Water music

P and C

Patricia, right, and one of her daughters on a windy beach in Trouville, Normandy, France.

By Patricia Conover

“All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea…we are going back from whence we came.”
— John Fitzgerald Kennedy

In one of my earliest memories, I am standing at the edge of the ocean. My feet are burning on hot summer sand as I watch my mother swim. Effortless, elegant silky strokes through blue-green water.

So much majesty.

So much fear.

On a visceral level I understand that the ocean is beautiful, strange and powerful. I am drawn to the sea and I am afraid.

My mother calls to me and I wade in. She teaches me how to float. She shows me how to move in the water. She reminds me to breathe.

(Oh, how lucky I am to have a mother who loved the sea.)

Another memory: Swimming in the ocean for hours. My mother has packed a picnic basket with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a thermos of orange juice. She calls to us. My brothers and sister and I climb out, shivering, lips purple and hands and feet wrinkled. We wrap ourselves in beach towels and devour lunch.

We know that we will die if we dive in before a half hour is up. We walk to the bay to look for crabs. We fill our pails with shells and sea glass and pieces of sea creatures. We chase butterflies but can never catch them. Now it is time to swim again. We dive in and we do not emerge again until the sun dips below the horizon.

All through college I swim in an enormous lap pool beneath timber beams. Later, in New York City, I wake up at 5:00 a.m. to swim at the Y around the corner from my apartment before work. When I move to Oregon with my growing family we have a neighborhood pool and the vast Pacific Ocean. Our next move — to France — offers the grey Atlantic Ocean and the azure Mediterranean Sea.

***

To swim is to be human. Paintings over 10,000 years old in a cave in Egypt depict swimmers who appear to do the breaststroke. Swimming is mentioned in the Iliad and the Odyssey.

To swim is to meditate. The rhythm of the body moving through water is calm and peaceful. Swimming is mindfulness. Anxiety melts away.

To swim is to produce endorphins, improve oxygen flow, and strengthen muscles. Swimming for only one half hour a day improves heart health.

***

The sea has its own peculiar magic. It calls to us — a seduction like the mermaid’s siren call. It is beautiful, mesmerizing and deadly.

Once I was caught in a riptide in the ocean off the tip of Long Island. A college friend and I had jumped in to help a stranger who was in distress. Once we were in deep water and near the drowning man, our eyes met. Panic. We both realized that we were out of our depth. We yelled until we were hoarse, “Swim parallel to the shore,” which we attempted to do as well. He did not seem to hear us. An inner voice — my mother’s voice — told me not to struggle, to remain calm, to breathe.

After what seemed like hours but was really only about twenty minutes of hard swimming, the three of us rode a wave back to shore. We lay gasping, panting, coughing, hugging, salt tears running down our faces, as beachcombers strolled by and looked at us with curiosity.

***

Today I dive deep into an ocean on the other side of the globe. The cold clear water takes my breath away. I remember not to buck the tide. Long strokes, even kicks, measured breathing. My mind, floating in my skull, empties itself of the world and all its cares. It is a sacred time: The sun is setting and the sky and the sea and the night are becoming one. Tiny bright stars appear and the pale moon is reflected on the shimmering dark water. Here, in my element, I am serene in the face of eternity.

The sea reminds us that we can never be still for long. Take the plunge. It is best not to struggle. Keep moving, always moving, always forward.

And don’t forget to breathe.

 ***

PC between flags

Patricia Conover: Re-invigorated after a swim.

Patricia Conover spent her early professional career in the editorial departments of G.P Putnam’s Sons and Random House in New York City. She began her writing career when she moved with her husband and three daughters to Portland, Oregon. Her work ranges from an overview of women in architecture to expat strategies in pursuit of an international education.

Patricia teaches writing workshops in schools and libraries in both the United States and France. An advocate for literacy, she’s volunteered many hours to teaching reading and writing to primary, middle and high school students.  She is currently a project editor and writer for Going Global, a multi-platform site that offers guides for expats.  

Twitter: @ParisRhapsody

Editor’s note: I met Patricia back in the days when I was a new editor in a suburban bureau at The Oregonian and she was a young mom, looking to get started as a freelance writer. She got the gig and since then her byline has appeared in The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle and other publications. After ten years in Paris, Patricia (and Kirk) have lived and worked in a suburb of New York City for the past two years. 

Tomorrow: Sharon Tjaden-Glass, Being creative — while being a parent

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A writer writes. Always.

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For a veteran journalist, learning to write code was a whole different thing.

By Jacob Quinn Sanders

Writing always came easily.

Rhythm, cadence, structure and flow. The deadline never really mattered: I could do it slow or I could do it fast. The pieces always just assembled themselves, first in my head, then on the page. I didn’t much have to think about it. I just knew how to do it.

That was with words. Learning to write code was a whole different thing.

They have a lot in common. But doing one after only having ever done the other — they require different things of a brain. Going from one to the other required relearning, grain by grain, what has long since been a vast beach of unconscious muscle memory.

I was a reporter and editor in newsrooms of all different kinds for 15 years. Longer than I’ve done any other single thing. And I grew up reading. I grew up writing. My grandmother, my mother’s mother, always asked first thing what you had been reading lately. It was expected. It was demanded. It was unequivocal. Not having an answer was not an option.

Which, like a child’s religion or devotion to a favorite family-loved game, quickly gets internalized. There is no stopping to think of the rules or the boundaries or the next move. There is no doubt or delay. You just know how to do it.

And so you do it. Not really with any direction. But you do it.

When I was 10, my fifth-grade class had an assignment: Write a piece in the style of TV news about the coming 1988 presidential election. My teacher, Mrs. Roberts, stopped me before recess the next day.

“This is better than what I saw on the news last night,” she said. “Have you ever thought about doing anything with your writing?”

Nobody had asked me that before. I’d never thought of writing with purpose. So I tried everything. Poetry, stories, journals, plays.

I was a freshman in high school when I took my first journalism class. Our first assignment was to write 1,300 words — researched, non-fiction words — about whatever we wanted. I was 13. I wrote about Guns ‘n’ Roses. Hell yes, I did.

That was my thunderbolt. Whatever I wanted to learn about, wherever my curiosity took me — I could go there and then tell the world about it.

That was all I needed. That was enough. Until it wasn’t.

I met more and more people who wrote code in the service of journalism. I got jobs that brought me closer to workflows and developers and how our own software was getting in our way, preventing us from doing our best journalism.

Code can do a lot of things for a reporter. Does a government agency always dump poorly formatted electronic records on you? If you can write the code to parse and analyze it once, you’ve already done it for the next time those records show up. Does your job involve some repetition? Maybe you can automate it. Do you see a couple data sets you think should learn how to talk to each other in a way no one else is thinking about? You can make it happen. Did you file a records request for data that is technically online but structured badly across hundreds or thousands of pages and annoying to try to download? You can go get it yourself.

JQS2

My goal: to progressively suck less.

The more I understood the possibilities, the more I had my own ideas about how to use code to tell stories, to solve problems, to create more of what I wanted to see in the world.

Trouble is, I couldn’t write a line of it. I could no longer execute my best ideas. I couldn’t scrape or analyze data or build a quick little prototype. I couldn’t take a single step in a direction I felt I needed to go without someone’s help — a lot of it.

So I took little day-long code classes at conferences — one of them twice — and tried some online tools. I wasn’t good at it. It wasn’t something that came naturally. For the first time in my life, I was terrible at writing.

But I was convinced. Maybe not that I could master it, but at least that I could suck less. I told anyone who asked my long-term and short-term goals were the same — to progressively suck less.

I left my journalism life. A life that got me into college in Nevada and then took me along to Philadelphia, the California desert, back home to Portland, off to Little Rock and then somehow to Pittsburgh. A life that had been mine professionally for 15 years and part of my identity for longer still.

I found a code bootcamp in Provo, Utah. Three months. My wife stayed in Pittsburgh. I rented a room in a house with four dudes all a decade younger than me. I borrowed a bike so I wouldn’t have to spend any money I didn’t have to.

And I started to learn how to write again. How to think about writing. How to accomplish something by writing. How to create. How to fix. How to edit and rewrite.

thumbnail_Screenshot 2016-07-11 13.36.04

I started to learn how to write again.

Confidence came slowly. Impostor syndrome is a vicious and real thing. It has claws and teeth. It has girth. The only way through it was to keep writing. I stayed up late and I got up early and I tried not to throw my laptop out any succession of windows. I asked for and got a key to our lab so I could stay for hours into the night and morning and pound and pound and pound until one of us — sometimes me, sometimes the code, sometimes the machine itself — acquiesced.

Having written words for so long ultimately gave me a framework to use for writing code. They both have grammar, syntax, structure. You make and support arguments. You have several layers of audiences to please, whether an editor and a copy desk and then readers who simply need to understand or a compiler or interpreter and code-reviewer and then an end user who just needs the damn thing to work.

No two writers would tell the same story the same way, even with the exact same information and the same conclusions. The same is true in code.

Having been senior at something else helped, too. I valued the repetition, I knew to start within the rules and guidelines so I could better understand later which ones I wanted to break or ignore. Being junior again was oddly freeing.

And slowly it started to make sense. Slowly I started to suck less. I got home to Pittsburgh and kept writing, kept building, kept asking for help. Kept learning. Kept practicing.

JQS4

And slowly I started to suck less.

First I freelanced a bit and created a project or two for myself. One of those projects helped me get a job. A full-time job. My business card says “software engineer.” That never doesn’t tickle me.

It was still hard. It’s still hard. I got that job a year ago. My impostor syndrome followed me. Even when it hibernates, it’s still right there with me.

The difference is now I know that whatever it is I don’t know, I can learn. I don’t think it. I know it.

JQS5

It was hard. It’s still hard.

At some point after few months in the job, it happened. Rhythm, cadence, structure and flow. It just happened. The pieces looked like pieces and how they fit was clear.

It doesn’t happen every day. It doesn’t happen most days. But it happens. If it doesn’t happen today, maybe it happens tomorrow. Maybe the day after.

Meantime, I do what I’ve always done. I keep writing.

***

JacobSanders

Jacob Quinn Sanders

Jacob Quinn Sanders grew up on the West Coast and yet lives in Pittsburgh, where he writes code and words and sometimes both together. He still has impostor syndrome and always will. He misses the hell out of salt water, so maybe that’s what he can write about next year.

Editor’s note: Jacob is a journalist friend I’ve known for about 15 years since I was a recruiter and he was a college student. Though we never worked together, we’ve kept in touch through the years and his many moves, and he’s been a regular contributor to VOA. During a visit to Pittsburgh last year, we reconnected at Nadine’s, a Southside bar and restaurant that’s been featured on “Diners, Dives and Drive-ins.”

Tomorrow: Patricia Conover, Water music

Olivia Newton-John and the test of a friendship

olivia newton-john

Grammy Award winner Olivia Newton-John performing in Las Vegas.

By Maisha Maurant

I think true friendship means making room for each person to be themselves, even if it causes us sometimes to roll our eyes, bite our tongues, shake our heads or shake the other person. And it’s not always about the big things.

Chris is one of my best friends – supportive and generous. He gets me in a way few other people do. In fact, we call each other soul mates.

We’ve also learned along the way that even soul mates can sometimes be pains in the ass. Which leads me to Vegas, where this all started.

Chris was finishing up his dissertation in San Francisco. On the spur of the moment, we agreed to meet in Vegas. I was headed to a conference. With him in California and me in Michigan, it was a rare opportunity to spend time together. We had a great time.

Walking down the Strip one night, he stops in his tracks and says “She’s here!” I started looking in the crowd around us. “Who’s here?” Then I notice he’s pointing to a billboard.

“Olivia Newton-John?”

“Yes! I loved her when I was a kid. We have to go,” he says. He’s already on his phone checking for tickets.

“Seriously?” I ask. But he’s not even listening to me at this point. Unfortunately, she isn’t playing that week.

“I wouldn’t worry about it. This is Vegas. I’m sure she’ll be back,” I assure him. He looks devastated. If he was my 7-year-old nephew, I’d buy him ice cream. Instead, we go have a drink.

Fast-forward a few weeks. Because concerts are my thing, I get Ticketmaster alerts. Guess who’s coming to town? Olivia.

Well, she’s not coming to Detroit. She’s playing in Windsor, Ontario. It’s not far from Detroit. But you do have to cross the Canadian border.

I get tickets as a present to Chris for completing his doctorate. By this time, he’s relocated to Chicago. This is going to make getting to the concert a lot easier.

It should have made it easier.

Chris and I have one land mine area in our friendship – time management. From my perspective, Chris makes plans, but he sees them as flexible. Sort of “Let’s just see where the day takes us.”

My approach? Um, let’s not. Let’s be prepared. He knows this about me. This is not the first dustup we’ve had about this.

So when we started planning for the Olivia concert, I was explicit. Let me know if we’re hanging out the whole day, part of the day or just going to the concert. I was trying to figure if I’d need to take the day off.

He agreed to let me know – but no word from Chris. After our previous discussions about this, I decided I wasn’t going to chase him to firm up plans.

A couple days before the concert, he gets in touch. By this time, I’m irritated and stressed by work. I tell him that I’m not going. He can use the tickets and go with someone else. He’s got lots of friends in Detroit. Then he says, “But we’re supposed to do this together.”

Ugh. Now I’m feeling petty. I’m also thinking about how little time we’re going to spend together once he starts a new job. The next day I tell him I’ve decided to go. He hesitates and says, “Great. Are you sure?”

“Yeah, let’s do it.”

“Okay. There’s just one thing, though. I didn’t realize I would need my passport to go to Canada. It’s in Chicago. I’m trying to figure that part out.”

Are you kidding me?!

Later, as we’re walking to the car, he says, “Well, I didn’t know that Canada …”

I interrupt him with “Is a foreign country?!”

“No, that they require a passport. I mean, c’mon, Windsor is like Detroit’s playground.”

Cars at Border

At the border: Who would have guessed Canada is a foreign country?

I tell him that I don’t think the Border Patrol sees it that way. This is the part where you might be thinking, “Cut the guy some slack. He doesn’t know about traveling internationally.” Chris has lived in Haiti, France and Indonesia and traveled to Spain and Turkey among other places.

I ask Chris who he wants me to call if he gets detained. He laughs.

We head to the border. He has an “aha!” moment. He’s going to see if a friend in Chicago will send him a picture of his passport. He has his California driver’s license. He stopped by his mom’s house to get whatever documents she still had that identify him. We don’t think his baptismal record is going to help.

They let us into Canada. The concert is good and relatively uneventful. Except for a senior citizen asking Chris to stop screaming in her ear. And he’s that person at a concert. Like VH1’s Pop-Up Video, he offers fun facts throughout. Right out the gate, he leans over and whispers “The name of this song is ‘Magic’.” I whisper back “Yeah, I got that from the chorus.” He’s having such a great time that it’s infectious. Afterward, we get food and toast to him now being Dr. Chris.

We head back to the U.S. It’s late, and I’m worn out after a long week at work. I’m dreading the drawn out process this might turn into. But part of me wants him to learn a lesson.

Chris is still unbothered.

Patrol officerWhen we get to the border patrol officer, I give him my passport. Chris leans across me and gives him a handful of papers – every identifying document he could get his hands on.

The officer asks, “What is all of this?” And I think to myself, “Welcome to my world.”

Chris offers the photos of his passport. Many questions later, it turns out that the officer is able to look him up in some database. But just when I think it’s over, he asks how the concert was. And Chris launches into a detailed re-enactment.

Oh, no. We’re not doing that. Christopher, say goodnight to the nice border patrol officer.

As we head back through the tunnel, I give him a look. He shrugs and says, “What? He asked how it was.”

I’m looking at a person I love with all my heart. Maybe I should have lightened up. Maybe I should have had more patience.

Then he says, “I told you it would be fine.”

It gets me thinking. We haven’t crossed the border yet. There’s still time to let him be Canada’s problem.

Lead photograph: lasvegas.showtickets.com

***

maisha-maurant

Maisha Maurant

Maisha Maurant manages a team of strategists, writers and designers at a health care insurance company in Michigan. She is also the chief corporate editor. She and Chris are planning their next adventure.

Editor’s note: It hardly seems possible, but the calendar confirms that it was 1995 when I met Maisha at a job fair in Detroit and recruited her to The Oregonian for a summer internship. She came out to Portland last year for a conference and we happily reconnected in person.

Tomorrow: Jacob Quinn Sanders, A writer writes. Always.

Finding Abby

Remmy and Abby

Remmy was emphatic. “Her name is Abby!”

By Nike Bentley

“She has curly hair with straight hair on top and she lets me ride her and…” My eldest had been regaling me with stories of her dog “Abby” for nearly a year. By late February I had gathered this dog was “taller than Rusty and shorter than Ada” (a Shiba Inu and an Akita, respectively); was not a pony, even though she’ll let Remmy ride her; likes to chase balls; has black skin but light fur; “loooooooves kisses,” and has straight, short ears that curl. (The last description I found particularly puzzling.)

Remmy started telling us about her dog Abby when we first moved into our house in March 2016. I showed her different pictures of dogs, but she always responded, “No Mama!” and would remind me again what Abby looks like.

“Tell me about your dog, Abby” became a game we played on long car trips. Remmy never wavered in her description and I never could pinpoint what this dog was supposed to be.

In early March 2017, a long-time friend posted on Facebook that she had begun volunteer work with the Canada-based dog rescue, Free Korean Dogs. With the announcement she shared a picture of three Korean Jindo sisters who would be coming from South Korea for adoption — two red and one gray. Normally I am drawn to redheaded animals, but when I saw the gray one I was taken aback: she was Abby.

Jindo sisters

A trio of Korean Jindo sisters who would be coming from South Korea for adoption.

After quickly researching the Korean Jindo, which I’d never heard of, I confirmed this breed is indeed “bigger than Rusty and smaller than Ada,” double-coated with straight hair on top, and a loyal family dog. Upon completion of a long application and vetting process, we learned our puppy would arrive around March 23.

During dinner the week our puppy was to arrive, we discussed how we would each do our part to raise her. “Abby” is not one of my favorite names, so I suggested other names while my husband suggested we wait to meet our puppy before deciding on a name. At first Remmy humored us, but then she realized we weren’t playing a game. Channeling her fiery hair she raised herself to her full height, slammed her hands on the table, and said loudly and firmly, “No! Her name is Abby!”

There was no discussion after that: the dog’s name was Abby.

The day finally came for us to collect our “jumbo Jindo.” (The sisters were unusually large for four-month-old Jindo puppies, causing some concern that Tibetan Mastiff might be included in their pedigree.) As our family loaded into our car, my friend sent a text — “She loves kisses.” Of course she does.

It was past bedtime when we arrived home with our newest family member, so we unloaded everyone and commenced our bedtime routine. After the girls were settled, Abby ran back and forth between their beds before flopping down on the floor between them. We were hard pressed to get her out and into her own bed. She knew they were hers as surely as they knew she was theirs.

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Nike Bentley with an armful of Abby.

Four months have passed since we brought Abby home. She has fit perfectly into our family life and is slowly learning other people aren’t out to get her. We hear over and over there’s something about the Jindo that steals your heart and it is so true.

Breed standard for the Korean Jindo is erect ears. But Abby’s? Hers are straight with a curl.

Author’s note: My friend has since helped found Korean K9 Rescue, the American version of Free Korean Dogs. We have been honored to be on-call foster parents for dogs fleeing the dog meat farms and high-kill shelters of South Korea. If you or someone you know is looking for a furry friend to add to the family, please consider a rescue through this nonprofit.

***

Nike Bentley is a wife of 10 years (in September), mama of two fierce girls, collector of information, and Korean Jindo missionary. She believes kindness is the best starting place for every situation.

Editor’s note: Eight years ago, I taught a weekend communications course at Portland State University.  One of those students was a bright, considerate young woman from Eastern Oregon who wrote a blog called Small Town Girl. That young woman, Nike Bentley, has become a bride and a parent and a valued VOA contributor.

Tomorrow: Maisha Maurant, Olivia Newton-John and the test of a friendship

 

Aspire to inspire

gil rubio

Gil Rubio plays lead guitar, sings and composes much of the music for his band Red Beans & Rice. (Photograph: Edie Ellis)

By Gil Rubio

Some time ago, a dear friend of mine posted that she had attended a
Celebration of Life for a friend of hers.
She said it was most remarkable in that each and every person of the
many who spoke, described him as  … “Kind”.

Somehow that thought touched me in a profound way …

How would I, or any of us, be remembered?
What one word would describe us?
What one word would describe what we had done in our Life,
or how we affected those around us, or the World around us?

Given that thought, how does it change the way you carry yourself?
Or does it?

Just a few weeks ago, I spoke of my lifelong friend at his Memorial Mass.

He was a Carpenter and a Musician. Growing up, we were both Altar Boys
in our Church, and we played in a few Bands together over the years.
Mark had a long Marriage and he and his Wife raised two very
respectful and thoughtful children. He loved his Family and his
Friends, and the Church was full of people of all different walks of
life to pay their respects. A testament to how many he had touched
somehow throughout his life.

As I spoke of my friend and brother, I thought of several one word
descriptions of him: Kind, Strong, Gentle, Talented, Funny, Faithful,
Loyal, Family, Brother, Friend, True …

Some of us are destined to do great things and have great accomplishments.
But that doesn’t describe the person we are.

We may solve the most pressing problem the World over,
but yet and still, what kind of person were we to achieve that?

Compassionate, Clever, Genius, Inspiring, Patient, Demanding, Driven …

Some of us see ourselves as Funny, yet in reality others see us as Sarcastic …
Condescending, Annoying, Obnoxious …

gil rubio poster

Gil Rubio and his band Red Beans & Rice played at the inaugural Monterey International Blues Festival on May 13, 2017. (Photograph: Tom G. O’Neal)

It is not how we see ourselves that matters.
It is what we project to the World around us through our Actions.
How we are perceived from the other side.

Some do wonderful and gracious things,
but only for the recognition that they will garner,
rather than for the right reason.

Doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do,
… Regardless of any notice being taken.

One would hope that we have done well in our lives, are grateful,
have a loving family and good friends, and left a good impression and
a lasting mark somehow.

We can’t all save the World or create the most beautiful Art.
We don’t all possess the same talents and can’t all do the same things.
Maybe we can never leave a physical and tangible mark in the World.

But we can all spread light from within and encourage each other.

We can Aspire to Inspire.

Maybe our Smile, our gift of Love, our willingness to help another
will be our greatest accomplishment.

If there is indeed a Judgment Day for us, I think that no matter what
our beliefs are,
it is more about what we do “with”, “to” and “for” our brothers and
sisters on the planet that we share,
that will ultimately be what we are judged by.

I would hope that means we treat each other with kindness and respect
while we tolerate each other’s point of view.

No matter what our accomplishments are and what we have achieved in life,
perhaps our greatest achievement is to be thought of, and remembered
as … Kind.

***

From the author: I will be turning 60 in September, and with each passing year, I am
more grateful for all of Life itself! Each day is precious and a blessing, and I am grateful for the opportunity to try and be a better person each day. I’m sure I fail miserably a lot, but I still try to start my day with a big bowl of Gratitude and No Expectations on the side.

I am grateful to still be Operations Manager at Ryan Ranch Printers in Monterey, California, where I teach 5th & 10th Grade Catechism, serve as an English lector and lead a bilingual choir at the church I grew up in. I am also the leader and principal songwriter of Red Beans & Rice, a blues-inspired, New Orleans-influenced band in its 24th year with 6 CD releases to its credit. I am proud to say we are currently working on our 7th release.

Editor’s note: “Kind” is a word that would aptly describe my cousin Gil, the youngest of three children born to my godmother Aunt Lupe (my mother’s oldest sister) and her late husband Salvador. Gil’s spiritual side and his gift of just the right words inspires me to aspire to be a better person.  

Tomorrow: Nike Bentley, Finding Abby

 

 

 

Luigi is mine

By Elizabeth Hovde

Hood River Waterfront Park was where we landed for Mother’s Day, per my find-sand tradition. After a day of sand, river and spinning dangerously fast on the park’s merry-go-round, my boys still had enough energy for a loud, chaotic drive home.

We stopped for “dinner,” which ended up being a kid-friendly dining experience so I could avoid the side of drama that comes with a sit-down meal at an adult-friendly restaurant. Finding it humorous that I was about to eat fast food on the holiday that Hallmark and brunch-serving restaurants took over from the serious roots planted by ancient cultures and Anna Jarvis, I decided I deserved a Mother’s Day present: Luigi be thy name. He came in my Happy Meal.

My boys are apparently too cool and too big now for “little kid” Happy Meals. They got bacon cheeseburgers, fries and shakes. But they were eyeing my Luigi, a fictional character featured in Nintendo games and the brother of Mario. And shortly after we left the parking lot, one of my sons asked if he could have Luigi. I was a bit shocked how quickly I said, “No. Luigi is mine.”

Luigi

My Happy Meal, my Luigi.

Being a mom has given me much. Aside from all the deep stuff, such as the incredible joy of raising two boys, parenthood’s lesson about unconditional love, and receiving hugs and nose kisses, I got access to a closer parking spot at the mall in the early years. I never used it. I hate malls and go less than once a year; always forgetting about the privilege until walking by the thoughtful parking space with my squirrelly boys in hand. But I had access. Membership has its privileges.

A big blessing was gaining several mom friends. I enjoyed a lot of play dates and hours of friend time in the boys’ toddler and preschool years. These days, we’re primarily Christmas card and fridge friends. (Fridge friends are those whose pictures adorn the kitchen appliance in your home.) All of the parents I spent valuable time with in my kids’ 0-5 years are busy, like me, being taxis for or accommodating preteens who prefer to play in their basements on xBoxes, rather than having in-person events at parks and in homes.

Motherhood also brought me the gift of hours of unrushed yard work over the years. After all, you might not be able to work efficiently with kids awake and present; I can’t. And you might not be able to clean your house successfully with children enjoying every clean space you just made. For years, I couldn’t have a conversation or even complete one sentence or thought before being summonsed to a maybe-emergency just around the corner; but I could pull weeds — a lot of them. You can stay in the yard all day, especially if you have a fence around it.

One of my boys was concerned recently about the padlock on our fence’s gate. “It’s not working,” he said. “People might get in!” I told him not to worry and explained that the fence locks we had around our property were there to keep him and his brother in; they weren’t really there to keep people who wanted to get in out. I could see that he felt a little betrayed. I had altered his worldview.

Being a mom has also taken much. It takes your freedom immediately. I remember how weird it was going from being someone who could run to the store whenever she wanted to having to build that activity into a schedule that worked around feedings and naps. Now, I usually use school hours to get the job done. Thank you for work and household chore time, taxpayers!

Living in Divorcelandia, parenthood has meant holding off on career and relationship goals, as I strive to keep my boys’ childhoods as free of further change as I can. As I resist jobs or relationships that would bring large-scale change, my kids aren’t resisting life’s shifts. My older son has given up hugs for nearly two years. Nose kisses from him are definitely out.

Being a mom is now taking away joy — joy that motherhood brought. I was feeling the weight of all that on Mother’s Day. And I needed Luigi to be mine.

Parents who have gone before me said these days would come. They’re here. Until I figure out how to better adjust, I might need more Luigis.

***

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Lost Lake is an annual summer outing for We Three Hovdes and yurt E1 or E7 our vacation home. Very little sand at the lake; lots of dirt.

Elizabeth Hovde writes a Sunday opinion column for The Oregonian. Since newspapers are “changing,” she freelances for nonprofits, edits books and writes press releases about growlers. Cheers to VOA, an opportunity to write about something that doesn’t fit into a press release or column. 

Editor’s note: For several years at The Oregonian, I was Elizabeth’s editor. I got to know her writing style, her politics, her values, her personality and sense of humor. Perhaps more than any writer I know, she is genuine and honest. It’s always a pleasure having her contribute to VOA, both as a writer and prolific commenter.

Tomorrow: Gil Rubio, Aspire to inspire

 

Life is not a science experiment

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A giraffe bends low for water at a game preserve outside Durban, South Africa. “This giraffe impressed me. His knees work better than mine.” — Molly Holsapple

By Molly Holsapple

It’s been 5 years since I retired from a career that I loved but that consumed most of my time and energy.  Since retirement, I have exchanged a daily van ride to Salem for the chance to hone my expertise in using TriMet to explore every part of Portland.  I had found the right balance in life, splitting my time between keeping fit, enjoying my friends, local adventures, being in two book groups, volunteering in two grade schools, and doing just enough consultant work to fund one big trip a year.

In the last year that balance has disappeared and I find myself thinking about a science experiment on expansion and contraction from Mr. Harris’s 4th grade class.  Do you remember the one?

Put a balloon on an empty soda bottle…heat the bottle and the air molecules expand blowing up the balloon…then put the bottle in ice water and the air molecules contract and the balloon reduces in size enough to fit inside the bottle. 

That grade-school experiment could very well define my life during the past year.  Last summer began with a left knee replacement that caused me to spend time in a hospital and rehab facility and has confined me for months at a time in my house.

As someone who is accustomed to independence and variety in her daily life, the physical ordeal of recovering from major surgery meant I was trading in those freedoms for a longer-than-anticipated period of dependence and routine. Being forced to stay indoors as I recuperated was a soul-crushing experience that made me, at times feel very downhearted.

But my international and domestic travels brought out the adventurer in me. And now that a full year has gone by, I am able to see how my life expanded and contracted just like the balloon on the empty soda bottle.

***

My life deflates to inside the bottle

The doctor’s projections after my June 2016 surgery were that I would go home and with physical therapy I could expect to be back to my old lifestyle in around 6 months.  Those projections became a different reality when as a result of a weaker right leg, I was unable to walk up 5 stairs on the third day in the hospital.

A social worker visited my room to tell me that because I could not climb stairs I could not go home.  I had one day to identify a rehab facility where I would be transferred.  Thank God for basic community knowledge and friends who helped review and screen my options.

No matter what you call it, rehab in a nursing home stinks.  Your life shrinks when you stay most the day in your room, share with changing roommates, eat delivered meals at designated times, bathe on a schedule, and are humbled by having to ask and wait for essential help with basic care or movement.  I was frustrated and angry at having to live here for 2 weeks.  Each day was a lifetime and by day 4, I began to dream about being in prison.  Despite all of that, I stayed positive on the outside, and recall fondly hour-long escapes with friends and creating a tradition of afternoon and evening 7-Up and cranberry juice cocktails with Ruby, my 85-year-old nearly deaf roommate.

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My trusty cane.

When I finally went home, I was physically and intellectually prepared, but in no way ready emotionally for a slow and episodic recovery.  During the next 5 months following rehab, I lived primarily in the small world of my house. Drugs and ice helped with pain, but initially made it impossible to concentrate to read.  No matter how many channels are on TV they dull rather than expand your mind and world.

PT was 2 days a week and progress was slow but visible.  I started regular walks around the block and then a bit further with neighbors and progressed from a walker to a cane. Progress and sometimes the ability to move at all were detoured by falls, infections in my right foot and sometimes the weather. One step forward and two steps back. Despite that I was determined to be ready for adventure.

My life expands beyond the bottle

I wanted to believe that my life would be back to normal by November 2016, so I planned for it to be so. Beginning several months prior to the knee replacement, I was asked to join friends on trips.  Rather than being cautious, I said a resounding “YES” to every opportunity.   I would go on three trips on four continents that got me outdoors and allowed me to get up-close to wild animals and new cultures.

Meg, an Ohio work colleague who knew I loved my 2001 trip to Ireland, invited me to join her and 6 of her lifelong friends there for Thanksgiving week.  I joined online planning, and met my new traveling companions at a bar in the Boston airport.

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Molly and friends enjoy a dinner of Irish Stew on Thanksgiving Day in Ireland.

Leaving just 2 weeks after the presidential election, we hoped to escape the constant politics at home.  We headed off intent on enjoying the hills, pubs, castles, people and music of Ireland.  I did it all of that with the exception of the castles, which were not very accessible to a gimp, even with a blue shiny balancing cane. Ireland’s weather is like Portland and the people are just as welcoming.  I especially enjoyed lessons on how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness in the expected 119.5 seconds.

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Pour a pint of Guinness in 119.5 seconds? “I did it on the first try! All you need is a teacher with 60 years’ experience,” says Molly.

Contrary to the classic saying about all politics being local, I discovered that in today’s world all politics is international and there is no escaping it. The first two questions in every pub: So you voted for him? What the heck is the Electoral College?

My old college roommate Bobbie and her husband Chris annually spend February as East Coast snowbirds in Fort Myers Beach, Florida.  Joining her seemed perfect. It was a chance to leave Portland’s wet and snowy winter.  More importantly, Bobbie had come at the time of surgery to spend a week with me and I was stuck in the rehab facility instead.  A week of cooking, laughing, wine, short walks and sharing stories in the Flamingo State was the best remedy for my depression at slow progress in healing.

My life inflates yet again

Millie, a lifelong friend and traveling companion, won a week-long photo safari in South Africa at a United Way fundraiser in Alaska.  Even though Africa was not on my bucket list, I jumped at the chance to join her at a game lodge. (View it here.) In the weeks before departure I got shots, bought and learned to use a camera, and packed and unpacked multiple times for what was to become the trip of a lifetime.

I left Portland at 10 am March 31st and we arrived in Durban, South Africa, after more than 40 hours of flying at 7 pm on April 2nd.  Durban is an industrial city of 4 million people on the Indian Ocean coast of Africa. We took our tour leaders’ advice and stayed a couple of days to sleep and acclimate before moving on to the safari. My image of this time is our white faces in a sea of welcoming black ones.

Arriving at the game reserve, we joined a group consisting of 4 other couples hailing from England, Canada and the United States. In each case, someone had purchased the trip as part of a fundraising event so that gave us something in common.  We met Chris, an Afrikaner, who became our weeklong Land Rover driver, experienced tour guide, joke teller, and the answerer of all our ridiculous questions.

I was “glamping” in a game lodge.  The lodge staff, mainly comprised of Zulu people from local tribes, had a genuine interest in all who visited their “home” and would readily engage in conversations about their upbringing, families, life in the bush and the best tasting game meat to sample at nightly buffets. I was impressed that all the people in doing their jobs spoke at least 3 languages fluently.

Every day we moved at a pace that mirrored the animals.  I did not have to worry about walking and falling.  We started each morning with a game drive at 5 am so we could see both the sun and the animals rise.  We would return for breakfast, some activities, a midday rest and be out again at dusk to check the watering holes.  I felt like I was being welcomed into a quiet unexposed world that was momentarily peaceful. Through each day and the week, I was a visitor to the homes of cheetah, lions, elephants, rhinos, hippos, water buffalo, giraffe, zebra, nyala and much more.

(Click on photos to view captions.)

The animals were accustomed to sharing their habitat with Land Rovers and did not react to our human presence.  Yet we were also made aware of danger and the encroaching outside world.  On one day a loud and pesky helicopter was rounding up 200 nyala to move to another reserve to guard against over grazing.   We saw the remains of the wildebeest dinner of the pride of lions we were observing.   We heard that locals who earned $250 a month could earn $65,000 in one evening of poaching tusks and of the estimates that all rhinos would be gone from the continent in a decade or less.

Saying goodbye to the safari, we again spent a day in Durban before flying on to Dubai. Dubai is a city-state that is part of the United Arab Emirates located in southwest Asia.  Since I have a young friend there running a Montessori school, we added a two-day stay in this city of contrasts to our itinerary.  Dubai is the business, advertising and marketing capital of the Middle East. It looks like New York on steroids given the space and new buildings, but take a water taxi across the bay and you are in the 17th century spice, cloth or gold markets.

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Molly, left, and Millie cross the harbor in a water taxi with the Dubai skyline in the background.

Dubai’s population of 1.7 million is 80% emigrants, mostly Indian and Pakistani, and mostly young professionals.  Its commitment to internationalism was evident even at the school we visited, where 3- to 5-year-olds are speaking French, English and Arabic throughout their day. On our short visit, welcoming conversations and inquiries were initiated by both a young woman in western dress at Friday brunch at the Westin and an older woman in a niqab at the spice market.

***

My life settles down

I am happy to be home and feel more ready to face my continuing recovery.  My goals sound simple: to be pain-free, cane-free, able to carry my own groceries, and have the endurance and balance to walk safely for an hour or more.  Whether I reach these goals or not, I want to remember the best of the lessons learned over this year.

  • Travel has made me feel that I have more in common with others. The world seems smaller, more friendly and safer than I expected.
  • Each animal’s pace is different. My recovery period is certainly more than the 6 months originally predicted. Even it takes me 2 years to get there I must stay focused and find peace with that.  I will find peace even if I have to keep the cane.
  • The normal ups and downs in everyone’s life are so much more than a science experiment. My life will fill to the degree to which I include friends and adventures whether at home or across the world.   I must remember the best of the larger world when I have to stay in the smaller one.
  • Promote the positivity, appreciation and gratitude that were evident in the people I met across the world and in the friends that are part of my everyday life.
  • Never forget how lucky I am to have the stability, resources and opportunity to travel outside my own everyday reality.

I will find balance moving forward.  I have postponed a hoped-for trip to Thailand because I am not ready for jostling crowds in the city.  No matter what, I will keep moving and planning to see the broader world.

Photographs: Molly Holsapple

***

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Molly Holsapple

Molly Holsapple spent a career and lifetime as an advocate and implementer of quality supports for employment and a full life for persons with disabilities, primarily persons with developmental disabilities.  Now she tries to spend a more balanced life in her neighborhood, community and the world. 

Editor’s note: Molly is a longtime friend, a fellow Northeast Portland resident, and personal training client of my wife, Lori. She is tenacious, passionate, opinionated, well-read and, now, well-traveled.

Tomorrow: Elizabeth Hovde, Luigi is mine

 

 

Three Hours in Utqiaġvik

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Tim Akimoff stands at the northernmost point of land in the United States.

By Tim Akimoff

The C-130’s shadow moved over the sea ice like a thundering storm cloud, as two Coast Guardsmen opened the rear of the plane to reveal the vast expanses of white nothingness below us.

The two passengers (us) and the crew were strapped to the plane as the pair leaned out the opening to survey the ice for stranded humans or polar bears.

Polar bears were more likely, but the Guardsmen practiced for humans, who may increasingly travel to the Arctic as polar ice melts, and they are drawn to the oncoming reality of a Northwest Passage.

The icy wind stung my face, but my body was warm inside a gray Patagonia goose-down sweater coat, something I never thought I’d own until I moved to Alaska the previous fall.

Michelle wore a black, full-length Patagonia coat and she smiled at me across the body of the big plane as we made eye contact briefly before continuing to strain our eyes to try and see a polar bear

For a moment, my mind couldn’t really comprehend this reality. Eight months before this, I was helping to build a new website for the Missoulian newspaper in Montana.

When I was laid off from the newspaper in August, it was Michelle who called to tell me to apply for a job at the television station she worked at in Anchorage.

“You’ll never believe what I get to do every day,” said the woman I had started my career with at a newspaper in Salem, Oregon, five years previously.

She wasn’t wrong.

The C-130 is an engineering marvel, as tough and unlikely a flying machine as the bumble bee and perfect for Arctic search and rescue missions, which we were witnessing as reporters for NBC’s KTUU Channel 2 in Anchorage.

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The Coast Guard C-130 Hercules.

I have never felt safer than on that plane hurtling low across the sea ice only 1,300 miles from the North Pole.

Finding no humans or polar bears, the pilots wheeled the plane around and beelined for Will Rogers Memorial Airport, an ice landing strip just outside of Utqiaġvik, known more commonly to the outside world as Barrow.

If Utqiaġvik were easier to say for anyone whose family had not lived there since people last crossed the Beringian land bridge 15,000 years ago, we’d not be calling it Barrow today.

Barrow is not the strangest place I’ve ever been; that would be Whittier, Alaska, a city where the entire population lives in the same building, but that is a story for another day.

When you leave the airport in Barrow and walk into town, massive whale skulls sit like sentinels in front of the public buildings.

Its most famous landmark is, in fact, a whalebone arch, where Michelle and I posed for pictures before heading up to the most northerly point of land in the United States.

(Click on images to view captions.)

Aside from the bones of the big Balaenidae, which are far more a testimony to the ancient subsistence lifestyle and its commitment to utilizing every part of the life-giving animals than you first realize, Barrow looks like an outpost on the edge of a vast wilderness that extends in every direction.

Most people, including New York Times reporters, parachute in and make judgment calls about Barrow and its citizens and their whale-hunting ways.

To understand the Inupiat lifestyle is to know something that has persisted on the edge of impossible for thousands of years.

The whales are the pumping heart of the village and the region. To not have or to not be able to hunt whale would be to cease to exist.

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“The Inupiat never boast they have caught a whale. They receive a whale, and they do so humbly. They believe that the whale chooses to sacrifice itself, that if a hunter creates a place pleasing to the animals, it will choose to die there and tell the others to come next year. Nothing logical about animal behavior or natural selection can shatter this belief, it is so deeply felt among the Inupiat. Doubting it would be akin to blasphemy, an abandonment of their heritage.” – Marla Cone

The gravel roads were free of snow this late in spring, but dirty snow covered everything else, giving the town a well-worn, winter-weary look to a place that never really experiences a summer.

We walked for a long time before realizing we should just hail a cab to do everything we wanted to accomplish in the three hours the Coast Guard was allowing us to explore.

He had been a taxi driver in Los Angeles for 20 years and before that, he’d lived in some remote Islands off North Korea.

Nothing seemed strange to him. No request to stop by the Wells Fargo to get some cash or to swing by the grocery store so we could take pictures of the exceptionally high-priced items like milk, $8.99, eggs, $10.00, and bread, $7.50.

Not even when we asked him how we could get some muktuk.

“I can get you muktuk,” he said. “You want to eat it fresh? Or do you want to take it home with you?”

Muktuk is the frozen skin and blubber from the bowhead whales harvested annually in spring and fall in Arctic Alaska.

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Muktuk, frozen skin and blubber, is served raw in order to take advantage of high amounts of vitamin C in it.

Whale hunting is among the more maligned practices on earth, even when it has sustained communities like those along Alaska’s Arctic coastline for thousands of years.

Muktuk, eaten raw to take advantage of the copious amounts of vitamin C, is the life-blood of the region, something Inupiats would use to trade with the interior Athabaskans for caribou and firewood.

Muktuk is almost entirely fat and when you eat it, it runs down your chin in oily rivulets having completely rendered in the heat of your mouth.

Our driver, a relative newcomer, is still part of the village and gets muktuk like the other villagers when there is a whale. The rest of his food he has shipped in once a year on the barges that haul things north when the ice melts. He orders everything he needs from an online Korean grocery store and cooks the traditional dishes his mother taught him a lifetime ago.

We met Mayor Harcharek at the library an hour later, and he looked at my name tag, supplied by the Coast Guard for the mission, and asked me if I was from St. Paul.

The Pribiloffs are two islands off the Alaskan coast that used to be part of the Beringian land bridge. There are two formerly Russian settlements with two groups of people, one of which spells their names with two FFs and one that spells their last names with one F.

“You’re Alaska Native with a name like Akimoff,” he said, smiling big and shaking my hand. “Gotta be from St. Paul.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I’m not Russian or Alaska native, especially as he walked us around the city building with his arm around my shoulder like I belonged there.

Michelle had been assigned to write a 48-hours in Barrow story for the station, while I was gathering social media content, so we said goodbye to our North Korean driver and walked back through the parts of Barrow we had passed too quickly in the car.

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Journalist Michelle Theriault-Boots takes photos of the Barrow palm trees.

By early afternoon, we had eaten at Pepe’s North of the Border and visited Brower’s Cafe, among a handful of other small shops and businesses.

Coast Guard missions are very precise, so we gave ourselves plenty of time to walk back to the airport before getting underway for the return trip.

The C-130 sat quietly at the end of the runway where we would board in another hour.

We made small talk with the crew and the mayor, who continued to insist I was from St. Paul Island, even though Michelle assured him I was just another American from the Lower-48.

We were exhausted when we finally boarded the big plane. Buckled in with a four-point harness, I fell asleep shortly after takeoff and slept the typically fitful airplane sleep for what felt like an hour, when a crew member came to shake me awake.

“Captain wants to show you something,” he said. “Bring your camera.”

I made my way up to the flight deck, which is a floor above the main deck.

Four crew members flew or navigated the big plane over an expansive, white Alaska landscape out the boxed glass windows below us.

The captain looked back at me and said, “I’m going to give you a view of Denali very few get to see,” he said.

The other crew member took me back down to the main deck but under the flight deck where a bubble window stuck out into the blue.

I looked down and saw the big mountain in front of me, encased in ice and brilliant in the bright, June sunshine. I snapped one picture, lowered my camera and just watched as we flew by it.

I walked back up to the flight deck and thanked the captain, who had a satisfied, big-brother-kind-of smile on his face.

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Denali, the mountain sacred to all Alaskans.

Michelle slept with her notebook tucked under her arms, so I didn’t wake her when I returned to my seat for landing in Anchorage.

Thinking back to being unemployed six months earlier, I smiled in the darkness of the cavernous plane, thanking my lucky stars and my dear friend silently as the wheels touched down.

Sometimes you engineer your life one day at a time. And other times you wake up expecting the unexpected every day.

Photographs: Tim Akimoff

***

Tim Akimoff worked as a reporter for newspapers, television and radio in Oregon, Montana, Alaska and Chicago for a decade, before going to work for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife as a writer and social media coordinator. His life’s motto is a famous quote by G.K. Chesterton: “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.” He has been incredibly fortunate to be dad to three amazing kids, and two of them are much better writers than he is. And the great privilege of his life is that he’s been fortunate to do all of this with an amazing woman he’s known since third grade. 

Editor’s note: I met Tim roughly a decade ago, when he was a University of Oregon student and I was The Oregonian’s recruiter. He joined the newsroom as an intern and I have marveled as his career has taken him to various states for various jobs in various mediums. I guess you’d call him versatile. Not to mention a great writer.

Tomorrow: Molly Holsapple, Life is not a science experiment

Donde come uno, comen dos. Two can eat from the same dish

Summer Academia Group_Photo Credit McNary Photography

Cynthia Carmina Gomez, top row, fifth from left, joins a group of Portland State University service learning students and youth enrolled in Summer Academia 2011.

By Cynthia Carmina Gomez

“You know what this means, right?” The oldest kid sat with his arms crossed on the edge of the bed.

“What?” said the other boy.

The third kid sat quietly.

“It means we won’t have enough food to eat. There will be less food.” The oldest uncrossed his arms and got up, leaving the other two behind.

It was early afternoon. The boys, just back from school, were transitioning into their evening routine. Andrea and I were in the adjoining room, getting the space ready for after-school tutoring. We stopped for a moment to listen. The doorway at the base of the stairs had no door so we would often hear the young men’s conversations. We were used to it. Adjudicated kids have little privacy. Andrea and I pretended not to listen and went back to setting up the rickety plastic tables and chairs, making more noise than usual.

Andrea and I were slowly converting a room into a little school. We called it La Escuelita. Its location, in the basement of the Latino-centric foster care home, was next to their sleeping quarters; a large square room with five tidy beds, a few dressers, and one window. It was military-style neat with few personal effects.

La Escuelita, to the left, was less furnished. Its cement floors were clean and painted beige. The rooms always a little damp and only sometimes warm. When they had time, the men who ran the center would turn on the space heater in anticipation of our arrival. If they forgot, it would not warm up until it was time for us to leave.

We had acquired a bookcase which held a small collection of Chicano/Latino literature, a few reference texts, and various outdated textbooks. There were no computers. A small amount of daylight came in through a little window above the dry erase board leaning on the wall, not yet mounted. The outline of a mural-in-progress covered one wall. Behind this wall was a hallway to a bathroom with a broken toilet behind one door and two more locked doors. In one of these, Andrea and I stored school supplies.

While only some of the residents in the home were on our caseload, we would try to sit with everyone who needed help. Too many youth and not enough time. The work was slow and difficult. Math made their eyes glaze over. Rarely did they know their timetables or basic order of operations. Most were English Language Learners and struggled with reading and comprehension. School work, in general, made backs slump and slowly pulled foreheads down toward the floor.

The surfaces of the cheap plastic tables were coarse and our thin paper would easily be punctured by the cheap pencil lead. Of all things, this grated on my nerves the most. A smooth writing surface represented to me a basic student right. To avoid bumpy illegible writing, Andrea and I would make them write on their folders.

Summer Academia_Photo Credit Mcnary Photopgraphy

A young man wears a T-shirt bearing a Summer Academia image drawn by Monchy Suarez.

We facilitated Latino cultural identity and heritage workshops after tutoring and it was during these lessons our young students were more likely to sit up, listen, ask questions. We would teach them about the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and Dolores Huerta. We studied identity politics, internalized racism, and institutional oppression.

We watched the film Walk Out and learned about brown student activism. We started a summer camp called Summer Academia, during the months school was not in session. Sometimes, during our school site visits, Andrea and I were able to convince staff to award social studies credit for these lessons. These youth, rarely enrolled in school long enough, often did not receive the credit hours they earned.

It was time for us to go. As we cleared the room and collected our things, one of the staff came down with a mattress and prepared a bed in the middle of the bedroom.

“Just like I said,” the oldest spat.

Done with folding the chairs and tables, we went upstairs where dinner was being prepared. Andrea and I were reporting on our progress and making small talk when the doorbell rang.

There, standing on the front porch, was a probation officer with a young man. I scanned the room and noted, next to the dining table, a plastic card table set up with an extra place setting. The home would have one more mouth to feed.

The oldest youth pointed toward the new kid with his chin and asked, “Have you eaten dinner yet?”

During my time as an Educational Advocate, more children were deported, incarcerated, or killed in gang violence than graduated from high school. I know of only one who made it to college. The vicarious trauma overwhelmed any fleeting success we occasionally experienced. Depressing, yet we were determined to see our programs continue. It took all of our effort to keep the space functioning, but eventually the home closed and so did La Escuelita. Today, Summer Academia is a part of the Portland nonprofit Latino Network and thriving.

Photographs: McNary Photography

***

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Cynthia Carmina Gomez

Cynthia Carmina Gomez serves as executive director of the Cultural Resource Centers at Portland State University. Before this, she worked over 10 years for the Portland nonprofit Latino Network. Over a year ago, she discovered there was interest in her creative writing. She took a few classes and was overcome by the craft. She found herself applying and being admitted to the MFA Creative Nonfiction program at PSU. She starts her studies this September.

Editor’s note: In 2011, I was still employed at The Oregonian and reporting on a range of issues involving diversity and Portland’s changing demographics. I did a story about the nonprofit Latino Network and met Cynthia at that time. When I became an adjunct teacher at Portland State last fall, I was delighted to cross paths again with Cynthia and even more delighted to invite her to join VOA 7.0.  

Read my 2011 story about Latino Network: Growing leaders for Oregon’s booming Latino population

Read my Q&A with Cynthia: Six questions about civic leadership for the Latino Network’s Cynthia Gomez

Tomorrow: Tim Akimoff, Three Hours in Utqiaġvik

Making a better life for all of us

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Students at Tigard’s Metzger Elementary School, many of whom are from immigrant families, are eager to learn.

By Michael Arrieta-Walden

The mother of two listened intently as the speaker described what documents parents should prepare in case an immigration action separated them from their children.

The potential nightmare for any parent was a real possibility for this mom.

She was among about 75 parents at an event put on by our school to provide families with information and resources. While we wanted to reduce fears for families with information, that was unrealistic.

For the mother of two, fear resurfaces daily, each time her husband drives to and from work. He has no legal documents, so she worries that in today’s climate a traffic stop could lead to deportation. Her fears are common among immigrant families.

I’ve asked her how she copes with that fear; it’s her belief in family that carries her. As long as the family is together, she says, they will be fine – no matter where they are.

But I think of what a huge loss it would be for my school community and our nation if families like hers are sent away.

Like many others, she and her husband came seeking a better life for their children. They are among the most dedicated parents I’ve worked with in eight years of teaching.

Although she works many hours cleaning people’s houses, she and her husband regularly volunteer at school. With their limited wages, they support their children with after-school activities.

They also are diligent about tracking the kids’ progress in school and holding them accountable for their homework. They insist they behave. And they always volunteer for community service projects and events at school.

These parents are valuable, contributing members of our school community. Their children will be productive adults in the future. Their deportation would be a loss for all of us.

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Thanks to the rich diversity at the school, Multicultural Night is the biggest event of the year at Metzger Elementary School.

But their story is not unusual. Many of our families at Metzger Elementary School in Tigard give more than they take from the community. They are building our future.

You also see it throughout our school district. We rely on the students of Tigard High School’s MEChA and Intercambio programs to help with school nights and other projects. Those students are amazing and committed to community service. They are eager to help others. I am excited to see how much they will contribute after gaining a college education.

Many come from families who wanted to make a better life in America, but what they also are doing is making a better life for all of us in America.

What I marvel at is how much our families have endured to start anew here. I don’t think I would have the courage to do that.

Perhaps that is why, when I listened to the speakers describe how you should designate someone to oversee your children, I felt sick to my stomach. But the mother of two was a sea of calm.

Estaremos bien,” she said. We will be all right.

Photographs: Michael Arrieta-Walden

***

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Michael Arrieta-Walden

Michael Arrieta-Walden teaches fifth grade and has been teaching for seven years. Before teaching, he was a journalist for almost 30 years. He and his wife, Fran, live in Portland and have one daughter Maya, who lives in Washington, D.C.

From the author: The primary group that helped immigrants at our school is the Latino Network. If you would like to learn more about the group, donate or volunteer, you can go to their web site at http://www.latnet.org/

Editor’s note: I’ve known Mike since I was a young reporter at the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. He was an even younger reporter — a college intern at the time — and all of us could see he had the passion, tenacity and empathy to become a first-rate journalist. Those same traits were on display when he later became a newsroom editor in Albuquerque, N.M.; Olympia, Wash.; and Portland, Ore. — and they are evident now in the classroom.

Tomorrow: Cynthia Carmina Gomez, Donde come uno, comen dos. Two can eat from the same dish