding the byways and back roads of central Pennsylvania on his Harley, scouting out cool places to eat and drink. Hey, why settle for boring, cookie-cutter chain restaurants when you can eat well and eat local?

Going Local is more than a guidebook. Its part journal, travelloge, and memoir. It's about Ken's experiences as he's traveled through Central Pennsylvania, and the places he's discovered and the folks he's met along the way. He starts with the 200 year old tavern in Boalsburg and goes on to include eateries like Webster's Bookstore & Café in State College, Restless Oaks in Mcelhattan, the Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport, as well as Wellsboro's very own Wellsboro Diner. He focuses on unique places, mostly the smaller places--places with a history, a sense of self, real personality. Ken says, "My general rule is not to include any chains, `big-time' operations or really upscale restaurants, unless they possess some uniqueness, creativity, or oddities..."

Since the book is somewhat of a guidebook, Ken starts off each listing with a section called Just a Taste. Here you will find the name of the establishment, the address, contact information and other basics like price ranges, cuisine specialties, and local attractions so you can plan ahead. The book also includes a detachable map that allows you to navigate your way around and find the places he's visited and listed. Find a place you would like to visit, unfold the map, and have fun.

Ken's intention with this book is to inspire and encourage you to break away from the ordinary. Free yourself of the monotony of chains and fast food restaurants, and experience the enjoyment of independently owned eating and drinking establishments that we have in central Pennsylvania. The book is not a definitive work. There's more to discover along the wonderful roads, sweet byways, and little towns and villages. You can even find some of your own. Just use your map, ask the locals. And hit the road to discover what's around the next curve. Take the time to slow down this summer and share these experiences with family and friends, or maybe even a stranger. Have your own adventures, and maybe write your own stories as well...

Be sure to catch Ken at From My Shelf Books on May 31st from noon to 3pm. He'll be signing and discusing his book "Going Local" For more information about this great book, check out the author's website