Thursday, October 6, 2016


Most everyone supports the premise that teaching is one of noblest and most important professions. At the age of 21, I embarked on my chosen career path as a high school Spanish and English teacher in the small town of Brasher Falls in upstate NY. During this interval, I added a Master’s Degree and an administrative certificate to my resume. Years later on the opposite side of the country in Wenatchee, Washington, I found myself endowed with the dubious title of “correctional educator.” This change required an additional endorsement -- special education. For 20 years, I would practice the art of teaching at the Chelan County Juvenile Justice Center, a maximum-security facility.

It didn’t take me long to discover that this new direction came with its own set of specialized demands, challenges and mandates set forth by the Department of Corrections. My traditional classroom management style of the past would not be effective in this environment. It was like entering another world -- a subculture of society. I felt like I had become the Cinderella of the educational biosphere, “Cinderella do this, Cinderella do that.” People often asked me if I was an authentic teacher, and my fellow colleagues in the “real” schools did not show me the respect I deserved. At times, I felt professionally ostracized and devalued just like Cinderella.

Most teachers enter their building through the main entrance. Not me! Every morning I had to stand outside a secure metal-monitored door and push a buzzer. I would be asked to identify myself and required to hold up my county issued ID for the camera. After this routine, the door would stridently buzz and unlock. The beastly gate required all my upper body strength to tug it ajar.  It would then magically slam shut behind me with a deafening and chilling clanking clamor. I had to repeat this procedure at two more doors before I was in the actual bowels of the edifice. A short hallway brought me to my first destination -- the control room or as it was fondly known: the command center. Inside this room were the switches to every door and camera in the building. Its strategic placement and elevated stature gave it a panoramic view of all zones. The darkened one-way glass contributed to its ominous appearance. I then pushed a buzzer and a metal drawer would slide out delivering my keys and the daily roster.

My keys did not give me access to my classroom. Once again, I had to push a buzzer and have the door opened for me. I was virtually locked in my room and needed to buzz to exit, too. The unlocking instruments were strictly for my desk, cupboards, closet, and the interior office area. Everything had to remain locked at all times. My room was crafted from ceiling to floor with bulletproof glass windows on two sides and drab institutional yellowish cinder blocks on the others. It was like working in a fishbowl-on display at all times. The room was outfitted with multiple cameras scrutinizing your every action.  The space was also wired for sound meaning that someone heard every word uttered. Four bright red buttons tactically placed added a much-needed pop of color to this bland background. They were smartly embossed in bright white letters that said PANIC providing yet another possibly lifesaving resource if needed. Next order of the day was to retrieve my two-way radio from the inner office. I was required to have it on my person every minute that I was in juvenile -- another lifeline.

Mundane items that most teachers take for granted like pencils, paper, staples, paperclips, pens, etc. now had new monikers -- deadly weapons and instruments of destruction. Writing utensils were used in several stabbings of inmates and staff during my resident stay. To minimize the risk, I was required to personally hand out and retrieve individual pencils. If they needed sharpening, I did it. If the lead went missing at any point then the student was obligated to crawl around on the charcoal color carpet to find it. If that did not happen, the students were removed one at a time from class and searched. Being caught with the evidence resulted in a three-day confinement to their room. Pencil lead can be used to stick in veins and tag cells. During art class, the kids were handed a clear plastic container of assorted supplies. An inventory of the contents was prominently displayed on the front. I had to regulate this constantly and recount every item in the box upon its return. It was very time consuming. If anything came up missing, the kids knew the drill. Gang Graffiti antics was always a concern.

I previously mentioned the evils of staples, paperclips and paper. Staples and paperclips could be used to pierce veins or other body parts such as eyes or ears or used as a last resort to keep holes open for tongue and nose rings etc. They could also be adeptly fashioned into makeshift tattoo devices and therefore not allowed in the classroom.  Paper was my archenemy. We had to have it to do our work, but it was the catalyst for my biggest source of classroom disciplinary infractions. Tagging or defacing a paper in any way resulted in a time out and loss of school points for the day. Consequently, that affected their overall program score in detention and resulted in the loss of certain privileges. Missing corners or other torn off pieces meant a classroom lock-down and staff search. These could be used to exchange phone numbers, make threats or plot heinous crimes within the facility.

Nothing left the classroom with the kids. At first, I naively let them borrow books but soon found out that they would be desecrated with graffiti, sexual slurs or even ripped apart and used to back up the toilets and flood their cells. I learned that lesson the hard way. One thing I did not have to fret over was inappropriate dress. Inmates were required to wear a hospital scrub like uniform. The boy’s was a dark drab army green while the girls donned a dowdy khaki tan. Everyone wore a short sleeve white cotton tee shirt under their top and white socks sheltered their feet. Shoes were deemed potential weapons and banned. During the winter months, the building remained quite cool and the kids sat in class shivering while trying to do their schoolwork. I always felt guilty wrapped cozily in a warm sweater.  When I first started the journey, the students were allowed to wear sweatshirts but after using them to clog toilets, choke staff and other inmates and for self-harming purposes they took on the nomenclature of dangerous liability and the privilege of warmth relegated to the past. 
Something as simple as taking my class to the computer lab always turned into a big, involved production. I had to make a request and wait until staff was available to escort us the 10 feet. It required being buzzed in and out of both rooms. The computer lab was similar in design to my classroom with the bulletproof glass and cinder-block walls, mirroring the same color scheme. I jokingly asked one time if a gun had ever made it into the secure area and was surprised by the response. “Yes! Several times.”  Eventually they were recovered during a cell search. Many knives and other contraband occasionally circumvent the intake process too. “The staff member glibly added, “You may not be as safe as you think back here.”

Custodial staff uniforms consisted of jeans, blue-collared polo shirts imprinted with the justice center logo and sneakers. They also donned the required utility belt housing mandated items. They were issued embossed navy blue sweatshirts. Although I was employed by Wenatchee School District, I was operating on the county owned property of the Justice Center and the inter-agency agreement between the two entities required me to comply with all rules, regulations and mandates set forth by Juvenile. Therefore, I was given a dress code which was similar to staff, but it allowed me the flexibility of not wearing the exact same thing every day. It made it easy to get ready for work, and I loved the causal and comfortable attire.

The innards of the detention edifice were windowless. It was like working underground. There was no natural light to brighten your day just the oppressive glare of fluorescent. The minute you set foot in the building, you felt cut off from the outside world, isolated -- quarantined. There was no stepping out for a breath of fresh air or the touch of the sun to warm your soul. The fortress seemed impenetrable. The classroom itself was an anomaly in comparison to its stark surroundings. It was like an unexpected oasis. It was typical of what you would see in a “regular” school setting. There were the standard student desks, overflowing bookshelves, student artwork plastering the walls and motivational posters purposefully placed. It was bright, cheery, warm, cozy, colorful and most importantly welcoming and comfortable a direct contrast to the rest of the monotonous institution decor. The students loved classroom #2. Every one of them, in some way, had contributed to the ambiance and with ownership came pride.

There is also the teaching component that needs to be addressed. My coed charges ranged in age from 8-18. Most of them were academically-behaviorally challenged requiring serious remedial intervention. Those that still actively enrolled in school were provided their own work. This last group was the minority. For the majority I was required to design individualized curriculum based on their performance levels derived from a battery of tests. Many of my students were in special education and I was responsible for revising their IEPs (Individualized Education Program) while they resided in my program. Trying to get parents down to the juvenile facility for IEP meetings was a nightmare. The average class size was around 14, but fluctuated on a daily basis. The faces changed constantly. Some kids were there for two hours before going to court and being released and others remained for months on end. It was like a revolving door -- round and round, in-and-out, in-and-out. There are also many interruptions to deal with during school time. Staff is constantly calling for kids to go to court, or to meet with lawyers and probation officers. More of the in-and-out, in-and-out syndrome. It is very disruptive and impedes the already questionable focus of others. All communication is done via the two-way radios. This frequent chatter is another problematic concertation buster that you learn to endure.

Upon departing at night, my morning routine is reversed. I enter the inner office and secure my two-way radio. I check to make sure my desk, closet, cupboards, and office door are locked. I then buzz my door, approach the control room, deposit my keys, and school points sheet in the waiting drawer. I retrace my footsteps and buzz through three doors, and each time the aftermath of the banging metal clamor resonates through my body. Finally, out on the street I take a deep breath of fresh air and remind myself how lucky and thankful that at the end of the day I am able to regain my freedom and go home to my family. My students are not as blessed.

The working environment of a correctional educator is definitely unique. You are constantly juggling your teaching duties with the safety and security demands dictated by another agency. It is an extreme sport, of sorts, with danger lurking around every twist and turn. There is never a dull moment and no two days are ever the same. It is addicting. How many people can say that after 20 years on a job? In the end, all I can say is that yes, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. I do not regret one moment of that amazing experience. I loved that job, and it made me a better human being. I was blessed.

A special thanks to all my students. I will never forget you!  
Valerie S.
August 14, 2016

Thank you Valerie for sharing a very interesting and unique teaching position.  It surely makes my teaching experience a cake-walk!

The Great Depression and World War II

As history is constantly moving us forward, and often too quickly, it is wonderful to know some who have experienced eras in the past that most people only know from history books.  For someone to have experienced major events first hand, it is rewarding to read of their personal view.  I'm honored to share with you Jeanne's childhood memories of this time in Oregon. Jeanne wrote this while a member of my writing class.

The Great Depression and World War II

For the past week I’ve been watching “The Roosevelts” on TV, Ken Burns’ latest serial about American life.  I was born in December of 1934, and FDR was the president throughout my childhood.  The events portrayed were happening as I grew up.
            Until I was seven we lived in Northeast Portland.  The Great Depression was apparent everywhere around us.  Fortunately, my dad always had a good job; we lived in a nice house and had plenty to eat.  That wasn’t true for some of our extended family.  I remember my mom making food boxes for my dad to deliver to aunts and cousins who had no work.  There were abandoned houses in our neighborhood because families had to move out due to the lack of employment.  Almost every day single men would knock on our door and ask my mother if they could work for food.  Sometimes she had no work for them but fed them anyway.  They would sit on our front steps, balancing a plate on their knees and silently eat whatever she served them. I was four or five years old and very curious about these people, but I don’t remember them acknowledging me in any way.  It seemed to me they were slightly embarrassed by their circumstances.
            One time when I was riding in the car with my dad we stopped at a light and there on the corner was an older woman, sitting on a couch with all her belongings piled around her.  I had never seen such a thing.  When I inquired about it my dad said she had been evicted by the sheriff because she didn’t pay her rent.  I asked my dad where she would go.  He didn’t seem too concerned or interested, but I was very upset by it.  When I was older, I realized he must have seen similar circumstances all the time as he drove around Portland.
            In April of ’42 my parents bought a house in the country.  We sat on a hill overlooking Tigard, Bull Mountain and the Coast Range mountains.  At that time we were really out in the country; all the growth in that area occurred after the war.  I think my parents moved there because people believed there was a real threat of the Japanese invading the west coast or at least bombing the cities.  No one knew what might happen, and people and the government became very irrational as witnessed by the interment of the innocent Japanese-American citizens.
            In school we learned what to do in a bombing raid (get under the desk; stay away from windows) and were paired with another student who lived very close to school so we could go to their house with them if there was time.  I decided right away that I would run the mile to my house rather than be with strangers.
            Every residential area was assigned a Fire Marshall for their district.  This was a neighbor who came around periodically to make sure you had a bucket of sand, a shovel and a fire extinguisher in case of an incendiary bomb attack.  No outside lights were allowed at night and windows were covered with blackout shades so no light was visible from the outside.  Car travel at night was restricted, and cars that must be out had special headlight shades installed.
            All kinds of good were rationed and some weren’t available at all.  Meat, sugar, butter, and coffee all required ration stamps to purchase as did shoes, tires and gasoline.  Many people had Victory Gardens.
            We observed more signs of war as time went on: convoys of hundreds of Army trucks and jeeps going form Camp Adair near Corvallis to Fort Lewis, squadrons of bombers coming and going from who knows where.  Everything was “Top Secret”. “Loose Lips Sink Ships” was the motto of the day. 
One day my four-year-old brother was playing outside by himself.  He came tearing into the house, his eyes huge.  He pulled on my mother’s clothes, “Mama, mama, look! There’s ……..somethin’!? The “somethin’” was a huge blimp form the Tillamook Naval Air Station handing right over the house so low my mother said you could clearly see the people inside.
            It was an interesting and scary time.  Then we entered another scary time when school kids once again had to practice for attacks. It was called “The Cold War.”
Jeanne R.
1 Oct 2014


Saturday, September 3, 2016


I asked my writing class a few years ago to do a poem about themselves.  Although the poem is called an I Am Poem, it is not the same as you often find on the internet.

Sharon H. has submitted her poem to the blog, but what is even more wonderful is that a copy of her poem was posted on five windows of a building in front of a bus stop in her neighborhood. What an honor and what a statement about this wonderful neighborhood in times past.

Several members of the writing class met her for lunch and to view the poem.  Below is a photo of Sharon and the store front rendition.  Below is the full poem.  I hope you enjoy it as much as the class did.


I am from the wrong side of the cut.
The place where two powerful rivers meet
beneath the majestic bridge that frames St. Johns
The same bridge my mother threatens to jump from
when I misbehave.
The same polluted rivers that tempt me
on hot summer days.

I am from the working man's end of town
where the drums of the Salvation Army Band on the corner
drown out the western music blaring from the beer joints
I am from the smoke of the mills,
of ship's horns blowing in the quiet of night
to signal the bridge tender
A place where men carry lunch boxes
and women wear house dresses.

I am form World War 2, March of Dimes,
paper drives, rations, and 3 Roses whiskey.
I am Pug, the skinny girl with freckles and braids
named for her twin in the funny papers.
I am the first grandchild backward, awkward and mismatched.
Entertained and spoiled by bachelor uncles who smoke
Camel cigarettes and shoot craps at family gatherings.

I am from Saturday matinees with
Filipino babies impaled on Japanese bayonets and
Sunday drives with Japanese children playing
behind barbed wire.
I am from double Bubble gum, penny licorice, roller skates with keys and
handball played off the bricks of James John grade school.
I am from skinny legs with skinned knees
barefoot in the dry summer grass
barefoot in the warm summer rain.
Of robins and earthworms in the newly spaded garden
The quiet hum of honey bees in the sun and
angry roaring bumble bees in glass coffee jars

I am from the delicate Trillium growing on the dense forest floor
on Dixie mountain.
I am from the cold clear water from grandma's witched-well there.
I am from sweet goats milk I drink to fatten me up and
bitter tea made from Oregon Grape root to keep me healthy
I am from milk toast and Ovaltine, served with
cod liver oil and iodine.
I am from white bucks, kick pleats and horseshoe bangs.

I am from Western swing playing on the polished Philco console
on Saturday afternoons while supper cooked.
Playing again on Saturday nights with grownups
dancing on the faded linoleum floor.
Songs and guitar music flowing as fast as the alcohol
All seen from behind the cracked bedroom door.

I am from summers spent in saltwater and sand
with tide pools of starfish and sea anemone which close
at the touch of my toe.
I am looking for agates and swimming in the surf.
I am fishing for shiners from the mooring basin and
waiting for the changing tide.
I know the changes -- low tide, slack tide, high tide.
I see rust and corrosion, fog and mist, South and North jetties.
I hear diesel engines thumping as they pass the buoys
tossing and clanging in the chop.
I see Fishermen watching and waiting at the Yaquina Bay bar.
I hear Sea gulls squawking, fighting for fish scraps on their return.

I am from the canneries on the waterfront that
spew their waste into the bay
their smell defining the small fishing town of Newport
I am from shucked crab, clams and hotcakes for breakfast
thick white slabs of halibut, and salmon every day
fried, pickled, creamed, poached, and smoked
gorging all the while "the little children in China starve"

I am from "set up straight", "it's snowing down south", "slick as snot"
and "hotter than a sheriff's pistol".
I am from unions, solidarity and equal rights
An injury to one is an injury to all
I am form fair and square.
I am form St. Johns

Sharon H.
Feb 2011
James John Grade School 1942-1950
Roosevelt High School 1950-1954
ILWU Local 8 1980-1999

Thank you Sharon for a look at the past in your neighbor.
3 Sept 2016

Thursday, August 4, 2016


We’ve all had our bad days. When you are having a difficult time, just reread the following story submitted by Valerie, a member of my writing class.  AND…can you imagine the job she jumped into after this one!


                      Wenatchee, Washington 1991

Having a bad day at work goes with the territory; ask anyone. There is one particular day that I will never forget. It was beyond bad! It was a nightmare and unfortunately, I was wide-awake for the entire ordeal. At the time, I was employed by EPIC, an early childhood agency that provided daycare programs for low-income migrant families in the Wenatchee area. I served in a dual capacity…facility director and preschool teacher… at the Applewood location. As director, I was required to be on site from opening until close which was from 5:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. I was also in charge of supervising the staff of eight. There were seven daycare providers and one cook who also filled in wherever needed. The children ranged in age from one month to five years, and our enrollment this particular month was 45 little angels. Let’s just say for better or worse, everything and everybody depended on me!

My alarm went off at my least favorite time of day 3:00 a.m. I peeked out the window to discover that we were under attack by a torrential downpour that appeared to have taken up permanent residence. I hoped that this was not an omen for how the rest of the day would go.

By 3:45 a.m., I was in the Applewood parking lot and realized that I had forgotten my umbrella. I got drenched! My key would not cooperate, and I couldn’t unlock the door to the building. I stood in the driving rain for five minutes trying to finagle the stupid mechanism. Finally, success! 

I dripped and squished my way down the hall to my office and was promptly greeted by the blinking red light of the message machine. Two of my staff had called in sick, and the cook was going to be an hour late which meant hungry, cranky kids to start the day. Was this day over yet? I felt the start of a headache coming on, and I was shivering and cold from being wet.

Over the next hour, the rest of the staff meandered in and grumpily protested as I informed them of the need to combine rooms due to the staffing shortage. I almost had a full-blown mutiny on my hands when I explained that breakfast would be an hour late.

At 5:00 a.m. the sleepy eyed children began to congregate. They usually arrived and were greeted by a nutritious hot breakfast, but not on this day. Within ten minutes, the building exploded with bawling and tantrums coming from every nook and cranny. Was 5:15 a.m. too early to drink, I wondered?

I scurried from room to room trying to put out the fires before the flames engulfed us all. Two of my staff threatened to leave. I started to sneeze and could feel the beginnings of a cold coursing through my body. My head felt like it was about to split open. Thoughts of fleeing surged through my mind. I reminded myself that according to maritime tradition the captain goes down with his sinking ship if all else fails, and we were sinking fast.

By 6:45 a.m. breakfast was being served, and the morning’s mayhem seemed to be subsiding…or so I thought. At my post in the preschool room, I noticed that several of the kids’ oatmeal bowls had blue specs in them. Upon closer observation it became evident that something that should not be there was in their cereal. I quickly grabbed the affected bowls despite the irate objections of the children.

OMG!  It was blue gravel from our aquarium. I knew exactly who did it. “LEE,” I bellowed. “”FRONT AND CENTER-NOW!

Lee was the class scoundrel and 9 out of 10 times the instigator of all classroom disasters. Lee appeared with two empty milk cartons in hand. “Where is the milk Lee?” I impatiently inquired. He pointed to the fish tank, which was now a murky white color. By the time I made it to the tank the other students were gathered around crying that their “fishies” were going to die. Grabbing the net, I blindly stabbed into the milky waters hoping against all odds to snare a fish. No such luck. We put a stopper in the sink and cup by cup, we emptied the tank and eventually recovered all six of the missing “Nemos” to the delight of the kids.

We then moved the fish into a large clear bowl until we could properly clean the aquarium for their return. If any of the fish were lactose intolerant they would soon be dead for sure. Crisis averted for now!

Next, I faced the task of cajoling the irritated cook into remaking oatmeal for the preschoolers. Was this day ever going to end? Is it time to go home yet? The clock read 7:30 a.m. You have to be kidding! My pity party was interrupted when a small voice inquired, “Teacher, where did the fish go?

”Fish? What?” I looked at the bowl, and it was empty. “LEE.”
“Yes teacher” he brazenly replied.
Where are the fish?” I demanded.
“In the ocean,” he retorted.
What ocean, Lee?” 
“In there, “and he pointed to the bathroom.

Realizing that their beloved pets had been flushed down the toilet, the reaction was instantaneous. First one child burst into tears, and that led to a spontaneous combustion of sobbing grieving little ones with one exception. Lee was writhing on the floor convulsed by a fit of laughter. My headache now blossomed into a Category 5 tropical storm.

Finally, placated from their fish disaster, we settled onto the rug for story time. Teacher’s helper for the day has to select the story. I consulted the chart and today of all people it was Lee. Wonderful! Lee made a beeline to the shelf and returned grinning like a Cheshire cat with book in hand. I had a bad feeling about this. He had selected “A Fish out of Water.” I nonchalantly took the book and began reading. Lee enjoyed every word…the rest of the class not so much. For the others it was the catalyst for another round of waterworks.

Snack time did little to lift the dampened spirits of the miniature mourners. It was naptime, and with any luck that would give me a few moments to try to regain my now quickly dissolving sanity. The snivelers went down without a fight, exhausted by their harrowing morning.

As the angels peacefully slumbered away, I made a disturbing observation. Several of them were scratching their heads as they slept. A feeling of dread washed over me. “Please, not today,” I lamented. “I don’t know how much more I can take.” After the kids awoke, my helper and I donned our latex gloves. Armed with tongue depressors we did a lice check on everyone in the room. We had a full-fledged lice-a-thon in progress. A lice check in the other rooms confirmed my suspicions that our infestation had taken on global proportions. My skin began to feel creepy crawly, and I began scratching and itching everywhere.

Being a provider for the low-income migrant families, we could not send the children home, but were required to treat them on site. We had no medication available. We needed 40 boxes. I retreated to my office and started calling establishments in search of the needed number of cartons. My third call paid off, and I found a store that had the number needed in inventory.

Driving to my savior’s destination, I itched and scratched all the way. Upon arrival, I made my way back to the pharmacy, and there they had a shopping cart full of the treatment waiting for me. As I wheeled the lice-mobile to the front of the store, people stared at the contents and stepped back from my cart, providing them with a comfortable buffer zone. I felt like shouting “Lice can jump 10 feet you know,” even though I knew it wasn’t true! I wanted them to suffer too!

As I unloaded the 40 boxes of RID onto the conveyor belt the lady in front of me gasped in disbelief and got as far away from me as possible. The people behind me went to another line. When it was my turn, the cashier stopped to put on rubber gloves. It was downright embarrassing and humiliating, and I was sure that Lee was responsible! It was a lousy situation for sure.

Back at the center, we spent the rest of the day washing heads and using the nit combs. Next, we sanitized the mats and thoroughly vacuumed and laundered all the blankets. My staff were not happy campers and threatened to quit every 10 minutes. I shared their pain and wanted to abscond just as much as they did…maybe even more! By 6 p.m. all the kiddos had been picked up, and I spent another four hours cleaning and disinfecting. I had arrived in the darkness of morning and fittingly left in the blackness of the night. It had been a day of gloom and doom from beginning to end, and in five hours, I would get to do it all over again.

It was a day from which nightmares are born, and one I never want to repeat. I fell into bed and dreamed of super-sized lice taking over the world, dead fish, and yelling “LEE!” The only positive out of the entire escapade was that I did not get lice. Two weeks later, I quit when Wenatchee School District offered me a teaching position at the juvenile center. Writing this memoir is making me itchy!
August 1, 2016

Valerie S.


Monday, July 25, 2016


There is power in poetry.  It can tug at our heartstrings, make us laugh, and heal our souls in ways that prose cannot.  Speaking in short terms, it allows the space for the reader to fill the gaps based on their own experiences, taking on personal meaning, not unlike the individual's interpretation of works of art.

The following poem was written before Sue B. joined the writing class. As the result of a discussion with her, we concluded that writing an introduction for each poem would provide some background, a setting, or explanation as to why she was moved to write about a particular event.  

        Recently it was Mother’s Day, and I wished I could have looked forward to it and enjoyed it as many women and men do. Unfortunately, I couldn’t as my mother was an alcoholic and a raging one at that. All thru my childhood and later when I was an adult, and especially after my father died when I was 5, things got rough for myself and my siblings. (As a matter of fact, I do not believe I even met the real person my mother was – or became – until 6 months before her death when she became so incapacitated she was no longer able to obtain alcohol by herself – and thus was dried out by her doctors, and I met this sweet woman I had never met before.)
        But especially during my childhood, she was quite the emotional abuser, and her mood swings were vast and her meanness differed widely depending on the time of day and how much she had had to drink. Often she was very harsh in her judgments, “Well, if you have to say you’re sorry for doing it, you wouldn’t have done it in the first place….” Didn’t leave much room for self-acceptance, self-forgiveness, and self-love – much less any of that for others. 
        And so I do not have any loving poems written to my mother, or for her, rather she was the inspiration for several poems I have written during my continual healing journey toward my own self-love and wholeness.


  I have a place within me
         it is my sacred space   

It holds my thoughts, my dreams, my songs
        no one else's - it is mine and I like it that way,
        in fact - I demand it that way

It holds no one else's hopes or truths or joys - just mine
        so why would anyone else want to take it from me?

Oh I speak not of the joy of sharing scared space with
        loved ones - the hold circle of communion - 

I tell of the opening of the soul without its permission

The incision of a scalpel, so small but sharp, the rendering
        of my insides without even my permission

"It is not your right to ask me why or even question how.
        Just accept it as my right since I am so big and you
        are so small, and obviously don't even know right
        from wrong."

But I knew....somehow the little voice inside of me remained and 
        whispered always...."That is a lie.  You have the right to your
        insides, your emotions, and the scared space is yours alone 
        (and mine.)"

But the knives they did not cease, they sliced thru every day, and
        soon my feelings became the playground of the high and

I was taught the games to please and pleasure the giant
        (Give her what she wants and maybe I'll get out of this alive!)

But still the abuse went on, year after year, lie after lie,
        and a part of me slowly began to believe...

The only good, the only use I have is the playground of this
        might giant, I have no right to my own emotions, my 
        own scared space

My use is to take what she gives me and heal her wounds,
        and sing when she is sad, and laugh when she is mad
        (to get her out of her ill humor)

And cry when she needs to vent her anger
        (so she knows she has hurt someone in her pain)

"Oh God" I cry, "Not again, will this never cease?"

It never did, and so I grew up and moved away, and became the
        perfect fool for any and all kings, giants, or anyone with
        a scalpel

Yes, I learned my lessons well, keep a smiling face, never let
        anyone know how you fell, and above all else never, never
        say no.

For how could the jester jest if she was in a bad mood or laugh
        and sing and play the fool if she is having a bad day.

"No, you do not have the right to your own emotions,
        keep them at bay, especially when you are on duty every single day."

"Now be a good jester, people pleaser, whatever, dance and
        sing and play, I need my mood uplifted."

And so it went day after day, year after year....
        but the little voice within me refused to die

And quietly its message continued to echo within the scarred and 
        scared passages inside...

"You have the right, the right to your own feelings and emotions.
        It is your scared space and mine to share our communion."

And somehow thru the years, thru much giving and loving, and my
        accepting, the message is ringing clearer and clearer

Yes, I have the right to my own feelings, my own love, my
        own laughter, my own giving

I give to whom I please, I love whom I please
        and I know what is you and what is me

There is no blurring of the boundaries
        I know who I AM and stronger and stronger

And I know who you are outside my healthier
        walls of self-esteem

In fact, I'm okay, I'm growing stronger day by day
        and I do what I damn well please

There is no more open door to my insides, my emotions,
        to do what you will

I have my own feelings now
        to do what I will

And the little voice inside which has always 
        been my friend....

I have signed a pact of peace, love
        and acceptance

And we often sit in communication
        laughing, playing, giggling

Safe within our scared space of joyous
        holy communion.

Thank you for sharing with us Sue!


Tuesday, May 17, 2016


                                                                Portland, Oregon 2016

I am an old woman that lives a very generic, vanilla type lifestyle. I am not wild, adventurous, thrill seeking, or crazy. Well, the jury may still be out on that last one. The only swinging I have ever done in my life is on an actual swing at a playground as a child. Even my daily diet is repetitive, bland, and lackluster. I have always been extremely modest and conservative. I get up at 6:30 a.m. sharp every morning and go to bed at 11:00 p.m. every night like clockwork. I walk my dog three miles a day, rain or shine. A wild day for me would consist of eating a large ice cream cone with sprinkles on top in place of dinner, drinking a glass of wine, and staying up past midnight. Jellybeans and Peeps are my guilty pleasures. My life could be aptly compared to watching grass grow. By the way, sadly, my grass died last summer. I miss my grass!  Most of the time, my life is routine, unimaginative, predictable, and downright boring.  The afternoon of May 5, 2016 certainly proved to be an exception to the above premise. That Thursday my life bore a striking resemblance to a scene taken straight out of a sleazy romance novel and I, Grandma, was the sexy seductress.

This is how it all began, and I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

The city of Portland received a $10,000 grant from FEMA to provide and install 400 Flash-Shake-and-Wake smoke detectors for its hard of hearing and deaf residents. The State of Oregon notified me of this opportunity since I am already in possession of a phone for the hearing impaired provided at no cost by a government agency.  I went online and completed the required application. A Certification of Eligibility documented by a professional was also required to complete the process. I printed it off and presented it to my audiologist for his signature. I am deaf in my right ear due to a disease called otosclerosis. I have lost almost 70% of the hearing on the left side. I do wear a hearing aid in that ear and for the most part, it makes me functional in social settings. I also read lips. At night I remove my aid and sleep on my left side. As a result, I am incapable of hearing anything including the “wake the dead” decibels produced by my alarm clock or the smoke detector. If either goes off, my dog dances on my head to let me know.  Therefore, I jumped at this opportunity. It would not only give me piece of mind, but my kids as well. They fret over me living alone and not being able to hear alarms.

I was notified by email that I had been approved to receive the special system and that two firefighters would arrive at my home on May 5th at 1:00 p.m. to install the equipment. A home safety audit would also be conducted.

As promised, the firefighters arrived promptly at 1:00 p.m. As I watched them “strutting their stuff” up the path, my heart skipped a beat. They both looked oh so “fine” in their uniforms. As the hunks got closer to my door, I had to catch my breath! They introduced themselves as inspectors McDreamy and Studmuffin. Up close and personal they were so Hunky Dunky Do!!!  Oh if I was only forty years younger. I had to reel my wandering mind back into reality.

Inspector McDreamy  spoke in an extremely loud voice that I was sure everyone within a mile of my house could hear. “DOES  A HARD  OF HEARING PERSON LIVE HERE?”  With a dumbfounded look on my face, I nodded in the affirmative and pointed to myself as a form of identification. “Smooth move Grandma,” I thought. I knew I still had some game left somewhere, and I desperately needed it now! He continued speaking at glass breaking decibels, and I decided to go with the flow and take some Aleve later for the headache he was giving me. The sensual buzz was gone; negated by the decibel situation. It just was not very romantic at all.

I escorted my men friends into my boudoir to set up my system. I tried to remember the last time I had had two hot men in my room at the same time. The answer had the same effect as getting a bucket of cold water dumped on my head. NEVER!  OMG, I am so boring. I was determined that I would not let this opportunity slip through my fingers! Enthusiasm renewed, I was more than happy to comply with the firefighters’ next request when he said, “WOULD YOU PLEASE LIE DOWN ON THE BED FOR US?” He did not have to ask me twice, and I feverishly leapt onto the bed almost missing my intended mark.  He was still yelling, but that was a small price to pay for the anticipated outcome. Quickly I took an inventory to make sure I hadn’t hurt myself in my overzealous leap for love. Nothing broken, I gazed up into their smoldering seductive eyes. The look sent shudders throughout my body. I thought to myself, “Grandma, this is your lucky day!” I could hear angels singing and fireworks going off. I lay on the bed in absolute bliss in a sense of anticipation.

The firefighter placed the bed shaker under my mattress. He activated it and asked in his outdoor voice, “CAN YOU FEEL THE VIBRATIONS?” I shook my head no. He continued to move the shaker in different positions and persistently inquired, “CAN YOU FEEL IT NOW? HOW ABOUT NOW?” The answer was still negative.

I closed my eyes and willed myself to feel the undulations. I encouraged myself by silently chanting, “Go Grandma, Go Grandma.” My impure thoughts were making me feel so uncatholic and unchaste. However, look at the bright side, not in a million years did I ever imagine that I would be laying on a vibrating bed on a Thursday afternoon with two hot firefighters standing over me. At my age, it doesn’t get any better than that. I can dream, can’t I?

Unfortunately, I felt nothing and began to wonder if my body was half-dead. In the end, we placed the shaker under my pillow. The firefighter must have sensed my frustration and offered up the excuse that the mattress was probably too thick. They say as you get older everything on your body hangs to the south. In my case some of my body has left the country! Now all I have to look forward to is shaken senior syndrome or whiplash from the vibrations of the shaker under my pillow. So much for Grandma’s Afternoon Delight.

The bedroom scene played out we moved on to the safety check. The firefighters complimented me on my orderly home and talked about some of the hoarding situations they had seen. “Really guys? We just shared an intimate rendezvous in the bedroom and all you want to talk about is my orderly house? I mused. The story of my life!

Before they left, I asked them to take a selfie with me.  Good naturedly they agreed. We got up close and personal, and I felt my sensual buzz reviving. I explained that the picture was for my senior memoir writing class –proof that I was not fabricating this story.

Inspector McDreamy then asked in his outdoor voice, “ARE ALL THE SENIORS IN YOUR MEMOIR CLASS LOOPED?”

Quizzically I replied, “Looped? Heavens no! The last class of each session we bring food, but other than that the only substance we consume is water.”


I let out a big sigh of relief as I replied, “In that case I can honestly say that no one in my class is looped!’ See memoir mates--I always have your backs!

As they left, they hugged me and thanked me for a fun time! I knew I still had game! They said I was one of the nicest women they had ever met. I asked them to put it in writing as proof, and they did. I was going to bring it to class, but my dog ate it! Bad dog!  This is the true story of Grandma’s almost afternoon delight! Maybe next week I will call the police department and see what they can do for Grandma! Until then, back to living the life of an old lady!

                                                                                                             --Valerie S. May 9, 2016

I hope all of you enjoy this, our writing class sure did!
Thank you Valerie!


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Elephant Ladies and the Original Sports Stadium Wave

Did you ever wonder about how college students entertained themselves at losing football games? About the crazy ideas inspired by youth and liquid refreshments? Did you ever consider the origin of a very famous audience participation activity that has become internationally known in team sports? Well, other sources claim the glory, but this is the real story behind The Wave.

Guest blogger, Don M., a member of my writing class, was gracious to share his story...

It was September 1972, and I was an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Washington.  One the reasons that I attended the college was to watch the football games that I had heard on the radio and had watched on TV but had never attended.

I not only attended the game, but in a few years, I would be part of initiating something that people see every day at stadiums throughout the world.  It was the original stadium wave where the crowd stands up in unison to create a wave-like motion throughout the stadium.  The UW student section also witnessed a herd of Elephant Ladies along with the wave.

Several so called "cheerleaders", like crazy George of the Oakland Athletics baseball team in 1981, claim to have actually organized this phenomena, but just like  Animal House, the movie about a rowdy college fraternity, it was a bunch of drunken students that actually started the famous sports stadium wave. 

I'm surprised that the 10,000+ students during the 1973-74 Husky Football season have not risen in unison to tell the world about the famous Sports Stadium Wave's actual conception.

After the 1972 Sonny Sixkiller era, a Cherokee Indian Quarterback, the team went into several losing seasons before Don James was hired as the football coach in 1975.  

The students kept chanting, "Fire Jim Owens! Fire Jim Owens!"  They even wore buttons to promote the firing of then Coach Jim Owens.

Rob Weller, the lead cheerleader, now a reporter for the Home Garden Network, wanted to quiet the drunken student crowd form yelling at Coach Owens.  Weller and the cheerleaders controlled the angry crowd with laughter from the student section by creating and seeking amateur comic routines from anyone and everyone.

One of the most requested routines was created by one of the lady band members who did her famous Elephant Lady routine.  The marching band uniform had a large zipper in the front of the pants and also large white pockets, so when you turned the pockets inside out, they looked like large elephant ears.  The co-ed band member, named Elephant Lady, would turn her pants pockets inside out to form the elephant ears, and then she would stick her hand and arm through the zipper opening which was supposed to look like the trunk of the elephant.

The Elephant Lady was pleased with her new "trunk" and said that her trunk could do all sorts of tricks.  She proudly stuck both arms through the zipper and announced that her female species of elephant had two trunks.  She would then show off her two trunks by doing new tricks at each football game, like juggling or somehow playing her saxophone. The Elephant Lady then started to recruit more elephant ladies form the band until there was a herd of elephant ladies who had all sorts of tricks and magic that they could perform with their trunks.  As the losing season went along, the football team got worse, but the team and herd of UW band elephant ladies got better and saved the football season.

The Elephant Lady kept the student section laughing during the 1973 season and saved Coach Jim Owens' job that year.  Most of the elephant ladies graduated in 1974, so without their distractions for the students, the Tyee Alumni asked that Jim Owens also graduate into retirement at the end of that year.  He was fired.

Another activity to calm the rowdy student section was the famous "brown bag check". Each student section was designated by different season ticket colors.  The 10 yard to the end zone tickets were white, the 10 to 25 yard section was green, the 25 to 40 yard section was gold, and the 40 to 50 yard section was purple.

Most of the students had brought alcohol into the stadium, as long as it was in a "brown bag" to be discrete.  Then it was generally accepted because there was honor among thieves in the student section; we all looked out for each other to make sure that a friend didn't go too overboard with drinking.

Stan and I were friends since childhood, and as UW students we did our part with the preparation of our bottle-in-a-brown-bag by getting the cheapest and most powerful alcohol to sneak in and to blend it with a large bottle of Pepsi or Coke to create his semi-like cherry cola that tasted more like bad cough syrup, but we didn't care because it got us to be a couple of cheap drunks by the second quarter.  We would get a bottle of Mogen David 20/20 from our friend JP who had a fake ID.  Mogen David is widely known as "Mad Dog".  Originally, the "20/20" stood for 20 ounces at 20% alcohol by volume.  Currently, MD 20/20 is neither sold in 20 ounce bottles nor at 20%, but is actually about 13-18% depending upon the flavor.

After the band played the song "Tequila", Rob Weller would start to ask each section to stand and raise their brown bags to see how many students were drinking.  Each section would stand, cheer and "wave" their brown bags.

Weller would say, "How about the green section???!!! And the green section of about 3,000 students would stand, cheer and wave their brown bags.  Weller would then say, "How about the purple section???!!!.  That section, also about 3,000 students, would stand, cheer, and wave.

Once, Weller just happened to ask the white section near the end-zone, then he asked the adjacent green section, then the gold and finally the purple section, which ended up being in sequence form the end zone to the 50-yard line at mid-field.  He started laughing and said that this sequential brown bag check made that side of the stadium look like a "wave", and then he started to ask the student section to repeat the born bag check in the same sequence, but to do it faster.

He shouted "white, then green, then gold, then purple".  He paused for a moment and laughed as he continued with "white, then green, then gold, then purple, then white, then green, then gold, then purple".  He began to sound like a train engineer conducting this stadium wave with his cheering directions and laughing over the microphone and large speakers.

Soon Rob started to organize the wave onthe north side of the stadium with the student "brown bag check".

In the 1970's, the NCAA would allow student section leaders to have huge speakers to lead the students with their cheers.  These speakers were like the ones used on aircraft carriers which are six-feet in diameter. Rob had the cheerleaders turn the west side speaker toward the closed bowl of the stadium so half of the crowd could now understand what was being organized.  After the crowd saw the student wave and heard the instructions on the west-end speaker, gradually the rest of the stadium caught on and the wave started from the student section and continued all the way over to the south end toward the alumni section, the Tyees.

If someone at KOMO TV station in Seattle could find some 1974 archive of the "Husky Highlight" films, the old Jim Owens TV show with the KOMO sports anchor Bruce King, then you would see the wave in the background.

The University of Washington tries to hide the real origin of the wave by stating that the band director along with Rob Weller, then retired, came back in 1981 to organize a method for The Wave with instructions and everything, but it was, in truth, a bunch of drunken students who accidentally and proudly raised their bottles in brown bags to form the original stadium crowd wave along with the ghost of the past herd of elephant ladies playing tricks with their trunks of the previous year.

It was not in 1981, but it was back in the dark, losing Husky days of 1973-74.

-- Don M. (Class of 1978)

Thank you Don!