Sunday, December 3, 2017

Christmas tree time capsule

In what feels like the land of Christmas trees, I must admit, we have a fake tree. Its lights permanently woven within its branches, the branches made from hidden wire under the faux fir needles, our tree must be straightened and fluffed each year after its 11-month stay in a box. 

It’s a small tree, maybe 4-feet tall, and although it doesn’t have the refreshing scent of a real tree, our tree does everything we need it to doit tells the story of us. For me, the actual tree is the least important part of the Christmas tree tradition. Each year we bring our fake tree to life with the ornaments we hang from it. 

On a typical Christmas growing up, we dedicated a whole day to picking out and decorating the tree. Once we got it home we would make hot chocolate or pour a glass of my mom’s homemade eggnog. We would turn on Christmas songs, pull out the ornaments, and hang them one by one. It was not a task to be rushed because many of our ornaments had a story and we liked to reminisce about those moments together.

Now that I’m an adult, my parents have passed down some of the ornaments I’ve looked at for much of my life. I continue to add new ones as my story evolves, but each year I’m reminded of decades passed as I unwrap them. Like a time capsule, ornament by ornament our tree is a place for the past and present to collide, history dangling from its branches.

When my parents were married, the symbol of their union was a moon and star. In our family home, there were several places that symbol could be found, including ornaments on our Christmas tree. Each year I hang one such ornament, a half moon with a star dangling from its corner in honor of my parents.

A gold metal ornament in the shape of a little girl with wings and a halo bares the engraving, “Allison 1982.” The ornament was given to me on my first Christmas. As a small child, I hung it from my own mini tree that sat on a bookshelf in my bedroom. As I have grown, it has come with me to all the homes I’ve lived, all the trees I’ve had, and will hopefully continue to do so.

There are a series of ornaments that represent the East Coast, where most my family still lives. There’s a painted blue crab shell symbolizing the crab feasts my family always has when we come visit. A ball ornament that was hand-painted by my cousin two decades ago has what looks like the Baltimore skylinethe area much of my family grew up.

Other ornaments were made by me, and my parents insisted on saving them. There’s the origami star I made in 4-H fiber arts class, dipped in wax to preserve its shape and sprinkled with sparkles to give it some bling. In kindergarten, I made an ornament using the lid of a can. With a string pulled through a hole to hang it, my school picture is glued to the front; two pigtails on the side of my head and wearing a plaid jumper my grandmother made. 

Then there’s the bungee jumping Santa. Santa is in a pose as if skydiving and attached to a slinky-ish wire that allows it to bounce up and down when pulled. Around since my childhood, two years ago we hung it from a lamp in our living room and our young nephew pulled too hard, sending Santa crashing down on the wood floor, breaking into a half dozen pieces. Last year, we were gifted back Santa, whose pieces had been picked up after the accident and glued back together with expert precision. With barely-there “scars” from where he had been broken, he is now whole again with new stories to tell.

But the ornament that often gives me the biggest smile is one closest to my heart. Although its construction was simple, its nostalgia runs deep. On a square piece of paper in which a young me drew two holly leaves, centered in between them is a red footprint. Just below her footprint is a picture of my beloved Elsa, a black and white fur ball with an arrow shape running up her nose. As my first best friend and companion for 17 years, that ornament is always front and center on the tree.

This year, as our tree is lit up once again and embellished with all these memories and more, I stare at the stories that hang from it. I think of all the trees the ornaments have hung from, all the homes they have been in, all the people who have touched them. With this thought, I realize it’s not the tree that makes it feel like Christmas, it’s the ornaments that adorn it.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Praying mantis: hunters of hummingbirds

Ive been protective around our hummingbird feeder since I’ve learned there’s an unlikely predator on the prowl.

The feeder hangs outside our dining room window and is a constant waterhole for our hummers. We spend much time watching them, and sometimes, they rest on the feeder and watch us in return. We welcome them in our yard’s mini-ecosystem because, after all, they are pollinators.

My protectiveness began a few weeks ago after we saw a praying mantis in our yard. We were excited because we had not seen one there before and because they are such unique creatures. To think the mantis is a relative of the cockroach and termite, creatures humans often detest, is surprising. But because the mantis has such a regal poise and sophistication, we often underestimate their dominance in the food chain. They are predators.

A praying mantis patiently waits and ambushes its prey. While they appear peaceful, often stoic in a “praying position,” they have spikes on their legs for snaring and are equipped with large mandibles made for munching. With the ability to camouflage itself and a head that turns 180 degrees, they are superior hunters.

As in any ecosystem, both predator and prey are needed for a healthy balance. That’s why it’s a good sign when a praying mantis is in your yard, and for that reason, I was excited when we saw one on our porch, not far from our hummingbird feeder.

While much of the mantis diet includes insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, and flies, I found out they also have an interest in lizards, frogs, and small birds — such as hummingbirds.

I came to find this out when a friend posted on Facebook a picture of a praying mantis in their yard. One comment on the photo said they eat hummingbirds. Someone replied to that comment and said they had seen this happen. But I was skeptical, having never heard of such a thing.

I began my research of more “qualified” sources. I read articles published by National Geographic, Newsweek, The New York Times, and even The Bend Bulletin. Those articles quoted experts and scientists on the matter.

I also found YouTube videos that caught the event as it happened. Most of the videos showed the attacks occurring on a hummingbird feeder. I was shocked to watch one. And one was enough. I thought about the mantis we saw just a few feet from our feeder and realized what it may have been up to.

As it turns out, a praying mantis may see a hummingbird feeder as a honey hole. It positions itself in stealth and silence until an unsuspecting hummer comes to feed. It strikes at a speed faster than the blink of an eye and snatches the hummingbird, often stabbing its leg through the bird’s skull. The mantis then uses its strong mandibles to bite through the skull and eat the nutrient-rich brain.

Watching that video reminded me of when I was on a safari in Tanzania years ago. One day, as we drove on two ruts in the middle of the Serengeti, we were stopped by a lioness and her two cubs out for a hunt on a group of gazelles. The lions were using our “road” for their stalking zone.

Since drivers can’t leave the road, we were stopped indefinitely as the lions went about their business. When the cubs made a break towards the herd, after a short and slightly sloppy chase, the gazelles bounced away to safety. It was a rare gift we were given to see such an incredible event.

I was relieved to not witness them get captured, but I soon realized how selfish that was. The family of lions may have gone without food that day. That could have been the meal they needed to sustain the next few days. For them to thrive something else had to die. Like the gazelles, hummingbirds are also part of the food chain and satisfy the hunger of a predator.

I know every species must eat to survive. But I feel so protective of the hummers that fly above me without fear and chirp at me when their feeder is empty. Since learning about the praying mantis and its brain-sucking tendencies, I’ve been watching our feeder closely. I don’t think I could kill the mantis, but I don’t want to see the mantis kill a hummingbird. I do know, however, I want my feeder to be a mantis-free-zone.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Philomath High School names 2017-18 homecoming queen

Philomath High School named the new homecoming queen during halftime at Friday night’s Warrior football game.

Five homecoming princesses walked in front spectators at the stadium anticipating the results of who the student body voted as their 2017-18 homecoming queen. Each princess wore a gown and crown. Just after 8 p.m. on Oct. 6, Sarah Buddingh, senior, was announced as queen.

“I feel very honored,” Buddingh said. “It’s a very special experience.”

Princesses were selected by their peers during two rounds of voting. First round voting named nominees within each class. The top five from each class and six from the senior class were then voted on again. High votes from each class become nominees for queen.

When asked why she thought she had won, Buddingh’s best friend, Hailey Davis, who stood next to Buddingh after her win, quickly answered.

“Because everybody loves her,” said Davis. “And she’s also the student body president so everybody knows her.”

Buddingh added that her win made her proud because her mom, Connie Buddingh, was also the senior homecoming queen when she attended PHS.

Another princess, Ashlynn Wulk, sophomore, also shared the title of homecoming princess with her mom, Shannon Smith.

“My mom was very proud because she was a princess in high school,” said Wulk. “And my dad was surprised because I’m so quiet.”

Wulk believed she was nominated because of her involvement with basketball and the number of friends she has on the team. She plays wing position.

Upon hearing Buddingh named as queen, Wulk and the other princesses—freshman Danielle Beck, junior Jamie Chambers, and senior Mariam Coskey—gracefully congratulated Buddingh.

Buddingh has been on the student government cabinet the past two years but this is her first as president. Because of her duties on the cabinet, she was also involved in organizing homecoming week festivities which began on Monday, Oct. 2.

The week included theme days such as Mega Action Monday, Cartoons Tuesday, Western Wednesday, and The Classics on Thursday. Friday was Fear the Tribe day, a time for Warriors to get pumped up for the evening’s football game against North Marion. Friday morning also included the homecoming parade.

On Wednesday, the underclassmen claimed victory over the upperclassmen during the Powder Puff football game. A bonfire for students and their families followed the game on Wednesday evening.

Saturday night ended the week’s festivities with the semi-formal homecoming dance.

Overall, Buddingh was happy with the turnout and participation of homecoming week.

“Involvement has been incredible with all the activities planned,” she said. “I’ve been really impressed with the student body and cabinet.”

Buddingh plans to attend Eastern Oregon University after graduation. She wants to study anthropology and sociology in hopes to become a youth counselor. She will return to next year’s homecoming game to crown the new queen.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Lilly's Lope for Hope, fundraiser for suicide education

Photo courtesy of the Stagner family.
On Saturday, Oct. 14, Lilly’s Lope for Hope, an annual fundraiser, will take place. This year’s 5k run and 1k walk will happen just shy of four years after the PHS freshman, Lilly Stagner, committed suicide at the age of 14.

Organized by Paula May, aunt of Stagner, all proceeds will be donated to Lilly’s Grant for Guidance. Funds are used to further suicide education and counseling assistance for children within the Philomath School District.

The shock of Stagner’s suicide opened May’s eyes to a need in the community which led to the creation of the Lope fund.

“After she died,” said May. “I decided what I saw as one of the biggest problems was when someone needed to get into counseling to see somebody there were a lot of hoops, and the wait time could be up to six months out.”

“What I had initially wanted was the money to go towards counseling needs so that someone could get in right away, no matter the cost or whether they were in an insurance group,” she said.

But after the first year, May found that the bulk of the grant money was not being used. She then decided to partner with the middle and high schools.

“Each year Philomath has Inspired Day, which is devoted to giving a message of hope or story of overcoming odds for the kids,” said May. “There is a speaker that comes and we have paid for the speaker over the past two years with the Lope money.”

After Stagner's death, May also realized that children don’t always know how to tell adults about a friend they think is at risk of suicide.

“None of us adults knew about it,” May said. ”But after the fact, we found out that she had been telling friends about it."

The topic of suicide is hard to discuss, but May believes it is necessary in order to prevent more suicides. She has dedicated much of her time getting involved in prevention education and overseeing Lilly’s Grant for Guidance.

Over the past two years, Lope money has also contributed to the middle school’s HERO Challenge. The challenge confronts issues of bullying in schools. Students learn to prevent and overcome bullying, to build and enhance personal skills, and to create friendships and alliances to help prevent bullying.

Most recently, May and the Lope fund have collaborated with Good Samaritan Hospital in Corvallis. Good Samaritan will pay for up to 500 people in the community to take suicide prevention classes called QPR, an acronym that stands for question, persuade, refer. QPR courses are built from evidence-based, peer-reviewed studies and qualify for Continuing Education credits.

May hopes children in the community will attend QPR classes to gain prevention knowledge and the confidence to tell an adult if they know of an at-risk peer.

This year’s Lope fundraiser will begin 10 a.m. at the Philomath City Park. Pets are welcome on a leash. Parking is available in the middle and high school parking lots. Figeros Pizza in Philomath will provide free pizza after the day’s activities.

The event will feature a silent auction. Bidding will open at 9:30 a.m. and close at noon. Items donated came from various businesses and private residents. Donations include quilts, hair care products, massage certificates, a Yeti cooler, dinner certificates, photography packages, and artwork.

Several pieces of artwork were created by Stagner’s friends, many of which shared her love for art. Participants in the run will receive a t-shirt with artwork of Lilly’s on it.

As part of the event’s tradition, there will be a balloon ceremony where people can write messages to those they’ve lost and send them up.

“At the funeral we did that,” said May, “ And we’ve wanted to recreate that every year.”

To register visit Registration is $30 in advance and $35 the day of the event. Registration of four or more will get 20 percent off using the promo code BETHEHOPE.

Philomath: Nectar Creek's facility nears completion

Photo courtesy Nectar Creek

On the west end of town, Nectar Creek’s construction nears completion. The 7,500-square-foot production facility will include a taproom and restaurant. The build is a massive upgrade to their current 8-foot by 8-foot tasting room in Corvallis.

Founded in 2012 by brothers Nick and Phillip Lorenz, Nectar Creek combines a passion for beekeeping, agriculture, and brewing to make handcrafted session meads, a drink created by the fermentation of honey.

The grand opening of their Philomath location is expected this year. An official date has not been set. While the original plan was for October, that is unlikely.

“It’s the nature of such a large development—there’s always something that comes up,” said Nick.

Nectar Creek’s new facility will offer several options not offered at their Corvallis location. While current visitors can sample products, fill growlers, and buy cases, there are no tables or food. That will change when they settle into their new facility.

“We won’t have a full menu but will serve lunch and dinner,” said Nick. “We’ll have a big smoker on our patio that features fresh smoked meat that will accompany our food.”

There will also be an appetizer menu including meat and cheese plates for those seeking a small bite while sipping local brews.

In their new taproom, with a honeycomb theme, Nectar Creek will have 24 options.

“We’ll not only be offering our mead but also a selection of beer, cider, and a little bit of wine,” said Nick. “We’re also going to create our own honey soda to have non-alcoholic offerings.”

Their honey soda is exclusive to their new location and for taproom visitors only.

On the sales floor, local honey-related products will be available for purchase. Among those products will be Old Blue Raw Honey, a Philomath-based business that has collaborated with Nectar Creek in the past.

All of Nectar Creek’s brews are made with raw honey from farms in the Willamette Valley. One of those vendors, Corvallis-based Queen Bee Honey, is where Phillip worked for seven years before the brothers created Nectar Creek.

“We are excited to work with local agriculture as much as we can,” said Nick. “We grew up in local agriculture, and part of the foundation that inspired us to start Nectar Creek was that connection with local agriculture.”

Due to added space and services in the new facility, Nectar Creek will hire bartenders, cooks, and servers as the move-in date gets closer. Applications will be accepted only after public job postings have been placed.

For their grand opening, they plan to celebrate the occasion with live music and a few surprises.

“We’ll offer a selection of products we’re going to pull out of our cellar that we’ve been storing and aging especially for our opening that you won’t be able to find anywhere else,” said Nick.

They hope to continue to showcase live music on a regular basis.