Double milestone

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It’s been three months now since I last sat at my desk at The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Today marks the end of my first three months as a retiree — 91 days to be exact, thanks to Leap Year Day in February.

Today also marks Blog Post No. 400 on Rough and Rede II since I switched from Blogspot to WordPress in January 2014.

No need to review the past 27 months on R&R II, other than to say that: (1) I’m proud of maintaining a blog that has been a comfortable outlet for self-expression, and (2) I’m grateful to see it become a platform for engaging with friends and family, as well as fellow bloggers, both familiar and new.

As for my status as a new retiree, I have to say the year got off to a forehead-slapping start. One day, I poured coffee into my cereal bowl. Another day I went out in public with my new sweatpants on backwards.

Once I got those basics straightened out, it was a matter of realizing that virtually every day was like a weekend day — free of work commitments and ripe with possibilities for new and favorite activities.

I began the year with two modest goals: to get out of town and try new things.

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I haven’t done much about the traveling bit. There was a weekend stay at the Oregon coast in February and a trip to the San Diego area this month with Lori, Simone & Kyndall to celebrate Dad’s 90th birthday with my two sisters and their families. Today, though, will find me enjoying the waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge.

I have tried a few new things. At Lori’s urging, I’ve joined her in Saturday morning cycling classes at our gym. I’ve also begun a weekly urban hike that takes me into different Portland neighborhoods. Both activities are good for my legs and lungs.

On this blog, I’ve added a new feature called Friday Flashback and posted three guest blog posts — all with the idea of adding to the texture of voices and topics found here. And in February, I volunteered at the Portland International Film Festival — a great way to see a handful of films for free.

What makes a place a home / Simina Mistreanu

A teacher’s continuing education / Emily Zell

The empty seat / Michelle Dragoo

I have to say that I haven’t missed the newsroom, though I think of those still working at The Oregonian/OregonLive with great affection and respect. I’ve stayed active, though, as a volunteer by participating as a panelist at a journalism conference in Portland; speaking to a college communications class in Vancouver; and judging a national writing contest for high school journalists.

On the social end of things, all this free time has allowed me more “guy time” over breakfast, lunch or happy hour with assorted friends. I’m still bowling every Monday night and this year added two new teammates.

I also have to say that Lori has been extraordinarily accommodating in giving me time to get my feet under me and trusting that things that need to get done will get done.

I know she would do things differently than me, but I’m one of those people who prefers loose structure and variety to routine and a get-it-done-immediately mindset.

I still exercise almost every day, but if I don’t need to be at the gym between 5:30 and 6, as I used to do while still working, then why be an early bird? Nothing wrong with mid-morning or mid-afternoon exercise as long as it doesn’t get in the way of anything else.

Aside from that, I make time every day for reading and writing, and  I spend more time with our dogs than ever before. Otto and Charlotte are good company and all three of us are happy to see Lori when she walks in the door after her workday is done.

Life is good.

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Troubled teenager, desperate parents

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Nothing I have read in the past month has had a more profound effect on me than the ordeal of an ordinary couple in the Midwest trying their best to get help for their son — a young man with autism who’s a social outcast at school, a pale boy who loves death metal, who’s run afoul of the law, and who’s posted angry Internet rants threatening to shoot up a church, a school or a mosque.

Talk about chilling.

Ever since Columbine High School, we as a society have been quick to judge — and judge harshly — the parents of youthful mass shooters who unleash their rage and resentments on innocent victims.

Where were the parents? Why didn’t they know about their child’s violent fantasies? How could they miss signals of their evil intentions?

In the case of Shelly, 54, and Gary, 63, a couple who’ve already raised an older son with mental illness, they are fully aware of the threat posed by their younger son, Shea. That’s why, even after years of testing, advocating and treatment, they have laid bare their efforts in a desperate attempt to get him help before he hurts someone or kills himself, as he’s threatened to do.

The couple’s predicament is the subject of a riveting piece in the March issue of Esquire. (I meant to write about this earlier and I’m finally doing so, just as the calendar flips to a new month.) Titled “A Troubled Boy,” it’s written by Tom Chiarella, who teaches at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, the same college where I once spent a week as Journalist-in-Residence working with the student newspaper staff.

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Shea’s troubles — including vandalism of local churches and a court-ordered curfew for fighting in school — have made the news in this small town of 10,000, prompting his parents to go public with their concerns not just for their son, but for other parents whose boys need therapy for their mental health issues. They’ve taken to recording his outbursts and shared them with Chiarella.

“The two of them hunker down at the table, listening to his rants, which have grown more frequent in recent weeks, into exhaustive and thorough threats of rampage. And this horseshit prose poem of filthy Internet tropes about Arabs? It spouts from the mouth of their very own boy. The parents know what they must do. They have to warn someone.”

Shea attempted suicide when he was 14. Now 18, his parents cannot simply institutionalize him, so he is caught between two alternatives — an underfunded, overwhelmed mental health system and a “predictably outsized and overwhelming” response from local law enforcement.

As mass shootings continue unabated in the United States, politicians repeatedly pledge to seek increased funding for mental health programs but never seem to follow through. It’s numbing because it’s just so much posturing.

As Chiarella points out, close to 10 percent of state psychiatric hospital beds were eliminated across the country between 2009 and 2012 due to budget cuts. In Indiana, the decline in mental health spending has been worse than in most states.

In 2009, the state’s per-capita mental health spending was $87.65, well below the national average of $122.90, Chiarella reports. By 2013, it had fallen to $70.67, placing Indiana 39th in the nation.

This lack of resources has only added to the stresses on Shea’s parents, forcing them to warn the authorities about the potential dangers posed by a son they love but cannot seem to reach.

“Sitting in his living room,” Chiarella writes, “I ask Shea: Would he really kill someone?”

“He sits in sweatpants, with a home-detention monitor clamped to his ankle, once again tearing into his parents’ peaceable hearts without seeming to know it….He’s autistic, and as such he’s often plainly disconnected from what he says. He doesn’t seem to know what hurts his parents, and he certainly doesn’t seem to know what effect the words he says have on his life or the lives of others.”

Chilling, Absorbing. Heart-wrenching. This is a terrific piece, one that reveals the anguish of parents who could be any of us.

Lead photograph: mimwickett / rgbstock.com

Esquire photograph: Eric Ogden

An aging dog

 

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“I’m not old. I’m experienced.” — Otto Rede, 11.

Years ago Gene Weingarten, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for The Washington Post, wrote a wonderful essay about his dog Harry, a yellow Lab he described as having “the shape of a baked potato, with the color and luster of an interoffice envelope.”

It was much more than an ode to Harry, then nearly 13 years old. It was a tribute to all old dogs, the most moving words I’ve ever read about man’s best friend.

Puppies are incomparably cute and incomparably entertaining, and, best of all, they smell exactly like puppies. At middle age, a dog has settled into the knuckleheaded matrix of behavior we find so appealing — his unquestioning loyalty, his irrepressible willingness to please, his infectious happiness. His unequivocal love. But it is not until a dog gets old that his most important virtues ripen and coalesce. Old dogs can be cloudy-eyed and grouchy, gray of muzzle, graceless of gait, odd of habit, hard of hearing, pimply, wheezy, lazy and lumpy. But to anyone who has ever known an old dog, these flaws are of little consequence. Old dogs are vulnerable. They show exorbitant gratitude and limitless trust. They are without artifice. They are funny in new and unexpected ways. But, above all, they seem at peace.

Weingarten’s 2008 essay (link below) has been on my mind lately as I consider our own canine senior citizen: Otto.

Our Jack Russell Terrier is 11 years old, with a gray muzzle and hearing that’s not so sharp anymore. His neighborhood walks are shorter. His reactions are slower and his footing sometimes unsteady. Though he normally rises early with Lori, some days he’ll sleep in, even after I, the new retiree, get out of bed an hour or two later.

OTTO pill box

Just like a human with a heart condition, Otto takes pills three times a day, seven days a week.

Typical of his breed, he’s got an enlarged heart and recently was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. He takes several medications each day, painstakingly managed by Lori, and the vet tells us we can expect to have him another 12 to 18 months.

It’s sobering to consider life without Otto.

It’s not my intention, though, to wallow in what may come. Rather, it’s to honor the four-legged friend who occupies a special place in our household and in our hearts.

During our 40-year marriage, and even before that, we’ve always had pets — not just dogs and cats, but hamsters, rats and a couple of rabbits, too. I can honestly say there’s been no one like Otto, the one we’ve come to call The Fourth Child.

***

I had been away from home on a business trip when the cab let met off at the curb. I was coming up the path to our front door, lugging a suitcase, when I saw something behind the screen door that seemed to be a white object springing up and down like a pogo stick. As I drew closer, I realized it was a dog.

What? When did we get another dog?

Yes, Lori got him from the pound (actually, the Humane Society) while I was away. Then nearly a year old, the little guy had the energy of a puppy. And Otto bonded with her like nothing I’ve ever seen. He would follow from room to room throughout the house, upstairs or downstairs, inside or outside, as attached as if she were the one who’d birthed him. He still trails her like this, his stump of a tail twitching like a broken windshield wiper.

We already had another dog when Otto joined our household. Back then, he was the junior dog to Max, our big, lovable Black Lab/Great Dane mix. Now he’s the senior dog, tolerating our feisty rescue mutt, a Terrier/Pug/Chihuahua mix named Charlotte.

A few weeks ago, we made a trip to the emergency room on a Sunday night when Otto had difficulty breathing. The vet prescribed another drug to add to the mix and it’s worked beautifully, though it causes Otto to drink lots of water and makes for frequent bathroom breaks — sometimes in the middle of the night.

Descending the staircase in darkness and taking him out to the street, I am fully aware that any inconvenience I might feel is more than countered by what Otto has brought to our family. He is a dog who has always shown affection, with expressive eyes and an eagerness to lick ears, arms, legs — whatever skin is exposed. He is well-mannered around adults and children, accommodating to other dogs, and content to simply be in our presence. whether on a nearby pillow or on our lap.

Charlotte has won my heart, I won’t deny that. But I can also say my appreciation and love for Otto is genuine as well. I hope the vet’s 12-to-18 month projection underestimates the time we have left with him. He is and has been a gem.

Read Weingarten’s piece right here: “Something About Harry”

Read a Q&A with Otto: “The fourth child”

 

 

Lair Hill to Pill Hill

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The Portland Aerial Tram carries commuters and tourists between the main Oregon Health & Science University campus on Marquam Hill and the city’s South Waterfront district.

When I began my most recent weekly urban hike, I resolved to hold myself in check and not take so many pictures as usual. I took just four. Uh, make that four dozen.

The issue is storage capacity on my iPhone. I’m managing it but it would be easier to not deal with it. That said, it’s difficult to pass up so many interesting visuals on each week’s outing.

Last Thursday, for instance, I got another chance to go places and view things I simply hadn’t done or seen before.

Starting on Corbett Avenue in Southwest Portland’s Lair Hill neighborhood, directly south of downtown, I walked west and steadily upward to the concentration of medical facilities atop Marquam Hill collectively known as Pill Hill.

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Along the way and back, I crossed Barbur Boulevard, one of the city’s busiest arterials, four times and discovered lots of gems on dead-end streets and hidden staircases, wooded short-cuts and residential streets I hadn’t been on. Once again, I marveled at the history right before my eyes and the diversity of neighborhood geography within my adopted city.

***

As I walked along Southwest 2nd Avenue, the aerial tram linking Oregon Health & Science University Hospital to the South Waterfront district passed soundlessly overhead, seemingly skimming nearby rooftops.

A couple of blocks north I came to an intersection where on one side sat a 1910 settlement house called Neighborhood House, originally owned by the National Council for Jewish Women to help European immigrants find community in their new city, according to Portland author Laura O. Foster. Today it’s home to a Waldorf school.

Across the street is a red-brick building constructed in 1918 to house nurses who worked at the county hospital next door, Portland’s first public hospital. A new structure was built on the site and it became the Children’s Museum, which vacated the site in 2001 to move to a larger site in Washington Park.

At the northwest corner of Lair Hill Park, I crossed Barbur and turned onto SW 4th Avenue, a street that’s invisible to cars zipping by but which leads to a tiny stub of Woods Street and a narrow dirt path leading up into the woods. As I took the steps, I could scarcely believe that woods this dense can be found in the heart of the city.

As I ascended, I could look through a maze of branches and see the tallest buildings of South Waterfront and glimpse the midday traffic on the Ross Island Bridge. I could also pick out the outlines of a synagogue on Barbur.

I was blown away when I reached the top of the path. Who knew it provided a shortcut to Terwilliger Boulevard — a lovely street whose bike/pedestrian path I’ve run on dozens of times? Close by was SW Campus Drive, the road that winds through the complex of facilities including the Casey Eye Institute, Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, OHSU Hospital, the VA Medical Center and the Mark O. Hatfield Research Center, named for the moderate Republican who served as governor and later represented Oregon in the U.S. Senate.

I followed the road to the top to where it intersects with Sam Jackson Park Road, named for the man who served as editor of the Oregon Journal from 1902 to 1924 in the days when Portland had four daily newspapers.

Foster’s book, “Portland Hill Walks,” directs you to walk into the Hatfield Research Center — and so I did. A walkway leads you to the lobby of OHSU Hospital and an exhibit honoring the late senator’s commitment to health care, a legacy cemented by his securing hundreds of millions of federal funds to help finance many of the buildings on Pill Hill.

“Health practitioners are the peacemakers of a new generation,” Hatfield once said.

How utterly ironic that so many within today’s Republican Party are striving to undercut the gains made in providing affordable health care for all. He would be ashamed, I am sure.

I didn’t know there was an aerial walkway connecting OHSU Hospital with the VA Medical Center. It’s actually on the ninth floor of the hospital and, according to Foster, it is the world’s longest closed, climate-controlled pedestrian walkway. From here, it’s a spectacular view. You can see two tram cars shuttling passengers back and forth. And you can see familiar landmarks, including the Marquam Bridge and the new, gleaming Tilikum Crossing.

 Fun fact: Sarah Graham, the architect who created the tram’s winning design, resides in California and Switzerland but once lived in the Lair Hill neighborhood over which the tram passes.

Walking outside again, I passed by at least a half dozen more buildings, including Multnomah Pavilion, built in 1926, which was the second building constructed on the campus and replaced the first county hospital mentioned earlier.

Leaving the campus, I entered the Homestead neighborhood, which I’d never been in before. Two-thirds of the housing here is occupied by renters, many of them students, Foster says. Indeed, there are lots of duplexes and apartment buildings in this quiet, isolated area. At the corner of one intersection is Gaines Hall, built in 1930 as a dorm for medical students.

The final leg of the route took me down, down, down along Bancroft Street, Terwilliger Boulevard and Hamilton Terrace, a steep stretch with surprisingly few trees. Crossing Barbur one last time, I arrived back at my starting point, roughly two hours after I’d begun the four-mile loop.

Loving these weekly excursions.

Friday flashback: ‘Baby shower’

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Jennifer Brennock writes powerfully about the bond between mother and son.

Attending a baby shower for someone who’s conceived through sperm-meets-egg when you’re an adoptive parent stirs a kettle of emotions.

Such feelings might go unnoticed if they were not given voice by my Orcas Island friend Jennifer Brennock. She is a remarkable writer — fierce, fearless and unfailingly honest.

In this 2014 piece for Voices for August, Jennifer puts readers on her shoulder as she takes us inside the home of a woman whose friends have gathered to celebrate her impending passage to motherhood.

“From her living room floor, I smile the correct smile and chat the correct chat. In my chest, something has grabbed and is squeezing,” she writes.

VOA readers were moved by the words that followed.

“Every year on VOA I am rendered speechless by your ability to turn words into magic,” one wrote.

“I have no words for the impression this has left on me, but thank you for giving me something to tuck away as I remember my friends who are walking the roads of infertility and/or adoption,” another said.

Read it yourself right here: “Baby shower”

Baseball dreams, blue collar lives

A month ago, I was among those who turned out at a bookstore to hear Portland author Jim McDermott discuss his debut novel, “Bitter Is The Wind.”

Already a successful corporate lawyer and married to a judge, McDermott told a standing-room only crowd of supporters that he spent more than 25 years thinking about and working on the novel as a way to look back on what separated him from his working class peers and to look broadly at the experiences of the working class as he experienced them.

“The forgotten working class”

How did he make it out to Syracuse University and then to law school while so many of his friends stayed behind to work in jobs at the local factory? What were the challenges and what is it that makes a difference in overcoming them?

Bitter-is-the-windAs someone born into the working class and a first-generation college graduate myself, I was intrigued by Jim’s objectives and admired his effort in producing a book-length piece of fiction. Writing is hard, hard work. On top of that, he explores issues of economic inequality and privileges of the upper class that have resonated deeply during this presidential campaign.

The book’s cover depicts a tattered baseball and an empty field with a wire backstop — fitting for a story set in the 1970s that revolves around a father and son who both play high school baseball in the small upstate New York town where they grow up.

The father, George Johnson, hopes to become a major league ballplayer but quickly has those dreams extinguished when he impregnates his girlfriend and gives up a college scholarship.

The son, George Jr., isn’t as talented as his dad but is academically gifted and yearns to make a life for himself away from the community where so many of his peers are bound to follow in their parents’ footsteps, their economic and social mobility limited by their working class status as well as their own perceptions of what is possible.

To use a baseball metaphor, I think McDermott has hit a single in his first time at bat as an author.

He told us at the night of his reading that he intentionally wrote the coming-of-age novel to be accessible to the very people he was writing about. It wasn’t that he dumbed it down but, rather, that he avoided embellishments that smacked of literary affectation.

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Portland author Jim McDermott talks about his debut novel at Annie Bloom’s Books in Southwest Portland.

I understand the instinct but I think the novel would have been stronger had he aimed a little higher. At 179 pages, it’s a compact book. And McDermott wastes no time jumping into the narrative, starting with George Jr.’s suspension from junior high school, rather than with his father’s shattered dreams and the early, accidental deaths of his mother and sister.

The book covers a lot of ground, following George Jr. as he moves from junior high to high school, then to college and graduate school, and into the corporate world. Much of the story relies on dialogue and that is where I think the book falters. I would have preferred more in the way of character development and less in the way of direct quotes. In too many instances, I felt I was reading about one-dimensional characters rather than getting to know them as real people.

I commend Jim for taking a swing at this important subject. Bringing light to the forgotten working class via a fictional account of one family is a worthy goal. Not many people would even give it a try, let alone someone who’s a self-made writer. I tip my cap to the effort even if the execution fell short.

 

90 years and still kicking

whole damn family

Thanks to a selfie stick, four generations of Redes gather around Dad (in black hat) in honor of his 90th birthday.

He began life in a family of seven boys and two girls who grew up in rural New Mexico and later moved to California. During nine decades on this earth, he’s been a farmworker, laborer, welder, millwright, stationary engineer (responsible for the operation and maintenance of boilers and other mechancial systems), a Navy veteran and an elected labor union official.

He’s also been the consummate family man as a son, brother, uncle, husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. He’s a lifelong Catholic, a leader in veterans and fraternal organizations, and a San Francisco Giants baseball fan.

He’s my dad, Catarino Allala Rede. (C.A., for short.)

On Saturday, my two sisters and I and members of our extended families joined in raising a glass — make that a shot glass of Jack Daniel’s — to our dear father in advance of his 90th birthday today, March 22.

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From top left: Rosemary, Cathy and George with Dad.

The three of us kids live in separate states — California, Oregon and Alaska — and dad and his wife live in New Mexico, so it’s rare that we’re able to gather in one place anymore. I was grateful that we had this opportunity to celebrate his milestone birthday and I know it meant the world to Dad.

I’ve got more to say about that, but first here are a couple of facts to chew on.

***

  • By turning 90, my dad has joined the ranks of a small but growing slice of the U.S. population.

America’s population of persons aged 90-and-older has almost tripled since 1980, reaching 1.9 million in 2010 and will continue to increase to more than 7.6 million over the next 40 years, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau. People 90 and over now make up 4.7% of all people 65 and older, as compared with only 2.8% in 1980.

  • It may come as a surprise that being born Latino adds years to your life.

“That’s because Hispanics have demographically higher rates of longevity than do non-Latino whites and African Americans. Hispanics are also the fastest growing demographic in the United States,” according to a 2012 report by Hispanic Link News Service.

“The evidence began coming to light in a pioneering 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It found Hispanics on average live 80.6 years, non-Hispanic whites 78.1 years and African Americans 72.9,” the article said.

  • Generally, the more education a person has, the longer his or her life expectancy. Likewise, the less educated are expected to not live as long. But the pattern is less pronounced between highly and less educated Latinos, who not only outlive their less educated white and black peers but also live nearly as long as highly educated whites.

These findings have puzzled the experts, who can only speculate at the reasons for the so-called “Hispanic Paradox.” Some believe Latinos’ longevity stems partly from the fact that immigrants are unusually fit physically and psychologically and come with dietary habits and a lifestyle commitment to achievement. The thinking goes that hard, intensive work adds endurance through an ethic of good health habits.

I suspect there’s a lot of truth in those theories. Our mom lived to nearly 86 despite a 7th grade education. In Dad’s case, he was born in the United States and attained just an 8th grade education as a consequence of limited opportunities in a time of open discrimination against Latinos. (Later, in his 40s, he earned his G.E.D.) No doubt he’s added years to his life by giving up smoking decades ago and becoming a near teetotaler. But nothing defines him more than his sturdy work ethic.

He made a living with his hands, wore a uniform with his name on it, carried a metal lunch bucket and thermos to work, and was capable of making or fixing just about anything.

***

Saturday’s celebration was at the home of my niece, Bernie, and her husband Terrell. They live in Bonsall, a small residential community just east of Oceanside.

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My older sister, Rosemary, and her husband Robert came over from Oceanside. Lori and I, our daughter Simone and her wife Kyndall, all came down from Portland. My younger sister, Cathy, flew down from Dillingham, Alaska. Her son Austin and his wife Starr, who live in a suburb outside Anchorage, made the trip with their three children, Justice, 12, Jada, 9, and Ashton, 5.

Dad and Oralia, our stepmother, drove in from Silver City, New Mexico. Aunt Linda, the widow of Dad’s late brother, Manuel, drove in from Santa Ana. Uncle Luciano, the sole remaining brother, also lives in the area and had planned to join us, but suffered a stroke two nights earlier and was confined to his hospital bed.

With this many people gathered in a single residence, we made good use of the patio on a sunny afternoon. We pitched in on a catered lunch by a taquero who prepared tacos, beans and rice on a portable grill. There were traditional beverages like horchata and agua de melon and coolers full of Tecate and other beers.

There was a colorfully decorated birthday cake, homemade Jell-O and a lively rendition of “Happy Birthday.”

We took turns saying a few words about our dad, and so did the grandkids. It was touching to hear, through sobs and quavering voices, how much he has meant to each one of us as a positive role model, a provider and patriarch of a growing family spread along the West Coast.

We also made a point to thank Ora, a retired registered nurse blessed with the patience of an angel, for being such a loving wife and caregiver. As we all know, Dad can be as stubborn and hard-to-please as anyone.

Yet he is essentially a humble man, soft-spoken, and fond of making jokes that sometimes only he understands. He gave up his driver’s license some time ago because of failing eyesight and he wears hearing aids, but he gets around without a cane and his doctors say he’s in good health for someone of his age.

Two moments that stood out to me:

When our youngest son, Jordan, and his wife Jamie talked to him via Skype from their home near Tacoma, Washington. During those few minutes of a video chat on a tablet, he was a digital grandpa, undoubtedly blown away by the wonders of modern technology.

When he rose after all the accolades and declared himself the happiest man on earth. “I want to thank everyone who’s present for making it possible. I didn’t know if I would make it, but I had hopes.”

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Grandpa goes digital, his first video chat on Skype.

The man who brought my sisters and me into this world literally had his moment in the sun this weekend. How very cool that he could bask in the love of those who mean the most to him.

72 hours in San Diego

oceanside pier

Oceanside Pier extends from the shore of this north San Diego County community.

It’s been more years than I can remember since the last time we visited the San Diego area. Thanks to a weekend celebration of my dad’s 90th birthday, we were able to zip in for a quick three-day visit.

As anticipated, the bulk of our time was spent with family — which, after all, was the point of the visit — so there wasn’t much time at all for tourist activities. We’ll have to return again some time for some real sightseeing.

No complaints, though. It was nice to get away to a sunny location and hang out with family. (A lot more details TK in a separate post.) Our traveling companions were Simone and Kyndall. Unfortunately, our boys and their sweeties couldn’t make the trip.

Thursday

Flew into Ontario around noon and drove south to our base, an airbnb rental in Oceanside, where my older sister lives and not far from where the birthday activities were planned.

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Had lunch at an Afghan restaurant just off the interstate in Temecula, the first of three meals where we took advantage of the array of ethnic cuisine. Best meal of the vacation, in my humble opinion. Lamb skewers, basmati rice, green salad, hummus and pita.

Had a nice conversation with the proprietor, a woman named Haida, who told us Temecula is home to a large Afghan community. She and her engineer husband lived in Kabul, Pakistan and Boise, Idaho, before settling in southern California. Her daughter, who is deaf, was helping her in the kitchen and at the cash register. Mom was very proud telling us her daughter had a bachelor’s degree in art.

Arrived at our rental in late afternoon, a ranch-style house set in the midst of a huge lot that featured a covered backyard patio with fireplace, all kinds of flowers, trees, plants and decorative touches — bird feeders, climbing structures for kids, a gazebo and much more. Relaxed on the patio for a bit before heading out to Oceanside Pier.

It so happened that Thursday is Sunset Market, a weekly street fair with food and merchandise booths. Strolled to the end of the pier, admired the beachfront and surfing scenes, and drove down the Coast Highway to dinner at a hard-to-categorize sushi joint called Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub.

It’s a nonsensical name, our waitress told us, but it seemed typical of the region’s abundance of casual dining places filled with scruffy locals. The menu offered eclectic (some might say unusual or weird) dishes that included sushi rolls named The Wet Brain (shiitake mushroom stuffed with krab, spicy tuna and avocado) and Ginger Devils (spicy tuna, shrimp tempura, albacore, avocado, roasted Anaheim chile carmelized onion sauce).

simone-george

Daughter and Dad both looking shady.

Friday

Up early and out the door for a moderately hilly run. Piled into the rental car to drive down to San Diego for the first of two visits with relatives on Lori’s side of the family.

Began at Liberty Public Market, where we stopped in to see our nephew James Rauh, who together with his business partners is preparing to open a second retail location of their coffee-roasting company called WestBean Roasters.

Liberty Public Market is a massive private redevelopment of a sprawling naval operations center that formerly served tens of thousands of service members and their families. It’s a mind-boggling project encompassing restaurants and retail businesses occupying remodeled barracks and other buildings. Think specialty cheeses,  a butcher, a baker,  gourmet pastas and ice creams, a wine bar, etc.

All the owners and their staffs were in there putting finishing touches on their retail spaces, awaiting a green light from county inspectors so they could open for business, hopefully this week. It’s an impressive project and we are so proud of James, who turned an interest into a business. WestBean has a retail cafe in downtown San Diego and a roastery elsewhere in the city. I’m sure this new location will do very well.

Drove out to Ocean Beach, a beachfront neighborhood, so we could have lunch at OB Noodle House & Sake Bar, a place touted by Guy Fieri, the Food Network guy with the hit show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”

It was delicious Vietnamese food, with ample portions, but we all agreed it had nothing on Portland. Definitely a good place, but not to-die-for-great.

From there, we headed to a business park in the Sorrento Valley neighborhood where we dropped in on our niece, Melissa Foster, and her very successful stationery and design business called Elum Designs.

Using the highest-grade paper and an old-fashioned letterpress, she and her staff design and produce greeting cards, wedding stationery and other items for upscale retailers. Melissa and her husband Brad have expanded the business from its beginnings in their garage to an award-winning operation with two dozen employees working out of a corporate warehouse.

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Melissa Foster, founder and creative director at Elum.

It’s great to see how Melissa, the second eldest of three daughters, has combined her artistic talent and business skills. Clearly, she and her brother James are truly talented entrepreneurs. (Their dad, Jim Rauh, is Lori’s brother. Their mom, Judi, is our beloved sister-in-law.)

After touring Elum, we hit the road again and drove up to Encinitas on the coast so we could meet Melissa and Brad for drinks. They brought their daughters, Uma, 11, and Pilara, 8, to join us after picking them up from school. Hadn’t seen any of the four since they came up to Oregon for Christmas 2014, so we appreciated even a short visit this time.

Had to drink, nosh and run to get back up to the Oceanside area so we could get the birthday festivities started with an enchilada dinner prepared by our niece, Bernie, and a round of hugs and kisses for everyone who’d come from three other states for the celebration.

¡Hasta mañana! Saturday/Sunday wrap-up TK.

Friday flashback: ‘The price of serving: a soldier’s tale’

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In the summer of 2012, when many of us were enjoying bike rides and barbecues, our youngest son was pulling guard duty and going out on patrols in the mountains of Afghanistan.

During his 12-month deployment as an Army infantryman, we communicated with Jordan intermittently on Facebook, worrying each time until we heard from him again. Toward the end of his tour, he made time to write a piece about his experiences there, recalling one winter day when two civilian helicopters flew in through the harsh weather to drop off supplies.

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U.S. Army Spc. Jordan Rede in Afghanistan.

“This particular day will forever be etched into my memory as a reminder that nothing in life comes absent cost, and that the world doesn’t have enough respect for that cost,” Jordan wrote.

With reddened eyes, I swelled with pride when I read his essay. I share it here with the hope that it will resonate anew with those who’ve seen it before and that it will give pause to new readers.

Read it here: “The price of serving: a soldier’s tale”

 

 

The empty seat

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Brian and Michelle Dragoo on their last date in Chicago before his deployment earlier this month.

Editor’s note: In the online world where friends and strangers occupy the same space, it’s  gratifying to have something you write recognized with a comment or a simple “like.” I noticed a while ago that a fellow blogger in the Midwest was kind enough to like a few of my posts. I read some of her posts as well, including one where she mentioned preparing for her husband’s deployment.

Knowing what we went through as parents when our youngest son spent a year in Afghanistan, I asked her to contribute a guest blog post. She readily accepted. I don’t know that I will ever meet Michelle Dragoo in person, but it’s nice to come across decent people like her  in other parts of the country.

By Michelle Dragoo

Often people ask me what it’s like to have my husband deployed?  While many can empathize with my heartache, all too often people just assume it’s like being out of town for a work trip.  Sadly they are so far off base with this assumption.

My husband has been gone for almost a week, yet it already feels like an eternity.  I have to juggle work, the kids, the house, the bills, and all the other little stressors in between.  Add on some teenage hormones and you’ll maybe understand just how full my plate really is these days.

Work is usually the easiest to manage because I’ve been doing this job for quite some time.  I also work with some pretty amazing folks who do their best to lift my spirits on a daily basis.  But I catch myself all too often, in the middle of the day lost in a panicked dream world, wondering if my husband is safe and sound.  And the mere thought of him being in harm’s way catapults me back to a pretty dark place.

I snap out of it, just in time to make the commute to pick up my youngest and head home for the evening.  So far, we’ve still struggled with getting in to a routine.  Dinner is usually rushed and consists of soup, sandwiches or take out.  Those that know me well, know I love to cook yet I just haven’t been able to find the motivation to cook anything of substance since he’s left.  I tried cooking our traditional “Sunday Supper” this past Sunday and the void that was felt while all sitting together for dinner as we stared at his empty seat, was palpable.  I couldn’t eat fast enough to get away from the table.

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Michelle and Brian celebrate after completing the 2014 Fox Valley Half Marathon west of Chicago.

I’ve been trying to keep busy, and I have plenty I COULD be doing, but sadly I am still in the “feeling lost” phase of this deployment.  Once the kids go to bed, the house is very quiet and watching all the shows he and I used to watch together brings me no joy what-so-ever.  It’s truly like I’ve lost my best friend.  And I am still trying to digest being apart from him for an entire year.  Just typing those words brings tears to my eyes and pain in my chest.

So while, yes, my husband is “out of town” so to speak, it’s so much harder having your loved one deploy. I have to try and somehow fill his very big shoes, as well as be a Mom, supervisor, wife, friend, maid, chef, tutor, and all the other titles that come with being an adult.  I do all these, all while living with the very real fear that something could happen to my husband.  And I tell you, this man I am blessed to call my husband is the most amazing man you could ever meet.  He taught me to live again, smile again, breathe again….

Until he returns, I’ll have to remind myself to do all these things…every day, is one day closer until he returns.  I challenge you to thank a service member the next time you have the opportunity.  It is because of their sacrifice that you are afforded so many freedoms.

Michelle Dragoo is a retired Air Force Master Sergeant whose passions include running, cooking, writing and photography. She lives with her family in the Chicago area and works as a laboratory supervisor. Her husband, Brian, previously deployed to Afghanistan in 2003. She blogs at Movin’ it with Michelle.