Tag Archives: Hellgate High School

Imagination Library

I sent A Shout-out to Books, Libraries, and Dolly Parton to Hellgate High School staff fourteen months ago. Since then, I’ve talked with fathers, mothers, and a grandmother who subsequently registered their children and grandchildren in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Their smiles and enthusiasm were heartwarming and made me wish I’d been able to offer Imagination Library to my Lamaze students years ago.

At times I carted board books and picture books to class, one for each student to peruse as I pitched our public library and its special children’s offerings. I hoped those efforts resulted in some library visits, not only because of my lifelong love of reading and libraries, but because one of my parenting highlights involved my lap, two boys, and good books, which segued to sitting on the couch, bookended by Eric and Colin reading “a page and a page.”

Bedtime reading with Colin and Eric. 1992.
Bedtime reading with Colin and Eric. 1992.

My days and nights of Lamaze classes, OB nursing, and read-alouds are long behind me. I miss the magic of birth, but I love the magic of books. Last week a teacher shared a conversation she’d had with her four-year-old grandson about a “chapter book” he’d recently finished, and about his pride at listening to longer books. We talked about Imagination Library, which prompted me to take another look at its website. Two days ago, the number of U.S. children (birth-age five) registered was 900,712. Today, that number has morphed to 939,462. Beautiful. I hope stories and books continue to thrill those kiddos into high school and beyond.

A Shout-out to Books, Libraries, and Dolly Parton

More than two years have passed since I left hospital nursing. The words I penned in my farewell note to my obstetrics colleagues, some of whom I’d worked alongside for nearly twenty-two years, were bittersweet. I’m replacing the magic of birth with the magic of books.

Since then, I haven’t looked back. I now have the pleasure of working with two exceptional teacher-librarians at Hellgate High School.

Teacher-librarian Julie Burckhard assists Evan with a scan
Teacher-librarian Julie Burckhard assists Evan with a scan
English teacher Jean Croxton collaborates with teacher-librarian Shaun Gant.
English teacher Jean Croxton collaborates with teacher-librarian Shaun Gant

Daily, I’m touched by interactions with students and staff. Students’ impassioned “you have to read this!” recommendations have introduced me to books I would not have chosen on my own. I’ve had occasion to suggest books as well, not only the gut-wrenching, realistic fiction I gravitate toward, but other genres too. Along the way, some students have confided heartbreaking experiences of their own.

Others have shared their interests and aspirations. Months ago I asked a student her last name in order to loan her a book. I’d remembered her first name, but had to clear out some of the nursing stuff in my memory bank to make room for more names, I explained.

“You were a nurse?” she said, not waiting for a response. “Was it worth it? I want to be a nurse.”

“It was.” We chatted about nursing as we walked to the stacks, to a collection of stories by nurses.

Hellgate High School stacks
Hellgate High School stacks
Nurses on the Run: Why They Come, Why They Stay
Nurses on the Run: Why They Come, Why They Stay

Flipping through the pages of my book she said, “I’ll have to read this,” then told me she’d read it later. As we returned to the front, she said again, “I want to be a nurse. I want to do something important.”

I told her that was great, that we need more nurses. I told her I’d been at hundreds of births, which had been important, “but sharing books is important, too.”

She shot me a quizzical look, unconvinced.

I’ve seen her several times since, and she’s borrowed a number of books. She hasn’t read my nursing book yet, but I hope she will. And if she does choose to become a nurse, I know she’ll be an asset to the profession.

She, and others, continue to affirm my conviction that libraries and books are two of our most precious resources. Thanks to United Way of Missoula  County and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, the youngest among us—from birth to age five—may now begin building libraries of their own.

“Dolly grew up in abject poverty in Tennessee, as many of you know, but she always believed the world of books opened up life for her.” United Way of Missoula County CEO Susan Hay Patrick

Dolly Parton is a believer. I am too. We know that magic happens. In books. In libraries. And in life.

Pasque Flowers

The Power of Observation

ob·ser·va·tion

(äb-zər-vā’-shən) n. the act, practice, or power of noticing
Webster’s New World Dictionary: Third College Edition

In April, some of my Hellgate High School colleagues and I hiked Blue Mountain in search of wildflowers. Our trek held particular significance as we looked for pasque flowers in memory of two beloved staff members who had passed away in the preceding months.

Darcy, one of our biology teachers, had scouted Missoula’s hillsides days earlier. Though rain threatened and the weather forecast called for scattered thundershowers the afternoon of our scheduled hike, we set out. The delicate purple flowers our attendance clerk extraordinaire, Candice, had loved were in bloom. And we didn’t want to miss them.

Big Sky Country
                                                                           Big Sky Country

Some of us laughed as, battling our way through a swarm of gnats en route to a patch of pasque flowers, we felt Candice’s playful presence.

Pasque Flowers
              Pasque Flowers

Other flowers peppered the mountain for our viewing pleasure, too. Armed with field guides and the experienced eyes of several in attendance, we identified more than fifteen different wildflowers.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot
                    Arrowleaf Balsamroot
Bluebells
                                 Bluebells
Missoula Valley
                                                                          Missoula Valley

Later, after toasting the memories of Candice and Lisa, I marveled again at the observational skills of my fellow hikers as we recalled the names of the various flowers we’d identified. Though several had not yet bloomed, leaves had been clue enough for some of our wildflower sleuths.

The hikes I’ve taken since that afternoon have been with my senses heightened. I’ve spent more time reflecting on the beauty of this place I’ve lived—and often taken for granted—for the past thirty-six years. Hiking in Montana is good for the soul. It’s good for the mind, too, as I discovered in a recent magazine article.

“Pattern recognition is one of my strengths as an investor,” hedge fund founder Renée Haugerud said in the Spring 2014 issue of the Montanan. “I think every lesson in trading you can learn from nature.”

So head for the hills. The flowers of Woods Gulch and elsewhere–trillium, glacier lily, clematis, lady’s slipper, Indian paintbrush, everlasting, columbine and arnica–are calling your name.

Photos courtesy of Lee Brown

World Book Night 2014

World Book Night 2014

It was delightful to give away twenty copies of Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet on World Book Night 2014. At times, I was reminded of Renée Zellweger’s line in Jerry Maquire, “You had me at ‘hello,’” when I began my elevator pitch with, “Today is World Book Night and I have free books.”

I wish I could’ve captured the expressions of the Hellgate High School students’ and recorded snippets as they listened and responded to my pitches. “I’ve heard about this book,” one boy said. “He had to wear a button that said, ‘I am Chinese,’ didn’t he?”

Another said, “I love this book!” adding, “I have a copy,” which freed the remaining book for one of his friends.

Along with a brief chat about Hotel, I told the students that Jamie lives in Great Falls (one hundred seventy miles away) and that “he’s a big deal”—having recently traveled to cities across the U.S., Italy and Norway with his newest book, Songs of Willow Frost. I told them he was in Missoula last fall for The Festival of the Book and I had the pleasure of meeting him.

Some were duly impressed.

They laughed when they heard about Jamie’s “Houdini” dog, Dexter, and the YouTube video that had garnered more than twenty-seven thousand views. In the ensuing days, Dexter has become even more famous. As of today, his viewing audience has escalated to 40,670.

For those I didn’t capture at “Hello,” something in our conversations closed the sales for most of the students I encountered that afternoon. Once books were in hands and I’d received permission to take and post photographs, I took out my camera. For the third year running, my favorite part about being a World Book Night giver?

The smiles.

World Book Night 2014

IMG_1256

World Book Night 2014

World Book Night 2014

World Book Night 2014

World Book Night 2014

World Book Night 2014

Jamie penned a letter two weeks ago, though I didn’t discover it until yesterday. To those who received a copy of his book, this letter’s for you. To those who did not, read it anyway. His letter—and the above tweets—prove what a cool guy Jamie really is.

World Book Night 2013

For the second year running, there aren’t adequate words to describe the thrill I felt when sharing books with students on World Book Night. This year, I strolled through the hallways and courtyard of Hellgate High School, my library cart laden with new books. Since the other “giver” wasn’t able to join me, I had the pleasure of handing out books to forty students.

Outside the library, the first two students I came across chose copies of  J. R. Moehringer’s memoir, The Tender Bar. Though I haven’t yet read Moehringer’s book, my pitch was successful and it was easy to find ready recipients.

The Tender Bar!
The Tender Bar.

I was able to give a glowing review  for the other title in my cart: Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowers. The first ones to choose this book were among a handful of students who were enjoying the crisp, spring afternoon in Hellgate’s courtyard. The smiles and thanks I received from beginning to end of my book-giving excursion were heartwarming.

Smiles in the Hellgate courtyard.
Smiles in the Hellgate courtyard.
The Language of Flowers and The Tender Bar.
The Language of Flowers and The Tender Bar.
More great smiles from the few who braved the cool spring afternoon.
More great smiles from a few who braved the cool spring afternoon.

Some students asked if they could have both books. Had there been extras, that would’ve been okay. Anticipating that wouldn’t be the case, though, I told them they had to pick one. Perhaps those students will trade once they’ve read their chosen books, or maybe they’ll come to the library to borrow our copy of The Language of Flowers or The Tender Bar.

Two great reads that made for a tough choice for some students.
Two great reads made for a tough choice for some students.
Smiles in the halls of Hellgate High School!
Smiles in the halls of Hellgate High School.
Look what I got!
Look what I got!

My addition to each copy of The Language of Flowers was a handmade bookmark, each with the name of a different flower specially chosen from the flower dictionary in the back of Diffenbaugh’s book. I invited the students to embellish their bookmarks, either at home or in the library, and offered to then laminate them with extra pieces of book covers. To date, no one has taken me up on my offer. Whether anyone decides to or not, I hope that the students enjoyed sleuthing through the dictionary to find their flower’s meaning.

Armfuls of Myrtle, Oregano, Peppermint, and Pink Carnations to all who made World Book Night possible.

A New Job!

In my first post, I wrote that I’d “be replacing the wonder of birth with the wonder of books.”

That was shorthand for two things. One: My forthcoming novel, Nanny on the Run, which will be out this spring. Two: I hoped to begin work as a library assistant. At the time of my writing, I’d applied for three positions. I’d interviewed for one (which I didn’t get), and I had an interview scheduled for another. I was hoping to be called for the third. I didn’t write about these facts, though, because I didn’t want to jinx my chances of getting hired.

By the time I learned that I didn’t get the second job, I had an interview lined up for the third. The old adage, third time’s a charm, delivered its magic and I got the job!

I was hired as the new media assistant in the Hellgate High School library.

Hellgate High School
Hellgate High School

For the past six years, I served as a library volunteer at Sentinel High School—my son Colin’s alma mater. It was bittersweet saying goodbye to the Sentinel library staff, but walking into Hellgate on my first day was another homecoming.

Hellgate High School library
Hellgate High School library

My son Eric graduated from Hellgate in 2006, and I had volunteered in the library for two years. The teacher librarians who were there during my volunteer tenure, Peggy Cordell and Julie Burckhard, welcomed me back.

Hellgate High School library
Hellgate High School library

I’m doing some of the things I did as a volunteer, but I’ve learned—and am learning—to do a lot more. I love my new job.

You Can’t Win if You Don’t Try

A recent newspaper article reminded me of a motto I adopted years ago: You can’t win if you don’t try.

The article described how Jess Parrish, a wood carver, wanted to plunge into the world of ice carving. Ice carvers in his state refused to grant him an apprenticeship, though. The market was small, and they feared training a competitor.

Jess turned to the internet, which led him to the National Ice Carving Association and to his first competition six years ago in Green River, Wyoming. His chain saw burned up with two hours left to go in his event. He left early, not waiting around for the rest of the two-day competition.

Then, Jess received a phone call telling him that because he was the sole entrant in the amateur category, he was the de facto winner. He was encouraged to pursue ice carving, which he did. Four years later, he launched his own business.

Jess Parrish, of Longmont, works on an ice sculpture of a dragon outside Todd Reed Jewelry Store in Boulder on Dec. 1. Parrish has been ice carving for about six years and launched his business, Cool Hand Ice Carving, about two years ago. (Kira Horvath/Longmont Times-Call)

Jess Parrish, right, places huge slabs of ice into place with the help of his apprentice, Joaquin Botello, as they begin working on an ice sculpture of a dragon outside Todd Reed Jewelry Store in Boulder on Dec. 1. (Kira Horvath/Longmont Times-Call)

Twenty years ago, my boys were winners in a local coloring contest. They won first and third places in their respective age groups. Eric, aged five, won a can filled with Crayola markers. Colin, aged two, delighted in the stuffed bunny he won. When we picked up their prizes, we learned one of the reasons they’d won was because there were more prizes than participants.

Cake making 1993
Eric and Colin making a Mother’s Day cake, 1993.

I’ve heard a variation of my motto. You can’t hit the ball if you don’ t swing the bat. Would Eric and Colin have won had there been more competitors? Who knows. What we do know is this. They swung their bats and they hit the balls.

Eric & Colin Buley
Eric: 2006. Crayola tin: 1993. Colin: 2008.

I keep the Crayola tin on my desk as a reminder to swing my bat. And I swung three times in the past month. Last week, I learned that I hit the ball when I received a phone call offering me the media assistant position I’d applied for at Hellgate High School.

I started yesterday. Walking into the Hellgate library, where I served as a volunteer from 2004-2006, I felt like I had hit the ball out of the park.