“Ask Me” a poem by Esther Elizabeth–and a Tribute to Ponong


“The noblest and the wisest thing to do is to cherish others instead of cherishing yourself.

This will bring healing to your heart,  healing to your mind, and healing to your spirit.”

–Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living & Dying


In memory of Uncle Berto (pictured), Uncle Dionisio–and all the kind people who accepted me as an awkward visitor–and shared their lives.

We human being are a lot alike. Some build houses while others discover cures for disease, but anywhere we roam we’ll meet people trying to find happiness, love, and how to charm their way into a child’s smile.

The more we travel, the more we understand how much we are alike. One human being is a lot like the next despite how much we can feel (and appear) separate and different. I can remember thinking–super-naive–that people in other parts of the world must get along better than my family and people in my hometown: I imagined brothers and sisters working together, and was certain they would never go months or years without talking. In other countries, families stayed close and didn’t hold grudges like we Americans.

Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Continue reading ““Ask Me” a poem by Esther Elizabeth–and a Tribute to Ponong”

Inside Out & Back Again: An Immigrant Story in Verse

“We must learn to see the world anew.”

Albert Einstein


Lately, I read plenty of kid-lit, especially books for the “middle grade” readers. So many writers impress me with their poetic way of telling a good story, and not long ago I walked through Powell’s on Hawthorne as a writer-friend pointed to books she loves. She reached up and grabbed Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, and I was sold.

“A good immigrant story always gets me,” she said.

This story will bring any reader closer to understanding the pain of dislocation that many refugees suffer, and it’s the sort of read that changes you a bit–leads you into a world you didn’t know you didn’t know (the best kind of book!).

Awarded the 2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and one of the two Newbery Honors that year, Inside Out & Back Again is based in the author’s personal experience.

Hà, only 10, hasn’t seen her father in nine years, and now she’s forced to leave Saigon because of some war she doesn’t understand. Her family flees the comfort of friends and fresh papaya to meet  glaring eyes and lonely lunches in Alabama.

[pullquote]No one would believe me but at times I would choose wartime in Saigon over peacetime in Alabama.[/pullquote]

Yet during this first year of upheaval, Hà grows stronger. With the help of her older brother she learns to control her temper and to defend herself. Some kids at school ruthlessly chide her, and even her teacher lacks the  empathy we’d hope to find in a classroom, but the “cowboy”–the family’s sponsor–helps.  Hà’s mom remains a kind and gentle pillar of strength as well.

While full of both grief and healing, the novel is unexpectedly funny.

Inside Out & Back Again is  an ideal read-aloud.  For middle-grade or even high-school students, it is an ideal choice for teachers trying to blend the studies of Language Arts and Social Studies or parents who want to help their kids better understand people from around the world while also growing to love a good story.

Lai’s novel fits with other superb literature for young readers by writers like Karen Hesse–also a  master of telling historic stories in verse. Hesse won the Newbury for Out of the Dust and other books such as Rifka and Witness. She was recipient of MacArthur Fellow in 2002. Continue reading “Inside Out & Back Again: An Immigrant Story in Verse”

The Outlier: A Poem by Peg Edera & Thank You to William Stafford

“I tell you, Chickadee, I am afraid of people who cannot cry.”

Alice Walker


Peg1Portland’s icy-snow is melting, and some of us are staying warm with words.

For me it’s been sitting on the couch with one book after another, but on Friday night some lucky poets gathered at the Newmark downtown to celebrate what would have been Oregon Poet Laureate William Stafford’s 100 birthday: Li-Young Lee, Mary Szybist, Kim Stafford, Matthew Dickman, Paulann Peterson and Tony Hoagland (Ted Kooser did not make it as planned) read their own work, some Stafford poems, and they each talked about the influence the late-poet had on their own lives.

I’m sorry I missed the event, but here’s a video worth checking out to take in some of William Stafford’s wealth of words and life, The Stafford Centennial: A Conversationan OPB production.

William Stafford is known as a poet who awoke early each morning to write. Everyday he would make poems, and when someone would ask how he does it, ask about those days when the muse didn’t seem to show up, he’d say, “I just lower my standards.”

We don’t gather at 4am in the morning, but a small circle of us meet several times a month and write poetry. During our darkest months, we gather as the sun rises, and that’s when Peg Edera wrote “The Outlier”.

Continue reading “The Outlier: A Poem by Peg Edera & Thank You to William Stafford”

Pippa Arend: Building Hope Through Relationships


“The more intimate you are with yourself,

the more intimate you can be with other people.”

Diane Hamilton, author of Everything is Workable



IMG_20140114_173723Soon after we moved to Portland last summer, our neighbors mentioned Pippa Arend, Development Director of p:ear (project education, art, recreation). They had attended a dinner-party at her Northwest-home–a fund-raiser for this non-profit that “creatively mentors homeless youth”.

“You should check it out,” Cam said. “They’re doing good work.”

Pippa, according to my neighbor, had turned personal loss into gain, had taken both her time and resources–not to mention her own “feral” youth (she would later tell me) and co-created a program serving homeless youth who struggle to find their fit–and to build hope for their future.

When in her late-20s, Pippa was thriving as artist and entrepreneur. After college in New England and a few love-sick years in Poland, she had worked with welding-artist Eric Peterson, owner of Unique Forms. By 28, she owned Tornado Creations, designing and selling high-end custom furniture.

“Life was fun but a little directionless. On the surface, it all seemed good, but my life lacked community and accountability.”

That’s when she met Joy “who, fortunately, saw something in me and asked if I’d volunteer teaching art to kids at The Greenhouse School where she worked.” Backed by The Salvation Army, Pippa loved this new work. But, after only six months, funding slipped away, and the school closed.

Continue reading “Pippa Arend: Building Hope Through Relationships”