Back to the beach

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Lori, George and our feisty Charlotte.

The Oregon Coast is a wonderful place to visit, no matter the time of year. When you can enjoy it in the company of long-time friends, the experience is all the sweeter.

Last weekend, Lori and I broke away for a couple of nights to spend with four folks we’ve known for four decades. (Hmmm, that doesn’t make us old, does it? Nah! Just well-acquainted.)

I’m talking about Tom and Elsa Guiney and Brian and Gayle McCay. All six of us attended San Jose State University. The three ladies were roommates, and all five were friends before I came onto the scene as a college senior.

Tom and Elsa split their time between Portland and their beach house south of Tillamook. The McCays live in suburban Boston and carved out time to spend with us during a days-long visit that included stops in Washington and Oregon. All three couples have been married 40-plus years.

Lori and I hadn’t been to the beach since July, so it was nice to get out of the metro area. Just driving to the coast with the fall leaves turning yellow and red, and passing through a string of small towns along Highway 101, puts me in a good frame of mind.

Once we arrived, it was nothing but R&R.

We took a short hike in the neighborhood one afternoon and a couple longer walks on the beach the next two mornings, with our dogs romping alongside. We mostly hung out at the Guineys’ place, watched two World Series games (Brian and Gayle are big Red Sox fans), played a board game, and ate well, thanks to Lori’s homemade lasagna.

We split up on Saturday, with the ladies doing some shopping and us guys shooting some pool, and shared a lovely dinner in Pacific City that evening.

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Sunday morning came too soon. It’s always fun to be around friends who know you well and whose generosity comes from a deep place.

Can’t wait for our next beach trip.

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Charlotte at the edge of the continent.

 

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A trio of terriers and one red dog

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It’s treat time at the dog park and these three are ready to snack. From left: Penny, Charlotte and Coco.

They are three lovable rascals named Coco, Penny and Charlotte. All three are a terrier mix of some kind. All three are female. All three are rescue dogs. And along with their buddy, a handsome male Shiba Inu named Yukai, they are the reason why Lori and I met up with their owners for a potluck in the park on Sunday evening.

More precisely, we were at the elementary school in our Northeast Portland neighborhood where our four dogs formed a canine friendship that has transferred over to us humans. We come from the South, the Midwest, the West Coast and Western Europe. We represent three generations. We are two married couples and two single people.

Yes, we are all dog people. But we wouldn’t have become friends so quickly — or maybe  even at all — were it not for our “girls” and Yukai.

***

There’s a small athletic field where the three terriers have been romping around on the emerald-green grass for the past six months or so, rolling and tumbling and chasing each other as if they had known each other all their lives. Yukai, meanwhile, stays on his long leash, acting as something of a sergeant-at-arms should any visiting dog get too rowdy.

Seeing them play never fails to bring a smile. No matter what kind of day we’ve had, we know we can take pleasure in seeing these creatures greet each other and tear across the field. Makes any personal stresses melt away.

What’s remarkable is how they’ve spurred a friendship among six people who could not be more different as individuals.

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Dog people, from left: Arturo and Lindsey with Penny; George R., Laura, Lori with Charlotte, and George W.

There’s George W., owner of Coco. He’s a mid-40s public engagement specialist for a regional government agency, Raised in Arkansas and educated at Harvard, George is gregarious, well-traveled and an “11” on a friendliness scale of 1-to-10.

There’s Lindsey and Arturo, owners of Penny. They are a married couple in their early 30s. Lindsey is from Orange County, California, and works for a vacation rentals company, often taking Penny to work with her. Arturo works for Nike and comes from Barcelona, Spain, where he and Lindsey met when she was a study-abroad student. The two complement each other well with their warm personalities.

There’s Lori and I, owners of Charlotte. We grew up in San Francisco and its suburbs, respectively.

And there’s Laura, about the same age as Lori and me, who is the owner of 11-year-old Yukai. She’s originally from Minnesota and also works for Nike as a consultant. Laura is direct, assertive and witty. She walks the neighborhood streets with her red dog and two cats. It’s quite the sight, with the two felines trailing behind and occasionally taking cover behind a bush or plant.

George adopted Coco last November. Lindsey and Arturo adopted Penny in January. We’ve had Charlotte for four years and Laura has had Yukai for twice as long.

***

The reason for the potluck?

Lindsey and Arturo are leaving their apartment, located across the street from the school, and are moving to a house they bought in Southwest Portland. We’re all happy to see them buy their first home, but sad to know we won’t see them as often. They’ve promised to visit from time to time.

We wanted to send them off with a casual gathering and so we did it Sunday. The dogs were well behaved when they weren’t fully occupied with each other and Yukai kept a regal eye on things. The food was delicious. Laura brought enough banana bread that we could share a slice with a few others who came later — a couple whose Australian Shepherd is another regular at the park and an 8-year-old girl who’s won our hearts as someone who adores each of our pets.

She’s Katie. She lives near the school and she visits often, with her younger brother or her best friend, and frequently joins us in a seated circle on the lawn. She knows all of her our names, she throws balls for the dogs, and keeps up to date on school and her other activities.

Her brother Alex and mother, Jo, showed up last night, too. Jo has had a plot in the same school/community garden as Lori, so we’ve met her before.

As we enjoyed the perfect weather and tasty meal, we all agreed how serendipitous it was that just the right circumstances brought us together. All of us were looking for a place to exercise our dogs. We found it and much more: a community of dog owners who’ve transcended generational differences to find friendship.

There’s no doubt we owe it to Coco, Penny and Charlotte — and Yukai.

Previously on this blog: Charlotte’s playground

Reconnecting with Lydia

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Lydia Ramos, flashing her familiar smile.

This past weekend brought one of those moments that provide perspective on professional relationships that evolve into enduring friendships. The best of these cross generational lines, aren’t affected by time and distance, and leave us grateful for the connections made years earlier.

If that sounds rather vague, let me pivot to the specifics.

Last week, my friend Lydia Ramos, a former journalist, let me know she’d be coming up from L.A. to visit a cousin who lives in the Portland suburbs. Could we meet for coffee?

Of course we could. On Saturday morning, we grabbed a table at a favorite neighborhood spot and caught up over two hours of great conversation.

We hadn’t seen each other in about five years — not since we both left the board of trustees of Quill and Scroll, a nonprofit organization that supports high school journalists. For several years, we connected every October at the board’s annual meeting at the University of Iowa.

We touched on Lydia’s recent marriage and latest career moves and I offered a quick update of my own, covering work, travel, family and plans for the future. It was only toward the end of our talk, when the table was cleared, that it dawned on us we’ve known each other for 30 years.

Lydia was a freshman at the University of Southern California when she showed up at an internship and job fair that I was attending as a representative of The Oregonian. Freshmen weren’t supposed to attend, but that didn’t stop Lydia. We saw each other at subsequent job fairs; and though she never came to work at The Oregonian, that didn’t stop us from forming a mutual respect and staying in touch as both our careers progressed.

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George and Lydia at Costello’s Travel Caffe. Go, Ducks (and Trojans)!

Lydia became a reporter at the Los Angeles Times, then a producer for NBC News. She returned to the classroom as a high school English teacher and journalism adviser at her alma mater in Los Angeles, and that’s where she was working when I recruited her to join the Quill & Scroll board.

She caught the eye of the higher-ups who run the L.A. public schools and rose through the ranks, starting as a district spokesperson and rising to director of communications and media relations. In between, she was a special assistant to the superintendent, then took on a similar role as a senior adviser to the head of Boston Public Schools when that district hired as its leader someone she’d worked with in L.A.

I’m skipping over some of details here, but Lydia also completed a leadership development program at Harvard Business School, which explains why she was in striking distance for the Boston schools. Back home in California, she’s launched a communications consulting business focused on executive coaching, communications and leadership development.

At each and every step, Lydia has been a fierce advocate for equity and inclusion. I share those values and admire how she’s been able to embed them so fully into her work and that of the organizations she’s worked for.

For all these achievements, I’ve never seen Lydia as happy as she is now as a newlywed. She and her spouse, Lauren, also a former journalist and L.A.U.S.D. communications specialist, are making their house a home in Long Beach, thanks in large part to Lauren’s amazing carpentry skills. (Believe me, I’ve seen the photos.)

As we toggled back and forth between the past and present, it was fun recalling our mutual acquaintances, our shared interests (Lydia’s a big-time Dodgers fan) and how we teamed up throughout the years.

  • When I was doing some post-riot reporting after a jury acquitted four LAPD officers of using excessive force in the arrest and beating of Rodney King, it was Lydia I turned to for help with community contacts and Spanish translation skills. (She’s fluent; I’m not.)
  • Years later, she joined me on a career development panel at a National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention.
  • I recruited her to participate as a guest blogger in my annual Voices of August project. She wrote a lovely piece that you can read here: “Confessions of a dog mom”
  • We even ran into each other, quite randomly, at a minor league baseball game in Portland one summer. I was hanging out with a group of summer interns at The Oregonian when we spotted each other. She was in the area because she was visiting that same cousin I referenced earlier.
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Princeton and Lydia

Three decades after we met, young Lydia Ramos has become Lydia Ramos-Mendoza, a mature, accomplished professional and a new bride. We’ve both left journalism and have entered new phases, she as a communications consultant and me as a college instructor and new grandparent.

In the 10 years-plus that I worked as a recruiter for The Oregonian, there was nothing I loved more than meeting bright young people with skills, ambition and, most important, good character. Lydia embodies all of these. How fortunate I am to count her among my friends.

Timberrrrs!!

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With handmade banners, incessant drumming and non-stop cheering, the Timbers Army section is as much a focal point as the game itself.

In all my years living here, somehow it took until last night to finally attend a Portland Timbers soccer match.

The experience was all I expected. Fans of all ages decked out in green-and-gold Timbers gear; a rowdy Timbers Army section that led the stadium in a non-stop stream of songs, chants and occasional profanities; and great action on the pitch.

Before the game, you could enjoy traditional Irish bagpipe music and, a few feet away, be amused by a Bible thumper who evidently thought it would be a good idea to proselytize outside the entrance to Providence Park. (Dude, these folks were headed to a sports event, not church.)

Even with long lines for food and drink and even longer lines to the bathroom, the whole atmosphere was upbeat, and I felt a nice buzz in this place that calls itself “Soccer City USA.”

On the field, the Timbers were dominant from start to finish against their regional arch-rival, the Seattle Sounders. They took far more shots on goal, had far more corner kicks, controlled possession of the ball — and still lost.

The Sounders, focused on defense all night and committing lots of fouls, squeaked out a 1-0 win when a ball deflected off the heel of a Timber defender and found the net late in the game. That “own goal” added to Portland’s losing streak, which now sits at four games.

It’s a shame because the Timbers thoroughly outplayed their opponents. All evening, I could sense the pent-up energy, knowing we were one play away from the entire stadium erupting in celebration. But a goal by the home team never came.

In all my years in Portland, I’ve seen the Trail Blazers, Winterhawks, Ducks, Beavers, Pilots and Thorns. And now, thanks to my friend and former co-worker Mike Francis, I can add the Timbers to that list.

***

Mike and I go way back in journalism. Way back as in to the late ’70s, when I was a young reporter at The Bulletin in Bend, Oregon, and Mike was a sports intern. We both wound up at The Oregonian, we both left the newspaper business, and now we’re both working in higher education.

Mike’s just begun a job as assistant director of communications at Pacific University in Forest Grove while I’m teaching undergraduate courses at two campuses in the Portland area.

We’ve always shared a love of baseball, but lucky for me that Mike is a big soccer fan, too. He provided a ticket and a game-day scarf along with running commentary that helped me sort out the players and understand much of what I was seeing, including a nice tradition of waving your scarf during the National Anthem.

I plan to repay the favor at a Blazers game this season. It’s a different fan experience, for sure, one that’s curated by the franchise itself as opposed to the fan-driven spectacle created by the Timbers Army.  Very cool to be part of the latter, even if just for one night.

Upstate New York: Too good to be true?

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Emalyn gets a ride atop Daddy’s shoulders on a tour of the Cornell University campus.

Sometimes you’ve just gotta pinch yourself. Twice.

Two weeks ago, Lori and I packed our bags and flew out to Syracuse in Upstate New York with a final destination of Ithaca, a college town more than an hour’s drive away. We were headed there to help Jordan, Jamie and Emalyn move into their new home, a rustic rental on a rural property about 18 miles south of Ithaca.

We were blown away.

As first-time visitors to this area, we were dazzled by the beauty of the Finger Lakes region, four hours north and west of New York City. With endless greenery, gently rolling hills and charming villages strung out like pearls along two-lane state highways, the landscape compared favorably to anything we’ve seen in western Oregon.

And when we toured Cornell University, the Ivy League school where Jordan embarked this week on a Ph.D in microbiology, we were mightily impressed by the history, architecture and physical layout of the hilltop campus. Jordan’s pursuit of a doctoral degree will take five years, maybe even six.

As Lori and I looked out across campus toward Cayuga Lake and the forest-green surroundings, we could only shake our heads and marvel at the situation. After seeing our son and daughter-in-law endure what they did the past few years as they struggled to manage school, work and parenthood, along with a temporary move to the Midwest, here they were — in an idyllic location and at one of the world’s leading universities.

***

A year earlier, following Jordan’s graduation from tiny St. Martin’s University, they had moved from Spanaway, Washington, a working-class town that’s home to a lot of military families, to Columbia, Missouri. There, during a fellowship at the University of Missouri, Jordan gained valuable experience in a science research lab that he hoped would make him a stronger candidate for graduate school.

His efforts paid off.

Jordan was offered a teaching assistant position in the Ph.D program he most coveted. He had also been courted by Dartmouth, Penn State, Emory and the University of Michigan. This week, he began his graduate studies and TA responsibilities, working with a single professor. He will rotate through several labs in the coming years to help narrow his focus of study within the field of microbiology.

Meanwhile, Jamie began settling in as a stay-at-home mom, raising their 2-year-old daughter in a setting almost too good to be true. They are living in a farmhouse on about 70 acres just outside the village of Spencer. Their landlady occupies one half of the structure; Jamie, Jordan and Emmy occupy the other half. They have two bedrooms, a  woodstove to heat the main living area and a loft, and a spectacular view from their kitchen window.

They look out to a huge garden and a barn, where their landlady raises sheep, and have access to a grassy area that leads into the woods and a small creek with a waterfall. The place is set way back from the road, so it is quiet and pitch-black at night.

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This area of New York gets frigid weather during the winter, so undoubtedly it will be a snow-white landscape for several months. In between now and then, they will enjoy a classic New England-style fall with deciduous trees exploding in red-and-gold colors.

We couldn’t be happier for these two and our granddaughter.

When I last wrote about this young family, it was early June. They had just left Missouri and were driving back to the West Coast to spend a couple months in Southern Oregon living near Jamie’s parents. That was a nice break for them. They got to spend time with family and celebrate two milestones with them: Emmy’s 2nd birthday and the wedding of Jamie’s younger sister.

Jordan got to do some fishing with his father-in-law and brother-in-law and Emmy got to enjoy a taste of the life Jamie had growing up, being around baby chicks and other farm animals, and riding a horse (with some helping hands, of course).

They came up to Portland the first weekend in August and we had a chance to see them together with brother Nathan and sister Simone and their wives before they hit the road for the nearly 3,000-mile trip to Ithaca, accompanied by their dog and cat.

***

A few days later, we flew out to meet them to help unpack three U-Haul pods that had been delivered to the rental property. When we left six days later, everything had been moved in and most boxes put away, but there was still much left to do in the Decorative Touches Department to make their house a home. Jamie was well on her way to making it so, with some help from Lori.

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Ithaca, population 30,000, is in central New York, about 60 miles south of Syracuse and 230 miles northwest of NYC, which doesn’t appear on this map.

With moving in as the No. 1, priority, we didn’t make time on this trip to do any sightseeing, though the Finger Lakes region is known for its lakes, parks and waterfalls and has a thriving wine-making industry. We went into Ithaca just once, long enough to see a charming downtown with historic buildings and a pedestrian mall with a huge variety of shops and ethnic restaurants. The city is quite hilly — think a smaller version of Seattle and San Francisco — and in the midst of it all is Cornell.

We began our visit at the Cornell Dairy Bar, which has been making fresh ice cream, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products there at the school since 1880. The Microbiology Department is right next door in Wing Hall, where a historic photo hanging in the lobby showed polo matches taking place on the grounds out front. Those have been developed since then into a parking lot (of course) and a track and field facility.

Walking toward central campus, we were amazed at the colorful flora and fauna that provide a sharp contrast to the muted browns and grays that typify most higher education buildings. We joined students and other visitors in photographing the many classic structures on campus, many of them dating back to the late 19th Century.

Quick aside: Cornell was established in 1865 as a land-grant university focusing on science and agriculture (think Oregon State University) and later became a private research institution, as well. Today Cornell is home to about 15,000 undergraduates, 5,600 graduate students and 2,500 professional students, owing to its medical schools in New York City and Qatar, in the Middle East.

Co-founder Ezra Cornell, a carpenter and a mechanic who later made a fortune in the telegraph business, famously said, “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.”

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When I think back to the path our son has traveled, I pinch myself. This is the kid who, at 18, dropped out of college a few weeks into his first semester, leaving a four-year, full-ride ROTC scholarship on the table because he’d had his fill of being in a classroom.

A few terms at a local community college, a part-time job making sandwiches and a lot of time playing video games occupied him until he turned 21, when he enlisted in the Army as an infantryman. He did a four-year hitch, including a year’s deployment in Afghanistan, and lived with Jamie at bases in El Paso, Texas, and just outside Tacoma, Washington.

During that time, something clicked. Upon completing his military service, he went to school on the G.I. Bill and graduated in four years, with honors, with a degree in biology. That meant four years of commuting, including one as a new dad, thanks to Emalyn’s arrival in July 2016, just before he began his senior year.

Then came Missouri. And now Cornell. At age 30, Jordan is more than ready for the next chapter in his academic career and we are excited to see where this late bloomer’s journey takes him.

Map: http://www.ntep.org/states/ny.htm

Media Literacy in London: A round of thanks

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After a farewell dinner in London’s Chinatown, my students and I strike a pose. From left: George, Samantha, R.H. (in the white hat), Rachel and Anna. Not pictured: Ella and Yohana.

It’s been just three short weeks since I flew home from London and the most fun, most densely packed two weeks I’ve ever spent as a college instructor.

It was a wonderful experience in every respect — academically, culturally, socially and personally.  From July 15 to July 30, my students and I packed in eight field trips, four guest speakers, one bus tour, one guided walk, one river cruise, one panel discussion and four group dinners.

In my free time, I visited four museums, visited two parks and two outdoor markets, caught some live music, saw an Agatha Christie play and took a weekend train trip to Oxford.

I still intend to share selected stories and photos in the coming weeks. But for now, I guess it’s time to put a bow on this package and move on to other things.

After all, I just started teaching a new class at Washington State University Vancouver this week. And next month I’ll resume teaching at Portland State University and continue with my internship coordinator duties in the Department of Communication.

ICYMI. Here is a link to my Instagram photos from the trip: https://www.instagram.com/georgerede/

But before moving forward, I want to look back and offer some fist bumps and high-fives to several people who made my London experience possible.

Jen Hamlow, Director of Portland State’s Education Abroad program. Jen is the one who approached me last fall and encouraged me to submit a proposal to teach internationally — something that had never entered my mind.

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Hannah Fischer, left, and Jen Hamlow were instrumental in getting me to London.

Hannah Fischer, Faculty-Led Program Coordinator in the Ed Abroad office. Hannah worked with me closely to give shape to my proposal, giving stellar advice on program content, budgeting issues and marketing the program to prospective students. Because she was in London on other program business, we were able to meet in London for a program debrief over a pint.

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Jeffrey Robinson

Jeffrey Robinson, Chair of the Communication Department, approved the syllabus and tentative weekly schedule I developed to make the summer class a distinctly different course from the one I normally teach at PSU. Essentially, the challenge was to devise a course using London as the classroom.

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Darin Smith-Gaddis

Darin Smith-Gaddis, Institutional Relations Manager at CAPA The Global Education Network. That’s a mouthful, for sure. What it boils down to is that Darin was a source of encouragement and an advocate for me with his employer, CAPA, a Boston-based organization that partners with higher education institutions on international study programs.

I met Darin when he came up from his office in Los Angeles to attend a symposium on Faculty-Led Programs in April. He put me at ease about my concerns regarding student recruitment and also did a presentation for my students on preparing for London.

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Zion Griffin

Zion Griffin, Program Manager in CAPA’s Boston office. Zion was my primary contact in the home office, serving as a liaison between CAPA staff and those of us on the PSU end — Hannah, myself and my students. He emailed critical, timely information and stayed in touch during and after the program.

Sheriden Kuech, Program and Student Services Manager at CAPA’s London office. Sheriden was indispensable as my chief support in the U.K. She not only answered my newbie questions and tended to my program needs, she also handled the logistics involving guest speakers, field trips, ground transportation, group meals and excursions. In addition, she joined us at a traditional afternoon tea to welcome us and hosted a farewell dinner in London’s Chinatown on the last day of the program. It was a pleasure to work with her and hear her Australian accent.

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Sheriden Kuech and me in Chinatown.

My students. Initially, I’d planned to enroll 8 to 10 students and was feeling pretty good about those numbers, based on the time and effort that went into marketing the course on two campuses. In the end, there were 6 — five from PSU and one from WSU — and it turned out to be an ideal number.

They were a curious and adaptable group, and I was delighted to see the bonds of friendship form over the course of the program. None of them nor I had been to London before, so it was nice to experience the newness together. They marveled at seeing the historical landmarks and tourist attractions. They learned how to ride the Tube efficiently and explored the city apart from me, which was just fine.

In class, they were attentive, curious and full of questions for our guest speakers. At site visits, they were well-mannered and inquisitive. During group debriefings after every activity, they offered their individual takes and listened to each other with respect. In their post-trip papers, they reflected on much they had grown intellectually and personally by expanding their knowledge of British and US media; adjusting to a foreign culture; and appreciating the cultural diversity and social inclusivity they saw on a daily basis.

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Ella and Yohana on a cruise of the Thames River. Destination: Greenwich.

I could not have asked for a better group than these four women and two men: Anna, Rachel, Ella, Samantha, Yohana and R.H.

Read Anna Nelson’s essay in the WSU VanCougar: “A Cougar Letter From Abroad”

My wife. What can I say? I’m married to a woman whose support and willingness to make accommodations for my absence have been critical to much of what I’ve been able to do as a journalist and now as a college instructor. I know it wasn’t easy for Lori to take care of Charlotte, our little terrier mix, on her own while maintaining her early-morning schedule as a personal trainer.

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Been married to this amazing woman for 43 years next month.

I’m glad she was able to attend the wedding of our youngest son’s sister-in-law, along with the second birthday of our granddaughter Emalyn, while I was gone, though it would have been nice to be with her for both of those occasions.

Circumstances didn’t allow us to consider having Lori join me on this trip. But if this program runs again next summer, I sure hope we can share some of this amazing experience together.

Below: A handful of images from the UK. 

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London stories: Soapbox science

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With a student volunteer at her side, Dr. Haley Mountford leads her audience through a facial recognition exercise.

The esteemed discipline of science has taken quite a battering in the United States on topics ranging from vaccines to climate change. So I was pleasantly surprised to come upon a very cool outdoor educational activity when I was roaming the streets of Oxford on my last weekend in the United Kingdom.

There on a soapbox was a tall, slender woman in a white lab coat imploring us spectators to come closer so we could better hear the presentation she was about to give on facial recognition.

Her name was Dr. Hayley Mountford and she was one of several professors who were participating in the UK’s Soapbox Science, a national initiative to bring science to the masses through a grassroots outreach program.

Eight other scientists, all women, were giving presentations simultaneously in the public square just outside a modern shopping mall.

As a student volunteer flipped through pages of photographs, Dr. Mountford encouraged us to think about which aspects of a person’s face would lead us to recognize that same person in a photograph of them at a younger age. Was it the eyes? Mouth? Nose? Eyebrows? The shape of the head?

She started out with some easily recognizable celebrities, like Beyonce and Justin Bieber, but then moved on to less well known individuals, such as Jordan Pickford, the goalkeeper on England’s World Cup soccer team.

And in a nice show of humor, she showed herself in a grade school portrait.

But then she talked about the science of face recognition and told us of law enforcement professionals who specialize in this sort of thing. They become so skilled that they are able to positively identify crime suspects from those grainy images captured on video cameras in banks, grocery stores and elsewhere.

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Dr. Hayley Mountford laughs at her grade-school portrait.

It was a fun, educational science lesson that lasted 15 minutes and I had two takeaways from the experience.

1. What an ingenious way of engaging the public.

Soapbox Science, now in its 8th year, not only takes science to the people, but it also aims to raise the visibility of women in science.

According to the Soapbox Science web site: “We place inspirational speakers on soapboxes and encourage them to engage in and start conversations with the public about their work.”

2.  How lucky I was to stumble upon this activity.

The organizers scheduled 18 of these events in the UK and Ireland this summer. The only one scheduled in Oxford was Saturday, July 28th, from 1 to 4 pm. That was the day I visited and that three-hour time block was precisely when I happened to walk by. Had I passed by earlier or been in another part of the city, I would have missed this entirely.

I’m wondering now if this soapbox idea might work with other professions or audiences. Could it possibly be a way for journalists to talk about their professional code of ethics? Could it be a way for educators to introduce simple math? Or maybe a way for English as a Second Language instructors to do some show-and-tell with vocabulary?

What are your thoughts?

***

This is the first in an occasional series of blog posts reflecting on my recent teaching and tourism experiences in London. I welcome your feedback on Facebook, but I especially appreciate it when people leave their comments at the end of these posts.  — .G.R.

Mosley & Woodrell

 

As I was packing for my recent trip to London, I wondered if I should even bother bringing along a novel unrelated to my teaching. My mind was focused on the loose ends that still needed tying up before the class began and I didn’t think I’d have time anyway.

Well, I was wrong about that. Turns out I read not one, but two delicious crime novels on the way to and from England.

I’d picked up “Devil in a Blue Dress” by Walter Mosley several months ago. I knew of Mosley’s reputation as a crime noir author and also was aware it had been made into a movie starring Denzel Washington in the role of Easy Rawlins.

It’s 1948 in Los Angeles and Rawlins has just been laid off from his job when he stops in for a drink at a friend’s bar in Watts and lays eyes upon a stranger.

“I was surprised to see a white man walk into Joppy’s bar. It’s not just that he was white but he wore an off-white linen suit and shirt with a Panama straw hat and bone shoes over flashing white silk stocks. His skin was smooth and pale with just a few freckles. one lick of strawberry-blond fair escaped the band on his hat. He stopped in the doorway, filling it with his large frame, and surveyed the room with pale eyes; not a color I’d ever seen in a man’s eyes. When he looked at me I felt a thrill of fear, but that went away quickly because I was used to white people by 1948.”

With that as the opening paragraph, I was hooked.

devil in a blue dress coverEasy agrees to do the white man a favor for a nice chunk of change. Of course, that leads to another favor and then another, with increasing reward and increasing risk. Soon enough, Easy is in deeper than he’d like. But the white man, Mr. Albright, seems to have all the leverage.

The plot revolves around Easy’s search for a blonde, blue-eyed beauty, someone whose whereabouts matter greatly to Mr. Albright’s client. It’s a captivating story, made all the more interesting because the woman, like Albright, sticks out in L.A.’s black community.

Mosley is a first-rate storyteller. His characters run the gamut of the working class and the dialogue crackles in a way that’s reminiscent of Elmore Leonard and Raymond Chandler, yet uniquely his own.

I’ll be reading more of Mosley, for sure. He’s written more than 40 books, including a bestselling series featuring Easy Rawlins. Two thumbs up for “Devil in a Blue Dress.”

***

On a whim, I stopped into a used bookstore in the Notting Hill section of London. I emerged with “Winter’s Bone,” a novel I’d read years earlier. The author is Daniel Woodrell and it’s the book that helped propel him to fame, along with Jennifer Lawrence, who starred in the lead role of teenager Ree Dolly when the novel was made into a movie.

Woodrell has long been one of my favorite authors. I wrote about him several years ago on the original Rough and Rede blog (“The best of Daniel Woodrell”) and had the pleasure of meeting him at Portland’s Wordstock festival.

winters boneI don’t re-read novels, and I can’t explain why I picked up this book again, but I’m glad I did. The story was familiar, but enough years had passed that I’d forgotten some of the details and the brilliance of Woodrell’s prose.

Ree lives in the Missouri Ozarks, part of a multi-generation clan of brawling, feuding, Dollys who are zealously tribal in their distrust of the law and outsiders and prone to keep their loyalties and secrets to themselves. Most of the men have been in and out of prison, and their hardened women marry young, resigned to lives of making babies, and physical and verbal abuse. Oh, and just about every Dolly is doing meth.

With an absent dad, Ree is raising two younger brothers and caring for her mentally ill mother when a sheriff’s deputy stops by one day to let her know they’re about to lose their family home. Seems that Dad put the house up for collateral in order to get out of jail for his latest crime. If he doesn’t show up at his court hearing, the house will be forfeited.

Panicked, Ree has to somehow find her dad — or proof that he’s dead — in order to keep the house. In a family that doesn’t take too kindly too snitches, she turns to her father’s older brother for help.

“Uncle Teardrop was Jessup’s elder and had been a crank chef longer but he’d had a lab go wrong and it had eaten the left ear off his head and burned a savage melted scar down the neck to the middle of his back. There wasn’t enough ear nub remaining to hang sunglasses on. The hair around the ear was gone, too, and the scar on his neck showed above his collar. Three blue teardrops done in jailhouse ink fell in a row from the corner of the eye on his scarred side. Folks said the teardrops meant he’ three times done grisly prison deeds that needed doing but didn’t need to be gabbed about. They said the teardrops told you everything you had to know about the man and the lost ear just repeated it. He generally tried to sit with his melted side to the wall.”

This is the kind of sinister character that populates the novel. And Ree has to hope one of them will gab? Fat chance.

Two thumbs up for “Winter’s Bone.” Loved the book the second time around. Reminded me of why I admire Woodrell’s work.

Photograph of Walter Mosley: huffingtonpost

Photograph of Daniel Woodrell: Little Brown/Bruce Carr 

Voices of August 2018

August-2018-Calendar-Landscape

Voices of August is taking a break this year.

If this were a normal year, I’d already be editing early submissions from friends and family around the country, setting the stage for Year No. 8 of my annual guest blog project.

But this ain’t a normal year.

Tomorrow I leave for London, England, to teach a two-week Communications class. Six Portland-area students will join me as we explore differences in media in the U.S. and the U.K. I will return on July 30, no doubt jet-lagged.

That leaves too little time to get things done before I leave and virtually no time after I get back home.

And even I, so accustomed to multitasking, wouldn’t think of working on VOA while I’m overseas. No, my priority has to be — and will be — my students.

top 10 london guide bookWe’ve got a jam-packed itinerary from July 16 to July 30, including day trips to the BBC and the Houses of Parliament, plus site visits to television and newspaper offices and a public relations agency; guest speakers on assorted topics; and a panel discussion on immigration and women’s issues.

In our free time, there will be no shortage of attractions in a culturally diverse city that rolls all the features of New York, Washington and Hollywood into a single place.

I’ll be sure to write all of it upon my return. In the meantime, keep an eye on Facebook or follow me on Instagram to see an occasional photo or two.

A year from now, I’ll reach out again to a diverse set of contributing writers and we’ll pick up again with Voices of August 2019.

Here’s the VOA 7.0 archive for your reading pleasure. So many wonderful pieces that resonate so strongly a year later.

Kickin’ back at the coast

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Nature in all its beauty. Looking north along the Pacific Coast from a residential street in Manzanita.

Simple pleasures come in all forms. Last weekend was proof that you don’t need much to enjoy yourself.

On Friday, Lori and I headed to Manzanita on the northern Oregon Coast to spend a couple of days and nights visiting our longtime friends, Steve and Kelly Kern. Ours is a friendship that began about 25 years ago, when their oldest child, Matt, and our youngest, Jordan, were classmates in a neighborhood preschool.

The friendship has endured through years of play dates, sleepovers and summer camps; middle school and high school; and, now, that phase when all our kids are grown adults and living in different states.

That shared history makes for a relaxing visit, especially when it’s reinforced by the Kerns’ welcoming vibe and lack of any agenda.

We visited the local farmers market on Friday and had a leisurely walk on the beach Saturday morning. Steve and I did some impromptu crabbing at nearby Nehalem Bay on Saturday afternoon, and we all played a favorite board game (Wits & Wagers) that night.

In between activities, we ate well. Steve and Kelly are vegans, so we had healthy homemade meals. (I was glad to see them make a dietary exception for the fresh-cooked crab that we had Saturday night.)

The night before, another longtime friend and fellow preschool parent, Rebecca Bauer, joined us for dinner following an early-evening walk on the hilly neighborhood streets above the Kerns’ home.

We spent less than 48 hours in Manzanita but the respite felt twice as long.

When you grow accustomed to city life as we have, it’s a pleasant experience to find yourself in a place that’s ultra-quiet and just one short block away from the beach.

Our little dog, Charlotte, came along and enjoyed herself, too. It takes her about two minutes to make herself at home.

We ended our visit with Sunday lunch on an outdoor patio at the historic San Dune Pub, a local institution that made at least one reviewer’s list of 10 Best Bars Outside of Portland. After wolfing down a Po’Boy with Prawns, I concur.

A few images to remember the weekend:

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