Mary Durigan Iversen

maryheadshot2When I first met Mary, I was captivated by her cheerful energy. She is vibrant, articulate, and has the gift of being able to listen as intensely as she speaks. She is quick to smile and laugh, and evokes the same in others.

Perhaps if I’d had a teacher like Mary, I wouldn’t have felt like a such a underdog when I graduated from high school and my only option for affordable post-secondary education was community college—a place, I thought, for losers. Mary knows that feeling. She, too, was not afforded the luxury of going directly from high school to a four-year university. However, she grew to appreciate how success at community college offered her the gateway to a becoming a teacher, a career that she loves.

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Most of Mary’s high school friends were teachers’ kids. When they graduated from Fort Bragg High in 1995, they were headed to four-year colleges. “Since I didn’t have the money to do that, I went to community college,” she said. “I felt I wasn’t as good as they were.”

She decided to pursue some sort of technical training where she could get in, get out, and make a living wage. For the 18-year old Mary, that decision led her to the dental hygienist program at Sacramento City College.

While in Sacramento, she often visited her best friend at Chico State. “I loved being on that campus. It made me realize that I really wanted a four-year degree. The following year, I went to Sierra Community College in Rocklin. I liked it better than Sac City, mainly because there was a much younger crowd.” She eventually transferred to Chico State.

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Proud 4-H kid

Mary financed her education through a combination of working, help from her family, grants, and student loans. “I was a retail clerk at a western wear store in Sacramento. In Chico, I did filing for an attorney. During the summers, I came home and worked fulltime. One summer I was a file clerk at the Ten Mile Court where I made a whopping $4.15 an hour.” The former 4-H kid graduated from Chico State in 2001 with a degree in Ag Science with an emphasis in education.

While pursuing her degree, her dream was to return to the coast to teach Ag Science. Her boyfriend, John Iversen, lived in Mendocino and worked for his family’s logging business. During her final year in college, she applied for a position to teach Ag Science at Fort Bragg High School through Mendocino County’s Regional Occupational Program (ROP).

Was it weird to return as a teacher to her alma mater? “Not really. It took me a while to call my former teachers by their first names. For my first staff yearbook picture, the photographer asked me what grade I was in.” She laughed.

Mary and John married in December 2003. “When you marry a logger, you have to have your wedding in the winter if you want time to take a honeymoon.”

Two years later, she was pregnant with her first child and felt her schedule required too much time away from home. “I started transitioning out of ROP by teaching the Achievement Via Individual Determination [AVID] program and eventually taught health. I now teach a freshman seminar which is health one semester and college and career success the second semester.” Every incoming freshman is enrolled in these classes. “If you’re 32 or younger, I’ve probably taught you.”

maryfamilyThe Iversens live in Mendocino where John attended school. Son Alex was born in 2006 and daughter Avery in 2009. Mary feels motherhood allowed her to become a better teacher. She protects each student as the child of someone who loves them very much.

As her children approached school age, she and John contemplated where to send them. Mary entertained the fantasy that she would get a job at the Mendocino Middle School. “I could live and work in Mendocino and the kids could go to school there.” She announced she would give the high school one more year. “A week later, I realized how much I love teaching at the high school. I decided I’d be there forever.” Alex and Avery both attend Fort Bragg schools.

Mary finds students still feel shame about going to community college. She works to take away the stigma of a four-year only option. “I tell students to choose what they want to do and take the path that will get them there—whether that be an apprenticeship at Fort Bragg Electric, going to a tech school, or becoming a doctor.” Community college can be an excellent place to start. The point is to keep the end goal in mind.

Mary has been able to formalize her beliefs through teaching classes that focus on college and career success. “The curriculum is called ‘Get Focused, Stay Focused.’ I work with freshmen to help them develop life skills, like creating a budget. I help them explore their aptitudes, interests, and passions. What do you value—fame, money, family? During this semester, they are dually enrolled in a class through Mendocino College.” Each subsequent year, students are again exposed to these concepts through a three-week course. This process deepens their insights into who they want to become, and culminates in a formal senior project where they research career choices and report their findings.

maryroomMary views her students as her clients. “I want my classroom to be an inviting place where they feel comfortable. People often say that the décor makes it look like a party.

“When I walk through the doors of the school, I’m happy. Even if I won the lottery, I would keep my job. I have a fulfilling life as a teacher, which also gives me time to be fulfilled as a mom. I feel at home at Fort Bragg High, it’s comforting. I have great colleagues who love their jobs, work hard, and are dedicated to kids. We work well as a team.”

She credits two teachers in particular with mentoring her in her early years. “During my first week, Cindy Rusert gave me a lesson planning sheet that I continue to use to this day. Mary Makela and I bonded over our shared passion for teaching. She brought the ‘Get Focused, Stay Focused’ program to the school.”

Mary feels fortunate to have a career where she’s given the opportunity to encourage the youth of our community to think about their futures and explore a variety of scenarios. Lucky for them to have a teacher with such enthusiasm, a stellar example of how community college can start a person on the path to success.

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Mary with fellow teachers Tara Larson, Stacie Morse & Mary Makela

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Zoe Berna

zoeheadshotThe moment you meet Zoe you know she’s something special. You don’t know what kind of special, but you’re about to find out. Her fresh, wholesome look invites conversation. Her voice is filled with tenderness and she’s quick to laugh. She’s a violinist and horsewoman (since the age of four), and married with two young children. Most importantly to our small community, she’s an experienced physician.

***

Until her last year of college, Zoe never entertained the idea of becoming a doctor. “My mom’s twin sister was a pediatrician and worked late every day. I wanted to be like my parents and be home in time for dinner with my family.”

zoe&momThe only child of Loraine and Ray Duff, Zoe grew up in Caspar in a house overlooking the ocean. She graduated from Mendocino High in 1993 and went to UC Davis. “I lived in an honors dorm, surrounded by focused, intelligent people. My roommate became a chemical engineer.” In her last year of college, Zoe planned to further her education, but in what? “I thought about taking the GRE or applying to vet school. Instead, I took the MCAT, applied to medical schools, and got accepted at the Medical College of Pennsylvania and Hahnemann University. Everything flowed so I went with it.”

She graduated from medical school in 2001 and accepted a three-year family medicine internship in Modesto. It was there she rekindled a friendship with Myke Berna who was a former boyfriend of one of her college friends. Myke worked as a bicycle mechanic in Davis. “He’s been fixing bikes since the age of 12.” The friendship blossomed into romance. “We went to Costa Rica over Christmas 2002 and I expected him to propose. He didn’t.” She laughed. “Instead, he gave me a very expensive mountain bike and a pair of diamond earrings soon after we got home.” She smiled as she pointed to earlobes graced by those earrings. He eventually proposed and they were married in 2004.

zoefamilyZoe practiced Family Medicine with Sutter Health in Vacaville then Winters where Myke opened the bike shop Velo City. Along the way, they had two children—Emily (eight) and Max (six). Having kids sparked a desire to move back to the North Coast. “I wanted to live closer to my parents and raise my children there. I also wanted to start horseback riding again with my mom and share this with my children.” Myke agreed and she looked for job opportunities.

“I was offered a position with the North Coast Family Health Center in December 2015. In June 2016, we moved from Winters and I took a month off.  Seven weeks after my start date, I fell off my horse and broke my left humerus [the long bone in the upper arm]. Despite trying to sit still for two months and keep my arm stable, I ended up requiring surgery, plates and pins. It was so hard because I’m such a doer. I was finally able to start work in January 2017.”

zoe&EmilyLike many couples with young children, Zoe and Myke juggle their busy schedules to provide childcare and spend time together. Myke still owns Velo City and travels to Winters a couple times a month. He also operates a bike repair business from their home. Zoe has Tuesday and Thursday afternoons off. Her parents babysit two afternoons a week. “My mom also helps by making us dinner a couple times a week.”

On her full days, Zoe sees 18 patients. She acknowledges that such a rigorous schedule can cause burnout. “I’ve been told that in order to avoid this, doctors need to make a deep connection with at least two patients a day. I connect with every patient. I love getting to know people and finding ways to help them get better.”

zoeviolinBesides spending time with family, she’s made new friends and is delighted to have reconnected with those who never left the area. Zoe, Loraine, and Emily ride their horses in Jackson State Forest. Like her mother, Emily began playing the violin at age four. Mother and daughter often play together. Zoe played throughout college and medical school and recently performed with the Symphony of the Redwoods and during the Mendocino Music Festival.

Zoe notes changes in the area from her time as a child. “The summertime traffic is a lot heavier and it seems there aren’t as many Mom and Pop stores. I remember Brown’s Market where my parents used to buy half a cow. The student population in Mendocino has gotten smaller. There were 65 kids in my graduating class. There are only 25 in each of my kids’ classes. However, the solitude, the beauty, the wonderful community of people and the arts remain the same. I never want that to change.”

Zoe is delighted with her return to the North Coast, and describes practicing medicine in a small town medicine as awesome. “I love that my medical assistant also grew up here. Together we already know many of our patients and how to work with the local population.”

“I’m getting to know people I knew before, but in a different context—as patients. I’m no longer the kid. I’m a doctor. Sometimes, though, it’s hard. Before I walk into a room, I’ll think, ‘This is the last time I’m going to know this person in the way I used to.’ I have to remind some of them that I have 16 years of experience and can tell them what to do.” She laughs.

What a gift this special woman has given us by settling here with her young family and sharing her skills as a physician to promote the continued health of our community.zoefamily2

The Bing Crosby House

I recently returned from a family gathering in my hometown that I would have not been able to imagine as a child.

***

When I was nine or so, my dad was a middle school teacher and studying for his doctorate. He often spent Saturdays at the Bing Crosby Library on the Gonzaga campus in Spokane, Washington. These sessions ended with his crossing the street to drink at the house of a friend. On some Saturdays my mom insisted he take a couple of his five kids with him—to relieve her burden and possibly keep him from drinking too much.

bing20I was infatuated with Gonzaga. In the sixties, the campus was home to some fine-looking young Jesuits. I remember them as well-trimmed blondes in slim gray slacks and light blue cotton shirts with the unfortunate clerical collars signaling they were off limits to my desire. In contrast, the flocks of formidable-looking nuns, their copious black robes rustling in the breeze as they left Mass, made me quiver in fear. I imagined the church, Saint Aloysius, to be a replica of heaven itself.

Later in life, my dad claimed, “I raised you kids to be independent.” I couldn’t argue. His neglect was sufficient to keep us from ever thinking about depending on him. Such was the case whenever he took his two oldest—my brother and me—along with him to Gonzaga. We followed him into the Crosby Library and were told to meet a few hours later at his friend’s house. My first stop was always the Crosbyana—a small room filled with Bing memorabilia the singer/actor had donated to his alma mater.

bing12My favorite pieces were the framed gold record “White Christmas” and his Oscar for Going My Way (which I recently discovered is a replica). I remember the room as quiet, cozy, and rather dark, but recent pictures—that I cannot show because they’re copyrighted—reveal it to be light and airy. I curled into a plush chair and imagined it was my room, a den perhaps in the mansion that was my home.

Afterward, running around campus with my brother, I marveled at the coeds and longed to live in the Madonna Hall dorm when I went to college. Unbeknownst to me, my future husband was a student at the time. I never went there, but 40 years later our son Harrison would enroll and live his first year in that same dorm.

My last surviving Spokane relatives—a brother- and sister-in-law—moved to Phoenix a decade ago, but live in a cabin on Newman Lake, near Spokane, during the summer. This past spring, I thought it would be fun to have a family reunion with them, our kids and grandkids. Their cabin isn’t big enough to accommodate many overnight guests, but the overflow could stay in hotels and spend days at the lake.

Harrison suggested I look for a vacation rental on Coeur d’Alene Lake where we could all stay together. Many of the cabins available online are rustic with photos that hint at large spiders and mice. I found a couple of luxurious places that, when split four ways, were affordable, but not available on our chosen weekend. I grew frustrated and hateful.

I backed off and let it go for a few days. One morning, I girded my loins to try again. I expanded the search to include Hayden Lake, a few miles north of Coeur d’Alene. Lo and behold, up popped the Bing Crosby House! Bing Crosby, the inspiration behind the Crosbyana Room, the oasis that had comforted me as a child.

My fingers trembled as I clicked the link. I found a 3,000 square-foot log house built in 1955, lovingly kept in its original condition by Bing’s heirs (including the kitchen appliances). With four bedrooms, three and a half baths, and a stone deck running the length of the back facing the lake, it was perfect. But it required a five-night stay. Given everyone’s busy schedules, we could only eke out three nights to be together. I emailed the owner (Bing’s granddaughter) and asked for an exception. She agreed. I was beside myself with excitement.

***

bing19Entering the circular driveway of the Crosby House, I got chills. It doesn’t look like much from the front, but upon entering I was awestruck by floor to ceiling windows spanning the western border with a magnificent view of the lake. In the expansive great room, the walls were made of bleached paneling and logs that stand vertically.

bing3The entryway had a framed page from an American Home magazine article written, I assume, soon after the house was built since there was no year is on the cover. Subsequent framed pages line the hallway. Each room holds a page about that particular room.

We took great delight in these. A highlight: as a rough and tumble kid in Spokane, Bing often got in trouble for fighting, most notably beating up a “boy who called his sister tubby (she was).”

bing18We fell in love with Mrs. Lemmon, Bing’s dowdy French cook who was cordoned off in the kitchen and, unless the swinging door was open, could not be seen from the living area. According to the article, whenever she heard Bing’s car enter the driveway, the tiny woman stood on her tippy toes, looked out the window above the sink and cried, “Mr. Bing, God bless him!”

bing16To me, the most unique feature of the house was the original draperies. According to the article, “Bing’s famous theme song, ‘Where the Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day,’ is motif on the living room draperies, done in square Gothic notes from 15th and 16th century parchment panels of church music that hung over piano. In his bedroom, [the] tune changes to ‘Home Sweet Home.’”

It was thrilling to stay in Bing’s house, a place custom built for him, where he and his kids spent summers fishing and golfing. This was the perfect setting to gather a family who enjoys spending time together, a family far more wonderful than my childhood fantasies could have conjured all those years ago when I nestled into that plush chair in the Crosbyana Room.

katekid

Seven Things Smarter Than Me

DSC025891. My Honda Civic. It has a warning light that looks like a like a horseshoe with an exclamation point in the center. The first time it came on, I panicked. Over the years, I’ve driven my share of crap cars that did odd things like overheat, not start, or get flat tires without warning.

Turns out this light is my car’s way of communicating that one or more of my tires is under pressurized.

Wow.

(I’ll spare you my issues with the car’s Bluetooth—just know that it mocked me to the point of wanting to beat it with a hammer.)

square2. The Square. As a board member for the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference, I recently (make that a year ago) volunteered to set the organization up with the Square for processing credit card transactions. With a week to spare, I ordered it and attempted to download the app on my iPad2.

The app would not download because my crazy old iPad2 had an outdated operating system. It needed iOS6.0 or better. I tried several times and was denied. I Googled it and followed some lying blogger’s instructions.

It seems the outdated iPad2 cannot be updated and the Square is useless on my machine. I hate them both.

iTunes3. iTunes. On those rare occasions when I download music, it adds songs I didn’t request.

There are a few delightful surprises like “Sugar” by Imperial Teen. I love that song. I also adore “One Moment to Another” by Jon Dee Graham and “San Francisco” by Secondhand Jive. Who are these artists who help me push through the barfing sensation when I jog? I must meet them all.

On the flip side, there’s a song that I do not like—a country-rock tune about “sweet Mary Lou was left standing at the altar.” I don’t want it, but don’t know the title so can’t get rid of it. Fortunately, I know how to skip it on my iNano (or whatever it’s called).

twitter4. Twitter. I Tweet and Follow, but I don’t often go to the site because I’m busy! I believe the point of Twitter is to allow busy people access to short messages and decide whether to spend their precious time reading links.

I wonder how it makes sense to follow 100 Twitterer’s when I don’t have time to even glance at their daily Tweets? I’ve got the shakes right now—I truly do.

iPhone5. iPhone. I had a non-smart phone for years before recently getting an iPhone. This prompted iPhone cultists to ask if I loved it, if I didn’t think it was the coolest thing ever, and so forth.

I guess.

I didn’t use it much until I discovered that I could download games like Sudoku and crossword puzzles.

Okay, so I’ll admit I like being able to access Facebook and the ability to take pictures. I recently discovered Instagram, which is fun. Early on I was able to get emails until one day I couldn’t. The phone asked for my password and after I typed it, told me I was stupid. I tried again and again.

I asked my kids for assistance. They gave me instructions in what sounded like Norwegian, and when I started to cry, they advised: “Google it.”

I followed Google’s step-by-step instructions. They didn’t work. On a trip to San Francisco, I stopped by an Apple Store. A friendly employee tapped about the screen, handed it back, and looked away while I typed in my supposed email password which—yes, you are correct—did not work. I tried again and again before starting to cry. He offered a goofy smile and shrugged his shoulders. (My only consolation is that my iPhone is smarter than him, too.)

As I left the store, I stared down my phone and hissed, “I don’t care if I can’t access email on you. I’ve lived a reasonably happy existence for decades without it and will carry on just fine you smarty pants bastard.”

selfcheckoutjpg6. Self-checkout Counters. The screen asks, “Do you have a bag?” I only have two items and don’t need a bag. But if I answer No, will I be charged for one? So I answer Yes and the woman inside the machine tells me to place my bag in the loading area. But I don’t have a bag and there’s no place on the screen to change my mind.

What to do? What to do?

Mumble curse words as I leave and wait in the Express Lane while playing a crossword puzzle on my smarty pants phone.

One afternoon I went into our very busy Safeway and heard an alarm blaring at the self-checkout stand. A man who looked like Jerry Garcia yelled, “Help me! Help me!” as he shook his arms over his head. I felt a deep connection.

roku7. Smart TV/Roku. If my husband ever leaves me before switching the Smart TV from the Roku to television mode, I’ll never be able to watch television again.

I’m certain I’ll add more to this list as I continue through life. My hope is that it will force me to become a better person by learning humility—and maybe discover the title of that song about how sweet Mary Lou was left standing at the altar.help

Taaka Goes Home for the Holidays

The Christmas season wouldn’t be complete without a special Taaka visit home to The Purity.

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Spreading cheer among some of my favorite things.

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If you haven’t tried Alden’s Vanilla Ice Cream, you must.

Gary's favorite section.

Gary’s favorite section.

Look! The Purity has coffee beans you can grind yourself!

Look! The Purity has coffee beans you can grind yourself!

If you don't want to grind your own coffee, pour yourself a ready-made cup.

If you don’t want to grind your own coffee, pour yourself a ready-made cup.

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Uh-oh, where’s the rest of Taaka’s family?

Haaka Taaka Christmas

Since the discovery of Taaka Vodka at The Purity, Gary, Wilson, Little Mister, and I have created a new Christmas tradition. It’s a game called “Where’s Taaka?” We take turns hiding and searching for the Taaka bottle among the holiday decorations.

Little Mister gets so excited that he has to be sedated.

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In the spirit of holiday generosity, I invite you to play along.(Warning: The game gets progressively more challenging when Taaka dons a disguise)

040508DSC_0019DSC_0010DSC_0008DSC_0014DSC_0005Some might ask what they can expect to receive if they discover all the Taaka locations.

Nothing.

Happy Holidays!