Pages & Paws

Writing, Reading, and Rural Life With a Border Collie

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The Magic Room

“I’ll be back soon” Mom chirps as she heads out the door. “Be good.”

No problemo, I bark, tail wagging. You know I’ll be here when you get back. Besides. When am I ever NOT good? (Well, there was that one unfortunate incident with The Powder Puff and a can of unsupervised red paint. Nobody’s perfect.)

Meantime, I’ll just stay here and guard the house. Say hello to the neighbors. Do my puppy eyes thing on the postal carrier (always good for a free treat). I will also protect my turf from stray felines, menacing deer and sketchy-looking plastic bags.

Now, let’s see. Where was I? Oh yeah. Mom and that magic room. The place she wanders off to with an armload of books to do that “reading” thing. It has her favorite reading chair. Lots of books. And a “Summer Reading Program.” Whatever that is.

Mom goes to this magic place a lot. Even when it’s not summer. But dogs aren’t allowed inside.

What’s up with that?

But Mom always seems to feel better when she’s been there. More settled. Or more susceptible to the puppy eyes thing.

It can go either way.

She talks about visiting “exotic places” like Rome. China. The South Pole. Hackensack, New Jersey. Or meeting dead-ish people like Laura Ingalls Wilder. Jane Austen. Mary Poppins, David Copperfield and Peter Pan. All without ever leaving that room. Or our zip code (got that from my favorite postal carrier).

Yes siree, Lassie! That book room thingy must have some special magic indeed!

Someone say, “Dinner”?

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The In-Between Month & The Dreaded Orange Raincoat

Mom calls November the “in-between” month. Not quite winter. Not really full fall. Lots of trees have dumped their leaves. Temperatures are dropping. But not low enough for snow. Here on the Olympic Peninsula, the rains return. And return. And return.

When the weather turns wet, Mom insists on dragging out The Dreaded Orange Raincoat. Why does she do this? Is she averse to getting soaked to the collar, crashing through every puddle in sight, or galumphing around town up to her nose in rain water?

Me, I’m fine with all of the above. (I am part Lab, you know. As in water dog.)

Anyway, did I mention they closed the book place awhile back? For “renovations.” About a million dollars worth. I don’t know what that means. Can you eat it?

But it means we haven’t been able to walk over to the library lately. One of us really hates that.

Good news: The book place is supposed to re-open in about a week or so.

So you might call November the “in between month” for reasons not related to weather. Or seasons. It’s in between closures and re-openings of a favorite place in town.

At least for one of us.

The other just wants to shed her stupid rain coat.


How I Read 100+ Books in 90 Days


It took some creative juggling, but I met my summer reading goal: 100+ books in 90 days. Sound like a lot? Well, yeah.

When I set that goal per my local library’s Adult Summer Reading Program, I knew it was a pretty high bar. Frankly, I wasn’t sure I could clear it. But I liked the challenge. That’s one reason I set it. And made it. With room to spare.

Here’s how I read 100+ books in 90* days (the short version):

1. As a freelance writer, my schedule is flexible. I mostly work from home and set my own hours. I can choose which assignments I accept or decline. So I did. I also got up early every day, usually finishing my work by early afternoon-ish. I could then devote a large chunk of the rest of the afternoon and evening to my “other” job: reading.

2. I multi-tasked, reading audio books while cooking, doing dishes, driving, etc.

3. I turned off the TV.

4. I used voice mail. Prodigously.

5. I recruited my husband and kiddos . (Our youngest is 18.) They agreed to pitch in on time consuming tasks like running errands, grocery shopping, and walking the dog. They also picked up books I placed on hold at the library and/or helped with returns. They helped with book selections when I was out of ideas.

6. I asked the library staff for help. A lot. They were a huge help, from placing inter-library loans to suggestions for every category and genre.

7. I decided sleep is over-rated. I don’t really need 8 – 9 hours of sleep a night. I’m usually fine with 5 – 6 hours.  That’s an extra 3 – 4 hours a day to get busy.

8. I had a ‘reading buddy.‘ My good dog, Kimber, happily joined me through thousands of pages. (A golden retriever/black lab/border collie mix, Kimber isn’t really a ‘lap dog.’ She just thinks she is.)

9. I set up “reading roosts” – places where I could disappear (or almost disappear) for a while and read, undisturbed. Like a recliner off a living room window with lots of light, pillows, a big fluffy quilt and a snack stash. Or a closet off the spare room upstairs. I cleaned it out, moved in a rocking chair and ottoman, added a space heater for early mornings, and cleared shelves for books – in – progress. I grabbed reading lists, munchies and a note pad, and closed the door. No electronic devices allowed. (A library cubby hole also makes a pretty good “roost.”)

10. OverDrive. Library ebooks and audiobooks via Amazon. If you don’t have the app, now would be good.

11. I re-prioritized. If I was going to finish 100 paper and/or audio books in 90 days, some thing had to give. At least for 90 days. So I cut out unnecessary meetings. This freed up about 8 hours a week. I also dialed back on social media, limiting my time to no more than 30 minutes a day. Often less. I also dropped endeavors with limited ROIs (return on investment), like regular posting to other blogs/guest posting.

Yep, 100 books in 90 days is a lot. Some titles were better or quicker than others. For example, the sparse free verse of Karen Hesse’s Out of The Dust or Calvin Miller’s The Singer read much faster than the detail-laden, history-heavy style of Robert Matzen’s Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe, or Dinesh D’Souza’s magnum opus, Stealing America: What My Experience With Criminal Gangs Taught Me About Obama, Hillary, and the Democratic Party. Since I’m already familiar with the plots, re-reads were also swift.

I also discovered some new genres and authors that turned out to be delightful surprises. Others, not so much. (Most Over-Rated: Anne LaMott, Diane Setterfield. Most Promising: Steve Sheinkin, Robert Morasco.) You can read my reviews of select titles on Goodreads.

Here are some stand-outs. In no particular order:


Miss Peregrine Peculiar Children series – Ransom Riggs

Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy – Laini Taylor

The 5th Wave – Rick Yancey

Legend – Marie Yu


The Lost Letter – Jillian Cantor

The Secret Sky – Atia Abawi

An Eagle in the Snow – Michael Morpurgo

Shelter – Harlan Coben

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson


Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp – Jerry Stanley

The Family Romanov – Candace Fleming

The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery – Steve Sheinkin

Unquestioned Integrity: The Hill-Thomas Hearings (adapted directly from the actual transcripts)

Twelve Years a Slave – Solomon Northrup


Dog On It: A Chet and Bernie Mystery– Spencer Quinn. (Told from the dog’s point of view)

Bunnicula – Deborah and James Howe. (Narrated by the family dog, Harold)

The Best of the West (Lux Radio Theatre Audiobook): Destry Rides Again, Gunsmoke, Fort Apache, and the best Western ever filmed:Shane.


Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis (on disc)

King of the Wind – Marguerite Henry. Newbery Medal winner.

Tuck Everlasting– Natalie Babbitt. Christopher Award winner.

Anything by Walt Morey, O. Henry, Gary Paulsen, or E.B. White (like The Ransom of Red Chief and Stuart Little. I also confess a perennial fondness for a little monkey and a man in a yellow hat.)

Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak. Caldecott Medal winner.

Fury – Stallion of Broken Wheel Ranch – Albert Miller

Out of Africa – Isak Dinesen

Flash of Phantom Canyon – Agnes Ranney

Island of the Blue Dolphins – Scott O’Dell. Newbery Medal winner.

The Silver Brumby – Elyne Mitchell. Set in Australia, it’s the book that made me want to become a writer.

This is a tough category. It’s highly subjective. Of all the books I read this summer, however, the stand-out here would have to be: Leonard: My Fifty Year Friendship With a Remarkable Man, by William Shatner (2016).

Meticulously researched and carefully crafted, this biography/memoir/history is a moving tribute to a complicated, talented man by another complicated, talented man. (Talk about rapier wit. Who knew “Captain Kirk” could be so hilarious – or so heartbreaking?)

Hence, the most poignant line I read all summer is probably Bill Shatner’s final sentence in this fascinating read. Toward the end of the book, Shatner chronicles how a rift in the relationship developed over an apparent misunderstanding. Despite Shatner’s efforts to mend fences, Nimoy stopped talking to Bill. Leonard died (2015) before the two old friends could reconcile. Shatner closes this warm, rich memoir with this final elegiac line:

“LLAP** my friend, my dear, dear friend.”


Of the 100+ books I read this summer, only two moved me to tears: Izzy & Lenore: Two Dogs, An Unexpected Journey, and Me (Jon Katz), and  The Dog Who Was There (Ron Morasco).

A story of faithful love, unswerving devotion, and understanding without words, Izzy & Lenore: Two Dogs, An Unexpected Journey, and Me effervesces like a bottle of Cristal Brut Methusalah.

An abandoned, half-feral border collie reluctantly taken in by author Jon Katz, Izzy becomes a hospice dog. Somehow Izzy learns what can’t be taught: how to help the dying leave this world with dignity – “Oh! A dog! Where on earth did you come from, you handsome thing?” – and how to best comfort those left behind.

Lenore – from the Edgar Allen Poe poem – is a “portable happiness generator.” “The UPS driver threatened to steal her,” says Katz. Big hearted and good natured, Lenore can pierce the armor of the hardest heart. As Katz battles a deep depression and phantoms from his past, the rambunctious Lab pup gently reminds him why he wanted to work with animals in the first place.

Set in first century Jerusalem,  The Dog Who Was There is a heart-warming, surprising story about a little dog, Barley (that’s not a typo), and a Teacher from Galilee. This wonderful story is soaked in loss, loyalty, sadness, promise, and Great Joy. I’ve never read anything quite like it. You won’t want to miss this one.

Indeed, The Dog Who Was There and Izzy & Lenore get the dual nod for Top Books. Paws down.

HONORABLE MENTION (You may detect a pattern here 😉):

Scrub Dog of Alaska – Walt Morey

Now, the real secret to reading 100+ books in 90* days? I. Love. Books. And I love to read. Always have. Ever since I was ‘knee-high to a grasshopper.’ For more, see: Hard Night: Growing Up in the Land of Endless Summer.

Is the library open yet?

*To be precise, June has 30 days. July and August have 31, for a total of 92 days. I slowed some but didn’t stop when I hit 100 titles in mid-August.

                   FINAL summer reading tally: 136 books in 92 days.

**Live Long And Prosper.  While you’re at it, grab a book. With a good dog.

NOTE: This blog will be turning a corner soon. A big one.

 Same URL.  New name. New look. New voice. 

Stay tuned.