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This summer, the constant background noise of my mind has been the semi-panicked thought loop of, “The schools have to reopen this fall. I cannot have a repeat of the spring.”

Unfortunately for me, this past week our school district made the announcement that fall will be entirely online. I am in a sad/mad/fearful/confused state about this decision. I am angry at the challenges this poses to my family as well as the wide-reaching inequities this exposes — families that can pay for childcare or private tutors will do so. Other families will be left scrambling and be forced to leave kids mostly unsupervised. In many cases, moms will be the ones figuring out how to juggle childcare and homeschooling responsibilities with work, while dads are able to continue working mostly undisturbed.

Children will fall behind academically, but even more seriously, they will be at higher risk for abuse and neglect as support for families reaches an all-time low. Additionally, many kids rely on eating free breakfast and lunch at school 5 days a week. Even when schools continue to provide free meals, families may lack the transportation to come pick up food.

I do take the risks of COVID very seriously, and realize that there is no perfect solution. We can’t avoid risk entirely but we need to minimize it. I adopted mask-wearing in March and wish that everyone would have done so. As one article I recently read stated, “this isn’t rocket science.” We know what we need to do.

I wish so much that I could change the past, that I could wave a wand and our nation could have developed a better response to COVID that would now allow local schools to safely reopen. I wish so much that I could change other people’s choices in the present, that everyone would comply perfectly with mask-wearing and social-distancing so that this nightmare could be over. I cannot change either of those things. I can only control my own response (and sometimes even that seems difficult).

So how will my family get through this next season of remote learning? I’m not sure. Like, really unsure, and because of this, I’ve been praying for help. It’s one of the most basic prayers, “God if you’re listening, please help.” Save our ship.

Since I’ve been praying directly for help more, a few things have arisen. I put my daughter on the list for a fall childcare option that sounds functional, and made plans for my mom to babysit/homeschool my 5-year-old son. I have had a couple of outdoor meet-ups with friends, and just seeing friends in real life made me feel better. A retired K-3 teacher offered to help me with tutoring. My supervisor at work told me they’re looking into ways to support staff with children under age 10.

There aren’t many bright sides to this pandemic, but one idea that’s been resonating with me lately is the Celtic idea of “thin places” — places where the veil between the spiritual and physical world is thin. These are places where we may feel the presence of the divine, or perhaps experience the miraculous.

I’ve been in thin places a few times, or perhaps I should clarify, places that were thin to me. In the trailer where I taught fourth grade at a tiny mission school in northeast Portland, praying with my students daily about their little and big concerns. On a study abroad trip to West Africa, the Holy Spirit seemed almost as present as the smell of diesel fuel permeating the air. Hiking through Mt. Pisgah Arboretum with my family.

Could the idea of thin places also apply to times in our lives, and could this season become one of them for me? Could it for you? I believe that sometimes, when we come to the end of our rope, when our resources are tapped out and we can’t go any farther on our own strength — those are the times when God is able to work most powerfully in our lives.

I certainly feel thinned out, with so much of my sense of control and normalcy missing. What remains when we lose our illusions of control?

Small moments. Great blue herons fishing in the river. Hummingbirds in my backyard. My son giggling. Reading to my daughter before bed. Knowing that I still enjoy spending time with my husband after 16 years together.

Faith, hope, and love.

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A magical moment watching a great blue heron fish at Alton Baker Park this spring.

 

A few weeks ago my parents treated us to a family beach weekend. My husband works a lot and we don’t have extra money, so it’s rare to get away for a weekend. It was a gorgeous, sunny September weekend in Newport, Oregon. We walked along the edge of our continent, dined on corned beef and Scotch eggs at Nana’s Irish Pub, watched sea otters play at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, and slept deeply and peacefully against the white noise of ocean waves out our window.

On Sunday morning, I felt the urge to visit the wax museum. I used to love visiting the wax museum as a kid, hadn’t been there in about 16 years, and wanted to check it out as an adult. I thought it might be a tiny bit scary but surely my brave 3-year-old could handle it.

We arrived and then as soon as my mom purchased tickets and it was time to go through the turnstile into the museum, MJ started to freak out. She noticed it was dark inside. I wanted to go in, so I told her that she could just wait outside with Grandma and we would see her in about half an hour when we got done. My husband and I (plus baby in Ergo carrier) entered the museum and I was quickly entranced by the American Idol exhibit which featured…karaoke! Much to Spencer’s chagrin, I began singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” on stage, and then moments later MJ and my mom arrived. Both my mom and daughter were thrilled to sing on stage with me.

What made MJ change her mind and be willing to enter the wax museum?

Light.

The woman at the front desk gave MJ a tiny flashlight to wear on her finger. “Will this help you go through?” she asked. “Yes,” my little daughter nodded and bravely ventured in holding Grandma’s hand.

Light makes things not so scary.

Our world is in a crisis. The refugee crisis, the climate crisis, the gun violence crisis. There are a lot of scary and dark things going on in the world. Politicians don’t seem to be helping much. Religious people don’t seem to be helping much either. It would be easy to get very discouraged by the darkness. But….

The light has already come into this world. Jesus is our light. He helps us to see in dark places. And he is always with us .

“In him was life, and that life was the light of man. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:4-5

I don’t have to be afraid, because God is with me always. I can be thankful for that.

At Oregon Coast Aquarium with MJ, facing one of my big fears. Photo credit: Alice Evans

At Oregon Coast Aquarium with MJ, facing one of my big fears. Photo credit: Alice Evans

Today I present to you my very own editorial endorsement for Oregon’s upcoming election. This measure is being fiercely battled, and with quite a lopsided amount of money (the No campaign is bringing in double the donations), so I thought I’d throw in my two cents. This measure is also important to me as a mom — as I’ll explain.

Yes on Measure 92, GMO Labeling. It’s hard to believe that this is such a battle. Why wouldn’t we want the right to know what’s in our food? However, with millions of dollars coming in from Monsanto for the No on 92 campaign, it’s become a David vs. Goliath situation. Money buys elections. In case you’re unfamiliar with Monsanto, it is a multi-billion dollar chemical company.  (Here’s an interesting article about them). They’re bent out of shape because if this measure passes then Oregon will be the first state in the U.S. to require GMO labeling. Some pertinent info about this ballet measure, pulled from the Yes on 92 website:

Who else labels? 64 countries around the world require labeling of all GMO food, including all of the European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia, and China.

Will labeling raise the cost of food? Labeling will cost about $2.30 per consumer per year.

Why do I care if GMOs are in my food? Most GMO food is designed to be resistant to pesticides. Some even manufacture their own pesticides — in which case, no amount of washing your produce can remove that pesticide residue. We also don’t know the long-term health effects of eating genetically modified foods — we are the guinea pigs to discover if they cause cancer or other health problems.

As a mom, I want to avoid feeding my child GMO food as much as possible, because I’m wary of the long-term health repercussions. I don’t trust food that was made in a chemistry lab. And even if it is safe — we still have the right to know what’s in our food.

The official start of summer is just around the corner. The fleeting season for eating freshly picked berries, riding bikes along the river trail, and hiking behind waterfalls. Undoubtedly, my richest memories are from summers.

 

At Tunnel Falls in the Columbia River Gorge.

At Tunnel Falls in the Columbia River Gorge.

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When I was a kid, summer was the season for our annual family vacations. Thanks to my parents’ adventurous spirit, I had many memorable experiences during those vacations. I won’t easily forget the time an orca swam underneath our zodiac raft on a whale-watching expedition in British Columbia. Or seeing the ancient marble formations inside the Oregon Caves. I’ll always remember the talent competitions at our Evans family reunions in the tiny Ozark town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and the time my mom was serenaded by an Elvis impersonator at the country music show.

I’ll remember the glorious summer my parents and I toured Europe — dodging cars on narrow medieval cobblestone streets, standing in centuries-old Gothic cathedrals as light beams down through stained glass, discovering my love for Impressionist painters at the Musee d’Orsay. And I’d be negligent if I didn’t mention the hot and humid September afternoon my husband proposed to me on a glacial rock in Central Park after a picnic lunch of deli sandwiches and potato chips, and our tiramisu wedding cake the following June.

Our wedding day, eight summers ago. (Photo credit TJ Cameron).

Our wedding day, eight summers ago. (Photo credit TJ Cameron).

Even the summertime flops make for good stories — running down the side of South Sister in the midst of a lightning storm, sleeping in our car in Utah when our campsite was being sprayed with insecticide for its mosquito infestation, flying on a sketchy third-world airline that used hand-me-down Hawaiian airlines jets.

I want my daughter to grow up rich in memories too. A family vacation isn’t in the cards for us this summer due to a lack of money and vacation days as well as my daughter’s young age. But we can still have fun while staying here in Oregon. At two-years-old, my daughter probably won’t remember this summer anyway, so I suppose the memory-making this year is more for the benefit of my husband and I.

To help encourage ourselves to make the most of summer, we’ve created our family summer bucket list. I’ll be checking back at the end of the summer to report on our progress. My husband and I agreed on the late deadline of October 15 to complete the activities, since nice weather tends to last through mid-October in Oregon and we’re not particularly tied to the school schedule. The point is to have fun rather than give myself more things I feel obligated to do. WIthout further ado, here’s my list:

1.  Parent-child swim lessons
2.  Canoeing (without our daughter)
3. Lots of bike riding
4. Visit local farm
5. Get off the beaten hiking path (try some hikes outside of the immediate Eugene area — perhaps Blue Pool, Obsidian Falls…)
6. Portland road trip
7.  join CSA (Okay we’ve already done this. I confess the secret to success for to-do lists is to include an item you’ve already completed)
8. Visit Wildlife Safari
9. Watch fireworks (We never do this, because my husband always has to work at 5:30 am on July 5).
10. Attend a concert in the park
11.  Run in Butte-to-Butte race
12. Host 2 dinners (We love to cook and have friends over for dinner, but haven’t been doing a good job of this since moving to Eugene.)
13. Visit Crater Lake

Do you have a favorite summer memory you’d like to share? Or, do you have items on your personal summer bucket list?