Monthly Archives: August 2015

Erika Madden: Year of The Angels and Cries From The Fifth Floor

What happens when the sweet magic of childhood mixes with the grimness of war?   

 Erika Madden is the author of historical fiction novel Year of the Angels paranormal novel Cries from the Fifth Floor.

Year of the Angels is the type of book I love. Based on Erika’s personal experience it is a beautifully written story of a year in the life of a close-knit German family struggling to survive during the devastating conflict of Wold War Two. This unique book has heart, originality and is beautifully written. I read once that  ‘A good book entertains, a great book informs’, or something similar to that. For me, this is a great book.


Erika was born and raised in the small town of Mainbernheim, Germany. As a young woman she moved to the Pacific Northwest where she raised her family. When her husband retired they moved to Camano Island, Washington, where she wrote a novel, Year of the Angels, a firsthand account of growing up in Germany during WWII. This was a surprisingly emotional journey for her. As an escape, she decided to write another book simultaneously a paranormal thriller, Cries from the Fifth Floor. Both books are available on and

A member of the Hard-nosed Zealots Writers’ Critique Group of Stanwood/Camano (USA) Erika is a close friend of Gloria Mackay. Like most writers she finds invaluable the support and encouragement that exists between  kindred souls. As writers we manage to remain sane when we meet regularly with fellow writers who are prepared to give positive feedback on our latest project. Especially if we are trying to write about deeply personal issues and traumatic memories.


Erika, like so many writers deals with the death of her supportive, imaginative brother, Deiter who helped her survive the trauma of being a child in Germany during Word War Two. Right at the start of Year of the Angels  I knew that I was in the hands of someone I could trust with my complete attention as a reader. I was immediately fascinated by the story about her childhood in Germany during 1944 and desperately wanted to know what happened to children during World War Two on the opposite side of the world to my personal  experience as a three year old  child of German descent living in Australia . I knew first hand what a terrible affect war can have on fathers and how this impacts on the whole family.

What happens when people return in later life to the country of their childhood? ‘The deserted house welcomed an older Lisl and her memories were waiting.’ After marrying and raising a family in America, she found her thoughts were still in English, not German.

Erika’s childhood during World War II in Germany was one of deprivation and challenge. With the war effort of the mid-1940s, food, heating fuel, and clothing were becoming increasingly scarce, and the German citizens increasingly desperate. The Allied Forces were advancing on the small Franconian farming community where Madden’s family lived. Her father was away at war, and the future of her family uncertain. Madden called upon these childhood experiences as inspiration for her historical fiction novel, “Year of the Angels.”

“I didn’t want my novel to be just a war story,” says Madden. “I wanted to show the softer side of children and how they escape emotionally from the terror and hate. I thought I would show the war through the eyes of a child. I needed to write in the simple language of a child and of that time, minding not to let modern language creep into the story. Although written in third person and as fiction in consideration to the people living in my town, it is a true account seen through the eyes of ten-year old Lisl-me. It was an emotional journey to go back after so many years in America and experience the war all over again. To get away from the sadness I wrote a second book simultaneously as a relief and as far removed from reality as possible ”

I can’t wait to read Erika’s latest book Cries From The Fifth Floor available at Amazon as a kindle ebook or paperback


Why are the coma patients on the fifth floor calling silently and persistently to hospital worker Claire Reed? Why do they draw her–against her will–to their bedsides? And why does she feel their pain and unrest, see fragmented visions of their last conscious moments?

Claire enters a terrifying world as she tries to unravel the mysteries that tie her to the fates of five strangers. The Claire Reed of yesterday no longer exists and her erratic behavior has her questioning her sanity.


It’s a cold Melbourne winter’s day and a lazy wind is blowing straight from Antarctica. It goes straight through you. Best to stay indoors curled up with a good book. I’m going straight to right now to get my copy of Cries from the Fifth Floor. 

Writing Friends

“There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin

    3 friends

Despite a chill wind straight for Antarctica and a train strike I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with two special writing friends, Mairi Neil and Jillian Bailey. We listen to each other, share our hopes and dreams, keep each other’s secrets, workshop our stories and make time to catch up, drink wine, eat cheese and chocolate in ridiculous amounts. Most of all we laugh until our cheeks hurt and our sides are splitting.

1st selfie

This is my first ‘selfie’ picture. Not great, but with practice I will improve. A bit like writing a story. The first draft is always full of mistakes and can only improve with the input of others and a rewrite. To belong to a writing group means having writing friends willing to give you constructive comments about your work that can greatly improve the finished story.

We live our lives through texts. They may be read, or chanted, or experienced electronically, or come to us, like the murmurings of our mothers, telling us what conventions demand. Whatever their form or medium, these stories have formed us all; they are what we must use to make new fictions, new narratives. (Heilbrun, 1995)

Mairi Neil has her own amazing blog here at wordpress. She formed the Mordialloc Writers’ Group twenty years ago. Over those years she has edited and published eight professionally printed and bound anthologies showcasing the short stories and poems produced and work-shopped throughout the year. Every anthology has a theme such as Off the Rails about the Frankston train-line or Carnival Caper featuring the Mordialloc Carnival, once a regular feature near the mouth of the Mordialloc Creek.

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When asked to write a short story with a carnival theme the only thing that came to mind was my unexpected meeting with an elderly  woman in Queensland. You know how sometimes you are waiting for a bus and start chatting with the person next to you. Before long you are swapping life stories even though you know, and maybe because, you will never see each other again. Soon a bus arrives and you have to leave but her story stayed in my heart. I decided to weave it with fiction for this anthology.

Roses for Robbo

red roses

I can hear it, smell it, long before I see it. My skin prickles. Horses whinny. The bittersweet smell of nuzzled hay and sugar laden fairy floss saturates the early morning air. Years ago the Merry go round churned out an off key rendition of Roll out the Barrel and local boys were the clowns. Molting camels spat at unwary visitors, and…I quickly drag my mind back from the past and concentrate on the footpath, lengthen my stride, quicken my pace. I pump my arms to try to tighten years of flab, but it never goes away. Use it or lose it. Got to keep fit. Got to keep going. Concentrate on tomorrow.

Sleepy shops, blinds half raised, doors partially open and not quite ready to welcome visitors, line the shopping strip. My nostrils quiver at the smell of hot baked bread. A couple of whole grain bread rolls from Bakers Delight and a banana will see me through the day. The Shorehaven Motel is cheap and clean, but I don’t order breakfast. I can look after myself. After rearing five girls and a boy on my own I know how to manage. They’ve all gone their separate ways. I’ve got twelve grandchildren. Imagine that. Twelve, and soon I’ll have a baker’s dozen. But that’s not what I’m here for. This trip is about Rob. It’s always about Rob.

I moved to Queensland ten years ago after my operations. I nearly died five times. Intestinal infections and a stuffed up repair job meant I had to be near my kids. I’m closest to Jenny, my youngest. She built a granny flat on their property in Gympie and I help with the garden and take care of the boys.
‘Do you have to go again this year, Mum? You know how I worry about you,’ she says.
‘I must’
‘But you’re seventy-five now. Surely it’s time to give it away’
‘While there’s breath in my body, I’m going.’

Twenty-seven years ago Rob was nineteen, six foot five tall and bulletproof. For years, I’d rented a rundown house in Ozone Avenue and the kids grew up on the beach. Mark lived next door and often fled from raised voices and smashed crockery.
‘Would you like to stay for a sandwich, Mark?’
‘Sure would Mrs B’
‘You can stay the night if you like’
‘Thanks Mrs B.’ That night became every night. He shared Rob’s bedroom in a covered in section of the bull nose veranda. Mark relished sleeping on a blow up camp bed on the floor next to Rob’s bed. They talked and laughed long after they should have been asleep. I didn’t have the heart to chastise them. Every day, Mark and Rob helped me suck sand out of the roof between the rafters with a vacuum cleaner so the ceiling wouldn’t cave in. Sand seeped into everything. We became used to the grit of it in our teeth and missed it when we moved. Food just doesn’t taste the same without a bit of sand. On stormy days, I’d look at two eager faces. ‘Get going then,’ I’d sigh.
‘Surf’s up,’ they’d shout, grabbing their boards and racing out the door.

‘Morning, Mark’ I call. He is arranging several boogie boards beside the entrance of his surf shop.
‘Back again Mrs B,’ he says wrapping his arms around me. ‘Give me a kiss you sexy beast.’ I punch his paunchy belly
‘You’ve put on weight, you big log. Time you joined Jenny Craig.’ He kisses my cheek.
‘Thought you’d be by sometime today.’ He points inside. ‘Let’s have a cup of tea.’ The walls of the tiny lunchroom at the back of the shop are covered with pictures of Mark, his wife and their three girls.
‘No boys yet?’
‘We’re working on it,’ he says with a smile. Childish kindergarten scrawlings of bright yellow suns, and lopsided houses cover the refrigerator.
‘Strong tea, milk and one sugar,’ he pours boiling water into mugs. I stare at my mug. ‘To the best dad in the world,’ I read.

Mark leans forward and holds my hand. ‘He would have made the best dad,’ He lowers his head. ‘Rob a dad?’ I notice a few grey strands among Mark’s brown curls. ‘Weren’t you both going to remain single and surf forever?’ It’s good to see Mark smile.
‘Like some toast and vegemite for old time’s sake?’ he says. I shake my head.
The shop door clangs open.
‘Sorry, Mrs B. Got to go. Must keep a roof over our heads.’ He hurries to greet his first customer for the day. I follow him. ‘See you tomorrow?’
‘Same time, same place.’

Lisa’s bridal shop window displays a gown of frothy tulle and seed pearls on the forever-smiling virginal model. I push open the heavy door. Gwen takes pins out of her mouth and sticks them into a pad strapped to her wrist.
‘Good to see you again, Marg,’ she says, giving me a bear hug. ‘Seen Mark yet?’
‘Just a couple of minutes ago.’ She looks deep into my eyes. ‘How have you been?’
‘I’ve been better.’
‘Take care of yourself.’ She reaches under the counter. Gwen hands me a familiar square packet. I fumble in my purse.
‘They’re free this year,’ she says with a smile. I tuck the packet of dried petals into my bag.

Twenty-seven years ago the circus was just a well worn tent surrounded by a few mangy camels and two Shetland ponies munching on hay. Rob would live, eat and breathe the circus. He would do anything over the summer, muck out the horses boxes, groom the camels, cart water and help with the rigging. He painted his face in a big clown grin and he seemed to grow even taller when the children shrieked with delight. He was so proud of the pennies he earned and the eight of us could go to the circus as many times as we liked. We ate chips, donuts oozing raspberry jam, hamburgers, sausages, dripping fat and smothered in onions on a slice of squishy white bread. Silly when I think about it.

I walk back to the motel to rest, but my memories won’t leave me alone. Was it really twenty-seven years ago that Rob put on his red clown nose, long shoes and baggy pants and ran out into the ring with the other clowns? He and Marko honked the horn of the comedy car, pulled floppy ears and the more the kids laughed the sillier Robbo got. He did somersaults; back flips, and pretended to throw a bucket of water over the kids ducking in the front row. The bucket was filled with red rose petals. He hid behind Marko, moved when Marko moved and then curled up on the sawdust and rested his head on prayer like hands. I heard his pretended loud snores. The girls and I waited for him to jump up, to laugh and clap his hands. It was such a good trick. But he didn’t move. He lay there like a baby taking a nap. Other clowns ran over. They poked and prodded and laughed and honked horns right by his ear, but he didn’t move. I clutched my cardigan across my chest, not daring to breathe. When Marko gathered Robbo’s limp body up in his arms, I jumped the barrier…

The light of a dying moon relieves the pre-dawn darkness. Mark and I walk in silence down the bush-lined track until we reach the wide expanse of white sand. Tiny wrens sleepily call to each other, sand scrunches between our toes. We finally come to the place where day after day I would sit and watch Rob and Mark paddle out to sea. Rob was so happy then. So big and strong. Brimming over with life.
‘Scatter my ashes here when I die,’ he said jokingly one day as seagulls wheeled and cried overhead.
‘Sure, mate,’ Mark replied and splashed him as they raced each other into the sea. Did Rob have a premonition? Did his enlarged heart; so big it could encompass the world, warn him that time was short? For the twenty-seventh year, Mark places a half circle of candles in the sand. Their flames flutter in the early morning breeze. We sit together cross-legged at the edge of the water.

I look through a rainbow of tears at Mark’s manly features and the red clown nose. Marko and me. Fifteen minutes is all we need. Fifteen minutes once a year. The first tentative fingers of sun turn the clouds rose pink and I quietly talk to Rob, tell my son what has happened during the past year. Births, deaths, joys and sorrows. As the sun rises, I stand and throw my arms wide to embrace all that he was, all that he is. Mark wraps a comforting arm around my shoulders. Rose petals float out on the waves as I say goodbye to my boy for another year.


I used to worry about taking small incidents in my life and writing about them until I discovered this quote by Helen Garner

What I know about is domesticity; about marriage and families and children, so that’s what I write about and therefore a lot of my events take place in people’s houses. Anyway, I was feeling particularly bad about this one day I was walking along the street thinking, “My God, my scope is so small, it’s so small.’ And I looked in the window of a print shop and they had that Van Gogh picture of the inside of his bedroom. I stood there and looked at it and I thought, ‘that’s a wonderful painting and everyone knows it’s a wonderful painting and what is it? It’s only a chair and a bed. It’s a painting of someone’s bedroom, their own bedroom.” I found that very encouraging. There’s no way you can know if your own work’s important, you do it because you like it and it’s the only thing that makes you happy.

These days I happily write anything and everything and don’t care a toss about whether it is literary or not. There is incredible freedom in writing what comes from the heart

Three and a Half Inches Behind

Be nice to your children, they choose your nursing home


I was visiting a friend who has just moved into assisted care. This newly built aged care facility provides permanent care, dementia care, nursing services and palliative care and is a long way from the basic nursing homes my mother used to talk about. She believed the old saying, Be nice to your kids, they choose your nursing home.  

In the secure section’s tranquility room a small white haired woman snuggled under a soft covering watching laser light ‘stars’ dance on the ceiling. Bright eyes met mine and I sat beside her. She grabbed my hand and beamed at me. ‘Hello’, I said.’How are you?’

‘Three and a half inches behind’. I stroked her hand and spoke quietly for a while eventually saying, ‘I must go now. She patted my arm, ‘Three and a half inches behind’ she said with a smile. When I reached the door I heard a quiet, ‘I love you’.


For twenty-five years I’ve been a research volunteer with Melbourne University’s Womens’ Healthy Aging Project and have learnt a lot about, menopause, H.R.T, post menopause and lately, dementia and Alzheimers.

According to the current literature Dementia, also known in my mother’s day as senility, is a broad category of brain diseases that cause long term and often gradual decrease in the ability to think and remember clearly . So much so that a person’s daily functioning is affected.  The most common affected areas include memory, visual-spatial, language, attention and problem solving. Most types of dementia are slow and progressive. By the time the person shows signs of the disease, the process in the brain has been happening for a long time. At the moment there is no cure. Globally, dementia affects thirty-six million people and is on the increase. More people are living longer and dementia is becoming more common in the population as a whole.

Senility has been around for a long time. My mother often told me that when she was eighteen she was sent to look after her Gran who was senile and needed constant care. It was a daily struggle just to get Gran dressed. After fighting with her to get some sort of clothes on, Mum would try to put on Gran’s leather buttoned boots. Gran would clench her teeth and plant her foot on the floor. They would struggle for about half an hour before Mum finally got the boots on and buttoned. Mum would give her grandmother a bag of tangled pieces of string for her to unravel. It kept her busy all day. At night Mum would mix them all up again and hand the bag back to Gran the next day.  Only when her Gran was dressed and occupied could Mum escape to do her own chores.

Not every dementia patient is as difficult as Gran. They can be as sweet and lovely as Three and a Half Inches Behind. WHAP research has found that the story of each patient recorded in a book assists people to  understand how to help dementia patients  live as calm and enjoyable a life as possible.

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The new three story building that is home to my friend houses elderly people with physical and mental problems and is better than any luxurious Retirement Village I’ve ever seen. Large private rooms with an en-suite, wide hallways, comfortable lounges with aquariums and electric fireplaces complete with realistic flame effect. Friendly, caring staff. These facilities are a far cry from the urine smelling shared rooms of the nursing homes of my mother’s day.

lounge dining hair

I remember sitting next to eighty year old friend, Mickey when we flew through a violent storm in a tiny eight seater plane. After a particularly loud boom of thunder, she bent forward, put her fingers in her ears, closed her eyes and muttered her mantra, ‘Never a nursing home, Never a nursing home.’ Mickey would not have such a fear of being sent to a home if she had seen one of these new Aged Care Facilities today.

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But to get into one of these top class aged care facilities is still a trauma and, if you cannot get a government funded place, can cost the earth. I don’t know what the answer is, but I am so happy for my friend. Her physical condition has improved since being there and her mind is still as sharp as a tack.

Ode to Age

A mother and son’s view of old age.


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Some people/sons think this way

The numbers are increasing,
The demographic kind,
Of ageing baby boom cohorts
In biological decline.

They swamp the health care system
Become seniors by the score.
I wish they were invisible
Then death we could ignore.

My parents have retired
To devote their lives to pleasure.
What a boring lifestyle
Using up unlimited leisure.

Maybe a worthwhile part-time job
With status will assist them
To productively remain
Locked into the capitalist system.

Dear old Dad has passed away.
We all must go sometime.
Will Mum come and live with us
Or go to Shady Pines?

What? Sell the house tomorrow
And buy into a village
With pool and spa and golf course
And gain a millionaire’s image?

But won’t she feel so guilty
As she lays out in the sun?
Great grandma would be saying
‘Are you sure the work is done?’



Mum’s reply
The time has gone for guilt.
I’ve always worked, my dear,
It’s time for me to play
And enjoy my remaining years.

But something strange is happening
I’m not as spry as you
Things I once thought easy
Are now difficult to do.

My teeth sit in a glass
My hair has gone so thin
Now I’m even noticing
A spare tyre and double chin.

My body is getting older
It’s drooping more each day
And I find you try and help me
As I stagger and I sway

I think you see your mother
In obvious decline
Well look a little closer,
I’ve a young, inquiring mind.

And yet I do have fears
Of darkness, death and healthcare
And need the extra security
Of a buzzer and of welfare.

But don’t lump us all together
As an old decrepit bunch.
I make my own decisions
And that’s what really counts.

I’ll live my life with enthusiasm
Right up to my last day
So don’t weep when I leave quietly
In my euthanasia way.

But in the meantime darling
I really don’t need much,
Just let me live life my way
And always keep in touch.


Gloria MacKay: Throwing Sticks and Skipping Stones

Gloria MacKay, (born in the USA)


This is one of those books that entices you to leave dishes in the sink and the floor unswept until you finish the last story. At least that was what I wanted to do, but as always, the phone rang, emails needed to be answered and problems solved. However, no matter how much life disrupts your precious reading time you will thoroughly enjoy this book. For me, knowing the author makes the experience even more delicious.

gloria 2

Throwing Sticks and Skipping Stones contains bite sized true life story excerpts, life lessons, thoughts and rants on every subject possible. this is a  well-written book I was able to delve into one satisfying, thought-provoking story at a time.

For instance, on Monday, before heading off to a Dr’s appointment, I read High Tides and enjoyed the references to the sayings of Mark Twain.  In the waiting room it was Taking Care of Your Edges. After lunch with friends, Running Fast Through Fields of Yellow Tulips. That night in bed, glasses balanced on my nose, Hocus Pocus. My dreams were filled with marvellous magical imaginings.

Tami Brady comments : Some of these topics make you laugh until your sides hurt. Other stories remind the reader to take advantage of the important things in life. All of these stories are entertaining.

I found on reading these stories that I completely relaxed and the busyness and worries of the day melted away.

About Gloria

She  was born in Seattle. Gloria strays, occasionally, farther than she can throw a stick or skip a stone, but always finds her way home. She like writing stories about the pacific northwest of the USA: the beaches, forests, people and mountains. For ten years she read the stories she wrote on KPLU News-for Seattle and the Northwest. The radio station encouraged her to read what she writes: about women and children and men and fog and death and taxes. Collectively, non-selectively, is the presence of her four sons, four grandchildren, and their families and friends who cement time and distance together. Gloria’s writing appears in various anthologies including Forget Me Nots from the Front Porch (Obadiah Press) and Don’t Sweat Stories: Inspirational Anecdotes from Those Who’ve learned How Not to Sweat It (Hyperion).


Chalk Dustings, a fascinating collection of Gloria’s poetry and prose, is published by Aquillrelle.

In 2001 the Fifty-Plus News  publicised a short-story competition. I joined nine other winners at a celebratory gathering in Melbourne. There I met one of the judges, a kind be-whiskered man, Alan Wheatley who encouraged me to write for his Australian literary ezine. I submitted to Bonzer and Bonzer Plus for years and enjoyed belonging to this international online writing community.

Gloria heard about Bonzer in 1994 from Helen Polaski, the editor of The Rocking Chair Reader, an anthology that was publishing one of Gloria’s stories. She became an integral part of both Bonzer and Bonzer Plus when she was appointed editor.

At a Bonzer conference in Adelaide I was thrilled to finally meet Gloria. We discovered we shared an overwhelming passion for writing from the heart and soul and revelled in discussions about our current writing projects. We kept in touch on and off via Bonzer. When Alan Wheatley died, so did Bonzer and I lost touch with my Bonzer friends.

Recently I posted Writing from Mourning here at wordpress , and who should send me a comment, but Gloria. We live on opposite sides of the globe but we now use the magic of the internet to talk about writing. It seems strange when I tell her about Melbourne’s frost encrusted mornings while she swelters during ‘the warmest, driest, burning, sunnyist month of her existence.’

Recently a parcel turned up at my door containing several books and I couldn’t wait to read the funny, pithy anecdotes of life in America. I’m sure many followers will relate to her poem from Chalk Dustings, Reader’s Lament.

Words await me

out there in the dark,

on the table by the couch

next to my glasses.

My new skinny navy blue wires

and those oversized gold ones for older readers,

bifocals precisely incised. I can read with either.


In the morning I always find them together

where the books are

as though there’s been a party

and I wasn’t invited.

I don’t like to turn off the lights

and go to bed, leaving unseen words behind

like children I have met

or chocolates in a box,


but even readers need sleep.

So there I lie twitching legs

and sweaty head not meant to dent a pillow

reusing worn out dreams

like threadbare jeans

while down the hallway pages wave

as words creep out in conga lines

slithering through the night.

 Last night I took both books to the Mordialloc Writer’s Group meeting run by Mairi Neil. Everyone wants to read them and took details on where and how they can be purchased. I know they will enjoy the books as much as I have. However, next Monday I will lend them to my cousin who has just moved into residential care and wrings her hands when she says, ‘I have nothing to read.’

Reviews for Throwing Sticks and Skipping Stones

By John Paul Newbury

  • Who can forget the smells and sounds of childhood? Well Gloria sure doesn’t forget. They are as clear to her today as they were when they began. Events, ordinary and not so, stay fresh in her mind ready for the day of release into white. Her well is so deep, the vault so huge that Gloria will go on writing anew well beyond the time many lay down their pens. Chalk Dustings contains unpretentious words, not so iambic, some rhyme many don’t, they flow, river-like, straight into her beloved Puget Sound. Don’t know where that is? Well you will have to read Heather’s review of Gloria’s other 2012 offering. Gloria presents poems and verse; some might say short stories though these extensions span rhythmic and melodic lines. The words have meaning, natural nodes, marching in tune to music you start to hear, reminding me of the Nietzsche quote: ‘And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music’. Gloria hears the music.
  • By Mary Trimble
    CHALK DUSTINGS by Gloria MacKay is a rare slice of homespun philosophy. MacKay’s unique view of life, evident on every page of poignant poetry and insightful prose, is sometimes charming, sometimes witty. Her wisdom gives you something to think about while recognizing life as a mixed bowl of beans. MacKay’s poetry, laced with wisdom and observations, is rich with truisms. She shares with us heart-warming wisdom that only someone who has really lived can do. Scattered throughout the book, short prose defines life according to Gloria MacKay. She manages to impart amusing yet milestone moments that have defined the person she is. One of my favorites is the last, “Salt Is More Than a Seasoning,”in which she shares her love for Puget Sound. The piece gives life to a body of water that many would take for granted.
  • CHALK DUSTINGS is a book you’ll put in a special place, the kind of book you’d be proud to give to someone special in your life.