Little Charlotte

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Taking a break in the shade with Charlotte during a neighborhood walk on a hot afternoon.

While Lori spends another couple days in the Midwest with our granddaughter, I’m getting lots of one-on-one time with Charlotte, our little rescue dog.

If yet another blog post about our sweet-but-sassy border terrier mix prompts an eyeroll, so be it.

I used to be a cat person for a long time, appreciative of their independence and their impeccable grooming, but it’s safe to say I’ve done a 180. Why? I think it’s because it’s dawned on me that a dog’s unabashed affection and loyalty are wonderful qualities, not to be taken for granted.

I think I appreciate those qualities — and Charlotte’s spirited personality — even more because they are such a respite from the daily rat race and toxic political environment that we find ourselves in. Charlotte is tail-wagging happy when she wakes up in the morning; run-around-the-house excited when I come home from teaching in the middle of the day; and still plenty playful when I return again in the late afternoon.

It’s enough to make a grown man want to give that love back to an animal who’s won my heart in a way no dog before her has. Her elegant, royal name is such a contrast to her terrier-pug features, highlighted by an underbite and a tuft of unruly whiskers beneath her chin.

***

Lori ‘s been in Missouri since Thursday, visiting with our son Jordan and daughter-in-law Jamie so she can be there for Emalyn’s first birthday. She comes home tomorrow night and I know Charlotte will be beside herself when Lori walks in the door.

We’ve been holding down the fort in the meantime. (Mabel doesn’t lift a paw, but that’s the nature of a cat.)

Saturday was an especially nice day.

— I took Charlotte to Normandale Park in Northeast Portland, thinking she might like spending time in the enclosed small-dog park there. Before we even got near, a scruffy little dog, even smaller than Charlotte, came scampering across the lawn toward us. Instant friends.

The two dogs romped around, chasing each other in tight circles, as if they’d known each other a long time. It was gratifying to see inasmuch as the last time I took Charlotte to a dog park was that day in November when two big dogs, off-leash, came charging after her and bit me instead. This outing was a contrast in every way. Plus, Charlie’s owners were awfully nice.

— That afternoon, I took Charlotte to the pet supplies store near our home. I’d been told the day before that there was going to be a little party with special treats for the furry ones.

Turned out the sales clerk was off by a week. But she offered to fetch a frozen doggie treat for Charlotte — a dogsicle made from fermented goat milk and blueberries. Charlotte’s become a regular there at Pet Pros. She’s gotten to know the help and now goes behind the counter, where she knows she’ll get a cookie or two. She sits and takes it from the hand, something she never would have done before. Ordinarily, she barks aggressively at most other dogs and defensively at humans she doesn’t know, so this behavior is nice to see.

After dinner the TV comes on, and Charlotte settles onto my lap and stretches out toward the screen. Soon enough she’s snoozing. The thought that she was picked up as a stray running the streets makes me sad, but also happy that we can provide her with a warm, stable home.

— Finally, Charlotte joins me on a nighttime walk. Memories of when we first got her come flooding back. Many a night I’d walk her in the middle of the night, enjoying the lack of distractions while our neighbors slept.

As we get ready to call it a night, I pick her up like a football and head up the stairs. My left hand cups her chest and I can feel the rhythmic beating of her heart. And that sensory connection makes me feel all the more attached to her.

 

Branch-ing out with Michelle

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Michelle Branch does a countrified version of “Leave The Pieces” at the Hawthorne Theater in Southeast Portland.

Remember Michelle Branch?

The dark-haired, big-voiced singer who burst onto the pop-rock scene as a teenager, won a Grammy nomination as Best New Artist, and knocked out a bunch of best-selling albums and singles?

Seems it wasn’t that long ago that she and Carlos Santana were collecting a 2002 Grammy for “The Game of Love.”

But that was 15 years ago and, though she continued performing as a solo artist and collaborator, Michelle has laid low in recent years. I’ve always liked her voice, though, so I grabbed a chance to see her live in Portland.

Now 34, she’s touring the U.S. in support of a new album released earlier this year. Her Wednesday night at the Hawthorne Theatre drew an all-ages crowd for an hour-long set. It’s an intimate space, with room for about 500 people, the kind I like in order to get up-close to an artist rather than viewing a big screen image in a huge arena.

After a thoroughly forgettable warm-up band, Michelle came out to a raucous welcome and promised a mix of the new and old.

Can’t say I was blown away. Biggest factor was a sound system that made everything sound muffled. Secondarily, gotta say I wasn’t feelin’ the new material. Either way, it’s hard to get into the music when it isn’t as clear as it should be.

Branch had a nice rapport with the crowd and seemed genuinely happy to be performing in a small venue. The audience came alive and sang along on a couple of her biggest hits — “Breathe” and “All You Wanted.”

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Small venues allow you to get as close as you like to the artist — in this case, about 30 feet from Michelle Branch.

She brought a trio of women onto the stage, including a fiddle player, to play a stripped-down version of “Leave The Pieces,” a hit from the 2006 album “Stand Still, Look Pretty.” On that CD, she collaborated with Jessica Harp on a great set of songs that drew on their respective pop and country roots and earned Michelle one of her four Grammy nominations.

As for “The Game of Love”? Wish I could say Santana snuck onto the stage and blew everyone away. This version featured an old-school saxophone player doing the guitar solo part. Interesting, but nowhere near as good.

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Michelle Branch performs the monster hit “The Game of Love” with a sax player who is definitely not Carlos Santana.

This was my first time at the Hawthorne. Probably won’t be my last, but it’s not nearly as inviting a space as others around the city — Aladdin Theater, Crystal Ballroom, Wonder Ballroom, Mississippi Studios.

As for Michelle Branch, I wish her well on the tour. She’s a talented lady, working hard to resurrect a career that once seemed boundless.

Guy time with ZZ

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Bob and George enjoy a pre-concert beer on the roof of the former Washington High School in Southeast Portland.

This week brought the opportunity to hang out with with a longtime friend over a couple of beers and then enjoy a ZZ Ward concert at Portland’s Revolution Hall. My buddy Bob Ehlers and I were among a sold-out crowd of 850 who enjoyed a 90-minute set by Ward, described on her website as a “Fedora-rocking, guitar-shredding, harmonica-wielding blues siren.”

Yeah, a little overstated, but there’s definitely some talent there. ZZ plays guitar and keyboards and a damn-good harmonica. She also sings (duh) and writes her own lyrics.

If you don’t know her, ZZ is Zsuzsanna Ward, a Pennsylvania native who grew up in Roseburg, an Oregon timber town, and is now based in Los Angeles. Thursday’s show was part of a national tour to support her just-released second full-length CD called “The Storm.” Already, the CD has risen to No. 1 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart.

ZZ played more than 20 songs, delivering a high-energy performance that had dozens of young people in front of the stage dancing and jumping up like human pogo sticks. She attracted an all-ages crowd, so Bob and I fit in just fine.

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Roseburg’s own ZZ Ward rockin’ the house at Revolution Hall.

ZZ is billed primarily as a blues artist, but her music incorporates hip-hop and, in my mind, makes it really hard to slot her into a single genre.

I’d heard a few songs of hers on Pandora and was intrigued enough to check her out in a live show. ZZ is nowhere near the level of Susan Tedeschi, an accomplished blues guitarist and vocalist, but she’s got potential and I definitely felt I got my money’s worth.

Check her out and see if you agree:

Before the show, Bob and I spent a couple hours at a rooftop bar, enjoying the great view on a perfect summer evening. The concert venue is actually a refurbished high school auditorium housed in the former Washington High School in Southeast Portland’s Buckman neighborhood.

There’s a ground-level brewpub, plus another bar on the second floor, the auditorium on the second and third floors, commercial offices and community meeting rooms scattered throughout the four-story building, and lots of room on the roof to have a drink.

Just as the McMenamin Brothers have turned other schools and absolute buildings into thriving restaurants and brewpubs, so too did a private developer convert this tired old building into something imaginative and vibrant.

The grounds also feature an old athletic field that now serves as a dog park. In fact, this is where my little dog and I were attacked by a couple of unleashed big dogs during a visit here late last year.

On Thursday, a couple of dogs were there with their owners. Seeing them romping around on the grass made me feel a little sad, wishing I could bring Charlotte back for a visit.

On the other hand, I left feeling good about introducing my friend to a new venue and a new artist. Good food, good beer, good conversation, good music. Hard to beat.

Photograph of ZZ Ward by Bob Ehlers.

The high cost of eviction

matthew desmond trailer park

Matthew Desmond at the Milwaukee trailer park where he lived while conducting fieldwork for his doctoral dissertation. (Harvard Magazine)

Occasionally,  a nonfiction book comes along that more than opens your eyes to a social issue. It seeps into your pores and burrows into your consciousness. It introduces you to real people and riveting scenes you will never forget.

“Evicted,” by Matthew Desmond, is one of those books.

If you’ve read “Nickel and Dimed,” by Barbara Ehrenreich, you learned about what it’s like to try to survive on a minimum-wage job — not as a teenager taking a first job, but as a full-blown adult trying to make ends meet in a service or retail job. At the bottom of the pay scale, you’re rendered invisible and expendable, disrespected by customers and subject to the whims of your employer.

Read my 2011 blog post on “America’s working poor” 

“Evicted” is similar in tone, insight and method. It too delves deep into an aspect of American poverty. But instead of income, it focuses on housing. In particular, the short-term disruption and longer-term devastation that result from losing one’s home. And by home, I mean a squalid apartment or a rundown mobile home in a trailer park.

***

“Evicted” is the product of years of ethnographic work by Desmond, a Harvard professor who began the project when he was a Ph.D. student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. From May 2008 to December 2009, Desmond lived in nearby Milwaukee as he reported first-hand on the struggles of eight families living on the edge, as well as the perspectives of two landlords whose compassion is nearly always eclipsed by their capitalist instincts.

In addition to that immersive experience, he brought a social scientist’s rigor to his project, designing surveys, gathering eviction court records, and collecting big data on housing, residential mobility and urban poverty that he could analyze.

The book was honored with the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.

One can see why.

evicted cover

Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.

Desmond’s childhood home was repossessed when his parents fell behind on payments. As a graduate student, he said he wanted to understand poverty in America in a way that went beyond “structural forces” seemingly beyond a person’s control or “individual deficiencies” such as starting a family out of wedlock or low levels of education.

“I wanted to write a book about poverty that didn’t focus exclusively on poor people or poor places,” Desmond said in a postscript to the book. “Poverty was a relationship, I thought, involving poor and rich people alike. To understand poverty, I needed to understand that relationship. This sent me searching for a process that bound poor and rich people together in mutual dependence and struggle. Eviction was such a process.”

The result is a compelling book that takes the reader into the ghetto of Milwaukee’s north-side neighborhoods, from sweltering summers to bone-chilling winters. The eight families are bound by desperate circumstances — either unemployed, underemployed or getting by on public assistance — in a desperate scramble to keep up with the rent in a market that totally favors the landlord.

Their desperation stems from having to devote a huge portion of their monthly income to making the rent — sometimes 70 or 80 percent instead of the rule-of-thumb 30 percent. Often, these renters have to choose between keeping the lights on or paying the rent.

Some of the families are black, some white; some with children, some without. Most of the households are headed by single women. One landlord, a former schoolteacher, is black. The other, who runs one of the city’s worst trailer parks, is white.

Early in the book, one of the landlords moves to evict a single mother and her boys a few days before Christmas, saying simply, “Love don’t pay the bills.”

Why Milwaukee?

Aside from its proximity to UW-Madison, it’s typical of medium-sized cities in how eviction plays out, Desmond says. (With a population of about 600,000, it is the same size as Portland, Oregon.)

“In Milwaukee, city of fewer than 105,000 renter households, landlords evict roughly 16,000 adults and children each year,” he writes. “That’s sixteen families evicted through the court system daily. But there are other ways, cheaper and quicker ways, for landlords to remove a family than through court order. Some landlords pay tenants a couple hundred dollars to leave by the end of the week. Some take off the front door.”

Nearly half of these forced moves are “informal evictions.” And when you count all forms of displacement — formal and informal evictions, landlord foreclosures and building condemnations — you realize more than 1 in 8 Milwaukee renters experienced a forced move, a rate similar to numbers in Kansas City, Cleveland, Chicago and other cities, Desmond says.

It’s wrenching enough to be evicted, to have your meager possessions put out on the sidewalk or hauled off to a storage shed where you have to pay additional fees and interest to retrieve them. What’s worse is the effect on everything else — your ruined credit, your self-esteem, your kids’ education, and having to settle for increasingly less desirable places in more dangerous neighborhoods.

Add in the health and psychological issues resulting from unsafe, unsanitary conditions and unscrupulous landlords and the effects are nothing short of traumatic

matthew desmond keys

Matthew Desmond’s book explores poverty and profit in a typical American city.

A book of this type can’t be written without addressing these things: race, history and solutions. Desmond touches on all three.

Race and history are intertwined. It’s no accident that the poorest people in Milwaukee are black, hemmed into the worst neighborhoods as a result of decades of discriminatory practices and laws written to favor landlords. Nor is it a surprise that those most susceptible to eviction are women.

In a typical month, Desmond reports, 3 in 4 people in Milwaukee’s eviction court were black. Of those, 3 in 4 were women. Women from black neighborhoods made up 9 percent of Milwaukee’s population but were evicted at a rate far higher than women from non-black neighborhoods. He writes:

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.”

What to do about all this?

Desmond says the affordable-housing crisis should be at the top of America’s domestic policy agenda because it is driving poor families to financial ruin and threatening to swallow others a notch or two up the ladder. (Fat chance, given which party runs Washington.)

Establishing publicly funded legal services for poor families in housing court would be a start toward lessening homelessness and evictions and giving renters a fair shake, he says. More meaningful would be a significant expansion of our housing voucher programs so tenants could live anywhere they wanted. Universal voucher programs operate elsewhere in the developed world and are more cost-effective than new construction, Desmond says.

Whatever solution is proposed, he asserts, it must be rooted in a declaration that there is a basic right to housing in America.

“If poverty persists in America,” he concludes, “it is not for lack of resources.”

***

A postscript: I received this book as a birthday gift at the end of last year from my daughter Simone and daughter-in-law Kyndall, but I wasn’t able to get to it until last month. It was an absorbing read, but one that filled me with guilt. Here I was reading about the struggles of the working poor while in the comfort of our vacation home in Washington state. Obviously, I feel fortunate to have a partner in life who has teamed up with me to make that second home possible. But that doesn’t diminish the realization that I can and should do more to help those less fortunate. I feel a donation to Habitat for Humanity coming on.

Wiener wars

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 Cincinnati chili with all the fixings: red beans, cheddar cheese, diced sweet onions and oyster crackers.

It was a weekend for wieners — and I’m not talking about politicians.

Nope, we’re talking tube steaks, cased meats, working-class sausages.

Saturday brought the 8th annual International Hot Dog Competition, a fun-filled celebration of the humble dog that took place at the home of our daughter Simone and her wife Kyndall.

About 17 competitors, including Lori and me, showed up with our own specially crafted toppings to lay on top of seven or eight hot dogs that in turn were cut up into tasting-size morsels so everyone present could have a chance to sample and rate them.

The friendly competition began in Pittsburgh, when Simone and Kyndall were living there for a couple years, and then switched to Portland when the ladies moved back.

It’s a kick. It takes place every year around the Fourth of July in their backyard and features some of the most audaciously creative toppings ever to grace a bun. The hosts provide the wieners and buns (although you’re free to create your own homemade buns) and the entrants provide the rest.

We’re not talking ketchup-mustard-relish, mind you. Not by a long shot.

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The hostesses with the most-eses. Kyndall (left) and Simone, the human hot dogs, welcome their guests and announce the rules of competition.

We’re talking jawdropping creations like the Poutine Dog, made with cheese curds, beer-soaked French fries and brown gravy; the Fidel, a Cubano-style entry made with slow-roasted pork, ham and cheese; and the Cheeseus Take The Wheel, made with eight cheeses, mac-n-cheese and Flaming Hot Cheetos crumbs. Every one of them served on top of a wiener nestled in a bun.

Some entries are deep-fried, some smothered in sauces and gravies, and others prepared with savory vegetables and meats.

With roughly 70 to 80 people in attendance, there were plenty of tasters. Each person voted for his or her three favorites and the top three votegetters were honored with prizes. The highly coveted first-place prize is a bust of Abraham Lincoln containing years-old cologne. It rotates from winner to winner and who knows what kinds of chemical reactions have occurred inside that fragrant flask over the years.

I couldn’t tell you the names or ingredients of the first- and third-place winners, but I do know the second-place entry was fashioned after the Monte Cristo sandwich. This one was called the Monte. Like its namesake, it was prepared with ham, turkey and swiss slices, dipped in an egg/milk mixture and grilled to a golden brown, then topped with powdered sugar and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Lori wowed the crowd with her Brown Betty, a scrumptious combination of carmelized onions, brown sugar and bacon.

I did a Cincinnati chili dog, consisting of a meatless chili, red beans, diced sweet onions, shredded cheddar cheese, and oyster crackers — just as they do it in Ohio.

Though the wienerfest is the big draw, there’s no question that the hours of socializing are what drives the annual event. There’s a totally chill vibe that makes for easy conversation with friends, new and old, and support from the crowd for every contestant. It’s a family-friendly event, with lots of couples, several young children and a few dogs — the furry kind.

Lori and I are the oldest ones there and we’re honored to be invited each year to hang with Simone and Kyndall’s many friends. It’s also nice that our oldest son, Nathan, and his fiance, Sara, are among the regulars.

***

On Sunday, wieners also were at the center of a gathering at our place. We get together every few weeks with some great friends — Irma and Joe, Renee and Ed — for a dinner party. Each couple takes a turn hosting the dinner, and Sunday it was our turn.

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Up on the roof. Back row (L to R): Ed, Renee and Joe; Front row: Lori, Irma and Janet. Too close to camera: George

We had extra hot dogs from Saturday’s bash and I cooked up another pot of Cincinnati chili. If you’ve never had it, just know it’s got cinnamon and chocolate, as well as cumin, cloves, allspice, chili pepper and cayenne pepper, so it’s sweet and savory at the same time.

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From Irma’s kitchen: marionberry and raspberry tarts.

Irma brought her friend Janet. who was visiting from Seattle, and we all enjoyed a tasty meal on our rooftop deck, finished off with raspberry and marionberry tarts a la mode.

It was a weekend with wieners and it was wonderful.

The joy of teaching

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The classroom where I taught my  first courses at Washington State University Vancouver.

I know, I know. My last blog post was self-centered. Hard to avoid when talking about the many great opportunities that have come my way since leaving the newsroom and embracing the college classroom as my new workplace.

Today it’s all about the students. Those young (and not-so-young) men and women who enroll in your course expecting that you’ll have something of value to teach them. You’ve got a tremendous responsibility as an educator and you don’t want to let them down. So you put in the long weeknight and weekend hours, trying this and tweaking that and hoping you’ll see signs of making an impact. And when it happens, nothing could be sweeter.

***

During a 40-year career that spanned eight newsrooms in three states, I had the privilege of working with some great colleagues; of meeting and interviewing some fascinating people; of helping hundreds of people jump-start their careers; of adapting to rapidly changing technology that transformed every aspect of the way news is gathered, produced and distributed.

As a college instructor for the past nine-plus months, I’ve had the opportunity to take all that experience and find ways to share it with my students so they can become smarter consumers of modern media, and more aware of the economic and ethical challenges facing journalists and the companies that employ them.  All of this work is aimed at increasing the media literacy of a new generation of college students, a responsibility I don’t take lightly.

During the past academic year, I’ve taught three classes at Portland State with a total enrollment of 150 and two classes at Washington State University Vancouver with about 40 more. With class sizes ranging from 18 to 70 and class starting-times ranging from 8 a.m. to noon, one goal was just keeping students awake. Seriously.

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Nice way to welcome the new adjunct instructor at PSU.

Those early-bird morning classes were a challenge for many students — especially those who work and/or have families — because it meant getting up early to catch public transportation or commute by car from the ‘burbs or beyond. Wintry weather at the start of the year didn’t help. Likewise, a midday class that led into the early afternoon hours could be a challenge for the sleep-deprived whose caffeine had worn off.

But that was a minor issue. More often, I found the vast majority of students engaged, eager to learn and genuinely curious, and many of them not hesitant at all to question or take issue with a point I had just made. I loved that aspect, going back and forth as one adult to another and having others join the conversation.

Though I used a textbook in each class and designed most of my lectures around them, it was during the class discussions that I sensed much of the real learning took place. When ideas are explained and challenged, facts are given meaning, and dots are connected, that’s when greater understanding comes in the form of context and insight.

During the course of each of my communications classes, I tried to demonstrate to the students what I know from experience: that journalism is an honorable profession dedicated to the pursuit of truth. We get criticized by people on both ends of the spectrum for multiple perceived sins — that we are biased, that we are pushing an agenda, that we have little or no regard for facts. There are even some, from the Tweeter-in-Chief on down, who believe we literally make s*** up.

Before you accuse a news organization or an individual journalist of bias, consider your own, I urge my students. All too often, what a reader dislikes or disputes reflects his or her own opinions and life experiences, or lack thereof.

Journalists do make errors. Teachers make errors, too — as do doctors, lawyers, mechanics, engineers and retail clerks. And each of those professions, like journalism, has its bad apples. But that’s no reason to dismiss the good intentions and good work of the vast majority in any of those fields.

***

One of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of teaching is trying to connect with a diverse cross-section of students. I’m happy to say that task is made easier by knowing that, by and large, students at both campuses come to class without a sense of entitlement, unlike many young people of privilege who enroll at private, liberal arts schools.

PSU is a commuter school nestled in the heart of downtown Portland. WSU Vancouver has no dorms. Both schools attract a lot of folks from the working class, many of whom are transfer students from community colleges.

In their brown, black, yellow, red and white faces, I see myself: a first-generation college student at a state college, the son of parents who had no opportunity to attend high school. I commuted for two years before moving into an off-campus apartment with roommates, paid my way through school with scholarships and a part-time job, and did better academically in college than I did in high school.

wsu.beth nakamura

Students on both campuses love having guest speakers like Beth Nakamura, an exceptional photographer at OregonLive.com who brings working class values to her work.

Older students. The student bodies at both PSU and WSUV have a much greater proportion of non-traditional students than do most four-year schools. Looking out at my class, I see plenty of folks in their mid- to late 20s and early 30s. Two of my students were in their 60s. Others were as young as 19.

Many of my students are parents themselves, some with toddlers, others with teenagers. Those experiences often add humor or wisdom to our discussions. Some have learning disabilities requiring special accommodations. During one class last fall, a student (a young mom) had a full-blown seizure. One student called 9-1-1, while others helped me comfort the student until paramedics arrived.

Working students. A majority of students worked — most part-time, but some full-time, even while taking a full course load. Many students worked in retail at places like Best Buy, Starbucks and Sephora, while others had work-study jobs around campus. A recurring issue for some was having to miss class because an employer would schedule them for a shift with little notice. As a result, I made it a point to be flexible about deadlines for class assignments.

Athletes. I had three football players, two soccer players and two softball players in my classes. I would have liked to see them compete, but purposely didn’t attend any games for fear that doing so might influence me in grading their work. I was happy to be asked to sign off on progress reports that kept the athletic department apprised of how each student-athlete was doing in class.

Demographics. PSU is the most diverse of Oregon’s seven public colleges and universities. I love that aspect, all the more so because of the large number of international students. Roughly 1 in 5 students in my PSU classes was born outside the United States. They’ve come here from Japan, Laos, China, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico, Kenya, Ghana, Russia, Ukraine, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Beyond race and ethnicity, there is a good cross-section of students from rural and suburban communities, as well as cities; a handful of home-schooled students and military brats; a number who are openly gay; and several men and women who’ve served in the Armed Forces. It’s an honor to teach the veterans, knowing they are on the same path as my youngest son, who just obtained his bachelors degree with the help of the G.I. Bill.

Role model. Like it or not, I realize I am a role model to many of my students. Several have told me they’ve never taken a course from a Latino professor or high school teacher. In one class alone, I had six Latino/as, including a grandmother from Salinas, California, where my parents met as children of migrant farmworker families, and two who arrived from Mexico as undocumented children. Having that cultural connection is pretty special.

Bottom line: All in all, this gig as an adjunct instructor has been a great experience. The pay is notoriously low, especially when you factor in the countless hours outside the classroom. Grading a stack of essays can take far longer than you ever imagined, given the less-than-stellar writing ability of many students, especially those for whom English is a second language.

But nothing is more rewarding than seeing a student struggle and then blossom. There is a profound joy in knowing I’ve had a role in providing greater understanding of a subject and contributing to a greater sense of personal confidence.

I’ve seen the results of four Instructor Evaluation surveys now — two from PSU, two from WSUV. Happily, the students have given me very positive marks along with suggestions for improvement: Be more organized. Trust yourself more instead of relying too much on the textbooks.

One student wrote: “It help me a lot in the sense of how I now view media. I have learn so much throughout the course from guest speakers and of course the material. The assignment were somewhat difficult in the sense that my writing skills are not as good, but he was very good at providing me with great feedback on all of my assignment.”

Spelling and grammar flaws? Yes.

But the sentiment? Priceless.

Previously: A rookie no more

A rookie no more

OLive

A few of the notebooks and other items, including a pica pole, that I used to keep at my desk in The Oregonian newsroom.

As the month of June comes to a close, it’s a good time to reflect on the good fortune that has come my way since I began teaching as an adjunct college instructor last fall.

In the nine-plus months that have passed since I walked into a classroom on the Portland State University campus and faced my first group of students, one opportunity after another has presented itself. I’ve said yes to one thing, only to have another thing come my way, and then another and another.

Never could I have imagined I’d be in this place so soon after making the transition from veteran journalist to rookie college instructor. But I’m grateful, even if I have to pinch myself from time to time.

***

I taught a single class at PSU during the fall, winter and spring quarters, each one lasting 12 weeks. This summer I’m teaching two four-week sessions back-to-back. The first class began this week. The second one starts in late July.

Meanwhile, I taught two communications courses across the river at Washington State University Vancouver during the spring semester from January to mid-May. Combined with the single PSU class, that meant I was managing three courses at once for most of the 16-week term. It was a stretch, requiring two days a week on each campus, but I managed.

This summer I’m teaching a single class in Vancouver.  Yesterday marked the halfway point of the eight-week course. I gave the midterm exam, welcomed a guest speaker, and met with each student individually after class in the fresh air outside the classroom.

PSU shirt

You can’t teach at Portland State without a branded T-shirt, right?

Looking ahead to the 2017-18 academic year, both campuses want me back. WSUV has me lined up to teach one class in the fall and one in the spring.

PSU wants me to teach a single class during the fall and winter quarters (nothing in the spring) and become the internship coordinator for the Department of Communication.

On top of that, a key contact in PSU’s Education Abroad program is encouraging me to pitch a course that would enable me to teach overseas sometime next year.

Can you believe it?

Those of you familiar with my journalism career know that I spent a decade at The Oregonian as the newsroom recruitment director and internship coordinator. So here I am, 18 months removed from leaving the newsroom, and I’m being given the opportunity to essentially build another internship program for a different employer and a different set of students.

What a perfect fit of my skills and background with the department’s need and desire to do a better job of helping students secure internships in public relations, advertising and communications. A primary goal is to ensure that they and their employers both benefit from the experience.

Starting in the fall, I will likely have no more than a handful of students to supervise, as the onus is on them to find and arrange an internship. Once I’m in the new role, the expectation is that I’ll be able to help place students with a variety of employers and provide ongoing support to ensure they are successful and doing meaningful work that relates to their academic major and career aspirations.

This vision no doubt will require lots of networking with internship coordinators already doing similar work for other campus departments, as well as with area employers who’ve had interns or are interested in having them. By adapting best practices to the Communication Department program and tapping the experiences of recent interns, I hope we’ll be able to develop a robust program that serves everyone’s needs — student, employer, university — and lays a foundation for a sustainable program.

I look forward to the challenge, confident that much of the work I did 20 years ago — advocating for students, building partnerships and strategic networking — will still be relevant and useful in a 21st century media environment.

***

None of what has transpired — and, certainly, none of what lies ahead — would have been possible without the help of key individuals on both campuses. So here let me express my gratitude to a handful of folks:

cindy coleman

PSU Professor Cynthia-Lou (Cindy) Coleman.

Cynthia-Lou Coleman. Cindy is a tenured professor and former chair of the Communication Department and she was the one who encouraged me to apply as an adjunct. She’s provided valuable counsel at every step of the way as I’ve gotten my foot in the door and become more established at PSU.

Jeffrey Robinson.  Jeff succeeded Cindy as the department chair. He’s the one who brought me aboard last fall and asked me to teach again during the winter, spring and summer. He approved a teaching assistant for me for an unexpectedly large class during one term. Most recently, he surprised with me with the proposal for 2017-18 that includes the internship piece.

Ky Tran. Ky is the all-purpose finance and administrative specialist who welcomed me to the department. She has been indispensable as an all-purpose resource, helping me figure out which campus buildings were located where; providing support for guest speakers; answering questions about payroll, student evaluations and other mundane matters. She’s moving on to a new job next month in the private sector and I know everyone in the department will miss her.

Ky Tran

Ky Tran greeted me warmly and was an invaluable resource during the past year at PSU.

Becky Kearny. Becky was a lifesaver during the winter term. As my teaching assistant, she helped grade certain assignments, kept track of student scores, did a lot of photocopying and provided useful feedback on my teaching methods and lesson plans. Becky was a straight-A student herself who excelled while managing a blended household of five girls, including three who were in college at the same time as her.

Narayanan Iyer. Nanu is program director of the Integrated Strategic Communication program at WSUV. He’s the one who brought me aboard in January and since Day One has provided encouragement, positive feedback and continuous opportunities to teach. He also has filled in for me as a guest lecturer when I’ve had to miss a couple of classes.

wsu. nanu iyer

Narayanan (Nanu) Iyer heads the Strategic Communication program at WSU Vancouver. 

Last but not least, my wife, Lori. She encouraged me initially as I set out on this new path but undoubtedly had second thoughts as our evenings and weekends were gobbled up by the workload associated with my classes. For each one, I had to create a syllabus and a weekly schedule, then develop lesson plans and lectures. I also had to assign, read and grade assorted papers;  put together midterm and final exams; and keep in touch with students, faculty and guest speakers.

No one sacrificed more than Lori during these first few months of 2017 and I am deeply appreciative. The workload has slackened a bit during summer and I’m confident I can manage it effectively when the new school year begins this fall.

Next: The joy of teaching

 

 

Orcas on my mind

OI.sunrise3

Daybreak on Orcas Island. Nothing more peaceful.

I’ve been home less than 24 hours and already I’m missing the place where I just came from: Orcas Island.

Maybe it’s because we returned home to 100-degree weather — 25 degrees warmer than what we left. More likely it’s because the past week was so relaxing — again.

Lori and I visited from Saturday to Saturday, marking the second time this year we’ve visited our humble log cabin in the woods at the far east end of the island.

The first time, in late March, was bittersweet. We began our stay by sharing the cabin for a couple of days with our son, Jordan, his wife, Jamie, and our granddaughter, Emalyn. We ended it by heading back to the ferry with the knowledge that my dad had died the day before at age 91.

This time, it was just us and our little dog, Charlotte.

(Click on images to view captions.)

***

Our first two days on the island were damp and wet. At one point, a thick fog rolled in worthy of San Francisco, making it impossible to see very far down the hill, let alone all the way down to the water.

No worries, though, because we had some settling in to do in order to transition from the everyday stresses of urban life. We each started a new book and I kept the wood stove going. We did some light maintenance around the property and waited for the weather to clear.

When it did, it reminded us of what a lovely place this is. It’s not just the view of Mount Baker and of nearby islands that we enjoy from our porch. Nor is it the ability to walk up the road above our house and see deer and a forest panorama of cool green hues.

No, it’s simpler than that. It is the utter stillness of the place.

Morning brings the welcome sound of grosbeaks, juncos and finches flocking to the bird feeders. A stiff wind might rustle the trees. But for most of the day, and certainly when evening comes, it’s nothing but silence.

OI.deer

Morning visitor visible from the dining room window.

***

On Sunday, despite the drizzle, we headed out to the Orcas Island Artworks Gallery to attend an annual ice cream social and view the latest creations by some 50 artists. A line of volunteers crowded onto on the porch to dish up sundaes while others huddled under a lawn tent to do face-painting.

We walked around Eagle Lake one afternoon, anticipating a leisurely outing. Charlotte was overwhelmed by the scents of wildlife, however, and I wound up carrying her two or three times just so she wouldn’t overdo it straining to pull ahead on her leash.

We left her home the next day while we hiked around Cascade Lake on a picture-perfect morning. We’ve done that hike several times and it never gets old. We came upon a Pileated Woodpecker hammering away at a fallen log, and enjoyed the variety of lake views as we circled the water.

As we passed through the concessions stand at one end of the lake, we “bought” a scoop of locally made Rocky Road ice cream to share on the back end of the route. I say “bought” because I left my wallet in the car and had no money to pay. The teenage server said, “Just pay later today. We’re open until 6.”

And so we did. We’d planned to have dinner out anyway, so we stopped in and paid before continuing on to the Inn at Ship Bay, a marvelous place that’s the equal of any in Portland. We ate at an outdoor table with a magnificent view of the water. Before the food arrived, we joined other diners in wandering down to the water’s edge to see an enormous bald eagle perched in a tree. How many times does that happen in the city?

I got up early the next morning and ran around the perimeter of Mountain Lake. I arrived in time to snap a few photos of the sun glinting like a diamond on the water’s surface. Until the last half-mile, when I encountered a young couple coming toward me, I had the nearly 4-mile-long trail to myself.

We ventured into Eastsound on Friday. I hit a bucket of balls at the driving range (I still suck) while Lori did some light shopping. We went to lunch at The Kitchen, a local institution that serves “fast (enough) Asian food” featuring organic vegetables and other local ingredients. Jordan worked there for part of one summer long ago, so we’re especially fond of the place.

On the way back home, we stopped in to visit our longtime friend, Juliana, at her place overlooking Buck Bay. Her husband, Carl, was away in Montana for a few days, but we hope to see them soon if a planned trip to Oregon’s wine country materializes this summer.

Before we knew it, it was time to close our books, pack up the Scrabble game, and clean up the cabin in preparation for Saturday morning and the trip back home. We left reluctantly, knowing the mainland would bring triple-digit weather and the usual handful of testosterone-fueled drivers who make I-5 an uncomfortable place to be.

Seated now at the window looking out at my urban neighborhood, I can’t complain.

No. 1: If you’re going to live a city, they don’t come much better than Portland.

No. 2: This year’s World Naked Bike Ride took place in Southeast Portland, miles away from our home. For those 10,000 people who biked in the buff, more power to you. All the same time, I’ll keep my clothes on.

 

OI.cascade dream
Look closely. Can you see what an inspired hiker left on the Cascade Lake trail?

 

Don’t forget about Idaho

ID.trail

Waiting for a rear truck tire to be replaced on our moving van, we found ourselves next to  the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes.

My recent storytelling about the Road Trip From Hell probably was unfair to Idaho. So let’s set the record straight.

On Day One of our four-day drive from Washington to Missouri, Jordan and I were slowed down by a flat tire in a mountainous area of northern Idaho as we were traveling eastbound toward the Montana border.

We had to wait three hours for a two-man crew to arrive with a spare tire for our U-Haul moving van. That gave us plenty of time to kill while we waited just off Interstate 90 somewhere in between the towns of Kellogg and Wallace.

The delay set us back significantly on our goal of reaching Missoula, Montana, that same evening. We made it — nearly 500 miles — but we arrived just before midnight rather than at 8 or 9 pm as I had envisioned.

The flat tire experience, resulting in another three-hour delay, was repeated on Day Two as we made our way from Missoula to Billings.

In looking back over the four-day diary, I realized I’d mentioned Idaho just the one time — and obviously not in the most favorable light.

So here goes…

***

It was still early afternoon when we cruised through Spokane, in eastern Washington, and crossed over into Idaho. We knew we wouldn’t be here very long, as I-90 covers only 75 miles of the Idaho Panhandle before continuing into Montana.

With out two-vehicle caravan, we zipped through Post Falls on the western end of the state and stopped to refuel and get lunch in Coeur d’Alene, population 44,000. Lake Coeur d’Alene is gorgeous, even when you’re passing by on the freeway.

Lori and I had stayed here one night during our honeymoon in the mid-70s, but I’m not sure I’d ever been back. Pulling off the freeway, Jordan and I parked the U-Haul van and the Honda Fit and let the dogs out for an extended walk on the grassy area just off a freeway exit near the city center.

There was a fair amount of public art here in this park adjacent to the Idaho Centennial Trail, a 900-mile scenic trail that traverses the state. We enjoyed the shade for a bit, then went to get gas and a quick meal.

ID-dawg-sled

Next road trip, I may be taking Charlotte along in a Dawg Sled.

We wound up at Roger’s Ice Cream & Burgers, an old-school place that’s been around since 1940 and offers more than three dozen milkshake flavors. We took our orders to go and ate in the shade of some leafy trees on a residential street.

Quick story: I had to use the public restroom two blocks away on a four-lane commercial street. As I stood on a corner of an intersection with no stoplights, no stop signs and no crosswalk, not one but two drivers stopped to let me cross. Nothing like small-town politeness.

With full bellies, we took off again toward Missoula. Forty miles later, a rear tire gave out on the U-Haul and I feared we’be stranded, not knowing whether we’d even get cell phone reception in that remote an area.

Fortunately, I was wrong. While help was on its way, I took a walk in the area and found it to be quite lovely.

ID-mtn creek

Waiting for the road service crew to arrive, I could at least appreciate the clean, free-flowing Coeur d’Alene River outside Wallace, Idaho.

Turns out we had broken down near the Coeur d’Alene River and the paved trail I was walking along was part of the Trail of the Coeur’ d’Alenes,  a 73-mile trail that follows a former railroad right-of-way from Mullan, a mountain mining town near the Montana border, to Plummer, a town on the prairie near the Washington border.

Idaho is among our country’s most conservative states, so there’s no way I’d even think of living here. But this part of Idaho is undeniably beautiful, with its clear mountain streams and lush forests.

I’ve traveled through southern Idaho a few times on Interstate 84 and that dry, high-desert landscape has no appeal, believe me. If and when there is next time I’m traveling I-90, I hope circumstances will be far different. I wouldn’t mind hanging out in Coeur d’Alene again for a couple of days.

 

Two tributes to a great dad

SC.ring-watch

I inherited two prize possessions after my dad’s death. The watch is linked to his long service as a union member. The ring, with a ruby stone, honors his service during World War II.

 

George and C.A

Son and father during a 2014 visit to Silver City, New Mexico.

On this Father’s Day 2017, I’m sharing two tributes to my late father, each of which was read aloud at his funeral two months ago.

My wife, Lori, couldn’t be there with me in Silver City, New Mexico, when we buried my 91-year-old dad. But she did share memories of her father-in-law, which I was proud to share with family and friends who attended the April 6th funeral Mass at the Catholic parish that Dad and my stepmother Ora attended.

Separately, I offered my take as the son of an extraordinary ordinary man.

Here they are:

***

Words For Dad | Lori Rede

I have had the privilege of being the only daughter-in-law to a gentle man named Catarino.

I proudly called you “Dad” for some 42 years because you were like a father to me in every sense of the word. You always warmed my heart when you called me “mija.”

I lost my own father twenty-five years ago. Having you in my life was a joy for me.

You were a hard-working soul, a man of integrity who took great pride in all of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, sincerely interested in all of our endeavors.

I know you were especially proud of your grandsons who served in the Armed Forces. That pride gave me comfort when our youngest son, Jordan, was deployed to Afghanistan.

Always supportive, always understanding, you watched as your family moved around the country and pursued our interests. You instilled the values of independence, responsibility and self-reliance in all of us.

Wherever we lived, you and Ora always made it a priority to visit us and we appreciated that.

dad and lori gift

Lori, a native San Franciscan, watches as the birthday boy shows off his 49ers license plate in March 2016..

One of my fondest memories was watching you garden and enjoy the fruits of your labors. Not only would you grow a variety of peppers, but you would can them and cook with them, remembering to save a jar or two for me.

Up in Oregon it’s almost time to plant some peppers, and I will think of you when I garden.

There will be much to miss about you, Dad. We are the individuals we are because you had a hand in shaping us. This is a part of the legacy you leave behind.

A couple of others are:
Your silly jokes that George continues to repeat.
Your funny pronunciations of Spanish words. I think I will forever call “tortillas” “torpeders.”

Farewell, Catarino.

I know my parents are happy to see you again up beyond those pearly gates.

 ***

A son’s remembrance | George Rede

A father holds a special place in a son’s life. He can be a positive influence or a negative influence. A role model of what it means to be a man. Or an example of how not to be.

I am fortunate, so fortunate, that my father was someone I could look up to and learn from and love.

I could talk for 30 minutes about Catarino Rede but I’ll try to take just three minutes.

First, the short version: My dad was perhaps my biggest supporter. As someone with a grade school education who made his living with his hands in a variety of blue-collar jobs, he provided an example of taking pride in his work, in showing up on time, in performing at a level that he could be proud of. Likewise, he encouraged me to push myself and aim for opportunities he never had himself. He supported me in every job I took, in every move I made (in a geographic sense and in a career sense), and as fellow parent and husband.

Second, we shared a love of baseball, too. I will always appreciate that my dad volunteered to be a coach, and then a manager, of my Little League and Pony League teams. While other dads sat in the stands or maybe didn’t attend the games at all, my dad was one of those who stepped up to be there not just for the games but for the twice-a-week practices. We played catch in the backyard — a timeless pastime enjoyed by fathers and sons throughout the ages — and it paid off when I became a pretty successful pitcher as a 15-year-old.

Third, let me tell you a simple story that illustrates how a gesture can mean so much more than money. I must have been 8 or 9 at most when my dad took me to a weekend flea market. We strolled between the aisles of used merchandise, much of it worthless, much of second-hand, much of it forgettable. But it was there I got my first baseball bat. It bore the signature of Willie Keeler, a turn-of-the-century player who played for the New York Highlanders and was known as one of the best hitters of his time.

The bat was long and heavy, so much so that a skinny kid like me had trouble swinging it. It had black tape around the handle and, if I remember correctly, a small nail embedded in the lower end of the bat. My dad paid 50 cents for it. And though it was used and endorsed by a player who had died in 1923, some 40 years earlier, that bat occupied a special place in the corner of our garage. Much like my father occupied a special place in my heart.

***

If your dad is still alive, give him a hearty hug or at least a phone call to offer your thanks. (Texts don’t count.) If you are a dad, embrace the responsibility. Anyone can be a father. It takes someone special to be a dad.