We plan library programs months in advance. In February and March, I was trying to think up programs that would be interesting in the heat of June. I remembered my step-father and how much he enjoyed brewing-and drinking his own beer. Do other folks want to make their own beer? Do they know where to start?

I did some research, (it’s what librarians do well) and I discovered the Bluffs Brewing Guild who were excited to talk about homebrewing. I am happy to announce we have an amazing panel of experienced brewers lined up to show us how it’s done on July 19 at 6:30 p.m. in the Gering Library Community Room. 

This is your chance to ask questions and find out how to get started making your own beer. Kristian Schank, Zak Griffith, and Jason Zitterkopf have a combined 35 years of brewing experience. They will not only tell us how it’s done, they are bringing their equipment to show us how it’s done. 

Attendees will have a chance to win “How to Brew: Everything You Need to Know to Brew Great Beer Every Time” by John J. Palmer. If you want even more information, we have two new books about brewing your own beer available to check out at the library. Unfortunately due to state regulations, we are unable to provide samples of the homebrew at this library program. But we did consider it.

Some fun facts about homebrewing. Many Americans legally brewed their own beer before Prohibition. Many illegally brewed it during Prohibition and it was safer than many of the home- distilled liquors available at that time. When Prohibition was repealed, homebrewing was still illegal at the federal level. In 1979 California Senator Alan Cranston stuck legislation into a transportation bill during Jimmy Carter’s administration that legalized homebrewing. This opened a world of opportunities for beer enthusiasts.

In conjunction with the Gering Library Foundation, this fall the library will host a monthly program called Books and Brews. This series will focus on how to make a variety of boutique beverages including coffees, teas and kombucha. Be watching Facebook for more information. We also post our programs on our website calendar, and, of course, in the library.

I am always looking for programming suggestions. If you want to learn about something, chances are, someone else will want to learn as well. If you want to share a talent or skill with others, I can probably make it happen. 

If you knew Bill Enderle, he might have offered to share one of his homebrews with you. If you took him up on it you may have noticed he kept it basement-temperature. You don’t have to drink your homebrew like the English, you can refrigerate it- there is no shame in wanting a cold beer. If you want to learn how to make your own beer, or just want to learn what goes into making your favorite beverage, please join us July 19 at 6:30 p.m.

Talking Books

We came across some old applications for talking books while cleaning out a drawer recently in the library. We also uncovered a booklet about the program from the Library of Congress dated 1985. As I mentioned, we were cleaning things out.

According to Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services, around 2% of people in Nebraska have a vision impairment. This amounts to nearly 700 people in Scotts Bluff County.

In the 1930s, Congress passed a bill to establish the National Library Service (NLS) through the Library of Congress. The purpose of the NLS is to provide accessible reading materials at no charge to people with vision impairment. 

In the 1930s, books were available in either Braille (which was newly standardized in the English-speaking world) or as a record album delivered to the person’s home. Some of the first books available included The Declaration of Independence (and other patriotic documents), three Shakespeare selections, Rudyard Kiplng’s “Bushwood Boy” and P.G. Wodehouse’s “Very Good Jeeves”. 

By the 1980s, the format was changing to a 4-track cassette tape. Audio recordings then and now are available in specialized formats so that only people with approved equipment can use them. 

Digital books for the blind showed up in 2012, and now only a few people still use cassettes. Digital format materials can be downloaded on a computer or through an app. They can also be mailed on a cartridge for use in a specialized reader.

Publishers and authors have copyright protections on their books, but they recognize the need to provide reading materials to blind folks. Publishers have made provisions that allow reproduction for the purpose of the NLS program. Now, major publishers provide their bestsellers in an audio format that can be used immediately.

“One thing I always like to stress about the program is that it is free. We may not have the selection that Audible does, but Audible costs money. And it would be nearly impossible for any one person to read every book in our collection,” says Gabe Kramer, director of Talking Book and Braille Services in Nebraska. Of course, books are available through this program, but magazines and musical scores are available as well. You can check out foreign language materials now, too.

According to Kramer, around 2700 people statewide use this service. Nearly half of them live in the Lincoln and Omaha area. 

You don’t have to be blind to qualify for Talking Books and Braille Services. Folks who are legally blind and individuals who are unable to hold reading material may also qualify. Folks with cognitive or neurological conditions that make reading difficult may qualify as well.

Qualified applicants can have access to unlimited free reading material. They also get a personal reader’s advisor who can select the kinds of books they want to read. 

The Nebraska Library Commission uses volunteer readers to record magazines and books. It takes the commission 6-18 months to record and process an audio book.

You can visit your local library to sign up for these services. You can also visit the Nebraska Library Commission’s web page and sign up online, type “talking books” in the search bar.

As I flipped through the applications we found in the drawer, I realized the oldest applicant was born in 1891. These folks all had a desire to continue reading and learning after their eyesight had deteriorated. I am proud that our library was able to connect them with the Nebraska Library Commission which was able to provide them reading material.

The Midwest Survival Guide by Charlie Berens

I have been giggling my way through “The Midwest Survival Guide” by Charlie Berens since it came in. You might have seen his videos shared on Facebook- he’s the host of the Manitowoc Minute. The guy who talks through his nose and does all the funny videos about living in the Midwest. He’s the opposite of camera-shy. If you haven’t seen him, you should Google him. He’s funny. 

The dedication reads, [sic] “For Grandpa Bob If all perch go to heaven, it’s a little awkward for Grandpa Bob right now…” Berens begins the book by explaining how Ohio and Nebraska are both in the Midwest, something I have long been skeptical about. To be honest, I am still not convinced. Chapters cover topics like Midwest Language, People, Driving, Goings-On, College Life, and Food and Drink. The final chapter is called Junk Drawer- it contains a jumble of things that didn’t fit elsewhere in the book. He also includes a handy lexicon at the end. 

Berens’ writing is as distinctive as his speaking. If you have heard Berens talk, it will take you longer to read this book, because he speaks slowly. He celebrates fly-over country and is happy to discuss anything that crosses his mind. I learned that ranch dressing was invented by a guy who was born in Thayer, Nebraska. I also learned the difference between a hot dish and a casserole. 

Charlie Berens presents useful information, including a list of helpful pastimes to try when waiting for trains. He explains how to tell the difference between plaid and flannel, and where it appropriate to wear each one. “The Midwest Survival Guide” includes a recommended playlist for Midwest traveling (or to jam to while waiting for a train). He also curated a list of iconic Midwest movies and books.

He misses some things from this end of the Midwest. He includes several pages about euchre, but doesn’t mention pitch, although his euchre suggestions will work in a pitch game. He totally forgot to mention Carhenge as a vacation destination, although he mentions Scottsbluff often enough to make me wonder if he’s been here. 

Throughout the book, Berens relates several personal stories. “I want to tell you the story of how I got my first car in the distinguished Midwest fashion: I Dick Cheney’d my dad’s minivan. That’s right, I shot it. With a shotgun. But only once. Because it was an accident…. This wasn’t just any minivan. It was a certified preowned Silver Dodge Grand Caravan SXT. SXT stands for SEXY XT. This was the Cadillac of minivans. It had everything! A CD player. Bucket seats. Polyester. The only thing it was missing was wood paneling. I’m from a big family; we weren’t used to a life of such luxuries.” I won’t spoil the story for you, but it’s funny.

Anyone who is ready for a giggle would enjoy this book. Charlie has put together a comprehensive guide to all things Midwest. If you grew up here, you will enjoy reading it. If you moved here, it might explain some things.  You can find Charlie Berens’ first book, “The Midwest Survival Guide: How We Talk, Love, Work, Drink, and Eat . . . Everything with Ranch” on the new book shelf at the Gering Public Library.

Jonis Agee

Have you read “The Bones of Paradise” by Jonis Agee? What did you think of it? Every year Nebraskans are encouraged to read a specific book to facilitate a common topic of discussion. We are fortunate enough to have this year’s author visit the Lied Scottsbluff Public Library August 25 at 1:30 p.m. to share in our community discussion. Everyone is welcome to come listen to Agee speak.

Jonis Agee’s book “The Bones of Paradise” was chosen as the 2022 One Book One Nebraska selection. Agee is the Adele Hall Chair of English at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and has written several books. Her works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry and short stories. Agee received the Nebraska Book Award twice and authored three different titles honored as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

“The Bones of Paradise” begins with two murders which don’t seem to be connected. As the story continues, it moves in and out of the present day at the family’s ranch in the 1900s through recent history at 1890 Wounded Knee. It also delves into some of the characters’ pasts. The main characters in “The Bones of Paradise” are complex and sometimes make choices that readers may find confounding. 

The timeline moves through various characters and a number of storylines. This style of writing is necessary to reveal the backstory so the reader can fully understand the current events. The characters include ranchers and ranch hands as well as some Lakota folks. The plot hinges on how they all came to be in the story.

Agee teaches creative writing, and it comes through in her books. Her writing is descriptive and more literary than plot-driven, “She stooped to pick a wild pink rose, avoiding the tiny spines that slivered like unseen glass hairs onto one’s fingers. There was little scent, but the creamy softness of the petals like the insides of a dog’s ear more than made up for it. She placed one on her tongue, and imagined she could taste the hills, the bittersweet tang of life.” 

Agee’s specialties are lyrical description and a firm sense of place. This book takes place in the sandhills, somewhere south of Valentine, Nebraska. She has a knack for vivid description. “To the right was a vast blue lake, the surrounding marsh alive with birds feeding and mating. The air bore the moist scent of water, so blue it put the distant white-blue sky to shame. She shaded her eyes to stare at the lake where pelicans floated peacefully. Nearby a pair of  swans stretched their long necks searching the waters for food, and farther on, ducks dove and flapped, green necks glistening in the sun.” 

At the heart of this lyrical book is a mystery, but western fans might enjoy it as well. If you like a book that keeps you turning pages, this one might not be for you. “The Bones of Paradise” by Jonis Agee  would not pass the grandma test, due to some coarse language. Agee has written a number of books. We have four novels and a collection of short stories on the fiction shelf at the Gering Public Library.

In Case of Emergency

When my kids were little, I used to have fire drills at our house. I would push in the button on the smoke detector and all four kids would race out of the house for the swingset in the park across the street. I talked with the baby sitters about where to go in case of a tornado. One of my daughters filled a Rubbermaid tub with emergency supplies for a 4H project.  

Last week was a huge reminder that we all should have emergency plans. The library website has a lot of community information to help you with yours. You can find links to Panhandle Public Health’s basic family emergency plan and a more comprehensive list of suggested items to include in your emergency supplies.

Gering Library also has several books that might be useful to look through when thinking about what to do in an emergency: 

“The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook” and “The Worst-Case Survival Handbook: Travel” both by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht

“The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why” by Amanda Ripley

“Amazing Stories of Survival: Tales of Hope, Heroism & Astounding Luck” from People Magazine

And some books about past disasters and what we can learn from them:

“A Fire Story” by Brian Fies

“Ruth­less tide: the heroes and vil­lain­s of the John­stown flood­, Amer­i­ca’s as­ton­ish­ing gild­ed age dis­as­ter” by Al Roker 

“The stor­m: what wen­t wrong and why ­dur­ing hur­ri­cane Ka­tri­na : the in­sid­e s­to­ry from one Louisiana ­sci­en­tist” by Ivor van Heerden and Mike Bryan- we have several books on Katrina

 “The last ­men out: life on the edge at Res­cue 2 ­fire­house” by Tom Downey

In addition to these items, you can borrow the firefighter’s exam manual if you are interested in becoming a firefighter. We also have a number of children’s books about all sorts of natural disasters, and we have some great ones specifically on wildfires. 

After reading “A Fire Story” by Brian Fies, I am re-thinking how I store precious things like photos. He and 6,200 other people lost their homes in the 2017 California wildfires. Fies is a cartoonist, so he wrote a graphic novel, “A Fire Story,” describing his experiences at that time. Waking up in the middle of the night, he chose random things to save. He writes about some of his regrets. Fies also describes the aftermath of the fire and how he and his wife put their lives back together, dealing with FEMA, insurance companies and citizens trying to be helpful. It made me ugly cry several times. You should read it.

Fies felt that his community was very helpful in his circumstances. One of the things our community does well is support each other. When something happens to our neighbors, we pitch in, sometimes financially, sometimes with food and water. When we see a need, we do what we can to help. Not only citizens, but local businesses, churches, Firefighters Ministries and the Oregon Trail Community Foundation all roll up their sleeves to pitch in with what they do best.

As my kids got older, I let my emergency planning lapse. This fall, I intend to work with my family to develop plans for what to do in a variety of situations. I also need to review my insurance coverage. It would be a good idea to review emergency plans when we change the smoke alarm batteries and to make that a habit. I also need to peek into that tub and see what my nine-year-old daughter thought we should have in case of an emergency ten years ago.


Have you ever wanted a do-over in life? Played “what if?”

In real-life we seem to be stuck with the consequences of our actions, but book characters often get a second chance at getting it right.

I read two books about alternate lives just this year in my book groups, “The Midnight Library” and “The Starless Sea.”  I searched a little and found several other books where the characters get second (or many) chances at getting it right. 

“The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig- A young woman believes her life has been worthless. In the Midnight Library, she has the chance to explore what the results of different choices would be.

“The Starless Sea” by Erin Morgenstern, wherein a young man enters a fantasy world which mixes stories and reality.

“Life After Life” by Kate Atkinson is about a woman who was born with a purpose in life. Every time she failed to get to the point of her mission and died, the author orchestrated a reset and she got another chance to get it right.

“The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” by V. E. Schwab explores a girl’s choice to never die, and what becomes of her through the centuries.

“Should We Stay Or Should We Go” by Lionel Shriver tells the story of a married couple who made a pact to not be a burden to their children. What do they do when that time comes? This book explores the ramifications of a variety of choices they can make.

“How to Stop Time” by Matt Haig- The main character is a history teacher…with a lot of history.

“Before the Coffee Gets Cold” by Toshikazu Kawaguchi where customers can travel back in time to meet with loved ones, but they must come back before the coffee gets cold.

“The Book of Two Ways” by Jodi Picoult where a plane crash offers a woman the opportunity to see what her life would look like if she had made a different choice.

“Dark Matter” by Blake Crouch is a science fiction thriller about a world with parallel lives

“11/22/65” by Stephen King follows a man who is determined to kill Lee Harvey Oswald before he can kill President Kennedy.

“Landline” by Rainbow Rowell explores a woman’s chance to right some wrongs in her marriage, before they occur.

“What Alice Forgot” by Liane Moriarty focuses on a woman who recovers from a coma, and has forgotten the past ten years with her husband.

“Homegoing” by Yaa Gyesi- not so much of a do over, as a book that shows two sisters that end up on two entirely different paths.

“Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography” was a fun read, you can read it straight through, or see where his choices might have taken him.

I haven’t read all of these books, but I have read most of them. All of these books are on the shelf at the Gering Library, and probably some more that I missed in making this list. Let me know what I should have included. If I missed too many choices, maybe this list will get a do over!


I read an article in the Star Herald last week about privacy. They discussed Facebook turning over private messages to the government. It seems your Amazon Ring videos can also be turned over without your knowledge. Google, Apple, and Amazon don’t have your best interests (or your privacy) in mind when you use their voice technology.

Shortly after September 11, 2001 Congress signed the Patriot Act into law. Still in shock after the attacks, Congress felt national security was at risk. According to the ACLU’s website,

“The Patriot Act increases the government’s surveillance powers in four areas:

  1. Records searches.  It expands the government’s ability to look at records on an individual’s activity being held by a third party. (Section 215) 
  2. Secret searches.  It expands the government’s ability to search private property without notice to the owner. (Section 213) 
  3. Intelligence searches.  It expands a narrow exception to the Fourth Amendment that had been created for the collection of foreign intelligence information (Section 218). 
  4. “Trap and trace” searches.  It expands another Fourth Amendment exception for spying that collects “addressing” information about the origin and destination of communications, as opposed to the content (Section 214).”

The part about third parties applies to libraries. You may not be reading anything to cause suspicion.You may not want the government to know what you are reading regardless of that. In 2005 the federal government asked a Connecticut library to turn over information about who had been using their computers. This data would have endangered the privacy of many patrons, besides the target patron. The librarians refused.

Privacy at libraries is important. The American Library Association (ALA) says this: “All people, regardless of origin, age, background, or views, possess a right to privacy and confidentiality in their library use. When users recognize or fear that their privacy or confidentiality is compromised, true freedom of inquiry no longer exists.”

Libraries are not allowed to let their patrons know if they have been contacted by the government. Some libraries have posted a sign that says something like this, “The NSA has not been to the library today.” If the sign is gone, the NSA has requested information from the library.

Gering Library’s computer system allows us to tell our patrons if they have checked out an item before. Many of our avid readers appreciate finding out they have already read a book. They can choose another book while they are at the library if they didn’t intend to re-read the book. 

This is handy, but it has some flaws. If the government should ask us to turn over our records, this patron history would be part of those records. This setting on the accounts is haphazard. Some folks have it, others don’t. You might prefer to have the library not retain your reading information. If this is the case, just let the librarian know. We simply unselect a button and your reading history is…history. You can also set Libby by Overdrive to not retain your search or reading history.

The paper slips patrons use to access our public computers leave no information about who was using the computers. Each night the computers are “wiped” of any lingering cookies. If you take the time to log out of your accounts, nobody will know you were here.

I have heard people say, “If you aren’t doing anything wrong, what does it hurt?” I think the reply to that is, “my business isn’t anybody else’s business.” The Gering Public Library stands with the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights. Every library user has a right to privacy and confidentiality in their library usage. If the government were to request library records, we cannot provide information we do not have.

Mixed-up Titles

The Thesaurus is my favorite dictionary. I often use it to find the best word for what I am trying to say. What if authors didn’t use the best words for the titles of their books? I took some classic book titles and made them more complicated. Can you figure them out? I added some author hints for some of them.

Children’s book titles: 

The Rodent and the Minibike

Aged Tawny


Pedro Dish

Trio of Small Porcines

Diminutive Home on the Plains

The One-Year-Old

Small Scarlet Mounted Bonnet

Tropical Forest Novel

Diminutive Heir to the Throne

A Period of Time With Winter Weather

Hal and the Plum-Colored Wax Stick

The Zephyr Through the Salix Trees

A Textile With a Distinct Raised Texture

A Hare Composed of Luxury Fabric

The Mesh Belonging to the Largest City in North Carolina

Classic book titles: 

Left With the Breeze

The Scuppernongs of Acrimony  

Ensnare XXII

A Shade of Amethyst

The Nonfiction Journal of an Under-employed Indigenous Person

A Century of Seclusion

Aged Julius

An Association for Amusement and Fortune by A. Beige

You Homesteaders!

A Triad of Mercenaries

Creature Grange

The Spherical Home

The Temperature at Which Paper Burns

Companions of the Band


Ego and Partisanship

The Journey

Butchershop V

The Stowaway’s Instructions to the Star System

Popular books or books from 2022:


Attractive by D. “Iron and Carbon Alloy” 

Location of the Serenading Cambarus

Instruction in the Practical Application of the Components of the Periodic Table

Archive of the Witching Hour

Descendent of the Planet Venus by Cliff Johnson

Faltering Penumbra by C. J. Carton

Truth by C. Vacuum

A Dark Colored Confection

A Recent  Decade

The Academy For Benevolent Parents

You can send your answers to my email: or drop them by for a chance to win a small prize. I won’t penalize you for it, but I am interested to know how many you got without help. (I used the Thesaurus to make the mixed up titles, so it only seems fair that you would use it to solve them). Enjoy!

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Before Ree Drummond, even before Julia Child, Elizabeth Zott had a cooking show in the 1960s. “Lessons in Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus was highly recommended by several friends. It’s a poignant look at a professional woman’s life in the 1960s.

Elizabeth Zott has a one-track mind with a laser focus on science; chemistry in particular. The male chauvinist climate in the lab is holding her back, so when she has an opportunity to teach chemistry through cooking on an afternoon TV show she takes it.

Garmus infused Zott with a dry wit of which she is wholly ignorant. When she was discussing a particular employee she said, “No surprise. Idiots make it into every company. They tend to interview well.”

Garmus adds a lot of wisdom in her own voice as well. “Every day she [Elizabeth]found parenthood like taking a test for which she had not studied. The questions were daunting and there weren’t nearly enough multiple choice.” 

“Having a baby, Elizabeth realized, was a little like living with a visitor from a distant planet. There was a certain amount of give and take as the visitor learned your ways and you learned theirs, but gradually their ways faded and your ways stuck. Which she found regrettable. Because unlike adults, her visitor never tired of even the smallest discovery; always saw the magic in the extraordinary.” 

I laughed out loud several times during this book, and I cried too. It felt like an honest look at the struggle for women’s rights in the workplace through the eyes of someone who refused to accept the status quo. Was it realistic? Probably not. A realistic look at that time would not be an interesting fiction read. Based on her first book, I would read Bonnie Garmus’ next grocery list. 

Looking back on “Lessons in Chemistry”, I can see Peggy Olson’s struggle to be taken seriously in the TV show Mad Men. This would be a great book group pick, with lots of opportunities for discussion, and foods to bring! You can find this on the new book shelf at the Gering Public Library. 

Tosca Lee

When we got ready to shut the library down at the end of March 2020, I went to the shelves and picked out a couple of armloads of books to take home. Some were for me and some were for my kids. Among those I chose for myself were “The Line Between” and “A Single Light”, a duo of books  by Tosca Lee. 

I knew she was from Nebraska, and I had read the inside cover of “The Line Between” and discovered part of it took place in western Nebraska. That is all I remembered. I started reading and it was surreal. The world was shut down, people were getting sick from a new disease and nobody knew what the future held. 

Lee’s pandemic was decidedly more violent than Coronavirus. I would get so lost in the book when I closed it, I would have to take a moment to adjust my brain and remember that I was reading about a different world than the one I was living in. I enjoy reading books about Nebraska by people who are familiar with our state. Lee described Nebraska well.

When I finished both of those books, I explored another series by Lee available on Libby, The House of Bathory which took place in eastern Europe. She wrote “The Legend of Sheba” and “Iscariot.” Lee also collaborated with Ted Dekker on several books. In all, she’s written eleven books and has been on the New York Times bestseller list. Tosca Lee holds several book honors including the Nebraska Book Award and being named a Goodreads Choice semifinalist.

Lee is a Christian author, but she doesn’t write romance. Her books are adventures, borrowing heavily from the good versus evil model. Her main characters are often running and in fear of their lives in the first pages of the book.

The Western Library System in Nebraska is bringing Tosca Lee to our area. You can meet her in Alliance, Sidney and Ogallala in October. The Western Library System covers a large area and these three locations are more centrally located than the twin cities. Lee will appear at the Sidney High School Auditorium October 11, the Kathleen Lute Public Library in Ogallala October 12, and the Alliance Public Library October 13. All events offer an author meet and greet at 6:00 p.m. The actual events begin at 6:30. Contact the Lied Scottsbluff Library, or the Gering Public Library for more information. 

The Gering Library has five different Tosca Lee books. Is your book club interested in reading “The Line Between” or “A Single Light” either before or after the author comes to the area? The Gering Library can help you find enough copies for your club to read. 

Tosca Lee’s visit is supported in part with funding from the State of Nebraska and from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Technology Act and the Nebraska Library Commission.

Instead of cleaning my house or doing something else useful during the month I spent at home, I read a large number of books. To be honest, it was an embarrassing number of books. I am glad I read “The Line Between” and “A Single Light” at that time, because they gave me an unforgettable experience.