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Mist in the woods

An archive of who wrote what during this month of guest blog posts:

Aug. 1 — Oregon’s tallest town is sinking | Jason R. Cox

Aug. 2 — Know when to fold ’em | Lillian Mongeau

Aug. 3 — The girl on the treadmill | Taylor Smith

Aug. 4. — Chicago’s mind-numbing numbers | Tim Akimoff

Aug. 5 — Camera shy | Elizabeth Hovde

 

Aug. 6 — They call me Dime-bag | John Knapp

Aug. 7 — Ten weeks and counting | Al Rodriguez

Aug. 8 — Fakin’ it while makin’ it | Alana Cox

Aug. 9 — Sarah Grimke’s moral courage | Rachel Lippolis

Aug. 10 — The dance | David Quisenberry

 

Aug. 11 — Lucky number 13 | Tammy Ellingson

Aug. 12 — Helpless | Lynn St. Georges

Aug. 13 — The power of culture | Aki Mori

Aug. 14 — The cadence and the sting of the jellyfish | Andrea Cano

Aug. 15 — The need to escape and create | Eric Wilcox

 

Aug. 16 — Grateful for my yoga practice | Monique Gonzales

Aug. 17 — Almost the bad guy | Jacob Quinn Sanders

Aug. 18 — Drowning in technology | Nike Bentley

Aug. 19 — A time-honored tradition | Leroy Metcalf

Aug. 20 — Nervous Nellie | Heather Lalley

 

Aug. 21 — Musical interests circle back to Dylan | Bob Ehlers

Aug. 22 — Confessions and reflections of a personal trainer  | Lori Rede

Aug. 23 — Comfort zone | Starr Flavin

Aug. 24 — Baby shower | Jennifer Brennock

Aug. 25 — Ferguson through the eyes of an African immigrant | Parfait Bassale

 

Aug. 26 — Tiger lady | Lakshmi Jagannathan

Aug. 27 — Genesis of the magic | Natasa Kocevar Gabric

Aug. 28 — This song’s for you | Michael Granberry

Aug. 29 — Riding the NYC subway | Lauren Dillard

Aug. 30 — From Portland to Paris | Patricia Conover

Aug. 31 — A magical island wedding | George Rede

 

Image: John Hoaglund, III

A magical island wedding

Kyndall Mason and Simone Rede are married by their friend and officiant Paul Sayko on a deck overlooking Eastsound, Wash.

Kyndall and Simone are married by their friend and officiant Paul Sayko on a deck overlooking Eastsound, Wash.

By George Rede

Three weekends ago, our fabulous daughter, Simone, and her equally fabulous partner, Kyndall, stood under an arch overlooking a shallow inlet in Eastsound, Washington, and got married.

People have asked me since our return to Oregon, “So, how was it?”

There’s a short answer: Fabulous. Just about perfect in every way.

There’s a slightly longer answer: It felt like a party. Just under 100 friends and family came from a dozen states, some from 2,500 miles away, to a destination wedding that was thoughtfully planned and beautifully executed.

The weather was perfect, the venue was comfortable, the vibe was informal, the sit-down dinner was delicious, and people who had never been to Orcas Island off the Washington coast were dazzled by its beauty.

It was a gorgeous, sun-kissed evening that began with a poignant exchange of vows and led into a nightlong celebration of song, dance and food that lifted everyone’s spirits.

And then there is a fuller answer.

Honestly, I could gush forever as a father of one of the brides. But I’ll try to exercise a little restraint and share just a few favorite memories and observations.

Kyndall and Simone, sharing a moment in the spotlight.

Kyndall and Simone, sharing a moment in the spotlight.

First and foremost, I’ve seldom been as proud and happy as I was that Saturday, August 9. Seeing our middle child, our darling daughter, radiant in her white wedding dress and with a miles-wide smile on her face made my heart sing.

Seeing the love of her life, standing tall, looking stylish and bursting with joy, filled me with pride.

Seated next to my wife and sharing the same bench as our two sons and their sweethearts, Lori and I could feel the love between Simone and Kyndall – as well as the love for Simone and Kyndall among their friends and family.

Stealing a glance at those gathered around, I felt the bonds of friendship and a sense of pride in knowing so many people, young and old, who made the commitment to travel hundreds of miles or more to be there on that special day. Getting to Orcas means giving up a day just to get there via car, airplane or ferry. But once you’re there, what a salve for the soul.

A collection of items arrayed on the table where guests signed their names and picked up party favors, including small bags of organic coffee beans.

A collection of items arrayed on the table where guests signed their names and picked up party favors, including small bags of organic coffee beans.

Second, there’s a huge difference between a wedding where you’re invited by the couple’s parents and one where you’re invited by the couple themselves.

Often when parents are heavily involved, you find yourself feeling like you’re playing a part in someone else’s ideas of tradition and how things should be. I know I felt that way when Lori and I were married at 22, swept along with little sense of our own imprint.

Not so with two strong young women in their 30s, who have lived independently of their parents for a decade or more and took responsibility for planning and financing their big day. This event took months of research and coordination; a spreadsheet or two to track costs and tasks; and lots of thoughtful attention to details that would make the day special and unmistakably their own.

Two examples: In lieu of a wedding cake, guests were asked to bring a homemade pie for dessert. As a late-night snack, several giant take-and-bake pizzas emerged from the oven as the perfect fuel to keep people dancing toward the midnight hour.

OK, three: The girls planned the menu with our friend and lifelong island resident, Juliana Capdeville, as chef, knowing she’d include vegetables from her own garden and bake her own bread as part of a healthy dinner served family style.

A chorus line of friends who graduated from Grant High School with Simone. From left: Katie Dickman, Dida Valenzuela, Makinna Ridgway, Eddie Vaught, Shannon Jones, Margaret Dean, Erin Donnelly.

A chorus line of friends who graduated from Grant High School with Simone. From left: Katie Dickman, Dida Valenzuela, Makinna Ridgway, Eddie Vaught, Shannon Jones, Margaret Dean, Erin Donnelly.

Third, from the standpoint of marriage equality, it was a big deal. We’re living through an historic time in our nation’s slow but steady acceptance of same-sex marriage.

State by state, whether by court decision, legislation or popular vote, Americans are coming to realize there is no reason one person should not be able to marry the person he or she loves.

Washington state voters last year approved a ballot measure extending the same rights and privileges of marriage to gay couples. Oregon joined the crowd this year when a federal judge overturned a voter-approved ban as unconstitutional.

Many older Americans – and residents of more conservative states in the South and the Midwest – continue to resist the inexorable change. Thankfully, younger people get it. And so it was enormously satisfying to see Simone and Kyndall’s friends – male, female, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, married, single, whatever – coming together to celebrate their love.

Final thoughts:

Three Saturdays ago, the Odd Fellows Hall transformed from a nondescript hall on a dead-end street to a vibrant, raucous place for a party. It was a place where you could be yourself and reach across the generational or geographic divides. It was a place where you could meet someone who had gone to grade school or high school with Simone or to college with Kyndall; someone who had lived with one or the other in Poughkeepsie or Bellingham; someone who knew them from Portland or Pittsburgh.

Marriage is a rare event that brings together parents, siblings, friends and relatives from both sides and tosses them together like so many ingredients in a salad. On this day and night, everything and everyone blended beautifully and harmoniously.

You might even say it was magical.

Photographs: Anna-Lee Fields, Lori Rede, George Rede

George Rede married Lori Rauh on Sept. 6, 1975, in a church in San Jose, California 18 months after their first date as San Jose State seniors. That was the first and only time George wore white patent leather shoes … to match his white tuxedo and bow tie. Lori, of course, looked radiant with long brown hair to the middle of her back.

From Portland to Paris

An American girl near the Jeu de Paume museum in Paris.

An American girl near the Jeu de Paume museum in Paris.

By Patricia Conover

The school year was just beginning in 2005. Kirk and I had lived in Portland for a little over ten years. Our three children attended three great schools. We had wonderful friends we loved and meaningful work. We owned a house and a car and furniture and all the stuff middle-aged married people are expected to own in America.

But the adventurous spirit that originally drew us together in a Manhattan bar sometime in the murky nineteen-eighties and then propelled us nearly 2,500 miles to Portland was reawakening. We dreamed of new vistas. We talked endlessly about where to move next on long scenic drives to Neskowin or Seattle, but we couldn’t figure out whether to return to New York or venture forth to a whole new country.

Kirk is an architect and I am a writer. While daydreaming about our next great place I occasionally checked out the employment ads in other countries. The ugly economic slowdown was just beginning to show signs of arriving, but there were still jobs to be had. An ad caught my eye: Architect Paris.

I smiled. My husband and I had spent our honeymoon in Paris and we had returned several times since then. We were both Francophiles and dabbled in French history and culture. Two out of three of our kids even had French names.

But Kirk loved his job at a Portland architecture firm known for its collaborative work and outstanding design. I knew that he would have a hard time leaving it. And it had taken me more than ten years to build a reputation in the northwest. I was finally being hired for writing gigs in California, Oregon and Washington.

Sigh. I emailed the ad to Kirk and immediately forgot about it.

Paris2006

Kirk and the girls on a 2000 visit to Paris.

Several weeks later, Kirk told me that he had scheduled a job interview for the position I spotted. We were beyond thrilled, but we agreed not to talk about it with anyone until arrangements were finalized. Sometime in the spring of 2006, Kirk was hired and we began planning our move to Paris.

Family and friends were surprised but supportive, although one friend lectured me about how selfish we were to take our kids abroad while they were still in school. She was the only naysayer:  Everybody else was delighted by our news, especially our children.

The next months were spent packing, collecting documents, procuring passports, requesting long-stay visas from the French consulate, renting our house, finding a place to live and applying to French schools.

The day drew closer. We gave away most of our possessions and furniture, and, because our first apartment did not permit dogs or cats, our sweet pets went to stay with generous animal-loving friends.

We boarded our flight to Paris and never looked back.

Until.

Until we realized that we had traded our real life, a life that we loved, for a fantasy life in Paris.

Paris is beautiful. To my mind, it is the most beautiful city in the world. But during those early days, living in Paris was like dating the most handsome man in the room and finding out that he couldn’t carry on a conversation.

We missed our family and friends. We had traded a four-bedroom house for a tiny apartment. The girls were absolutely miserable. Many of their French teachers were strict and seemingly without sympathy. The whole educational system was completely different and difficult to fathom . Our level of French was abysmal. The red tape bureaucracy to stay in France was never ending. Everything was strange: The language, the food, the culture, and the people.

But then something clicked.

We had been told repeatedly that one is not truly “at home” in Paris until a French person extends an invitation to dinner. This invitation may take years to materialize. Sometimes, it never arrives at all.

The French adore writing angry notes. They tack them up in the apartment hallway, push them into mailbox slots, or tape them to the front door. We began to receive hand-written notes complaining about how noisy we were. The neighbor who lived directly above ours signed the notes.

In truth, we weren’t that noisy by American standards, but three teenage girls lived in our apartment. That tells you everything you need to know.

Kirk-conover-girls

Kirk Conover with daughters Madeleine, Genevieve and Cameron in Gordes, France in 2006.

I was afraid that we would be deported. Every time the doorbell rang, I thought that it was the police. I constantly shushed the kids, forbade loud music, pleaded with them not to shriek every time they got a facebook “like” and harangued everybody about taking their shoes off as soon as they came inside.

One day, someone pounded on the door at 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday. I looked through the peephole.  It was our note-writing neighbor, red-faced and angry. I cautiously opened the door.

In rapid fire French, my neighbor asked me why I was moving furniture all day and torturing cats at night. He swept past me and into the living room. Our seventh grader was sprawled out on the couch, watching a video. Our high school freshman was creating a masterpiece omelet in the kitchen. Our college girl was working on a paper at the dining room table.

All three girls began speaking to him in French at once. They apologized profusely for any inconvenience. They promised to be more quiet and subdued. They promised be more French.

Charmed, his cranky face broke into a toothy smile.

“I love Americans,” he exclaimed. He forgave us for all our imagined sins. He told us that he would return in a moment and rushed out the door. In a few moments he returned to introduce his wife, son, and daughter.

“We would be honored if you would have dinner with us tonight in our apartment,” he said warmly.

A herald of acceptance had occurred, and we had only been in the country a few months.

Thus, our real life in Paris began. Slowly, with effort and determination, our French improved. We made friends and confidently explored the gorgeous architecture and the landscape. We shopped at the outdoor markets and drank black coffee with our croissants. We arranged to bring our dog to France. Although the education was rigorous, our kids began to thrive. I wrote more and it became easier to publish my work. Our family traveled inexpensively to more countries than we could ever have imagined because the whole of Europe was accessible to us.

We had turned our lives upside down, but we had opened our hearts and minds to fresh experiences and opportunities. With that open spirit came disasters as well as successes. There were growing pains, but we learned to be adaptable and flexible. We learned how to improvise and be resourceful. At a time in our lives when many people become set in their ways, we moved ahead into uncharted territory. We never again accumulated “things.” We accumulated experiences.

We fell in love with Paris all over again.

Time here lurches forward more slowly because every day is full of new and unexpected lessons.

Patricia Conover

Patricia Conover

Ultimately, the best part moving to France is the fact that we’ve all learned to keep learning all the time. As difficult as moving from Portland to Paris was, we feel as though we would do it all again.

We gave up our roots but we gained wings.

Now that our youngest child is attending college, Kirk and I are contemplating our next move.

We regret nothing.

Watch a video of Edith Piaf singing France’s unofficial anthem,Non, je ne regrette rien” ( “I regret nothing”):  http://youtu.be/Q3Kvu6Kgp88  

Patricia Conover is a writer.  Her work has been published in numerous publications, including The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and The Oregonian. She has taught writing and communication courses at several French universities, most recently at EFAP Paris, L’École des métiers de la communication.  She is currently working on a book about the expat experience in France. 

***

Editor’s note: Patricia’s first career was in publishing. After moving to Portland from New York, she pitched three story ideas to me when I was an editor working in a suburban bureau for The Oregonian. I didn’t know what to make of this young mom who had no journalism experience and wore a Snugli carrying her youngest child (now off to college). Soon enough, her work gave me the answer: “You’re a writer.” Indeed, she is.

 Tomorrow: “A magical island wedding” by George Rede

Riding the NYC subway

 

Knowing the etiquette is essential as a New York City subway passenger,

Knowing the etiquette is essential as a New York City subway passenger,

By Lauren Dillard

As a farmer’s daughter from just outside of Portland, Ore., I rushed to the DMV on my 16th birthday to test for my drivers’ license. Before moving to New York, I had driven a car nearly every day for the subsequent 11 years.
Now, with my 2007 Toyota Corolla parked at my family’s farm just outside of Gresham, I am committed to mass transit on the East Coast. Twice each week, I take one bus and two trains to get to work in Brooklyn. The journey takes about 90 minutes each way.
Riding the New York City subway with any regularity is the most impersonal personal experience I have ever had. While standing directly over someone, I try to avoid eye contact or touching them in any way.

I don’t always succeed.

For those who make mass transit part of their daily commute, it’s a religious experience. Brendan Truscott makes a three-hour (each way) commute from Connecticut each weekday.“You know the tricks, right?” he asked me one day as we shared the start of our journey home. Instead of walking the length of the train to make a connection, it’s smart to position yourself for the connecting stop. If you’re riding rush hour, heading toward the front or back of the train will give you a better, though not guaranteed, shot at a seat.

Lauren Dillard

Lauren Dillard

I pleaded with him to leave me behind as he sprinted to make our connection. I’ve worn athletic shoes and carried a change in my backpack ever since.

Without cell service underground, you are subject to your own preparedness. Whether or not I’ve downloaded a podcast for the trip, I cram headphones into my ears signaling that I’m not available for conversation or cash. I can politely ignore the preacher shouting at Manhattan-bound morning passengers or the gentleman playing his music out loud — again.

Once we arrive in Manhattan, the passenger demographics change. Black and Latino passengers disembark and a wave of mostly-white, clearly affluent passengers board for a few stops.

A friend who grew up in Queens — riding the subway when her parents thought she was staying with friends — advised riding in the first car near the driver during late-night travel.

“White girls won’t help you,” she said. She advised finding a clean-cut Black man if I need help.

According to the Metro Transit Authority, there were 677 million boardings at 421 subway stations in 2013. New Yorkers are very serious about Subway etiquette and safety, dedicating whole websites to the cause. Solicitation is not allowed. Neither is gambling.

Rail-InfoConformity is a virtue in such a densely populated place.

I have been doused in sticky sweet coffee as an exiting passenger shouted and threw her cup toward another passenger. I have made abrupt decisions to change train cars when exiting passengers left me alone with another passenger. I have walked many miles after mistakenly boarding the wrong train.

There’s something about shared vulnerability that makes the subway authentically New York. Even in coffee-stained pants, I’ve always made it home. Lauren Dillard is a Portland native who recently moved to NYC to pursue her interest in product development (read: mobile apps and more) and to be closer to her recently relocated partner, Andy. Her hobbies include hiking, science fiction, knitting (poorly) and sour beer.

***

Editor’s note: Lauren was part of the inaugural group of writers who helped me launch Voices of August four years ago. Back then, she was 18 months removed from The Oregonian newsroom, where she had done an internship following her graduation from Oregon State University. Aside from being a smart and witty young woman with experience as a search and rescue volunteer, she’s also something of a human Swiss Army knife, with writing, graphics and multimedia skills well suited to the digital age.

Tomorrow: “From Portland to Paris” by Patricia Conover

This song’s for you

By Michael Granberry

A little more than a decade ago, I made a discovery. I interviewed Janis Ian, a 1970s pop icon who was playing a cool little venue here called Uncle Calvin’s Coffeehouse.

I had long been a fan of Janis, who in 1975 released one of my all-time favorite albums, Between the Lines, which contained the unforgettable single, “At Seventeen,” about the pain of adolescence. I had first become aware of her in 1967, when she bravely released “Society’s Child,” a single about interracial romance. As a teenager, she endured racist heckles in venues around the country in singing her song live.

Michael Granberry

Michael Granberry

Janis’ show at Uncle Calvin’s was one of the best I’ve ever seen. It also provided a gateway to many other shows and allowed me to embrace Uncle Calvin’s as a sanctuary, a quiet corner where I retreat on Friday nights to hear some of the best music I’ve ever heard.

At 62, I am a few months younger than Janis and part of the demographic that comes to Uncle Calvin’s on a weekly basis. We go there to hear singer-songwriters who touch our hearts, whose ballads don’t climb to the top of the charts but who leave us with unforgettable stories that remind us of the best in life.

Don’t get me wrong. I have long been enamored of Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor and many others who long ago achieved white-hot commercial success. At Calvin’s, I get to hear people who are talented to the max but who harbor no real hope of ever achieving a similar Platinum-studded career.

Uncle Calvin’s introduced me to Jimmy LaFave, a terrific singer-songwriter based in Austin, who delivers one of the best cuts on the newly released Jackson Browne tribute album. LaFave mixes his own finely crafted songs, such as “Only One Angel” and “River Road,” with such dynamite covers as “Walk Away Renée,” first recorded by the Left Banke in 1966.

I have gone there to hear John Gorka, whose searing ballads leave a lasting impression, and Gretchen Peters, who has written numerous big hits for other artists (Martina McBride and “Independence Day” come to mind) but whose own songs, sung in her own voice, leave me in awe. Gretchen’s “Idlewild,” named for the airport now called JFK, is a work of art unto itself, a story of her parents’ marriage breaking up and her grandmother nearing death, set against the backdrop of the Kennedy assassination and the racial unrest of the 1960s.

Uncle Calvin’s, like similar venues around the country, is set in the fellowship hall of a church, although nothing about it is religious in nature, except for the music, which is often heavenly. Volunteers book the shows and make the coffee and desserts, which alone are worth the trip. Alcohol and cigarettes are not allowed. It’s a listening room, where lyrics go straight to your ear without the distraction of a drunk at the next table interrupting a tug on your heartstrings.

In recent years, a new phenomenon has surfaced at Calvin’s. The crowd remains attached to the senior demographic and yet the performers are increasingly younger. Many are women. I have heard such twenty-something stars as Liz Longley, who reminds me of Joni Mitchell more than any young female singer I know; Emily Elbert, Liz’s classmate at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, who so wowed a crowd of Palestinians and Jews in East Jerusalem that they ended the night holding hands and singing along to Bob Marley’s “One Love”; and Natalie Gelman, who started out singing in the subways of New York but now tours the country with her own poetic magic packed in her suitcase.

These women thrive as anachronistic angels giving us gifts that come without the promise of bullets on a Billboard chart. Sad? A little, I suppose, but I have spent time with each, and none appears the least bit melancholy, except when they’re singing a breakup song.

Like Allie Farris, a gifted singer-songwriter from Dallas, they travel the highways of America, in sheer solitude, moving from one outpost to the next. Allie and Liz now live in Nashville, harboring the hope, I suppose, of selling one of their gorgeous songs to a country artist whose version may sell millions. I, of course, prefer to hear them sing their own songs. It’s a gift I would love to share with you, urging you to attend and support the Calvin’s clones in your cities.

Enjoy. These heavenly voices are bringing us one of the best gifts of life and asking so little in return.

Michael Granberry is an arts and feature writer and a Sunday arts columnist for The Dallas Morning News. 

***

Editor’s note: Mike and I met as college students when we were summer interns at The Washington Post in 1973, when the Watergate investigation was at its height. We hit it off amazingly well — he is a superb storyteller and wickedly funny. When Lori and I were married two years later in California, I asked Mike to be my groomsman. As the years passed, we fell out of touch but thanks to social media we have recently reconnected and I am planning to visit him in Dallas next month.

Read more: Michael’s recent story on 20-something female singers (includes four videos).

Tomorrow: “Riding the NYC subway” by Lauren Dillard

Genesis of the magic

A view of a small village called Hrastje, about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) from Novo Mesto, Slovenia. The small castle was built at the beginning of the 14th century. It also served as a fortress during the attacks of the Ottoman Empire in this area (the last one was in 1829).

A view of a small village called Hrastje, about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) from Novo Mesto, Slovenia. The small castle was built at the beginning of the 14th century. It also served as a fortress during the attacks of the Ottoman Empire in this area (the last one was in 1829).

By Natasa KG

I’ve just come back from my Saturday morning bike trip. The feeling is great and I’m ready for the day.

When I was a child, the bike was a symbol of freedom for me. Summer holidays. Friends. Going through the day doing things I loved. Reading or hanging out with interesting people. Such days were almost magical for me. I felt like the world was there to make me happy.

I was born in Yugoslavia. In its northern part – Slovenia. Since I was an athlete, unlike most of my friends I had the opportunity to travel outside the country. And what I saw there appealed to me. Strongly. I felt so lucky having that chance. But that also meant that I was constantly seeking for something more, something that was out of my league.

I didn’t want to spend holidays in Yugoslavia, but had no choice. I didn’t want to grow my tomatoes like my parents did. I didn’t want to run home after school or work to make lunch. (To be honest, the best sister in the world did that most of the time.) I just wanted to grab a hamburger at McDonald’s or a takeaway at a Chinese restaurant (that didn’t exist) as I saw it in the movies. I wanted to buy tomatoes and strawberries in a supermarket in January. I wanted to replace my bike with a car as quickly as possible… None of these were possible at the time.

natasa.bikes

Bikes: a symbol of freedom.

After high school I decided to study languages. This gave me another opportunity to travel. In fact, not really, since money was scarce. At first I traveled in my mind. I felt the magic when dreaming about going to places I only knew from the movies, books or just the news on TV. But I never gave up the dream: one day…

SLOVENIA-MAP-WHERE-IS-SLOVENIAEventually I had enough courage and persistence to find myself spending a year in France. I was 20. My loving parents hardly understood my decision, but they love and respect me so much they decided my happiness was more important than their peace of mind. I’m still so grateful to them, grateful for the courage they had to help me realize my dream.

It was a unique year for me. I felt as if nothing could get in my way. I was proud of myself. And I was lucky since the family I was staying with was wonderful. They taught me so many things. Speaking fluent French was the first one, of course. But with that came self-confidence I had never had before. They taught me to appreciate things I had no idea they could provide such a pleasure. Good food. Good discussion. Art. Wandering around just to feel well. Just to feel the magic of life…

Paella!

Paella!

After coming back to Yugoslavia I continued my studies and soon found a job. I was spending my days at the office working and learning. It was a real pleasure using my knowledge to do something useful. This hasn’t changed since. I still love working and achieving results for the company.

But a lot of things happened:

Today I have a wonderful family – two marvelous teenage sons and a husband with whom I share the values of life. I had never thought being a wife and a mother could be so fulfilling.

In the meantime Slovenia won its independence and went through an interesting process of changes. All of the sudden everything was available for us. Magical! I would be able to live like I saw it on TV! It was as if what I longed for so much in my youth was there waiting for me to reach it. But it slowly began to change the mentality of the Slovenian people. Today everything can be bought – any food I can think of, any clothing I can imagine, books in any language I want, there is so much choice in shoes, cars, bikes, gadgets… Things. Owning them makes people feel more confident.

But where is the magic?

Simple pleasures:   wildflowers

Simple pleasures: wildflowers

I’m 48 and for me today the magic lies in my working in the garden, in watching my tomatoes and other vegetables growing. Today the magic lies in cooking for my family and our friends. The magic lies in weekend morning biking. And I don’t need tomatoes on my table in January while it is heavily snowing outside. I’m happy with the frozen or pickled vegetables I made during summer to preserve the vegetables we couldn’t eat fresh and didn’t want to throw away.

It’s a struggle at work. Every day. But when I come home, I can share this magic with my family. And life is beautiful as it is.

Is that change in my attitude to the world coming from my age or is it a consequence of the experience? I don’t know and I don’t mind. I’m fine.

Natasa1 2

Photographs: Natasa KG

Natasa says: “I’m known as somebody who is full of energy, sometimes making people nervous because of that. But since I work in the world of the automobile industry, this energy helps me to face the issues without much damage. I’m interested in everything and don’t understand how come that a day only has 24 hours and that I need a 7 hour sleep. My favourite pastime is — sorry it’s a cliché, but it’s so true — spending time with my family.”

***

Editor’s note: When Lori and I traveled to Italy in the fall of 2012, we squeezed in a two-day trip to neighboring Slovenia to visit with a second cousin on her dad’s side of the family. Boris and his wife Alenka proudly showed us their country and organized a big dinner so we could meet other relatives. Kissing, hugging, gesturing, laughing — and lots of eating — ensued. That evening, we met Boris’ nieces. One of them, Natasa, spoke excellent English and expressed great interest in us and our family. We became Facebook friends and this year she accepted my invitation to join the Voices of August party. She asked to be identified by her first name and initials only.

Tomorrow: “This song’s for you” by Michael Granberry

Tiger Lady

Lakshmi Jagannathan and her husband Raghu at the Taj Mahal.

Lakshmi and her husband Raghu at the Taj Mahal. Who would guess their wedding anniversary has a connection to Indira Gandhi, the former prime minister of India?.

By Lakshmi Jagannathan

The house was surprisingly small – ranch style, with an understated ethnic décor. It was hard to believe that world leaders had congregated in the simple living room. Vast collections of books dominated the home. A sari with burn marks, a handbag and slippers were displayed in a glass booth. From the other exhibits – childhood writings, photos and other memorabilia — an erudite persona emerged.

Many years ago, militant Sikhs in India waged an insurgency to create their own state – Khalistan. Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India, ordered troops to enter the sacred Golden Temple of Amritsar to remove the rebel leader and his armed followers.  Several months later, on a crisp October morning, Gandhi was gunned down by her own Sikh guards as she walked down a path in her garden in the capital, Delhi. Needless to say, violent anti-Sikh riots followed and thousands were killed.

Why would I write about this today? As fate would have it, that was the day and time chosen by priests for my Hindu wedding ceremony.  I have always had an eerie feeling about the juxtaposition of these events, but a happy side-effect is that many friends and relatives always remember our anniversary.   One friend, who worked in an underground cell during her infamous “State of Emergency,” felt it was an auspicious time to get married. Indira confiscated all civil liberties and ruled by decree. Her most egregious act was to order mass sterilizations of young men to control over-population.  Her death was no loss for many people. Sometimes, though, I wondered about what the Universe was trying to tell me.

The Indira Gandhi museum is modestly decorated.

The Indira Gandhi museum is modestly decorated.

It doesn’t help either that the day was Halloween in the U.S. when only a witch and a warlock are supposed to get married – or so the saying goes? True, I consider myself a healer, but I like to think that any energy work that I dabble in is benevolent. And my engineer husband certainly doesn’t believe in practicing magic, black or white. This April, on a trip to see the Taj Mahal and a tiger park with my family, we decided to go to visit the Indira Gandhi museum in New Delhi. In a weird way, for me, it was like a pilgrimage back in time to a momentous day in my life.

Indira was a skier, fluent in French, attending school in Switzerland and college at Oxford.  The aristocratic background of her family somehow seemed at odds with that of the traditional rural majority she represented.  I wondered if she could have only chosen another career pathway, her destiny might have been different. Her house was frozen in time, but marriage is all about change – people, situations, places. The key, perhaps, is to keep cycling in tandem – whether the road is smooth or the trail is full of gravel. And of course, you have to swerve around the potholes.

One facet of Indira I had never known about was that she was one of the original environmentalists of India. She used her power to ban recreational hunting (hunting safaris by Indian royalty and the British rulers had decimated the tiger population). She stopped fur exports, passed the Wildlife Protection Act and the Forest Conservation Act. If it wasn’t for her, the Ranthambore National Park we visited wouldn’t have existed and we wouldn’t have sighted a glorious tiger after 2 days and 8 hours of grueling Jeep rides in the heat.

Good luck charm?

Good luck charm?

For me, my kids say that my main accomplishment has been to be a Tiger Mom. But they seem to have survived to tell the tale. I stood in front of the glass walkway that commemorated her last walk and said a prayer for her soul. I asked her to bless me with all the good qualities she had – her strength and determination and the visionary creativity she brought to her life and work.

I forgave her for her bad ones. And I bought a key chain with her picture on it. I hope it brings me luck for the next 30 years.

A mentor/angel investor for tech startups, writer, Karuna Reiki practitioner, volunteer for CeaseFire Oregon, scientist and spiritual explorer, Lakshmi Jagannathan enjoys connecting different worlds — so much so that nobody has been able to pin her to any tribe yet. She loves traveling with her husband Raghu and her two sons and is currently hugging Eucalyptus trees in California and sending out positive intentions for rain — yes, Oregon rain.

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Editor’s note: I met Lakshmi in the fall of 2007, when she was one of a dozen people selected for The Oregonian’s Community Writer program. She is one of the most intelligent and well-traveled persons I know, with so many interests I can hardly keep up. For starters, there’s “Downton Abbey” and The Eagles.

Tomorrow: “Genesis of the magic” by Natasa KG

Ferguson through the eyes of an African immigrant

Police in riot gear approach a man with his hands raised in Ferguson, Missouri.

Police in riot gear approach a man with his hands raised in Ferguson, Missouri.

By Parfait Bassalé

Last weekend I attended a multicultural event in the Portland area hosted by an amazing organization “Colored Pencils.” During the event, the presenter introduced to an audience of immigrants, representatives from the local police and fire department. In his introductory remarks, he said to the crowd: “These people work for you. They would rather be shot than see you hurt.” In light of the historical relationship between the police and minority groups in this country and the recent events in Ferguson, I could not refrain from asking myself: “Really? Are they really here for us?”

When I moved to the United States some 14 years ago, I first could not relate to the Black American experience. Century old narratives of discrimination and segregation were not the family stories I heard at the dinner table when growing up in Africa. For me at that time, racial profiling or prejudices were mere theoretical and historical notions which were no longer current. Up to that point, I had been privileged to never have needed to discuss race because my humanity was never denied me based on my color.

Consequently, I had naively assumed my experience to be true for everyone and became intolerant with Black American culture. I condemned it for being too angry, too “stuck in the past.” What I did not realize was that like many white people in America who never had to discuss their whiteness, I was suffering from the complex of racial privilege. A complex which results from a lack of empathy for those who have suffered historical trauma related to their race and still face triggers of this trauma on a daily basis.

Parfait Bassale

Parfait Bassalé

Fast forward 14 years, I am now a father of an African American son who serves as a bridge into the Black American experience. I can now put a face, a name, a smile, a scent to the alarming statistics. My son, compared to my white colleague’s kids, is six times as likely to be put in jail for a minor crime. He is ten times as likely to be sentenced for a drug crime if as a silly and rebellious teenager he gets caught experimenting with drugs.

I must consider teaching him to be cautious about wearing hoodies for fear of being suspected to be a thief. I must ensure that he is proficient at white culture because otherwise, his African American behavior from a white point of reference might be interpreted as confrontational and violent. He could be the next Trayvon Martin, the next Michael Brown or one of the thousand anonymous victims who suffer fatal brutality due to the fears associated with the color of their skin. These facts cause hurt, pain and anger as I realize that for the sake of my son’s safety, I must pierce his bubble of innocence much earlier than needed because of his brown color. How disheartening!

As more facts about the incident in Ferguson surface, passions will rise, opinions will form and positions will polarize. My question to everyone is the following: How can my neighbor not fear me when he or she does not know nor understand my story, my hurt, my triggers and my fears? How can the police who are supposed to look after me, protect me when they are programmed to be suspicious of me, my language, my walk and my expressions?

What I am arguing for is a need for White America (anyone with the complex of racial privilege) to cross over into the Black American experience.  Maybe then, she would think twice before holding tight to her purse because a black man stepped into an elevator. Maybe then, she would verbally discipline a derailed teenager rather than criminalize him. Maybe then, she would not use lethal force as a last resort when dealing with an unarmed teenager.

This piece originally appeared on the author’s Colombe Project blog.

Photograph: Jeff Roberson, The Associated Press

Benin-born artist, educator and author Parfait Bassalé specializes in the use of storytelling, music and reflective inquiry as methods for teaching empathy. When he is not performing his original music in cafes and pubs in Portland, you can catch him in classrooms facilitating empathy workshops using his invention: The Story and Song Centered Pedagogy.

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Editor’s note: I met Parfait in 2008 through my work at The Oregonian. At the time, he was pursuing a master’s in international conflict resolution at Portland State University. For a time, he and his wife lived on the same block as us in Northeast Portland. They later moved to another neighborhood but I was delighted to recently reconnect with Parfait, who is a gentle soul as well as a fine musician.

Tomorrow: “Tiger lady” by Lakshmi Jagannathan

Baby shower

JB.shadow

By Jennifer Brennock

Jane is having a baby shower. From her living room floor, I smile the correct smile and chat the correct chat. In my chest, something has grabbed and is squeezing.

With their easy sperm-meets-egg success, all-natural Joe and Jane won’t have to take a parenting class before they can bring him home. Joe and Jane won’t have to be visited weekly for six months before their status becomes officially recognized by the courthouse and they can change their child’s last name to match their own. Jane won’t be compelled to explain this fact to all receptionists brandishing clipboards of forms. Those receptionists won’t assume Jane is an unmarried mother; they won’t assume she didn’t want him in the first place. I sip my mimosa in Jane’s quaint, recently-remodeled Craftsman, thinking about the social worker who won’t come into this house and open Jane’s cabinets and inspect the cleanliness of her counters.

I can’t bring myself to buy a mini union suit glazed with dragonflies or an Easter-hued skull cap or the checked dress with bloomers so yellow I bit my lip when I saw them. I purchase utilities instead. An electronic ear thermometer. A palm-sized baster to suck out boogers. Nail clippers with a miniature magnifying glass. A green towel for mopping throw-up. I gift her tools for the work not jumpers for the joy. I wrap it all in the ducky paper I forced myself to buy because I’m going to be good sport if it kills me.

Jane is gorgeously full. Her pregnancy has filled all her voids. She sits on a golden pillow with no shred of humility. When it’s time for my gift, Jane politely surveys the utilities, uttering minimal niceties. The climate of the room changes. With nothing here to “aww” over, the women take the opportunity for refills and chit chat. My friend takes out a handful of safety pins. Happy duckies conceal their sticking points. She calls to the missing audience, now around the table smearing hummus and complimenting each other’s potluck.

“Hey, you guys! Look at these,” she calls laughing with yearbook nostalgia.

“Oh my gawd!” another woman calls. She is also in the family way. “Where on Earth did you find those? That’s so retro!”

I don’t understand my mistake.

“Yeah, right,” Jane says. “Nobody uses these anymore!”

Another friend looks at me. “I guess we could have had a shower for you,” she says.

Jennifer Brennock

Jennifer Brennock

My son is three. He knows all the words to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” He knows the meanings of “difficult” and “requirement.” He plays soccer. He’s worn underpants since I adopted him the year before.

I leave the party early, telling them I have work to do. When I get home, I hand the sitter cash and her own backpack. “Thanks. I’ll call you,” then gratefully, it’s just him and me.

I pick up my son for the Little Tiny Baby game I like to play, when I lay his enormous body in my arms and rock him like an infant singsonging, “Look at my little, tiny baby!” Most days, he knows his role for this game; he thrashes and laughs on cue trying to escape my embrace with his toddler arms and legs windmilling. He asserts with a lisp that I’m wrong; he is a big boy. Then I let him win and put him down. He’ll run back to me and beg to be tickled.

But the day of Jane’s baby shower, he lies still in my cradle. He sucks his fingers and looks at me with eyes as deep as caves searching for his mother. This time, I set him on the carpet before either of us is ready. I know I’m trying to make him into something he is not. I scared myself.

“Let’s play dance party instead,” I say.

He runs for the stereo, cues up the song that is ours alone. I turn it up loud, scaring the cats and making the wine glasses restless on the shelf. I flip the switch on the blue strobe light, and it makes every moment even more temporary than it was before. It makes the here and now a mere slice of time, and this slice is just the one that came before the next, and all these fractured moments are as elusive as a handful of sand.

JB.hands

My son is showing me his ballet. He’s stomping his feet like a jackhammer while the strobe takes snapshots of him, and I know these flashes can’t be scrapbooked. I won’t recall it like Jane will reminisce about her baby shower. As I watch him throw himself to the floor in a three year-old’s musical ecstasy, I think of the clerk at the health food store who can ten-key while breastfeeding. I think of those strange ultrasound images that make every almost-baby look like it’s malformed. I think of the hand-in-hand circle that is likely forming right now in Jane’s living room, and the blessing words my friends are saying to her, wishing her strength for her day to come. I feel like the last human on Earth.

Adoption tested me, and I’m not sure I passed. Yet in this moment, I have a dance partner. He’s laughing maniacally, just like the first time I saw his face, and now he wants me to take his hands and sashay across the floor with him. Right now, I know only one thing: Mommy is nothing more than a flash of light.

Jennifer Brennock writes and teaches in the San Juan Islands. “Baby Shower” is an excerpt from her memoir in progress, Real, about infertility, adoption, motherhood and The Velveteen Rabbit.

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Editor’s note: Five years ago this August, I walked into the public library on Orcas Island and nervously joined several locals who’d signed up for a Writers’ Roundtable. Two hours later, I emerged excited about my first foray into fiction writing and impressed with the professionalism of the flame-haired discussion leader. Jennifer was then completing her MFA in Creative Writing.  Friendship ensued.

Tomorrow: “Ferguson through the eyes of an African immigrant” by Parfait Bassale.

Comfort zone

 

Spectacular scenery on a family hike on Lazy Mountain. From left: Starr, Ashton, Justice, Jada and Austin Flavin.

Spectacular scenery on a family hike on Lazy Mountain. From left: Starr, Ashton, Jada, Justice and Austin Flavin.

By Starr Flavin

Oh boy, have I ever been continuously taken out of my comfort zone! Where I am today is where people who knew me growing up may have expected, but for myself, I continuously put on a face of confidence and of belonging.

First of all, I married a man who decided soon after dating that he was going to join the United States Navy (thank you for your service)! I was eager to leave Alaska at this point in my life. Evidently, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Growing up in a tiny village, then moving to California was not easy! I was not liking it the first couple of years there. I didn’t know how to drive on the highway with the thousands of other people! There were just people, people and more people. Eventually I got used to it, found a church and joined the family support group in my husband’s battalion. I also kept busy by taking college courses. The diversity of California soon grew on me. I eventually felt like I belonged, but it was time to move back home to Alaska.

Since 2008 my family and I have lived outside the small town of Palmer, about 40 miles north of metropolitan Anchorage. Population: about 6,000. Palmer is located in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. Population: about 90,000. We love the small town feeling of quiet, calm and friendliness. We also love that it is on the road system so that we can leave if we want to. We even found a quaint little charter school for our girls to attend.

Ashton picking blueberries at Hatchers Pass near, Palmer.

Ashton picking blueberries at Hatchers Pass near Palmer.

There are many attributes about this area of south central Alaska. There are glaciers, rivers and lakes to fish in, mountains to hike and pick berries on, and best of all, spectacular views that never get old. In the winter, skiing keeps us outdoors amidst the dark and cold. Otherwise, we could easily stay warm in the house and in my zone where I am most comfortable. Living in Palmer keeps us connected to like-minded (for the most part) people who have pretty much the same purpose and goals that we have for our children, where education is critical and knowledge is essential for success anywhere you live.

However, this is not what I would define as my comfort zone. I was finally given the opportunity to go back and visit my childhood home (thanks, Mom)! It’s a village called Koliganek located in southwest Alaska. Population: 200. I started kindergarten there and graduated high school there. I was and of course still am related to more than half the village. This is what I knew. Surrounded by elders who spoke the native yu’pik language. I was the “white kid” because I had blonde hair and light skin. That didn’t bother me one bit, because I was still one of them.

Starr Flavin, flanked by her grandparents.

Starr Flavin, flanked by her grandparents.

We traveled in the winter on the river or through the tundra via snow machines to neighboring villages for carnivals and sports. The Nushagak River is my back yard, and that’s where I spent many days ice fishing in the winter, swimming in the summer or on a boat going somewhere to pick berries and/or camp. Now this is comfort!

Now, back to putting on the face of confidence. As I begin the school year as a full-time college student determined to receive a degree in dental hygiene, there is so much to learn. Wanting to know more pushes me past my limit and diving into the world full throttle, with Jesus on my side. Yeah to stepping out of your comfort zone!!

The village of Koliganek is near Dillingham (middle of image), which is 330 miles from Anchorage.

The village of Koliganek is near Dillingham (middle of image), which is 330 miles from Anchorage.

Map: infoplease.com

Starr Flavin lives in Palmer, Alaska, with her husband, three children and their dog (chickens too!). Once finished with school, she plans on her family doing a lot of traveling.

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Editor’s note: Starr is married to my nephew Austin, the only son of my younger sister Cathy. They are a wonderful young couple and I wish they lived a lot closer. But having seen the majesty of Alaska, I know what keeps them up there.

 Tomorrow: “Baby shower” by Jennifer Brennock