Sunday, July 10, 2016

That Kid Who Frequently Came Asking for Support

Friends of Children
He started coming to my house when he was just a tyke, asking for donations that would help him travel to different schools for debate contests.  He was maybe junior high.  Cute kid; at the house representing his program, Friends of Children.  He told me he was a kid "at risk" and this program invited him in to help him.  He loved to argue and started in their Forensic program.  He, along with his team, traveled throughout Oregon and other near-by states to participate in debates.

Friends of Children is a unique mentoring program for kids at risk--poverty or lack of education or parents too young.  All races, genders.  It has a unique approach to helping at-risk youth.  From their website, "We commit to every child for the long term, from kindergarten through high school graduation. 12 ½ years. No matter what."  Their model:
Each child gets a dedicated, one-on-one Friend who spends a minimum of 16 intentional hours per month with them. We develop a road map for each child and design activities to build life skills. We create meaningful experiences to explore each child’s unique talents and interests.

On hot summer days, I would offer our young man something to drink.  If I had just baked something, I would offer him a treat.  Sometimes I had to ask him to return a different day because we had no cash on hand.  He always had a smile.  This great sweet smile.  Once in a while he would bring along a friend he said he was mentoring.  Always polite.  Always respectful.

During the school year, he would come every other month.  They were going to University of Washington.  They were going to Eastern Oregon.  They were going to University of Oregon.  I watched him through four years of high school.  I watched him grow, change, become a handsome intelligent soft-spoken young man.

Today he came by just to say hello.  His last debate will be in August.  Then he is going to take a trip to Las Vegas with friends.  Then he will begin college.  He is going to move to eastern Oregon to attend the university there.  He wants to get out of the city and try new things.

I feel like he is one of my kids in a way and I am so proud of him.  I told him this today.  He beamed.  I laughed and as we were parting, I shook his hand and told him of how much he did for himself all these year...and I didn't even know his name.

He grinned and softly said, "I'm JaySean."  I gave him a hug and he strutted away, off to meet the world.  Good on you, JaySean.  Good on you.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Weird Portland Wednesday: The Wishing Tree

It started one day when Nicole Helprin and her kids were heading out of town for the weekend.  They posted a few wishes on their tree and left.  When they returned, the tree had bunches of wishes on their tree.  The whole neighborhood became involved with wishes.  Nicole thought it was wonderful.

So she set up a sign, clipboard, markers and a plastic bag of shipping labels so that passersby can contribute.  She leaves the wishes up until they become crumbly or blow away. 

The wishes are anything.  This wonderful tree has people wishing for cures to cancer and wanting a pony for everyone.  It wishes for a doll to peace in the world.  And all that is asked is that you write down your wish and read another wish, hoping for the wish to come true.

Located at NE 7th & Morris, you are invited to come by and make a wish.  Or you can come by and see if you can grant any wishes.  Of course, all the wishes are posted anonymously, so that might be a big order...but you can grant the wish that there be more kindness in the world.  You can grant the wish that people could let go and be free.

Just one more delightful way we try to keep Portland connected (and weird).

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Fidgety Hands

Her hands rarely stopped moving.  I watched her take the towel on her lap, rub it together and then squeeze it between her fingers.  I watched her bite the towel and try to pull out a piece of nub from the terry cloth.  Throw down her towel.  Use her foot to try to bring the towel back up to her hands.  Shake her head in frustration and then pick at the pillow.  Just constant movement.  She never seemed calm, comfortable.

Michele Bilyeu and friends
Long before I knew anyone who might need them, I read about fidget blankets from my online friend, Michele Bilyeu from With Heart and Hands.  She had lost her mother to Alzheimer's Disease and found something that helped those with fidgety hands.  Memory quilts, fidget blankets, whatever you call them, have been around for a while.  Many have lots of items attached to them--toys and ribbons and zippers and pockets and stuffed bears.  Anything that might keep a person with dementia busy for a while.  Michele's were different in focus.  Hers were more plain with textural/tactile differences for busy hands. 

I can see the worth of such blankets with zippers and buttons and belts.  Pictures of family.  They give the person things to do with their hands and mind.  I can see the worth of buttons to undo and zippers to unzip.  But I liked the simple ideas that Michele presented: different textures, different colors including reds and oranges, ribbon tabs.  For her mother, she said, too many things would confuse her, plus washing the blanket would be more difficult.  Michele's idea was to give the person some tactile pleasure as they calmed the agitated hands.

See, people with dementia and/or Alzheimer's disease can easily become agitated for many reasons.  Perhaps they are hot or hungry or upset...they have less ability to understand the emotions or feelings but still somehow want to take care of the discomfort.  So perhaps they take off all their clothes to cool down or they fidget around for long periods of time trying to find the solution.

So I started making a few of these simple fidget blankets to give to the nursing center where my mother lives.  And then for a few of my friends to give to their mothers or aunts or uncles, their friends.  Each "batch" had more things added.  The first ones were a simple quilt of four nine-patch blocks and ribbon tabs.  I made sure each ribbon had a different texture. I then added lace and satin binding.  And buttons.

I rarely was able to see someone actually use one of my blankets until Ora Lee.  She adores the blanket.  She pets it.  Holds it like a kitten, like a baby.  She takes her fingers and weaves them through the ribbon loops.  She lightly scrapes her fingernail on her pointer finger across the different fabrics.  She also tries to poke her fingers into the lace and pulls quickly in order to rip the lace holes larger.  She will work at a seam in hopes of finding a weak spot that her fingers will go through.  She ignores the blanket and fidgets with her dress or the towel.  She bites at the fabric to make a hole.  This blanket calms her and also allows her to act out her frustrations.  

It was watching this delightful woman bite and pull that I decided to no longer add the buttons.  As nice as they were to add texture, I could see someone like Ora Lee biting at them and swallowing them.  I returned to making plain blankets with some lace and tabs.  Always tabs.

I use flannels, washable silks, fleece, soft fabrics such as Minkee, cottons--one of my favorite fabrics was the kerchiefs we received when we walked to end Alzheimer's.  My newest fabric I love to use is chenille.  I always back the blankets with Minkee or something similar in kitten-softness.  Most of the off-usual fabrics I use--the silks and the chenille and some of the Minkee--have been donated to me from my quilting friends.  I find interesting fabrics in the remnant area at the fabric store.  I pick up ribbons from the sales racks.

Fidgety hands need things with which to fidget.  Uncomfortable or agitated minds need things with which to calm them down.  I am glad some people can be comforted by something as simple as a fidget blanket.

Donations to the Alzheimer's Association can be made here: Alzheimer's Association

Friday, July 01, 2016

A Moment of Nostalgia

1939 Malheur County
I live in what is thought of as one of the most progressive states in the union.  We think of ourselves in this way, anyway, especially those of us who live in the cities along central and northern I-5 corridor.  Roseburg, Eugene, Salem, Portland.  We embrace diversity, thrive on liberal ideas, enjoy the fruits of the state while guiding that state into the newest century.  President George W. Bush called Portland "Little Beirut" as we protested the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq; we proudly accepted this title.   I am sure President Nixon wasn't any happier than Bush while we protested the war in Vietnam.  I love living in Portland and am pleased to be surrounded by those who easily accept everyone as they are.  It gives us such depth and variety.

But today as I was reading the Oregonian, it was seemingly news after news of bad breaks.  Murder and robbery and beatings and break-ins all over the United States.  In Milwaukie, Oregon, an 80 year old woman was shot and killed when a young neighbor had a fight with her boyfriend.  In a dramatic stance, she pulled out his gun, held it to her head, then instead of firing it on herself, she opened the door and shot it randomly out into the neighborhood.  It went through the wall of this delightful old woman's home and killed her.  Things are changing in our society.  More and more people are coming out as gay, lesbian, transgender.  We are once again discussing where to pee.  And technology has brought the world closer to us where we must pay attention to other cultures, societies, different ways.

Today it was a bit overwhelming, all this news.  I noticed an ad that featured photos of old-time Oregon and I realized I was nostalgic for these times--the early 1900s, 1920s.  And I came to a realization of how some people can yearn for these times--seemingly more simple and calm.  Things were as expected.  Life was good.  And I realized I wanted those times again.  I wanted to have life calm again.  And I could understand why people would say they wanted us to be "great" again.

But this didn't make sense when I actually thought about the emotions I was having.  The United States is already great.  The "again" is simply nostalgia...and with nostalgia we forget about all the other stuff.  Times weren't simpler; there were just different things new and changing, things we are used to being, having.  We know more now because technology has brought us news faster, more often.  We can read TWEETS faster than reporters can send out the information.

And reality comes: earlier times were not glorious.  Oregon was, and is still, one of the whitest states in the union.  We forbade Blacks from entering unless they were slaves and were needed for working.  The Oregon constitution, adopted in 1857, banned slavery but also excluded blacks from legal residence. It made it illegal for blacks to be in Oregon.  The laws made it clear that Oregon was a hostile destination for blacks contemplating a move west, and they proved to be remarkably effective.  Oregon had the largest Ku Klux Klan chapter west of the Mississippi River.  The KKK's focus in Oregon was against Catholics and Jews because our population of Blacks was so small the Klan could keep them as a secondary target.

And we brought others into the community--Chinese, Japanese, Chicano--to do our labor.  Forestry, building bridges, railroads.  And we treated them just as "special" as Blacks were treated.

But times changed.  I can imagine when the Black community started fighting back--the first NAACP chapter west of the Mississippi River was organized in Portland in 1913--how the people of Oregon nostalgically wished for those earlier, simpler days of the 1850s.

At this time, we do have one of the most progressive states in the union.  Do non-whites still have repression?  Of course.  Do we still practice racism and sexism and homophobia, xenophobia?  Of course.  We are still part of the United States.  But we are constantly working on changing.

So yes, let's keep America great.  Let's lower our shoulders and breathe in and out a bit.  Then we can accept that we are at times suffering from growing pains--knowledge and size and information--and that change is part of our life.

 Come join me on the porch.  We'll have some lemonade and biscuits, talk about life, occasionally yell at the kids walking past, and be part of our great community.