Santa Barbara sojourn

Abuelo Al with granddaughter Lila.

The last time we saw our Santa Barbara friends on their own turf was in late 2019, when we flew down for the wedding of their daughter Nicole to a wonderful young man named Andrew.

Nearly 3 1/2 years later, Lori and I made a return visit. And, wow, things have changed.

The newlywed couple have become parents to a beautiful little girl named Lila, and our friends, Al and Elizabeth, have been serving as regular caretakers for their 17-month-old granddaughter.

The Lee-Rodriguez residence has transformed into a day care center for one, with Lila tottering around the house when she isn’t inside her playpen, a structure that’s big enough to accommodate her and her abuelo Al at the same time. There’s a dog crate, too, because there’s a new pet that joined the household after the death of their elderly cat. That would be Parker, a 4-year-old cattle dog/pit bull mix, who’s become fast friends with Lila.

All in all, the “grandunits” (as they call themselves) are enjoying the fruits of retirement along with the bonus of having their only child and her family living just a few miles away. It’s obvious to see they love having Lila in their cozy home three days a week while the parents work.


Lori and I arrived on Saturday, exactly a week ago today, and spent four nights, returning Wednesday. We knew that one of these “atmospheric rivers” we’ve been seeing in the news was forecast during our stay, so we braced ourselves for a Biblical downpour. But, really, it wasn’t all that had.

Yes, it rained all day and all night Tuesday, but never approached “torrential.” It was light and steady and did cause me and at least a few drivers on the U.S. 101 freeway to slow down a bit (others, definitely not).

City streets, meanwhile, were easy enough to navigate.

The only issue is that while water flows efficiently down Santa Barbara’s many hills toward the ocean, it tends to accumulate in low-lying areas. Street corners flood easily, and water collects in V-shaped depressions to ankle-deep levels, making it impossible to cross an intersection on foot without getting your shoes soaked.

We were out on our own on Tuesday, attempting to window shop on the city’s main street, when we decided it made more sense to get out of the rain and grab lunch. We found a bakery that Nicole had recommended but we had to wade through a few inches of water to get to the entrance. Seriously, there was no way to avoid sloshing our way to the front door.

Oh, but that was just a single wet day during an otherwise dry, comfortably warm visit.

We stayed at a retro-style Airbnb in the south end of the city, not far from a revitalized commercial district known as the Funk Zone. There was a free little library on the property and, fittingly, Lori snagged a children’s picture book for Lila. (Remember the Caldecott-winning “Blueberries for Sal” published in 1949? We used to read it to our kids.)

On Sunday, we toured the city’s Arts & Crafts Show, held year-round every Sunday near the wharf. There’s a nice mix of original drawings, paintings, graphics, sculpture, jewelry, and photography, and Lori came away with a pair of earrings and a cool kaleidoscope.

On Monday, Al drove us along the coast, through the beach town of Carpinteria, and then inland to Ojai. The green hills and occasional views of reservoirs made for lovely scenery as we followed a narrow, curving two-lane highway that Al has ridden more than once as an avid cyclist.

We ate well during our stay, including an outdoor seafood lunch in Ojai, a shared-plates dinner in the Funk Zone that included Nicole and Andrew, and an Aussie-style breakfast at a charming cafe not far from our Airbnb.

We watched the Oscars on Sunday with Al and Elizabeth and Nicole, and we made them sopa de albóndigas (Mexican meatball soup) as a token of our appreciation.

On our final day, we made the most of a Wednesday morning by heading back to State Street so Lori could do a second round of shopping while Al and I visited the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. The highlight was seeing Portrait of Mexico Today, a massive mural painted by the famed artist David Alfaro Siqueiros. I learned of Siqueiros when I took a college class on Mexican muralism a year ago and was excited to see more.

Unfortunately, I misunderstood that the museum only had this one piece. Still, it was pretty astounding to see this piece that Siqueiros had done while he was a political exile in Los Angeles in 1932. The 91-year-old artwork, contained within a structure weighing 25 tons, was moved intact from a private residence to the museum in 2001. It now sits on a terrace facing State Street.

A four-day visit was just right. We flew home late afternoon Wednesday, rested and relaxed, charmed by Lila, and feeling fortunate to have such good friends.

After two driving trips to see family in southern Oregon and this quick visit to Santa Barbara, all since the first of the year, we are happy to be settled again and have no travel planned for several months.

And, finally, a burst of pictures from dinner at The Lark with my best friend since high school.

The weight of racism, the power of writing

One week ago today, my daughter and I settled into our seats at a cozy venue in Northeast Portland to take in an onstage conversation featuring the talented writer Kiese Laymon.

If you don’t know him, the name is pronounced “kee·eh·say lay·muhn.” He’s a native of Jackson, Mississippi, and a professor of English and Creative Writing at Rice University in Houston. He’s the author of a bestselling memoir, a collection of essays and a novel; the winner of a MacArthur Fellowship “genius” grant; and a highly sought-after speaker.

Early in his career, he was an assistant professor at Vassar College during the time Simone was an undergraduate about 20 years ago. She was in a different freshman writing section than the one he taught, but she remembers him as a popular and well-respected instructor.

Both of us have read Laymon’s award-winning memoir, “Heavy,” (published in 2018) and so we were eager to see him speak Tuesday, March 7, at the Alberta Rose Theatre as part of Oregon Humanities’ 2023 Consider This series on people, place, and power.

For nearly 90 minutes, we were treated to a wide-ranging discussion during which Laymon touched on his upbringing and early education, his weight, his college journey, his gambling addiction and, not least, his relationships with his mother and beloved grandmama.

He did so with wit and honesty, whether it was expressing regret that he hadn’t punched a white classmate in the face as a kid (that same classmate who is now governor of Mississippi) or suggesting to an audience of Damian Lillard fans that “you need to let that brother go” and pursue an NBA title with a team other than the Trail Blazers.

Humor aside, Laymon also spoke from the heart about the love-hate-love relationship with his mom, a single parent and college professor herself, who demanded excellence of her son, especially as a writer, so that he could rise to any challenges thrown his way by a racist society and segregated education system. As a young professor and dutiful son, Laymon regularly sent home big chunks of his meager paycheck to help pay for car or house repairs, only to discover his mom had gambled away the tens of thousands of dollars.

(You can view the entire conversation here. Be prepared for some “colorful” language.)

Laymon’s path to acclaimed author, speaker and educator hardly followed a straight line.

As he explains in “Heavy” …

  • He attended a poor all-Black Catholic school until it closed for lack of funding, then transferred in eighth grade to another Catholic school where he was one of three Black boys and four Black girls in the entire school.
  • He was recruited to play basketball at Millsaps College, a private school in Jackson that catered to white sons and daughters of privilege, but got kicked out after he took a book from the college library without checking it out.
  • He transferred to Jackson State University and then Oberlin College, where he earned a BA, and went on to get an MFA in fiction from Indiana University.

But “Heavy” is much more than an accounting of his educational journey. It’s a coming-of-age memoir, a recounting of his literal ups-and-downs with weight (reaching upwards of 300 pounds), his addiction to exercise, his gambling habit, his reflections on the bonds of family and race, and, not least, a glimpse into the world of a bright Black boy growing up in the Deep South.

Kiese Laymon left a tenured position at Vassar College to teach at the University of Mississippi. While at Ole Miss, his memoir “Heavy” gained national acclaim and was honored with the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction by the American Library Association. (Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services)

This may be one of most obvious sentences I’ve ever written, but there is no way in the world I can truly, truly feel what it’s like to be a Black man in America.

I was born into a two-parent home of second-generation Mexican Americans and grew up in a Chicano neighborhood in a working-class suburb of Oakland, California.

Kiese Laymon was born and raised by a teenaged mom in Jackson, one of the blackest cities in America (nearly 85 percent African American) in the poorest state in the country.

I’ve read plenty of novels and essays and watched a variety of films and documentaries that focus on the Black experience in these United States. Much of it is searing, given the racist DNA of this country, and much of it is inspiring, seeing how generations of individuals and families strive to overcome the legacy of slavery.

But I have to say that “Heavy” packs an emotional punch I’ve never felt before. Laymon’s language is precise, frequently profane and always powerful as he lays out his resentments and triumphs, his flaws and loyalties. This talented Black man has lived through a lot in his 48 years and it is a credit to both him and his demanding mom that he developed the chops to write as forcefully and tenderly as he does.

Two examples:

When he was at Vassar in his 20s, his mother was the same age when she was teaching at Jackson State and Kiese was just 6 years old:

“I remember watching you give everything you had to your students those first few years we were back in Mississippi. Nearly all of our first students were black, first-generation students from Mississippi. You spent sixteen-hour days meeting students on weekends, talking to worried parents on the phone, helping students with their financial aid forms, finding food for them when we didn’t even have enough money for food ourselves.”

Four days after the Twin Towers fell, he rode the train from Vassar into lower Manhattan to volunteer at Ground Zero, a time when the Poughkeepsie station was packed with soldiers holding M-16s next to their German Shepherds and every member of a dark-skinned South Asian family seated in front of him wore clothing in variations of red, white and blue.

“I looked out at the Hudson River and thanked God the attacks of 9/11 hadn’t happened while a black president was in office. I wondered, for the first time in my life, what being an American, not just a black American from Mississippi, really demanded of my insides, and what the consequences were not for meeting that demand in the world.”

“Heavy” is a remarkable book, just 241 pages. Pick it up and you’ll see why The New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, among others, named it one of the top 10 books of the year.

All my life

By Lynn St. Georges 

One of my biggest frustrations for decades has been my inability to remember the song I gave to Jim during our wedding. 

I’d long known the video recording of our wedding had an issue with the audio failing during the recording. My memory was that it was not a resource to remember the song I chose for Jim. Recently Amber came to spend the day with me to watch the old family recordings (now preserved on DVDs) and go through the photographs I’d already sorted. I was mistaken! The audio gave up after the ceremony, which included the songs.  

Jim and I lived together for 10 years before we married. We only decided to wed for legal reasons – shared property in a state that did not recognize common law marriage, and that we were raising the daughter he had during a short, unhappy marriage before we met.  

On June 7, 1979, I was living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and working for a small business that made Southwestern-style jewelry. I carved stones for inlay settings and we were working overtime that day. I had organized a gathering at my house after work. I was 23 years old and living the party life. Toward the end of the work day, a man walked in carrying a small child on his hip. As it turned out, Jim was friends with the owners. He’d recently separated from his wife and had taken their 22-month-old daughter out for a few hours. I invited him to the party and he said he’d come in a while, after dropping Amber off with her mother. 

Later, at my house, the party went on for several hours. After everyone had drizzled out, Jim remained and then it was just the two of us. “Got any Joni Mitchell?” he asked and folks who know about those four words know the rest of the story – I took him to my bed and he stayed with me for the next 30 years. 

Lynn & Jim, 1979 

Because we’d lived together for 10 years, and because we weren’t traditionalists, we planned an informal wedding. We married in our yard, dressed informally, found a non-denominational minister for the ceremony, decorated with balloons instead of flowers, catered it ourselves, etc. I even gave up having my dad give me away since all the other traditions were abandoned.  

The rehearsal dinner – June 23, 1989 

The wedding – June 24, 1989 

Jim wasn’t a man to write deep thoughts. He bought greeting cards to say what he wanted to say, and used song lyrics in the same way. Knowing this, I said let’s gift each other a song instead of writing our vows, and he readily agreed. Our friend, Jeb, agreed to learn the songs and sing at our wedding. We were set. 

The song Jim chose for me was the James Taylor song, “Something in the Way She Moves”. I never forgot it because I used to tease him about it. “Fine? All I get is fine? Nowhere is love mentioned!” It wasn’t until this last year when I listened to the song again that I understood how true it was for Jim. It was his way of saying that I was his person, his anchor. 

James Taylor – Something In The Way She Moves (with lyrics!) – YouTube 

And the song I gave to Jim? It was “All My Life” by America, and suddenly so much crystallized into a full circle. I’ve said since he’s been gone that he’d been my anchor and losing him was like losing my tether. We saved each other – we eventually quit drugs, I finished college and had a great career, we traveled and generally lived a good life. After he died, I became lost before I broke. 

All My Life Lyrics – America – YouTube 

The last photo, taken on Jim’s 55th birthday, one month before he died on September 2, 2009 (with Amber) 


A decade of being broken ended three years ago in early March, and the absolute best part of unbroken has been the recognition that all of the old baggage – a lifetime of woulda/shoulda/coulda regrets – has vanished. I now reside in a pacific state of mind with the realization that the rearview mirror isn’t the place I need to be looking anymore. As the lyrics in the America song repeat “I put the past away, I put the past away, I put the past away,” and I now look at today.  

Retirement suits me, my small condo is perfect as I age, I see Amber often, my cats continue to entertain me, and I’ve been with Keith for 11 years. He’s my partner until death do us part. Life, as the saying goes, is good. 

Lynn & Keith, January 2023, on holiday in Venice, California 

Lynn St. Georges is retired and enjoys living in her small Beaverton condo with her partner, Keith, and three cats, and is an avid reader again. At 67 years old, she’s finally achieved a state of calm that evaded her most of her life. Contentment suits her. 

A book about books

When the year began, I knew I’d soon be devoting a chunk of time to serious reading associated with two courses I planned to audit during the winter term at Portland State University. Sure enough, I was diving into a weekly mix of books, academic journals and magazine articles assigned for classes in political science and geography (more on those later this month).

I knew it made sense to get some recreational reading done first, and that’s why I zipped through an easy-to-read novel I discovered in January through the PSU Alumni Book Club, an online book club that I joined last year.

“The Reading List” is the debut novel by Sara Nisha Adams, a London-based writer in her mid-20s who is of Indian and English heritage. I mention her background because it’s relevant to the characters, the setting and the story itself.

There’s a suggested reading schedule with each book club pick, but I finished this one well ahead of time, and then let things sit until I watched an online author talk on March 2 that gave me more insight into the origins of the novel and how Adams went about writing it. Suffice to say, I was impressed by her dedication to the task — writing for an hour every morning before turning to her day job — and appreciative of how she framed the story.

The British writer Sara Nisha Adams

It’s a simple tale and, as the title suggests, it’s a book about books.

It’s also a book about the different lives that people lead, often concealing private pain and anxiety, and of the unlikely bonds they forge. It’s a book about the power of literature to capture people’s imagination, to help them empathize with others’ situations while at the same time reflecting on their own lives. And, finally, it’s a book that celebrates public libraries themselves, as vital community resources and welcoming spaces where many a child falls in love with words and characters.

The story is pretty simple.

Mukesh is a widower living a quiet life in West London. Since the death of his wife, Naina, a devout reader herself, he’s become something of a recluse, though his three adult daughters check in on him with daily phone calls. Mukesh goes through the motions of shopping and attending temple, but he’s really become a shell of himself.

His young granddaughter, Priya, is one bright spot in his life. She is an avid reader of books but Mukesh worries she may be too much of an introverted bookworm.

Aleisha is a bright but anxious teenager who works at a branch library near Mukesh’s home in Wembley. She’s just graduated high school, and plans to attend university in the fall. She lives at home with her divorced mother, Leilah, and older brother, Aidan. Together, the siblings share the emotional burden of caring for their fragile mom, who is depressed, unemployed and tethered to the house.

One day, Aleisha discovers a slip of paper in the back of the classic book “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The paper lists eight novels, most of which she has never heard of before. She’s intrigued by the handwritten list: Who made it? Why these books? Was the list forgotten or purposely left behind? Curious and in need of a diversion, she decides to read them all.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

“Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier

“The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini

“Life of Pi” by Yann Martel

“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

“Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott

“Beloved” by Toni Morrison

“A Suitable Boy” by Vikram Seth

Adams uses those book titles — and one more, “The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger — to structure the narrative, with chapters alternating between Mukesh and Aleisha and a host of minor characters.

Mukesh and Aleisha meet when the old man decides to visit the branch library. It’s an awkward interaction between obvious strangers, with Mukesh presenting as an awkward, anxious bumbler who’s a non-reader and unsure of how to even check out a book. Aleisha, meanwhile, pivots between boredom and impatience as she attempts to help, but even she recognizes she’s being rude and condescending.

From this first meeting, the narrative moves forward. On a subsequent visit, Mukesh brings Priya, hoping to forge a stronger connection with his granddaughter. Aleisha, having read “To Kill a Mockingbird,” wonders if Mukesh might enjoy it too. Maybe he’d be inspired by Atticus Finch, the small-town lawyer at the heart of the novel, fighting against racial injustice in the Deep South.

As the novel plays out, both Mukesh and Aleisha find themselves absorbed in the books on the reading list, as do other library patrons who come across the list in random places around town, as well as through Aleisha’s efforts to share it.

Meanwhile, a subplot develops around Aidan’s puzzling behavior and Leilah’s downward spiral. Aleisha’s brother is characteristically upbeat and responsible, but he’s become somewhat erratic, spending more time at work and less at home. Leilah withdraws even more, often refusing to leave her bedroom, but enjoys being read to by her daughter as Aleisha works her way through the reading list.

I won’t spoil the ending, but let’s just say there’s a surprising turn of events in Aleisha’s family and a Hallmark-type gathering of community members at the library, brought together by a Save Our Libraries event jointly organized by Mukesh and Aleisha.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t warm to “The Reading List” right away. I was annoyed by Mukesh’s character and I thought it highly unlikely that a list of books left behind by an anonymous person would have community-wide impact.

Part of the issue is that I had read a similar novel last summer that also featured a reclusive widower in greater London, He, too, forges an unlikely friendship with a much younger woman — a chatty, single mom who moves into his neighborhood — and teams up with her to organize a campaign “to end loneliness” in their working-class community. That book, “All The Lonely People,” was written by Mike Gayle, a Jamaican-British author, and truly lifted my spirits.

At some point, I realized I was taking “The Reading List” way too literally. I reminded myself to just enjoy the novel, for God’s sake. Accept the author’s characterization of Mukesh. Go along with the plot. Indulge in some make-believe.

My second take was reinforced when I logged into an online talk with the author. Adams discussed her relationship with her maternal grandfather, who moved to the UK from Kenya; her own love of books and libraries; and the discipline it took to produce her first novel.

Finally and coincidentally, I thought of the power of fiction to bridge cultures and experiences when I came across a quote from a character in the book I’m currently reading, “A Tale for the Time Being,” by Ruth Ozeki.

“I find myself drawn to literature more now than in the past; not the individual works as much as the idea of literature — the heroic effort and nobility of our human desire to make beauty of our minds.”


“The Reading List” won’t go down as one of my favorites, but I also have no problem recommending it to anyone who’s looking for lighter material. If you gravitate toward serious books — or if you simply love libraries — this may be one to put on your list.

Read an interview with Sara Nisha Adams here, courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library. Already, this promising writer has just come out with her second novel, “The Twilight Garden.”

A surprise visitor!

Frolicking in the snow: Emalyn and her daddy Jordan. (Credit: Jamie Lynn Rede)

When we last saw our youngest son in early January, he was nearing the end of a weeks-long stay with his young family in southern Oregon.

He’d flown home from school in New York to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with his wife and daughter and also be present for the birth of his son. Wesley Louis Rede cooperated by arriving on December 29.

Jordan returned to Ithaca shortly afterwards to resume his academic studies and we figured we wouldn’t see him again until late spring or early summer.

Ah, but Jordan came up with a nice plan to surprise Jamie, Emalyn and Wes by squeezing in a weeklong visit that let us in on the action.

He flew into Portland at midday on Saturday, Feb. 25. We picked him up at the airport, grabbed some burritos to go, and headed for I-5. Five hours later, we rolled up announced at the home of Jordan’s in-laws and waited in the car as he let himself in.

Emmy came bounding out of the house, shrieking in delight, while her parents embraced.

Keeping a secret never felt so good.


We stayed for a week and thoroughly enjoyed our unscheduled down time, much of it spent indoors because of snow.

Interestringly enough, we left Portland as the city was just beginning to thaw out after a surprise snowstorm that paralyzed much of the city. I-5 was clear all the way down, but it snowed so much the next two days that school was canceled on Monday and there was a late opening on Tuesday.

That meant plenty of time for Emmy to run us ragged, as only a 6-year-old can. She played in the snow with her daddy, then with me, then with Noni Lori. Jamie captured the beauty of the wintry landscape in these photos.

Emmy loves physical play and make-believe, but also sits for long stretches at a time; over a couple of days, she and Noni Lori sorted through countless boxes of jewelry destined for the collectibles stores owned by Jamie’s mom.

Of course, there’s no substitute for just getting out and about on Linda and Jeff’s ranch. Emmy loves playing games of chase, holding her favorite chickens, visiting the horses, and running with their rambunctious dog Gus.

As for little brother, Wesley is growing up fast. When we last saw him, he wasn’t yet two weeks old, so he was mostly sleeping and nursing. Now, at nearly 10 weeks old, he’s got his eyes wide open and he’s smiling back at the adoring faces surrounding him. He moves his arms and feet in the way infants do — as if they’re grabbing or kicking something — and it’s plain to see all that energy leaves him ready for a feeding and a nap.

Jamie is an excellent mom, providing a soothing touch, a cooing voice and the mother’s milk that will help her son grow up strong.

Jordan and I made time for a father-son hike on the property, climbing to the highest point where we could admire the winter wonderland scenery, and went out another day to a Barnes & Noble (yes, they still have one in Medford) so we could get a couple of books.

On Friday, Lori and I had one day to ourselves to drive into Central Point to pick up some cheese and chocolates and enjoy a Thai lunch.

Otherwise, we tried to earn our keep by preparing a few dinners while our in-laws both worked their day jobs. Jeff and Linda celebrated their 35th anniversary while we were there and we were happy to spring for a takeout meal that everyone enjoyed around their big dining room table.

The visit came to an end on Sunday, March 5. Thankfully, there was no snow to deal with on the return trip and, once we were home, we enjoyed watching a couple of episodes of a dystopian TV show with Jordan as we munched on pizza and salad.

Jordan went to breakfast the next day with big brother Nathan, and we took him to the airport for an early evening flight.

When will we see him again? Don’t know. Another two or three months, most likely. By then, Wes will be five months old or so and Emmy will be on the verge of becoming a second-grader.

I think we’ll have time to recharge our batteries by then. In the meantime, we’ll look back fondly on these memories of a ” bonus” visit. Enjoy the slideshow.

Making sense of art

Last weekend, our local newspaper published a delightful multimedia piece about creative Portlanders who’ve set up kiosks offering free toys, movies and mini art in several eastside neighborhoods.

The upbeat feature could not have landed at a better time.

A couple days earlier, a friend emailed me an article about a controversial art exhibit at a left-leaning college in the Midwest. Seems that an Iranian American artist, coincidentally an assistant professor at Portland State University, had offended some Muslim students when her show, “Taravat,” opened late last month at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn.

The work of Taravat Talespland is described as “cheeky, erotic and defiantly anticlerical.” One piece, for example, titled “Blasphemy X,” depicts a veiled woman giving the finger while lifting her robe to reveal high heels and a flash of underwear. 

Some Muslim students felt it made a mockery of modest Islamic dress, and thus of them, according to a New York Times columnist who wrote about the exhibit. They expressed their outrage, and this month Macalester responded by temporarily closing Talepasand’s show, and then, apparently unaware of the irony, surrounding the gallery windows with black curtains.

Taravat Talepasand, Assistant Professor of Art Practice at Portland State University.

Later that same day, my social media feed popped to life with a dozen photos from two neighbors enjoying themselves at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. They marveled at the artifacts uncovered from the dozens of mesoamerican civilizations that thrived in what is now Mexico, and generously shared images of these centuries-old carvings, sculptures and paintings.

So, three distinct aspects of art filling my brain: locally produced artwork, meant to entertain; a traveling exhibit, meant to provoke dialogue; national treasures, meant to inspire.

How to make sense of it all?

I’ve always been intimidated by art — well, at least the idea of being a maker of it. My drawing skills are so feeble that you really don’t want me as your Pictionary partner. I remember getting a C (or maybe it was a C+) as a fifth-grader in a summer school class and that was enough to stifle any creative urges I might have had.

I went through much of adulthood going nowhere near a museum, thinking of them in much the same way as I did opera houses — as places where rich, snooty people oohed and aahed over abstract artwork, places that held no appeal for me.

Eventally, there came a turning point. I was in Florida at a journalism training program in the 1990s and all of us went to see the Salvador Dalí museum in St. Petersburg. The surrealistic vision of this Spanish artist blew my mind. More accurately, he opened it.

Since then, and increasingly so, I’ve taken every opportunity I can to see for myself not just what the great masters have produced, but also the folk art crafted from everyday materials by ordinary men and women, including the formerly enslaved, here in the U.S. and beyond.

At the Portland Art Museum last year: Diego Rivera’s mural “In the Arsenal” (1928) shows Frida Kahlo handing out munition to revolutionary soldiers during the 1910 Mexican Revolution. (Image via

The list of places I’ve visited hardly holds a candle to others, I’m sure, but I’ve been enriched by seeing works by the Mexican muralists, the French impressionists, and contemporary African American artists. I’ve marveled at centuries-old paintings and mosaics, elaborate sculptures and outdoor installations. I’ve enjoyed seeing portrait galleries of famous people in Washington and London, as well as pop art in Pittsburgh, but I also remember being awed by a wall-sized mural made of textiles at the National Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati.

An enormous mural made of textiles by Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson fills a wall at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

In short, I’ve come to understand that my rudimentary understanding of art was largely a result of lack of exposure to its purpose or meaning.

Sure, art can be made to spark joy. But just as easily, it can spark dialogue and discord, when the artist presents a perspective that challenges our understandings and even offends our values. And, of course, it can spark admiration for the creative instinct that has prompted men, women and children of all cultures and social standing to make something to leave behind for the rest of us.

 “Monumental Reckoning” opened in June 2021 in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Artist Dana King created an art installation with 350 sculptures of faceless Africans, representing 250 years of slavery and collectively referred to as “The Ancestors.”

I’ve always loved books. They take me places, real and imaginary, physical and emotional, and resonate with meaning and emotion.

It took too many years for me to realize art does the same thing as literature. Now I’m doing my best to make up for that lost time.

“The Cotton Bowl” by Hank Willis Thomas critiques the exploitation of Black athletes by likening them to slaves forced to work on cotton plantations. (via

What I’ve learned from dogs

By Eric Scharf

The internet is full of paeans to dogs. This is not one of those. Well, maybe it is, but mostly this is about me; more specifically, about what I’ve learned from dogs. I’ve been fortunate to have three fine dogs in my life over the last 35 years. And each one of them taught me many lessons.

My first dog, Suki, taught me a couple of lessons that, in retrospect, should have been obvious. Respect only exists if it’s earned, and sometimes, another’s “stupidity” is a reflection. We adopted Suki as an eight-week-old puppy. She was half Golden Retriever and half Labrador. She was the cutest thing I’d ever seen. And until she was almost three years old, that damned dog refused to come when she was called or do most of the other things I asked of her.

I was sure she was just stupid and obstinate. She was neither. I, on the other hand, was both, with a dash of “selfish” thrown in. I learned this studying for an exam that had nothing to do with dogs in general, or Suki in particular.

For ten days in February 1991, I holed up in our den, studying for the California bar exam. I barely left that room for those ten days. And the entire time, Suki laid at my feet and hardly moved. I passed the bar, and almost as importantly, that stupid and obstinate dog transformed herself into an obedient animal who walked at my side without a leash and was sensitive to my moods and needs.

All that dog had needed was my time, and I was too self-absorbed to realize it, until I gave it to her by accident.

Suki, whose big heart forgave Eric’s mistakes.

Suki taught me another lesson that we all learn: loss is brutal. Suki died when she was 16. I was still fairly young, and hadn’t yet suffered such a catastrophic loss in my life. I was not prepared for the immediacy and the visceral grief when the vet administered the euthanasia and I watched her draw her last breath. Even today, twenty years later, I can still feel it.

After Suki, Phoebe arrived at our house. Phoebe was half White Shepherd and half Golden Retriever. Phoebe taught me about grace and joy. Phoebe reaped the benefit of the lessons that Suki taught me. I gave her what she needed of me, and she returned the favor tenfold.

I had never seen pure, unalloyed joy like that dog displayed when she ran figure eights in her favorite field. Our whole family would go, watch and laugh. The more we laughed, the more she ran. I am certain she knew that we shared her happiness in the moment. People are not great at savoring the moment. Dogs, on the other hand, live only in the moment. And just a little bit, Phoebe helped me learn to savor the here-and-now, when I would otherwise have been worrying about tomorrow.

Phoebe also taught our daughter a powerful lesson about love, or the lack thereof. Phoebe started life as our daughter’s dog. As they both got older, the tween became a full-fledged teenager, with a very busy social life. “Her” dog, became Mom and Dad’s dog, because she didn’t have time for Phoebe. When our daughter went to college, she didn’t give Phoebe a second thought.

When she returned from college the first time, Phoebe repaid the favor. That dog absolutely ignored the girl whose bed she once shared; gave her the complete cold shoulder. When Ari asked what was wrong with Phoebe, we replied that it wasn’t Phoebe that had the problem. Right then and there, Ari learned that you never take love for granted, and that it is not free; its price is time and attention.

The final lesson that Phoebe taught me was how awful dread can be. Phoebe lived a good, long, life. She was healthy until the final few months. But several years before she died, she, like me now, started to lose a step, and occasionally stumble. The first time I saw her stumble, I was chilled to my marrow, because I knew what would eventually come to pass, and I started missing her, even though she wasn’t gone. And as those stumbles increased, and her gait slowed, dread became a reminder of where she, and me, were heading.

After we lost Phoebe, Alli came into our lives. I, and Susan, my wife, were certain we knew how to raise a puppy, having now done it twice. Alli taught us you don’t know what you think you do.

Alli is a Carolina Dog. Carolina Dogs still live in the wild, in packs, largely in the southern United States. Alli’s mother was a wild dog – so wild that she had to be destroyed, because she could not be around people. Our other dogs had imprinted on their DNA thousands of years of living with people. Alli had none of that; she was a little wild animal with a strong streak of Alpha. Not a single thing we tried worked with her. Pooping in the house was just good fun, as was eating my favorite bike shorts, eyeglasses, underwear . . . .

I hated that dog every day until she was eight months old. I dreaded the thought of spending the next fifteen years with her. I was sure she had to “go to the farm” because she was just impossible. And then, it all just stopped. To this day, we have no idea why. It is a complete mystery. The Wild Child, over night, became the Chill Girl. I thought I knew how to raise Alli. I thought I would hate her forever. I was wrong about both, and she taught me not to be so certain about anything.

The other thing that Alli taught me is that leashes work in both directions. I am absolutely bonded to that dog I once hated. I feel her pull when she needs something of me. It’s not physical, but it feels like it is. The other thing this mysterious dog reminded me of is that life in general is filled with the unknown. Because she is from wild stock, she senses the world differently than our other dogs did; she is more “in the world” than they were – attuned to things I cannot begin to notice. And because I respect her, I try to listen when she lets me know I need to be aware.

As I think about it, I’m pretty sure that all three of these special girls taught me the same lesson repeatedly, because I’m a slow learner. To paraphrase Lin-Manuel Miranda: Think less, feel more. Dogs don’t so much think about the world, as feel it. That’s why they experience pure joy so often and are such good companions.

I lived in Washington, D.C with two of these dogs. And I learned that Harry Truman was right – if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. I did. And I did.


Eric Scharf and his wife, Susan, are retired and live in Portland with Alli, their Carolina Dog, aka Queen of the Tabor Dog Park. Before they retired and moved to Portland, they lived in the Washington, D.C. area, where they raised their daughter, Ariel. Susan is a native Oregonian who was returning home. Eric is a born-and-raised New York carpetbagger who’s also lived in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. He’s fortunate to have had three wonderful dogs in his life since 1988.

Ambition and faith collide during a play about basketball and Ramadan

Victoria Alvarez-Chacon plays Coach and Jessica Damoudi plays college basketball star Khady Salama in “American Fast.” (Credit: Artists Repertory Theatre)

While millions of sports fans hunkered down to watch two NFL playoff games Sunday, I took a different path: I literally went underground to watch a fascinating play centered on women’s basketball but about so much more in the life of a young Muslim American athlete.

Yesterday’s matinee performance of “American Fast” capped a nearly month-long run presented by Artists Repertory Theatre in a small intimate theater housed in the basement of an historic building just north of downtown Portland.

How small? When the lights went up, I was barely five feet away from the lead actress, as if I were sitting courtside in my front-row seat.

How intimate? There were four rows on each side of the “stage” — a long, narrow rectangular space with a basketball hoop at one end and a blank wall at the other that variously transformed into an imaginary apartment, a table for two at a bar, and the exterior of a college gymnasium.

Happily, most of the drama happened at my end of the floor. And what a story it was, touching on issues of ambition, faith, race, romance and sexism, as well as honesty, self-identity, representation and mother-daughter relationships.

The story revolves around Khady (sounds like Katie) Salama, a star basketball player who envisions leading her college team to the national championship during the March Madness tournament and then going on to a lucrative professional career.

She is confident and brash, fully expecting her speed and scoring ability on the court will make her dreams come true.

Ah, but the approach of Ramadan clashes with the tournament schedule meaning that she, as a Muslim, is expected to abstain from food and drink during daylight hours during a month of fasting.

This dilemma sets up three conflicts — between Khady and her mother, who expects her to honor their faith’s tradition; between Khady and her female coach, who expects her not to fast in order to be at her best during the games; and between Khady and her college boyfriend, Gabe, who’s on the men’s basketball team and also expects to turn pro. Gabe grew up in an African American household that embraced Islam but turned away from it as a young adult, and similarly wants Khady to be honest with her mother, her coach and, above all, herself.

Anthony Michael Shepard (Gabe) and Jessica Damoudi (Khady) confide in each other as college basketball stars who also happen to be Muslim. (Credit: Artists Repertory Theatre)

The 90-minute production features just these four actors, all of color, and led by Jessica Damouni, a native Australian who is of Lebanese-Palestinian heritage. The playwright, Kareem Fahdy, is Canadian-born and of Egyptian descent. and the director, Chip Miller, is African American. Very cool.

Khady’s hoop dreams are further complicated when her coach, at a pre-tournament press conference, introduces her as Khadijah Salama and a role model for young Muslim women everywhere. No one but her mom calls her Khadijah, but Khady goes with the flow, thrilled by the press coverage and social media attention from around the world.

No one takes a single shot at the hoop during the play, Instead, the basketball sequences call on Khady to charge up and down the court, conveying speed, agility, intensity, exhaustion and exhilaration. Those bursts of action follow along the real-world March Madness format as the tournament teams get whittled down to 16, 8, 4 and finally 2 for the championship game.

Damouni displays a range of emotions — cockiness, resentment, determination, self-doubt — as she interacts with her mother, coach and boyfriend on matters involving her celebrity, her commitment (or not) to fasting, her willingness (or not) to be a good teammate or a trustworthy girlfriend.

All these things are amplified by her Muslim identity. Khady would like to be known as just a great baller, but everything changes when she is presented as Khadijah. Predictably, she sees the dark side of social media as the championship game approaches. A viral video after a drinking binge exposes her as a liar, who’s broken her fast, and she’s assaulted with vulgar comments from racist fans and expressions of disappointment from those who had seen her as an inspiration.

Dré Slaman, as the deeply religious Suzan, expresses disappointment with her daughter, Khady, played by Jessica Damoudi. (Credit: Artists Repertory Theatre)

There are humorous and touching moments throughout, most coming in scenes between Khady and Suzan, her widowed mother, as they navigate their relationship in the midst of this conflict between March Madness and Ramadan. Dré Slaman, a Portland actor making her Artists Rep debut, is outstanding as Suzan, as is Victoria Alvarez-Chacon, who plays Coach. Anthony Michael Shepard rounds out the cast as Gabe.

I thoroughly enjoyed this play and I wish I could urge others to see it. Unfortunately for those in the Portland area, the production is moving to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Bloomington, Indiana, in the coming months, as part of a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere production. How cool that I got to see it in Oregon.

Read the Portland Tribune’s review here: ‘American Fast’: Jessica Damouni’s performance nothing but net

Rudy’s beanie

By Lori Rauh Rede

It’s a small room. But it’s big on the happenings in our daily lives.

A photo gallery. A big-screen television. My cello. My music stand.

There are shelves on two walls adorned with many books.

On another wall, next to a framed poster, hangs a well-worn, green-and-yellow felt beanie — for me, the most valued of items in the room.

When I focus on the beanie, a nearly 100-year-old family artifact, it takes me back to the keen memories of my childhood.

I remember rocking my crib across the linoleum floor of my bedroom, often to the point of blocking the door to the room.

As a little girl, almost every weekend morning, I would jump into my parents’ bed, take one of my mom’s hairclips and wind in it a thin strand of hair on my dad’s balding head.

Being 10 years younger than one brother and 7 years younger than the other, I often felt like an only child.

Oh, but it had its rewards.


My dad, Rudolph “Rudy” Rauh, was an accountant by profession and a handyman on the side. I guess you could say he utilized both sides of his brain.

He always wore the beanie when he worked in his shop of our San Francisco home. I suppose it was to keep all of the sawdust off of his head.

The beanie was special to Dad. He acquired it as a student at USF (University of San Francisco) in the early 1930s when he was 21, just a few years prior to marrying my mom. The university’s colors were green and yellow. Dad was proud of his college degree, as the only one of four children born to European immigrant parents to attain this honor.

Rudy, the college graduate.

In his workshop, I whiled away many an hour curious, observing how things worked, mechanically speaking. He let me use the vise grip, the soldering gun, the staple gun. He taught me how to properly drive a nail and to saw. The table saw was off limits.

I was his “go to” for any nail, screw or bolt. They were all carefully stored in baby food jars, affixed to a panel on his workbench.

His lessons were of great value and the bonus was that I got to spend more time with him.

For much of my life I have been told (to which I agree) I look like my mom, talk like her, laugh like her, gesture like her. But as I age, my life experiences tell me that I am much like my dad.

Rudy was an excellent golfer in addition to being a skilled handyman.

Dad was a planner, an organizer and a fixer. Stubborn and headstrong, yes. He had a rough exterior and a warm heart.

When he died in 1992, I was grateful to inherit this one cherished item. In this small room with plain white walls, that little beanie provides a splash of color and a reminder of a life well-lived.


Lori Rauh Rede is a retired personal trainer and a native San Franciscan. She took up cello upon her retirement; loves gardening, reading, spending time with her dog, her three grandchildren and friends.

Bonding with a newborn

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting my grandson, Wesley, a warm little bundle of perfection who came into the world two weeks ago today.

He arrived in the wee hours of December 29th, two days after my birthday and two days before his daddy’s. Since he and his mama went home from the hospital, it’s been a period of adjustment for everyone as parents, sister and grandparents all make room in their lives for the little guy.

Lori had flown down to southern Oregon on the 28th, ahead of our daughter-in-law’s scheduled C-section on the 30th, to take care of granddaughter Emalyn so that the new parents could focus on their son. I couldn’t get away to join everyone until this past Saturday, but when I did, I happily joined in to the family bonding experience.

There’s nothing like holding an infant, with that new-baby smell and doll-like body, to make you appreciate the miracle of life. Wesley had his eyes closed most of the time he was in my arms. I lightly touched his downy head, watched the rise and fall of his little chest, and noticed how small his delicate fingers were next to my thumb.

A newborn’s hand.

Yes, I was bonding with my grandson, knowing this little three-day visit would have to do until Lori and I are able to visit again during the spring.

But I was also very aware that bonding was going on all around me.

Most obviously, between mother and child, after Jamie had carried him all these months; between father and child, as Jordan’s face was filled with paternal pride; and between husband and wife, who’ve been married now for 13 years.

Also, between big sister Emmy and her little brother, and the whole new family of four.

And there was still more. Think of the bonds being built between Wesley and each set of grandparents, individually and as couples. Think, too, of the reinforced bonds between Emmy and Noni Lori, who hung out with each other for 12 days, and between Emmy and me, her Papa George.

As Lori said on her own Facebook wall:

Love playing on the farm, cuddling my gorgeous new grandson and playing make believe with my granddaughter.

Life is grand.

And, in all honesty, I hated to leave. A few tears when I had to leave this time.

As many of you know, family means so very much.

Yes, it does. Those bonds are built in the small moments: sharing a meal around the table, laughing at each other’s corny jokes, feeding the chickens, rising early to walk a precocious first-grader to her school bus stop.

We drove home Tuesday, both of us thankful that Jamie and Jordan moved back to Oregon early last year. Had they remained in New York, it would have meant flying across the country to meet Wesley, and would have been a wholly different birth experience for the new parents, without family nearby.

As it is, Jordan has to return next week to Ithaca to continue his Ph.D studies at Cornell, and likely won’t see his family again until late spring or early summer. Thank goodness he’s been able to be home since before Thanksgiving to celebrate the holidays and his birthday, as well as the arrival of his son.

Wesley’s just 14 days old and weighs about 8 pounds as I write this. Next time we see our grandson, I expect we’ll see a wide-eyed, smiling little boy.


No visit to southern Oregon would be complete without a few pictures of the ranch life. Enjoy the slideshow.