WASHINGTON – First lady Laura Bush (search) used a live Internet chat session Tuesday to preach the gospel of reading to children -- and to let a couple of secrets out of the bag.
A British questioner told Mrs. Bush he was looking forward to her visit with the president to the United Kingdom in October -- a trip that neither the White House nor British Prime Minister Tony Blair' (search)s office have announced.
The first lady took care of that.
"President Bush and I are both looking forward to our visit to the United Kingdom this fall," she told the questioner, who identified himself as "Stuart" from the United Kingdom.
Then she spilled the beans on her plans for the president's birthday this weekend. Bush turns 57 on July 6.
Eight-year-old "William" from Dayton, knowing the president is traveling to his hometown for Fourth of July (search) celebrations, invited Mrs. Bush to his family's cookout that day. "My Dad said that is a good plan," William wrote. "My Dad will give you his e-mail address. Can you come?"
Sadly, Mrs. Bush replied, she would have to decline as she is remaining at the White House to prepare for the birthday party she is throwing for the president that night.
"I've invited friends for his party and to watch the fireworks from the Truman Balcony," she wrote. "It is a surprise, shhhhhhhhh."
Mrs. Bush was the latest administration figure to appear on the online forums on the White House Web site. The "Ask the White House" sessions were launched this spring.
Most questions she answered had to do with the former teacher and librarian's pet topic: encouraging reading, especially among children.
"The best way to inspire children is to read to them," she wrote to "Kim" from Western Kentucky.
She noted that reading widely boosts grades and test scores and "can fill your life with interest."
But she borrowed a line from her husband to drive home her point.
"The president tells children to be sure to listen to your mother," Mrs. Bush said, "and as a mother I think that is really good advice."
Also answering as a mother, Mrs. Bush said she would have mixed feelings if her twin daughters were serving with other U.S. forces in Iraq.
"I would be proud and anxious," she said in response to "Elva" from West Virginia. "I know the family members of our servicemen and women who are serving in Iraq and other places around the world are proud of their loved ones and are praying and hoping for their safe return home."
But for her and the president, Mrs. Bush said plenty of exercise and an early-to-bed, early-to-rise schedule is a good recipe for stress relief -- along with those White House pets.
"I am very careful with my health," Mrs. Bush wrote. "But our favorite stress-reduction technique is playing with our animals -- Barney, Spot and Willie (the cat), who seldom makes public appearances."
Signing off, Mrs. Bush said she had had so much fun that she was going to recommend that the president agree to host an "Ask the White House" session.