The pandemic has saved my life, so far.  

By Anonymous

Not what one might expect to hear in this situation but it’s my truth. I apologize ahead of time for being at least a little vague on some of the details in this piece. The reasons may become self-evident.

Before the pandemic, I lost both of my parents within almost exactly 9 months of each other. When my dad passed, it was as anyone would expect — completely awful, but we had Mom. We had to be strong and help Mom get through all of this.

Dad’s passing was not sudden and I had been helping to take care of him for more than a year before his death. He had stressed to me and all my siblings, that he was worried about Mom when the time comes. We all did exactly what we said we would and focused on taking care of Mom.

My mother had been my best friend for years. This wasn’t something that happened after we lost Dad. She was a teen mom, as was I. She was always close enough in age to me that we had multitudes of commonality. We liked much of the same music, the same types of movies, even crushed on some of the same celebrities. We would talk on the phone for hours, nearly daily. I told my mom things I never shared with anyone. She knew me better than anyone. She knew the real me. The me that I had become throughout my life and not the me that everyone else still thought I was from my youth.  

When my mother died, I was not OK. The pain was debilitating and all consuming. Trying to be a comfort to my siblings or even my own children, was something I could not do. All I wanted was to be with my Mom. I know how that sounds, and that’s how it’s meant. I did not want to exist any longer and simply wanted to be with my mom.

At this point, I have to jump forward a couple years because I truly have no memory of how I got through each and every day. I know I tried to make positive choices and plans, thinking that things to look forward to or creating a positive environment for myself could ease the cavernous emptiness. As with any deep depression like this, people encourage you to talk to a professional. I did. It was extraordinarily disastrous. It made me significantly worse every time I spoke to someone. I stopped. I certainly could not keep functioning day to day like that.  

Ahead a few more years, to the end of 2019, beginning of 2020. I had a significant birthday coming in 2020 and I decided to celebrate. I told everyone I wanted a huge birthday, which I never do, and I wanted everyone I loved in my life, friends, family, coworkers, all of them, to come celebrate with me. I needed everyone to be there. I had no intention of making it to another birthday after.  

I made a fancy invite online and tried to connect with anyone and everyone I ever cared for, worked with, and family I hadn’t seen in years. I planned a menu and started experimenting with recipes to make all the things I enjoyed the most and spent the entirety of the day giving all of them the most positive memories of me that I could give. I had a Pinterest board and Facebook posts and all was going to be a success. Then, everything, everywhere shut down.  

I pushed out the invitations letting everyone know I still would have my massive blow-out but it would be delayed. Then it was delayed some more. And again. After 6 months, I told everyone that we would simply get together for my next birthday I still wanted to spend a wonderful day with all of them.  None of them ever knowing why I wanted to spend that one spectacular day with them.  

After the next birthday came and went, I finally stopped thinking I was going to outlast the pandemic. In the time the pandemic has pushed out the gathering again and again, I have been less and less determined to have it. I am feeling less and less the urgency to see everyone I love all at one special event for their memories.

Now, I’m in a weird kind of limbo. I’m not in that devastating spiral but I am also not looking forward to much. I have the face that everyone is seeing that says “I’m OK” but I’m still not. I’m existing. (Insert cliché time heals all wounds statement here.) I’m not healed, not by a long shot. I’m also not planning to not exist at the moment either. I’m not sure numb is better, but I think that’s where I am now.  

I go through the motions of the day, laugh when I’m supposed to, make plans that I really don’t care about, and get irritated at people who complain incessantly over miniscule inconveniences. So far, COVID has kept me alive.   

Photo credit: Glenn Losack, M.D. https://www.flickr.com/photos/glosackmd/

***

Editor’s note: I honored the writer’s request for anonymity only after careful consideration. I knew this was a piece that was important to share as a reality check for all of us. I also wanted assurance that the writer was not actively contemplating harming herself or others.

Tomorrow: Lynn St. Georges, Meanderings 

A man named Jerry

Client, friend, lover of life.

By Zephyr Rose Anders

I was a caregiver 8 hours a day 4 days a week for Jerry. I walked into his caregiving position unknowingly after I got called in one day to provide an in-home massage.

Jerry had Alzheimer’s and after our second massage session, I ended up massaging his wife, Jean, as well. During our session she got called into the hospital to receive test results, and was told she needed to come in immediately. I offered to sit and watch basketball with him, so Jean could attend to her needs at the hospital. I sat with him as we both enjoyed cheering on the Portland Trail Blazers. After that night I was hired on care.

I got the opportunity to witness this man’s stories and his heart.

Sometimes it was sitting by the fireplace at their home. Sometimes on walks through neighborhoods and parks. Sometimes at cafes with ice cream cones melting. And a lot of times in a massage session.

I learned what music he enjoyed. Each time I’d give him a choice of what he would like to listen to during his massage.

“Johnny Cash today? Mamas and the Papas? Or Maurice Ravel’s Bolero?”

He’d think hard and then he blurt out which one suited his mood that day.

He’s start tapping his long, beautifully aged fingers on the massage table and start singing a few lyrics here and there.

“Mama Cass has the most beautiful voice!” Jerry really loved Cass and always let me know when she was singing how it felt to hear her.

Jerry was a man of routine. He’d get up to refill his cup with Martinelli’s apple cider. Over and over again. I’d watch him shuffle in his favorite leather wool slippers into the kitchen from the big room, with his rocking chair next to the fireplace, with the Turkish rug and fine art and I’d find myself wondering how one even acquired such art in their life.

Each time he’d return from the kitchen with his cup full he’d look at me with his bearded smile and eyes bluer than any color I know, he’d say each time to me.

“You know there’s a lot of things I could be doing in my life, but there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.” Content. Holding his cider. I’d respond and say, “Me too, Jerry! Me too!” Presence. Here now. Over and over again.

When I first was called to come give Jerry a massage in his home I knew very little health history other than massage was safe and he struggled a little bit with dementia, his wife told me. I set up the massage table in the TV room, where he watched the University of Michigan team intently and bragged with pride that he went there. He’d say “Go Blue!” I’d laugh and repeat it back to him. He loved that.

One wall was covered in letters and pictures from his daughters and grandkids and a whale tongue from one of his many travels, which we discussed often.

He’d always say, “Do you know what that is?”

“NO! It looks like a dinosaur tail!” I always acted like he hadn’t already identified it to me.

“It’s part of a whale’s tongue.” Jerry was into it.

Over and over again.

I’m all set for the massage when Jerry enters the room on our first introduction in his robe and slippers. Jean introduces us. I asked what he needs a massage for and he replied by saying “not much, I’m a pretty relaxed guy already and very lucky.”

He crawls on the table and my life is forever changed.

Those first 60 minutes that I shared with that man changed me. He began by telling me about his beautiful bride. And what a proud father he was. He didn’t skip around much, just directly opened his heart to me in his first session with unfamiliar vulnerability. He went into discussing his academic background and then to his move out west where he took on a job and got out of going to the war by working on the nuclear bomb.

Thirty minutes passed. He rolls over and repeats how lucky he is and how Jean needs to get a massage too.

This time he delivers an even more romantic version of his victory of securing his high school sweetheart via a Google search. Now his bride!

Face up he shares more of his hardships with working on the nuclear bomb. Kennedy. Russia. With each version I learn more. He was responsible for starting a recycling program in Southern California

I asked all the questions I could and this man continued to astound me with one major quality. His love. His heart

Our massage ended. He thanked me and said with his bright witty humor that he didn’t need the massage to relax but that he sure had enjoyed it.

I thanked him and his wife Jean. Then I packed my table up, got into the car and drove maybe a half a mile. Pulled over by Hippo Hardware. I’ll never forget it. To call my wife and just start bawling. I knew that man had broken my heart on our first date.

“Hey, Jerry, you wanna go get some coconut shrimp for lunch?”

“How’d you know I liked that? I love coconut shrimp!”

I knew him well. He told me all his heart’s desires, and I listened.

Years went by and our time together continued in this order. Massage, hangout, talk, listen to music, go out to eat, recycle, pet his kitty, eat sweets. Only two things Jerry detested — ants and being cold. I gained so much insight and weight eating sweets with Jerry.

I remember once Jean said, “Once Jerry lets you in his heart you’re in.”

“He’s such a lover.” Jean told me, like I was just awarded a badge.

Now that you got to witness this man’s heart, remember the capacity for love. It’s there.

I choose to love as he did.

***

Zephyr Rose Anders (he/him) is a trans queer bodyworker. Artist and visionary, building a foundation in the small village of Hillsboro, New Mexico, where he has recently returned home after a 21-year pilgrimage. 

Zephyr Rose Anders: “Every Thursday I take a spinning selfie as part of my weekly journal entry on my journey transitioning.”

Editor’s note: Meeting Zephyr is one of the best things to have happened in my life. Like Jerry in the piece above, Zephyr and I connected on two levels — physical and platonic — when I experienced the bliss of healing touch and the joy of conversation at his Southeast Portland massage studio. I was hooked from the first session and looked forward to our one-on-one time as a place to talk and laugh and learn from each other. I was sad to see Zephyr leave Portland but am happy to see him back in the place he calls home.

Tomorrow: Anonymous, The pandemic has saved my life, so far.

My favorite books: July 2021 to July 2022

By John Knapp

In my dotage, I’ve come to rely on books, more than anything else, to entertain, enlighten, and challenge me to broaden my understanding of someone else’s point of view.

These are the ten books I’m most likely to recommend of the books I’ve read in the past year. Please feel free to comment, question and provide your own lists.

I’ve included descriptions of the books from either Goodreads or Amazon. I’ve also added a quick bullet that might explain why I chose a particular book.

1. The First Survivors of Alzheimer’s – Dale Bredesen MD.

Dale Bredesen has had a remarkable 90% cure rate guiding the patients in this book out of the fog of dementia and back into a hope filled life. “You can hear directly from the first survivors themselves tell their own amazing stories of hope in their own words.”

  • Because nothing scares me more than dying of dementia, and this book is an important ray of hope. JK

2. Stolen Focus – Johann Hari

“We think our inability to focus is a personal failure to exert enough willpower over our devices. The truth is even more disturbing: our focus has been stolen by powerful external forces that have left us uniquely vulnerable to corporations determined to raid our attention for profit.”

  • This is a surprisingly good read. Many reasons for lack of focus that I would not have considered were it not for this book. JK

3. Running Out – Lucas Bessire

“The Ogallala aquifer has nourished life on the American Great Plains for millennia. But less than a century of unsustainable irrigation farming has taxed much of the aquifer beyond repair. The imminent depletion of the Ogallala and other aquifers around the world is a defining planetary crisis of our times.”

  • Because this is the kind of corruption that drives me nuts. We’re all going to miss the water when it’s gone, and it’s going fast. JK

4. Between Two Kingdoms – Suleika Jaouad

“A searing, deeply moving memoir of illness and recovery that traces one young woman’s journey from diagnosis to remission and, ultimately, a road trip of healing and self-discovery.”

  • This lady has gone through so much. She married “Late Night with Stephen Colbert” band leader Jon Batiste recently, and is once again fighting another bout with cancer. JK

5. The Authority of the Court and the Peril of Politics – Stephen Breyer

“Breyer warns that political intervention could itself further erode public trust. Without the public’s trust, the Court would no longer be able to act as a check on the other branches of government or as a guarantor of the rule of law, risking serious harm to our constitutional system.”

  • I’m going to miss this guy. This is a short but wonderful book that explores what the court does and why that matters. JK

6. Here Right Matters – Alexander Vindman

“Right Matters is a stirring account of Vindman’s childhood as an immigrant growing up in New York City, his career in service of his new home on the battlefield and at the White House, and the decisions leading up to, and fallout surrounding, his exposure of President Trump’s abuse of power.”

  • I love people who have the guts to tell the unvarnished truth. He lost his job because of it, but gained the thanks of millions. JK

7. American Reboot – Will Hurd

“From former US Congressman and CIA Officer Will Hurd, “a clarion call for a major political pivot” (San Antonio Report) rooted in the timeless ideals of bipartisanship, inclusivity, and democratic values.”

  • I included this one because there are still good old fashioned moderate Republicans out there and this guy’s one of them. JK

8. All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

“The stunningly beautiful instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.”

  • Because this is a fantastically good read. It’s a big thick book that ends all too soon. JK

9. Across the Airless Wilds – Earl Swift

“In this fast-moving exploration of the lunar rover and the scientific discoveries it enabled, Swift puts the reader alongside the men who dreamed of the rover, designed it, troubleshot its flaws, and drove it on the lunar surface. Finally shining a deserved spotlight on these overlooked yet crucial missions and the fascinating characters involved in them, Across the Airless Wilds is a celebration of human genius, perseverance, and daring.”

  • Who knew making moon buggies could be so entertaining? JK

10. The Facemaker – Lindsey Fitzharris

“The poignant story of the visionary surgeon who rebuilt the faces of the First World War’s injured heroes, and in the process ushered in the modern era of plastic surgery.”

  • All this with no penicillin, no transfusions (though that was figured out towards the end of the war), very crude anesthetics, and a never-ending stream of wrecked faces to repair. JK

***

From the author: This is a picture of me, rockin’ my new wireless headphones. Behind me is a picture of me when I was five years old. I miss that little guy. I’m currently living the high life, digging retirement in Vancouver, Washington, USA. I’ve loved being asked to chime in every August, for the last decade or so. I first met George when I was picked to be a community writer for The Oregonian newspaper.  I so appreciate being asked to contribute and to read the contributions of all of the Voices of August authors through the years. It has been an honor and a pleasure.

John Knapp: avid reader, excellent writer.

Editor’s note: John is a founding member of Voices of August. I met him in 2008 as described above. when he volunteered to be part of a Community Writers program I helped to launch at The Oregonian. He struck me then as someone who genuinely cares about his community and fellow humans. I wasn’t wrong. Over the years, John has displayed a quiet intelligence, a sly sense of humor and masterful writing in his guest blog posts for VOA.

Tomorrow: Zephyr Rose Anders, A man named Jerry

Pass the gravy

Cacio e pepe, a handmade pasta dish just like the author’s Italian grandmother would make. .

By Jane Pellicciotto

Growing up, it was with a mix of excitement and curiosity, but also a little dread, that we’d visit the Italian side of the family in New York.

Brooklyn had what the Maryland suburbs lacked — subway cars rumbling overhead, the Chinese five-and-dime, the local accent that thrilled our ears, and most of all, Grandma Lena’s cooking.

This trip was a nail-biting journey with my father behind the wheel. He’d jockey for position among the black Cadillacs on the narrow avenues, honk, shout and give people the finger. I’d slide down the vinyl seat of the Oldsmobile so I couldn’t see how close the other cars were and tried to think about the pizza awaiting us.

Grandma was born in Manhattan in 1908 a year after her parents emigrated from Italy. She’d never been to Italy herself but maintained her family’s ways around food. Put oregano in the pizza sauce, never in the marinara. Fry sausages in olive oil, but meatballs in vegetable oil. Soak the eggplant in salt water first. Fry the slices not once, but twice.

Rules were not universal, however. Once, an argument broke out between my Uncle Vinnie’s sister and her husband about whether to stuff peppers with raw versus cooked pork. Heads lifted from steaming bowls of pasta at the sound of a hand smacking the table. Raw won.

The kitchen was Grandma’s domain and from this small space came humble but glorious food — pizza margherita, stuffed squid, spaghetti pie, green beans stewed in tomatoes, and eggplant parmesan that melted in your mouth like butter. My siblings and I saw these visits as an excuse to eat with abandon — platters of salami, proscuitto and capacollo, slabs of salty wet mozzarella, extra helpings of rigatoni and meatballs. But most of all, for me, it was the stuffed artichokes. One by one, I’d savor the slippery metallic leaves and the slow journey to the heart.

Grandma, who always wore a printed cotton housecoat, was practical and methodical. She also had a head for numbers, having been a bookkeeper despite her father’s pressure to be a seamstress. Once, from the kitchen she overhead our uncle ask us if we wanted greens. Grandma came into the dining room, set down a bowl of broccoli raab dotted with slivered garlic and said, “You don’t ask. You just put it!” meaning, if someone wants it, they’ll eat it. Don’t fuss. Then again, Grandma would ask over and over, “Did yas have enough? Have some more. It’s gotta get eaten.”

Above: The kitchen was Grandma Lena’s domain.

My siblings and I were as hungry for Brooklyn Italian turns of phrase as we were food, such as “just put it,” which we’d add to our lexicon and use as often as possible. Sauce, or gravy, didn’t just taste good, it “came nice,” as if a benevolent entity arrived at the front door. Dishes were “put up” rather than loaded into the dishwasher. The occasional curse word we didn’t understand but knew we shouldnʻt repeat.

There is an edge to New Yorkers, not to mention Italians. And my grandmother had the unfortunate luck to outlive her only two children — my father and his sister — by almost half a century.

So I cherish one of the lighter moments in my memory.

My brother was then a teenager and very particular about clothes. Grandma said she was saving a pair of dungarees for him. She returned with a relic of the bygone disco age. We looked at each other with alarm but, to our surprise, my brother tried on the jeans. He emerged from the bathroom walking stiffly, stuffed into the jeans like a sausage, his flattened butt emblazoned with metallic gold lightning bolts. We didn’t want to hurt Grandma’s feelings but none of us could contain the laughter, including Grandma, who could see the jeans were painfully out of date.

It is no myth that getting a recipe from an Italian grandmother is nearly impossible. Once, I tried to get an answer as to how long she kept the marinated artichokes in the refrigerator, knowing that botulism could be a problem.

After many tangents, she finally said, “Not long.”

When I asked why, she said, “They get eaten.”

My sister was able to make the best effort, extracting amounts and processes until she had something resembling recipes. Try as we might though, we could never quite duplicate the flavors we tasted all those years. I’m convinced it’s about more than just ingredients.

Taste is about place — the cold ceramic floor, the well-used paring knife, the loud exchanges, even the distant sound of car alarms. But when I prepare roasted peppers, I make sure never to leave a seed behind.

***

Jane Pellicciotto

Jane Pellicciotto is a graphic designer, jewelry maker and avid home cook in Portland, Oregon.

Editor’s note: Nothing brightens up a neighborhood like a lively personality. That’s Jane, who lives around the corner from us. In her backyard and on our rooftop deck, we’ve sipped drinks, munched on snacks and swapped stories late into the night. I am delighted to have her among our first-time contributors to Voices of August. She writes as well as she cooks.

Tomorrow: John Knapp, My favorite books: July 2021 to July 2022

Compare and contrast

By Eric Scharf

In college, I was a history major. After almost seven decades on this coil, I’m now a history lesson. 

In school, I always hated those “compare and contrast” essays. And yet, that is exactly what this is – my comparing and contrasting the life I experienced as a Boomer with the lives people live today. I should add that I grew up in New York City, the child of first-generation Americans, meaning that all my grandparents were from the “old country.” 

My early life reads like a version of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” without the fancy clothes and cultured parents. I was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, back when the only beards there belonged to religious men in long black coats and fur hats known as “shtreimels.” No one would confuse these men with the hipsters with whom they now share Williamsburg.

By the time I was a year old, I was living in a brand-new split level in Long Island, on land that had been a potato farm a couple of years earlier. I went to a sparkling new public school, also situated on land that had recently been a truck farm. But alas, the suburban life took my mother too far from hers, and by the time I was seven, I was back in Brooklyn, where many of my formative years were spent. 

While I am no expert on the experiences of today’s children, I think I know enough to draw some distinctions between my childhood and theirs. It strikes me that “play dates” are prominent in childhood today. I had play dates too. They usually went like this:

Me: “I’m bored.” 

My parents: “Go outside and find someone to play with.”

Me: “But it’s snowing outside.”

Parents: “Take a jacket, and don’t come back until dinner time.”

If I did manage to avoid being exiled to a snowdrift, I frequently heard the Yiddish version of this: “If you’re bored, slug your head against the wall. That’ll give you something to do.”

Now, I realize this may sound harsh to the modern reader. But, you have to understand that this was a time-honored child-rearing method among Eastern European Jews that my American parents chose to pass on to me.  So really, they were honoring our cultural heritage. 

Children today learn to use social media at a very early age – perhaps too early. It seems to me that while modern kids know much more than I did at their age, they may know less about interpersonal interaction. Here’s what I mean: It is easy to be cruel and insulting in the safety of your bedroom, and even easier if your meanness is anonymous.  It can also be impossible to witness the effect “social media” interactions have on their intended recipients.

We had social media too, except that we called it the street, where we played all manner of games – punchball, stickball, tag and ringolevio. I learned early in my social media experience that if I called Vinny a nasty name, or said something unflattering about his family, there would be consequences – often immediate and unpleasant. From these experiences, I learned that what I said had consequences –  for others and me. 

Today’s parents claim they want their children to develop independence. Sometimes, they foster this by chauffeuring their children to interactive experiences designed to cultivate independent thinking.

My parents had their own version of this. I started high school at fourteen, when I was living in Queens. My school was in Manhattan, meaning a commute of about 90 minutes each way, mostly on the subway. 

My mom gave me great advice designed to foster independence – advice that I passed on to my own child. She told me, “you have a mouth, use it,” meaning that if I didn’t know how to get somewhere on the subway, I should ask someone.  There is nothing that fosters independence like going up to a complete stranger on the New York subway with a question. 

Susan, my wife, and I, were fortunate to be able to afford a semester abroad for our daughter when she was in college. We were glad that she would have the opportunity to immerse herself in a language and culture that she was learning about. My parents also fostered this kind of learning in me. I studied Spanish in school.

In college, I longed to spend a semester abroad in a Spanish-speaking country. I was a good student, and so thought I had earned the opportunity. My father thought so, too. When I enquired of him about the possibility of my spending a semester learning Spanish, he replied, “No problem, here’s a subway token. You can go up to Spanish Harlem and learn all you want.” Again, this may sound insensitive, but he was teaching me the importance of frugality and thinking creatively. 

Hopefully, by now you know that much of the above is tongue-in-cheek, albeit based on real events. But here’s one true-to-life difference between my childhood and today’s: People in the “old country” routinely used corporal punishment to discipline their children.  As first-generation Americans, my parents embraced this method.

My most vivid recollection of experiencing this was an unusual occasion, when I really had not committed the charged offense. Recognizing my innocence notwithstanding the punishment I had already received, my father told me, “Okay, that’s for next time.”  I was about eight, and I vividly remember understanding that this was no way to raise children and my eight-year-old self vowed never to strike my child, if I ever had any.

It may sound trite, but one of my proudest accomplishments is that I have never struck my child, although there were teen-aged moments when I warned her that she was testing my resolve never to do so. On one occasion, when I asked her why I was yelling at her when I never yelled at my employees, she replied, “Because I can push your buttons.” 

And that leads me to next year’s essay: “Lessons I learned from raising a female child.” 

***

Susan and Eric Scharf with Alli, their very chill Carolina Dog.

Eric Scharf and wife Susan are retired and live in Portland with Alli, their Carolina Dog, aka Queen of the Tabor Dog Park.  Before they retired and moved to Portland, they lived in the Washington, D.C. area, where they raised their daughter, Ariel.  Susan is a native Oregonian who was returning home.  Eric is a born-and-raised New York carpetbagger who’s also lived in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco.  As he gets older, Eric often hears whispers of his New York City childhood and the stories his grandparents told him about the “Old Country.” 

Editor’s note: Eric and I met through our wives. Lori was still working as a personal trainer when Susan became a client and, very quickly, a friend. I’m delighted to claim Eric as a friend, as well. We make good bookends, I think, as stereotypical sons of New York and California.

Tomorrow: Jane Pellicciotto, Pass the gravy

Buy Dirt

The author’s daughters, with Abby, their Korean Jindo at their side, on their favorite place to be: the deck.

By Nike Bentley

The sun is making its final descent over the lower pasture. It’s the magical time of evening when the sun plays on the hills and casts the illusion that we can see the glint of the Umpqua River from the deck.

A neighbor child across the draw — one who I’ve never laid eyes on — is in a cockle-doodle-doo-off with our unexpected Ameraucana rooster Farrah/Pharoah. The child’s crow is more convincing than the rooster’s kazoo-like noise and I’m chuckling to myself as they play this game. A ruby-throated hummingbird flits from the nearest madrone to the cactus-shaped hummingbird feeder to the towering Douglas Fir and back again. 

It’s time for my daily flock walk — the highlight of my day. I gather leftover apples and wilted veggies from the kitchen to share with the little dinosaurs. Sir Blaze, our formidable Australorp rooster, greets me at the gate. We have an understanding after I saved his life — twice — but he keeps a careful eye on me and I don’t fully trust him not to instigate a sneak attack as soon as my back is turned.

Sylvia, our Speckled Sussex, pushes through the crowd to eat directly from my hand and walks alongside me through the chicken yard as I assess the health of the flock. Though we’ve integrated the three flocks – one-year-old laying hens, “teens” of which some are now laying, and the “babies” who are roughly 14 weeks – they tend to keep to their cliques.

After walking the yard, checking feeders and water tanks, and completing the head count (17 in all) I go into the coop to collect the day’s eggs. Recently I’ve found more eggs broken on the outside of the yard than inside the coop — TBD on whether this is related to a naughty child or an egg thief of the wild animal variety. 

Above: Scenes from the Girl Dad Farm.

After dinner I take my book and sit on the deck couch. One of the many rediscovered hobbies 2022 has given me — the joy of reading outside. Red-tailed hawks are flying over the property on their way to roost for the night. It still amazes me how frequently I see them. The deer are coming up the “farm road” from the pasture along the bottom side of the house to make their way across the street to bed down for the night. Abby, our Korean Jindo, still whines and stands guard at the window when she sees them — determined they are something to be chased down and frustrated we won’t turn her loose. 

Buy Dirt” is drifting outside from the living room. This song has become our family theme song. Life has been slower these past six months as we make our home on four acres surrounded by hills. It seems to be true: “You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy dirt.” 

***

Nike Bentley is a wife, mother, and bibliophile. She spends her nights as a critical care nurse and her days enjoying her new home in southern Oregon affectionately named Girl Dad Farm. S’mores and puns are still the way to her heart. 

Nike Bentley.

Editor’s note: A year ago, I was in awe of my former student. Nike had just completed an accelerated nursing program during the pandemic, while juggling her roles and responsibilities as wife and mother, and was then applying for work and preparing to move from the Portland area. I’m happy knowing she’s landed a job in a place close to her extended family. I’m also happy to have known Nike since the spring of 2009, when she was a student in the very first class I taught at Portland State University.

Tomorrow: Eric Scharf, Compare and contrast

One sentence. One divisive debate.

By John Killen

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

On the chance you don’t recognize the quote above, you have just read the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.

I can’t remember the first time I read it but I recall being surprised at how short it is.  One sentence.

Yet that one sentence has become one of the most debated rights among those guaranteed by our nation’s founders.

I went back to read it again the morning after the school shooting in Texas that took the lives of 19 children and two adults.

So I ask:  Of which “well regulated Militia” was the Uvalde, Texas, school shooter part?  And how was the racist who killed 10 people in a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket helping preserve “the security of a free state”? What about the young man who opened up on a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Ill.  Was he trying to ensure your liberties?

Obviously, these shooters weren’t members of any “well regulated militia.”  So why did they have a gun…or several guns?

I know that the current Supreme Court reads the Second Amendment differently, but I have to wonder if it has long been wrong.

I’m not a lawyer, a judge or a politician.  But I did spend 41 years working with words as a reporter and editor and learning how to use them to best state what I mean.  

When the founders wrote the Constitution, they weren’t messing around.  They fought and argued over every word and it seems to they wrote that single sentence with the following in mind:  You get to have a gun as long as you are a part of a “well-regulated Militia.”

I would argue that a key phrase in the Second Amendment is “well regulated.” 

In other words, they were saying that the right to “bear arms” comes with the obligation to follow some rules and accept some responsibility.

If we could ask them today about what they might see as modern examples of a “well-regulated Militia,” they would probably point to the National Guard, the Army or something similar.

At the very least, it seems that they would say that those who want to “bear arms” must be trained in their use and they must follow some rules, i.e., be “well regulated.”

It also seems the founders saw the right to bear arms hinged on the idea of being part of a group dedicated to preserving “the security of a free state.”

That brings a few prerequisites to mind:  

The first things on that list would probably be knowing that your militia members are mature and stable enough to be trusted to possess a gun. 

That would include knowing not only how to shoot accurately but how to safely store a gun and ammunition when not using it. Also, if the nation needs the help of its militia, there must be a way of knowing how to summon its members in a time of need.  That would require a registry of who has been trained and what type of weapons they might have.

***

For what it’s worth, I’ve come to this point of view over time as someone who grew up with guns in the gun-loving state of Idaho.

I get why many people like owning guns. Hunting, target shooting and even collecting can be fun hobbies.  I know because I’ve been there.

My father had two pump-action shotguns, a .22-Magnum revolver and a .32-caliber semi-automatic pistol.

When I was 12, one of my Christmas presents was a single-shot .410-gauge shotgun and when I was in high school, I purchased a .36-caliber Navy Colt revolver.  It was a working replica of the type of cap-and-ball weapon carried by some Union officers during the Civil War.

Along the way, my dad and I also acquired a .22-caliber Winchester pump-action rifle and .22-caliber Remington bolt action rifle.

Yes, we were a well-armed family, but not at all unusual among those living in Twin Falls, Idaho, in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

We hunted ducks, pheasants and chukars.  I shot many a rock chuck (a sort of prairie dog found in southern Idaho) to keep them from feasting on the grass at the golf course where I worked, and I sometimes went out with friends at night to “spotlight” rabbits from a pickup truck.

And I passed more than one afternoon plinking at tin cans in a garbage dump not too far from the golf course where I worked.

More than once, I took a gun to school (leaving it locked in the trunk of my beat-up Chevy), not because I planned to shoot any of my classmates but because friends and I would sometimes go pheasant hunting on the outskirts of town after class let out.

All those things were part of growing up in southern Idaho.

The truth is, however, that I wasn’t as safety conscious as I should have been when it came to this small arsenal.

In other words, I was hardly “well regulated.”

I once nearly shot myself accidentally when playing around with my father’s .32-semiautomatic after finding it in the glove box of his pickup truck.

Another time, I fired a few rounds with the .22-caliber pump action rifle at some rock chucks without checking the background behind them — and then realized I had narrowly missed some co-workers at the golf course.

It was probably the memory of those incidents that I had in mind when I was in my late 20s I made the decision to sell off all my guns.

By then, Marlie and I had become parents to the first two of our three sons.

Also by then, I also had lost interest in hunting, so there was no need to hang on to my 12-gauge shotgun. And I had read enough research to know that the odds of me using one of my pistols to stop a home invader were microscopic.  

John Killen

A much bigger risk, statistically, was that someone in my young family – or a visiting friend – would instead be accidentally injured or killed by one of my weapons.

All that is not to say that I think everyone needs to do what I did.  I think it’s perfectly fine for responsible people to own firearms to hunt, target shoot, etc., but only after they’ve been properly vetted, trained and licensed.

Overall, it seems clear to me that what the founders were trying to do with the Second Amendment was make sure that, if our nation encountered an enemy, it would be ready with a group — a militia — that was armed and well-regulated.

But interpreting this amendment to mean that every person in the country could have a almost any kind of gun for any reason whatsoever?  That actually sounds like a point of view I would push if I was in the business of making and selling guns.

I’m not alone in these beliefs.  Warren Burger, former chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, wrote the following about 30 years ago:

“The Gun Lobby’s interpretation of the Second Amendment is one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American People by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.  The real purpose of the Second Amendment was to ensure that state armies — the militia — would be maintained for the defense of the state. The very language of the Second Amendment refutes any argument that it was intended to guarantee every citizen an unfettered right to any kind of weapon he or she desires.”

***

John Killen is a retired reporter and editor who worked for The Oregonian for 27 years and two other newspapers before that. He and wife Marlie live in Southeast Portland and spend much of their time caring for their two granddaughters and multiple grand dogs.

Editor’s note: John and I started at almost the same time at The Oregonian in the mid to late ’80s, working as editors with lots of talented reporters and photographers. We share lots of common interests and experiences in journalism, teaching, hiking, basketball, bowling, dogs, parenting and grand-parenting.

Tomorrow: Nike Bentley, Buy Dirt

Photo credit: The Shelby Star/Jeff Melton/AP

Who changed the words? 

By Andrea Cano

Most recently, the testimonies and images of the January 6th insurrection have underscored the threat to our U.S. democracy. News and commentary are echoing more frequently that democracy is “an experiment.”    

An experiment?

While imperfect, our democracy has been the framework for a more perfect union for almost 250 years.  I just fear how distrust is being sown with an unchallenged rhetoric, or that a new world view is being drafted with mass-mediated verbiage.  Someone is changing the words – ergo understanding or reality – and no doubt this has happened since we humans created common languages. 

Next month, I will celebrate the ninth anniversary of my ordination into the United Church of Christ (UCC).  On September 15, 2013, the sanctuary of my local church was filled with family, friends, congregants, and a processional of ordained clergy.   

During the rite of ordination, one officially consecrates communion for the first time – the bread of life and the cup of the new covenant for community. Traditionally, Jesus’ words to his disciples during the Last Supper anchor the sacrament. 

Or sometimes the words of institution may be drawn from the Gospel story when Jesus appears post-crucifixion to two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus.  He is a stranger to them, invites them to stop, rest, and share a meal.  It is after that encounter that the disciples recognize him.  I chose that event and a special song for my first communion. 

Decades ago, when I married my second husband in Quito, Ecuador, the situation was unique on so many respects – I a Protestant, he a lapsed Catholic.  His parents faithful Catholics. Our friends a mix of faith practices.  Creative and careful conversations resulted in a wedding co-officiated by a Lutheran minister and a Catholic priest in a historic community site transformed into sacred space. But sharing communion was out of the question. 

So instead, my fiancé and I decided that the guests could sing Soy Pan, Soy, Paz, Soy Más (I am Bread, I am Peace, I am More), led by our musician friends. It was a popular song with lyrics by Luis Ramon Igarzabal (1948-2005), a Uruguayan educator, music by Piero de Benedictis (1945-), an Italian born, Argentine composer/singer whom I consider the George Harrison of Latin America. This song of hope and community emerged as the dirty war and Latin American dictatorships waned in the early 1980’s. 

Piero de Benedictis (Photo credit: LaNacion, Argentina)

Fast forward to about 2011 or so when I emailed Piero’s website requesting permission to use the song for a series of Spanish language worship services I was creating for the UCC.  To my astonishment, he responded directly to me, confessing that no one had ever used it as a communion song. I wrote back and said in all the years I had experienced hymnody all over the world and in many languages, that for me Soy Pan… was the first song where Jesus sings to the people.

Here’s a rough translation of some of the lyrics:  

I’m water, beaches, sky, home, and gardens – I’m the ocean, the Atlantic, winds, and the Americas 

I am a lot of holy things – Blended among human things – How can I explain, mundane things….  

Then later they mixed up or changed the words or the images disappeared (Or they didn’t want to see or know what was evident) Something happened…I didn’t understand. 

Come share with me, explain to me – All that you’re going through right now – Because if not, when the soul is lonely it cries You have to let everything unfold in the open like Springtime – No one wants anything inside to perish – Speak, honestly eye to eye -And share from the inside out all that you can – So that from inside new things be born, can come alive.  I’m bread, I’m peace, I am more, I am the one who is right here – I don’t want more than you can give me -for things come and go. 

Listen to Piero sing the song: 

So, even for Igarzabal and Piero, whatever their inspiration, the song is not explicitly religious but implies that words and images about the “Prince of Peace” were shifted to create a separate reality, and he now encourages the community to open up to one another, without judgment or division. 

And that is what happened during my first consecrated communion.  Portland singer Joaquin Lopez, dressed in white, sang the song to the congregation.  The table was set, the bread and wine offered, and the invitation given. Just about every person in the sanctuary came forth and partook of the elements. They were of different faiths and no faiths, some strangers or friends to one another, people bound by the common understanding of sharing, of acceptance, and of community.  

And now almost a decade later, our reality with respect to our democracy is no longer common. And I fault those intent on changing or controlling the rhetoric or narratives from one day to the next, for their actions may have very long and lingering negative effects. 

“Democracy” photo credit: The Iran Project

***

Rev. Andrea Cano

Rev. Andrea Cano is truly hoping to retire soon as she completes her current assignment as Interim President of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon this month. She says the inspiration for this entry was spurred by comments of people she met while on vacation recently in Ireland, Spain, and Portugal. They were concerned that the U.S. is no longer the beacon of democracy for world, that nothing is being done about mass shootings, and how the U.S. Supreme Court has been politicized. Read more of Andrea’s writing on the EMO President’s Blog – https://emoregon.org/emoregon-blog/  

Editor’s note: Andrea is one of the kindest and most versatile people I know. Whether the topic is faith or food, social justice, politics or palliative care, she can more than hold her own. Andrea is a former journalist who grew up in Southern California and chaired the Oregon Commission on Hispanic Affairs for several years. I met her through my work at The Oregonian.

Tomorrow: John Killen, One sentence. One divisive debate.

Confessions of a fat cyclist

By Tim Akimoff

I crossed the snow field and tucked into the shelter of a shaded alpine area somewhere around 8,000 feet up the Climber Trail on South Sister at 10:45 a.m. on a perfect, cloudless Saturday morning.  

I was quitting my climb. 

My left knee is living on borrowed time. I inherited my grandfather’s knees, and he had each knee replaced three times before he turned 80. 

During the first year of the pandemic, I noticed my left knee wouldn’t quite stay in a straight line. It tended to go left to right, which seemed odd considering the knee’s general construction.  

I had taken up running again out of boredom and significant weight gain. But the aches in my knees, especially my left one, worsened over weeks, until November 2020, when the whole thing blew up. Quite literally.  

My doctor sent me to a knee specialist, who ordered an MRI, which showed a shredded meniscus, inflamed tendons, a baker’s cyst (a fluid-filled swelling) and almost no kneecap left.  

What are my options, doc? 

“Stop running.” 

“OK, what about walking?”  

“Don’t do it if it hurts your knee.” 

“What can I do?”  

“Anything that doesn’t hurt your knee.” 

The options were swimming and cycling for any hope at the kind of cardio workouts that might help me shed pounds.  

In all honesty, it wasn’t about the weight I had gained. Yes, gaining weight is frustrating, but what I needed more than anything at this point in my life was something to take my mind off the crushing doom the past four years had put all of us through.  

The author after finishing the Monster Cookie Bike Ride in Salem at about the heaviest he’s ever been.

Being outside and moving at the pace of my own locomotion, whether running, walking, bird watching, cycling, hiking or kayaking, is a kind of medicine I hadn’t noticed so profoundly in my life until then.  

Medically, my options were arthroscopic surgery to look for floating bits and pieces and to see if any of the mess that was my knee could be fixed, a type of stem-cell therapy that can regenerate lost tissue or a cortisone injection.  

At 46-years-old, I was far too young for knee replacement, which can be done up to three times but with diminishing returns, so it pays to wait as long as you can.  

What quality of life can you have if your knees are in pain all the time and you can’t enjoy the activities you once did? As much as I enjoy walking about, a life relegated to just walking seemed a bit monastic to me. 

The only option really open to me at the time was the cortisone injection, which the doctor did on the spot.  

Several days went by, and nothing changed. I was afraid the cortisone wouldn’t work, and the doctor told me that even if it did work, he could only offer me one every six months or so over the course of two years before we’d have to consider another option.  

I bought the bicycle in Palos Heights, Illinois in 2015, a Trek 1.1 Alpha. Illinois is very flat, so a road bike seemed like the best option for me, but I neglected that bike for a few years after a triple set of surgeries sidelined me.  

So, it’s the middle of the pandemic, I’m overweight, I get a cortisone shot and hope for the best while dusting off the old Trek 1.1 Alpha and rifling through my clothes bins looking for anything Lycra or padded. Preferably both.  

I set out on what would be a 10-mile ride around my neighborhood. The ride includes some city streets, country roads and a difficult hill to climb before depositing me back to my driveway.  

The going is slow initially. That hill nearly breaks me. I breathe so hard I feel like my heart is going to push through my chest like a space alien. But I feel good at the end. My knee doesn’t hurt.  

So, I go again the next day, and the next day, and for many days after that.  

Two years and 6,930 miles later, I’m averaging 20 miles a day in a little under an hour and a half, and that little hill I used to complain about barely registers on my heart rate monitor. I’m 65 pounds lighter and much, much stronger than I used to be.  

I still ride the Trek 1.1. Alpha every day, only it’s become my commuter bike. My new love interest is a Poseidon X gravel bike made by a small pandemic startup to get people onto bikes meant for more than just the paved roads. Gravel bikes have a slightly different geometry, and they allow for larger tires, so they’re perfect for paved or unpaved roads. And best of all, is the ride is so much smoother on aging bones.  

The one thing I can’t get past is that after two years of riding all out, nearly 400 miles a month, my body has decided that I’ve lost enough weight, and it’s going to preserve the fat that remains. Of course, this is frustrating, because while I can ride much better these days, keeping up with some of my skinnier, faster friends, I still carry more weight around than I’d like.  

I’m a fat cyclist who is otherwise healthy and in decent shape.  

Cue the climb up South Sister. 

My knee feels much better and stronger than it has in a long time. I’ve been yearning to do some backpacking, something to cross-train my cycling-centric muscles. I decide that an expedition is in order, and when my colleague planned a climb for mid-July, I knew it was the perfect time to try.  

And try I did. Until I found that old, familiar limit. Albeit further up and faster along.  

There’s an unattributed adage I love: I ride not to add days to my life but to add life to my days. 

***

Tim Akimoff is a public information officer, social media coordinator and podcast host at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. When he’s not wrestling salmon at a hatchery or helping to collar bighorn sheep, you’ll find him bicycle birding through the countryside, often to a local brewery, or putting his knees to the test on some new trail.  

The author is 65 pounds lighter but still a fat cyclist and happy as ever.

Editor’s note: I met Tim in 2005 when he was a University of Oregon student and recruited him for an internship at The Oregonian. He spent a decade as a journalist working in public radio in Chicago, television news in Alaska and newspapers in Montana and Oregon before finding his way to his current job with the state wildlife agency. Every year, I look forward to seeing what Tim’s chosen to write about, just like a kid unwrapping a birthday gift.

Tomorrow: Andrea Cano, Who changed the words?

My year of health

Wildwood Trail in Forest Park. (Credit: Gabe Labovitz.)

By Luisa Anderson 

When I was a young kid, I spent a lot of time running around. In elementary school, my favorite game to play at recess was tag. I often recruited friends – and even strangers – to join in on the games. Being a kid, exercise wasn’t on my mind and it wasn’t the point. But I craved moving my body. I needed to experience the feeling of flying through the air, putting one foot in front of the other. 

As I grew older, something changed. I no longer had recess in middle school and there was no playground on campus. Some kids played basketball after lunch, but I sat in the cafeteria until it was time to go back to class.  

With the annual mile run in P.E. class, running became less of a game and more of a physical assessment that I grew to dread. I was slower than my more athletic peers, and in my mind, I told myself that I wasn’t a runner. I was someone who hated to run at the very thought of it. This perspective stuck with me throughout my teen and young adult years.  

Nearly a year ago, I quietly made the commitment to prioritize my health: mental, emotional and physical. Stress and anxiety had weighed me down. Working in news, I was immersed in difficult stories about the pandemic, rising extremism, political and social division, hate crimes and violence, climate change – the list goes on. These issues took a toll and I decided, out of necessity, to make a personal pledge to take better care of myself. 

Self-care came in a lot of different forms and I indulged in hobbies. It also included therapy, meditation and yoga. Then followed walking, at-home exercise videos, and to my surprise, running. The more active I became, the more ways I wanted to move

As it turns out, more people have taken up running during the pandemic. According to 2021 research from Nielsen Sports and World Athletics, across 10 surveyed countries, four in 10 people consider themselves to be runners. More than a fifth of all runners said they run more often than they did previously as a result of the pandemic. 

I started with running and walking intervals, slowly building up my strength and endurance. In the beginning, it was easy to feel discouraged. I’d run for a few minutes and it’d seem like my lungs just couldn’t keep up. About two weeks into training for a 5K, I strained my ankle. It was painful to walk, so running was out of the question. I took a break for about a month until my injury was fully healed. Returning to training was difficult, but I pushed through the challenges and after 11 weeks, I made it to the finish line of my 5K. 

One of my favorite things to do now is to run on a forested trail. I love the sensation of my feet hitting the dirt. Having to step over rocks and branches makes it a fun obstacle course. My mind is at ease when I see towering trees and plants surrounding me. I feel at peace when I hear a canopy full of birds whistle. I’m connected to my moving body and my flowing breath. When I’m running, I’m not thinking about anything else except the run and my surroundings.  

In his 2009 book, Born to Run, author and journalist Christopher McDougall chronicles the Rarámuri people of Mexico’s Copper Canyons. They have been endurance athletes for centuries, able to run hundreds of miles across the rugged landscape in Mexican huaraches, or traditional sandals. Running is a central part of their culture.  

McDougall spends much of the book arguing that running has historically been an essential part of humanity.  

“There’s something so universal about that sensation, the way running unites our two most primal impulses: fear and pleasure. We run when we’re scared. We run when we’re ecstatic. We run away from our problems and run around for a good time.” – Chris McDougall, author of Born to Run 

I don’t see myself as a new runner. Rather, I’ve returned to running. My impulse to run and move has been with me all this time, even if it was buried deep.  

As I learned more about running, I also looked into how to fuel my body well with food. Frankly, public education had provided me with virtually no nutritional education outside of the food pyramid. To put it simply, there was a lot I didn’t know.

My husband and I devoured information and studies about food and nutrition, and together, we decided to go vegan. It’s been about six months now, and we’ve had so much fun experimenting in the kitchen with new foods and veganizing family dishes we grew up eating.  

When I made the pledge to put my health first a year ago, I didn’t have much of a plan. I wasn’t expecting my life to dramatically shift and expand in all the ways that it has. My year of health has turned into a lifelong commitment, and I’m grateful that I’ve begun the journey.  

***

Luisa Anderson is a Senior Digital Producer at KGW News. She lives in the Portland metro area with her husband and their two rabbits. 

Luisa Anderson

Editor’s note: I met Luisa in 2009 when I was an editor at The Oregonian and she was a participant in a journalism summer camp for minority high school students. Luisa was then a rising senior at an arts and communication magnet school in Beaverton and preparing to serve as editor in chief of her student paper. She went on to major in journalism at the University of Oregon and then pursued a career in television and digital news.

Tomorrow: Tim Akimoff, Confessions of a fat cyclist