Monday, September 1, 2014

Hobnobbing with the Archibishop of Portland

 It's not every day the archbishop visits our small-town church in Newport on the Oregon Coast.  In honor of Sacred Heart Church's 125th anniversary, we welcomed Archbishop Alexander Sample, head of the Catholic church in Western Oregon, for a special Mass and reception on Friday night. It was the first visit by this archbishop, who took office in January 2013.

It was a big deal. Our songs and programs had to be approved by the archdiocese. The Archbishop needed three altar servers, one to serve, one to hold his staff, and one to hold the tall gold hat, the mitre, that he wore during Mass over his magenta beanie, I mean zucchetto. We had three lectors. The Knights of Columbus paraded in their regalia, and we combined the choirs from all the Masses for the occasion.

The church was packed, the yellow and white flowers and candles were glorious, and the music we had been practicing for weeks sounded good.

Archbishop Sample has a glorious tenor singing voice, and he sang most of the prayers. In his homily, he preached about the past and future of the church and our role as followers of St. Peter.

After Mass, we gathered in the hall, where it was so crowded and noisy my throat still hurts from shouting to be heard. And the cookies, oh Lord, for a cookie monster like me, it was heaven.

But the archbishop did not indulge. Instead he stood for over an hour as people lined up to meet him. He blessed the sick, listened to the stories of the old, young and in-between, and kidded the kids. In the picture above, he is talking to Rose Troxel, the church historian responsible for most of the photos and memorabilia on display behind them. Meanwhile, we all fell in love with the tall, handsome archbishop.

Sunday it was back to church as usual. I hope the archbishop got a chance to walk on the beach between events. He did take a few cookies back to his hotel room. He was due in Lincoln City for another Mass on Saturday. Meanwhile, my father is pretty impressed that I sang a solo for the archbishop and shook his hand, and I know the leftover cookies are hidden away somewhere.

Monday, August 25, 2014

If You Look Past the Dirt . . . Russell's Song

A couple months ago, I was helping register people to have their pictures taken at church for our new parish directory. I was having fun seeing old friends and meeting new ones when this homeless guy walked in. Maybe walked is the wrong word. Shuffled? Sneaked? Whatever. I knew he was not there to get his picture taken. He was dirty, and he wore so many layers of clothes I couldn't figure out how big he really was. He walked right past my table toward the kitchen--where nothing was happening. I looked around. I was the only staff person there. It was on me to deal with this guy.

I went over to him. "Can I help you?" He muttered something that didn't make any sense. I finally grasped that he needed a restroom. I turned him around and directed him to the men's room. He stayed in there so long I got worried. I was about to send one of the male parishioners getting photographed to check on him when he emerged. He came up to me at my table and started talking. And talking. He told me all kinds of things, some of which might have been true. He was a photographer. He was a musician. He had kids somewhere. The DA owed him money. Our pastor had promised to help him get it. I listened and nodded and wished he would go away. I offered him nothing. Finally he walked outside. People coming in told me he was hanging out by the door to the hall. They told me his name was Russell and he came around all the time. They told him to go somewhere else. They told me he left the restroom a mess.

I mostly wanted Russell to leave because I was afraid of him. But is this the Christian way? What should we have done? If I see him again, I vow to be more welcoming. Meanwhile, I wrote a song. With luck, the link will work and you can hear it. This is "Russell's Song."


Monday, August 11, 2014

Portland East: From the silence to the noise

Sitting on a bench in the Lan Su Chinese Garden, tranquility floods the air. It’s so quiet you can hear the fish splash in the lily pond and the breeze whistle through the bamboo. Although we’re in the middle of Chinatown, and there are many tourists of all ages here taking pictures on their smart phones and iPads, they move respectfully through the rooms and gardens.

The brochure tells us that meditation, discussion and storytelling were popular activities in Chinese gardens. This garden was built by Chinese artisans from Portland’s sister city, Suzhou.  Doorways and windows form views within views, the paths are paved with rock mosaics, and Lake Tai rocks rise up like sculptures throughout the garden. Plants range from bonsai trees to japonica, plum, bamboo, and silk. Inner rooms and terraces showcase Chinese paintings and calligraphy while soft music plays in the background. A teahouse offers a taste of Chinese tradition.

Volunteers do much of the work at Lan Su. The garden, located at 239 NW Everett St., hosts many special events, including lectures, concerts, art shows and tea tastings. People rent space for weddings and other occasions. For more information, visit the website at

In town on business, I stayed to see a little bit of Portland. From the garden, I drove south along the waterfront, looking for a spot to sit and write and relax. Ironically, I wound up at another garden, the Garden at South Waterfront Park. This too, according to the brochure, is meant to be a meditative space beside the Willamette River. Well, the garden is lovely. Lots of paved paths wind in and out of the plants, the brochure tells you what the plants are, and I found a great rock to sit on just above the water. Not far down the path, a young woman was already busy writing. I watched speedboats, sailboats, and a guy standing on a surfboard. I remembered a past trip to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry just across the water. I relaxed on my rock and got out my pen.

But this not a quiet, tranquil space. It was hot, about 90 degrees. An endless stream of people jogged, biked, and walked along the paths, half of them staring at their cell phones. From up the waterfront a ways, a rock band pounded the air with drums and bass.  And because we were under two of the city’s main bridges, the Marquam and Hawthorne bridges, the traffic roar was so loud and constant I could not hear speedboats zooming by. Quite a contrast with the Chinese gardens and with the forest where I live.
I retired to the cool dining room at the Lil’ Cooperstown Bar & Grill, where there were TV screens showing sports everywhere I looked, and the music was a little loud, but the food and the service were great.

Portland has many faces. These are just a taste of those on the east side. I hope to explore many more parts of Portland in the future.

What are your favorite east Portland spots?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Two minutes of fame at the Willamette Writers Conference

If you follow me on Facebook, you know I had my two minutes of fame Saturday night when I received the first place award for poetry at the Willamette Writers conference banquet in Portland Saturday night. It’s not my first award, but as the queen of second place, I’m thrilled about this one and that it’s for poetry makes it even sweeter. That I could also celebrate with Debby Dodds, a sister graduate from the Antioch LA MFA program was also a blessing. The pictures with me in them come from Debby’s camera.

I got a room with a view, but of what?
It was a strange day in Portland. So hot even the people who lived there kept complaining. When I got the news of my award, the conference hotel was already full, so I stayed at a place nearby. Lest I get sued for libel, let’s just say it was in the area. If I had read the reviews before I booked my room, I might have chosen a different place. “Rundown” is putting it nicely. The photo will show you what my “view room” offered out the window. It actually got better at night when the convention center towers were lit, but still. Inside, everything was hanging lopsided, not quite clean or falling apart. No pool, no breakfast, not even a free pen. But it was only for one night, and the air conditioner worked.

It was odd showing up at the conference hotel and not being registered for or teaching at the actual conference. I was just there for the banquet. Inside the ballroom, we winners were relegated to our own tables, but most of the winners lived too far away to come to the banquet. So I shared a half-empty table with an 11-year-old winner in the kids’ category, his mom, dad and bored older brother and a non-winner who came in late and needed a seat. Turns out she and I both worked at the same newspaper in Los Gatos, California a few years apart. Amazing.

The awards began a bit late, but moved quickly to the poetry division. Amid cheers, I hurried up to the platform, posed for a picture with my certificate and hurried back to my table, where Debby grabbed me for a hug and a couple selfies, which showed up on Facebook a few minutes later.

Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series
We contest winners were small fish at the banquet. Awards were also given to Justin Hocking, executive director of the Independent Publishing Resource Center; Kelly Williams Brown, author of Adulting: How to Become a Grow-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps; Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins and seven other books; Ivan Doig, author of 16 novels and three nonfiction books; and Diana Gabaldon, whose Outlander books are debuting this week as a TV series on Starz. Gabaldon gave one of the best keynote speeches I’ve ever heard. We laughed, we learned, we were inspired, we gave her standing ovation.  Man, she’s good. And she started her books while holding down two jobs and raising a couple of kids. So what’s our excuse?

Once the nerves of my own award were over, I could enjoy my dinner. Salmon with hollandaise, some kind of potato concoction, green beans, salad and the most beautiful dessert, which I should have photographed. With layers of chocolate, coffee, more chocolate and whipped cream, it looked like a cupcake but slid down easy like cheesecake. Not exactly on my diet, but hey, I won first prize. Besides, when you consider my low-fat breakfast at the grungiest Denny’s ever, it evens out.

In the morning, instead of rushing to the Doubletree for a day of classes, pitching, and networking, I was free to roam to Chinatown and the waterfront. It was a wonderful day. Stories and photos to come. And then it was back to Annie in the cool coastal forest. Ah, fame.

Monday, July 28, 2014

It’s Hand to Branch Combat with the wild berries

Yesterday after playing piano for two Masses and after a fattening lunch at Georgie’s, I battled the growth in my yard, especially the berry vines. Anyone who lives in rural western Oregon knows the berries that grow wild here—salmonberries, thimbleberries, blackberries, huckleberries—are a blessing and a curse. They offer delicious fruit, but they pop up everywhere, and the vines are vicious with thorns that grab at you like claws and don’t let go.

I live in the forest. The pines, berry vines, sword ferns, ivy and no-name weeds would take over if I let them. The forest would close in and smother the house and me and Annie along with it. So I spent my Sunday afternoon in hand to branch combat. I cut for hours, soaked with sweat and scratched with thorns, but loving the feel of my muscles working, growing strong. I don’t need a gym. I get plenty of bending, stretching and lifting working in the yard.
Cutting between the dog pen and the fence, it rained branches that piled up along my feet while Annie dashed around grabbing sticks to chew on. I cut everything sticking out or hanging over—as high as I could reach. I filled my squeaky yellow wheelbarrow over and over, but there was always more to cut, poking out of the fence, through the hedge, or sticking up through the boards of my deck. The berries are even choking the life out of my beloved blue hydrangea. It’s like a monster movie where you can’t get away from the monster. But I attacked wherever I could. And now, if anybody has a truck, I need a trip to the dump.

The forest plants and I are living creatures fighting for the same space. I will never win, but as long as I never stop, I will not be defeated.

Today, mosquito-bitten, sore, and mysteriously two pounds heavier, I look out at my clear path and neatly trimmed vines and feel power pulsing through my suntanned body. I have loppers, and I’m not afraid to use them.