From Portland to Kabul to Taoyuan: An intimate memoir

four words from homeIt was only fitting that on my recent trip to Washington, D.C., I found time to finish a marvelous book by my former colleague Angie Chuang.

Fitting in that Angie is a D.C. transplant, having left behind a stellar career as a reporter at The Oregonian and transitioned to full-time teaching of journalism as an associate professor at American University.

Fitting in that I started the book before Lori and I stepped aboard for our cross-country journey and then finished it on the return flight to Portland, wrapping the literary experience around a dinner with Angie, her boyfriend Jeff, and Tracy Jan, another former Oregonian reporter now working in Washington.

Let me tell you, Angie’s book, “The four words from home,” is a marvelous read. And I say that not because she is my friend, but because it is a deeply reported, elegantly written book, characterized by cultural insight, self-examination and stark honesty.

Because I know Angie and her work so well, and because we share the common experience of growing up in ethnic households in the San Francisco Bay Area, reading the book felt intensely intimate, almost as if I were in the same room as she described one experience after another.

“The four words from home” is a memoir of two families, spanning continents and bridging cultures in the years following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

One family is the Shirzais, a family of Afghans and Afghan Americans, some still living in the countryside outside Kabul and others living in Portland, Oregon, as first-generation immigrants.

The other family is the Chuangs, Angie’s mom and dad, first-generation immigrants from Taiwan, raising Angie and her younger brother in the East Bay suburbs.

Angie is the bridge. As a reporter for The Oregonian, she is assigned to “find the human face of the country we’re about to bomb” and winds up traveling to Afghanistan to tell the story of a Portland professor, Daoud Shirzai (a pseudonym), who is the patriarch of a family split by geography and the old and modern ways.

Angie Chuang

Angie Chuang

Along with photojournalist Stephanie Yao Long, Angie spends a couple of weeks with the Shirzais in Kabul and at their ancestral home in rural Shinzmaray, immersing herself in their world as best she can while abiding by cultural traditions that often separate men from women.

It’s a precarious time to visit, given the strong anti-American attitudes among many Afghans spawned by the war. But Angie more than muddles through, thanks to wearing traditional clothing, learning basic Pashto and bringing a reporter’s eye for detail and search for meaning to every situation.

As a male, I especially appreciated the instances where Angie writes about the Shirzai women, both those still living a traditional, encumbered life in Afghanistan as well as the younger ones living modern, less-restricted lives in America. She renders a touching portrait of women bound by love and support for each other and their desires to marry well, no matter if choosing a mate in the traditional way or daring to break custom by going outside the family’s ethnic group.

There are countless comparisons to be made between Portland and Kabul, but the third leg of the stool rests on Angie’s other perspective — that of a Chinese immigrant family striving for success in the San Francisco suburbs yet being torn apart by divorce and mental illness. With compassion and honesty, Angie writes about the breakup of her parents’ marriage and the breakdown of her father’s mental health.

The family tries to maintain a respectable outward appearance as Angie heads off to Stanford and her brother to U.C. Berkeley, but her father loses his job, becomes despondent and increasingly displays erratic, angry behavior that Angie traces back to her childhood days.

It makes for a brittle dynamic as Angie boards the plane for Kabul, seeking to know a family of strangers better at the same time her own family is disintegrating. Upon her return to the United States, she visits with her newly divorced mother. The two of them travel to Taoyuan, her mother’s birthplace, to spend time with her mom’s parents and Angie experiences something of a rebirth.

A family reunion with aunts, uncles and cousins follows in Southern California and Angie emerges with a fresh appreciation of each generation’s challenges and the cultural traditions that connect them despite differences in time, place and personality.

In sum, a fellow author writes: “Chuang takes us on a compelling journey where the discovery of identity and places reveals the complexity of family, belonging and home.”

The intertwining narrative of events in Portland, Kabul and Taoyuan, combined with enduring memories of San Francisco, makes for a compelling read.

And did I mention elegant writing? Here’s an excerpt:

“For the past five years, I had been fixated on emotional walls. The Shirzais’s, each step bringing me closer to the inner sanctum of their lives and their story, even into the rooms that symbolized their most closely held loss: Mohammed. And my own family’s, as Mom, Kelley, and I desperately bricked over the dark and messy rooms of my father’s illness, just as we ignored the unfinished renovations in our house. We were finally, tentatively, just starting to remove these barriers, one brick at a time.

“But what about my own walls? The ones that were mine and mine alone? In Daoud, I saw myself: using his work in Afghanistan to remove himself from the painful realities of the family he had raised, from relationships with women when they got too demanding, as he would say. How had I used journalism to build my buffer zone, using work as an excuse to avoid family, and prevent relationships with men from progressing.”

Angie’s book was years in the making, published in 2014. It took me longer than it should have to get to it, but the wait was totally worth it. Reading it while traveling to and from the two cities where Angie has most recently resided — and where I live and just recently visited — was a special experience.

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Quadruple birthday bash

Two lovely Libras: Sara & Lori

Two lovely Libras: Sara & Lori

What a weekend for celebrating birthdays. Four of ’em.

Saturday afternoon we joined Lori’s side of the family in celebrating our grand-niece Layna’s first year of life. Saturday night we were part of a crowd helping to mark our friend Brian’s 60th birthday. Sunday morning we feasted on dim sum in honor of two lovely ladies — Lori and Sara, Nathan’s girlfriend — sharing the same day of birth. Sunday evening we capped off the weekend with a dinner and live jazz.

Four celebrations. Four birthdays. And an opportunity to spend time with assorted family and friends, old and new.

Layna celebrates her first birthday with parents Christiane and Tucker.

Layna celebrates her first birthday with parents Christiane and Tucker.

Layna is the daughter of our niece Christiane and her husband Tucker. Christiane is the youngest of three daughters born to Judi and Jim Rauh, Lori’s brother. Layna is the mellowest baby, passed easily from the arms of one relative to another, and happy to have the attention and affection of her older sister Mia.

There was a lovely scene of wrapping paper, baby dolls and other gifts strewn around the floor as Layna contentedly mouthed a piece of cardboard while everyone ooh’ed and aah’ed at the presents.

(Click on images for captions.)

Her first birthday cake experience went well too. She was a little tentative at first tasting the frosting, but then broke into a broad smile as her taste buds kicked into gear.

Brian is one of my bowling and poker buddies and the significant other of one of Lori’s longtime clients, Alexandra. Brian’s birthday was way back on Father’s Day but he understandably delayed the milestone celebration to a time when more people would be free.

He rented out a studio where he regularly takes zumba classes and had KOi Fusion cater a delicious Asian/Mexican dinner. Two of his favorite musicians — Craig Carothers and Tim Ellis — performed a mini-concert and Brian worked the room, mingling with friends, relatives, and current and past co-workers.

A touching moment came when Brian expressed his gratitude for even reaching his 60th birthday, singling out the cardiologist who performed surgery on him a few years back. As a very active guy who enjoys bicycling, skiing and zumba, it’s obvious Brian doesn’t take his second chance at life for granted.

Lori and Sara were the center of attention at H.K. Cafe, a Southeast Portland restaurant that offers one of the best dim sum brunches around.

For the uninitiated, dim sum is both a style of cuisine and a cultural experience. Servers push carts of fully cooked and ready-to-eat dishes that are bite-sized and often steamed. You can fill up on pork, duck, shrimp and calamari dishes, along with noodles and rice and an assortment of steamed buns with sweet or savory fillings. For the adventurous, you can try a plate of fried chicken feet.

Six satisfied customers: George, Simone, Kyndall, Sara, Lori & Nathan

Six satisfied customers: George, Simone, Kyndall, Sara, Lori & Nathan

The food was great and it was wonderful to see Sara and Nathan, Kyndall and Simone. We wish Jamie and Jordan could have been there too but they had work and college study commitments that kept them home up in Washington state.

Quick aside: It’s uncanny that Lori and Sara would share the same birthday of Sept. 27. What’s even more unusual is that my cousin Gil Rubio and two friends, Beth Reeves (another bowling buddy) and Patricia Conover (a Voices of August contributor) also were born on 9-27. At first I wondered what was going on nine months earlier in all those cases. Then I realized — the Christmas holidays!

We ventured out again for dinner at Clyde’s Prime Rib Restaurant & Bar, a classic old-school restaurant in Northeast Portland and, more important, a venue known for great jazz and blues. We went at the invitation of Lori’s tap dance teacher, Judy Tibbles, who was there with her husband and the mother-in-law of one of their sons.

Judy and Larry are among a group of regulars who attend Ron Steen‘s weekly jazz jam sessions on Sunday. Ron is one of the city’s premier jazz musicians, a master drummer who seemingly plays anywhere and everywhere around the metro area.  In fact, he performs with a quartet every year at a summer block party in our neighborhood. He’s also a genuinely nice guy, outgoing and approachable.

Last night’s guest musicians included two members of Pink Martini, one of Portland’s most beloved bands, and a couple of guest vocalists that were just superb.

The birthday girl with her complementary brownie sundae and five spoons for sharing.

The birthday girl with her complementary brownie sundae and multiple spoons for sharing.

It was so cool having Steen acknowledge Lori’s birthday — at least five times by my count — along with that of another patron. And it was a sweet scene when Judy, who is a few years older than us, got up at Steen’s invitation and danced for Lori. Such a lost art, that of tap dance.

Needless to say, I’m proud of my wife for making time in her already busy schedule to attend tap classes once a week. Maybe that’s not surprising, considering she minored in Dance in college and has maintained a lifelong love for it.

As if Sunday needed a cherry on top, it came in the form of the blood moon lunar eclipse. We stepped out of Clyde’s a couple of times to look for it in the eastern sky and were rewarded with some nice views.

By the time we got home, the eclipse was long gone and the moon shone brightly over our neighbors' house.

By the time we got home, the eclipse was long gone and the moon shone brightly over our neighbors’ house.

Here today, gone tomorrow

For nearly six years, a neighborhood fixture.

For years, a neighborhood fixture.

For nearly six years, it stood immobile under a large tree just east of our home. Never ridden. Never a hint of who left it there, when or why. Just a mysterious motorcycle draped in a fabric cover collecting dust and cobwebs.

Now it’s gone.

Earlier this week, the authorities put a bright sticker on the windshield, warning it would be towed away if not removed by the responsible party. Three days came and went and now there’s just an empty space underneath the tree.

Funny thing, I had passed by this abandoned thing for so long that I had ceased to notice it.

It wasn’t until one day recently that I asked Lori just how long it had been there.

“Ever since we moved in,” she responded.

That would be around Thanksgiving of 2009, about five years and 10 months ago.

Poking around this week, I saw that it was a Kawasaki and its dirtied license plate was from Washington state.

Now that it’s been hauled away, I’m left with plenty of questions and no answers.

— Who owned it? For how long?

— Was it a gift to self? A primary or second vehicle?

— How many miles on it? Had it broken down?

— What were the circumstances that led the owner to leave it here? Why didn’t he or she come back for it? Was there a not-so-pleasant reason — a death, perhaps?

— What was the last ride like? Was it used to go to work or run an errand? Or something more exciting, a day trip to the coast or a long-distance ride to nowhere in particular?

An empty space is all that's left.

An empty space is all that’s left.

It’s odd that this machine was in plain sight for so long, but evidently overlooked so long by so many. I couldn’t have been the only one if no other neighbor found reason to call the authorities until now.

Too bad the motorcycle couldn’t tell its own stories.

Capital leftovers

Road warriors. (Well, sort of.) Outside the White House on Day 3 of our D.C. bike tour.

Road warriors. (Well, sort of.) Outside the White House on Day 3 of our D.C. bike tour.

Even with a two-part blog post hitting the highlights of our recent trip to Washington, D.C., I find myself with a few more favorite images of people and places.

So here’s one last look back with photos only.

Washington Monument: The most distinct feature on the D.C. skyline.

Washington Monument: The most distinctive feature on the D.C. skyline.

World War II Memorial, looking west toward the Lincoln Memorial.

World War II Memorial, looking west toward the Lincoln Memorial.

The World War II Memorial honors the 16.1 million Americans who served in the world's deadliest military conflict.

The World War II Memorial honors the 16.1 million Americans who served in the world’s deadliest military conflict.

The FDR Memorial is made of up of several panels, including one that portrays a Depression-era bread line.

The FDR Memorial consists of several panels, including one portraying a Depression-era bread line.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt is depicted in the wheelchair he tried to hide from the public's view during his long tenure as president.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt is depicted in the wheelchair he tried to hide from the public’s view during his long tenure in the White House.

FDR's fireside chats drew millions of Americans to their radios each week to hear directly from the president.

FDR’s fireside chats drew millions of Americans to their radios each week to hear directly from the president.

Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president. Majestic at night.

Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president. Majestic at night.

No visit to the Lincoln Memorial is complete without a photo. Obviously.

No visit to the Lincoln Memorial is complete without a photo. Obviously.

Visitors are dwarfed by the size of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

Visitors are dwarfed by the size of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

A Portland woman sits in the lap of the genius Albert Einstein outside the National Academy of Sciences.

A Portland woman sits in the lap of the genius Albert Einstein outside the National Academy of Sciences.

Looking east from the Lincoln Memorial toward the Washington Monument.

Looking east from the Lincoln Memorial toward the Washington Monument.

Riding the Mount Vernon Trail was the highlight of our four-day bike tour.

Riding the Mount Vernon Trail was the highlight of our four-day bike tour.

Waterfront condos go for about $3.5 million in Alexandria, Virginia.

Waterfront condos overlooking the Potomac River go for about $3.5 million in Alexandria, Virginia.

Enormous bumblebees make themselves at home in the garden at George Washington's Mount Vernon estate.

Enormous bumblebees make themselves at home in the garden at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail seems to preen in the Mount Vernon floral garden.

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail seems to preen in the Mount Vernon floral garden.

The Road Scholar group takes a breather at the southernmost end of the Mount Vernon Trail.

The Road Scholar group takes a breather at the southern end of the Mount Vernon Trail.

On the road in D.C. (Part II)

The lovely Lori outside The White House.

The lovely Lori outside The White House.

So, where were we?

Ah, yes. Sharing a plate of appetizers with friends, trading stories about DC and Portland, and marveling at the evolution of journalism in the newsroom and the classroom.

Here’s how the rest of things went down on our recent bike tour of Washington:

Saturday, Sept. 5: Had great ambitions to see all the significant monuments on the National Mall, plus the Smithsonian museums, the Supreme Court and the U.S. Capitol but fell way short on time.  No one’s fault, really. It’s just that with 15 riders and thousands of tourists all sharing the same public space, you’ve got to go slow to avoid any collisions. And then you’ve got to allow enough time at each stop to hear the cultural/historical background and then visit the site itself. It’s hard to strike the right balance, especially with the sun beating down on you.

(Click on photos to see captions.)

All that said, we did see the White House and the magnificent Vietnam, Korea and World War II memorials. We saw the newest one for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and paid a return visit to the Lincoln Memorial. It was there in the vestibule of the latter that I realized we have become Selfie Nation. People of all colors, ages and income brackets all taking pictures of each other and then turning the camera on themselves. It would be amusing if it weren’t so obnoxious.

World War II veterans arriving to visit the memorial built in their honor.

World War II veterans arriving to visit the memorial built in their honor.

A more pleasant memory: Having the good luck to make a stop at the WWII Memorial just as an Honor Flight of veterans arrived from Indiana. The Honor Flight Network provides free flights to America’s oldest veterans to visit and reflect at their memorials in DC. What a sight to see these men in their 80s and 90s, many using canes or wheelchairs, as they laid eyes on the monument constructed in their honor.

As they passed by, we and other tourists applauded, offered heartfelt handshakes and shouts of “thank you for your service.” I sought out a man with a Navy insignia on his baseball cap whose quiet dignity reminded me of my dad, who also served in the Navy during WWII. Talk about a moistened-eyes, clenched-throat moment. (Coincidentally, there’s an Honor Flight from Oregon scheduled this weekend. Our friend, Eric Wilcox, is escorting his dad and more than a dozen other vets to DC.)

By the time our group turned in our bikes and made it back to the hotel for a box lunch, we had to split up to follow our interests. Lori and I joined a few others for a long trek to the east end of the Mall, where we walked the grounds surrounding the Capitol and glimpsed the Supreme Court across the street, knowing that a 5-4 ruling issued there months earlier had legalized same-sex marriage across the land.

The Capitol dome is surrounded by scaffolding for a massive repair job that Congress hopes will be done by January 2017 when the next president is inaugurated. Don’t hold your breath expecting that deadline to be met.

Post-dinner photo with our friend Mary Lee Fay.

Post-dinner photo with our friend Mary Lee Fay.

That night we joined another Portland friend, Mary Lee Fay, for dinner at Centrolina, a recently opened (and quite delicious) Italian restaurant in downtown DC. Mary Lee was a personal training client of Lori’s and a former Oregon state government administrator before moving back east to be nearer her family. So nice getting a glimpse of her apartment and an insider’s take on life in the capital.

DC-arlington-signSunday, Sept. 6: Rode our bikes to Arlington National Cemetery, crossing into Virginia on the Memorial Bridge. We had to snake our way through the crowds on the National Mall, but the rest of the ride was great once we got into an open area.

Just as the Holocaust Museum was a highlight at the front end of the trip, the cemetery experience was a fitting bookend. The 1,100-acre property is well maintained and there is a palpable sense of reverence as you walk or ride a trolley up and down the gently sloping hills. It’s often said these are hallowed grounds and for good reason.

From the first Civil War-era military burial in 1864 to today, more than 400,000 active duty service members have been laid to rest here. The graves of the Kennedy family — John and Jackie, Robert and Edward — are a major attraction as is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

We arrived at the latter for the changing of the guard, a solemn ceremony characterized by military precision and a sense of appreciation for the hundreds of thousands of American lives lost during our nation’s wars.

Even there, I had to grimace at the chucklehead in a tank top and backwards cap who felt it necessary to take a selfie in front of the tomb and a hillside of plain white grave markers.

Returning to DC, we turned in our bikes, gobbled up a box lunch and hit the streets. Visited the National Portrait Gallery, which had a great exhibit of contemporary celebrities in addition to the U.S. presidents and American civil rights leaders, including the United Farm Workers’ Dolores Huerta. Rejoined fellow cyclists for a final group dinner and crashed.

Monday, Sept. 7: After breakfast and a program wrap-up, we went our separate ways. Lori and I headed to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and thoroughly enjoyed it. We did our best to cover as much we could, but left knowing we’d just scratched the surface. Still, it was fun seeing Julia Child’s actual television set kitchen and taking in a well-curated exhibit of trends and key innovations as the American diet evolved since the ’50s.

Back to the days of sloppy joes, Salisbury steak and American chop suey. Yum?

Back to the days of sloppy joes, Salisbury steak and American chop suey. Yum?

Likewise, there were intriguing exhibits on scientific inventions and the American presidency (you’ll have to imagine me reading from a teleprompter as I delivered a faux speech from behind a lectern). Lori especially liked a special display of First Ladies inaugural dresses and other formal wear dating back to the late 19th Century.

In the afternoon, we went to the Newseum, an interactive museum of news and journalism. You’d think it would be at the top of my list of attractions, but I’d already visited it years earlier when it was still located in Virginia. Glad we went, though, because two additions are pretty spectacular.

One is a good-sized chunk of the actual Berlin Wall that symbolized the press freedoms enjoyed in the West and the censorship imposed in the East. Another was a display of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs through the years, a dazzling collection that leaves you with the realization that pictures carry an emotional punch and indelible truth equal to or greater than the words that accompany so many of them. Makes me proud to be a journalist.

Anniversary dinner with Lori Rauh Rede.

Married this woman on Sept. 6, 1975, in San Jose, California. Four decades later, celebrating in Washington, D.C.

At dinner, we finally celebrated our anniversary (a day late) at Oyamel, a really nice place serving Mexican food with a modern, healthier twist. You can choose from several types of ceviches and taco fillings (including grasshoppers) while you sip on a margarita and indulge in a honkin’ serving of guacamole prepared tableside in a molcajete. Fabulous.

Tuesday, Sept. 8: Travel day. Packed up, then headed out to a delicious breakfast at Busboys and Poets, one of six locations in and around the District serving as community centers for the progressive-minded. Each has a coffee shop, a bookstore and a calendar full of speakers and performances. Our friendly server had just returned from visiting Oregon with his girlfriend. Small world.

So…six days in Washington, including four of them in a bike saddle. Enjoyed ourselves as much as we could within the framework of a group schedule, knowing we’d inevitably run short on time. Met some nice fellow travelers, reconnected with some familiar Oregon faces, probably saw more than we would have on our own, and had a congenial and knowledgable tour guide to lead us through it all.

Glad we did it but also glad to be home.

On the road in D.C.

Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial from the Tidal Basin.

Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial from the Tidal Basin.

For months, we’d planned our recent getaway. Our 40th wedding anniversary was on the horizon and we wanted to go somewhere new, somewhere that wouldn’t break our budget, somewhere where we could be active and not just lounge around.

Washington, D.C., might be a surprising choice to many, but we decided it made sense for us and so we signed up for a four-day bicycle tour of the nation’s capital.  The trip wrapped around the Labor Day weekend and, looking back, we agreed it was a great choice.

The tour was part of a Road Scholar package deal that included hotel, several meals, bike rentals and a guided tour of the major attractions in D.C., plus two side trips into Virginia.  Sure, we were joined at the hip to 13 other travelers, but we also had ample time for just the two of us. We also squeezed in two dinners with friends we knew from Oregon, plus two on our own.

Lincoln Memorial at night.

Lincoln Memorial at night.

I’d been to Washington before — lived there two summers, in fact, while I was a college intern at The Washington Post — and had returned a handful of times since then for various journalism conferences. It was Lori’s first time, though, and so for me it was fun to glimpse some familiar sights but mostly experience new ones with her, starting with seeing the city by bike.

It helped that we had a day to ourselves both before and after the tour, but even an extra day on both ends still wouldn’t have been enough to get to around to everything we would have liked. As it is, we had make some hard choices and forgo a couple things entirely, such as visiting Georgetown. All in all, though, the trip had so many nice aspects to it that it more than made up for the omissions.

The bike tour began at dusk and finished close to 10 pm. My favorite cyclist: Lori

The bike tour began at dusk and finished close to 10 pm. My favorite cyclist: Lori

We agreed we’d never want to live there. Not only is it too hot and humid, but the city is crawling with tourists (yes, I realize we were among them) and that creates a sense of crowding that doesn’t feel comfortable. On the positive side, there are plenty of things to do and places to see, many within walking distance of downtown — and you can’t help but feel a heightened sense of history and patriotism. But still, nothing compares to flying back home and seeing the mighty Columbia River and all that green.

A brief rundown:

Wednesday, Sept. 2: Travel day. Up at 3:30 am to catch a shuttle flight from Portland to Seattle, then on to DC. Rode the Metro from Reagan National Airport to our hotel in downtown Washington. Safe, convenient and lots cheaper than a cab. Had a fabulous dinner at Rasika, an Indian restaurant that evidently is a favorite of the Obamas. Can you picture tandoori salmon, chicken and lamb? Best meal of the trip.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a place everyone should see.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a place everyone should see.

Thursday, Sept. 3: Intended to spend a couple hours at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum but it turned into five. The exhibits are so informative and tastefully presented and the content so compelling and framed with context that it was easily the most enriching experience of the trip. I expected somber — and it certainly was — but never did I feel anything was presented for its shock value. With four floors worth of photographs, videos, maps and artifacts to examine and absorb, my emotions swung from sorrow and compassion to outrage and disbelief that human beings are capable of such evil toward the vulnerable — not just Jews but homosexuals, disabled people, the Roma and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

It boggles the mind that 6 million Jews perished in the Holocaust and that World War II caused 50 million military and civilian deaths among the 31 nations involved. I could go on about the indignities and unimaginable suffering inflicted by the Nazi regime — topped off by “the final solution” — but I would only be scratching the surface. If you ever have the chance, do not miss this museum. As heartbreaking as it is, the tour ends in a quiet room where visitors can light a candle and be alone with their thoughts.

The first names of those perished during the Holocaust are listed by country on glass panels that rise above the lobby.

The first names of those who perished during the Holocaust are listed by country on glass panels that rise above the lobby.

That evening, our bike tour began with a ride from L’Enfant Plaza to the Tidal Basin, where we saw the Jefferson Memorial, to the west end of the National Mall, where we stopped in at the Lincoln Memorial and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial. It was slow going as we strung out single file, but a nice start too as our tour guide shared interesting stories not just about the three presidents but about the construction of each of the monuments.

Friday, Sept. 4: Piled onto a bus for the short ride from DC to Alexandria, where the city’s Old Town makeover is both stunning and a little scary. Multi-million dollar waterfront condos and a former munitions factory that’s been transformed into a gallery of art shops epitomize the area’s gentrification.

We clambered onto our bikes for what was billed as a two-hour, 10-mile ride to stately Mount Vernon, the official residence of George Washington. We made it easily in 90 minutes and it was far and away the best two-wheel experience of the tour. Riding along the Mount Vernon Trail on the west bank of the Potomac River, you pass through leafy forests, cross wooden bridges, catch a glimpse of well-maintained residential housing — all while treated to beautiful views of the water.

The Mount Vernon Trail stretches for 18 miles along mostly flat terrain with occasional rolling hills.

The Mount Vernon Trail stretches for 18 miles from Washington to the Virginia suburbs along mostly flat terrain with occasional rolling hills.

The trail ends with a steady climb (strenuous for some riders, but not much of a challenge for us) that leads into a parking lot. From there, it’s a short walk to the visitors center, featuring shops and a food court that both, mercifully, were  air-conditioned.

Had ample time to tour the presidential mansion and the grounds on which it sits, viewing a flower garden, livestock pens, and outbuildings from which various household and agricultural services were provided to the president and his guests. We saw a sanitized reproduction of slaves’ quarters and a memorial grove marking their graves — welcome gestures considering our first president and his wife both relied on and profited from slave labor.

Had an afternoon boat ride back to Alexandria, which gave us a chance to learn more about the Potomac and its role in the history of Virginia and Maryland as well as the District of Columbia. I would have been fine cycling back to Alexandria but, really, who am I to complain about a leisurely ride on the water?

Lori with our excellent tour guide Tujon Gallagher, a history major at Georgetown and a longtime resident of the district.

Lori with our excellent tour guide Tujon Gallagher, a history major at Georgetown and a longtime resident of the district.

Made it back to DC with enough time to meet friends for dinner in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Northwest Washington. It was a great time with former Oregonian reporters Angie Chuang and Tracy Jan, now both working and living in the capital. Angie is a tenured associate professor of journalism at American University. Tracy is a Washington bureau reporter for The Boston Globe. I recruited both to Portland and have taken immense satisfaction in seeing their careers ascend.

We ate at Mintwood Place, a trendy little place that evidently is another favorite haunt of Michelle and Barack. Clearly, they have good taste.

Friday night dinner with Oregonian alumni Tracy Jan, left, and Angie Chuang, right.

Friday night dinner with Oregonian alumni Tracy Jan, left, and Angie Chuang, right.

To be continued…

Voices of August 2015: Your favorites?

What can I say?

Year Five of my guest blog project stirred in me a feeling that each year just gets better.

Voices of August has grown from a modest experiment intended to draw new voices to my Rough and Rede blog to something of an online literary and social event anticipated by many and loved by most. (If there are any naysayers, hold your tongues.)

vote-logoBut, seriously. We’ve just brought down the curtain on another month of stellar writing by new and old friends, family members, neighbors and former co-workers.

What I love — and what i suspect many of you do too — is that every day brings a surprise. You never know what topic a given person will choose to write about and exactly what words and images he or she will share to convey an idea, a feeling or an observation.

What I also love is that this has never been and never will be a forum for professional writers only. I love, love, love that so many people from so many different backgrounds accept my invitation to craft a piece. More important than the mechanics of writing, I believe, is the genuine desire to communicate — to be heard, to be understood.

That this annual exercise has become such a forum warms my heart. (Sorry, I’m getting verklempt.)

In this age of Twitter, when folks labor to compose a coherent thought in 140 characters or less, Voices of August allows people the room they need to say what they want and how they want to say it. (Yes, we had our first F-bombs this year and a vivid description of an overflowing toilet — but everything was in context and those words helped conveyed the writers’ shame, pain and fury in a way we won’t forget.)

Now we come to the fun part. Or maybe it’s the hard, hard part. Voting for your favorites.

The rules:

As with previous years, anyone who has written a guest blog (this year or previously) or who is simply a regular reader of VOA can vote for three favorite pieces.YOU decide if you’ve read enough of this month’s contributions to cast a ballot.

There are no criteria other than your own. What grabbed your attention? What resonated with you? What made you laugh or cry? What challenged your assumptions? What made you see things differently?

Please take some time to review the month’s posts here at the VOA 5.0 index page and then send the titles of your three favorites to me at ghfunq@msn.com. Your deadline: Sept 15, two weeks from the date of this post.

I will tabulate the responses to see if we have three clear favorites among us. If we don’t, I will ask for a second round of voting to narrow the field.

As you revisit this year’s contributions, please take the opportunity to leave a comment on one or more posts. Be generous with your feedback, both on Facebook and especially on the posts themselves. Writers love feedback.

Let the voting begin!

Image: Skidmore College