Mar 092014

Looky what I got in the mail!

Return To Me and What Now books by Justina Chen

Score! Justina recently started a Facebook author page, and I was an early follower. When she held a contest giving away a couple of her books, guess who was right there? Lucky me!

I e-met Justina through the Readergirlz. She’s one of the divas. I became a fan after reading North of Beautiful. I liked it so much, it was one of the books I gave away during Operation Teen Book Drop one year.

Books dropped during Operation TBD

At the time, I indicated I would write a review of the book, but, alas, it seems I never did. Know this, though: I’ve given away a number of copies. How’s that for a recommendation? There’s something important in that book, something teen girls need to read and think about.

I haven’t started Return to Me yet. I’m saving it for summer because it’s a real book (as opposed to those fake digital ones), and I can read it outside without fighting glare from the e-reader.

I read What Now: Survival Guide for the Blindsided and Brokenhearted as soon as it arrived. It’s intended for women facing a broken marriage, but, honestly, it has something to offer anyone who’s ever been blindsided or brokenhearted, whether that occurs in a relationship or in work or in life. If I were to describe this book in one word, that word would be “grace.”

If you’ve just been blindsided in your marriage and could use a survival guide—or know someone who has and could—send your (or her) address in an email to jen AT funkandweber DOT com, and I’ll send you this book. If no one claims it in the coming week, I’m going to send it to a friend who doesn’t strictly need it just now but who, like me, will get something from it. It’s a beautiful book that can help anyone turn “the dust of betrayal [or disappointment] into the stardust of a new life.”

Oh, and it’s signed, which makes it a little hard to give up, but it was a gift, and this gift needs to be shared.

It’s such a treat to win books. Thanks, Justina! If you’re not familiar with Justina or her books, I hope you’ll check them out.

Feb 232014

One of the Alaska traditions I adopted early on was that of keeping a sourdough pot. Practically speaking, being able to make sourdough pancakes, waffles, and bread is nice. It’s yummy, healthy stuff, easier to digest than commercial bread, with nutrients that are more readily absorbed.

I also tend to think of it as a sort of pet—I call it my “sourdough pet” instead of “sourdough pot”—a living thing that needs care and provides satisfaction and food in return. And a tough little critter it is: It can live on the counter or in the fridge, and it survives lengthy periods of neglect without complaint.

I don’t put any stock in claims of hundred-year-old sourdough. The way we continually add flour and water while using sponge means the contents turn over regularly. Hundred-year-old, shmundred-year-old. And as taste goes, I can’t tell a difference between one-month-old sourdough, one-year-old sourdough, and that which claims to be a hundred years old.

It’s been a while, but I started a sourdough pet recently. Today we had fresh homemade sourdough English muffins.

Homemade sourdough English muffins

Fresh off the griddle, homemade sourdough English muffins.

Hot off the griddle, we don’t toast them. We split them and top them will the usual toppings: butter, peanut butter, honey, jam, garlic butter, etc. They’re chewy on the outside, warm and soft on the inside. Tomorrow, they’ll make great toast.

My favorite sourdough recipes and instructions come from Garden Way Publishing’s Bread Book : A Baker’s Almanac by Ellen Foscue Johnson. I have a first edition copy (the yellow one), which, of course, is no longer in print, though there are used copies available. If a recipe calls for additional commercial yeast, I’m likely to skip it, unless my pet is recovering from neglect.

The 1994 edition, The Bread Book: A Baker’s Almanac has the same 1970s photos and the same great advice and recipes.

Reading the bread-baking basics in the front of this book greatly improved my results; I haven’t baked a brick since receiving it as a gift from my sister-in-law. Beating the first blending of flour, oil, salt, and yeast “at least 200 strokes” is, I think, the best tip I’ve ever gotten.

The recipes are outstanding—ethnically diverse and utilizing a variety of grains and other ingredients. In addition to the sourdough recipes, I love chappatis, North African coriander bread, lacy corn cakes, brown rice bread, wedding bread from Crete, and oh-so-many more. Last week I made rhubarb bread for the first time. Mmmm!

Feb 092014

Cover of March 2014 Highlights Magazine

Guess who’s got a puzzle in the March 2014 issue of Highlights?

Guess who’s got a puzzle in the March 2014 issue of Highlights magazine? This is the third Highlights surprise in the past not-quite-two-years, all from sales made 10+ years ago.

I love it! It makes me feel current even though I’ve been out of the kidlit loop recently, writing instead for adults.

I want to get back into the kidlit loop, though, and began making puzzles this week. My writing partner, Linda, leads writing workshops during author visits to schools. In talking with teachers, she’s discovered a need for writing activities in elementary schools—a need that she (and I) can fill.

Linda crafts illustrated writing exercises targeted to specific grades and aligned with the Common Core. She sends me requests for puzzles based on various topics. For instance, this week she asked for puzzles reviewing contractions and homophones for grade 2. Okay, done!

Linda can use and share the activities during visits, and we make them available at Together, we are Teachers Two.

In making puzzles for Linda, I realize I’ve missed making them. Mike asked if I remember how. Um…yeah! That’s in my bones, part of my DNA. He also asks if I’m going to run out of ideas for puzzles. Never! Ideas beget ideas. For every puzzle I make, I get ideas for six more.

“Do kids still do puzzles?” Mike asks. He’s a man of many questions. I think so. And if they don’t, they should.

“Should you be making your puzzles apps?” Probably.

In the meantime, however, Highlights, at least, is still publishing puzzles for kids in a print magazine. I think I’ll see if they want some more.

Feb 032014

Eleanor, age 7

Eleanor’s first author photo.

On a recent trip to Girdwood, I got to spend some time with my friend, Eleanor. She’s seven years old. For some time now, she’s wanted to write a story and make a book with me, and we finally had the chance. It was either that or watch TV, so the choice was easy.

Eleanor already knew about first drafts, so she got paper for the draft and a stack of paper for the real book.

The title came quickly: Twenty-six Kittens. The rest took more effort, especially the names of the twenty-six kittens. “Writing a book is hard,” Eleanor realized. But she stuck with it.

We completed the draft. I wrote the text on the pages, and Eleanor illustrated. I stitched the book together with needle and thread, and Eleanor composed the About the Author page and the enticing description for the back cover.

Here is our masterpiece!

We’ll start with the back cover because, really, isn’t that where we all start?

Back Cover Book Text

Eleanor’s text says, “What happens when 26 kittens meet a shark in Maui? Join [us] to find out!”

And now you can’t put the story down, can you? Twenty-six kittens and a shark? In Maui? You’d be disappointed if I left you hanging, wouldn’t you?

Well, I won’t.



One day in Alabama, there was a man who had twenty-six kittens. Well, it was a Big Deal.


All the kittens looked exactly the same, but they had different names. One was Raven, another was Rainbow. The others were Jen, Eleanor, Ray, Skye, Rebecca, Rosie, Hummingbird, Ginger, Denali, Max, P.J., Savannah, Snowflake, Snow, Brownie, Silver, Gold, Greenland, Girdwood, Copper, Kipper, Salmon, Chocolate, and Blueberry.


One day, the owner went on vacation to Maui. The kitten sitter was going to pick them up at their house in an hour, but the kittens ran away! First, they ran to Washington, D.C.

And then they ran away to Maui. There were seven shark attacks there, but the owner didn’t know.


When the owner was driving to the airport, he stopped to get some lunch.

Meanwhile, the kittens were sunbathing at the beach. Imagine you were one of those kids playing on the beach!


When the owner got there, he saw twenty-six kittens sunbathing. Then . . . dun-dun-dunnn . . . a tiger shark jumped up onto the beach!


The kittens screamed with fright. They scattered in every direction.


The tiger shark said, “Hey, where’s everyone going? There should be twenty-seven cats. I’m a tiger shark, and tigers are cats, so we must be related!”


The kittens stared for a minute or two and tossed him a banjo and called their owner. They all had a festive vacation having a party with their long lost uncle tiger shark.

The End


Well done, Eleanor!

January Thaw

 Posted by  Alaska
Jan 252014

While you in the Lower 48 are freezing and getting snow, we’re having spring in January.

Car thermometer showing the temperature

In Palmer, on 1/24/2014 it was 47 degrees and sunny.

This is in Palmer yesterday. It got as high as 49 in Anchorage, but I didn’t think to take a picture then.

We’re colder here at home, but it’s above freezing.