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The one about public schools...

I can't remember what grade I was in. I was still little enough that I didn't really understand the term foster care, but old enough to know that something was very wrong with the stories I was hearing. The story belonged to a girl in my grade. A nice girl, though she wasn't in my immediate circle so I didn't know her all that well. We talked on occasion. English was not her first language and I remember communication being a bit difficult.  We talked enough that I knew she slept on the floor of the garage in her foster home.  I'll let that sink in a little.

Her foster sister (the biological child of the foster parents) also attend our school. She did not sleep on the floor. She liked to share this story herself.

I wish so much that I could remember their names. I wish so much that I could look her up and tell her I am sorry for not telling an adult what we were hearing. But I don't remember, and I didn't tell anyone. I think about her a lot. Those stories, the moments, her face. I knew something was terribly wrong but I didn't understand enough.

I share this story with you because it is one of the many reasons I believe in public schools. If only for a few hours a day, this child had a place. Her place in the classroom, her place to learn, to feel safe.

Public schools are this for so many children. Yes they are education centers, but they are so much more. They are meals. They are community. They are safe zones.

They are not perfect. I won't debate that. There are shortfalls and budget issues and tired teachers and a lack of supplies. There is much wrong.

But there is still so much right. And so many more reasons to love our public schools. There are teachers who work tirelessly for their students. There are workers in the cafeteria feeding children who are hungry. There are warm rooms when it's cold outside. So much right.

I can't list all of the teachers who impacted my life. There are just too many. All of my teachers were public school teachers except my kindergarten teacher. Some teachers taught me to love learning. Some taught me how to preserver. Some taught me how to be kind and thoughtful. They taught me so many lessons. Priceless lessons that I will cherish all of my life.

As this political season (nightmare?) has evolved I've known that I needed to plant my feet in somewhere. I also know that I can't be spread to thin, so I've been waiting for the right spot. The motivation or sign that I'd found my spot. Well today it was easy. I felt things today as our senate and VP voted to allow a women with no experience and no desire to serve our children become the next Secretary of Education. I did not feel the despair that I thought I would. Instead I felt a call to action. I've had moments like this before in life. I call them God Moments. Moments when I feel He is talking to me. I get a little flushed, sometimes a little shaky. I feel uncomfortable. And then I feel calm suddenly. Sometimes I get goosebumps. This can happen suddenly or take a bit, like a few hours. Today this happened. And I didn't realize what it was until I'd sat quietly, by myself for a bit. I don't talk about my faith all that often. I consider it a very private matter between me and Him. But I do listen for Him.

I was already committed to our neighborhood schools. I had always planned for Sugar Snap to attend the brick grade school with the big blue doors. But today I felt my call. I changed my AmazonSmile account to support that school and I took it one step further and emailed the auction chair and asked her if I could donate some of my wine collection to them for the auction. I'm going to keep looking for ways to support this school and others. I don't know what my plans are yet. I am new to this whole activist thing, but I'm not new to volunteering so I think I can figure some things out to help. I don't know what the next few years will look like. I don't know what the master plans of this administration are. But I want to be ready.

If you know of ways I can help, let's have a discussion. I am not a wealthy person but I am resourceful. And I'm mouthy. And I'm stubborn. Hopefully these are things are are helpful.  If you know educators please let them know that people like me are here. We're going to step in and fight like hell so that kids can go to school. Every kid deserves the chance to learn and feel safe in doing so.

This will be my spot. My action. I don't know how often I'll write about this. Though I've been having a harder time not being mouthy online and this seems like a better place than Facebook to do that. So maybe you'll see more from me here. Or maybe I'll talk to myself here. Either way it feels good to say these things. It's important to me that I not fail any more children. So this is my spot.

P.S. I do feel the need to say that I know the foster care system is full of loving, kind, generous people. I know some of these people. They are living, breathing angels.

The Garden.

Phytoremediation. That's a big word. I'm probably not pronouncing it right. I'll get there. It only took me a week to say cadmium correctly. Phytoremediation is the term used to describe using plants to clean soil of contaminates. Certain plants suck certain things right out of the ground and help clean up bad patches. It's fairly affordable, low impact, and can be really pretty. Making beautiful out of ugly.

As I find myself learning about phytoremediation I'm really wishing I'd taken those Master Gardner classes I thought about BC (before child).  See that table below (borrowed from HERE), I know just enough to recognize some elements and some root plant names, but not enough to just know what to go get for my yard. So I'm researching.  I've heard and seen some things that say lupine, sunflowers, some types of ferns, and even hydrangea are good at pulling contaminates from soil. So it looks like I'll have a wacky looking garden this year, but it's going to be full of colorful flowers.

Table 1. Phytoremediation processes, mechanisms,
and related pollutants/plant species (Gupta et al, 2000
Now that I think about it, it makes sense. Hydrangeas can change color based on the pH levels in soil. If you want a blue hydrangea you need to add aluminum to the soil. To get a pink hydrangea there must be no aluminum in the soil. Can you guess what color the hydrangeas in my yard are? They are not pink! From what I understand they never will be. It's a little like that experiment we all did as kids with food coloring and carnations. In fact Sugar's class just did that experiment a few weeks ago, right about the time this story broke. They were trapped inside because they were not allowed to play in the contaminated soil, and they needed indoor activities.

It seems like this idea is still kind of new in that it's not all over the Google. I totally thought it would be.  Even digging, I had trouble finding lists of other plants that might work. I'm going to keep working on it. It seems like a good way to do some passive good. Maybe I will just drop seeds all over the place.

Maybe I can be the Miss Rumphius of my neighborhood. Not a bad thing to aspire to.

Ok, my brain hurts from all the science. I leave you with pretty. Because we can still find pretty on dark days.


The Letter.

I write today because I know there is a possibility you will begin using toxic metals in your production process again before installing filtration systems.  If this is true, if you will again use arsenic, cadmium, or chromium, the elements you suspended for health concerns, then you are willingly and knowledgeably poisoning my child and many others who attend the CCLC childcare center. You are willingly and knowledgeably poising my home, my neighbor’s homes, and countless other family’s homes.  You do this knowing the levels you are spewing from your furnaces are dangerous. Despite the fact that it fits into the grossly negligent permit given to you by DEQ, you know.

I was quoted on the news last night saying I didn’t want you to go out of business. It’s true. I support the arts. I support business. I support employees who need a paycheck and take pride in what they do.  I don’t want your company to go out of business. I want you to install systems that will allow you to work alongside your neighbors in a safe way. I want you to invest in systems that protect you as a business and protect the air my child breathes.

Don’t tell me it costs too much. Don’t tell me it would take time. Don’t tell me it’s difficult. None of those are valid responses. If you enter into an industry that deals with toxic elements you must be prepared to deal with the full cost and impact of those elements.

As I type this people are working to clean up this neighborhood. CCLC has taken steps to clean play areas for children, they are looking to remove dirt and grass and replace it with something new, something lacking toxic metals.  Neighbors have started replacing the dirt in their gardens; spring is just around the corner. If you were to start production without a proper filter again, those efforts are all for naught. You will have undone the hard and expensive work done to protect my child. Please don’t do this. Don’t endanger her more. I am already not sleeping, I can’t take more worry. This has disrupted our life in ways you can't imagine.

If you are not willing to halt production until the measures can be taken I’d like to invite you over to dinner, in my home. We can have a talk about the little playhouse that sits in the back corner of our yard, a spot for my two year old to play and grow her own flowers.  We can sit in the back yard and look at the decades old apple tree; producing apples that my dogs love to pull off the branch and eat. I can show you the rose bushes planted by the elderly couple who lived here before us. They had a large garden too. He died of lung cancer.  We can have a lovely meal, but it won’t come from my once thriving garden.  I wouldn’t want to poison you.

I know you are not the only polluter in Portland. I hear you accusing others. I see them too. My eyes are open now. I will write similar letters to them.  My urgency today is you though. You are willfully endangering my child, her development and overall health. You endanger my family pets that love us unconditionally and can’t be told not to go outside.  You endanger me, the caretaker of a family that needs me. You endanger countless others.  If you put those metals back into production, you do this knowing you are potentially harming people.  That is not being a good neighbor. That is not being a good human.

Just install the filters. Invest in your neighborhood. I think you’ll find that we’re a pretty friendly group when you aren’t actively poisoning us.

Sincerely,

Erin Meeker
Mother, Wife, Daughter, Neighbor, Friend
SE 27th & Gladstone

Photo by Mark Colman

The Guilt.

From May of 2015, before we knew.
I took Sugar (my daughter, her nickname for this blog) to the park yesterday.  It was a rainy wet day.  She wanted to ride the merry go round. I let her climb on, and just as her hands grabbed onto the metal bar I thought, I bet that’s covered in arsenic and cadmium and chromium. 

It likely wasn’t. The rain had probably washed it away. Probably.

But there I was, at the park with my toddler, thinking about toxic metals. 

It’s our neighborhood park.  A five minute walk from our house.  It’s not the nicest park in the city.  Not even close. It borders Powell Boulevard, so it’s get a lot of loud traffic, some vagrants, probably some unsavory visitors. But it’s still our park. And the merry go round is pretty damn fun for a two year old. So we go.

But I’m mad that a trip to the park results in me questioning what she touches. What I’m touching.

Now there is a certain amount of guilt associated with allowing my child to go to the park.  If I let her go, she may be exposed to more things. The dirt is dirty. Like really dirty.

What if she eats it, as she is prone to do when she plays in it, then picks her nose, and eats it? She’s two, we’re working on it. 

Do we stay inside? Do we avoid the park, the sidewalk? Do we hide? How do I explain that to my child who wants to play?

Then that guilt snowballs. And maybe it’s just me, but I suspect there are many other parents in our area feeling like this right now.

We picked our house because of the large yard, the view of the west hills, the easy access to downtown, the hardwood floors tucked under the worn carpet. We didn’t have children then. We only dreamed about the possibility.  Now there is overwhelming, irrational yet overwhelming guilt that I picked this house and my child lives in it.  My dogs spend hours in the yard, rolling in and eating the dirt.  My entire family has eaten sugar snap peas and strawberries straight out of the yard. I picked this!

We picked Sugar’s childcare center because it was close, around the corner. The facility was bright and full of happy faces. They have documented curriculum. They have outdoor play areas, lots of them. Now there is overwhelming guilt that I picked a place where her outside time included incredibly high levels of metal toxics in the air. At times 165 times higher than recommended baselines for cadmium.  Do you know what that breaks down to? 1 in 6060 people getting cancer.  But then consider that children are considered more susceptible. I picked this!

DEQ and OHA will tell you that those numbers only matter at a 24 hour exposure, over a lifetime. Well folks, my kid does spend 24 hours a day in her neighborhood. And while she hasn’t lived her life out, it’s been her lifetime thus far.

So guilt. Lots of guilt. Cry in my car on the way to pick her up guilt.  Tossing and turning in bed guilt. Guilt.

I know we didn’t make our choices with the knowledge that something terrible was in the air. But I still feel guilty.

As some not so kind people on FB have pointed out to me, I am twit for living where I do.  Now bear with me, I know I’m not a twit, but I can follow some train of thought here. I choose to live in an inner SE neighborhood that has always had some form of industry in it. The train horns I so love to listen to at night carry with them pollution.  I drove past this glass company every single day for the ten years we’ve lived here and never really thought too much about what they do or how they do it. There was a metal smelting plant years ago, now an empty lot. The man that lived in our house years before us worked there. He died of lung cancer.

Guilt.

You can see why the guilt starts to add up.  What have we done?

But then I think about this company. That they knew. They claim they did not.

I’ve said this many times in the last few weeks:

How can you shovel arsenic/cadmium/hexavalent chromium into a furnace and not think that something bad will come of it? How?

So they blatantly let things go. They decided not to install filters that would capture the particulates they were releasing into the air.  They let us trust them to do that.

I just blindly trusted them. Guilty as charged.

Now I know better.

But I still feel guilt that is hard to explain.  Hard to reconcile. And it's all day long. And it eats at you. And there is nothing within my power, right this moment that can fix it. Nothing. I feel helpless to fix this because the damage is done. 


As if parenting didn’t carry daily guilt with it. Now I will always worry that a harmless cough is really something more.  


The beginning.

It’s hard to know where to even start.  Forgive me, if at time this post rambles.  My head swims with too much information and data these days. It’s hard to process that, and feelings, and still keep things in check.  When you wake up one morning, things are normal, you go about your day, then come home to news that your child has been exposed to heavy metal air pollutants, your head comes as close to exploding as I think it can.

I guess I should back up a little. This blog was started in 2008. My life was very different. I wrote about all sorts of things. Crafts, food, parties, infertility, running, my love of Portland, etc.  It evolved into many things over the years, and then I stopped writing. Sometimes your brain goes silent. Those posts are all still here, archived, but hidden for now, as I want to focus on life now.  I won’t erase them, they may come back even, but for now I need to talk about what’s happening right now. Like I really need to talk. I don’t want to burden my Facebook timeline with these thoughts because I know some will tire of it, and stop listening. So I want to post here, where people can choose to read or not. This blog was my outlet for many things, now I will use it to spill my guts about what’s going on.

“What’s going on?” you might ask.  Well lots.

February 2nd, 2016 is a day that I’ll likely never forget. It’s the day our childcare provider informed us that DEQ had been conducting air pollutant tests in the parking lot adjacent to the facility. This facility is also around the corner from my home.
Those tests revealed higher than normal levels for arsenic and cadmium.  They urged calm as they further assessed. I don’t know about you but when someone urges me to remain calm I often do the exact opposite. So I started reading, and researching. DEQ posted a press release, then took it down, then reposted a smaller one with less information. Right from the start things seemed off.   We went to a meeting facilitated by CCLC (our childcare center) where DEQ, Oregon Health Authority (OHA), and corporate officers from CCLC came to speak with us. We left that meeting with more questions than answers.  DEQ and OHA were what I would call evasive, or perhaps poorly prepared to answer hard questions.

When parents are afraid, they will ask hard questions. Mama Bear activates the instant my child is at risk whether that be from a bump falling off the slide, or arsenic being inhaled into her lungs. My Mama Bear was off the charts, but I tried to remain calm. That's what they told me to do! It’s hard to do that when you learn that DEQ has known about these harmful pollutants for years and failed to follow up on what was causing them, and where, geographically it was coming from. With ten seconds I was able to use a search engine to find who uses those metals. It was fairly easy to put it together.  So why did no one do anything? Why can a company do this? How could they not have known? How bad is it? How often does it happen?

So many questions.

But it boils down to this. It’s legal. What that company did, and is likely still doing with other toxic elements, is legal. 

DEQ can’t do anything. The company is working within the limits of its permit.  

The company has blatantly abused its neighbors trust.

I will always wonder.  Even if we are not sick now, I will always wonder. Our bodies are ticking time bombs.  There is no MacGyver to swoop in with a paper clip and some chewing gum to fix this. This is more like a MacGruber situation.  Google that if you need to.  Comic relief…kind of.

As I write subsequent posts I will try to include data and cite references where needed.  I’m not a professional though, so I might screw that up sometimes.  You may also see me make what seem like really inappropriate jokes. That’s how I deal sometimes. If I can’t laugh I might cry. I cry enough so I think I’ll try to laugh if/when I can.  Please don’t take offense. Despite my jokes, I take this very seriously.  Frankly, I will probably write mostly about how this feels emotionally, with a tiny side of science and a dash of legal. Because emotions are what are impacting me the greatest at this moment.  I mean, it all impacts me, but the emotions are hard to grapple with.  Really hard.  And honestly there are some freaking brilliant, dedicated neighbors, who have taken this on. My neighborhood is in very capable hands.  Like rock star hands.  I don’t know that I’m in a place to offer them anything except appreciation. They are that good!


Most importantly, thank you for reading this. If people listen and learn then maybe another community won’t have to deal with crap like this. Maybe other children won’t be exposed to cancer causing heavy metals.  Maybe the teachers who spend hours caring for them won’t have to worry about their own health. Maybe your neighbors will never wonder if the kale they grew in their organic gardens will actually kill them someday. Maybe. 

Hello...is there anybody out there?

I don't really know what to say except HELLO!

Obviously it's been a while. 

Life has been pretty full the last year and a half. Yes, it's been that long since I last posted. Seems kind of crazy. I can remember a time when this blog was updated on a fairly regular basis and it goes all the way back to 2008. I just read through a sampling of all those posts for old times sake. It's fun and also strange to go back and see the person you were six years ago.  Our struggles with infertility obviously were a common theme, as were our travels and just daily life. But then I just let it go. I think I felt like I wasn't positive anymore and it's no fun to keep forcing your friends to read about your sadness or lack of fun. To be honest there was a good year or so where I was just in a bit of a dark cloud. Nothing too serious but certainly a noticeable time of quiet, reflection and even healing. I've come out the other side of that, back to my sometimes obnoxiously perky self. Sometimes you just need time to get that inner cheerleader back.

I had planned to do a complete reboot of this blog, wipe it clean, start new and fresh, but I can't. I decided I need to leave those old posts because as I read them I got to remember some things that are easy to forget, easy to let go, even though they were a huge part of my life for so long. 

So Raindrops on Roses will get a face lift and the themes may change but all that old stuff is going to stick around for now. 

If you're still here reading, after all these years I want to say thank you. I hope there are still a few of you out there. If so you can look forward to some new fun posts and photos. I've got a new take on life.

It is hard to explain, but the birth of my baby girl has made me want to find ways to share joy, to make people feel good, and to make even my little corner of the world a better place. And yes, you read that right. If you didn't already know I was blessed beyond measure this past September when Sugar was born. Don't worry, we didn't actually name her Sugar, it's just what I call her. So yes, friends, if you've been here from the start you know this is a pretty damn big deal. I'll probably write a post about it later, but let me say this. She's awesome. Like beyond awesome. In ways I didn't know existed. It turns out my inability to make babies for so long turned into one SUPER baby when it was all said and done. 

Okay, enough with the sappy, lovey dovey, mushy emotional fest! Even though she's super awesome she still fills a diaper and cries at 3am!

Look for a fancy, pretty update in the next few weeks and hopefully a more active blog in general!

Loves,
Erin


Weekend Fun Times

This weekend was a busy one, but so incredibly fun. 

I was lucky enough to get a quick visit with my friend Cindy and two of her girlfriends who were in town to check out the Portland food scene. They invited me to join them for dinner and breakfast and we had a lovely time, not to mention some delicious food.  These girls are my kind of people! They had a list of restaurants to try and it was so complete (and long!) you'd think they were locals. They did their research. I think they'll have to come back though, just too many restaurants, not enough time. 

I did get to take them to one of my favorite breakfast spots, Bread and Ink on Hawthorne. They had the Waffle Window on their list (I'm seriously in love with the WW) but we opted to sit inside the main restaurant and enjoy the full breakfast that Bread and Ink offers. It was, as always, a delight. We all shared our dishes and left fully stuffed. Roll me out the door stuffed. 


My Eggs Benedict from Bread and Ink - Pretty freaking delish! Great Hollandaise!


In addition to the whirlwind food tour I helped put on a Zombie Birthoween Party on Saturday night. It was a pretty awesome event. Almost every guest showed up in some form of the undead along with one cute little Zom-bee! We had jello shots in syringes to serve as our vaccines. I think we got everyone who came but be careful, if we missed one or two you might see a zombie or two roaming the streets of PDX!


Jello shots! Get it? Shots! Yes I'm a nerd.


The birthday girl had a hard time not being a smiling zombie.


My SIL the vaccine administrator trying to get me. She wins for best, freakiest costume!

It was truly a great weekend filled with friends. What more can one ask for really?