Friday, July 28, 2017

Sweet Valley HIgh. Cell Phones, and Guacamole

The other day I drove by Philomath high school and began to think about what it used to look like when I went there. How it didn’t have a second floor or those big, fancy glass windows. For some reason seeing its new iteration made me think about the old book series “Sweet Valley High.” Then I realized the kids at the school today probably have no idea what that series is.

That thought led me to think of how different experiences and opportunities are for kids today. When I was a freshman, I believe I was the only one in my circle of friends that had a cell phone. My mom would sometimes let me take hers to school. It was as big as my hand and a flip phone, but most other kids still had pagers, so it was pretty cool.

I would guess that most teenagers these days have no idea what life was like without a cell phone. Back then we had to pre-plan events with a meeting time and place so that we could find each other. It was not possible to send a quick text asking where someone was or what they were going to do. Instead, we had to “page” someone who then had to scrounge change and find a payphone to call from. The process was a drag.

For unplanned rendezvous, we needed a central meeting place to find people on the fly. At the time, the Taco Bell/Subway/Texaco complex on Main Street was that place for most kids I knew. If we were looking for things to do, we would go there and see who else was there. Compared to what we can do today, that complex acted as a way to send a group text about what the day’s activities may be.

At the Texaco complex, even though there were “no loitering” signs outside the building, many of us did just that. I remember countless times that the lot would be full of teenagers socializing and congregating before they moved to another location.

That complex was also where I worked my first job. For its grand opening, the companies held interviews in the high school counseling center. I joined dozens of peers that showed up, and, at the age of 14, I was hired for Taco Bell.

Working at Taco Bell was more of a social event than a job. Because the interviews were held at the school, nearly all staff excluding some managers were peers. This meant that we often governed ourselves. It wasn’t “Lord of the Flies” but it did get a little crazy at times.

I recall the sour cream and guacamole wars we had after closing. Since we had to clean the floors anyway, sometimes we shot the devices similar to a caulking gun, at each other. Standing inside the walk-in cooler and waiting for someone to open the door would get extra laughs if you could surprise them with sour cream to the face.

Looking back, it was wasteful and probably punishable, but we were kids, and the thought of having fun consumed most of our time. That, I am sure, is the same for kids today.

I remember a project assigned in Mr. Dunham’s AV Tech class called “A Day in My Life.” We were supposed to make a video (yes, like on a video tape) and present it in class. My parents had a video camera. It was twice the size of my head and so heavy it made my shoulder numb. Nevertheless, they allowed me to bring it to school to record for the project.

I spent a couple of days filming friends skateboarding, being silly in the halls of the school, and engaging in shenanigans during off-campus lunches. I recorded myself at work making and wrapping a bean burrito in less than five seconds. I also had footage of friends building a castle out of Taco Bell’s sporks.

For the time, that AV Tech program was cutting-edge. We got a chance to splice and edit video, early training for what would become common knowledge among today’s kids. There’s an app for that now, of course.

Memories like these make me wonder what life will be like for youth 20 years from now. I’m not THAT old and I’ve already seen so much. I remember “car phones” in cases that fit between your seats with a cord that plugged into the cigarette lighter. I remember when text on a computer screen was neon green with a black background and letters often appeared slower than you typed them. I remember Pac Man on Atari.

The boom in technology, and in the growth of Philomath, scares some people. But I’m curious about what’s coming next. I wait in anticipation for experiences and opportunities the future holds. And for what places in Philomath may create fond memories for kids yet to come.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Record numbers attend Vacation Bible School in Philomath

Carla Kaminga stood in front of a group of wide-eyed kids and held up a bracelet. It was made from woven threads of yellow, black, red, green and white. Each color of the bracelet reminded Kaminga of a story in the Bible, she explained to her audience.

“This yellow part here,” she said as she pointed, “reminds me of the streets of gold and of heaven.” She continued, “this black part here reminds me of the sins that Jesus died for.”

After she finished explaining what each color meant to her, she asked the kids if they were ready to have their own bracelet. The room erupted with excitement as arms shot up, each kid wanting to be the first to claim a gift.

The kids, age 4 through 5th grade, had gathered at Philomath Middle School for Vacation Bible School (VBS) held July 10-14. Hosted by local Evangelical churches, VBS is a specialized form of religious education that incorporates fun for kids to learn Bible stories, religious song, crafts, and skits. VBS is free.

“We have teachers from different churches, people that take the week off work for this—a lot of people that have come together to make this happen,” said Mat Phelps, Living Faith Community Church youth pastor.

Five other local churches teamed up with Living Faith to make VBS possible. This year there were 50 junior leader volunteers, youth in 6th to 12th grade, and 20 adult leader volunteers.

Attendance was among the highest ever, according to Kaminga, who has been involved with VBS for over two decades. Total registration was 250, exceeding last year’s 200.

“There’s a lot of kids who come that don’t have a church or don’t go to church,” said Kaminga. “We make it open to everyone.”

With several rooms of the middle school transformed for VBS, there was a story room for kids to hear Bible stories, a memory verse room to learn scripture, and a music room to practice songs.

This year’s theme was “Deep Sea Discovery,” so all stories and activities related to water and the sea. School lockers that lined the hallways were covered in blue paper, adding to the deep sea theme as kids traveled from room to room.

The school gym became the music room. Kids gathered in the center, facing a stage built by Philomath residents Christie and Ryan Vaughan. Using paper mache, a seascape of coral reefs surrounded the stage, with a large octopus made from pool noodles and orange spray foam. Jellyfish hung from the ceiling, and blue drapes in the background gave the feel of moving water.

The stage will be disassembled and taken to a church in Eastern Washington for another group of VBS kids to enjoy later this summer.

During story time the children heard stories of kids in other countries, such as Danielle, an impoverished girl in Mexico who came to know Jesus through people that helped her in difficult situations. Each day Kaminga read a portion of Danielle’s story, building up to the final chapter at week’s end.

“The kids love it,” said Kaminga. “Their eyes get big and they have so many questions. They’re just so empathetic.”

Each day of VBS started with a skit performed by the kids, incorporating the day’s theme. Theme days included inside-out day, crazy hair day, hat day, and flip-flop/water day. Volunteers planned months in advance for crafts, stories, and skits.

On Wednesday night, the children and their families enjoyed a Corvallis Knight’s game as an extracurricular group activity. On Thursday night, VBS hosted a barbecue in which the kids invited their family, friends, and neighbors. An estimated 400 people enjoyed hot dogs, hamburgers, and shaved ice. The evening included games, a bounce house, and music. A local sheriff and police officers were present to talk with the kids.

“It’s just a big community party,” said Phelps. “We love it because it’s an opportunity for people to come together.”

At the end of the week, each kid received an Adventure Bible personalized with the child’s name to take home.

Friday, June 30, 2017

What I've learned about being human from dogs

I’ve learned many lessons in life from dogs; how to be a protector, a nurturer, a friend.  

The day I found Elsa was the day my lessons began. I was 8 years old, and my parents took me to the Summit Festival. As I wandered, I went to where people were gathered under an RV awning. There I saw a wire play pen with nine little furballs in it.

All of the puppies except for one were pressed against the wire, reaching as far as their little legs would stretch, trying to make their way into someone’s arms. In the back corner was Elsa. Her black body curled in a ball with a thin, white marking on her face that inspired her middle name, Arrow.

Her gaze was locked onto me. Her eyes demanded my attention. I made my way to her, and as I got close she got up from where she was tucked away and walked to me. Once she was in my arms I knew I wasn’t putting her down. She had chosen me.

Elsa was docile and attentive and full of love to give. There was not a mean streak in her soul. She was my companion and my adventure buddy. She pulled me in my plastic sled in the snow, she stood with me at the bus stop, she licked my tears away. She was my first best friend.

Although she was the ideal dog in the house or on the leash, she was a born runner. When a door was left open it was as if a switch flipped and she was driven to bolt through it.

It became apparent that she wasn’t running “away” from us. She was rather running around us, seeking freedom and opportunity like so many humans do. She always stayed within eyesight of the house, coming home when she was ready, sometimes days later.

Through her running I learned that sometimes we are compelled to follow our instincts. She tested my dedication to her time and time again. Even though I wanted to be mad at her, I accepted her with open arms every time she came home.

Elsa taught me that friends are always your friends no matter where they go or how long you have been apart. She taught me that if you love someone you forgive their flaws. She taught me that no one is perfect, even if they appear to be. She taught me patience and understanding.

It was because of Elsa that I found Sirrus. A neighbor admired our bond and told me of a friend who had puppies that needed a special home. The puppies weren’t like other puppies, she said.

Sirrus’ dad was purebred gray wolf, standing almost 5 feet tall with long legs, a slender body, and a mane like a lion. Her mom was half Mexican red wolf and half Rothweiler. Because of who she was born to, Sirrus would be outcasted from most family homes and was an unwelcomed resident of the Bay Area county in which I lived.

She was the only one of the litter that was stuck like glue to our ankles when we met her. It was clear, once again, I was chosen by my four-legged friend. We were to be her pack, and our duty to protect her had begun.

Because her coloring could pass as a German Shepherd mix, that was our cover story when people asked. When we brought her to the vet for the first time they saw her long, curved canines. We may have been able to hide what she was from others, but the vet knew her secret. We were lucky they didn’t confiscate and euthanize her as the county rule said they should.

Sirrus grew to the spitting image of a red wolf, petite and only 40 pounds. She was the most loyal, responsive, and intelligent “dog” I’ve ever known. The level in which she communicated with us was beyond anything I’ve experienced before. She was adored by everyone who knew her.

We spent her lifetime protecting her from people that associated “her kind” with characteristics she did not have. She was not vengeful or intimidating. She was kind and gentle. Never did she display aggression to us, Elsa, or any other dog.

Sirrus taught me that we are not always what people expect us to be. That we can learn to see past labels. She taught me how to stand up for those that need an advocate. She taught me that everyone should have a chance to be loved. She taught me compassion and acceptance.

I’ve been fortunate to learn how to be a better member of society because of my dogs. I believe their pure, unwavering devotion can teach us all valuable lessons about being the best version of ourselves.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Saddle up, it's rodeo time!

The tradition began 64 years ago when the first frolic was organized in 1953. As the event grew, in 1983 the rodeo was added, creating what is now the regionally renowned Philomath Frolic and Rodeo.

With over 5,000 tickets sold each year, not including attendees under the age of 6, the event now attracts more people than the town's population, and is its largest annual event.

In the past year, there has been uncertainty about the future of the Frolic and Rodeo because of possible land use restrictions, leaving many community members wondering about its longevity. But the tradition will continue now that Paul and Lola Skirvin have donated the 15-acre property used for the grounds to the city.

Now that the future is certain, the event's board of executives needs volunteers to help during the weekends leading up to and during the event. This year’s Frolic and Rodeo will be held July 6 - 9.

With the transfer of land ownership, there is now means to start putting money into improvements. Chris Workman, city manager and president of the event's executive board, is currently mapping out a five-year facilities plan for prioritizing upgrades.

“The lights, the grandstands—those are the big ticket items,” he said. “You don’t replace those things if you don’t know if you’re going to be here. Now we can do those things.”

To attract visitors from all walks of life, organizers have continued their focus on adding special events to the festivities. This year's new event added to the schedule is a freestyle bull riding contest.

“It’s basically like Spanish spear fighting without the spears,” said Workman.

The bulls used in the competition are Mexican bulls, smaller and more aggressive than other breeds. The competition includes distracting with colorful cloth, dodging the charging bull, and jumping over the bull. Points will be given for performance, style, and for not getting run over by the bull.

Thirty bull riders will travel to Philomath from Texas, Colorado, Washington, and greater Oregon. With a grand prize of around $4,000, stiff competition is expected as well as a showcase of talent, all from the Northwest Professional Rodeo Association.

“This is a new rodeo event nationwide and we’re right on the fringe in Oregon,” said Workman. “This will be the largest bull riding event in Oregon ever, and there will be three national champions of Oregon here.”

With organizers working towards a goal of keeping the Frolic and Rodeo true to its tradition, they also aim to keep it fresh and fun.

“Everything we do is looking at the fan experience and trying to improve it,” said Workman.

With that in mind, organizers have decided to move vendors behind the grandstands, reducing walk and wait time. Beer will also be allowed in the stands, eliminating the need to gather in the beer garden away from friends or family.

To help manage lines in the entrance area, tickets sales will now be available online. Tickets can be printed at home or scanned from one’s phone at the entrance. Buying tickets online includes a reduction in price and free parking.

Care has also been put into scheduling events to ensure they are not overlapping each other, another complaint organizers have heard and addressed.

A fan favorite—the fish rodeowill be back. Two-hundred tickets will be available to catch 12-inch trout by hand. Organizers want volunteers to design merchandise for the event.

“We could have shirts that say ‘no hook, no pull, no problem,'” Workman said.

The amount of time spent is up to each volunteer. Pulling weeds, trimming trees, mowing fields, or preparing facilities are all on the list of things to do.

“There’s always chores to be done,” said Darrell Hinchberger, vice president of management on the executive board. “I don’t think we’ve ever said no to anyone; everyone is welcome.”

For more information or to volunteer, contact Chris Workman at

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Exclusive: Can Font, Spanish cuisine in the Pacific Northwest

Willamette Life Media had the chance to celebrate the highly anticipated arrival of Portland’s newest restaurant, Can Font. On May 31, with an exclusive tasting of Chef Joseph Vidal’s specialty menu, we were among invited guests experiencing the restaurant before its June 3 opening.

The self-described “traditional Spanish cuisine with avant-garde Mediterranean flair” is the sister location of Spain’s famed restaurant of the same name. Located just outside of Barcelona, Can Font is included on the 2016 and 2017 Michelin restaurant guide’s Bib Gourmand, a list focused on high-value restaurants. Portland’s sister location will mimic many of the same dishes.

Located in the Pearl District’s Cosmopolitan Building, its floor to ceiling windows, accent mirrors, and white table cloths create a refined space of openness and class. A thoughtful design of woven woodwork on the ceilings lined with oversized light bulbs similar to strung lights on a trellis, holds the appeal of an intimate indoor patio.

Owned by acclaimed Executive Chef Joseph Vidal, he has partnered with Portland-based restaurateur Vladimir Zaharchook to bring the Catalonian dining experience to the Pacific Northwest.

Before the night’s five course meal was served, Zaharchook stood before guests as they sipped on Cava, Spain’s sparkling wine.

“I always was a dreamer and I always try to convert my dreams into reality,” he said. “When I see people eating and drinking I always enjoy myself. I’m proud to say one of the best cities in the United States, one of the coolest in the United States, has our presence now.”

The evening’s meal included sliced potatoes with sheep’s milk cheese and langostino; canelones stuffed with black truffles, chicken, beef, pork, and foie gras; squid ink paella; duck confit and seared duck magret; and Catalan custard with an almond biscotti.

Textures were smooth and rich and exquisite. Everything was cooked to perfection, and sudden bursts of flavor came from creamy, savory sauces that delicately adorned the dishes such as aioli, piquillo pepper sauce, orange infused demi-glace, and pear puree.

The space includes a tapas bar, open view of the kitchen, and a dining floor for about 60. Turquoise accent walls channel a classic Mediterranean feel, and a mural wall captures the essence of Spain. With their shared passion for innovation and a rich culinary experience, the duo have created a unique, must-have dining experience.

Can Font will be open for lunch and dinner and available for catering. With plans to change the menu several times a month, the selections of fresh seafood, locally-sourced produce, and a rotation of rice, pasta, and paella dishes will certainly wow guests for many years to come.