VOA 5.0 meetup

Lynn St. Georges and Keith Cantrell came over from the Oregon Coast for the annual meetup of Voices of August writers. That Golden Lab over Keith's shoulder hints at the name of the brewpub where we met.

Lynn St. Georges and Keith Cantrell came over from the Oregon Coast for the annual meetup of Voices of August writers. That Golden Lab over Keith’s shoulder hints at the name of the brewpub.

No red carpet. No paparazzi. Not even an after-party.

But who needs glitz and glamour when you’re part of something more substantive — the annual meetup of the men and women who contribute to my Voices of August guest blog project.

Each and every day in August, I publish an essay crafted by one of an assortment of friends, relatives and fellow journalists. As invigorating as the project is, with thought-provoking pieces framed by a variety of generational and geographical perspectives, the face-to-face gathering that comes afterwards is the real payoff.

About 20 of us, including spouses and significant others, came together last weekend at a Portland brewpub, the same one where we first met five years ago. The Lucky Lab on Southeast Hawthorne may not have much in the way of atmosphere, but it certainly has characters — as in the long-haired old-timer at the end of the bar and his drinking buddy, another grizzled guy wearing a wolf’s head (or something like that) on his noggin.


(Click on photos to view captions.)

Voices of August began as a simple idea, an experiment, really. Could I entice 30 people scattered across the country to carve out some time in their typically busy lives to write an original essay for public consumption? And having done that, could I encourage them to engage in some of the online conversation that ensued from VOA contributors and general readers?

Turns out the answers were “yes” and “yes.”

Some folks have been a part of VOA since the beginning. For their support in creating and sustaining critical mass, I thank them. Others have contributed a piece or two and then yielded their spots to others, so that I could bring in fresh faces. For their cooperation, I also thank them.

What we have after five years is not mine — not at all. I may be the online emcee, but the content is created by everyone and the community that has emerged from this effort is one that belongs to everyone. VOA feels like a living, breathing organism. It warms my heart to see it in action as people who once only knew of each other from their guest blogs now mingle as real-time friends, sipping drinks, chatting, laughing and sharing stories.

Mary Hull Caballero, Ray Caballero and Angela K. Rider get acquainted as first-time VOA attendees.

Mary Hull Caballero, Ray Caballero and Angela K. Rider get acquainted as first-time VOA attendees.

There are few blogs, I would venture to say, that bring together writers from places as varied as Oregon, Washington, California, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington, D.C., let alone France and Slovenia. When you consider that one writer emailed her piece from the Czech Republic and four others touched on international experiences or issues in Kenya, Tanzania, Canada and Mexico, well, that’s pretty cool.

Talk about making the world a smaller place.

But VOA is more than that. During the course of a month, it’s like unwrapping a new gift every day.

One day you’re transported back to a time, long before the advent of social media, when families ate together at the dinner table and shared their days. Another day you’re educated to the dangers of a shaved head in the wrong bar (quick, think of bachelorette parties and the kissing or rubbing of said head.)

On yet another day you understand the gift one woman received when she rode the bus on a frigid winter morning with a trio of men, in stained clothing and of meager means, who offered suggestions of where to get a free cup of coffee and a sandwich.

No matter the topic, no matter the writer, VOA gives you the opportunity to see a slice of the world through the eyes of someone who may be quite unlike you but whose perspective enriches your own worldview. A special thanks to those who have shared what it is like to cope with the loss of a spouse or a parent, to raise children as a single mom or single dad, to endure life’s various traumas and indignities. And a nod of appreciation, as well, to those who invite us to laugh with you or at ourselves.


As always, the evening included the presentation of gift cards to bookstores and coffee shops to those whose essays were judged as favorites by the VOA community. The nice thing about the balloting is that the criteria are whatever each voter decides. He or she alone chooses how much weight to give to the choice of topic, the quality of writing, the resonance of the piece, etc.

In my humble opinion, this year’s guest blog posts were the strongest ever. So I was pleased to see so many writers recognized for their work. In alphabetical order, these were the Best of VOA 5.0.

Tim Akimoff:  “To unfinished stories”

Parfait Bassale:  “Sons of God”

Ray Caballero (a first-time contributor):  “Be careful what you wish for”

Angie Chuang:  “What a lonely mountain gorilla taught me”

Patricia Conover:   “The pilgrim soul in you”

Elizabeth Hovde:   “The need to belong”

John Knapp:   “Cracking me open”

Lillian Mongeau:   “Dear Boomers”

Lynn St. Georges:   “Song in darkness”

Lakshmi Jagannathan (at right) gestures during conversation with Keith Cantrell. To Lakshmi's right: Angela, Lori and Mary.

Lakshmi Jagannathan (at right) gestures during conversation with Keith Cantrell. To Lakshmi’s right: Angela, Lori, Mary and Ray.

Final note: It wouldn’t feel right to bring down the curtain on this year’s body of work without recognizing the contribution made on the final day by 9-year-old Gabrielle Raia-Elise Akimoff. What a charming piece she wrote about adapting to her family’s many moves across the United States — “Hiking across America.”

Happily, the Akimoffs have moved from Chicago back to Oregon, now that her dad, Tim, has landed a job with a state agency in Salem.


In case you missed (or want to reread) any posts, you can pay a visit to the VOA 5.0 index page. Never too late to leave a comment, either.

Until next year…

Voices of August 2015: Your favorites?

What can I say?

Year Five of my guest blog project stirred in me a feeling that each year just gets better.

Voices of August has grown from a modest experiment intended to draw new voices to my Rough and Rede blog to something of an online literary and social event anticipated by many and loved by most. (If there are any naysayers, hold your tongues.)

vote-logoBut, seriously. We’ve just brought down the curtain on another month of stellar writing by new and old friends, family members, neighbors and former co-workers.

What I love — and what i suspect many of you do too — is that every day brings a surprise. You never know what topic a given person will choose to write about and exactly what words and images he or she will share to convey an idea, a feeling or an observation.

What I also love is that this has never been and never will be a forum for professional writers only. I love, love, love that so many people from so many different backgrounds accept my invitation to craft a piece. More important than the mechanics of writing, I believe, is the genuine desire to communicate — to be heard, to be understood.

That this annual exercise has become such a forum warms my heart. (Sorry, I’m getting verklempt.)

In this age of Twitter, when folks labor to compose a coherent thought in 140 characters or less, Voices of August allows people the room they need to say what they want and how they want to say it. (Yes, we had our first F-bombs this year and a vivid description of an overflowing toilet — but everything was in context and those words helped conveyed the writers’ shame, pain and fury in a way we won’t forget.)

Now we come to the fun part. Or maybe it’s the hard, hard part. Voting for your favorites.

The rules:

As with previous years, anyone who has written a guest blog (this year or previously) or who is simply a regular reader of VOA can vote for three favorite pieces.YOU decide if you’ve read enough of this month’s contributions to cast a ballot.

There are no criteria other than your own. What grabbed your attention? What resonated with you? What made you laugh or cry? What challenged your assumptions? What made you see things differently?

Please take some time to review the month’s posts here at the VOA 5.0 index page and then send the titles of your three favorites to me at ghfunq@msn.com. Your deadline: Sept 15, two weeks from the date of this post.

I will tabulate the responses to see if we have three clear favorites among us. If we don’t, I will ask for a second round of voting to narrow the field.

As you revisit this year’s contributions, please take the opportunity to leave a comment on one or more posts. Be generous with your feedback, both on Facebook and especially on the posts themselves. Writers love feedback.

Let the voting begin!

Image: Skidmore College

VOA 5.0 index page

Gratuitous shot of the second-level deck on the ferry sailing back and forth between Anacortes and Orcas Island.

Gratuitous shot of the second-level deck on the ferry sailing between Anacortes and Orcas Island.

Here’s a guide to who what wrote for Voices of August, 5.0:

Aug. 1 — From Manhattan to Mr. Mom — David Quisenberry

Aug. 2 — What we’ve lost — Gil Rubio

Aug. 3 — Public servant at your service — Alana Cox

Aug. 4 — Dateline: Dallas — Michael Granberry

Aug. 5 — Dear Boomers — Lillian Mongeau

Aug. 6 — Transitions — Al Rodriguez

Aug. 7 — The need to belong — Elizabeth Hovde

Aug. 8 — To unfinished stories — Tim Akimoff

Aug. 9 — The Google Chronicles: Planning a wedding, reflecting on matrimony — Kyndall Mason & Simone Rede

Aug. 10 — Living the ‘Portlandia’ life — Eric Wilcox

Aug. 11 — The safety blanket of a best friend — Jackie Weatherspoon

Aug. 12 — In defense of Salem, Oregon — Jason Cox

Aug. 13 — Cartwheels and headaches — Nike Bentley

Aug. 14 — Cracking me open — John Knapp

Aug. 15 —  Song in darkness –Lynn St. Georges

Aug. 16 — Gift of the three wise men — Andrea Cano

Aug. 17 — Too much white — Jacob Quinn Sanders

Aug. 18 — What a lonely mountain gorilla taught me — Angie Chuang

Aug. 19 — Home is where my suitcase is — Lakshmi Jagannathan

Aug. 20 — Time to write — Rachel Lippolis

Aug. 21 —  Sons of God — Parfait Bassale

Aug. 22 — Respect the workplace — Monique Gonzales

Aug. 23 —  I got a call from you today — Taylor Smith

Aug. 24 —  Be careful what you wish for — Ray Caballero

Aug. 25 —  Mum’s dilemma — Natasa Kocevar Grabic

Aug. 26 — Telling our truth by sharing our stories — Angela K. Rider

Aug. 27 — Have attitude, will travel — Leroy Metcalf

Aug. 28 — The pilgrim soul in you — Patricia Conover

Aug. 29 — Golden plunger — Jennifer Brennock

Aug. 30 — What is — Tammy Ellingson

Aug. 31 — When I’m sixty-four — George Rede

Aug. 31 — Hiking around America — Gabrielle Raia-Elise Akimoff

Hiking across America

The author with her father in downtown Portland.

The author with her father in downtown Portland.

By Gabrielle Raia-Elise Akimoff

I was born in Salem, Oregon in 2006. I don’t remember much about that time, because I was 18 months old when we moved to Montana because of my dad’s work. He’s a journalist.

Gabrielle Raia-Elise Akimoff in Oregon in 2006.

Gabrielle Raia-Elise Akimoff in Oregon in 2006.

In Montana, I loved to go hiking. My dad said that when I was two, I hiked three miles. In Montana, we had a lot of hiking adventures. My parents said I saw my first moose and picked my first huckleberries on some of those hikes.

Clockwise from top left: Me on my dad’s back, my first moose, my first three-mile hike on my own two feet and picking huckleberries with my brother.

Clockwise from top left: Me on my dad’s back, my first moose, my first three-mile hike on my own two feet and picking huckleberries with my brother.

We left Montana when I was four and moved to Alaska. Again, because of my dad’s work. It was so cold in Alaska. We moved there in November, so it was already cold when we arrived. In Alaska, we went hiking at Flat Top, a mountain in the Chugach Range near Anchorage. We went bird watching a lot, and I saw a heron, bald eagles and even a ptarmigan.

Clockwise from top left: Hiking Flat Top, exploring Matanuska Glacier, a Willow Ptarmigan in spring and our Alaska home.

Clockwise from top left: Hiking Flat Top, exploring Matanuska Glacier, a Willow Ptarmigan in spring and our Alaska home.

We also went to a special place called Halibut Cove. It’s a boat-in community, where you go to the post office, the coffee shop or the store in your boat. That was my first-ever boat ride. So, Alaska was fun, and I thought it was our last move, but nooooo!

Clockwise from top left: My first boat ride, coffee at the Halibut Cove coffee shop, the cabin and dinner on the deck.

Clockwise from top left: My first boat ride, coffee at the Halibut Cove coffee shop, the cabin and dinner on the deck.

My dad moved us to Chicago when I was six, and we lived in the suburbs on the south side. You may already know that Chicago is really flat, so we didn’t do much hiking. We did hike at a place called Starved Rock, where water has carved really neat waterfalls in the limestone. In Chicago, we shopped in the city and ate at fun restaurants. We also lived next to the Forest Park Preserve. They are huge parks set aside for people in the city to use to get away from all the concrete.

Clockwise from top left: Starved Rock hike, riding in the Forest Park Preserve, a day in downtown Chicago and exploring the northwoods of Wisconsin.

Clockwise from top left: Starved Rock hike, riding in the Forest Park Preserve, a day in downtown Chicago and exploring the northwoods of Wisconsin.

This summer, my dad brought us back to Oregon to be with family for a while. And we hiked at places I don’t remember, because I was only 18-months-old when we left.

I don’t know where we’ll go next, but I’m sure we’ll keep hiking wherever we go.

It’s kind of fun being back where we started.

Photographs: Tim Akimoff

Gabrielle Raia-Elise Akimoff has been to 26 states and lived in four of them, but she won’t be satisfied until she catches up with her oldest brother, who has been to 15 countries. She wants to be a dolphin trainer/fashion designer when she grows up, as well as a published author. Her second-grade teacher said that her geographical awareness is off the charts, probably because her journalist dad keeps moving her around the country. She really likes hiking in the woods. 


Editor’s note: Last month, VOA contributor Tim Akimoff was passing through Portland when I met him and his daughter for lunch near my office. It was great to see Tim, a former University of Oregon student I recruited to The Oregonian. And it was a delight to meet his daughter Gabrielle, a courteous young lady with a love of books.  My instinct told me this 9-year-old girl just might be interested in contributing to VOA.

More reading: “When I’m sixty four” by George Rede

When I’m sixty four

social security

By George Rede

Wasn’t that long ago that a friend was coming up on another birthday and I was asked to dig out my old CD with The Beatles’ familiar song.

When I get older, losing my hair
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
If I’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?

Personally, I’ve still got my hair and it’s been a long time since I was out till quarter to three, but now it’s me who’s approaching 64. Yikes.

I will turn 63 in December, so I’ve got another 16 months to go before the Lennon-McCartney classic applies.

But every day, it seems, there’s something tangible to remind me that I’m not getting any younger.

  • Saturday’s mail brought a postcard inviting to me attend a free presentation on how to maximize Social Security.
  • Friday night, I watched a movie with Lori (“While We’re Young”) about a married couple in their mid-40s who befriend a couple of 20-something hipsters. Energized by their newfound friends’ carefree approach to life and work, they find themselves confronting who they used to be and what they hoped to do.
  • Soon, we’ll head to Washington, D.C., to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary with a bike tour of the national monuments — a trip organized by Road Scholar, the education-travel nonprofit formerly known as Elderhostel.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not freaking out about my age, either now or in the future. After all, I’ve been through enough milestone birthdays to feel the weirdness of each one at 40, 50 and 60, and then move on. I don’t feel 62 — not by a long shot — and I’d like to think I keep up with pop culture and technology as well as, if not better, than most of my peers, while maintaining a regular workout routine.

I even got a compliment recently from our daughter, who told me after a recent session at the gym that i looked “skinny.” I wouldn’t go that far, but it was nice to hear nonetheless.

Even before the latest trio of reminders, the topic of aging has been front and center.

I wrote recently about Susie Reimer, the 63-year-owner of the Humdinger, and her uncertain prospects for a comfortable retirement even after 35 years of running a burger stand. Hers is a story shared by millions of boomers who’ve taken a hit because of layoffs, stock market losses, stagnant wages and a shift from pensions to 401(k) accounts as the primary driver of retirement savings.

A few days later, The New York Times ran a story about one business owner who was offering more flexible work arrangements to her mostly older workforce — not just to take advantage of their experience but also to accommodate employees who need to work past their normal retirement age.

“From 1985 to 2014,” the story noted, “the rate of participation in the labor force for people 65 to 69 increased to almost 32 percent from about 18 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

Another piece, with the foreboding headline “8 reasons you won’t retire at 65,” declared the dream of retiring at that age all but dead for those who haven’t saved enough.

None of that comes as a surprise. But here’s what did:

I went to see Jackson Browne in concert this month and it was a terrific show. He’s vital as ever, still performing at 66, but what a shock during the intermission to see his fans using canes and walkers to make their way to the restrooms. These are my peers?

A few days later in the newsroom, I was writing a short update on a 72-year-old man with dementia who’d been reported missing in the Washington County suburbs. He’d been found safe at a park two cities away, but no one knew how he’d gotten there. I began to write a headline and turned to a fellow editor.

“Would you call a 72-year-old man ‘elderly’?” I asked.

“Well,” she said, “my mother is near that age and I know she wouldn’t appreciate it if you did.”

In that moment, I realized, wait, I’m only ten years younger than that guy. And I thought of another friend who was out on a backpacking trip in the mountains at age 76.

Seventy-two is elderly? Who am I kidding?


I’m not fretting about the slow march of time. I gave up racquetball and basketball long ago, knowing those sports were behind me, but I still love running and enjoy swimming, even if my pace is slower than before.

I don’t do Sudoku or crossword puzzles, but I certainly do my share of reading.

And though I retain a fondness for cheeseburgers and ice cream, my tendencies are greatly moderated by Lori’s influences in the kitchen, steering — and sometimes directing — me to healthier alternatives with fruits, veggies, seafood and white meat,

I need only look across the table at my personal trainer wife to be reminded of the three cornerstones to healthy living: nutrition, exercise and attitude.

As long as my body works and my mind stays sharp, I’m sure I’ll get by just fine in our youth-oriented culture. What’s that saying? “You’re only as old (or young) as you feel?”

Might as well let Paul have the last word:

More reading: “Hiking around America” by Gabrielle Raia-Elise Akimoff

What is

The author, middle row, and other family members make a last minute trip to Salem for a family weekend to give extra love to grandma and grandpa.

The author, middle row, and other family members make a last-minute trip to Salem for a family weekend to give extra love to grandma and grandpa.

By Tammy Ellingson

My son will be a freshman in high school in a couple of weeks. Technically, I guess he’s already a freshman. When the hell did that happen?

My mother is ill. Well, she’s been ill and declining for seven years, but hospice is involved now. Hell is happening.

My son needs me less. My parents need us all more. As they say, it is what it is, right?

My son and parents have not had the time together that I expected they would. I had abundant time with my grandparents. It was the ideal grandchild experience up until my grandfather started having heart problems at a relatively young age. I remember the late night phone calls, the trips to the ER, the extended hospital visits, the surgeries.

I remember him lying on the couch to recover and me sitting silently – holding my breath so I wouldn’t disturb him. I remember slapping my baby sister when she was truly a baby, because I didn’t want her crying to surprise or wake up grandpa and set off a heart attack. I remember getting called to the office all throughout high school and being told my grandfather had had another heart attack was in the hospital – which is where I would be headed after school.

All of this seemed to be the norm, and my grandfather’s health, or lack of it, ruled my growing up years. I didn’t think it affected me all that much until my mother had a stroke. In that moment, all the fears, stress and anxiety came rushing back and punched me in the heart – where my son is at the center. Was he going to suffer the same anxiousness, insecurity, fear, loss, and panic in his childhood that I did?

And this is where I come undone – damn it. I wanted him to have the good grandparent memories, not the dying grandparent memories.

Isaac brings an upbeat presence to Grandma's birthday barbecue celebration.

Isaac brings an upbeat presence to Grandma’s birthday barbecue celebration.

When we visit my parents, my son just loves them. He is patient and compassionate when sitting with his grandma.  She’s been ill and declining since her stroke which happened when he was in second grade, so for most of his childhood she’s been in a wheelchair and that’s what he’ll remember. Since the age of seven, he has spent many days and nights in emergency rooms, ICUs, rehabilitation and nursing homes – just like I did.

Grandma speaks very quietly and not very clearly, so mostly they hold hands or hug, and he tells her he loves her in the same compassionate and genuine way he hugs me and tells me the same. She was a captive audience when he would tell her all about his YuGiOh cards – thank God someone would listen, right?

He used to have foam sword fights with her in her wheelchair. Now there is less action, and a different kind of interaction.

He is happy to be with both of his grandparents, even if it means that grandpa interrupts a discussion with an “almost-kind-of could-be related to the topic at hand memory,” or that grandma nods off every few minutes. He just sits near them, and their dog, watching whatever sport or old western is on at the moment.  He loves them, laughs with them, and does not appear to feel cheated by what he isn’t getting from them.

I, on the other hand, do feel cheated – for him. My parents have never been in a position to be his surrogate care-givers as my grandparents were for me; I wanted him to have some of that. My son does not regret what he hasn’t experienced. His expectations are based on his experience, not mine, and his experience is one of accepting what they can offer – love in the moment.

Mother and son, Tammy and Isaac.

Mother and son, Tammy and Isaac.

I’m the one with the unmet expectations. I’m the one reliving my anxieties and fears with every health crisis my mother has had. I am the one mourning what I wanted from them as grandparents to my child.

I’m pissed off that he didn’t get to spend time with them on his own. That he didn’t get to be read to, go on outings, do crafts, play games, cook and bake, go out to lunch, or have sleepovers.

The cheat I feel is really for me. I didn’t get what I wanted. I am the one who needs to let go, not for my parents’ or son’s sake, but for mine. Then I can stop whining about what isn’t happening, and just accept and enjoy what is, while it is – like real love.

Tammy Ellingson is a freelance writer in training; a gumby-like teacher, teaching whatever is needed with humor and enthusiasm – mostly humor; an almost out of the closet comedian; wife to the world’s most patient man, and mother to the greatest soul on earth — the best gift of my life! 

Editor’s note: One of the best takeaways from my time running the editorial section of the Hillsboro Argus is my friendship with Tammy Ellingson. She was one of a handful of Community Writers who contributed guest columns on a regular basis, a program based on the one I ran earlier for The Oregonian. She never failed to impress me with her choice of topic, her direct and honest writing, and her warm sense of humor — no doubt deployed on a regular basis as a substitute teacher.

Tomorrow: “When I’m sixty-four” by George Rede (and a bonus guest blog, “Hiking around America” by Gabrielle Raia-Elise Akimoff).

Golden plunger

By Jennifer Brennock

(Reader advisory: Graphic imagery.)

“Well, how big is your crap?” she wants to know. “Is it overly large crap?”

In my landlord’s German accent, the word has no comedy. I shift the phone to my other ear and fumble to answer her while reaching for rags under the kitchen sink. Yes, his crap is extremely big. Shockingly gargantuan in scale. Is this what I reply? The sight makes you wonder about the natural capacities of a sphincter to widen. He’s seven now. Already a prodigy shitter.


Jennifer Brennock

When he clogs her low-to-the-floor European commode this time, there are bits of stool and toilet paper on the tile floor, on the hardwood, and running down the stairs in a slick. Our overflow is sliming through the upstairs floorboards into the crawlspace, making its way through the Halloween costumes and my grandmother’s Christmas ornaments. The unfinished garden plans, the toolbox I bought at a yard sale. Over my new saw and hammer, through toddler clothes I couldn’t bear to throw away. Jumpers with white spouting whales. His favorite Curious George T-shirt. Over the cardboard boxes containing papers from the divorce and my student loans in default. I try to save my photos. I can’t.

My son stands immobilized with his back against the wall as I run back and forth. He knows his shit is too big. I cannot stop to help him feel differently right now.

Just before, I was standing in the kitchen counting slices of bread and calculating if the loaf would last until payday.

Is my crap overly large? Tell me: who has the correct dimensions? My librarian? The guy at the DMV who took my picture? The nice lady making priest lunches at the rectory at 5 a.m.? What size is her waste? Is it flushable by a Swedish-made, low-water-use toilet?

After I slop up all the feces gravy, I throw the bucket of rags on the burn pile out back. I toss the mop on top whole.

She tells me she won’t get a plumber.

I do not scream. I do not break anything. I slip out the back and hide next to the woodshed where he can’t spy me from any window. I roll a joint and a cigarette, alternate drags from each hand. I wait for the heat of fury to leave my body. I see my home, the world-class vacation destination of Orcas Island, as if I am not here. It is a supple, serene corner of nowhere vibrating life in perfect temperature. I try to feel it, then realize I am trying. Before, I didn’t have to try.

I lie on the grass. I feel the moist and poke of the plant on my skin and through my clothes. I try to take it in despite the shitload inside.

This is the learning I need to do—how to shoulder it all without collapsing. With working all-nighters and bouncing grocery store checks and facing the clerks again the day after. Living by coffee and ibuprofen. Without reprieve or comrade. I need to pick up the heady scent of blackberries ripening in late summer even though I am alone and defy the belief that happiness is only real when shared.

But I don’t know how.

From the ground, I see only what is directly above. A million humble leaves shimmer gently and woo me like a San Francisco soul singer. The canopy of evergreen makes a low rush in the breeze. I want to ask the man who does not exist, “Do you hear the sound of a waterfall too?”

Big enough for the job

Power. Money. Magic.

The next day, I bring my kid to the hardware store. He follows me past Housewares where they keep the lady plungers in sea-green and mauve. I go to the back of the store. Plumbing section. I select a big black job, a tool that’s not fucking around. I hold it like a torch. I shake it in the air and make a war cry. He laughs and copies me.

At home, I spray paint the plunger gold. It is power. It is money. It’s the magic of Greek goddesses, and I fantasize it is worth the weight it now appears to be.

Yeah, landlady. I got a lotta crap. Oversized. It’s heavy. But today is another, and so far I still have my shit together.

This is an excerpt from Jennifer Brennock’s “Real,” a memoir in-progress about adoption, single motherhood, and “The Velveteen Rabbit.” Her nonfiction can be found in Pitkin Review, Line Zero, Minerva Rising, Shark Reef, Involutions, and Becoming: What Makes a Woman. “I busk street poems on my typewriter and make naughty, satirical zines about living on Orcas Island that hopefully my child will never find,” Jennifer says. “I create open forums for artists and believe art that pushes boundaries is the most useful for social change. I write in all genres and teach at the tiniest community college in the world. I sign the cards of all baby shower gifts like this: Congratulations. Parenting is hard. It is probably best to underachieve.”

Editor’s note: I met Jennifer during a visit to Orcas Island, when I sat in on a writer’s workshop that she was leading at the public library. We met later for coffee, discovered that we’d both grown up  in Northern California and, of course, bonded over the written word. She is passionate, strongly opinionated and endlessly resourceful.

Tomorrow: “What is” by Tammy Ellingson

The pilgrim soul in you

Walter Barlow enlisted in the Army during World War II. Though he became a highly decorated veteran, he spoke little of his wartime experiences.

Walter B. enlisted in the Army during World War II. Though he became a highly decorated veteran, he spoke little of his combat experiences.

By Patricia Conover

Forty-four summers have flown by. Forty-four winters, too.

Forty-four years since my father died in his sleep on a hot summer night.

He was fifty years old.

When I close my eyes, I struggle to see his face. Memory fails me. Luckily, I still see him in my dreams. He looks the same as he did the night before he slipped away.

In my dream, he looks at me and his blue eyes are like the sea fringed by a moonless night. His smile is wistful and he takes a long drag from his cigarette before he disappears.

My father comes to life, and memory, most fully in the summer.


My father, Walter, was a child of the South. A summer baby, he was born in Columbus, Georgia in 1920, on the Army base where his father was stationed after World War I.

The family left Georgia and moved to Illinois when Walter was in primary school. They were part of the mass exodus from the agrarian South after the stock market crash of 1929. Walter’s father, a veterinarian, needed to create a stable life for his family. Walter and his sister were raised on the south side of Chicago.

In 1941, Walter enlisted in the U.S. Army.

He landed on Omaha Beach during the invasion of Normandy. He took a bullet in France but he was patched up quickly and he returned to his unit. He ended up being severely wounded in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. After the shrapnel was removed, he again returned to the fray. He earned two Purple Hearts. When his tour was over he stayed on in Europe and volunteered for the USO.

He never spoke about his combat experiences. I learned about them later from my mother, who said that his war injuries contributed to his early death.

Walter Barlow: University of Chicago chemistry graduate and lover of poetry.

Walter B.: A chemist who loved to read fantasy and to sing and to recite poetry

When World War II ended he earned a Bachelor of Science and a Master’s Degree in Chemistry on the G.I. Bill at the University of Chicago before moving to New York to work for Kraft Foods.

I wonder what his life was like then. Handsome and charismatic, moody and literary, he had a heart of gold but he was a hard drinker and a pack-a-day man. He kept in touch with his old Army buddies and I imagine that they painted the town red. When I watched” Mad Men” I had a flash of recognition.

The stories of those years in Manhattan are stories that I will never know.

It’s hard to imagine two people with less in common than my mother and father, but they fell passionately in love when they were introduced at a country club in 1955. My mother was an Irish Catholic and my father was a Southern Baptist. Her father was a police detective and his father was a veterinarian. She was 25 years old to my father’s 35.

Despite serious misgivings from both sets of in-laws, Walter and Joan married. Their first child, a son, was born almost exactly a year later. I was the second child, and three more children followed in quick succession.

How well did I know my father?

Dad was a chemist who loved to read fantasy and to sing and to recite poetry.

His favorite books were “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien.

He sang with an exaggerated Southern twang. He sang train songs like “The Ballad of Casey Jones” and “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” He sang with gusto as he mixed batter for Sunday pancakes or worked on an addition to our house.

He was a great mimic who loved Shakespeare and he could perform the soliloquies of Hamlet and Macbeth with a broad British accent. He had seriously debated majoring in English Literature but his father discouraged him. Becoming a chemist would give him a profession.

But Walter never lost his love of poetry and he could recite William Butler Yeats from memory.

He recited Yeats’ “When You Are Old and Full of Sleep” in a theatrical fake Irish brogue:

“How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you…”

I remember waking up on school days and finding him in the kitchen, making coffee before his early morning commute to the office. He made coffee in a glass beaker with a paper filter by pouring boiling water over the grounds and waiting for it to brew. He drank his coffee black, without sugar, and he seldom ate breakfast.

He often seemed lost in thought. I was a curious kid and I asked him lots of questions. He answered, “Let’s talk about this when you are older.”

He wore a starched white shirt and a suit and tie and drove to his office in the city every day. He was what was called “a good provider.”

Despite a 10-year age difference and misgivings by both sets of parents, Joan and Walter married.

Despite a 10-year age difference and misgivings by both sets of parents, Joan and Walter got hitched..

During the school year I seldom saw my father.  We had dinner before he arrived home in the evening. Then, he and my mother sat down together and talked about the day. We did not interrupt them. Dinner usually consisted of steak and potatoes and a martini or two.

I remember our summers at the beach. It was the only time my father seemed to relax. He used to walk out into the sea. It was a strange sort of game that he played. I watched him walk into the water until it was over his head and he disappeared beneath the waves. My mother stood knee-deep in the water, keeping a close eye on her brood. Suddenly she would look up and search for him.

“Walter! You’re too far out. Come back!”

I looked for him. The sunlight was dazzling. The sea sparkled and shone and I couldn’t see anyone. I remember how my heart pounded with fear when I could not find him. I would look in one direction and see a dark-haired man and start to breathe a sigh of relief. And then I realized that it wasn’t him. And then I saw another man. And it wasn’t him. And then he would appear, his even stroke rhythmically slicing through the green-tinged water beyond the waves, his head moving from side to side, steadily moving parallel to the shore.

At night he and my maternal grandfather — the same man who had forbidden his daughter from marrying this Southern Baptist — sat on the front porch together. I could see the red glow of their cigarettes as I lay in my bed and listened to them talk about politics, the Vietnam War, Nixon, and the civil rights movement.

They rarely agreed about anything, but their conversations were calm and civilized. I fell asleep to the sound of their deep voices and the slap of the ocean waves.


My father entered this world in the summer and he left the world in the summer, too.

I remember riding my bike to the public library a few weeks after the funeral. I couldn’t remember the last stanza of the Yeats poem he used to recite so theatrically. I needed to see the words of the poem in print to hear his voice.

Forty-four years later, and I have never forgotten the lines:

“How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.”

Patricia Conover among the flowers in Monet's Garden, Giverny, France.

Patricia Conover among the flowers in Monet’s Garden, Giverny, France.

Patricia Conover is a writer, editor, and teacher. She is currently a project editor and writer at Going Global, a multi-platform site for expats that offers guidance on culture, careers, and education around the world. She teaches writing, journalism and new media at EFAP, l’école de communication (the School of Communication in Paris.) In a previous life she worked at Penguin Putnam and Random House in New York City. She and her architect husband Kirk Conover raised three fierce daughters and an Irish Water Spaniel in New York, Portland and Paris. Connect with her on Twitter: @ParisRhapsody.

Editor’s note: I met Patricia when I was a young editor working in the Clackamas County bureau of The Oregonian. Patricia was a young mom, living in West Linn and pitching me freelance stories. From modest features written for our suburban community editions, her work since then has been published in numerous publications, including The New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. She is a terrific writer.

Tomorrow: “Golden plunger” by Jennifer Brennock


Have attitude, will travel

A poll reveals that the French are considered the most obnoxious tourists among Europeans

A poll reveals that the French are considered the most obnoxious tourists among Europeans

By Leroy Metcalf

I used to watch TV shows and movies, and saw how Americans were portrayed when traveling abroad. It amused me in a way, because for some reason, I thought it was inaccurate. We’re portrayed as rude, obnoxious, disrespectful and arrogant. But over the years, I started paying attention and there’s definitely some truth to it.

As Americans, we love to travel. As Americans, we love to have fun when we travel. But, as Americans, we also have some attitude when we travel.

We’re known to have that, “I’m on vacation. I’ll do whatever I want. These people will never see me again. Who cares, I’m an American.” Ahhh… yes. I’m an American. That one line speaks volumes as to why we “behave” as we do.

We tend to think that no matter where we are, it needs to be known that rules simply don’t apply to us because we’re Americans. We tend to think that because we’re in (insert country here), they’re doing things all wrong because that’s not the way we do it in America! We say things like, “They’re driving on the wrong side of the street.” Or “the metric system is so backwards.” Or my all-time favorite, “I have no idea what they’re saying. They NEED to speak English!!” Really? There’s no wonder why we’re thought of by many as the worst travelers in the world.

I didn’t make these things up. There’s been tons of research done on this topic. It has to be noted though that not all research showed that we are “No. 1.”  For instance, the poll below shows Americans as being the worst behaved travelers in the world.

americans-worst-chartAn NBC poll from 2012, which polled Americans, had Americans at 20%, Chinese at 15%, followed by the French at 14%, Japanese at 12% and Russians at 11%.

I have to admit though, I don’t necessarily consider all of these things bad behavior, especially compared to things like:

Social (Mis)behavior
No hotel room? No problem! Seventeen percent of respondents admitted to hooking up in a public place while abroad, according to a Triposo survey.

Drunken Behavior
60 percent of respondents admitted to partaking in some sort of adventure that was fueled by alcohol. Unfortunately not all of these adventures had a happy ending, as 11 percent admitted that drinking led to hurting themselves or someone else.

Just Plain Bad Behavior
Some respondents admitted to illegal or questionable behavior abroad, including more than 20 percent who admitted to stealing while in a foreign country, even if it was just a hotel towel.

American fans gather outside a soccer stadium in Rustenburg, South Africa.

American fans gather outside a soccer stadium in Rustenburg, South Africa.

While traveling to Canada recently, I admittedly had that “American” moment. I like to always be prepared. No matter how large or small the task, I work hard in order to be prepared. I also don’t “normally” take things for granted, nor do I feel like I’m privileged just because I’m an American.

I’m mindful and respectful of others…regardless of where they are or what they look like. However, I was reminded by trying to pay something with my debit card in a country other than the U.S. won’t get you very far. What was I thinking? That’s just it, I wasn’t.

Leroy Metcalf

Leroy Metcalf

I took for granted that just because I can drive there, and regardless if I have to go through customs to get there, they should accept my debit card. That was definitely a face palm moment. Had I become what many label as the “ugly American”? It was an eye opener for me. A moment of reflection, if you will. One small incident. Times that by thousands of tourists, and it’s easy to see why we get labeled. I’m quick not to lump myself into that category.

Regardless if I have about 10 little bottles of shampoo in my bathroom. Just sayin’….

Photographs: Time magazine, Southern California Public Radio

Leroy Metcalf is a pharmacy compliance and product management coordinator at a Portland-based medical and health provider. (In other words, he’s in charge of Obamacare in Oregon.) “As productive as 2015 has been so far, it’s nothing like I expect 2016 to be,” Leroy says. “With everything else in life going on, I have committed myself to working on a project that will get the word out about Lupus and to help with Lupus research. Since losing my mother to Lupus as a kid, it’s been something that has always been near and dear to my heart. 2016 will be the year to get something positive out it, and I’m looking forward to it.”


Editor’s note: From a random encounter as both of us waited for a bus one night in downtown Portland has come a friendship with Leroy. He’s a native Detroiter and big fan of University of Michigan football. He’s joined in on a few poker games at my place and I joined his beer-fueled cornhole team for a season. On a serious note, as an Army veteran he was a great source of comfort and assurance when we worried about our youngest son during his Afghanistan deployment. Leroy also volunteers with grieving children at the Dougy Center.

Tomorrow: “The pilgrim soul in you” by Patricia Conover

Telling our truth by sharing our stories

“We don’t see things as they are – we see them as we are.”

“We don’t see things as they are – we see them as we are.”

By Angela K. Rider

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” – Anne Lamott

I’ve spent a lot of my life in search of the truth. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a house of liars.

As a highly intuitive yet logical kid, it was confusing to know the truth of something about my family yet witness the stories told were contrary to the truth. Granted, storytelling as a family member has a lot to do with perception and perspective but it seems my family was especially skilled at manipulating even the evidence-based facts. In other words, the story I’m telling is that they were really good at lying. I say this because hearing my family members talk about their or my own story is like they are outright lying or at least attempting some sort of gas-lighting of my experiences.

I’ve had enough therapy to discern what family dynamics are “normal” and what are not.  We’re somewhere in between the “every family has problems” to “good grief that is so f*cked up”. Understandably, some of these dysfunctional stories were created out of coping mechanisms. I get that; but there were also way too many outright acts of deceit, denial, and cover-up. And the collective lie we all were required to perpetuate was that everything was OK. It was very much, not OK.

Family stories can hold us hostage in arrested development and perpetual role-playing. They can continue to define us within our families and in our beliefs and behaviors in relationship with others. As a child, I played the self-preserving archetype role of Good Girl/Peacekeeper/Diplomat. As an adult I stopped interacting with my siblings and have limited engagement with my parents. I’m imagining their story would be that I’m selfish, a judgmental snob, and cold-hearted.

I don’t know and I don’t ask. What they think of me is not my business. My story is that I broke free from a situation and the stories that would have me continue to live the lie that everything is OK.

“We don’t see things as they are – we see them as we are.” – Attribution Unclear

My thoughts now are that life makes us all liars to some degree, especially as a coping and survival mechanism. Even in safe and healthy families, learning the finesse and kindness of a white lie and the discernment of when it’s safe to call out a lie can be effective training for negotiating the bigger distortions of truth in society and how we are socialized.

I don’t actually go around looking at the world through liar-pants-on-fire detecting-lenses. To the contrary, I’m more optimistic and Pollyanna-ish than the exposé of my family liar-laundry would indicate. I share this perspective because there’s powerful healing in the telling of our history and our stories as we experienced and see them.

Angela K. Rider, truthteller

Angela K. Rider, truthseeker

Our stories can inspire others and connect us, as well as hold us accountable. We all want to be heard, witnessed, and to some degree have our truth validated especially if we had to hide our truth to keep ourselves safe. Telling our truth by sharing our stories can release us from the fear of consequences and the shame of lies. It can also free us to be more than the roles we became in reaction to or because of what happened to us.

My current truth-seeking is in looking to reveal and break free of the stories under the stories that keep me stuck and limited. Not just the arrested development stories that would continue to define me as who I used to be — I’m also trying to uncover the stories about myself that I’ve absorbed from others.

I want to see what is true for me right now without my history and the subconscious influences that would have me censor or limit myself. I also want to see where I’m interacting with others based on some story I’m projecting about them or onto them. Truth and freedom for all.

Image: Angela K. Rider

Angela K. Rider is a retired medical scientist. “That fact is often surprising for those that only know me through my work and blog at SensibleMystic.com,” she says. “I’m seeking my truth while helping others find theirs through my gifts as a Psychic, Intuitive Guide, and Empath. I live and work in beautiful and famously weird Portland, Oregon. It’s a great place to express the diversity of my interests, talents, and skills in my work and life.”

Editor’s note: In a small community of 10 townhouse owners, Lori and I are happy to say we hit the jackpot when Angela and husband Doug moved in to the unit next to ours. Angela is a frequent cat sitter for us and our brown tabby Mabel couldn’t be happier.

Tomorrow: “Have attitude, will travel” by Leroy Metcalf