Allison's Book Bag


Volunteering is like a full-time job

Looking back over my Six-Word-Saturday posts, I realize that I haven’t talked much about my volunteer life other than two years ago when I wrote about helping community cats. Given that these days I spend the majority of my free time involved in volunteer activities, what follows is a post that’s long overdue.

Let’s start with Husker Cats. This is a group that traps-neuters-and-releases (TNR) cats on our local campus. Volunteers also provide food, water, and shelter. I started by shadowing a volunteer. When she had to cutback on hours, I took on one of her shifts and eventually became a coordinator. I also wrote an article to promote the group and adopted one of the feral cats. I’ve shared numerous stories here about Bootsie!

The other group I volunteer with is Animal Ambassadors. This is a group that helps address the root cause of homelessness by providing spay/neuter and vaccination services, a pet food bank, and education. I started out by writing a few articles for their blog. To better understand the group’s objectives, I decided to invite myself to a meeting. One thing led to another. Now I’m the group’s media chair, which involves duties such as writing press releases and running our blog. I also help with fundraisers and information events.

My involvement with Animal Ambassadors led to a couple of decisions. First, I only queried Lincoln Kids, because I felt that I needed a print forum to promote animal welfare. Now I’m writing two columns for them! Second, because my articles tend to be long and detailed, I wanted to a way to write shorter stuff and hit upon writing a cat advice column. So for, I’ve posted three! I’ll share them posts here over the next few weeks.

That’s what’s new with me! What about you?

After accepting the opportunity to receive an Advanced Reader Copy of I Don’t Know What To Call My Cat by Simon Philip, I anxiously awaited its arrival. As the owner of three cats, I love to add cat books to my library. When the picture book finally came, the vivid matte illustrations tantalized me as much as the title. I dropped everything to read it. The first half was adorable, but the last half take some surprising twists that leave me unsettled.

The story features a young girl with bright orange hair and colorful dresses. Her first words hooked me: “I have a new cat.” What pet lover doesn’t relate to that experience? Her next revelation is that the cat had shown up hungry on her doorstep. Ah, what cat rescuer doesn’t know that experience? Her next line is equally endearing and true: “She obviously liked the dinner I gave her, because she’s stayed ever since.” Yup, this has happened to more than one animal lover, whether a cat owner or not. Incidentally, the cat is gray with bright eyes and alert ears. Every young reader will be in love! The rest of the first half of the story is about the girl trying to name the cat. Readers will enjoy the chaotic adventures and the vivid matte illustrations. You can decide for yourself if you like the name selected.

Unfortunately, here’s where the story takes an unsettling twist. The cat goes missing, and can’t be found anywhere. Not even in a zoo. But a gorilla is only too happy to follow our heroine home. She in turn is perfectly content for him to become her pet. I know young kids can be fickle, but our heroine is disturbingly nonchalant about this switch in pets. There’s an additional twist, in that the Bureau for Naughty Animals shows up to remove the gorilla. Again, our heroine takes this turn of events in stride. No tears are ever shed over either loss. And then for the third twist—the cat conveniently comes back. The author leaves readers with this strange moral: “Maybe one pet at a time is best for everyone.”

The whimsy style reminds me of tales by Dr. Seuss and the Reys. Even those authors though tended to avoid side lines in the plot. For me, I Don’t Know What To Call My Cat is a one-time read. Younger readers may more heartily embrace the book.

One of my big projects at my church job is to create a monthly newsletter. This spring, I started to write my own content for it, besides including submissions from members. What follows is a reprint of an article I wrote about a local entrepreneur.

Baking has always been a part of Kat’s life, even if owning a bakery hadn’t initially been part of her dreams for when she grew up. As a child, Kat spent hours upon hours on top of her grandmother’s kitchen counter, rolling pie crust and mixing chocolate chip cookies. In her teens, she found herself unintentionally taking cooking classes. She started by baking for family and friends, and that grew to baking for friends of friends and co-workers. In 2008, she applied for a vendor’s spot at a small farmers’ market, and her goods went public. Three years later, she was working multiple jobs and still continuing her farmers’ market schedule. A friend advised her to “go big or go home.”

ALLISON: When and why did your start Gratitude Bakery?

KAT: Gratitude opened over four years ago. Like many of the great things and challenges in life, I believe I’ll look back and see a perfectly formed picture. The reasons why and the exactness is hidden in friendship. I walked into our corner building, took a look at the only remaining relic from its days in old Bethany town, and said, “This is it.” In the early days I use to be sure that there was a great reason. A moment when faits would collide and the reason for everything would be revealed. Over the years my belief has changed. If I touch one life with kindness, understanding, or warmth, and find joy in a gentleman’s face when he sits with a cup of coffee, the paper, and cinnamon rolls that reminds him of his grandmother, that’s enough.

ALLISON: What skills do you and your staff offer?

KAT: I am the one woman circus! I prep, bake, cook, clean, wash dishes, order supplies, connect and purchase from local vendors and farmers, purchase weekly goods, purchase fair traded retail, contact and schedule local musicians, work every shift at Gratitude, keep social media going, write the newsletter, deal with emails, make the phone calls and do what needs to be done. I’m in by 4am and, depending if Gratitude hosts a live event, I’m there until 11pm.

I lucked out with my mother! She comes in every Saturday morning. She mans the station, does the dishes, and is one great bakery box maker! She also does much of the background paperwork. If it wasn’t for her, I physically couldn’t do it.

ALLISON: Tell me about Pie Day!

KAT: Pie Day started as an idea a customer brought to me to increase community. Over the years it has become an important part in helping us fund live music with the hope of fully funding ONE music license a year. All pies are scratch baked with fruit from my dear local farmers and served with homemade ice cream. Pie is sold by the slice and you can always take it to go. Last year three of my musicians surprised us with a performance.

It was the most exhausting, enlightening, frustrating and exciting year of my life! This ‘little’ process of finding, buying, restoring, renovating, etc. took 15 months of labor, a few friends, lots of phone calls, a dozen permits, a city planning hearing, and 3 city council meetings. It was a very long process and many folks came with me for the ride to whom I will be forever grateful for!”—Kat, about her first year.

ALLISON: When and why did you start hosting musicians and authors?

KAT: From the beginning! Community is Gratitude’s greatest commitment and hosting Lincoln’s talent has been a dream. Bethany needed a spot that folks could come and feel safe.

ALLISON: How have you connected with musicians?

KAT: Every musician is different. I have a unique and different relationship with each of them! From Bethany local Tim Kettler walking in with his guitar one night, to Laurie McClain contacting me off a recommendation from Dr. John Walker, to hunting Paul Baker and me having to wear down Jack Downs. They’re the best people I know!

ALLISON: What type of offerings are you looking for with open mic nights?

KAT: We have 2 types of open mic. The first is our monthly Open Mic every 3rd Friday. This open mic is primarily for musicians, but we have had the occasional slam poet or comedian. Our Open Mic night has run since the beginning and its a great opportunity for the public to meet our house musicians.

Our second form of open mic is during our monthly Writers’ Night. We feature a local author or poet and finish the night with a mic open for those willing.

Both evenings are open to the public and encourages an audience. A purchase is always required to help keep me open.

ALLISON: What type of promotion have you done? How have social media and word of mouth helped?

KAT: Many of the traditional roads of promotion aren’t open to us and sadly aren’t effective for a small business. Social Media is a necessity nowadays. We have a very active Facebook page. Of course that doesn’t always means it works and does anything. We have a monthly online newsletter that has become extremely helpful in keeping regulars in the loop and giving Gratitude a larger voice. Word of mouth and creating real connection with customers is the BEST and most effective way.

ALLISON: Sell readers on why they should visit Gratitude?

KAT: I run a business with my core values. Everything is made by scratch with my own hands—with local ingredients from farmers and producers in the area. History is important to me and you can taste that in the food. We’ve become known for our scones, cinnamon rolls, and evening soups and entrée. For those who enjoy a business knowing their name, thinking of them when baking their favorite dessert, and having a hug waiting when you need it—you might just become a Gratitude regular.

ALLISON: What are your dreams for the future of Gratitude? 

KAT: We’ll continue to evolve and change. Gratitude certainly morphed into what it is today and I assume I will just need to hang on for the ride! On the day I lock the door for the last time, I want folks to reminisce not only of our foods but of an owner that cared and was kind and a place that was always genuine in business.


Church job update; writing original content

Last week was administrative assistant day, and so it seems like the ideal time to update everyone on my church position. Five months in, and I’ve settled into a routine. Yet there are still new challenges. A perfect blend!

Every day starts by my opening up the church, answering phone calls, and sorting through mail. On Mondays, I enter attendance into Power Church, edit the Sunday bulletin, create a visitor list, and update the pastoral list. I also prepare any inserts and start on the weekly. On Tuesdays, after I finish up the weekly, I print, compile, and fold all publications. Throughout the day, I might also schedule reservations and make photocopies.

What about Wednesday and Thursday? I use those for other projects. The biggest is our monthly Courier. A recent highlight is that I interviewed a local business owner. You’ll see that interview next week here at Allison’s Book Bag. In the future, I’ll be helping to write member profiles, collect stories about the church’s history, and providing information about community outreach organizations. In other words, I’m writing original content!

As for other projects, I’ve also started a contact list, created an equipment inventory, labeled supply cupboards, alphabetized our keys and business cards, and updated our annual directory. Ahead is organizing years worth of children’s bulletin, so that we can file our own master copies. Now that people are getting to know me, I also get more phone calls about member contact information, orders to make, and information to type or design.

I love that I get to collaborate with staff, help members of the church and community, and take initiative on projects. Something else I enjoy is chat time. My boss and I talk every morning about our day. Sometimes we talk about faith. Members will ask me how the job is going and we’ll take about special events in our lives. It’s a comfortable and personable place to work.

According to The Pew Research Center, over 75% of the world’s population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions (and many of these people are Christians). Also, according to the United States Department of State, Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Jesus Christ.—Open Doors

Persecution of Christians is a topic I don’t often hear about, but the above quote shows that it happens more than most of us probably realize. For that reason, I decided to read Hearts of Fire, which tells the story of “eight women in the underground church and their stories of costly faith”. The book is a publication of Voice of Martyrs, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting the persecuted church worldwide.

There are many aspects I appreciate about this riveting collection. The eight women featured come from different countries: Indonesia, Bhutan, Russia, Romania., Pakistan, China, India, and Vietnam. Each of them also comes from various religious backgrounds, with some starting out as atheists, others Christian, and a few converting from such faiths as Islam or Buddhism. The form of persecution takes many forms too: abuse, kidnapping, and/or imprisonment. Because Voice of Martyrs included a diversity of stories, its collection never felt as if any one country or group of people were being targeted. Instead the collection made clear that persecution of Christians is a worldwide issue that needs attention.

In contrast to some biographical collections, instead of providing snippets from several role models, each chapter in Hearts of Fire instead consists of a full-fledged story of about 40 pages. Some stories start by recounting the events in the childhood of a featured heroine that led to her decision to take a stand for Christ and how that decision put her life in constant jeopardy. Other stories began with a featured heroine already in her adulthood and daily having to choose whether to risk being arrested for sharing her faith. By the end of each chapter, I felt as if I knew the entire testimony of every featured heroine.

There are some aspects of this gritty collection that I disliked. The first is the book feels outdated. Although it’s been reprinted about ten years after an original publication date of 2003, there were no updates made to the original stories–some of which happened decades before. Consequently, the stories aren’t all that current. The second is how violent some stories were. I almost didn’t make it through the first story. It told of Christina being lifted in the air by her hair, tobacco leaves being set on fire and put in her mouth, her son being beaten with a machete, and other tortures. I understand that if change is to happen, there’s a need to depict the depth of atrocities that can happen. At the same time, the human mind will only accept hearing about so much horror before it becomes numb. In addition, the other natural response is to feel hatred for the persecutors, which lessens the impact of the heroism of the Christian women.

I found of special interest the story of the wife who became the founder of Voice of Martyrs. Sabina’s story began in Romania, 1945. The Russians had driven the Nazis out of Romania, but they were now themselves attempting to control how the state ran. The couple however refused to silent about their faith. February 1948, Sabina’s husband went missing, and was believed at times to have been arrested and other times to have been killed. Eventually, Sabina herself was also taken by authorities to jail. There, she was forced into slave labor, and risked being shot. Even when injured and sick, she was forced to work outside and in extreme weather. In 1965, the couple were reunited and eventually escaped to the United States. In this country, they began The Voice of Martyrs newsletter, a monthly publication that to this day is distributed across the world in many languages.

Years ago, I watched a true story of a missionary who died for her faith. In college, the missionary had searched for a reason to live, and found it in God. Hearts of Fire is filled with stories of women who similarly found their purpose. I’ll be looking for more books in the future that both challenge how I live and inspire my faith. If you have recommendations, please post in the comments.

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Spring Reviews

Almost a year after I announced that it was time to take a step back from this blog, Allison's Book Bag is still here. I'm slowly working back up to weekly reviews again. Each week, there will be one under any of these categories: Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, religious books, or diversity books. Some will come in the form of single reviews and others in the form of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Freddy the Frogcaster and the Terrible Tornado by Janice Dean
  • The Distance Between Us by Reya Grande
  • Hearts of Fire from The Voice of Matyrs



Cat Writers’ Association
Artists Helping Animals

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