Mental health: End the stigma

Oregon State student-athletes Taylor Ricci and Nathan Braaten, co-founders of the #DamWorthIt campaign, on the WSUV campus.

When I sat down earlier this year to review plans for this semester’s Sports and the Media class, I knew I’d be raising issues of race, gender, politics, economics and technology. This year I decided to add a new topic: mental health.

After back-to-back classes this week on the subject, highlighted by two student-athletes who came in as guest speakers to deliver a powerful peer-to-peer presentation, I could see the value of adding it to the syllabus. My only regret was not doing it sooner.

Think about it. If you’re a college athlete, you’re trying to balance your academics with the demands of grueling practices, traveling to games, and the expectations of performing at a high level in your sport, in front of screaming crowds and national television audiences. Throw in concerns about injuries and playing time, and that’s a whole lot of pressure on your young shoulders.

Taylor Ricci, a gymnast, and Nathan Braaten, a soccer player, endured those experiences during their athletic careers at Oregon State University. Further motivated by the deaths of teammates who died by suicide 11 months apart, they co-founded a campaign, using the platform of sports, to spark conversation about mental health issues at universities around the country.

Their campaign is called #DamWorthIt — a play on words involving the school’s Beaver mascot — and the Twitter hashtag #EndTheStigma is at the heart of it. Since launching the initiative a little over a year ago, their campaign has received national recognition and the Pac-12 Conference has awarded them a $60,000 grant to take their message — that “It’s OK to not be OK” — to student-athletes and coaching staffs at all the member schools.

On Thursday, the two of them drove up from Corvallis to speak to my students at Washington State University Vancouver. Taylor and Nathan presented a slideshow and a video, and told their individual stories of facing mental health challenges as scholarship athletes and top-tier students expected to maintain a facade of perfection.

Taylor, originally from North Vancouver, British Columbia, began competing at age 4 and committed to Oregon State’s nationally ranked gymnastics team as a 14-year-old, rising to become team captain at OSU. A Kinesiology Pre-Med major, she graduated last spring and is awaiting word on her applications to begin medical school in the fall.

Nathan, from Littleton, Colorado, was recruited to play midfielder. He is a Business and Finance major who interned for Nike last summer and will return to the company as a full-time employee after graduation this spring. Both he and Taylor were named Academic All-Americans.

Needless to say, they stand out as shining examples of smart and successful young people. But there’s the catch. As they note, 1 in 5 U.S. adults experiences mental health illness in a given year — and the proportion is even higher among college students.

Taylor and Nathan spoke with honesty and conviction about their stresses and what drove each of them to see a therapist. The implication was clear for my students. If high achievers like these two can ask for professional help, any of them should feel free to do the same — or, at least, check in with friends who might benefit from similar encouragement.

In three years of teaching at two campuses, I have seen many young adults in my classes struggle with challenges involving family and finances, academics and health, romance and roommates, car troubles and work schedules, as well as incarcerated siblings, and immigrant parents facing deportation. No wonder a good many of them are stressed out or experiencing depression.

The #DamWorthIt campaign launched in January 2018, the same week that Tyler Hilinski, a universally admired WSU quarterback, took his own life on the Pullman campus. Because of that tragic coincidence, our guest speakers said they have felt a special bond with WSU.

On Thursday, it was gratifying to see Taylor and Nathan connect so powerfully with a message designed by students for students.

One student wrote to me later to say: ” (T)his week I made a big step to see a therapist and after my visit I realized that it wasn’t a form of weakness but of strength. The timing of this topic could not have been better.”

Another one said this: “Their presentation made me want to stop and be more present for the people in my life. I know that we all get busy and we carry our own lives, but it is important to be present and in the moment for the people important to you. By being present, we are able to hopefully notice signs of the people in our lives and notice that they might be struggling.”

I am indebted to Taylor Ricci and Nathan Braaten for sharing their stories and bringing light to a subject that’s still shrouded in shame. Had I not noticed a short story on their efforts in a Sports Illustrated article in January, I would not have been aware of their trailblazing efforts to address a hidden epidemic. They responded graciously to my emails inviting them to come up to Vancouver and left having made a lasting impression on my students and me.

#DamWorthIt, all right.

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London stories: A feast for the eyes

George at the Victoria & Albert Museum, one of London’s finest.

I don’t want to jinx myself, but things seem to be ramping up quite nicely for the 2.0 version of my Media Literacy in London course.

As of Tuesday, when I held the last of four information sessions about the course, a total of 14 students on two campuses have opened applications to be part of the class this year, with a couple more expected in the coming days. Six students participated last year in the inaugural year, and I hope to register 10-12 for the two-week program in July.

While Portland State’s Education Abroad office has been amazingly supportive with suggestions and resources, it still falls upon the individual faculty member to market a study abroad course like this one. So, in addition to getting the word out by speaking to several Communications classes since September, I’ve been sharing photos from last year’s trip during the info sessions.

And, hey, that gives me a good excuse to share some of my favorites here.

From the moment I landed at Heathrow Airport, I knew I was in for an amazing experience in London. It’s an incredibly diverse, dynamic city where centuries-old buildings can be found alongside modern structures, and the history and traditions are everywhere you go.

Thanks to a panoramic bus tour on Day Two and a walking tour of Fleet Street on Day 8, both led by professional guides who were born and raised in London, my students and I got a wonderful introduction to the city and its history and many of its most famous landmarks.

With my students outside Buckingham Palace, the principal residence of Queen Elizabeth.

In between, on a Sunday morning, we also enjoyed a narrated tour of the city skyline as we floated along the River Thames toward Greenwich, a borough in southeast London that is a World Heritage Site and offers spectacular views from Greenwich Park.

I can’t possibly name them all, but I can say that I still remember fondly seeing such attractions as Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Here are some of the images from the summer of 2018. I’ll follow up with more, tied to specific themes, in the weeks and months to come.

Click on an image to move easily through the photo galleries.

Spacey Kacey in Portland

On Monday night, I was among the lucky fans who filled the Schnitz to see the remarkable Kacey Musgraves.

When tickets for Kacey Musgraves’ Portland show went on sale last fall, I wasted no time getting mine. I’d missed her on a couple of previous visits to the city, and I didn’t want it to happen a third time.

Well, talk about great timing. Monday night’s sold-out show at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall brought Kacey to town riding high on her Grammy Award-winning laurels of the previous weekend: Album of the Year, Best Country Album, Best Country Song, Best Country Solo Performance.

During a 90-minute set, she drew heavily from “Golden Hour,” her third and most accomplished album yet. She was great, almost effortlessly so.

I’ve been a fan of Kacey since she burst onto the scene in 2013 with “Same Trailer Different Park,” the debut album that earned her Best Country Album along with Best Country Song (Merry Go ‘Round) at the 2014 Grammys. It was a track from that same album, “Follow Your Arrow,” that I especially liked — a song that’s as un-country as you can imagine, with references to marijuana and a girl-on-girl kiss.

Kacey hails from a small town in Texas, and her voice is unmistakably country. Yet she continues to evolve as a songwriter with a sound that ranges from classic country to pop to ethereal to disco — yes, disco.

On Monday, I found myself appreciating several songs with lush melodies built on layers of instrumentation.

During mid-show introductions of her excellent band members, there were the usual ones on guitar, drums and bass, but also on banjo, pedal steel guitar, cello and keyboards.

Kacey says of her music: “Undeniably, I’m a country singer; I’m a country songwriter. But I feel like I make country music for people who like country music and for people who don’t.”

If you’ve never heard Kacey Musgraves, give a listen to the videos below, recorded live in Los Angeles, London and New York. All are from the new album. “Wonder Woman” is mid-tempo. “Golden Hour” is mellow. “High Horse” is a throwback to the days of disco. It’s the song she saved for last Monday night, the one that got everyone out of their seats.



From my seat in the upper balcony, I could hold my thumb and forefinger an inch apart and squint toward the stage, where I could see Kacey: a distant, slender figure in a shimmery outfit, with long dark hair and a relaxed stage presence that invited everyone to enjoy a golden hour and a half of wonderful music.

There she is. A tiny figure as seen from Section 1, Row V, Seat 1.

She calls herself @spaceykacey on Instagram, but she came across as pretty down-to-earth to me, relaxed and relatable.

At just 30 years old (yikes, one year younger than our youngest child), Kacey Musgraves has already collected six Grammys and won a worldwide following. I don’t know what she’ll do to top “Golden Hour,” but I’m pretty sure she’ll find a way.

August & Anthony

Anthony Bourdain and August Wilson: a pair of authors forever combined in my mind.

If you were to tell me that the famed playwright August Wilson and the chef-author-TV personality Anthony Bourdain had virtually nothing in common, I would say you’re right.

Wilson was born and raised in Pittsburgh and won two Pulitzer Prizes just three years apart for “Fences” (1987) and “The Piano Lesson” (1990). He died of liver cancer at age 60 in Seattle.

Bourdain was born in New York City and grew up in an affluent New Jersey suburb. He was the executive chef at a prestigious Manhattan restaurant, then became a best-selling author, and later the world-traveling host of two television programs centered on his culinary adventures. He died of suicide last year.

But as different as these two men were, they are likely to be linked in my mind for time eternal.

Why? Because I read their literary works back-to-back during the recent winter break from school. That alone wouldn’t be enough to seal them together in my memory. But the fact that I purchased Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson” and Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential” at the same time. thanks to a gift card from a friend, is what did it. (Thank you, Lydia Ramos!)

Both were enjoyable reads, for very different reasons, and I only regret that I didn’t get to them sooner.

I had wanted to read Wilson’s work ever since seeing the big-screen version of “Fences” (2016) with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in the leading roles as Troy and Rose Maxson. The feeling intensified after having gained some familiarity with Wilson’s hometown as a result of three visits to Pittsburgh in recent years, including a brief stop at the August Wilson Cultural Center.


August Wilson discusses his play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” at the Yale Repertory Theater in New Haven, Conn., in May 1985. (Bob Child | Associated Press file 1985)

“The Piano Lesson” did not disappoint. The play centers on the fate of an ornately carved upright piano that has been gathering dust in the Pittsburgh home of a woman named Berniece Charles.

Her brother, Boy Willie, comes up from the South bursting with restless energy and a plan to sell the antique piano that has been in the family for generations, dating back to when his and Berniece’s grandparents were slaves. The way he sees it, his share of the cash from selling the piano will give him the money he needs to stake his future.

But his sister refuses to sell, seeing the piano as a tangible link to the history of their family. In her mind, the piano is priceless, a stark reminder of what their ancestors endured.

The dialogue crackles. Boy Willie declares that as a black man, he has got to make this mark.

“That’s all I’m trying to do with that piano. Trying to put my mark on the road. Like my daddy done. My heart say for me to sell that piano and get me some land so I can make a life for myself to live in my own way.”

***

Likewise, I had been meaning to read “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” for some time.

Like millions of others, I was a big fan of Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” series on CNN. To me, it seemed that Bourdain had the coolest job on the planet, traveling all over the globe to sample the native cuisine while dining with local residents and chatting it up with the chefs.

Bourdain was insatiably curious about food — its origins and textures and tastes — and, in his weekly travelogue, he conveyed his sense of adventure, generous spirit, and appreciation for the men and women who prepared what he ate.

It was in 1997 that The New Yorker published an article by Bourdain that provided “a scathingly honest look at the inner workings of restaurants, specifically their kitchens.” The article led to the book “Kitchen Confidential” (2000) and sent his career on a different path focused on writing and television.


Anthony Bourdain films in Beirut, Lebanon, in 2015. (David Scott Holloway | CNN)

He found great success with both. One thing I enjoyed most about “Kitchen Confidential” is that Bourdain writes just as he sounds on TV — well, absent the frequent F-bombs and other crass terms found throughout the book. In other words, he tells stories in a fluid style that captures his unique voice, alternating between the elegant and the profane, and with descriptive detail that puts you there on scene.

For example, recalling his early days as a line cook in NBC’s famed Rainbow Room, he said he made an interesting discovery one day as he moved through the halls, back stairways, offices, dining and storage areas of the building.

“There was, in an unused area, a narrow passage through stacked tables, where employees could actually crawl out an open window. On my union-mandated fifteen-minute breaks, I would sit out on a narrow precipice, sixty-four flights up, my legs dangling over the edge, one arm wrapped around a hash, smoking weed with the dishwashers. Central Park and upper Manhattan splayed out before me. The observation deck on the roof was open as well, for a little mid-shift sunbathing.”

I had two “family” reasons for wanting to read the book, as well:

— Our oldest son is a line cook at a Northwest Portland restaurant. From listening to his stories over the years, I knew there was a special camaraderie among the cooks and kitchen staff he’s worked with, and I figured (correctly) Bourdain’s book would shed some light on that. though with nowhere near the level of shenanigans as described in the places where Bourdain worked his way up from dishwasher and fry cook to esteemed French chef.

— Our daughter attended Vassar College in New York, and Lori and I took her to the nearby Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park for a fancy graduation dinner. Bourdain had attended Vassar, too, though he flunked out in his freshman year in a haze of drugs. Years later, after he discovered the cooking life, he gained a foundation for his skills at the internationally-known C.I.A.

So, two authors, two books. One fiction, one non-fiction. One by a biracial, working-class playwright. One by a debonair media celebrity of French-American heritage. Both books a delight to read.

Reclaiming my Fridays

George and Brian, scraping off the rust at a Portland bowling alley.

When the year began I pledged to regularly set aside time each Friday to step away from my schoolwork and do something for my mental or physical health. Otherwise, my four-day work week can easily slop over into a fifth weekday.

Yesterday, I got a belated start on that little promise to myself. I arranged with a buddy to go bowling during the middle of the day. In the evening, I was part of a group of guys who took in a Winterhawks hockey game.

Talk about dude time.

My friend Brian Wartell and I hit the lanes during the noon hour at Kingpins in Southeast Portland. Now that we’re of a certain age, those senior bowling prices look pretty good — $2.25 per game.

We brushed the cobwebs off our bowling balls, bowled three games each, and shared a couple of menu items that definitely did not involve kale.

Brian and George between bites of quesadilla.

Brian and I had bowled together for years on a team that saw a revolving cast of characters, but had to give it up when the places we used to play were sold and redeveloped for other uses — a hardware store (since gone out of business) and a Target store.

Friday was so much fun we agreed we need to reunite with some of our teammates in the coming months.

In the evening, I met up with David Quisenberry, a friend I met through our years-ago service on a nonprofit board. We both enjoy watching hockey (he’s actually a former high school player) but hadn’t been to a game together in a while, owing partly to David’s responsibilities as a young father and my own workload as an adjunct on two college campuses.

A friend of David’s and three other guys joined us and we all enjoyed the action in the old-school Veterans Memorial Coliseum, a far more intimate venue than the Moda Center, where the NBA Trail Blazers play.

The Winterhawks beat the visiting Vancouver Giants, 3-0, and sent us home happy. We each got a trucker-style souvenir baseball cap, so that was a bonus.

Portland players celebrate a 3-0 win over Vancouver.

Actually, the entertainment began well before the puck dropped. There was a KISS farewell tour concert going on at the adjcaent Moda Center, so there was a festive Halloween-like vibe with crowds of people lining up to get in to see the old rockers. Some had done up their faces like the band, while others settled for black lipstick or T-shirts proclaiming themselves fans of AC-DC, Iron Maiden, Alice Cooper and the like.

It was quite the scene inside Jack’s, with the KISS crowd mingling inside the restaurant alongside hockey fans in their Winterhawks jerseys.

I know every Friday won’t be like this, but yesterday felt like a good first step toward a New Year’s resolution I’d be happy to keep.

The power of storytelling, mentoring and the arts


Cynthia Carmina Gómez, co-writer of the play “Voz Alta: Generaciones,” is a friend and professional colleague at Portland State University.

I love books and I love movies, but sometimes live theater is the best medium for telling a story.

Last Saturday, Lori and I attended a matinee performance of “Voz Alta: Generaciones,” a bare-bones production in a tiny basement theater at Portland State University. We came away from the 90-minute experience enriched and inspired — and wishing everyone we know could have seen it, too.

What did we like about it so much? How about everything.

The story: On the surface, it’s a dramatization of the lives of two Latino artists, Rodolfo (Rudy) Serna and Jesus Torralba, who live and work in Portland.  At another level, it’s a story about how each of those men was mentored by someone here in Portland and, in turn, how they have mentored someone else.

The presentation: Forget the usual theatrical production, where you have actors moving about on a stage, sometimes on more than one set. Instead, imagine five actors seated on bistro-style chairs with a microphone in front of each of them, rising only to deliver their lives. They are wearing everyday clothes, there are no costume changes, and the only props are a scarf and a pair of eyeglasses. Three of the five play more than one character, relying on their voice, diction and body language to convey the differences. Stripped-down? You bet.

The cast: The ensemble is made up of three men, a teenage boy and one striking woman. She is seated in the middle of the row of five and it is she who uses that one piece of fabric and the eyeglasses to transition from one character to another, from an abuela (a grandmother) to two mothers (each one the parent of a different male character) to a newlywed teenage girl to a social services agency employee. Behind the actors are two musicians, one singing in Spanish and playing acoustic guitar, the other playing a pan flute and guitar.

The setting: If the Boiler Room Theater at Lincoln Hall sounds like a minimalist space, you’ve got the right idea. It’s intimate, all right. We were seated in the front row, less than 10 feet from the actors, with maybe three more rows behind us and four more rows ascending to the left of us. Two ceiling-to-floor murals and a third one behind the actors and musicians provided all the visuals.

The narrative: Two characters are at the heart of the story. One is a middle-aged man named Rodolfo, the son of divorced parents in Chicago who left home as a teenager (“I had to be my own dad,” he says.), marries young, divorces young, finds stability in the military and makes his way to Portland, where he is accepted at Portland State, earns a degree, and finds work as an artist and mentor working with at-risk and gang-involved youth.

The other is a teenager named Jesus, a light-skinned Mexican American kid and self-styled graffiti artist who finds trouble on Portland’s streets and seems headed for the gang life. Authorities steer him to the agency where Rodolfo works and he finds a connection there with the older man through their shared interest in painting. Jesus learns to trust, develops self -confidence and also gets hired as a youth mentor.

The reality: The beauty of this play is that it is the true story of four people who are giving back to the community. In real life, Rodolfo and Jesus work with at-risk and gang-involved youth in Multnomah and Washington County through the Community Healing Initiative, a collaborative partnership among several nonprofits and local and state agencies. The teenager who plays Jesus is Jose Ruiz Valentine, who in real life is an aspiring artist who was mentored by Jesus and who recently also became a youth mentor himself. Finally, real-life Rodolfo made it through college with the guidance and support of his own mentor — Cynthia Carmina Gómez, a Portland State administrator with a long record of directing community leadership and Latino mentoring programs.

The back story: Cynthia is not only executive director of PSU’s Cultural Resource Centers, she is also pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. This was her first play — co-written with Joaquin Lopez, the guitarist and singer who performed so beautifully during Saturday’s play — and she invited Lori and me to attend.

I met Cynthia several years ago when I was still writing for The Oregonian and she was working for the Latino Network. (Read my interview with Cynthia here.) We got to know each other as professional colleagues and I wound up writing a letter of recommendation for her graduate program, She was accepted, of course, and just before she began her MFA studies, she wrote a piece for my annual Voices of August guest blog project. (You can read that piece here.)

The big picture: I had three major takeaways.

One, you don’t need to spend big sums of money to deliver a message. The production was stripped down to the essentials, yet the simplicity helped drive home the idea of saving one life at a time through the arts and heartfelt mentoring.

Two, seeing a wonderful collaboration of Latino actors, musicians and writers filled me with Mexican American pride. There are other arts groups in the city, notably Teatro Milagro, that perform Latino-themed work. This one was particularly sweet because the experience was so intimate and the characters so relatable to the culture I grew up in.

Three, it made me appreciate living in a medium-sized city, where I not only can say I know one of the playwrights, but that I am familiar with the agencies involved in the Community Healing Initiative and their work. It was great to see this web of connections come alive in front of me.

If you’ve read this far, you owe to yourself to watch this: Jose, the focus of this video, is the teenage actor who plays his mentor, Jesus.

Ruminating about ‘Roma’

The director Alfonso Cuarón in the Colonia Roma neighborhood, near where he grew up in Mexico City.

You’d think I’d fall in love with “Roma,” the film that’s earned critical praise and a slew of international prizes in the last year. After all, it’s a drama (my favorite genre) set in Mexico; written, produced and filmed by an acclaimed Mexican director; and featuring a Mixtec woman as lead actress.

Last week, at the Golden Globes Awards, the film won Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language and Alfonso Cuarón was named Best Director by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

The honors didn’t surprise me, but my initial reaction to the film gave me pause. Why didn’t I gush over it the way I did “The Shape of Water,” a fantastical fairy tale about an assuming deaf-mute janitor and a sea creature being held in captivity? That, too, was written and directed by another accomplished Mexican, Guillermo del Toro, and I found it refreshingly uplifting.

I think a small part of the answer lies in watching “Roma” on the small screen at home (thank you, Netflix), which lessened the impact of the black-and-white wide-screen cinematography. A larger part, I think, stems from not having adequate context.

It wasn’t until after I’d read a couple of reviews that I even grasped the meaning of the movie’s title, let alone its autobiographical theme. The film is named for Colonia Roma, the well-to-do neighborhood in Mexico City where Cuarón grew up in a home with domestic help. The movie was filmed there with painstaking care given to recreating the 1970s era of his youth.

In the film, a young woman named Cleo works as a live-in maid and nanny for a family of five (plus a live-in grandmother) who take her for granted as she rises early to wake the kids; cooks, cleans and does mountains of laundry by hand; and helps the harried mother from unraveling while her doctor-husband is away at a conference.

Yalitza Aparicio plays Cleo, and it’s a marvelous thing to see an indigenous woman in a starring role. But it’s a slow-moving film — purposely slow — and while there are a couple of dramatic life-and-death scenes in a hospital and at an ocean resort, there’s no tidy resolution either.

But after learning more about Cuarón’s back story and taking into account some discussion about the technical aspects of the film by two leading movie critics, I think this is one film that I need to see again.

I’d like to think I’m not overly swayed by reviews, as I recognize that critics and the public often are at odds on what they consider a good film. In this case, these reviews in The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and an interview with Cuarón himself, shed a lot more light on the director’s intentions in making “Roma.”

‘Roma’ lives up to lofty expectations with a beautiful, deliberate and ultimately moving portrait of domestic life – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

‘Roma’ Review: Alfonso Cuarón’s Masterpiece of Memory – Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

Mexico City as the Director of ‘Roma’ Remembers It (and Hears It) – Kirk Semple, The New York Times

Now the question is, when do I find time for a second viewing?

Photograph: Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times

London stories: Hyde Park

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On my first weekend in London last summer, I visited Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

I had the best of intentions last summer when I returned from England to share my experiences in a series of posts I was going to call “London stories.”

I produced exactly one. And funny thing, it wasn’t even about London. It was about my day trip to Oxford, an hour outside the city, where I stumbled upon something called “Soapbox Science.”

Well, here goes Round 2. If I don’t give myself a kick in the arse, it’ll never get done. (Besides, this is a good way to start thinking ahead to July, when I’ll return to teach Media Literacy to a new group of students.)

So why not start with the same place where I literally began my visit last summer? That would be Hyde Park, a big and beautiful green space that I explored during my first weekend in the city.

If you’ve ever visited New York City’s Central Park, then you have an idea of Hyde Park. It’s a gathering place for Londoners of all ages and social classes — a living, breathing tapestry of people sharing a public space with room for everyone. With more than 600 acres of greenery, the park has multiple entrances and activities of all kinds.

On my Sunday afternoon visit, I saw skateboarders, bicyclists and joggers on the paved paths; tourists and residents out for a walk; young adults and couples sunning themselves or cooling off in the shade; families picnicking on blankets; and people of all kinds, in hijabs and baseball caps, renting canoes and paddle boats on a man-made lake. All of this, plus a view of central London in the distance, made for a very inviting, cosmopolitan feel.

I accessed the park from the south side, just across the street from the Royal Albert Hall, where Adele and The Beatles and so many other musicians have performed, and passed by the ostentatious Albert Memorial, named for Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband), right at the entrance.

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As I wandered through, I passed by a grassy area where performers with a Flying Trapeze School were giving lessons, and later spotted a huge sign listing live music and theater at the park. Paul Simon was scheduled that evening, a night after Bruno Mars and a week after Eric Clapton had performed. Damn!

For lack of time, I decided to forgo a visit to the far northeast corner of the park to see the famed Speakers’ Corner, where soapbox orators can pontificate to their heart’s delight. Instead I made my way to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. It was the liveliest area of the park, with parents joining their children in an ankle-deep circular stream of cooling water.

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From there, I walked along the north perimeter of the park, adjacent to the trendy Notting Hill neighborhood, and headed for the western part of the park, known as Kensington Gardens.

If I didn’t know better, I would have thought I was still in Portland. Shaded trees, quiet paths shared by walkers and bicyclists, and a wonderfully relaxed vibe made me think of Laurelhurst Park in my own city. There are several markers and plaques describing the area’s history and wildlife, including foxes and Great Blue Herons, and I was pleasantly surprised by the park’s scenic lagoons.

Eventually, I made it to Kensington Palace in the southwest corner of the park. The elegant structure was the royal residence for nearly 150 years, from 1689 to 1837, before Buckingham Palace took over that role. Queen Victoria, the longest-serving British monarch during a 64-year reign that ended in 1901, was born here.

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Today it serves as the official residence of the young royals — William and Kate, Harry and Meghan. I balked at the admission price for a tour, especially as the day was winding down, and settled for a photo of the exterior.

I had begun the day by visiting two museums. After a long walk in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, I was more than ready to head home and rest my feet. But as I did, I felt I had treated myself to the best possible introduction to this amazing city.

Rollover resolutions

bananas

More water, more fruits (and veggies) in 2019.

Three days into the new year and I’m thinking about what to put on my list of intentions for 2019.

I’ve got it: Rollover resolutions.

Since I did only moderately well on last year’s three, why not roll ’em over like rollover minutes on my cell phone plan?

For the record, here’s what I pledged to do a year ago:

  • Drink more water.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Lighten up on the iPhone.

When I checked on myself in July, I acknowledged slippage in all three areas.

Read “About those resolutions” here

This year, I’m rolling over the first two and subbing in a third one:

  • Drink more water.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Reclaim my Fridays.

The first two make a lot of sense. Coupled with a vow to resume regular exercise, they will do me good. More water, less coffee. More bananas, fewer cookies. More salads, fewer fries.

The third one makes sense in a different way. I see it as a dedicated one day a week when I do something for my mental or physical health as opposed to letting my four-day work week slop over into a fifth weekday.

60 hikes-Cover

The first thing that comes to mind is doing my urban hikes again, with my tattered copy of “Portland Hill Walks” as a guide. When the weather warms up again, I’d like to go a step further and break in the “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles” I received as a gift last year.

Blast from the past: A catalogue of urban hikes

Other ideas that come to mind: daytime bowling, an afternoon matinee, breakfast or coffee with a friend, lunch with Lori (she works every Friday), a longer-than-usual walk with Charlotte.

As I write this, I know I’m giving myself some leeway to say yes to work-related events. Already, I’m committed to a lunch this Friday with school and work colleagues. Two weeks later, I’m going to speak to a group of student journalists at WSU Vancouver, something I committed to long ago.

This year, I’m going to hold myself more accountable on all three. Wish me luck.

 

2018: Looking back, looking ahead

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Sunday morning walk in Kensington Gardens, near my accommodations in London.

A wedding, a cross-country move, a teaching stint in the U.K. Those were just a few of the highlights of this past year, when a combination of factors resulted in far fewer blog posts than normal.

Let’s get after it, shall we?

The month of May brought the biggest, most welcome news. That’s when our oldest child, Nathan, married his girlfriend, Sara Bird, in a casual ceremony on a Sunday night.

The couple had been together for eight years and it was nice to see them take the next step, surrounded by friends and family at Victoria, a popular bar and restaurant in North Portland. The bride and groom said “I do” under dim lighting in the bar as a longtime friend of both, Jared White, officiated. At least six of Nathan’s DJ friends, including Reverend Jared, took turns pumping out dance music.

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Nathan and Sara clasp hands as their wedding ceremony gets underway.

It’s funny that our oldest of three children would be the last to wed, and the youngest the first to wed. The newlyweds postponed their honeymoon until the fall, but then went big — to Spain and Barcelona. Back at work, Nathan is a line cook at Besaw’s and continues to DJ while Sara works in human resources for the Bishops haircutting chain.

Best thing of all: Now we have three daughters-in-law, as different as can be in personality, stature and interests. We love them all.

Among the guests that day was my stepmother, Ora. She flew in from New Mexico to spend a few days with us and we thoroughly enjoyed her visit. She sang a traditional Mexican song to Nathan at the wedding rehearsal lunch, and saw a lot of the sights in the South Waterfront district with me when I took a day off to ride the trolley and tram with her up to Oregon Health & Science University.

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Three generations: Lori, Grandma Ora and Simone.

The other big family news came in August, when our youngest child, Jordan, completed another cross-country move on his path to a Ph.D. He and his wife Jamie and their daughter, Emalyn, moved from Missouri to upstate New York so he could begin a five-year Ph.D program in microbiology at Cornell University.

They’re living in a rented farmhouse just outside the village of Spencer, about 20 miles south of the Cornell campus in Ithaca. They are 200-plus miles northwest of New York City, nestled in the Finger Lakes area, so named for five lakes that resemble fingers on a downward-facing hand.

They are in a beautiful part of the country,  marked by two-lane roads, rolling green hills and colonial style homes. Lori and I visited Jordan and family to help unload three big Pods and get them settled into their new place. Lori returned on her own in November for a pre-holiday visit and loved spending time with little Emmy, who at 2 1/2 years old grows smarter and more adorable each day. We’re making plans for a return visit in March.

Our time with Jordan and Jamie came on the heels of my teaching a summer course in media literacy in London, England.

It was a pinch-me, is-this-really-happening moment that lasted two weeks. I had six students come with me from Portland and Vancouver for an intense but thoroughly enjoyable time in one of the world’s leading cities. We visited the Houses of Parliament and leading media organizations, hosted guest speakers, crisscrossed the city on the tube, and saw a variety of historical landmarks and tourist attractions from a bus, a boat and on foot. On the final weekend, I took a day trip to Oxford by train and the next day saw an Agatha Christie play in a magnificent building set next to the Thames River.

Assuming I can recruit another group of students, I’m going back again in July 2019 to teach the same class. Only this time, we’re planning to have Lori join me toward the end for a shared British vacation.

(Because of my travels to London and Ithaca, I put my annual Voices of August guest writers project on hold. I’m anticipating more free time next year and looking forward to version 8.0 with contributions from near and far.)

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What else happened in 2018? Here’s a quick rundown:

Sports: While Portland is considered a backwater for major league sports, I still got my fill of professional and amateur events. I attended a handful of Trail Blazers games, saw my first Portland Timbers match, showed up for two Portland State basketball games at the new Viking Pavilion, and took Lori to see a Portland Thorns soccer game

Most enjoyable, however, was taking in Day One of the NCAA Track and Field Championships at the University of Oregon in Eugene. The four-day meet in June was one of the last major competitions at Historic Hayward Field, which is undergoing a huge redesign and rebuilt that will culminate in a larger, world-class facility in time for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials.

My friend Eric Wilcox works for a Portland architectural firm that is part of the stadium redesign project, so he was able to get us the NCAA tickets. We had great seats in the West Grandstand with a good view of the finish line for all the running events.

Music: I saw a handful of favorite artists in concert, all of them packed into the second half of the year: James Taylor, Hall and Oates, LeAnn Rimes and Liz Longley. The superstars need no introduction, but you may not be familiar with Liz Longley. She’s a Nashville-based singer-songwriter whose music was introduced to me by a longtime friend who’s also a professional music critic. I’ve seen Liz four times now in four venues in Portland. Wonderful voice and very happy to pose for selfies after her shows.

Books:  I did relatively little reading this year, so I have no trouble recalling “Behold the Dreamers” as my favorite. It’s the debut novel by Imbolo Mbue, a Cameroonian immigrant, and her story about a wealthy New York couple and a young immigrant couple from Cameroon takes place just as the Great Recession takes hold in 2018.

I re-read two books — something I never do — but these were extraordinary novels and deserving of another read: “Devil in a Blue Dress” by Walter Mosley and “Winter’s Bone” by Daniel Woodrell. I also enjoyed “Slide!” by my talented neighbor, Carl Wolfson; “Shot Through the Heart” by MIkal Gilmore; and “The Piano Lesson,” a play by August Wilson.

A related highlight: In October, I attended a Think & Drink event with the author Eli Saslow at the Alberta Rose Theatre. Oregon Humanities is presenting a series of four conversations on journalism and justice during 2018-19, and the Saslow event was the first. He talked about his book, “Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist.” Sounds intriguing. I’ve put it on my reading list for 2019.

Sold: In September, we shared a bittersweet moment when we sold our beloved cabin on Orcas Island. During the 13 years we owned it, we treasured every trip to our little piece of paradise, a modest log cabin tucked into the woods with a view of the ocean water. It was a place to soak up the silence, appreciate nature’s beauty, and let the stress melt away. We take comfort in knowing that the place will be in good hands — those of a young Seattle-based writer who was looking for a quiet place to do his creative work.

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Here in Portland, we continue to enjoy good health, good friends and our furry companions – Charlotte, our feisty Border Terrier-Pug-Chihuahua, and Mabel, our sweet-natured brown tabby cat.

With a new runner’s watch (a birthday gift from Lori) and new resolve to use it, I look forward to a more physically active 2019. Likewise, new opportunities await at work and at play. Can’t wait to get started.