Paris with Renee

“We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that something deep inside us is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”

e.e. cummings

September’s gift comes from Rosemary Powelson, once a colleague at Lower Columbia College. She taught art for many years, tap dances, acts in plays, and is a joyful soul living it up in the world. I think you’ll enjoy this travel story: She took her granddaughter to Paris–and it’s a lovely tale of how we can love each other well.

Thank you, Rosemary. I’ve fallen behind on my own blog-entries, but more will come. For now, how fun to share Rosemary’s story. When she told me about their time in Europe, I said, “Would you write that for us?”

*          *          *

Metro mademiselles

One summer afternoon, some years back, my 10 year old granddaughter, Renée sat on the couch reading The Little House on the Prairie. Out of the blue she announced, “I want to go to Paris.”

“Sure, I said, when you’re 16.” I didn’t think much more about it, but soon I noticed her “Paris” t-shirts and the Eiffel Tower key chains hanging from her back pack. She had a big dream and trusted me to make it come true. I opened a savings account and started dreaming with her.

On her 14th birthday she looked me in the eye and asked, “Are we really going to Paris?”

“Yes,” I replied–and felt the train leave the station. Continue reading “Paris with Renee”

Here’s To A Little Boy’s Life & Hope for Healing–in Today’s High-Tech Internet World

 “Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation.”

Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays


Strength testing results say Edan's strong and ready for bone marrow transplant
Strength testing results say Edan’s strong and ready for bone marrow

Sometimes the internet, the interstates, airplanes and the speed of life leave us to feel disconnected.

Yet, my sister tells me they now have a milkman–delivering fresh cow’s milk to their doorstep.

In our urban backyard, kale, chard, lettuce and beets continue to feed us, even in March. Maybe this summer we’ll pluck blueberries off the vine. The neighbors grow their own vegetable garden–and invite us to pick figs from their trees.

The internet, fast trains, and certainly being able to type these thoughts on a computer rather than using the typewriter I took to college make a lot of life work way better.

And, when a child is born premature or with complications– like Amy’s son, Oriana’s granddaughter–or a little boy is diagnosed with cancer when he is only four years old–chances of survival are amazingly improved from back when any of us reading these words first took a breath.

In 2012, Edan Owen was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma.

This week’s blog post is dedicated to him and to appreciating today’s world, its advances in medicine and how the speed of life provides its reward. Continue reading “Here’s To A Little Boy’s Life & Hope for Healing–in Today’s High-Tech Internet World”

When No One Is Watching: Thank You Parents–and It Takes a Village

Wear gratitude like a cloak and
it will feed every corner of your life.



20140917_162617_AndroidThe other day I had my annual appointment with *Jennifer, my dental hygienist.

“You have two kids, right?” I say in-between fingers in my month. She’d already told me about her son who’s off to college.

“He’s always been so easy. Things always turn out for that kid.” Happy glow she tells me how once he told an elementary school teacher, “This is my favorite holiday–not because it’s Halloween but because it’s my mom’s birthday, too.”

“My youngest is 16–a strange age.” Her voice tightens. “He’s driving now and he got himself a job, but recently he said to me, ‘It’s okay if I’m a little late,’ –and I about went wild on him.”

She looks at me for confirmation and I smile.

This generation! I can’t stand that kind of attitude–as if it’s okay to be casual about everything. That is NOT okay! People are counting on you,” she told her son.

“Then he asked me a week later if he can go to the Homecoming Dance. He was scheduled to work that night, but he says to me, ‘I can leave early,’ and I tell him ‘No. No you can’t: You made a commitment. You can’t just leave early. People are counting on you.’

I nod sympathetically, wondering how this story is going to turn out. “At least he got himself a job,” I manage as she completes the polish.

“The next week he asks if he can take a day off work to go watch his girlfriend’s volleyball game. It’s the same conversation, and I ask him this time, ‘How long have you known about her game?’ and he says ‘A couple of weeks.'”

He was talking to his mom about this conflict the day before the volleyball game.

After each of these scenes, Continue reading “When No One Is Watching: Thank You Parents–and It Takes a Village”

Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind

 “The mother of a child with disabilities is a powerful person. She doesn’t know what she is until it’s what she becomes.”

Sharon Draper, author of Out of My Mind

Sharon Draper

Sharon Draper’s latest book for middle graders, Out of My Mind, has remained on the New York Times Best Sellers List for more than a year because it’s one of those books that forces us to feel our world in new ways. Our heroine, Medody, is a brilliant 11 years old who’s trapped in a body that won’t allow her to talk or move independently.

“Melody represents all of us and any child who has no voice–who is different and isn’t heard,” says the author. Melody is “the voice for the voiceless.”

Born with Cerebral Palsy, her world opens when she gets a computer with a voice program that allows her to speak and share her wit with the world–for the first time.

Although Dr. Hughly advised her mother to consider sending her “away”, Melody’s caring parents make sure she enrolled in the local elementary school. However, she was always kept in “special” classes–as if she wasn’t the smartest kid in school–like she is!

With the help of ever-caring mom who “becomes more powerful than she ever knew she could be,” according to the author, Melody has been able to learn lots. Another miracle-maker of the story is neighbor and retired teacher, Violet.

“Violet Vallencia is a big hero, the example of Tough Love that pushes Melody to the max–and helps her to become what she can,” says Sharon Draper–who doesn’t Continue reading “Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind”

Doing What We Do: Jessica Chanay Follows the Call

 “Bless those who challenge us for they remind us of doors we have closed and doors we have yet to open.”

Native American Prayer


Tjessica-chanayhis week I want to tell you more about a woman I mentioned in the post about the documentary,  A Place at the Table: Jessica Chanay, Deputy Director of Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, has worked in the “anti-hunger field” for 14 years–but she’ll soon be moving in a new direction.

On June 10, Jessica will begin a training with Teach for America, and by September she’ll be teaching social studies to kids in Detroit.

“I want to find out what else I’m made of,” says Jessica, smiling. As she approached 50, she began to reflect on her life and on the idea of comfort. “It’s not that I want to be uncomfortable, but I don’t want to be asleep at the wheel.”

Jessica was a kid who dropped out of school early, joined the service and then found herself struggling to feed two kids. Now she hopes to be a positive presence for students, a guide for those who might be  struggling to keep themselves going strong.

OregonHungerTaskForce 3“I want to be part of the movement of creating a support structure for kids.”

She says she doesn’t feel that she is leaving the social justice field, only changing focus. And she’s not someone who’s trying to be a hero either. As we talk I think these kids–and the colleagues she touches–will be fortunate. She listens. She’s curious.

The thing about her is that she’s “been there” when it comes to struggle. She knows what it’s like to drop out of school, and she knows what it’s like to walk into the welfare office and file for Food Stamps, meet a different case worker rather frequently, and feel that people are looking at you as if you aren’t as good as they are. Continue reading “Doing What We Do: Jessica Chanay Follows the Call”

A Plate at the Table: There’s Enough Food for All

The poster for the documentary A Place At The Table. Let us be united

Let us speak in harmony;

Let our minds apprehend alike.

Common be our prayer;

Common be the end of our assembly;

Common be our resolution;

Common be our deliberations.

Alike be our feelings;

Unified be our hearts;

Common be our intentions;

Perfect be our unity.



What’s “inspiring” about the film A Place at the Table–a documentary about poverty and hunger, a film calling us to action in regards to a lack of nutrition for one in four kids in the USA?

I saw it last weekfeaturing actor Jeff Bridges, Ph.Ds, social workers, and ordinary people struggling to feed their children–or attend school without feeling hungry.

This film shows that “being hungry” doesn’t always look like the protruding bellies we’ve seen on television, children from sub-Sahara Africa or Bangladesh. There is hunger nearby, and it’s often kept hidden because people feel ashamed. Hunger in the USA often occurs at the end of the month, and obesity often results from poor nutrition.

Not only is it upsetting to know people go hungry in our wealthy country, but when kids don’t get enough nutritious food at a young age, their cognitive abilities are damaged. Continue reading “A Plate at the Table: There’s Enough Food for All”

Yuta’s Visit & Daffodils Smile

“We just can’t know what we don’t know”

Words of the journalist


Since I’m not quite done with the frogging-story I’d promised to share this week, I’ll tell you about our time with Yuta. His  stay with us reminds me of my own years of roaming and the people who allowed me into their homes when I didn’t know much about being a guest or hanging out in other cultures.

I made my first trip to live in Glasgow for a year when I was the same age as Yuta, 20. The Chinese grad-student who sat next to me on the flight from Vancouver, British Columbia to London was kind: She let me ramble. She answered questions. She never turned away or made me feel like the lost-kid I was.

The stuff I said and thought back then should be embarrassing, and I used to grit my teeth at the memories. Continue reading “Yuta’s Visit & Daffodils Smile”

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.

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

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”

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”

Teaching from the Heart–in the Freeze

“I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.”

~Lily Tomlin as “Edith Ann”



Back in Massachusetts for a winter-visit, my teacher-friends wake up early, lesson plans ready. Julie Bucceri meets her first group of 6th graders before 8 o’clock, and Stacey Hill leaves home by 6:45. She’ll pick up some neighbor kids and be standing in front of students by 7:10.

This week at Doherty High in Worcester, Stacey’s 9th graders talk about reasons for early puberty while her AP classes move on to genetics. But today, dressed in jeans and an “Envirothon” t-shirt over the layers, she and her team go on a field-trip (despite the below-freezing nip that reminds me why I no longer live in wonderful New England!) She’s happy for the change of pace since the days can feel repetitive. Continue reading “Teaching from the Heart–in the Freeze”