Monday, July 7, 2008


I've said it before; I love Leonard Pitts, Jr. Today, he published a column about SEI, a Portland non-profit that is highly successful in changing the lives of at-risk children. Read it here. SEI is the brainchild of Portland's Tony Hopson. Tony now has my undying support. Here's what he says about kids:

``At-risk kids go home to at-risk parents. We do not have a youth problem in America; we have an adult problem in America. So unless you also begin to follow kids home and impact what's happening in the home site, you can't arrest this problem.''

Sing it Tony.

Tony's philosophies and solutions bring results.

Here are the statistics:
"On average, SEI participants graduate from high school at a rate of 98%, while only 64% of students graduate from the primary neighborhood high school. In addition, over 85% of SEI high school graduates go on to pursue a college education, often the first in their families to do so."

Here is the secret to SEI's success (from their website):


Opportunity never punched a timeclock, so neither do we. SEI’s coordinators work in the schools where core children attend. We work after school to assist with homework and provide tutoring, elective classes, and peer groups for life and leadership skills. We work on weekends to offer positive recreation options. We even work during the summer with our six-week, full-day summer program.

For many children, SEI is the most consistent thing in their lives. Children enter SEI in second grade and can stay in the program until they are 25—year in and year out. This unprecedented long-term involvement helps get kids on the right academic path and sees them through to the world beyond the schoolyard. Many of SEI’s kids are the first child in their family to go to college—a victory for us, for the family, and certainly for a kid once thought to be “at-risk”.

The Relationship Model
SEI Coordinators serve the roles of an additional teacher, parent, and mentor in forming strong personal relationships with each child. They not only help young people formulate and follow through on positive academic and personal goals, they are present for the important events of students' lives, be they basketball games, concerts, family funerals, parent teacher conferences, or any other. Coordinators also focus on building positve relationships with everyone influential in SEI students' lives: parents, teachers, siblings, friends- so that everyone is working together to support students and resolve problems.

At SEI, we strongly believe that every child will be successful if they receive exposure to many opportunities. One child may be a natural at baseball, while another finds her outlet in dance. By offering every kid options in academics, arts, athletics, and community service, we allow them to find their talent and build a passion for it. With passion comes self-esteem. With self-esteem comes drive. With drive comes success in school, relationships and life in the community.

The SEI Standards
All students and staff are expected to learn and live by these standards of integrity and respect, creating an atmosphere of positive individual actions and interactions with others. "

"We don't have a youth problem in America; we have an adult problem in America."

Tony speaks the truth. And offers solutions.

Thank you, Tony.

We are...under construction.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Wish I wrote this...

Franke James. Check her out. Love her.

Thanks for the heads up, Lelo. I agree, this one is true patriotism.

We are...under construction.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

If we build it, cars will come.

Okay, I'm shamelessly coopting Kinsella's work for my own purposes. But really, it is true.

The I-5 bridge is what I'm talking about.

If you're like me, you know there has been talk for YEARS about the bridge. Yes, yes. The bridge.

Well, on Tuesday, Portland City Council will be holding a hearing on the Columbia River Crossing's "Locally Preferred Alternative" or LPA. This proposal would allow state transportation agencies to plan and eventually build a 10-14 lane highway in the I-5 corridor.

I happen to believe that building 10-14 lane freeways is not the answer. If we build it, cars (and smog that chokes our children's air) will come. That's not good. I know that there will be some new bridge, but I don't think we need to rush the project until we have a COMPREHENSIVE plan that includes light rail, bike routes, and other earth friendly alternatives for commuters.

Fortunately, the Portland Mercury just announced that Commissioner Saltzman is proposing on Tuesday that the City Council withold support of the LPA until an independent study can be completed that looks at the long-term impact the LPA would have on recongestion rates and greenhouse gas rates.

This, to me, is a sensible plan. Why vote for something unless you have all the facts?

So, I wrote a letter to all the Commissioners asking them to support Saltzman's proposal.

Here it is:

Dear City Commissioner:

My name is Jess and I am a proud member of the North Portland community. In fact, for the past eleven years I have lived three blocks from I-5.

I'm not a major political activist. Just a wife, mother, and teacher. To be frank, I've generally been quite pleased with the decisions our elected city officials have made to support livability in our great city.

The Columbia River Crossing's LPA is the cause for my first letter. I am very concerned that unless the City Council acts decisively and quickly to stop the LPA, the I-5 corridor will eventually blossom into 10-14 lanes of smoggy gridlock. To borrow from Kinsella, 'If we build it, cars will come.'

I know that Commissioner Saltzman will be making a very sensible proposal at Tuesday's hearing for the LPA; his proposal states that Portland City Council will withhold support until an independent study can be done to determine how much the LPA will increase greenhouse gasses and increase congestion.

Saltzman's plan is a sensible proposal, and I urge you to stand with Commissioner Saltzman on this crucial issue.

Your hard work for livability has paid off here in North Portland. When I moved into the Interstate Corridor in 1997 there was no MAX line, a dirth of neighborhood stores and coffee shops, and an absence of will to improve the parks and schools in our beautiful neighborhood. Under your leadership, I have watched the Interstate Corridor come to life with families, bike commuters, grocery stores, bike shops, cafes, and rehabilitated parks. I am proud to raise my family here.

I am very concerned that the LPA would reverse positive momentum of the North Portland neighborhoods and reverse the progressive transportation decisions that have made Portland a beacon of livability to those around the world. I know that building bigger freeways doesn't ease congestion in the long term. It only breeds smoggy air and more gridlock. This is not good for North Portland or the Portland metro area.

Please, don't pass the LPA.

Instead, vote with Commissioner Saltzman and support his sensible proposal to study the long-term impact of the the LPA.


Hey, if you, dear readers, want to stand up for livability in our great state, please consider registering your support here. It's easy. You don't have to be a nerd like me and write your own letter. Environment Oregon provides one for you.

Or, if you're more of a talker, give them a call (PS--I called AND wrote--I'm such a dork):

Mayor Tom Potter, 503-823-4120

Commissioner Sam Adams, 503-823-3008

Commissioner Nick Fish, 503-823-3589

Commissioner Randy Leonard, 503-823-4682

It only takes a minute. And it makes you feel good.

A big thanks to my neighbor J. for educating me about this important issue. I have smart, informed, politically active neighbors. I see more letter writing in my future...

We are...under construction.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Corner

Caution: Rambling Soapboxy Post Ahead

I know I'm stating the obvious here--teenagers need to be parented. Working with adolescents, I can tell who is actively parented and who is turned loose to the world of endless video games, junk food, unsupervised hanging out with friends, and an empty house after school and all summer.

So, this is something I think about a lot. How am I going to parent my someday teenager. I'll tell you what I'm not going to do: let him hang out on the corner of the park (at the intersection of two busy streets) with a group of 15-30 other mostly male teens. Please. It's a powder keg.

And, it's something I see EVERY DAY now that I moved across from a park in North Portland. I'm not exaggerating. There are dozens of teens who have nothing to do and all day to do it--with absolutely NO adult supervision. These are 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18 year old young people.

To be frank, it pisses me off. I'm not advocating that every parent micromangage their teen, read their journals, or hound them about their every move. I just think that parents need to make sure their teen has an engaging, semi-supervised place to be all summer--like a summer job or camp or helping elderly neighbors and relatives.

Here's what happens when teens are left unsupervised--two girls start fighting over a boy. The mob of teens flocks around them and eggs them on. Pretty soon, there are fifty teens screaming and yelling and enouraging the girls to keep fighting. Literally, a mob. We saw this a few weeks ago when we were outside eating dinner. I've seen lots of fights in my life, but never one as brutal as this. We called the cops.

Before the police arrived, one of the girls managed to crawl into a friend's car and they sped off. The other girl was cheered on by the crowd. Then, someone came over and handed her a baby that she immediately started to feed.

And so the cycle continues.

I know that not every child is planned. I know that not everyone lives in a dual-income family. I know that lots of people struggle to survive. However, I believe, with every ounce of who I am, that children of ALL ages need active, involved parents.

I think I know where the abdication of parenting teens might have originated: there was a report that came out during the Reagan administration called "A Nation at Risk". Basically, it was a declaration of our "failing" public school system. The subtext of this document is that if we can "fix" public schools, we can save kids.

I'm all for improving schools. I'm a big believer in positive school reform.

However, I know one thing for sure:

All the school reform in the world won't save kids. Only parents can save kids.

You know though, the media and the politicians don't like to talk about parental responsibility because the consumers and voters pay their salaries. And media consumers and voters are parents.

I know I sound like a conservative talk show host--which I sooooo am not. But, really, we need to start a movement that pushes people to parent their teens and stop believing the lies that it is the school's job or society's job to raise teens. It is the parent's job. Period.

I think I'm going to start selling bumper stickers that say: Schools don't save kids, families save kids.

All right. I feel better now. Thanks for letting me share. I think today, I won't feel so pissy when I pass by all the unsupervised and unchallenged teens on the corner.

We are...under construction.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Our first BIG gig

Great news everyone! Singers and Stompers LLC will be performing at the Portland Children's Museum during their "Munch and Music" program on July 24th and July 31st. You can pack a lunch, grap your little ones, and head to the museum...and after a rousing morning of creative play inside, you can mosey outside for some lunch and live music/entertainment. Ben is working on recording his original songs for kids. The cd will be available for purchase at the CM event. I'm so excited. Only 30 more days...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Weekend: A Story in Pictures

55 lbs of strawberries

Plus lots of help.

=200 jars of strawberry jam. Wedding favors.

Bikes and roses.

Friends. No cars. Lots of bikes. Six miles.

My niece and nephew

Mad balancing skills.

Have circus. Will travel.

Hula hooping.


Just your average weekend in nopo.

We are...under construction.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The 411

Backfence was delightful. The storytellers, who all told six minute impromptu stories about summer love, were hilarious, sweet, honest. The sun was just settling behind the west hills and there was a nice cool breeze to keep the warm air moving. Essentially, perfect Portland weather. L, S, Ben and I hung out at a table outside. Tour de Crepes has roll up doors and a pa system, so we could see and hear the story tellers AND enjoy the fabulous weather. As if it wasn't good enough, RSG and HG joined us during the second half--after RSG rocked the stage in the Popina's swimsuit show during intermission. RSG is as engaging in real life as she is in blogland. She's the real deal. Anyway, a great evening. Looking forward to August's Backfence, theme: "True Colors".


Music Sprouts is not dead, just reborn as "Singers and Stompers". After a lovely visit with our friend's friend who is a partner at a monster big law firm downtown (and probably more lawyer than we need--but we like him so much we'll keep on retainer--when we earn some money), we discovered that Music Sprouts, while not officially trademarked by anyone else, is likely to face a lawsuit for trademark infringement because it is similar to some giant coporate conglomorate's name. Said giant corporate conglomorate has taken action against 37 companies for trademark infringement...and won. Even though we love the name, we thought it prudent to rethink our brand.

So, after much soul and internet searching, Singers and Stompers became a reality. All the official government paperwork was filed this past week, so as of next week we'll be good to go. Hats off to all of you out there that run your own businesses. Just navigating the IRS paperwork alone could be a full-time job.

We spent everyday calling daycare centers and preschools. And by we, I mean, mostly Ben. We made some great contacts and will be dropping off a cd of Ben playing original songs for kids to many of our contacts. The cd is brilliant, btw. Seriously, he is soooo good. I'm not just saying that because he's my brother. He really is an amazing musician and has a TOTAL gift for connecting with the little ones.

I'll keep you posted on our progress.

Singers and Stompers is my major project this summer--in between snuggling newborns, cooking, cleaning, and ss's swim team.

Today: make bread, wash windows and floors, walk with my buddy L., and babysit for some new parents who need/deserve a night to hang out at a restaurant--sans babies--and just enjoy each other's company. Tomorrow is Portland Parkways. Our good buddies are coming in with their little guys for the event. Then a birthday party here at the coh.

That's the 411.

We are...under construction.