Category Archives: corvallis

My North Carolinian Exchange Student

(I’m using capitals because I’m writing this for the students of Water’s Edge Village School – don’t be alarmed.)

I met Meghan when we were in Greece as AFS exchange students 25 (?!?) years ago, and we’ve stayed in touch over the years. Meghan is the mother of two cool school-age boys and a big dog. She’s also lighthouse keeper in the Outer Banks village of Corolla, North Carolina. Recently she rallied her community to reopen Corolla’s elementary school so that Corolla’s kids could go to school in their own community instead of spending hours on a school bus to go to school in another town. When my Durham friend Jamie invited me to visit her in North Carolina, we planned a weekend in Corolla – I hadn’t seen Meghan since I was 17.

Meghan and Kriste in Greece circa 1990

Meghan and Kriste in Greece circa 1990

Jamie, Kriste, and Meghan inside the Currituck Beach Lighthouse

Jamie, Kriste, and Meghan inside the Currituck Beach Lighthouse circa 2012

Which explains how I ended up being serenaded on my 39th birthday by Meghan’s two sons in their comfy home in Corolla, which I highly recommend.

A very Corolla birthday

A very Corolla birthday

Recently Meghan asked me if I would host an exchange student from WEVS. My response was almost, “Duh.” But I have better manners than that, so I said, “Absolutely!”

A few weeks later, an envelope from Meghan’s son Paolo arrived. Inside it was Stanley. Flat Stanley is the title of a great kids’ book about a boy who is flattened in the night by a bulletin board. WEVS students made Stanleys (Stanlies?) and mailed them off to folks around the country. Our job as hosts was to write back to Paolo’s class about our states and what Stanley did while he was with us. Here goes.

IMG_6551

When people think about Oregon, they usually think rain. But check out that blue sky – and in January!

I live in Corvallis, Oregon. Corvallis has a population of about 55,000 people when Oregon State University is in session. We’re about a 90 minute drive fron Portland, Oregon’s largest city, and about 45 minutes from Salem, Oregon’s capital. My apartment is in downtown Corvallis, so there are great restaurants and shops nearby. Farmers’ market, the library, and the bus station are a few blocks away.

Strolling along the Willamette River

Strolling along the Willamette River – this is less than a block from my apartment.

There is a great park along the Willamette River as it passes by Corvallis. The park has wide sidewalks for walking dogs, riding bikes, and strolling (my favorite). There’s a fountain that kids like to play in during the summer. Farmers’ market is there twice a week from April-October. There are benches and picnic tables and a skatepark.

The Willamette (wil-LAM-it) River runs from south to north, which is pretty rare for Pacific Northwest rivers. Its headwaters are south of Eugene, and it runs about 200 miles from Eugene, past Corvallis and Salem, to Portland, where it joins the Columbia River (which forms most of the border between Oregon and Washington) and flows out to the Pacific Ocean. The Columbia is the river that Lewis and Clark followed to get to the Pacific, and along the Columbia there are a lot of historical sites from the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Oregon Trail.

The part of Oregon along the Willamette River is called the Willamette Valley. The valley was was carved out by the Missoula Floods at the end of the most recent ice age. If you don’t know about the Missoula Floods, check them out. They’re pretty fascinating. Basically, an ice dam broke in Montana and the water behind it raced down along what’s now the Columbia Gorge and flooded down into the Willamette Valley. Our fertile soil is actually from Montana – it was deposited here during those floods. The valley is wide and flat and stretches between the Coast Range (pretty small mountains between the valley and the coast) and the Cascades (large volcanic mountains between the valley and Eastern Oregon, which is mostly high desert). Because of the fertile soil and our rain, agriculture is a big deal in the Willamette Valley. Farms grow blueberries, hazelnuts (also called filberts), grass seed, wine grapes, even Christmas trees.

Stanley was very interested in the speech about  how to field-dress a deer.

Stanley was very interested in the speech about how to field-dress a deer.

I used to be an elementary school teacher, and now I teach at the local community college. Stanley came along to work with me. He listened to speeches in my public speaking class, and watched digital stories created by my writing students. He liked that we could walk to LBCC’s campus in about 10 minutes, through a neighborhood of old houses and mature trees.

The digital stories were about where we're from - this is Cerrie's DS about being from the universe.

The digital stories were about where we’re from – this is Cerrie’s DS about being from the universe.

We're almost to OSU! That's it up ahead.

We’re almost to OSU! That’s it up ahead.

On another beautiful day, Stanley and I walked from my apartment to Oregon State University. In June I graduated from OSU with a master’s degree, so it’s a walk I’ve done many times. For my degree I studied the connections between writing and community and resilience (how people are able to recover from hard times in their lives), but most students at OSU are studying science and business and engineering.

There are over 25,000 students enrolled at OSU, but we didn't see very many of them because we were on campus on a Saturday.

There are over 25,000 students enrolled at OSU, but we didn’t see very many of them because we were on campus on a Saturday.

This is the library - I spent a lot of time in there while I was an OSU student.

This is the library – I spent a lot of time in there while I was an OSU student.

I took Stanley on a walking tour of downtown Corvallis.

Central Park

Central Park

My P.O. Box

My P.O. Box

Benton County Courthouse

Benton County Courthouse

Here are a few facts about Oregon. Our state animal is the beaver. We do all of our voting by mail (this ballot drop box is where I return mine). There’s no sales tax in Oregon, so when you buy something that costs $4.99 it really costs $4.99. You can’t pump your own gas in Oregon. Our state motto is, “She flies with her own wings.” Isn’t that lovely? I think so, which is why I have a tattoo of it.

Speaking of tattoos, Stanley came with me to talk to my tattoo artist, Denise, about another tattoo I want to get. Denise offered to give him a tattoo.

Checking out the equipment in Denise's studio

You sit in this chair and put your head in that ring if you’re getting a tattoo on your back – it’s pretty comfy.

This is Denise - she was glad that she got to meet Stanley.

This is Denise – she was glad that she got to meet Stanley.

I’m glad that Paolo sent Stanley to me – I had fun thinking of things to show him. I would have taken him out to the coast (about an hour drive west from Corvallis), but I couldn’t make that work. I wonder where the other Stanleys went – I’m sure that the WEVS students have been enjoying this project.

Meghan sent me this picture of WEVS students with the little toys my grandma Betty made for them. He said that he recognized a lot of them.

The year that WEVS opened, Meghan sent me this picture of WEVS students with the little toys my grandma Betty made for them. Stanley said that he recognized a lot of them.

ashes to ashes

i did not inherit my grandma's sense of style.

i did not inherit my grandma’s sense of style.

january 19th would have been my grandma florence’s 94th birthday. she wanted to be cremated, and her ashes had been in a box in my parent’s guest bedroom closet since soon after she died last march. my mom and i decided that her birthday was a good day to scatter her ashes – the next thing was to decide where. in 2010 we took gflo to our friends’ vineyard, harris bridge, to go wine tasting. it was a lovely warm late-summer day, and we sat on their deck while amanda played with their young daughter and nathan brought us tastes of the dessert wine they make. each time he came out with a bottle he’d ask us what we thought of the last one. gflo wasn’t a fan of sweet wine, and she let him know. so much so that last year when i mentioned to him that my grandma had died, he said, “the one who hated our wine?”

that's harris bridge in the background.

that’s harris bridge in the background.

gflo liked the idea of her ashes ending up in the pacific ocean, because that’s where my grandpa fred’s ashes were scattered by the fiendish-sounding neptune society when he died about fifteen years ago. the marys river (yep, no apostrophe) runs under harris bridge, meets up with the willamette near downtown corvallis, which empties into the columbia in portland, and eventually out into the pacific near astoria. mom researched local statutes about scattering ashes, which is an ok thing to do if you have the landowner’s permission. nathan and amanda were glad to have their vineyard be part of the story again, and mom and i made plans for the 19th.

"tyson is yelling at ms. york." possible gflo's favorite picture of me.

“tyson is yelling at ms. york.” possible gflo’s favorite picture of me.

time for a related story.

i moved to corvallis less than a year after my grandpa fred died, to teach a primary multiage class in jefferson. the kids ate lunch in our classroom, which i grew to really love. some of the most interesting conversations i’ve ever had took place when i was sitting in a tiny chair at a low round table with a few 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders. one in particular comes to mind.

in my grandparents' front yard

you’re not seeing things. my grandpa is rockin’ a purple blazer.

the conversation was about grandfathers. i said that my grandpa fred had died (it was still recent enough that my breath caught when i talked about him). one of the kids asked me if i visited his grave. i got to, “he doesn’t have a grave, he was–” before it occurred to me that i had to finish the sentence – “cremated.” “what’s cremated?” asked one of the kids. i proceeded to explain in as little detail as possible while still being accurate. tyson, in the picture, shouted, “they burned up your dead grandpa?” yep, they did. another question, “what did you do with his ashes?” i said that they had been scattered in the ocean. tyson again – “they threw your dead grandpa off a boat?” yep, i guess that’s exactly what happened. and it was the first time in months that was able to think about my grandpa and laugh. thank goodness for second graders.

even if my legs were long enough, i would not have been allowed to have my feet on the table.

even if my legs were long enough, i would not have been allowed to have my feet on the table.

mom and i wanted to do something when we scattered gflo’s ashes, but nothing too fussy because she wouldn’t have liked that. i suggested that mom read the obituary she wrote (it was really for both of her parents, because there wasn’t one for grandpa when he died). she asked me to read the blog post i wrote about gflo. we decided to get a bottle of harris bridge wine so we could toast our mother and grandmother.

the "smokin' hotties" picture from the obituary my mom wrote.

the “smokin’ hotties” picture from the obituary my mom wrote.

on her birthday, we brought gflo’s ashes to harris bridge in the snazzy quilted bag we got for that purpose last year on mother’s day. january 19th, 2013, was cold and cloudy, but at least it wasn’t raining. we unpacked her ashes, brought along the wine, and walked up to the bridge.

photo (4)

mom opened the plastic bag inside the box, and let gflo’s ashes fall into the marys river. she read the obituary and we drank a little wine.

see that lighter bit of the river? that's her ashes. it was kind of amazing to see.

see that lighter bit of the river? that’s her ashes. it was amazing.

we walked down to a spot along the river, and i read my blog post. there was more wine drinking, and less tears than i would have expected. i think that my mom and i both feel really thankful to have had gflo around as long as we did. grandpa too. they were pretty damn cool people to know.

704730_663819169210_348130196_o (1)

i’m looking forward to wine tasting at harris bridge on a warm day this summer – i’ll sit on the deck and look out at the marys river, and raise a glass to my fabulous grandma florence.

photo (2)

can you tell me how to get?

i have a to do list. it isn’t very long. please don’t call it a bucket list.

here it is:

1) see david letterman live (i crossed that off on a train trip around the US in my mid-twenties)

2) see the northern lights (this is really because of a charles kuralt story)

3) visit every state in the US during my forties

4) get a master’s degree (4 weeks down)

5) re-learn how to swim (last week i did a lap with only a kickboard)

6) drive cross-country

7) have a pet cow named henrietta

this week i crossed another one off that has been so deeply a part of me that i realized that it existed in the same moment that i realized i could cross it off.

8) live on sesame street

“i can see my apartment from here.”

i grew up in the suburbs outside of los angeles in the second half of the seventies. and i ate sesame street up. loved it.

but i wasn’t sesame street’s target audience. it was developed to enrich the lives of new york city kids – to give them experiences outside the city that they might not get otherwise. it had the opposite effect on me. i loved the idea of stoops, a grocery store down the street, people out walking. after i moved to corvallis, i bought a house with a big yard, in a part of town where not many people are out walking. it was a great house for me and my foster daughter, but i fantasized about living downtown. so when the opportunity presented itself about a year and a half ago, i was ready.

here’s how i connected the dots. last week, i stopped to talk to RJ, a guy who’s often out playing his harmonica down my street, to thank him for saying something to me a few weeks back about how well i’m walking without a cane. i had just gotten big waves from the guys who work at the hot dog shop.  then this happened:

on my walk home from campus that afternoon, i started thinking about that “these are the people in my neighborhood” song. and then i realized that i’ve always wanted to live on sesame street and i do now.

when bert and ernie’s lease is up, have them come talk to me.