An afternoon with Teacher Deb

By Ryan Schoeck

After closing the front gate and walking up the porch steps, a small bamboo rack comes into view. Situated low to the ground next to the front door, the rack’s shelves are filled with an assortment of shoes. Glittery pink sandals rest next to yellow flip flops. Sneakers with built-in lights are stacked below scuffed red boots. Spiderman shoots a web across the ankle of a different pair. More notable than the assortment of flashy shoes however, is that they are all less than four inches in length.

Standing next to the rack in the doorway, a middle-aged woman with long salt and pepper hair clutches what appear to be gray oven mitts. Revealing a warm smile as she hovers in the threshold, she leans down to speak with a student. “You have the choice to either wear these slippers, or go without shoes at all. Remember, we’re trying to keep our floors as clean as possible,” she says. Hastily kicking off his tiny sandals, the little boy turns and hums a tune as he gallops inside to join his classmates. “Teacher Deb,” chuckling as she straightens herself up, follows the boy inside. 

Deb and Christopher Michaels have been running Seven Stars Child Care out of their Jefferson Westside home for over 20 years. Located just below West 11th on the corner of Van Buren Street, their two story home doubles as both a living space and childcare center.

As Michaels walks into the kitchen from the foyer, she greets the children as they prepare for their afternoon snacks. The kids, who all seem disoriented and groggy from their recent naps, sleepily wave and say hello. The kitchen feels a little cluttered, but everything has its place. The bright walls are lined with children’s artwork; assorted heart-shaped drawings and framed posters alike. Michaels says that the yellow and red themes of the walls have not only been chosen for warmth and comfort, but because they remind her of the colors commonly used by her favorite artist, Frida Kahlo. She says that every room in the home features flooring made from reusable materials; the kitchen’s is a blend of bamboo and cork, while the bathroom is made from recycled water bottles. Even the paint on the walls is natural and chemical-free. While the majority of the house is dedicated to the school, the Michaels live in just 350 square feet upstairs, sharing the main floor’s kitchen and bathroom. “Our whole house is set up for the children,” she says. “We have to make it accessible for them, and Christopher and I have just gotten used to it.”

Michaels is 54 years old and wears a loose, flower printed dress and dark smock. She settles into a chair at the lowered kitchen table, fingers calmly crossed in her lap. Each finger possesses a band of gold or silver. She wears no makeup but a swath of silver jewelry instead. Her hair is tied back loosely, revealing a series of dangling earrings lining her left lobe. Just as she begins to speak, a small girl wanders in, struggling to move an oversized compost bucket. “Do you need help moving that, Tam?” Michaels asks. The child replies that she can handle it. Once the girl is gone Michaels leans in close and says, as if telling a secret, “I always knew I would work with kids. I believe it’s my calling.” She sits back up with a grin and takes a sip of her lemonade. “I distinctly remember telling my mother when I was 10 years old that ‘Someday I won’t have children of my own, but I will take care of them,’” She pauses momentarily to glance into the other room, even though “Teacher Chris” has the group of children captivated with a story he’s reading. Satisfied, she sits back down and continues her own story. “We moved from Milwaukee after I graduated college. After jumping around the Northwest for awhile, we eventually wound up here in Eugene,” she says with a laugh. Michaels says she used to date guys up until they said they wanted to have kids, at which point she knew she had to break up with them and move on. And although it wasn’t a fear of birth or anything else, she says, “I just always felt that I wouldn’t go through childbirth in my lifetime.” 

Standing up from the table, Michaels opens the door to the back yard. Several blue bins surround a tree trunk just below the steps. “We make our own compost and have several gardens out front,” she says. At Seven Stars, everything they feed the children is organic and locally grown. And, although many of the kids aren’t vegetarian, the Michaels still serve a vegetarian menu but are sensitive to any dietary restrictions. She closes the door and motions back toward the stove. Neatly labeled on one of the cabinets is a list categorizing several of the kids’ food allergies. She says that this program is one of only a handful in Lane County that offer ‘family style’ eating, in which they teach the kids to pass dishes of food around the table. Michaels says she feels most American kids eat too fast, which is why Seven Stars tries to teach them to slow down and talk about what they are eating.

This is just one of many alternative approaches the Michaels are trying to instill in their students. The whole Seven Stars program has been built around teaching children to be aware of their surroundings. Michaels says that they spend a lot of time showing the  children how to be sensitive to all living things– animals, plants and people alike.

These teaching principles seem to working for the program. With more than 20 years of childcare experience in Eugene alone, the Michaels have developed a reputation in the neighborhood. With roughly 30 families during the year, and many more names on a list, the couple is pleased with the program they have created. Michaels reflects on the students who have graduated but return to visit. Some bring gifts, others volunteer and a few even enroll their own children in the program. “It’s nice seeing kids who are all grown up now, and we feel proud knowing we helped start their lives off right here at Seven Stars,” Michaels says.

At the end of the day, several parents begin walking up the steps, eager to see their kids. Greetings and hugs are exchanged, as Michaels gives several children costumes to take for the weekend. She bends down to their level and makes the kids ‘shake on it’ that they will bring the borrowed clothing back on Monday. The kids quietly nod their heads and smile, running out the door for the day and pulling their little shoes from the rack as they go.

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When I Came Out of Diapers, There Was Music

It’s not very often that the formally dressed pianist at Sweet Waters starts playing “Ridin’ Dirty”, a hip-hop song about driving while high on marijuana.  The dining room full of well-to-do, mostly middle age and older, customers don’t seem to recognize the song but do seem to enjoy it.

Chris "Keys" Decarlo playing at The Loft. Photo: Amber Nicholson

The pianist, decked out in a blue sateen vest, a crisp tie and fitted black slacks, chuckles a little while playing the song.  He taps his right foot and rocks his head from side to side, as if he is signing the lyrics in his head.  His energy fills the room.  Without a pause in the music, he transitions to “Georgia On My Mind”, a song certain to be a hit among his audience.  He handles the piano just as passionately as before, but this time he begins to sing.  The room perks up.  A sense of warmth seems to fill the space just as naturally as his words do.  An elderly couple begins to dance, and it is obvious the man behind the ivory keys feels proud.

Said pianist talented enough to combine hip-hop with Mozart and then croon, is known in the Eugene and Springfield area as Chris “Keys” Decarlo. Decarlo is a charmer and seems to connect with strangers within seconds of their meeting.  Decarlo, a native Eugenian, welcomes with hugs, not handshakes, smiles with his whole body, not just his teeth and eyes.  He wears his heart around his waist, extremely proud to point out his piano key decorated belt.  Decarlo speaks in a soothing, melodic tone and quite a bit.  He shares his thoughts, from his answer to the question at hand to his feelings about the MLB quarrel shown on the TV that he caught from the corner of his eye.

“I am a diehard Duck fan,” Decarlo says randomly in our interview.  He continues to talk about “back in the day” when seats at the football games were available and one terrible loss “we” had to Michigan.  “72-10.  Oh, now that was painful.”  He sips his wine and sinks back into the leather couch.

Decarlo has never had any formal training in piano or voice lessons.  “Oh, yeah, self taught.  And you’ll never see sheet music in front of me.  I wouldn’t know what to do with it.  Ever since I was a little kid, I would sit in front of the speakers and just listen.”

Music has always been Decarlo’s true passion, but due to some financial stresses when he was married, he unhappily worked at Target and a Lumber Mill.  After years of struggle he decided to go back to what made him happy, music and his faith.  “I’m the choir director for the Inspirational Sounds Gospel Choir.  We, we have a Facebook page, “ Decarlo beamed with great pride.  “Music is in my soul big time.  When I came out of diapers, there was music,” he said in all seriousness.

Even though Decarlo has lived in Eugene his whole life, he still appreciates it.

“Ohhh, Eugene is a safe place, with only a little bit of racism, but definitely a safe place compared to other places.”  Decarlo, who is African American, is interrupted by the silence; his friend has stopped playing and it is now his turn to go back on stage. He hops up from the couch like a kid hops out of bed on Christmas morning.

Decarlo practically skipped on stage, greeting customers all the while.  He melted into the bench as if it was made just for him, his fingers started at the keys like long lost lovers.  “The night time is the right time to be with the one you love,” he serenaded as a few gentlemen walked up to place tips in his jar.  Decarlo nodded and smiled, but stayed focused on his romantic rendition of “Tonight Is The Right Night.”

Decarlo’s energy and music sure filled the entire space at Sweet Waters.  And although he always enjoys playing at Sweet Waters, at the Piccadilly Flea Market and when his gospel choir performs at the Eugene Celebration, there is a special spot in his heart for The Loft.  “There is a beautiful red baby grand.  Oh man!  There is a balcony floor where people eat and look down and I wave to them.  It’s beautiful.”

To contact Decarlo for his updated schedule, email him at cds4309@gmail.com.

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Grant Wheeler — The Ultimate Oregonian

Grant Wheeler is one of those guys who look like they don’t spend much time indoors.  His sun exposed, sinewy arms poke out of his cut-off sleeves, and his brown hair is slightly windswept.  Brown eyes complement a shiny grin, making him someone you would gladly bump into while out exploring Oregon.  Despite being a general science major, with a double minor in biology and geology, Wheeler’s wiry frame was clearly not designed to be sitting behind a desk.

Grant Wheeler -- Outdoor Enthusiast, picture courtesy of Grant Wheeler

The self-proclaimed “outdoorsman of sorts”, believes that he has only scratched the surface of Oregon’s wilderness.  But exploration leads to experience and what Wheeler has experienced has nurtured him into an admirer of natural beauty.  An interest and passion for fitness and exercise fuels his need to be so active, and day in, day out Wheeler finds a way for nature to challenge him.  He defines his “quest” in this world as to “experience the most untouched wildernesses”, which begin with “a personal battle with motivation to stay fit between adventures”.

Examining his roots shows Wheeler’s family were “fairly outdoorsy”, and with time clocked in at boy-scouts, he was exposed to a lot of backpacking and outdoor experiences. His first few white water rafting trips were on the Deschutes River, so Wheeler has plenty of time in the Oregon wilderness under his belt.  Through the university he has taken part in outings with the Outdoor Pursuits Program, in mountaineering and rocking climbing classes.

For Wheeler, the outdoors is an escape. When he pauses between conversations he seems at peace with himself, like the world is playing a gentle song that only he can hear. What Oregon offers him with a crest of a ridge, a unique panorama of flatland, mountains, forest, rolling hills, is what he defines as “inexplicable”. Wheeler says, “It is enough to fuel my life. It is enough to push myself to learn to be safe, to learn to be strong, and most of all to be calm and collected.”

So far, Wheeler’s adventures have consisted of “rock climbing, skiing, backpacking, flat water kayaking, and most recently, river rafting.” For an exercise binge, Wheeler runs the Clackamas River, and the more he spends by the water the more he falls in love.  This may have sparked his current goal – through the University of Oregon, Wheeler went on a five day guided trip with Oregon River Experiences, and is currently training to be hired by them.  And that involves? “packing up the lunch, meeting the guest, taking them to the top and guiding them down the river— oh, and try[ing] to be funny!”

Grant Wheeler -- kayak lover, picture courtesy of Grant Wheeler

Wheeler’s enthusiasm for the sport is obvious when he expresses his interest in kayaking, despite his newness to the activity.  “I haven’t really done much of it as far as white water, [so] I just recently started getting into kayaking for white water rafting. I’d done it a few time as a kid, I figured it was one of the first and lower level things to do as a guide to get into the industry to figure it all out.” So far, he has tackled the Clackamas and the Deschutes, but through Oregon River Experiences, Wheeler is looking to conquer rivers all over Oregon.

Wheeler’s attraction to the water is innate. “The power, it’s just fun. It’s scary, but it’s really fun at the same time. It’s one of those things that when you don’t know what you’re doing, you could die really easily, but it takes just a little bit of education to know what to do to keep yourself safe. So, it’s really fun, but a little bit dangerous.”  His knowledge gained through guiding at Oregon River Experiences leads him to wanting “more experience on the water.” Wheeler wants to “get into kayaking on my own, [because] it’s really just the first step into the guiding industry […] being able to work with people like that so I can take it into rock climbing and mountain climbing.”

For someone whose love for the outdoors is on such a personal level, it is interesting that his ultimate goal is to share it with other people.  He believes that the perfect job would combine personal outdoor exploration with reaching out to people and exposing them to what he loves.  Wheeler says, “Every time you go through a challenge in the outdoors, it definitely changes you […] you learn something about yourself.  As I continue to run the river I become more confident, more confident talking to people.” The 10-year dream plan? To be a mountaineering guide, due to it’s more technical, more dangerous nature with, “a lot more learning, a lot more time, a lot more small little pieces that you need to learn […] it’s the highest level I’d like to be, or like to get to – it’s the end goal at this point.”

Grant Wheeler -- rock climber, picture courtesy of Grant Wheeler

Anyone talking to Wheeler can see the excitement he feels when he talks about his goals, as his mood lifts and his smile brightens. “I have goals for myself in a few scattered ways […] I want to learn the basics and delve into climbing, whitewater, and mountains [and] in the long term, I want to work as a guide or teacher for a variety of the sports and skills involved in climbing, whitewater, and mountains.”  Does he ever take a moment to slow down? No, because with plans to jump solo from air planes, BASE jumping, and eventually to using a wing suit, life for Wheeler is full throttle.  Wheeler comes across as the competitive type, and this is proven true as he throws out a challenge. “My biggest goal of all though, is to see the world. I know it’s not possible to see it all, but who’s going to stop me from trying?”

As locals and foreigners alike get to explore Oregon, we are able to see that this land was made for men like Wheeler.  Not satisfied until he has conquered every mountain range, rock wall or river, Grant Wheeler is the ultimate Oregonian.

Written by Siobhan Cavan

Edited by Reed Nelson

 

 

 

 

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Willamette River Trail and Friends

By Chris Scotti and Stacey Hollis

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The Whiteaker District

Drumrong Thai in the Whiteaker neighborhood, Credit: KVAL.com

The Whiteaker District

Reporting and Editing by Carly Petrone and Amber Nicholson

In the past, the Whiteaker neighborhood has been known as the place where rent is cheap and crime is high.  Today, its streets are lined with bustling businesses, artistic havens, and colorful homes (and residents).  Amber Nicholson and Carly Petrone hit the streets to learn more about this ever-changing neighborhood.

 

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A Snapshot of Downtown Eugene

By Clare Hancock and Ted Shorack

Downtown Eugene is a thriving community where people from myriad backgrounds have established their homes and businesses.  One of the largest and most popular downtown events is the summer Saturday market where artists and craftsmen set up their stations and sell their goods. From sculpture artists to coffee house owners to musicians of every creed on every corner, chances are, you’ll find what you are looking for in downtown Eugene.

 

 

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Harlow Neighborhood

By Siobhan Cavan and Reed Nelson

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