Posts Tagged ‘Chinook Observer’

I wish I could blame Spellcheck!

Thursday, January 3rd, 2019

In the Jan 2, 2019 Observer

It does not bode well that my very first column of the year in the Observer’s January 2nd edition has a glaring error in it.  What’s more, it’s an error that involves the history of Oysterville and the name of a family I know well.  In fact, some of that family are related, albeit by marriage.  I am distraught but there are no do-overs when it comes to newspapers – only errata announcements and corrections after the fact.  Once it’s out there, it’s a done deal.

If you read the local paper carefully, you may know of what I speak.  I am sorely tempted not to be specific and not to give any more hints.   I wonder if readership of my column would go up and comments on my blog (this one) would increase.  In fact, consider this a test!  I’ll not say more about this particular faux pas – at least not right now.

From the Internet

I do, however, wish to speak about this entire Spellcheck Era in which we find ourselves.  It is one of those blessing-and-curse situations, as I’m sure anyone who uses a computer knows.  It’s right up there with Siri on your car or phone GPS and Alexa on your living room table.  Rely on it with caution and, also, with a fairly good notion of the answer to your question before you even ask.  Otherwise, annoying things happen.

The auto-correct functions on smartphones are the worst. In 2014 there was a great article on Slate, an online magazine, called “Is It Time to Kill Autocorrect?”  It’s one of those tongue-in-cheek but oh-so-true articles and, among other things says:     A quick perusal of Twitter on a few recent weekday afternoons showed that someone tweets “stupid autocorrect” or “fucking autocorrect” approximately once every 65 seconds. And seemingly everyone has a story about bizarre or problematic “corrections”—“arguments” becoming “argue menus,” “hiney” taking the place of “honey,” and so on. The iPhone transforms “Steve Buscemi” into “Steve bus emu,” And autocorrect loves changing sentences to include “ducking.” It’s the ducking worst!

From the Internet

But back to my own transgressions in the Spelling Department.  I really can’t blame Spellcheck because, truth to tell, I don’t always remember to use it, besides which some things don’t show up at all.  And doncha just hate it when you display the error of your ways to the entire cosmos in one swell foop?   Welcome to my world.  And, I’m sorry, Dorothy – you know I know better!

Tooting My Own Horn

Saturday, October 13th, 2018

Just last night, I took a lot of (fairly) good-natured ragging from my own beloved husband for “telling all” in my blogs.  All about him, that is.  The subject came up because it was “Friday Night” at our house and a number of our friends had gathered for our usual “guzz’n’gossip” session, as someone once termed such get-togethers.  Comments about Nyel’s experiences of the last week – broken leg, hospital(s), EMTs, wheelchair, etc. – led him to remark that, because of my blog, he had no secrets.  I agree.  That’s pretty much true.

So, in order to balance things out a bit, today I’ll talk about me.  (Not that I don’t do that quite frequently, anyway.)  This time, though, I am unabashedly tooting my own horn!  The first thing I saw when I woke up my computer this morning was a photograph of a plaque with my name on it and this message from Chinook Observer Editor Matt Winters:

Chinook Observer news, photo and opinion coverage of immigration enforcement on the Long Beach Peninsula today was honored with the top statewide Community Service Award at the publisher association’s annual convention in Yakima. Sydney Steven’s landmark series on the subject led the way. Special thanks is owed to the brave individuals who spoke with us during this months-long effort, often at grave risk to their freedom and ability to remain with their families in this country.

Erin Glenn

Matt also wrote:  Congratulations to Sydney Stevens for this major statewide honor. Though we couldn’t quite pull off a Pulitzer in this hectic news year, winning Washington state’s top press honor is no small thing!

I have to confess I felt a little teary, and that whole cliché thing – my mind flashing back to all my journalism teachers and professors – did, indeed happen.   So corny.  So real.  But, mostly, I thought of my friend Erin Glenn and her gentle insistence that I should “do something” to help and my (equally insistent) reply that all I can “do” is write.  I’m so glad she prevailed and paved the way for me with introductions and translations and insider insights.  Her name should be on that plaque, too!

Hear her story: Nancy Bell Anderson

Wednesday, September 19th, 2018

Nancy Bell Anderson

On the chance that you haven’t had time to read yesterday’s Observer, I am copying the article I wrote about the Oysterville Schoolhouse Lectures.  They start tomorrow, September 20th.  Hope to see you there!

Nancy Bell Anderson, co-founder with her daughter of the Knappton Cove Heritage Center, will begin the Fall 2018 Lecture Series at 10 a.m. on Thursday, September 20 at the Oysterville Schoolhouse.  Her topic: “The Columbia River’s Ellis Island.”

Since 1980 when the U.S. Public Health Service Quarantine Station was paced on the National Register of Historic Places, Nancy and a cadre of volunteers have worked tirelessly to preserve and interpret this important Pacific Northwest site.  She will talk about the site from the time it was put up for auction in 1950, its rescue and its role in interpreting the immigration story of the lower Columbia region.

Four additional schoolhouse lectures are scheduled for alternative Thursdays:
October 4, Dr. Susan Raymond, “Hieroglyphs and Graffiti”
October 18, Andrea Patten, “Hear My Poems – My Father’s Code”
November 1, Aaron Webster, “Flint Knapping”
November 15, Dr. Madeline Kalbach, “Birds, Making Their Voices Heard”

Knappton Cove Heritage Center

This marks the tenth season of the Schoolhouse Lectures.  Organized by Diane Buttrell and sponsored by the Oysterville Community Club, the talks are open to the public and are followed by a question and answer period.

Preaching to the Choir

Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

Chinook Observer, August 9, 2017

I don’t know what amazes me more – the number of people who are so well informed about local happenings because they “read it in the paper” or the number of people who don’t even subscribe to the Chinook Observer.  It’s not a new realization, but one that has been underscored for me these last few weeks –  ever since the ICE arrests of our Hispanic neighbors have caught the attention of the Big City media.

Now that the Seattle Times and the BBC have picked up the story, people in our own community are saying, “I had no idea.”  Yay!  I couldn’t be more delighted that their attention has been captured.  But it is a little disconcerting that they are just now noticing.  It never occurred to me that my “Stories from the Heart” that ran weekly from July through October would go completely unnoticed by so many of the people I know.  Or that they would be picked up by the mainstream media before some of my own friends had read them!

The BBC Weighs In

It was thanks to my friend Erin with her deep connections to the Mexican community that people opened their homes to me and allowed me to interview them for those stories.  They shared their once-upon-a-time dreams with me – their hopes for a brighter future, their reasons for risking everything to come here to America. They spoke of the impossibilities of going back and of their fears of arrest.  I was overwhelmed by their courage and dignity and that they allowed, actually wanted, me to tell their stories.

I wrote those stories in the hope that they would shine a little light on the very big problem so many of our local families are facing. Because of the increased activity by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) this past year and the apparent ‘targeting’ of the Long Beach Peninsula, family members have been deported to Mexico, children have been taken out of school, employers are hard-pressed to replace workers who have been arrested.

Rosas (Courtesy Gladys Diaz) – From the Seattle Times

Too, it seemed so wrong that our neighbors were living in fear, keeping to the shadows, when I knew that there were so many people right here on the Peninsula who would reach out – if only they knew.  And, they have indeed come forward — to help and support, to offer financial assistance or information about legal help, to provide child-care when the only adult left in the family must work.   So much compassion!  So much practical, no-nonsense community involvement.

So… now the little candle that was lighted in our own Chinook Observer has reached far beyond our Peninsula and Pacific County.  Yay!!  And people right here in our midst are saying, “I had no idea.”  They probably also have no idea what a gem they have in our local weekly, either.  But… I’m undoubtedly preaching to the choir here!

An Emotional Meeting

Thursday, August 31st, 2017


There was frustration, there was anger, there were tears but, understandably, no laughter at last night’s ACLU People Power meeting in Long Beach.  The group gathered to assess the month’s progress with regard to assisting Hispanic neighbors as they struggle with the continuing ICE crackdown in our area.

First was a report about particular families who have been targeted – those whose members have already returned to Mexico – either voluntarily or by deportation –  those who have been bonded back to the community, and those who have been recently arrested.  The two latest arrests were both grandfathers – men who have been here long enough to raise children and whose children now have children.  According to the report, there has been no let-up in the surveillance of the Peninsula by ICE.  The number of those taken to date is 32 – “perhaps more.”  Over half have been arrested since January.

At the Northwest Detention Center – Photo by Stephanie Serrano

Another report dealt with those who had joined in a protest earlier this month at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.  Again, for the benefit of first-time attendees, the ‘process’ of arrest/detention/deportation was reviewed and it was pointed out that all of those arrested here are taken first to the Portland ICE office, for reasons that are unclear.  The Seattle office has no apparent presence in the process for our neighbors who are under arrest…

That discussion led to the article in yesterday’s Chinook Observer by Amy Nile.  “I’m so embarrassed by it,” said the ACLU volunteer who writes press releases for the group.  “I can’t tell you how many conversations she and I had.  Even so, there was information that was printed in the paper that was wrong.  Don’t they realize that we’re talking about people’s lives here?  I feel so responsible…”

“But at least they are doing some investigative reporting,” said another person.  “It’s just too bad they couldn’t get all the facts right.  Hopefully, they’ll do more and it will get better.”  Especially disturbing to the group was the statement in the article that arrests were being made in South Bend.  As far any South Benders at the meeting knew, there have been NO arrests in North County – a fact which has been noted many times at previous meetings “and even in the Observer’s own ‘Stories from the Heart’ series.  All the ICE arrests have been on the Peninsula. I spoke to the reporter and she did correct the story online but, of course, it’s too late for yesterday’s print version.”

Screen Shot – An Investigative Report by Amy Nile

There were questions, too, about the coverage given to Seattle and the statistics out of that office.  “As far as we know,” said one of the ACLU members, “any statistics concerning our area, would logically come from the Portland office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  That’s where our detainees are first taken for ‘processing’ and for all the initial ‘paperwork.’  They are taken there in handcuffs but leave from there for Tacoma in shackles – wrists, waist, ankles, chains.”

The need for money, for Spanish-speaking attorneys, for assistance with guardianship papers were discussed. There will be another meeting next month, date yet to be decided.  Those interested in attending or who can help in other ways are asked to contact Ann Reeves at

Just Call Me “Queen of the Sidebar!”

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

Sidebar in Jailhouse Stories

If I were to be known for a particular journalistic style, I would choose to be called “The Queen of the Sidebar.”  Not the sidecar with a ‘c’; the sidebar with a ‘b’.  The ‘c’ kind is a drink – made with bourbon, I think, and, not being much for alcoholic beverages, I could care less about sidecars.  (And if this WordPress blogging program would allow it, I’d insert a sidebar right here to give my readers the history of and a recipe for a sidecar.)

The sidebar, on the other hand, is 1) a short news story or graphic accompanying and presenting sidelights of a major story, or 2) something incidental to the essay’s central theme.  To someone who writes about history, they are one of the most useful journalistic tools imaginable.  There are invariably related bits of information, not necessarily germane to the main thrust of the story, but interesting and illuminating. nonetheless.

I use sidebars often.  In fact, I’m a bit of a pain in the tush sometimes about them.  I used them liberally in Dear Medora, Child of Oysterville’s Forgotten Years and, as I remember, their use sometimes posed layout problems for my wonderful editor at Washington State University Press.

Several years later, my History Press editor for Ghost Stories of the Long Beach Peninsula flat out told me that they “didn’t do sidebars.”  I argued like that proverbial Dutch Uncle and finally convinced them of the necessity for sidebars in my book.  They may have even changed their policy a bit after our ‘go ’round’ because there were no questions asked when I submitted my sidebar-filled manuscript for Jailhouse Stories from Early Pacific County.

Article and Sidebar in 8/9/17 issue of Chinook Observer

At the present time, I’m finding sidebars to be a marvelous way to illuminate my “Stories from the Heart” series in the Chinook Observer. Through them, I can present some factual information and insights through interviews with knowledgeable community members and experts in particular areas – so far, a neighbor, an employer, a teacher, a priest.

I’ve been surprised, though, that readers who comment to me about the series don’t often realize that the sidebars are also written by me and are an extension of the main stories.  I believe the lightly colored background for each sidebar, as well as its adjacent placement to my bylined story is an effort by the editor to indicate that the sidebar is part of the whole.  But, if you are among those who have been confused, perhaps this explanatory blog will help.

About that hole in my doughnut…

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

Garage Door

“Why do you always look at the dark side?” he asked me.  Why, indeed?  We were having a discussion.  Actually, an argument.  Over, of all things, the garage door.  After forty-five years of faithful service, it had finally given up.  Off its trolley… Motor dead…  Halfway up…  Halfway down.

It wasn’t that either of us opposed getting a new garage door.  We are agreed that it’s high time.  In fact, we’ve been putting it off for years and the poor, old, tired mechanism apparently decided to make the decision for us.  We lost no time in calling for help but it wouldn’t be forthcoming until Friday at the earliest. The ‘discussion’ centered around what to do in the meantime.  Leave the car out and the garage door stuck in the open position or…

My Dad – Bill Little, 1981

I, of course, skipped directly to the “but that would leave our house vulnerable” scenario.  That was the dark side to which my practical husband was referring.  And… I had to agree with him.  I do always look at the worst-case scenario.  I think it must be some sort of insulation against disaster if and when it comes and, of course, the great relief (usually) when there is a much better outcome than I have imagined.  Plus, I come by I naturally.  My grandmother was a worrier.  So was my dad.

A prime example of my usual attitude is the “Stories from the Heart” series I’m writing for the paper.  I almost dreaded seeing the first one in print.  I had visions of all the bigots and racists coming out of the woodwork in response.  I cannot tell you how gratified I am that the reaction is the exact opposite.  Concern, and requests to help have come pouring in –, by phone and email to me, personally, and on FaceBook in ‘conversations’ between people I don’t even know.  I am so glad!

My purpose in writing the stories has been to shine a bit of light on those in our community who are desperately afraid and are feeling confined to the shadows.  It never occurred to me that readers would respond by sending money or by asking how to help.  For the record, though, there is a group (working title:  People Power Immigrant Advocacy) who are trying to get a GoFundMe account up and running for the families in need here in our community.  In the meantime, contributions for families in need can be sent to “Stories from the Heart,” 12912 N Alley, Long Beach, WA  98631.

As for the garage door – in a mighty burst of energy, Nyel managed to get it down after the car was safely in last night.  I, of course, am already trying to figure out how to keep various commitments at the other end of the Peninsula if the car is now trapped. And maybe I need to go to the bakery for a doughnut hole or two…

So Much for Feeling Smug!

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

Sydney Works Against Deadline, 1970

It doesn’t pay to relax for a minute.  Not for me.   Not when my writing is concerned.  But, it seems to be a lesson hard to come by and, once again, I am reviewing those same old Words to Live By – “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.”  Or, in this case, until the paper comes out.

It’s Wednesday, August 2nd.  The first Wednesday of the month.  It is the day my column has been published in the Chinook Observer for the past five years.  It’s not a big deal, a once-a-month column.  Not like having a deadline every single week. (Or, god forbid, every day like in the Big City.)  With a month in between each column, I have the leisure to think about what I want to say and I have plenty of time to meet the ‘deadline’ which is the weekend before publication.  I usually try for Friday or Saturday and for half a decade all has been well.

Dinnertime at Emanuel Hospital 7/25/17

For this week, I chose to write about Pacific County’s proposed zoning change for Rural Residential and Rural Lands.  My column urged readers to attend tomorrow’s hearing on that issue – 6:00 p.m. at the Long Beach County building.  The decision that will ultimately be made will affect every single resident in Pacific County and I wanted to express a few words of concern.  In my column.  In today’s paper.

I wrote the column last week while sitting at Nyel’s bedside at Emanuel Hospital in Portland.  I had lots of time on my hands and it seemed a good way to use it ‘wisely.’  I even had the opportunity to research parts of the zoning proposal I was feeling fuzzy about and ‘talked’ (via email) with an expert or two.  I fine-tuned, found the perfect illustrative photo in my files, wrote a caption, and turned it all in on Saturday morning.

Matt Winters by Damian Mullinex

Imagine my surprise (as they say) when I received an email from the editor yesterday saying that there had been a mix-up and Ruth’s column was being used instead.  Mine will go in next week, he said.  When I went in to see him, a bit later, I asked him to pull the column permanently.  Depending upon how the hearing goes tomorrow night, I’ll rewrite it for next week.  Or not.

Life Lessons revisited:  #1 Never Feel Smug and #2 Think Twice about Time Sensitive Material Destined for a Weekly Paper.  Oh… and that old standby (which should probably be #1 in this household):  #3 Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch!

See you tomorrow evening at the hearing!  And do read Ruth’s column.  Far more interesting than mine would have been.

I Stand Corrected!

Thursday, June 8th, 2017

From the June 7, 2017 Chinook Observer

I was expecting a call from my friend Linda so, when the phone rang, I answered with a little bit of a goofy-sounding “hello-o-o.”  (It could have been worse!)  Imagine my surprise when a pleasant sounding male voice said, “Sydney Stevens?  This is Sheriff Scott Johnson.”  Actually, he may not have said the “Sheriff” word but there was no question in my mind who he was.

There was also no question in my mind concerning why he was calling.  The Observer came out yesterday.  And, since it was the first Wednesday of the month, my column was on page four in all its glory.  “Is Pacific an ersatz* county?” was the title and it was poking a little fun (I thought) at a few of the more peculiar (in my opinion) occurrences, historically and recently, in Pacific County.  I might also mention here that the asterisk referred readers to synonyms for ‘ersatz,’ some of which in the context of Pacific County might not be too politically correct.

Right at the start of the conversation (which, I hasten to point out was friendly, low-key, and almost enjoyable), the Sheriff said he’d like a chance to talk to me and offered to take me to lunch.  I don’t know exactly how I responded, but I demurred and he went on to other things.  Mostly, we talked about the MRAP which Scott (I think we are now on a first-name basis) pointed out was all about the safety of his officers – a point I don’t take exception to in the least.  But, when the County is poor-mouthing and raising taxes, I do take exception to spending 8K on a war surplus vehicle that might be too heavy for certain of the 62 bridges of our county.


Aaahhh!  There was the problem.  Scott told me that he was unaware of that problem (I right away declined to reveal my sources, though truth-to-tell he didn’t ask) and went on to explain that he’d been around dump-trucks all his life and many of them, when loaded, weigh more than the 18-ton MRAP.  I thanked him for pointing that out.

We went on to talk about the problems, logistically, of law enforcement coverage in the County.  And we established some ‘mutual points of agreement’ (for lack of a better description). He told me how he had driven through Oysterville just recently (“with my window down”) and how he had finally met Dan Driscoll (“seemed like a nice guy”) at a meeting at the Ocean Park Firehall.  For my part, I told him of the years I was involved in the D.A.R.E. program as a teacher in the Ocean Beach School District. And I told him how, a long time back, Nyel and I had hosted a community gathering in our home for then Sheriff John Didion and Deputy Ray Harrison to talk with us about better coverage here – the idea of neighborhood watches etc.

Sheriff John Didion – 2003

The conversation ended with Scott saying I’d given him one concrete idea: he intends to add a bit of information about the MRAP to other subjects in future talks with the community.  I’m not sure if he said he had no idea people were interested in the vehicle or if he was indicating that he wanted to straighten out any misinformation about it ‘out there.’  Probably a little of both.  He also reiterated his lunch invitation.  I can’t imagine ever taking him up on that but, as they say… never say never.

Our North Beach Peninsula

Friday, April 7th, 2017

“The North Beah Peninsula” by Paul Staub

I’m not always happy about an editor’s changes to my pearls of thought.  In fact, I’ve been known to get quite snarky about word substitutions or adjustments to phrasing.  However, the addition of a dozen words to an otherwise dull caption in this week’s paper pleased me inordinately.  Definitely one of those why-didn’t-I-think-of-it things.

The caption accompanied the photograph that accompanied (got that?) my column.  I didn’t much like it when I wrote it:  Looking north from First Avenue and lake Street in Ilwaco, July 4, 1910.  The carriage, train tracks and automobile are good indicators that it was a period of transition on the North Beach Peninsula.  But a good ‘fix’ didn’t readily come to me, so that’s how I left it.  The edited version changed that final period to a comma and added: as the Long Beach Peninsula is still formally known to some mapmakers.

Promotional Map, c. 1942

             Perfect!  In fact, I love explaining to people that the official name of our Peninsula, according to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (which shares its responsibilities with the Department of the Interior) is still the North Beach Peninsula.  Despite several attempts over the years to change the name – a change advocated largely by tourism promotors – the Board has always concluded that there is no overriding reason to exchange ‘Long’ for ‘North.’

I took a look online to see what maps are available that still correctly identify the North Beach Peninsula and was gratified to find that there are quite a few.  The very first one that popped up is the best one, in my opinion!  It was done by my cartographer neighbor, Paul Staub.  I commissioned it for my book Legendary Locals of the Long Beach Peninsula and I think it’s perfect!

Promotional Postcard “With Views”

My favorite story regarding our Peninsula’s name has to do with artist Joe Knowles.  During the years he lived here on the beach, his paintings and etchings had become quite collectible but, even so, he never got paid for his twelve-by-three-foot oil “North Beach Peninsula,” though it was displayed prominently in the Washington State Exhibit at the Chicago’s 1933 Century of Progress Exposition.  The city fathers of Long Beach who had commissioned it refused to pony up, claiming it was incorrectly named.

So… thanks for those dozen words, Editor Winters!  They made all the difference (and gave me a blog to boot!)