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Day: February 23, 2015

Abbas a merit finalist

McNary High School senior Zach Abbas was recently  named a National Merit Finalist, one of just 15,000 such students around the country. (Submitted)
McNary High School senior Zach Abbas was recently named a National Merit Finalist, one of just 15,000 such students around the country. (Submitted)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Of all the high school students in the country, McNary High School senior Zach Abbas has an honor few others can claim: National Merit Finalist.

“I wasn’t expecting to be a semifinalist. I was completely blown away. Then hearing that I was a finalist … it was just crazy,” Abbas said.

Abbas qualified as a semifinalist based on his PSAT scores as a junior, then submitted an application and essay to achieve his finalist status. He’s one of 15,000 finalists in the U.S. – the only one from McNary – and about half of those will receive scholarships.

“Zack is not only very intelligent, he is one of the kindest, most compassionate, hardworking young mn I have ever worked with,” said Stephanie Hanson, Abbas’s counselor at McNary.

Abbas has a 3.78 grade point average and balances that with working at Walgreens part time and other extracurricular activities. Teacher Dan Borresen said writing has always been a strong suit for Abbas. One testament to that was his inclusion in the annual anthology of student creative writing produced by McNary’s Write Club.

“Zach has the ability to view concepts and reading activities from varying perspectives. This unique skill allows him to connect to ideas and the claims of authors in a thorough and scholarly manner, making his insights and analyses incredibly thoughtful and perceptive. High school students often struggle when asked to consider other perspectives; Zach does it naturally,” Borresen said. “I always enjoy reading his articles and essays.”

This semester, he’s taking three advanced placement courses in biology, European history and literature. Abbas is still taking stock of his options for college, but he has a fairly clear goal in mind.

“I always thought I wanted to be a doctor, but I started working at Walgreens and talking with the pharmacists and pharmacy techs.  Conversations with them swayed me. Now I’m going to pursue a pharmacy degree. I think providing the medicine for patients will be just as interesting,” he said.

With so many balls in the air already, Abbas is still making time to mentor younger students and imbue them with his interest in reading and writing.

“I’ve been working with a friend coaching an elementary school team for Oregon Battle of the Books. As a student, I took part in it as a member of a team, but it’s cool to be on the opposite end of that,” he said.

Abbas is the son of Janine and Dan Kidd and Harry “Leon” and Nanette Abbas.

Keizer Florist set to reopen March 2

Lisa Vasquez is the new owner of Keizer Florist on Chemawa Road NE. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)
Lisa Vasquez is the new owner of Keizer Florist on Chemawa Road NE. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

Car after car pulled into the parking lot of the flower shop both Feb. 13 and 14, with regular customers getting out to buy flowers for Valentine’s Day.

Except there were no flowers to be bought at Keizer Florist.

Lisa Vasquez and her husband Rich bought the business from Julie Wallace earlier this year, with the sale closing on Feb. 4. Lisa is busy getting things up and running for a reopening on March 2. The store closed shortly before Christmas.

The new opening date means Keizer Florist was closed for Valentine’s Day – traditionally the busiest day for a flower shop.

“It was torture,” Lisa said of not having flowers to sell. “For so many of the people, for years they pull up and pick up flowers for Valentine’s Day. I lost count of how many people came up and saw the store was closed.”

With the sale closing shortly before the big day, Lisa said there wasn’t time to get things like taxes, flower accounts and a myriad of other details arranged in time.

“We didn’t want to open when we weren’t ready,” said Lisa, who noted she has hired three of the store’s former employees. “All of these things have to happen before you can start. Last Friday was the worst. It was the same on Saturday. People didn’t see the signs and just came up to the door. There wasn’t much I could do. Whenever we saw them pull up, I would open the door and greet them.”

If there was a silver lining, Lisa found out something about her customer base.

“My belief is there’s a large, loyal following,” she said. “Most people said they would be back. That made me feel good. I will have to do something nice for the loyal people who come back. A lot of the loyalty is due to the staff that was here.”

An information technology consultant whose husband is retired, Lisa has always been on the lookout for business opportunities.

“I have always been pushing to own my own business,” she said. “This wasn’t on my list, to own a floral shop.”

Lisa saw an ad on Craigslist in early January about the business being for sale, then soon met with Wallace and her realtor.

Lisa and Rich, who moved to Keizer in 1996, had some familiarity with the business. Rich became a regular customer shortly after that and got to know previous owners. Once the opportunity came up, it was Lisa pushing forward.

The couple will be an FTD florist, while also selling local flowers. In the days since the sale, they have been getting up to speed.

“Rich has been reading up on FTD systems,” Lisa said. “He will be our driver at first. He will be the support system. The business side I have down. I’ve been a government employee and I worked for two large companies, but I have to be schooled on flower arrangements. My team will school me. I can be trained on the job or FTD offers courses. They have courses on the business side, classes on how to arrange flowers and they have webinars. FTD has been around for a long time, so I’ll take advantage of that.”

In talking with her team, Lisa has decided not to continue the drive-through coffee window.

“They did coffee and baked goods, but the team said it was slow,” she said. “It was a lot of effort, so we’re not going to keep it. I told them to just focus on awesome flowers. There is a higher expectation here (for flowers), because you will pay more. I want it as close to perfection as a human can get.”

In addition to flowers, other items like vases, truffles, small gifts and cards will be available. Eventually Lisa wants to give the store at 631 Chemawa Road NE a more contemporary look.

“The real point is the flowers,” she said.

One focus for Lisa will be different price ranges.

“I want to focus on affordability,” she said. “I want to have it where a customer can still buy something nice even if they don’t have a lot of money to spend. We will run the gamut. That is very important here because this is a working community, not a luxury community. I don’t want people to come in and not be able to buy anything.”

Along those lines, Lisa has a picture in mind of the perfect customer.

“I look forward to the first time a little kid comes in with change and wants to buy a flower for mom,” Lisa said. “That will be the best sale.”

“A Spool of Blue Thread” by Anne Tyler

Spool-of-Blue-Thread

A Spool of Blue Thread” by Anne Tyler

c.2015, Knopf / Bond Street Books
$25.95 / $32.00 Canada
368 pages

BOOK REVIEW
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

Cut from the same cloth.

That’s what your grandma said about you and your siblings, but it couldn’t have been further from the truth: you were different as sun and rain. You came from the same set of parents, and that’s about all you had in common.

Still, there are always things in life that stitch families together and in the new book “A Spool of Blue Thread” by Anne Tyler, the Whitshanks needed that kind of mending.

When Junior Whitshank built the house on Bouton Road just after the Depression, folks noticed that he threw his heart into it, but no one fully understood.

They didn’t know that Junior aimed to someday live there himself, even though Bouton Road was built for well-to-do clients, and Junior wasn’t. Even so, eyeing a dream that would surely come true, he insisted that every door, newel, and window were the finest his clients’ money could buy.

Red Whitshank knew that the house he inherited from his father was a great place to raise a family but he never thought much past that. Over the years, as he and Abby brought each baby home, Red remodeled some, moved the girls to make room for boys, and added a bathroom – but for him, there were other things more pressing to consider. Like work, for instance.

For Red’s wife, Abby, the house on Bouton Road was the heart of her family, though there were times when she didn’t understand where things went wrong – especially with her oldest son, Denny. He’d always been the Black Sheep child, the one who flitted from here to there and could never settle down. It wasn’t unusual for him to disappear, for years to pass before they heard from him again.

That hurt Abby because, deep in her heart, Denny was her favorite and she’d never admit that to anybody but Red. She wasn’t even sure Red listened anymore (he was just like his father); he said she worried too much but wasn’t that a hallmark of a good mother? And wasn’t a good mother the ribbon that tied the family together?

Much as I loved “A Spool of Blue Thread,” I struggle to define it because it’s really not about anything in particular: through the eyes of three generations of average people, author Anne Tyler spins a tale of love and family dynamics. The Whitshanks marry, they squabble, they grow, they deal with tragedy, that’s all.

Then again, that’s not all.

Tyler makes this book feel like a long conversation on the front porch with a friend (or two) whose family is going through a rough spot. You’ll listen, you’ll raise eyebrows in gentle surprise, you’ll nod, you’ll sympathize – but you just can’t turn away.

Nor can you put this heart-striking novel down because it feels just right for a few winter afternoons. And so, if the next book club pick is yours or you want a good family drama to read, “A Spool of Blue Thread” has that all sewn up.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin.

After open-heart surgery 11-year-old back in the game

Gubser Elementary School fifth grader Mehki China underwent open-heart surgery last summer and was cleared to return to the sports he loves last fall. (Submitted)
Gubser Elementary School fifth grader Mehki China underwent open-heart surgery last summer and was cleared to return to the sports he loves last fall. (Submitted)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Mehki China was practicing with his baseball team last spring when something started going wrong.

“I got panicked because it was hard to breathe and I started stumbling,” said Mehki, who was 10 years old at the time. He had been diagnosed with sports-induced asthma prior to this attack, but it didn’t take long for his mother, Brooke, to figure out something else was going on.

She was playing with her younger son when one of Mehki’s friends came to let her know something was wrong.

“I went outside and he was slumped against a wall. I tried to stand him up and get him to breathe through it, as he tried to stand up his eyes turned black and rolled up, then he passed out,” Brooke said.

Assuming it was an asthma attack, Brooke ran back inside and began yelling for someone to get an inhaler. Mehki’s had been left in the car that day.

She went back to check on Mehki and found him still unconscious on the ground, then back into the gym to find Andrew Copeland, one of the team’s coaches and a Keizer police officer, running across the gym with an inhaler.

“Mehki was still out and I thought, ‘How is this going to work if he’s not breathing?’” I went into terror all over again,” Brooke said.

Copeland opened Mehki’s mouth and sprayed the inhaler into it. He was about to begin CPR when Mehki began moving about 30 seconds later.

“The ambulance came and they checked him out. They offered to take him to the ER, but I wanted to take him to his doctor,” Brooke said.

Mehki’s doctor’s performed an EKG and things looked fine, but the family opted to pursue further testing. The hardest part for Mehki – a three-sport athlete in baseball, football and basketball – was his unquenched thirst for the competition sports bring.

“I’ve been playing since I was younger and I like everything about it. I didn’t like not being able to play. It’s all I wanted,” Mehki said.

A sonogram of Mehki’s heart revealed the problem.

“The left coronary artery is supposed to come from the aorta. His was coming from the pulmonary gland and cutting off the oxygen to his heart,” Brooke said.

The condition is a congenital heart defect that is usually caught in the first several months of a child’s life, but Mehki’s had gone undetected. It’s in the family of conditions that sometimes result in sudden athlete death.

Brooke said they could have left it untreated, but it would mean Mehki would likely never play sports competitively again.

“It was a question of the risk of surgery versus a better quality of life,” Brooke said.

Mehki went under the knife for open heart surgery in July 2014, but was back on the field six weeks later as an assistant football coach to Bill Klem.

He was cleared to play himself in November and started basketball in December.

“We’re not doing so great right now, but I really want to see our baseball team do good this summer,” Mehki said. The team took second in the state last year while Mehki was benched.

“Now he’s free and clear to do whatever he wants. He had no complications and was out of the hospital in four days. He was laid up for a really long time, but he can live the life that he wants,” Brooke said.