Vulnerable Citizens in Communities Everywhere Suffer in Silence While We Are Distracted by Politics and Divisiveness…

This is a loving homeless family living in Newport, Oregon.. Lincoln County cares. My neighbors, your neighbors, maybe loved ones. We look out after our friends and neighbors who need it the most. We work hard to give them hope for a new day. This is a popular spot for safe gatherings in Newport, Oregon in Lincoln County on the Central Coast.


How does the current, and very concerning political environment the past 4 years in America threaten public safety and health, especially the most vulnerable citizens?

What does this vitriol and anger say to you?

These questions can only be answered from your soul, your moral compass, and your faith…not politics. The answers come from building friendships and bonds with your community by caring about each other.

Imagine the millions of most vulnerable American citizens dying on the steets of communiies everywhere because they don’t have access to “whole patient” health care like most of us?

I can tell you with this story of love told as ‘fiction’ based on true events from my personal and professional experiences…

I know of a case of a homeless veteran in Lincoln County Oregon in 2018. I was knee deep in doing consulting work at the time for the larger community in Lincoln County Oregon

The story begins with a young Marine vet who served in Iraq during the initial invasion in 2002. This decent and patriotic man, named, Jake, served America in the early days of the Iraq invasion following 9/11.

Jake was a kid when when he experienced the aftermath of the Oklahoma City Bombing of a federal building 25 years ago. From that moment on Jake wanted to serve America.

Jake dreamed being a US Marine, a warrior just like his Pop, a WWII hero who served in the Pacific for all of the war. He felt the passion and duty to protect his homeland and the free world. It was his time to serve, to step up, to join so many others who were disgusted and heartbroken from 9/11…

Military family legacy…

Jake’s father also served during Pearl Harbor, WWII, and Korean War. His pop was a highly decorated Master Chief Boatswain Mate (BMC) who was a hardened combat veteran, His father was also sick and his family was sick from all of the horrific truama. and for too long. Jake inhaled the pain from his profoundly dysfunctional childhood. But he became a strong warrior early in his life and learned how to survive and thrive.

Jake was injured physically and emotionally in Iraq right after the initial invasion while clearing the way for the American occupation. He experienced what most combat vets didn’t know or understand much about back then, let alone “Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).”

Jake returns home to Oklahoma City in 2004…

Jake, a US Marine hero, returned home to Oklahoma City with little or no ‘warm handoff’ when transitioned out of the Marines. You know, “go in peace young man, you served your country with pride, we got your 6, get married, start a family.” It never worked out that way for Jake. His experience after returning home had no resembance to what he thought. No heroes welcome or a support group that seemed impossible for him to sort out anywary. TBI symptoms and PTSD was a dangerous mix as we all know well now in 2020. The VA health care system was just beginning to research TBI back then.

Help eluded Jake. He couldn’t comprehend on how to navigate the complicated VA health care system. Jake felt no one understood or show empathy for the constant pain and distress he was feeling, with little or no sleep, nightmares, guilt, never ending stuff. His family didn’t know what to do either,.

His father, mother, siblings and friends seemed to distance themselves. He did like to hang out in the old town with other homeless vets he could talk to and get high. Jake was around friends who loved him for who he was., brothers in arms. Friends who asked him what happened, not what is wrong. They told the stories of warriors and of healing, comraderie, and trust. And the love of brothers protecting each other. “I got your, six, bro!” Jake loved to play his mandolin and sing while hanging out with other homeless vets. His battle buddies sang with him and danced on the street.

Jake knew he was getting sicker. He blamed himself for this too. But he dreamed of better days. Jake wanted to move on. It was now or never, he thought.

Looking west for a new start…

Jake felt alone in Oklahome City. It didn’t feel like home anymore. His behavior was irractic and unstable. His family and friends appeared distant and didn’t want to be close to hime. Jake had a hard time articulating how he felt. He was disowned and left homeless on the streets the city he used to call home. So, Jake set out on the road for a new start, and hope for the future. Jake was a Marine, a warrior who served his nation. He never give up.

He stopped along the way in towns that touched his soul, tugged his heart. Jake was a survivor, a warrior. He dreamed of finding a community where people cared about each other, no matter what, or who you are. He wanted to be loved. He wanted a chance to get better and get to work. Maybe meet the right person and and start family, a dog and cat too.

Lincoln County Oregon 2017...

Jake, landed in Lincoln County Oregon a few years later after thumbing rides across America from Oklahoma City for what seemed like a never ending journey. He struggled to build a life until he ended his journey on the Oregon coast, like so many veterans who discovery the clean air and the beauty of this stunning coastal place he could only dream about before. He loved it from the very first moment walking along Nye Beach, in Newport, Oregon. He felt the souls of kindred spirits just like him. He didn’t feel alone anymore.

Jake’s health kept getting worse over time. He couldn’t get off drugs and alcohol. He loved his new home in Lincoln County. Jake found the home he dreamed of for so long. Newport, Oregon was a community that cared about all of us not just some of us. He was hugged, loved, and cared for as best as our community could provide with stretched resources. Jake tried hard… But his mind and body could not hold up anymore.

Jake was so sick, he was taken to the hospital emergency room more than 40 times during a 12 month period. Jake had VA benefits and a monthly stipend. But he wanted to live on the streets. He never became comfortable with treatment and recovery programs like some other friends he knew.

We find ourselves as a community of care givers helpless in the end when our citizens who suffer the most don’t make it. It’s a choice that some who suffer with TBI, PTSD, substance abuse, depression, severe anxiety, and worst case psychotic episodes, are unable to function on their own.

It’s still our duty to take care of the most vulnerable among us no matter what. We try to save lives everyday, but sometimes fail, but not in our hearts and souls. We keep trying and never give up. Just like Jake, we are warriors too.

Jake knew the community he called home loved him anyway. Hanging out on the street and the beach, close to community based peer support, shelter from the cold, and food when he was hungry got him through most days. Jake was loved and hugged, kept safe as possible.

A life cut short…

Jake, was an American hero, the son of a WWI hero, a father, a brother, a dear friend, a forgotten Marine warrior, who served America with pride and honor, and was awarded a Purple Heart. Jake, tragically, couldn’t get a decent continuum of care soon enough to save himself.

America failed Jake and his family. Jake was alone as a veteran then, and he is not alone in 2020. A patriot until the end, Jake was found one morning dead in the north end of the parking lot at PJ’s, the popular grocery store on the corner of 101`and hwy 20 where he came into town from a journey across America’s southwest. PJ’s welcomed the homeless, donating food and bottled water. Newport, Oregon was Jake’s America. Lincoln County is my America!

This heart breaking story happens all too often in America everywhere, in all 3000 counties across America. We can do better. We live with too many suicides because of the lack of access to health care services for the most vulnerable. Sadly, we know also that each day 22 veterans complete suicide. Communities everywhere are measured on how well we serve the most vulnerable members of our community. Sometimes we fall down on the job and it hurts. It hurts all of us… It hurts the hearts and souls of America.

I know my friends and colleagues feel the same way in Lincoln County Oregon as I do. How we take care of the most vulnerable citizens in our communities is a reflection of who we are as Americans… Good and decent souls with empathy, compassion, humanity and humility. We wouldn’t have it any other way, not ever…

This is my America! That’s why we love living in Lincoln County Oregon! My family’s home for 15 years now.

Lincoln County is not distracted from what is at the heart and soul of our community and America. I’m confident all 3000 counties in America aren’t distracted either.

Steve Sparks, US Navy vet, Author, Blogger; Member, Lincoln County Oregon, Mental Health Advisory Committee; Member, Trauma Informed Oregon (TIO) Steering Committee

How Do you Say Good Bye to Your Forever Person? by Eric Bowling

Meet my dear friend and colleague, Eric D Bowling. His deeply passionate, loving, and elequent piece made me tear up. His expression of love and wisdom will tug your heart and soul….

Steve Sparks


How do we say; “Goodbye.”

Our ‘forever people’ are, by definition, the ones we’re meant to never say goodbye to.
They’re our ride-or-dies. Our partners in crime. Our come-hell-or-high water. Our lobsters.

They’re the people who feel like home, in a way that even we do not always understand. They take care of us at our worst. They applaud us at our best. They’re the people we picture by our sides in ten, twenty, fifty years, through every challenge and obstacle.

They’re our forever people. The whole point is that they’re not supposed to go anywhere.

But here’s the thing about life: It works in funny and sometimes unfortunate ways.

The people who could have been there forever are sometimes the very ones we have to let go – often for reasons that are entirely outside of our control.

And so what do we do, when we find ourselves confronted with this uncomfortable reality?

How do you say goodbye to the person you thought you’d have at your side for the rest of your life?

How do you let forever go?

Maybe this is how:

You start by not downplaying their significance.

You start by accepting that they mattered, in a way nobody before them ever did, and it’s possible that nobody after them ever will.

You start by accepting that you met your forever person when the timing was wrong or the stars weren’t aligned or in a Universe where the two of you just couldn’t make it to the finish line. You start by letting it sink in that maybe they were ‘The One,’ whether that’s a term that you believe in or not.

Because in some capacity, they were. They were the one person your heart felt capable of loving forever. And that means something.
It’s always going to.

But love isn’t always enough to keep two people together. So when you have to say goodbye to your forever person, be thankful.
Be thankful that you met them. Be thankful that you got the chance to know them. Be thankful that you got to feel the way you felt about them in your lifetime. Because some people never do.

Some people go their whole lives never knowing what it feels like to be with their forever person.

They may fall in love several times. They may even get married. They may live out their ‘forever’ alongside someone whom they figure is the best reasonable fit for them. But they may never have the true connection, the true devotion, the true intimacy that comes from meeting that one person, who you just know is the one you’re supposed to stay with.

Some people never meet their forever people at all. But you met yours.

And if that’s not something to be grateful for, I don’t know what is.

And so when you have to let go of your forever person, do so calmly. Do so with gratitude. Do so with the understanding that we don’t get to keep all the gifts that we are given in life. Some things we’re just lent. And sometimes we have to let that be enough.

Because if you can be a big enough person to appreciate what you have while you have it, and to let it go with gratitude when it’s time to do so, you gain the respect of the one person who you’re never going to have to let go of: yourself.

Because the truth is, you only ever get one guaranteed forever person in life: And that person is you.

You’re the one who’s going to be there through every twist and turn, every bump in the road, every beautiful beginning and painful ending. And when you’re facing the latter, it’s your forever person who’s going to get you through it. It’s you who’s going to figure out how to keep yourself moving forward when everything seems to be crumbling apart.

And so when you have to let the person you wanted to spend forever with go, don’t let the person you are going to spend forever with fall to pieces. Care for that person. Nourish that person. Be there for that person.

And above all else, be proud of that person.
Be proud that you didn’t hold back on the thing that matters most. Be proud that you gave it all you had, when you could have only gone in halfway. Be proud that you risked something as huge and important as your heart, even if it didn’t end up lasting forever.

Be proud that you now know yourself to be someone who is capable of loving someone else forever.

Because you, of all people, know how incredibly and intoxicatingly rare people like that happen to be.

Sadie of Winterwood…the Gentle Soul Part 3, “Dogs Surely Go to Heaven”

Sadie, 1985 Laguna Niguel, Ca
Sadie and 10 babies! 1985 Laguna Niguel, Ca

Sadie 1985

“Sadie, The Gentle Soul” came into our lives shortly after Judy and I were married in April 1984. I knew Judy wanted to start our new family with her favorite furry friend, a lab. I loved labs too.

We lived near Black Diamond, WA, southeast of Seattle. It was country living back in the early 80s. Our first home together was built in a new residential community called Winterwood, Sadie’s name sake. Judy told me she wanted to live there forever. My career said differently, but I didn’t say anything in that beautiful moment of joy and happiness.

We found Sadie’s mom at Covington Kennels near our home. We studied the lineage and signed up for our first new arrival. We didn’t have a preference for gender or color. But we thought of breeding labs.

In the photo above, you can feel how happy Sadie was after we moved to Laguna Niguel, Ca in 1985. She was a young mom and needed lots of strength for 10 babies! More on that later.

The loving feelings of excitement felt much like a new child coming into our lives in that joyous moment when we were first married in 1984. Judy and I couldn’t wait. We kept in daily contact with the kennel with anticipation.

Sadie of Winterwood Spring 1984

I went to the kennel by myself to pick up the little pup. Sadie looked up at me with her loving eyes. She came to me instantly and I held her closely. It was love at first site for both of us. I kept thinking how much fun it would be to get Sadie home to Judy.

With hearts full of joy Sadie and I went on our first car ride home. There would be 100s of happy drives together in the future.

Imagine a whimpering puppy sitting next to me in the front seat. I had to hold her in my lap to keep her calm on the way home. I drove slowly and carefully on the road home, watching Sadie staring at me with a whimper or two, but safe in my lap as we drove home.

Sadie loved to be in the car with us every chance she could. She sat up front in the middle seat right next to us with that great big happy smile on her face and a dripping tongue.

Imagine again, little Sadie, a bundle of love, still unsure what was happening, but excited about the future with her new family. Thoughts of her brothers and sisters and mom still on her mind but soon a distant memory when in the arms of her new parents. We drove home to our new lives as a young family. Sadie didn’t know what was next. She trusted me to keep her safe no matter where we were headed in life.

A gentle soul she was…

Sadie showed us very early her gentle soul. She was a good dog right away, a very good girl. We couldn’t believe how fast she adapted to her new family and home. She was potty trained early, and we were grateful. So quickly, we thought, she would start to go to the front or back door looking back at us, saying, “time to go out.” She never ran away and mis behaved. After doing her business she came running back to our arms, close to all the love and attention.

It made me wonderfully happy to see Judy and Sadie so joyful and loving together. It was a dream come true to have our first furry loved one join our new family.

Sadie grew up fast. She proved her gentle soul and friendly nature to all who came for a visit or met on a walk. Sadie never barked at other dogs or charged them unless she was threatened or if she sensed we were anxious. Then it was a loud bark and a demonstration of her protective nature. Her teeth looked really scary in those rare moments while advising firmly the other more aggressive furry friends to lay off mom and pop and her.

Labs are lovers…

We picked a lab for this very reason. Labs remain our very favorite as we have had 2 labs in our lives together. I have now written about all 3 of our prescious furry loved ones in “Dogs Surely Go to Heaven, Parts 1-3.

Mocha was our second lab, then Skai, our granddog Bluenose pitbull, who crossed the Rainbow Bridge in early 2020. I believe this with all my heart, and so does Judy and so many other human souls on the planet. It’s always love that brings all living things closer.

We moved often during my high tech career in sales. Judy and I have always gone for adventure and romance, while Sadie joined us with her usual enthusiasm. We put her in a safe carry on with her toys and snack, and she flew with us to new homes and adventures across the land.

But before we moved away from Laguna Niguel, Sadie had other plans. She became a mom with 10 babies. We were thrilled once again as we watched the babies grow inside Sadie. We watched her excitement and maturity as the new little ones started to push and tug to come into the world.

Buck, Sadie’s little boy leaves us too early…

It was a tough pregnancy for Sadie and for us. Giving birth to 10 babies was not easy. Judy and I had to work together to help Sadie bring the new babies into the world. It was a miracle. It was also a little scary for me at first to help Sadie push the babies out gently. I even put my hand gently in her womb to pull them out one by one. You can see in the photo above both happiness and exhaustion after the 10 little ones came into the world.

Sadly, two of the pups didn’t make it… We grieved along with Sadie, helping her take care of the little pups with lots of love and caring as a family. We were a team!

The pups were sold quickly. We wanted to keep one of the yellow males to give Sadie a son to help grow up to be a gentle soul just like his mom. We named him Buck.

When Buck was old enough, we started going on longer walks as a family. In 1985 Laguna Niguel still had open fields of grass and walking trails to roam with our furry friends. We let Sadie and Buck run a bit together and play. Sadie taught Buck not to run away and mis- behave. Buck learned early to be a gentle soul by having a loving and attentive mom, a mom who kept him close to her family. Buck was a good dog, a very good dog.

Then, in a few short weeks after we started our long walks with Buck, he suddenly became ill. Sadie kept whimpering and walking back and forth while Buck would lay with his head down with sad eyes looking up at us. Buck wanted to go for a long walk and didn’t feel like it.

Buck got worse in a very short time. Judy, and I became really worried. What could it be?

Once we arrived at the vet’s office with Buck, Sadie was really upset. We took Buck into the clinic while Sadie anxiously stayed behind in the car, letting out a quiet whimper of worry herself. Sadie knew something was wrong with her son and didn’t know what to do.

It was a shocking and sad moment when the vet told us the horrible news After an xray, we were told that Buck had a Fox Tail from the fields around us lodged in his lung. For dog owners, a warning…click here! I looked at the xray with great sadness and empathy for Buck. It didn’t look good. An infection had already taken hold fast. The pain and suffering of any living thing breathing Fox Tail into the lungs makes chills run up and down my spine. Buck was suffering terribly. Judy and I were crushed and knew Sadie would be lost without Buck.

With surgery being risky and recovery so uncertain we had to let Buck go… Judy and I stood there and cried our hearts out while the vet comforted us with kindness and understanding.

We didn’t come back to the car with Buck. Sadie started crying and wimpering louder and longer than we’ve ever experienced with her before. Dogs have a soul just like humans. I could feel the tears from her eyes. I could feel Sadie’s soul. We couldn’t hide the sadness from our eyes and voices. Sadie knew she wouldn’t see her son Buck again.

Moving on with tears of love and hope…

As we all grieved and got back to our lives without little Buck, my next career move was imminent. With Judy’s blessing and Sadie’s gentle approval, I accepted a transfer and promotion with Nortel Networks to the Bay Area in 1986 to take on a new career challenge.

As much as we would have loved living in Winterwood forever, I was too young to retire to a more peaceful life in the country southeast of Seattle, Wa. We were sad but excited to leave our home. But it was our goal to move back to Washington eventually and no doubt return on vacations to this beautiful state where our life began with so much love and hope for the future. Sadie, the Gentle Soul, had no problem watching us pack and get ready, running around with that big happy smile excited about a new adventure.

We purchased a home in Martinez, CA near Concord and Walnut Creek east of San Francisco. What we liked the most was being next to Briones Park. Sadie went wild when we took her into the park the first time, exploring rolling hills, trees and trails to disappear from the hectic days at the office and travel. Judy was looking at new opportunities for her telecom career as well. But what happened next was a miracle, a gift from heaven we didn’t expect.

Sadie’s little sister Sarah arrives…

Sarah was born on November 1, 1987. Many months earlier Judy and I decided to adopt a child. We tried like many parents to have children but it was not possible. We signed up with an open adoption law firm in San Francisco. One day out of the blue we received a phone call with the wonderful news. Sadie didn’t know what was happening. She always felt what we felt, mostly happy but sad sometimes. This time we were dancing and crying with happiness and Sadie joined in running around our home and out the door for a walk in Briones Park.

Briones Park, Sadie’s back yard to run with mom & dad…
Little Sarah, 5 months old, Sadie’s new sister….and always a close pal.

Sarah & Mom, Maui Jan 1988

Atlanta here we come…

My career took off like a rocket during this special time in our new life as a family. We loved living in the Bay Area. Sadie loved it too. Sadie would have to say good bye to Briones Park and ready for another new adventure. She recognized the packing right away from our earliers moves. And once again danced around with that big smile and excitement. “What would be next?” she thought with some sadness but with the same adventurous spirit as mom, dad, and Sarah.

So, once again Sadie was gently and lovingly put into her safe kennel for our long flight to Atlanta, Ga. It was the winter of 1989. Sadie’s favorite blankie, toys and treats made her feel right at home. Sadie never complained but looked up at us with those sad eyes. Her big happy smile was on hold for now while we journied to a far off place. Sadie wondered what was next and felt the force of the plane as it took off. I imagine that she slept comfortably in the lower cabin with the other furry friends close by. She knew it would be okay with her family who loved her dearly.

We purchased what was a huge home by our standards in Duluth, Ga. It was too much home for the four of us. But the big back yard with all the trees was a dream for Sadie. All of us kind of stayed cozy in 1200 sf of our new 5000 sf home. Sarah and Sadie wanted to stay in our bedroom at night with us as well. What would we do with 5 bedrooms? Why did we buy such a big home? Sadie felt lost too, except when she was with us or outside.

I know Sadie missed Briones Park. We took her with us to explore Georgia’s beauty. Sadie loved the small creeks in the mountains especially. Water is a big deal for labs. It was fun to swim with her in shallow pools of water and run in the woods. Sadie liked to run with us too. We were into distance running back then. Atlanta’s heat was a bummer though.

Atlanta was not our cup of tea…

After my first 6 months at Nortel’s corporate offices in Alpharetta, Ga., I hated being my own person in the the regional offices. I missed being closer to my customers and the sales people I felt at home with. Working with staffers and politics just didn’t work for me.

Judy was disappointed but always supportive. She knew I worked hard to reach my career goals. Sadie looked up at us often with those rare droopy sad eyes, as if to say, “I miss Briones Park!” Judy and I certainly missed the cooler weather living on the west coast. Sarah smiled as always with her enthusiasm for adventure. She was 2 years old then. We couldn’t stand it! It was time to move again. But this time, no transfer, no promotion. It was time to leave Dodge for good!

Sparks Family home, Icicle Valley, summer 1990. Sarah, 3 years old, on the deck with pony tails clapping

Icicle Valley Beckons

I left Nortel in early 1990. Walked away at age 45 after 25 years of a chaotic but highly rewarding career. I was truly burned out but very grateful for the opportunities along the way.

The good news is we had planned a place in heaven for just this occasion. A few years earlier we purchased 1.5 acres of property in Icicle Valley near Leavenworth, Wa. Leavenworth is approximately 120 miles east of Seattle over Steven’s Pass. It was God’s plan for our future. We built a log home in the middle of Icicle Valley surrounded by 8000 ft snow peaks, Icicle Creek, Wenatchee River and all the wonders of living in the Cascades of Washington State. Icicle Valley is a spiritual place, a confluence of nature, life, and love, a vortex like no other. Even Sedona doesn’t match the Icicle Valley vortex…

And for Sadie?

Well, you can see the big happy smile back again! Sadie is a good girl, a very good girl…

Sadie of Winterwood with that great big happy smile…

Our family loved each other and grew together during those first 6 years in the beautiful and stunning land. I think all of us found our souls in Icicle Valley. I know Sadie did. Because she told me so…

The Rainbow Bridge

On a hot summer day at home. We had just gotten back from floating on the Icicle. Sadie always came with us. She was starting to move a little slower these days turning 14 soon, a long life for a happy lab. We were grateful.

Sadie would go on her usual stroll through the fields around us. She loved her alone time. I know Sadie loved her life in Icicle Valley. I also know she liked to have some alone time a couple of times a day. Sadie always came home about an hour later. She didn’t make a fuss. We would suddenly see her standing there waiting for the door to open. We loved watching her great big happy smile.

But this time, Sadie did not return. I didn’t say anything at first. I could sense something was terribly wrong. I thought of her great big happy smile. I wanted to see Sadie’s happy face again.

I found my girl, Sadie on our side of the barbed wire fence. She was bleeding and in great pain. Sadie was crying and whimpering. I cried like a baby too… I tried to comfort her and stop the blood. It was too late.

So, with all my strength, I picked Sadie up. She was dead weight. I think Sadie weighed about 70 lbs back then. We both were crying while struggling to make the short trip back home under the tree in the front yard. It was much cooler there.

I called out for Judy and Sarah. They came at once, faces with tears and sadness as they saw me standing over Sadie. Blood covered my hands and body. Sadie was still bleeding and weak by now. She was whimpering with pain and looking up at me for help. I could only comfort her and show my unconditional love. That’s what Sadie would do if I were ever hurt and couldn’t get up.

Our family vet came to our home immediately. As we all talked, I knew Sadie wasn’t going to make it. Without hesitating, I picked up my shovel, walked out back near the big lone pine. This huge old tree had 3 stumps. It used to be a shade tree for cattle and horses. This was Sadie’s pee tree! And my favorite tree as well… Sadie and I did everything together.

I started digging Sadie’s grave site in the backyard she so loved. I became overwhelmed with sadness like no other time since we were married in 1984. Sadie helped comfort us through the recent big fires in our valley. We sat under the shady tree and talked about lots of stuff. Sadie was a good listener and very attentive.

As I continued to dig, I looked back at Judy and Sarah. Both where hugging and comforted by our friend who was a long time family vet. It was time to help Sadie cross the Rainbow Bridge. I walked back to where Sadie lay under the shady tree she loved. I kneeled down with Judy and Sarah. We petted and held Sadie close to us until she went to sleep.

I had help from our friend Kathy, the best veterinarian in the valley. Kathy had lots of experience in helping neighbors over the years with these most sad and grieving moments for furry loved ones.

This spot under the big old pine tree was one of Sadie’s favorite places to hang out during the hot days of summer. None of us were in a hurry. We wrapped Sadie with her snacks and toys. Then gently and lovingly put her in her last kennel for the ride over the Rainbow Bridge.

Sadie was a good dog, a very good dog. We will always miss her gentle soul and great big happy smile… Our family treasures these happy memories of love and kindness forever in Icicle Valley…

Sarah, Judy, and Steve Sparks, Children and Family Advocates…

Author’s note:

This piece will be included in my next memoir, a work in progress. Check out this excerpt, “Finding My Soul in Icicle Valley” click now…

Polio 1948! How do we look back and compare with Coronavirus?

Steve Sparks, age 2, struck with Polio shortly after this photo was taken on his 2nd birthday.

Polio 1948! Click here…

“The fight against infantile paralysis cannot be a local war,” Truman declared in a speech broadcast from the White House. “It must be nationwide. It must be total war in every city, town and village throughout the land. For only with a united front can we ever hope to win any war.”

I can only imagine what it was like for the Sparks family in 1948 when their 2 year old child was struck with Polio. There was no vaccine in 1948! It was a pile on for the American people and the world right after WWII.

I only know from first hand accounts from my parents and big brother. I do know because there were severe physical damages to my upper left side and face that left me with muscle weakness in my left arm, and facial damage and jaw function from being paralized.


I can only imagine as a 2 year old having my jaw supported with a clamp of sorts to keep my mouth open to eat and drink. I can only imagine what 1000s of kids just like me were going through, and all their families too. I can only imagine how it felt not being home with my family for 6 weeks. I can only imagine what it was like for my family to help me recover.

My big brother always mentioned that the worst thing for him was 24/7 crying. Even though this is me as a toddler, I can’t even get close to imagining how much pain was going on in my little brain. I feel shivers up my back and a big hole in my heart.

My family was not prepared or equipped to deal with my recovery. I was lucky, indeed, to survive and thrive. It was trial and error for everyone at the time. I treasure life at age 74 and feel privileged to be alive.

Life with polio…

As I got older, my family joked about it. They made fun of my crooked smile and buck teeth. I pushed my buck teeth back with my thumb for years to build a smile I could be good with. The weakness in my left arm and muscle atrophy made me self conscious for most of my life. My left side of my chest was not developed as a kid.

So, I found ways to cover up my left chest with a towel or my right hand when exposed at the beach or pool. I learned to do push ups with one arm. I was able to get through Navy boot camp in 1963 this way. My right arm did all the work. I learned to swim and surf with a very strong right arm. I learned to defend myself too with a kick ass right arm. I felt ugly most of the time as a kid. The good news, I survived and thrived! I made it, still here at age 74. Hooray!

Polio was a thing that no one wanted to talk about. To my parents credit , they wanted me to think I was normal and healthy just like other kids. I was clearly not normal and suffered delays in my early development as a child. The chronic after effects of polio persist for a life time, especially in later years.

End of WWII

“During the peak of the polio epidemic in the U.S., some hospital wards even had large, room-like iron lungs where multiple children lived. ” Imagine how these kids suffered physically and mentally, just like me… Mental illness was not close to being in the conversation back then…

As an added tragedy for our family, my father just returned from 4 years of hard combat in WWII. He suffered from severe PTSD and depression without adequate treatment and recovery. Dad was in bad shape.

My mother would say to me that Dad cried for weeks. He carried me to the hospital where I stayed for 6 weeks before returning home. What my parents didn’t know then is how Polio affected mental health in children. The physical damage was horrific for so many at that time. In comparison, I was lucky.


Polio has given me great empathy and compassion for what families are going through with Covid19. Never in my long life have I experienced a public health crisis as a ‘political event.’ It is unconscionable to think that America is divided when it is a life and death matter. I’m shocked to see now that we as a people aren’t coming together to fight Covid 19 like we did Polio in the 40s and 50s, and through the 70s. Every child in America was given the Polio vaccine once it was safe in the 50s. It was a global emergency we fought as one people united just like WWII. America was mobilized!

National and global leadership…quote from the above website reference…

“Franklin D. Roosevelt contracted polio 12 years before he became president. Roosevelt concealed the extent to which he suffered from polio, but he acknowledged having it. His presidency put polio front and center on the national stage. In 1938, Roosevelt founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis and spearheaded the March of Dimes for polio research. In 1946, President Harry Truman declared polio a threat to the United States and called on Americans to do everything possible to combat it.”

And quoting again…

“The fight against infantile paralysis cannot be a local war,” Truman declared in a speech broadcast from the White House. “It must be nationwide. It must be total war in every city, town and village throughout the land. For only with a united front can we ever hope to win any war.”

Covid19 fast forward…2020

Fighting unknown viral and bacterial disease as a threat to humanity is obviously not new. What is new is a divided America, misinformation and politics taking hold to fight a life/death public health crisis. Deaths of loved ones continue to soar and cases rise around the globe.

I ask why? Why is America’s behavior so outrageously and inhumanly this way now? How can politics even be in the conversation? Why? What happened to empathy and compassion? Where is humanity and humility as a people? What the hell are we doing, really?

I ask why?

Steve Sparks, Mental Health Advocate, Author, Blogger

Click here for Steve’s author page…

Mocha…Born to be Free! Part 2, Dogs Surely Go to Heaven…

Mocha the river dog… Nov 1996, Tacoma, Wa – May 2009 Depoe Bay, Oregon

Sarah and Mocha, Christmas 1996

After Sadie, our first family pet, left us to cross the Rainbow Bridge, Sarah begged for another puppy. She didn’t give in or give up then, nor does she ever give up now. Even as a little girl, Sarah knew how to make a case. She was very deterimined to convince us to get a puppy by Christmas. She didn’t want anything else from Santa. We finally decided it was a good thing. We were sold!

Mocha came home with us in January 1997. Sarah was so happy and excited. And she was a handful right away. As a pup she couldn’t sit still. We worried that Mocha had a few issues we would have to watch out for. We were right!

Poop and pee pee house training duty…

Sarah agreed to take Mocha out in the cold every day that winter to teach her where to go potty. It’s very cold in Icicle Valley during Janurary. Feels like Fairbanks, Alaska in the dead of winter to me. Sarah did a good job. Judy and I were happy and proud. I wondered, though, why she was never gone very long with the pup. We had tons of snow that winter of 1996-97. When the snow started falling off the metal roof of our log cabin we could only get out one way to the side. We were proud of Sarah taking responsiblity for Mocha. I didn’t want to do it unless it was an emergency.

When all the snow melted that spring of ’97, I started to see right away where Mocha pooped all winter long. The little puppy poops, a huge mound of the stinky stuff, started to appear under the snow.

Sarah was really pissed when I made her clean up the huge pile of poop. “Please daddy, please don’t make me clean it up, please!” she cried. Sarah was 9 years old then. She accepted responsiblity early as a child. She looked up at me often then and would say, “I can do it Daddy!” To this day Sarah looks at me with the same determination and enthusiam, “I can do it!” We still laugh about this fun memory and lots of other things too.

Mocha, Steve, Judy and Sarah. Wenatchee River, Tumwater Canyon, near Leavenworth, Wa c1998 or click here.

Growing up in the mountains…

Mocha loved water! It didn’t matter where, she was nuts about creeks and rivers, and the ocean too.

Mocha was the happiest on or near the water. She chased birds with great enthusiasm. She could jump 6 ft easily. Mocha loved to go fishing with me. I never caught a fish with Mocha in the river with me. But she almost caught one, but mostly chased the trout away. I left Mocha in the truck after that or tied her gently to a tree on the bank with snacks to keep her company. We loved Mocha!

There were no red lines for Mocha in playing with other furry and feathered friends in the forest and in rivers. Once upon a time she chased a skunk down while we were hiking with friends up Icicle Valley one day. Me and my friends, Larry and Chris, could not contain ourselves. I watched with horror as she pounced on a skunk without hesitation.. Guess you can imagine what happened next. It was an awful two weeks of treatment for Mocha. We bathed her with tomato juice once a day for 2 weeks until the terrible smell of skunk works did its thing. Mocha never again chased a skunk. Oh duh, right?

The Rainbow Bridge

Central Oregon Coast 2006 near Depoe Bay…

It was another beautiful day in Little Whale Cove in May 2009. Mocha knew we were going to her very favorite beach, Big Whale Cove. She was at the front door grabbing her leash with excitement . She couldn’t wait , jumping at the door, looking and smiling at Judy and me.

We can’t go to Big Whale Cove easily these days since the stunning cove became a marine reserve a few years back. We could hike there from Little Whale Cove , making our way south for about a block or so up the hill overlooking this magical and stunning beauty of the cove and sandy protected beach.

Escape for a moment to experience the stunning beauty of Whale Cove, truly a mindfulness meditation gift from God.

Whale Cove Marine Reserve… Truly a gift to be treasured for a lifetime.

Mocha didn’t need the rope to descend to the beach about 75 ft below. She raced as usual and jumped down to the driftwood bridge that crossed over to the beach. The driftwood piled up over centuries of huge waves from 75-100 mph winds during the winter months. We couldn’t get to the beach as much during the winter. It was not safe, period. Don’t even think about it!

Judy and I followed Mocha down, but didn’t see her anywhere. We begin to worry. What happened to our pup. She was the joy of our life. Never a dull moment with Mocha. She was born to be free.

Mocha and me hiking the Icicle Gorge Trail in 2004 near Leavenworth, Wa where she grew up with the beauty of the mountains , rivers, and the things labradors love the most. Water, water, water…
Mocha, as a pup winter 1997 waiting for me at the door of our log home in Icicle Valley in Leavenworth, Wa. Right from the beginning she wanted freedom.

We got really worried because Mocha was usually running back and forth on the beach. She loved to chase sea birds and swim out near the native harbor seals that made their home in Whale Cove.

There are a couple of hundred of these wonderfully kind and curious mammals. They always hung out about 25 ft from shore., keeping their watchful big beautiful eyes on us all the while we played on the beach. They bobbed their heads up a little from the water trying to be unnoticed. It was a beautiful site. I could sit on the beach and watch the seals for a long time, taking me away from the world outside. We walked the small beach and played with Mocha, and sat in our chairs. Sometimes a couple of friends would show up with a furry friend for Mocha to play with.

Finally we found Mocha, breathing hard and laying on a large piece of driftwood near where we climbed down. Mocha couldn’t get up and was in great pain and scared. And we were scared. We tried to get her up the steep climb but she could not lift herself up and climb with us. Judy and I were frantic and very sad, crying while trying to help Mocha.

We called our neighbors, Deb and Neil, who came immediately to help us rescue Mocha. Neil was younger and stronger than me. He was able to help me carry Mocha while we struggled together getting her up the steep path above the cove. We are forever grateful to Neil and Deb coming to Mocha’s rescue. Our furry friends are loving family members whose love and companionship makes us kinder and gentler humans with empathy and compassion.

We took Mocha to the vet right away. We prayed that she would recover and get back to Whale Cove again. But this would be her last last time at the beach to run and play. Mocha loved to be free…

The vet comforted both of us while Mocha lay on the table while the doc looked her over. It was then we were told that if Mocha could get back up in a day or so, she would never get up and have the quality of life she was accustomed to. We couldn’t let Mocha suffer. So many fury loved ones go this way. It wouild be cruel and selfish to let your fury loved one suffer.

We knew the next day was Mocha’s last day. She couldn’t get up and was crying all night. We both took turns sleeping with her to show our love by hugging and kissing her. until the next morning.

The next day was difficult while we took Mocha back to the vet. She passed over the Rainbow Bridge peacefully. We were grief stricken. We mourned the loss of our furry loved one the same as any loving member of our family and friends.

Mocha was a blessing in our lives. We will never forget her, and often revisit the years of hiking the mountain trails and swimming in rivers and the ocean. Mocha was so loyal and loving. Mocha was born to be free.

Mocha, summer 2005, Leavenworth, Wa just before we moved to the Central Oregon Coast…
Sarah, Judy, and Steve. Sparks. We will always miss Mocha with love in our hearts. We have so many fun stories to share…

As an added blessing, Judy and I took Mocha’s ashes back to Leavenworth, Wa. We spent several hours hanging out at our favorite spot, Leavenworth Fish Hatchery. Mocha’s ashes were set free in the Icicle Creek ar the Fish Hatchery dam.

‘Get Stupid’ at Home Safely and Stay Grounded… Silliness is food for the soul…

I didn’t know getting stupid or being outrageously silly, was a way to relieve stress back in the day. But I sought out others who wanted to get stupid on their own time like me. You know, kindred spirits.

At times we were so stupid and laughed so hard at stupid stuff it made us exhausted after these joyful, on and on, rediculous laughing rants. We loved to laugh…no kidding!

A couple of shots of tequila and a Corona really did the number on me and my battle buddies. We used four letter words like ‘fuck’ in every other word along with ‘shit .’ I can’t remember anything we ever talked about. All I remember is laughing my ass off with the fools in my company.

Even though I haven’t had alcohol in 18 years, I still laugh just the same.

We laughed until we couldn’t laugh anymore. It provided us with great relief from all the the intense stress in our lives as IT sales people.

I always got up early the next morning, Running 5 miles helped revive my fuzzy brain and work off the alcohol from night before. I believe we were alot happier and had more fun doing what we loved…selling black boxes.

It wasn’t until a few years ago I started understanding mindfulness meditation practices as a therapy. I was able to work with a therapist initially to get my brain tuned into living in the moment.

Now, I ‘get stupid’ as a happy practice at home more than once a day. Of course, I’m retired and get away with it.

Reading this great post…Centered Silliness
BY MADISYN TAYLOR, reinforced everything I have felt and experienced while laughing my ass off for 7 decades. Clearly, I picked the best of the best of “get stupid” pals who I trusted without question. I can count my special friends on one hand. I dearly miss the loving souls and special friends who left us too early.

So, laugh your ass off and get stupid for stupid’s sake! Silliness is good for the soul…

Judy and Steve Sparks, Children and Family Advocates

From the DailyOM…

Centered Silliness
BY MADISYN TAYLORWhen we laugh, we give ourselves over to the immediacy of the present moment.Many people might be surprised to think of laughter as a form of meditation. Yet not only is laughing meditation one of the simplest forms of meditation, but also it is a very powerful one. The physical act of laughing is one of the few actions involving the body, emotions, and the soul. When we laugh, we give ourselves over to the immediacy of the present moment. We also are able to momentarily transcend minor physical and mental stresses. Practiced in the morning, laughing meditation can lend a joyful quality to the entire day. Practiced in the evening, laughing meditation is a potent relaxant that has been known to inspire pleasant dreams. Laughter also can help open our eyes to previously unnoticed absurdities that can make life seem less serious.

There are three stages to mindful laughter. Each stage can last anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes. The first stage involves stretching your body like a cat and breathing deeply. Your stretch should start at the hands and feet before you move through the rest of your body. Stretch out the muscles in your face by yawning and making silly faces. The second stage of the meditation is pure laughter. Imagine a humorous situation, remember funny jokes, or think about how odd it is to be laughing by yourself. When the giggles start to rise, let them. Let the laughter ripple through your belly and down into the soles of your feet. Let the laughter lead to physical movement. Roll on the floor, if you have to, and keep on laughing until you stop. The final stage of the meditation is one of silence. Sit with your eyes closed and focus on your breath.

Laughter brings with it a host of positive effects that operate on both the physical and mental levels. It is also fun, expressive, and a way to release tension. Learn to laugh in the present moment, and you’ll find that joy is always there.
Silliness is good for the soul!

“I Didn’t Know Love Until You Showed Me.” Happy 70th Birthday My Love!

Sarah, Judy and Steve

Happy 70th to “the eyes that stopped a 1000 soldiers!” The smile that won my heart!

I didn’t know love until you showed me…

I didn’t know empathy until you showed me…

I didn’t know compassion until you showed me…

I didn’t know myself until you showed me…

I didn’t know my soul until you showed me…

I didn’t know how to live or love until you showed me…

I live with love now because you showed me…

Happy 70th my love!

Steve and Judy at Stehikan, Wa 2018… “Eskimo Kisses ” a Sparks family tradition…

Mindfulness Mediation Practices Help Calm The Soul…

Little Whale Cove at Sunset! Credits Steve Sparks
Mindfulness Mediation Creations from Little Whale Cove, Oregon click here

Visit ‘Mindfulness Meditation Moments’ to ease stress… Newport News Times click here.

Visit my new Mindfulness Meditation Moments page. Escape for a moment to calm the soul… click here

About a month ago, I was sitting with my wife and best buddy, Judy, enjoying the peace of mind that envelopes us in harmony with nature at this stunning beach called Little Whale Cove. I believe we are at the center of a vortex of nature and the spirit world. Native Americans lived in this corner of heaven many decades ago. We feel a closeness to God on this ancient coast of volcanic rock and rain forests.

Big Whale Cove, is a short walk to the south of us, click here. We can’t go there anymore after it was designated as a Marine Reserve several years ago. Learn more about Whale Cove, click here

It was then, at that moment, I was inspired by a piece of driftwood bark half way buried. The shape of every piece of old bark is unique just like all the tiny shells, agates and rocks.

This little treasure from the sea made we wonder where the bark came from and how long it was drifting into beaches and coves along the coast from where the mother tree first fell into the ocean long ago. Maybe for many years if not decades. Bark, after all, is very rugged, water proof, with a tough thick skin. Huge coastal trees eventually fall into the ocean from places up and down the coast.

Like anything floating in the ocean, the separated moved with the tide and winds, floating on the surface like a lost boat at sea. “Where did it come from?” I asked Judy. We both became deeply curious and talked about it for awhile.

Then, I thought of a creative idea that could bring life to driftwood bark. On our unique Little Whale Cove Beach are billions of tiny shells and rocks that accumilate from winter storms that dump sea treasures on the beach while huge waves crash into the cove all winter long. The small rocks and shells represent our beach. There is no sand, just teenie tiny treasures from the sea.

Then it came to me! I could randomly place these beautiful little shells, agates and rocks on the bark as a platform. Each piece of selected bark looked in need of a little sanding and cleaning. Not something to use for my beach art until bringing out the sheer beauty underneath the sea worn surface.

This is what a sea carved piece of bark looks like before and after the finishing process. These are two separate pieces of bark that look very similar. The ocean seems to provide a template for my new beach art hobby.

Before and After… Be sure and zoom in…

As we get more experienced and creative, here is a couple of my latest master pieces. I found a very old piece of drift wood to serve as a platform. I speculated, with some imagination, that it must have come from a ship, or maybe from the Japanese tsunami some years ago. The one that took out a couple of docks in Depoe Bay. I then placed the finished bark sculpture on top of it along with another small piece of contrasting drift wood. This little gem has dark thin lines equally spaced. Think of how long these treasures have been in production at sea before they came to us, somehow spiritually connected to Little Whale Cove. Think of it…

Latest masterpiece (top) named “Sail.” The beautifully finished piece (bottom) makes me feel like keeping it like it is. The character is so striking and special, we don’t want to disturb its natural look. ‘Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke’ is my take…

Judy and I hope you all will stay with us while we explore our beaces on the Oregon coast. I also wish everyone a mindful, healthy and blessed life… Judy and I try everyday to live in the moment. It takes practice…

Judy and Steve Sparks, Children and Family Advocates

Steve’s Author Page, click here.

Should Your Child Return to School While Covid19 is Raging? by Joe Morice

Fairfax County Public Schools, Fairfax, Va

To our fellow FCPS families, this is it gang, 5 days until the 2 days in school vs. 100% virtual decision. Let’s talk it out, in my traditional mammoth TL/DR form.

Like all of you, I’ve seen my feed become a flood of anxiety and faux expertise. You’ll get no presumption of expertise here. This is how I am looking at and considering this issue and the positions people have taken in my feed and in the hundred or so FCPS discussion groups that have popped up. The lead comments in quotes are taken directly from my feed and those boards. Sometimes I try to rationalize them. Sometimes I’m just punching back at the void.

Full disclosure, we initially chose the 2 days option and are now having serious reservations. As I consider the positions and arguments I see in my feed, these are where my mind goes. Of note, when I started working on this piece at 12:19 PM today the COVID death tally in the United States stood at 133,420.

“My kids want to go back to school.”

I challenge that position. I believe what the kids desire is more abstract. I believe what they want is a return to normalcy. They want their idea of yesterday. And yesterday isn’t on the menu.

“I want my child in school so they can socialize.”

This was the principle reason for our 2 days decision. As I think more on it though, what do we think ‘social’ will look like? There aren’t going to be any lunch table groups, any lockers, any recess games, any study halls, any sitting next to friends, any talking to people in the hallway, any dances. All of that is off the menu. So, when we say that we want the kids to benefit from the social experience, what are we deluding ourselves into thinking in-building socialization will actually look like in the Fall?

“My kid is going to be left behind.”

Left behind who? The entire country is grappling with the same issue, leaving all children in the same quagmire. Who exactly would they be behind? I believe the rhetorical answer to that is “They’ll be behind where they should be,” to which I’ll counter that “where they should be” is a fictional goal post that we as a society have taken as gospel because it maps to standardized tests which are used to grade schools and counties as they chase funding.

“Classrooms are safe.”

At the current distancing guidelines from FCPS middle and high schools would have no more than 12 people (teachers + students) in a classroom (I acknowledge this number may change as FCPS considers the Commonwealth’s 3 ft with a mask vs. 6 ft position, noting that FCPS is all mask regardless of the distance). For the purpose of this discussion we’ll say classes run 45 minutes.

I posed the following question to 40 people today, representing professional and management roles in corporations, government agencies, and military commands: “Would your company or command have a 12 person, 45 minute meeting in a conference room?”

100% of them said no, they would not. These are some of their answers:

“No. Until further notice we are on Zoom.”
“(Our company) doesn’t allow us in (company space).”
“Oh hell no.”
“No absolutely not.”
“Is there a percentage lower than zero?”
“Something of that size would be virtual.”

We do not even consider putting our office employees into the same situation we are contemplating putting our children into. And let’s drive this point home: there are instances here when commanding officers will not put soldiers, ACTUAL SOLDIERS, into the kind of indoor environment we’re contemplating for our children. For me this is as close to a ‘kill shot’ argument as there is in this entire debate. How do we work from home because buildings with recycled air are not safe, because we don’t trust other people to not spread the virus, and then with the same breath send our children into buildings?

“Children only die .0016 of the time.”

First, conceding we’re an increasingly morally bankrupt society, but when did we start talking about children’s lives, or anyone’s lives, like this? This how the villain in movies talks about mortality, usually 10-15 minutes before the good guy kills him.

If you’re in this camp, and I acknowledge that many, many people are, I’m asking you to consider that number from a slightly different angle.

FCPS has 189,000 children. .0016 of that is 302. 302 dead children are the Calvary Hill you’re erecting your argument on. So, let’s agree to do this: stop presenting this as a data point. If this is your argument, I challenge you to have courage equal to your conviction. Go ahead, plant a flag on the internet and say, “Only 302 children will die.” No one will. That’s the kind action on social media that gets you fired from your job. And I trust our social media enclave isn’t so careless and irresponsible with life that it would even, for even a millisecond, enter any of your minds to make such an argument.

Considered another way: You’re presented with a bag with 189,000 $1 bills. You’re told that in the bag are 302 random bills, they look and feel just like all the others, but each one of those bills will kill you. Do you take the money out of the bag?

Same argument, applied to the 12,487 teachers in FCPS (per Wikipedia), using the ‘children’s multiplier’ of .0016 (all of us understanding the adult mortality rate is higher). That’s 20 teachers. That’s the number you’re talking about. It’s very easy to sit behind a keyboard and diminish and dismiss the risk you’re advocating other people assume. Take a breath and think about that.

If you want to advocate for 2 days a week, look, I’m looking for someone to convince me. But please, for the love of God, drop things like this from your argument. Because the people I know who’ve said things like this, I know they’re better people than this. They’re good people under incredible stress who let things slip out as their frustration boils over. So, please do the right thing and move on from this, because one potential outcome is that one day, you’re going to have to stand in front of St. Peter and answer for this, and that’s not going to be conversation you enjoy.

“Hardly any kids get COVID.”

(Deep sigh) Yes, that is statistically true as of this writing. But it is a cherry-picked argument because you’re leaving out an important piece.

One can reasonably argue that, due to the school closures in March, children have had the least EXPOSURE to COVID. In other words, closing schools was the one pandemic mitigation action we took that worked. There can be no discussion of the rate of diagnosis within children without also acknowledging they were among our fastest and most quarantined people. Put another way, you cannot cite the effect without acknowledging the cause.

“The flu kills more people every year.”

(Deep sigh). First of all, no, it doesn’t. Per the CDC, United States flu deaths average 20,000 annually. COVID, when I start writing here today, has killed 133,420 in six months.

And when you mention the flu, do you mean the disease that, if you’re suspected of having it, everyone, literally everyone in the country tells you stay the f- away from other people? You mean the one where parents are pretty sure their kids have it but send them to school anyway because they have a meeting that day, the one that every year causes massive f-ing outbreaks in schools because schools are petri dishes and it causes kids to miss weeks of school and leaves them out of sports and band for a month? That one? Because you’re right – the flu kills people every year. It does, but you’re ignoring the why. It’s because there are people who are a–holes who don’t care about infecting other people. In that regard it’s a perfect comparison to COVID.

“Almost everyone recovers.”

You’re confusing “release from the hospital” and “no longer infected” with “recovered.” I’m fortunate to only know two people who have had COVID. One my age and one my dad’s age. The one my age described it as “absolute hell” and although no longer infected cannot breathe right. The one my dad’s age was in the hospital for 13 weeks, had to have a trach ring put in because she could no longer be on a ventilator, and upon finally getting home and being faced with incalculable time in rehab told my mother, “I wish I had died.”

While I’m making every effort to reach objectivity, on this particular point, you don’t know what the f- you’re talking about.

“If people get sick, they get sick.”

First, you mistyped. What you intended to say was “If OTHER people get sick, they get sick.” And shame on you.

“I’m not going to live my life in fear.”

You already live your life in fear. For your health, your family’s health, your job, your retirement, terrorists, extremists, one political party or the other being in power, the new neighbors, an unexpected home repair, the next sunrise. What you meant to say was, “I’m not prepared to add ANOTHER fear,” and I’ve got news for you: that ship has sailed. It’s too late. There are two kinds of people, and only two: those that admit they’re afraid, and those that are lying to themselves about it.

As to the fear argument, fear is the reason you wait up when your kids stay out late, it’s the reason you tell your kids not to dive in the shallow water, to look both ways before crossing the road. Fear is the respect for the wide world that we teach our children. Except in this instance, for reasons no one has been able to explain to me yet.

“FCPS leadership sucks.”

I will summarize my view of the School Board thusly: if the 12 of you aren’t getting into a room together because it represents a risk, don’t tell me it’s OK for our kids. I understand your arguments, that we need the 2 days option for parents who can’t work from home, kids who don’t have internet or computer access, kids who needs meals from the school system, kids who need extra support to learn, and most tragically for kids who are at greater risk of abuse by being home. All very serious, all very real issues, all heartbreaking. No argument.

But you must first lead by example. Because you’re failing when it comes to optics. All your meetings are online. What our children see is all of you on a Zoom telling them it’s OK for them to be exactly where you aren’t. I understand you’re not PR people, but you really should think about hiring some.

“I talked it over with my kids.”

Let’s put aside for a moment the concept of adults effectively deferring this decision to children, the same children who will continue to stuff things into a full trash can rather than change it out. Yes, those hygienic children.

Listen, my 15 year old daughter wants a sport car, which she’s not getting next year because it would be dangerous to her and to others. Those kinds of decisions are our job. We step in and decide as parents, we don’t let them expose themselves to risks because their still developing and screen addicted brains narrow their understanding of cause and effect.

We as parents and adults serve to make difficult decisions. Sometimes those are in the form of lessons, where we try to steer kids towards the right answer and are willing to let them make a mistake in the hopes of teaching better decision making the next time around. This is not one of those moments. The stakes are too high for that. This is a “the adults are talking” moment. Kids are not mature enough for this moment. That is not an attack on your child. It is a broad statement about all children. It is true of your children and it was true when we were children. We need to be doing that thinking here, and “Johnny wants to see Bobby at school” cannot be the prevailing element in the equation.

“The teachers need to do their job.”

How is it that the same society which abruptly shifted to virtual students only three months ago, and offered glowing endorsements of teachers stating, “we finally understand how difficult your job is,” has now shifted to “screw you, do your job.” There are myriad problems with that position but for the purposes of this piece let’s simply go with, “You’re not looking for a teacher, you’re looking for the babysitter you feel your property tax payment entitles you to.”

“Teachers have a greater chance to being killed by a car than they do of dying from COVID.”

(Eye roll) Per the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the U.S. see approximately 36,000 auto fatalities a year. Again, there have been 133,420 COVID deaths in the United States through 12:09 July 10, 2020. So no, they do not have a great chance of being killed in a car accident.

And, if you want to take the actual environment into consideration, the odds of a teacher being killed in a car accident in their classroom, you know, the environment we’re actually talking about, that’s right around 0%.

“If the grocery store workers can be onsite what are the teachers afraid of?”

(Deep breath) A grocery store worker, who absolutely risks exposure, has either six feet of space or a plexiglass shield between them and individual adult customers who can grasp their own mortality whose transactions can be completed in moments, in a 40,000 SF space.

A teacher is with 11 ‘customers’ who have not an inkling what mortality is, for 45 minutes, in a 675 SF space, six times a day.

Just stop.

“Teachers are choosing remote because they don’t want to work.”

(Deep breaths) Many teachers are opting to be remote. That is not a vacation. They’re requesting to do their job at a safer site. Just like many, many people who work in buildings with recycled air have done. And likely the building you’re not going into has a newer and better serviced air system than our schools.

Of greater interest to me is the number of teachers choosing the 100% virtual option for their children. The people who spend the most time in the buildings are the same ones electing not to send their children into those buildings. That’s something I pay attention to.

“I wasn’t prepared to be a parent 24/7” and “I just need a break.”

I truly, deeply respect that honesty. Truth be told, both arguments have crossed my mind. Pre COVID, I routinely worked from home 1 – 2 days a week. The solace was nice. When I was in the office, I had an actual office, a room with a door I could close, where I could focus. During the quarantine that hasn’t always been the case. I’ve been frustrated, I’ve been short, I’ve gone to just take a drive and get the hell away for a moment and been disgusted when one of the kids sees me and asks me to come for a ride, robbing me of those minutes of silence. You want to hear silence. I get it. I really, really do.

Here’s another version of that, admittedly extreme. What if one of our kids becomes one of the 302? What’s that silence going to sound like? What if you have one of those matted frames where you add the kid’s school picture every year? What if you don’t get to finish the pictures?

“What does your gut tell you to do?”

Shawn and I have talked ad infinitum about all of these and other points. Two days ago, at mid-discussion I said, “Stop, right now, gut answer, what is it,” and we both said, “virtual.”

A lot of the arguments I hear people making for the 2 days sound like we’re trying to talk ourselves into ignoring our instincts, they are almost exclusively, “We’re doing 2 days, but…”. There’s a fantastic book by Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear, which I’ll minimize for you thusly: your gut instinct is a hardwired part of your brain and you should listen to it. In the introduction he talks about elevators, and how, of all living things, humans are the only ones that would voluntarily get into a soundproof steel box with a potential predator just so they could skip a flight of stairs.

I keep thinking that the 2 days option is the soundproof steel box. I welcome, damn, beg, anyone to convince me otherwise.

At the time I started writing at 12:09 PM, 133,420 Americans had died from COVID. Upon completing this draft at 7:04 PM, that number rose to 133,940.

520 Americans died of COVID while I was working on this. In seven hours.

The length of a school day!

Joe Morice

Dogs Surely Go To Heaven… Part 1: “Skai, The Beach Dog!”

Our beautiful fury friends, Skai, Mocha and Sadie, touched our hearts and healed our souls for over three decades. All three kept our family grounded in love. And reminded us everyday of the meaning of empathy, compassion, unconditional love and loyalty.

My neighbor, Scott, told me that his wish was that his fury pal, Chip, would live just a little bit longer. He was sad to think of outliving his beloved friend. I understood without hesitation. And, I believe you couldn’t find a person on the planet who wouldn’t say the same thing, more than once in life about a beloved pet.

Loving memories of fury friends who touched our lives…

Join me in sharing treasured memories of each… Starting with Skai Boy, I tell the story of our beloved family pets in three separate posts… Let’s start with Skai, the beach dog…

Skai at the beach June 27, 2009, around 14 months old…
Skai Christmas 2009
Skai Christmas 2019, age 12…

Skai, so loved the beach as a pup and until the last day of his life. Sarah took Skai to the beach while he was very weak. But, with strong meds to help with the pain from the cancer taking his life…

Once arriving at the beach near Seattle, Skai knew they were getting close, smiling and excited even when down. Sarah had to help him get to the beach from the parking area, but Skai showed his true love for his beach time, struggled to get there one step and one wobble, and a tail wag at a time.

Skai’s last happy dance at the beach he so loved…

Once on the beach, Skai dug a well practiced and precisely measured hole in the sand, very slowly, but with sheer determination. He knew a race up and down the beach wasn’t in the cards this time. Then, with all the strength and passion he could muster, he rolled over in slow motion for a final back rub he so loved and cherished.

It would be the last time in the sand for Skai Boy, but not the last time for our hearts and souls to treasure always. Sarah shared that Skai was so happy to be on the sand. And felt this private time on the beach together better prepared both for the painful transiton the next day. This is a very healing mindset from my experience. We can celebrate Skai’s life as a significant marker in our lives…a proundly special friendship.

A loyal friend…indeed!

Skaiboy was very loyal to Sarah and clearly the best soulmate ever. So, on Saturday June 27th 2020 at 130pm Skai walked ever so gingerly over the “Rainbow Bridge’ a happy camper. Yes, we all grieve in deeply soulful and heartfelt ways when we lose a loved one. Skai gave us, especially Sarah, more love and loyalty than a single human being could ever do.

Our beloved grand dog “SkaiBoy” gave our family so much joy and love… Skai loved the beach and understood the word. As soon as we said, “beach” he would race to the door and dance with excitement and joy. Skai couldn’t wait to get his paws on the sand and race as fast as he could north to Yaquina Lighthouse, then, turn around, like he knew how far he could go, and race even faster south back to us. In the above photo, Skai was around 14 months old on June 27th 2009. He will be in our hearts forever…

Here’s one more story about Skai. Are you ready?

Sarah came to live with us on the coast in Depoe Bay early 2008 so that she could attend the University of Oregon in Eugene. It was a transitional time for Sarah. She was missing Mocha our last family pet after Sadie and before Skai. Sarah loved animals, especially her dear dogs. We were able to have horses in Leavenworth, Washington on our 1.5 acre lot. There was plenty of room to build a lean-to shelter for two horses. and fence off a half acre of property. Indeed, Sarah was a country girl. The 4H club was a passion. And so, continuing the story of Skai Boy.

Sarah Sparks Fitch

Judy and I planned a trip to Snow Bird in Utah in the summer of 2008. We were looking forward to hiking and exploring as we did often in earlier years. The hikes are shorter now. We also love Blue Grass concerts in the mountains. Snow Bird was having a big Blue Grass blow out when we got there.

It was a super fun week in Snow Bird. So, we started heading west for Depoe Bay, Oregon on the central coast. We so loved living close to the ocean and looked forward to seeing Sarah when we got back home.

Love at first sight…

When we hit the salt flats near Salt Lake, Sarah called us and was on the speaker. She screamed out with joy that she got Skai and loved him, and for only $50. “I even got a crate for him,” she said. She proudly announced that she rescued Skai, a gray and gold brindle pitt bull in the photos. It was love at first sight for both Sarah and Skai.

Ask for forgiveness, not permission…

Sarah’s Skai as a pup in 2008. Look at that face!

Although Judy and I did not want to get another dog since we lost Mocha. I was adament about this and became angry. Then, Sarah reminded me that I taught her years ago that “asking for forgiveness is often better than asking for permission.” I got ya, Dad! she said, with respectful excitement on her face… She looked straight into my eyes, intent on making her point. I’m very proud of Sarah for her make it happen style, and free spirit.

So long, dearest Skai

I could go on and on about Skai. “Skai, Mocha, and Sadie” is a chapter in my next memoir, “Finding My Soul in Icicle Valley.” Click for excerpt…

See you on the other side, Skai! You are a good boy, always…and forever…

Judy & Steve Sparks, Children and Families Advocacy

click here for Steve’s author page…