From the newsroom to the classroom

 

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The classroom where I teach two courses at Washington State University Vancouver.

I’m five weeks deep into the 2017 winter quarter at Portland State University, already halfway done with the 10-week term. Across the river, five weeks in means I’m a third of the way though the 16-week spring semester at Washington State University Vancouver.

I’m teaching one course at PSU on Monday-Wednesday and two at WSUV on Tuesday-Thursday and, yes, that’s keeping me plenty busy. (I also work four afternoons a week at a local nonprofit, but let’s not go there right now.)

As I write this on a Saturday morning, I’m struck by how fast the time goes, particularly when snow days force cancellation of classes — two at each campus — during the first two weeks. Throw in the King Day holiday and that’s another day we didn’t hold class at PSU.

But who’s complaining?

Fourteen months after leaving The Oregonian/OregonLive, I’ve got plenty on my plate.

***

Here I am this weekend with nearly 70 essays to grade, three chapters to read in three textbooks, two guest speakers to prepare for next week, and dates and times to confirm with a half-dozen more guests I’ve lined up in next couple of months.

Surely, this is nothing out of the ordinary for anyone who teaches full-time or even as an adjunct. Classroom time is just part of the deal. Planning and prep time take up a lot of intellectual energy, too, but the many administrative tasks involved — grading papers, maintaining a grade book, posting weekly schedules and lecture notes online, emailing students — account for far more time.

But, again, who’s complaining?

When I agreed to teach three classes at once, I knew I was in for a challenge. But the rewards are definitely worth it.

There is no better time to be teaching Media Literacy than now. When you’ve got a new administration declaring war on the press, throwing out phony accusations of fake news, and offering “alternative facts” as a diversion from verifiable facts that show Trump and his minions in an unflattering light, well, it’s the perfect time for a course like this.

My students at PSU have eagerly engaged on the subject, admitting their own shortcomings when it comes to digital literacy but also getting quickly up to speed in understanding who is providing what content (news, opinion, advertising) on the internet and for what purpose.

In Vancouver, I’m having a great time teaching Sports and the Media, holding up organized sports as a mirror of society. Coverage of sports has gone so far beyond just games, scores and hero worship to an era of athlete activism and self-marketing and wart-and-all coverage of coaches, players and programs. I present sports as a mirror of society, touching on racism, sexism, politics, entertainment, marketing and campus sexual abuse, among other topics. (Great timing to have Super Bowl 51 come along to illustrate the intersection of so many of these themes.)

I’m also teaching Reporting Across Platforms, traditionally a writing-intensive course designed to prepare students for producing words and images for print, broadcast and digital. I’m going at it somewhat differently, in light of the fact that many students are non-communications majors (let alone non-journalism majors) and have never done journalism in their life.

Accordingly, I’m trying to provide more context about the challenges facing today’s multimedia journalists in an era of 24/7 news and social media rather than emphasize basic skills of reporting, interviewing, writing and tweeting. The students are taking baby steps, but they’re also getting introduced to media ethics and the realities of a profession under siege.

I’ll check in again when the quarter and semester are done.

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I met for coffee recently with Gosia Wozniacka, a former reporter at The Oregonian and the Associated Press, who is now teaching a journalism class at Clark College in Vancouver. We compared notes on teaching.

For now, I take comfort in knowing I’m making a difference in how these young people are seeing things more clearly now — and even putting actions behind their words.

At least three students have let me know they have begun subscribing to The Oregonian/OregonLive or least committed to buying the newspaper two days a week as a sign of their support for local journalism. Several more made it clear to me, in emails or in class discussions, that they now understand the importance of a free press in a democratic society and are changing their media consumption habits accordingly.

What more could a teacher ask for?

 

A bird, a bagel and a baby

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Early morning quiet on the campus of Washington State University Vancouver.

In the midst of our daily routines, little moments sometimes present themselves when you least expect them, leaving you with a sense of appreciation of what’s good in life.

That’s what happened to me on a single day this week. Three random things involving nature, a conversation with a stranger, and news of a child being born. Each thing was disconnected from the other, but every one came as a salve at a time of angst about our deep political divide.

***

Thursday morning, I left home earlier than usual to arrive in plenty of time to greet a guest speaker in my morning class at Washington State University Vancouver. I was walking from the parking lot to the edge of campus when a sweet sound caught my ear.

I looked up to the right and spotted a little bird perched in the bare branches of a tree, singing his morning song. It was a sparrow, I think, and in the stillness of the morning, before most students had arrived, there was nothing but that sweet sound to serenade me to the front door of the building where I was headed..

In the distance, the flattened white top of Mount St. Helens came into view, combining with the songbird to remind me of nature’s beauty.

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Can you see it? Just above the treeline, it’s Mount St. Helens.

***

I taught two classes that day and hustled out the door, destined to my afternoon job with a nonprofit in Portland. I was running a few minutes ahead of schedule, so I decided to exit the freeway and grab a snack.

I walked in the door of a Panera franchise and the woman behind the counter greeted me with a smile.

I ordered a coffee and bagel to go and, in less than two minutes, it was ready.

“Here you go,” she said. “Have a great day.”

“Thanks. That was fast. Where do I pay?”

She froze for an instant, then laughed.

“Oh, yeah. I totally forgot.”

Her name tag identified her as “Carrie” and “Manager.” No doubt she’s one of those overworked, underpaid managers who hire and train employees, keep things on track in the kitchen and on the floor and, during slack times like this one, run the cash register.

“Well,” I said, “you can’t say you don’t offer great customer service.”

She smiled.

“Come back for dinner and I just might give it to you free!”

***

Back in the parking lot, I checked my phone. On Facebook, a new acquaintance was announcing the birth of her second child, a son.

This was Sharon, someone who lives in Ohio and someone I’ve never met in person. I learned of her last year when I purchased her book, “Becoming Mother,” for our daughter-in-law. I emailed her to compliment her on her book and she responded warmly.

A couple more emails led to a Facebook friendship and two recent guest blog posts on Rough and Rede II. In one of those, written just after the November election that shocked the world, she despaired at the realization her baby was due on Inauguration Day.

So I was delighted to learn her baby had arrived — and to read, in a blog post she’d mostly written ahead of time, of the perspective she’d gained while her son took an extra two weeks to come into the world.

Today, I simply say that life is unpredictable and messy. No matter how much we like to pretend that we have things under control, we very much do not. We don’t like the storms that plow through our neatly plotted lives. They uproot what we’ve planned. They can undo our hard work and make it irrelevant and meaningless.

But a lot of beautiful things can emerge from the storms of our lives.

Like rainbows.

Her piece is beautifully written and I recommend it to one and all: “Finally, We’ve Had the Baby.”

To all those who’ve become mothers in recent months, here’s a special wish for you and your son or daughter, that you never lose sight of the moments that bring you happiness, peace and calm. I’m talking to you, Jamie, and cousin Monique, and all the rest of you — Mary, Jen, Rachel — scattered from Washougal to Portland to Cincinnati.

 

Taking a break from bowling

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Good times on Monday nights. The fab four from left: Mike (Spud) Slama, George (The Professor) Rede, Joel (The Dude) Odom and Brian (El Chapo) Wartell.

They say all good things must come to an end. Even bowling.

After seven years in a Monday night beer league, I’m zipping up my bowling bag and putting my shoes and ball away for the next few months. Now that I’m teaching three classes on two college campuses, I’m going to need every available night during the week to keep on top of all of it: lectures, readings, exams, student work, emails, etc.

It’s been all fun since this Monday night activity got started in January 2010. I’ve bowled with a changing cast of friends and co-workers who’ve come and gone due to work and personal commitments.

We’ve bowled at two venues — the venerable Hollywood Bowl (now a hardware store) and AMF Pro 300.

We’ve bowled under five different names — Broken Taco Shells, Steamin’ Chalupas, The Cheeseheads (when I was the only guy with three women who were Green Bay Packers fans), the Mediaocracies (when my teammates were primarily former colleagues from The Oregonian/OregonLive) and, most recently, Bowling 4 Goats.

A teammate came up with the latter name during a Happy Hour brainstorming session. Silly? Of course. Why goats? Why not? Portland is one of those places known for urban chickens and urban goats – and, in fact, even has a resident herd, The Belmont Goats, with their own Facebook page and Instagram account.

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Portland’s own Belmont Goats.

We’ve bowled well (league champs one season) and we’ve bowled poorly (last-place finish another season).

Through it all, the weekly routine has provided a place to unwind. A place to celebrate strikes and spares, and to shrug off life’s gutter balls. A place to talk about work, family, books, sports, movies, music, travel, politics and (this being Portland) food — all while socializing with average joes and jills from all walks of life.

Last night, my teammates and I celebrated the end of our fall 2016 season. Out of 19 teams, we finished in third place with a record of 42 wins and 22 losses, 3 games behind the first-place team. I averaged 151 for the season –which was a personal best and one pin above my goal..

As before, we celebrated at Tilt, home of the biggest and baddest burgers in town.

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Clockwise from left: George, Mike, Joel and Brian raise a toast to Bowling 4 Goats.

I told my teammates I was dropping out temporarily and hoped to rejoin them next summer or fall. Until then, thanks to my bowling buddies — Brian, Joel and Mike and so many more — for the memories of the past seven years.

Photo montage: The Belmont Goats

A hillbilly’s memoir

Don’t know about you, but I’ve always been drawn to novels, memoirs and non-fiction narratives that unlock the key to unfamiliar places or people.

That was my thinking when I picked up “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,” a New York Times bestseller.

hillbilly_elegyI hoped I might gain insight into a subculture of Americans who’ve lately become the focus of national attention. I hoped I might understand a little better just what it is about being poor, white and rural in one of the country’s most economically depressed regions that makes people want to place their future in the hands of a wealthy, fear-mongering businessman and reality TV star living in Manhattan.

In fairness to author J.D. Vance, that’s not the reason he wrote “Hillbilly Elegy.” The idea for the book had already come together before the presidential primaries had begun and had nothing to do with Trump. Yet the book does provide a window into the psychology of the struggling white working class in Appalachia and neighboring Rust Belt states.

“There is a lack of agency here — a feeling that you have little control over your life and a willingness to blame everyone but yourself,” Vance says in the introduction.

Vance concedes the absurdity of writing a memoir at just 31 years of age. But as a Rust Belt refugee who escaped the cycle of poverty and violence in his extended family in Kentucky and Ohio and went on to the Marine Corps, Ohio State University and Yale Law School, he brings a fresh, clear-eyed perspective:

“I want people to know what it feels like to nearly give up on yourself and why you might do it. I want people to understand what happens in the lives of the poor and the psychological impact that spiritual and material poverty has on their children. I want people to understand the American Dream as my family and I encountered it.”

I  think the book has great value in these times. Vance is a good writer, honest and prescriptive in his analysis. He’s not arguing that poor whites deserve any more sympathy than anyone else. He’s not excusing the brawling, drinking, drug-taking ways of his dysfunctional family. He’s taking a hard look at social class from both ends of the spectrum — from poor folk living in the hollers of Kentucky and the industrial Midwest to Yale classmates born into a life of privilege and a sense of entitlement.

And in doing so, he holds the people in his world accountable for a litany of shortcomings:

***

Vance paints a grim portrait of himself — a Scots-Irish hillbilly — and others who inhabit the Greater Appalachian culture stretching from Alabama to Georgia in the South to Ohio in the North.

They don’t value education and their kids do poorly in school. They scream and yell and hit and punch each other. They smoke and drink too much and become drug addicts. They spend money on giant TVs and other luxuries, often using payday loans and high-interest credit cards, and declare bankruptcy when the bills come due.

They drop out of the labor force. They get fired for stealing or absenteeism. They choose to not to retrain or relocate for better opportunities. They live in social isolation, resentful of outsiders. And they point the finger at everyone but themselves.

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The author J.D. Vance.

“We talk about the value of hard work but tell ourselves that the reason we’re not working is some unperceived unfairness,” Vance writes. “Obama shut down the coal mines, or all the jobs went to the Chinese. These are the lies we tell ourselves to solve the cognitive dissonance –the broken connection between the world we see and the values we preach.”

It’s not hard to see why folks like these would rally around someone, a fellow blame-shifter, promising to take them back to the days when jobs were easy to come by.

Vance spent his early years in Jackson, in the hills of impoverished eastern Kentucky. He moved with his mother, sister and grandparents to Middletown, Ohio, a now-decaying steel town filled with so many other Kentucky transplants they called it “Middletucky.”

His mother was hooked on drugs and went through several husbands and boyfriends while stealing family heirlooms and selling them to support her habit. J.D. credits his older sister and maternal grandparents for helping raise him amidst the chaos and instability.

He, too, was headed toward a life of underachievement in a community suffering from social and economic decline but was saved by three things: the encouragement provided by teachers at his public high school; the cocoon of love and support provided by his grandparents Mamaw and Papaw after he quit living with his mom; and a cousin’s advice to consider the Marine Corps.

The Corps instilled in young Vance a sense of discipline and self-worth and, for the first time, exposed him to people unlike himself. It was the key to enrolling in college and, from there, applying to Yale Law, a place where 95 percent of students come from the upper middle class. It was the place where he would marry a fellow Indian American student; land prestigious internships in Washington, D.C.; launch a successful legal career; and wind up in San Francisco working for a Silicon Valley investment firm.

***

So, Vance asks, why did he make it out when so many others don’t?

In short, it’s because he had a handful of individuals in his community who empowered him with a sense that he could control his own destiny. And, it’s because government offered plenty of resources in the form of public schools and universities, federal financial aid for college, and Social Security benefits for his grandparents.

Toward the end of the book, Vance cites a study that revealed there is no group of Americans more pessimistic than working-class whites about their chances at bettering themselves economically. More than half of blacks, Latinos and college-educated whites expect that their children will do better than they have, the study found. But among working-class whites, only 44 percent share that view.

economic-mobility-word-cloudIn the aftermath of Trump’s improbable victory, Vance provides a timely counter-narrative to the rhetoric of modern conservatives. He’s seen friends from Middletown blossom while others succumb to drugs, prison and premature parenthood.

“What separates the successful from the unsuccessful are the expectations that they had for their lives.” Vance says. “Yet the message of the right is increasingly: It’s not your fault that you’re a loser; it’s the government’s fault.”

Imagine that. A young conservative from the Midwest refusing to join in on the government-bashing and willing to point to individual responsibility as a key to rising above life’s circumstances. We’ve seen generations of immigrants do it. Let’s see if the white working class, unburdened by skin color, can do it.

Vance has done a remarkable job in writing “Hillbilly Elegy.” With a tone of humility throughout, he offers hope that others might also escape the legacy of violence, poverty and despair that characterizes his part of America.

Photograph: Naomi McCulloch

Wordcloud: 123rf.com

Read an excellent review of the book in The New York Times.

 

Barack, Michelle and a foot of snow

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Heavy, wet snow accumulated rapidly in Portland overnight.

Woke up precisely at 4:21 a.m. today. It was dark and it was quiet. It was also gorgeous. A lush carpet of freshly fallen snow blanketed everything I could see up and down the street.

Never in my 30-plus years of living in Portland have I ever seen this much snow fall in a single day or night. It’s like a holiday greeting card: treetops and limbs wrapped in white, parked cars buried under the stuff, not a soul stirring in the silence.

At this hour, I’m alone with my thoughts:

— President Obama’s farewell speech is still resonating in my heart and soul. His simple yet forceful call to keep working for the common good, to guard against threats to our democracy, was masterful in its simplicity. I’m sad to see him leave office but I hope his parting words inspire millions to action.

“Our youth, our drive, our diversity and openness, our boundless capacity for risk and reinvention means that the future should be ours. But that potential will only be realized if our democracy works. Only if our politics better reflects the decency of our people. Only if all of us, regardless of party affiliation or particular interests help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.”

— I’m equally sad to see Michelle Obama come to the end of her eight years in the White House. A piece in The New York Times asked whether she will speak with a fuller voice after she is freed of the confining role of First Lady.

” As first lady, she used hints, invitations, art, sometimes even clothing to convey her viewpoint. If she mostly avoided controversial topics, her mere presence spoke volumes, and was there really any mistaking the fundamentals of what she believed?”

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One of a kind: Michelle Obama.

I, for one, hope this Harvard-trained lawyer and “mom-in-chief” will unleash the power of her intellect and empathy in continuing service to her values and to the ideals that make us better. As the Times’ Jodi Kantor points out: ” The world has only one observant, original, wildly popular African-American first lady, and for her to hoard her ideas and views would be a waste.”

— I’ll confess that one of the first things I did at this hour was to reach for my iPhone to see if the internet connection was working. I clicked onto OregonLive and there I saw the headline “Storm drops up to a foot of snow on Portland: 8 things you need to know.”

Sure, the headline is formulaic. But those 8 things gave me all the information I needed to know about accumulation, melting, school closings, bus service, etc., in a simple and concise format.

 

More to the point, I wondered how many people would pause to consider that two journalists — my former colleagues Jim Ryan and Margaret Haberman — were up ridiculously early pulling together the information for that 4 a.m. post. Readers often don’t give a thought to what’s involved in presenting timely and useful information, no matter the hour.

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View from our living room at 7:30 am.

I know from experience there’s an expectation that no matter what the weather, the newsroom stays open and people get there one way or another to cover the news of the day. It’s entirely possible that in this case Jim and Margaret did their reporting from home.

But, still, on a day when schools and colleges are shuttered, when city bus service is cut back, and all kinds of businesses close for the day, journalists at OregonLive and in other newsrooms around the city will be rising to the challenge, bringing us another day of news that we consume in the comfort of our homes.

Photograph: Lora Huntley, The Oregonian/OregonLive

Photograph: The Associated Press

Scrounging for empties at 5 a.m.

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Making end meet by collecting cans and bottles before the sun comes up.

Yesterday’s unexpectedly blue skies inspired me to greet 2017 with an upbeat mantra: “New day. New year. New attitude.”

Today’s encounter with a tall stranger challenged me to back my words with action.

***

I was wheeling our recycling bin to the curb early this morning when I came upon a tall guy, layered up and wearing a knit stocking cap, running his flashlight over the contents of what my neighbors had already put out the night before.

“You looking for cans and bottles?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he nodded.

“I’ve got some for you.”

I’d planned to redeem them myself this week, being someone who doesn’t mind spending time feeding them into the bins if it’ll help knock a few dollars off the grocery bill. But who needed the empties more? Me or him?

I hauled a couple of bags from the garage and set them next to his

“You doing any kind of work?” I asked.

“I deliver The Oregonian.” A slight pause. “And The New York Times.”

Well, how about that? I thought to myself. I know these folks don’t make a lot of money, whether paid a commission or an hourly wage. It made sense that he’d be on the streets at 5 a.m., trying to supplement his income.

I peered into his car, a weathered, four-door sedan, as he was placing more empties in the trunk and saw he had filled the entire back seat and front passenger area, from floor to ceiling, with as many bags and boxes as he could cram in.

I didn’t see any newspapers. But it dawned on me that The Oregonian is home-delivered just four days a week these days, and Monday is an off day. It made sense that he didn’t have any papers.

I grabbed a couple more 12-pack boxes and gave them to him.

“You got any work for me, mister?”

“No, I’m afraid I don’t,” I answered. “Where we live now, we don’t have to worry about yard work.”

“Well, thanks anyway.”

“You bet. Good luck to you and have a good year.”

***

With the dawn of a new year and new administration, several friends and family members have vowed to do what they can to preserve the progressive policies of the Obama years. As I think about my own values and personal responsibilities, I know I will have to find ways to contribute that feel comfortable to me.

As a lifelong journalist, I am accustomed to refraining from overt political involvement. Though no longer an employee of The Oregonian, I’m still likely to tread cautiously into area of direct action. Somehow, it feels more authentic to me to act on my values one person at a time.

And there’s plenty of opportunity.

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Time to be less selfish, more giving, in redeeming empty bottles and cans.

The consequences of income inequality are easy to see, in my neighborhood and in other parts of Portland. Virtually anywhere you go in this city, you’ll see tents and tarps housing the homeless, and people hustling outside coffee shops, grocery stores and Goodwill.

Undoubtedly, every person has a story. I don’t know what circumstances put this particular stranger on my street this morning. What I do know is that it felt much better to engage with him than to just set the empties out at the curb for anyone’s taking. What I also know is that I’m more inclined to help those who help themselves.

In lieu of a short list of resolutions, and with today’s encounter in mind, I will seek to hold myself accountable to this new mantra.

“New day. New year. New attitude.”

Photographs: nybottlereturn.com; hopewelloasis.com

Bonus video from one of my favorite bands:

2016: What a year

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Dawn on Orcas Island brings a magnificent view of Mount Baker.

Three weeks from today, the nation will inaugurate a new president — not the one I wanted, not the one everyone expected, but the bloviating mess known as Donald J. Trump.

I shudder to think what the next four years will be like under this man who continues to defy every social and political convention while trampling on the bounds of common decency. Especially so after the model of dignity, grace and intelligence that we’ve seen exhibited by Barack Obama and his equally impressive wife, Michelle, a power in her own right.

It’s still beyond belief that a man so ignorant (and proud of it), so misogynistic (and proud of it), so narcissistic (and proud of it) has been elected to the nation’s highest office. Yet there’s no disputing that Trump’s election was the story of the year in 2016.

But I’m not going to dwell on him. I’ve got my own agenda today — and that’s taking a look back at the year that was. For all the sadness we felt seeing so many entertainers and other public figures pass from the scene — David Bowie, Prince, Maurice White, Elie Wiesel, Garry Shandling, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, et al — there was a lot of other stuff going on in the Rede household.

After all, this is the year I traveled a new path, away from the newsroom where I had worked for the past 30 years. This was the year I caught a glimpse of what retirement might be like, only to settle into a new work routine in the fall.

Here’s a quick take:

***

First grandchild: We welcomed a charming little girl into our lives in late July. Little Emalyn May Rede, the daughter of our youngest son, Jordan, and his wife, Jamie, has been nothing but a source of pride and joy.

Lori and I were privileged to be the first ones to see and hold Emalyn, other than her parents, when she was just hours old. In the months since, she’s already transformed from helpless infant to smiling, healthy baby, seemingly delighted to be part of the action.

A new job (actually, two): Just as my severance from The Oregonian/OregonLive was running out in mid-September, along came two opportunities to return to the workforce.

Portland State University hired me to teach in the Department of Communications. I got started with a Media Ethics class that set me on a course I’ve always wanted to explore — that of a classroom teacher.

At the same time, I landed a part-time job as communications coordinator with the nonprofit Portland Workforce Alliance, an organization that partners with local employers and schools to expand career and technical education opportunities for metro-area high school students.

In January, I will add a third leg to this stool as an adjunct instructor at Washington State University Vancouver. I loved being a journalist, but I also feel fortunate to have these new employment opportunities.

The big noventa: My dad turned 90 years old in March, so all three of us kids and our extended families gathered in a San Diego suburb to celebrate nine decades of good living.

My dad and stepmom drove in from New Mexico. Lori and I flew in from Portland. My younger sister Cathy flew down from Alaska. My older sister Rosemary, with help from her daughter and son-in-law, hosted the party near Oceanside.

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

Catarino Allala Rede is the only sibling left from a family of seven brothers and two sisters. It was great to see my dad basking in the love and admiration of his children, grandchildren and great-children. For a man who did manual labor all his life and whose formal education stopped at the eighth grade before he went back later in life to get a G.E.D., he’s done pretty damn well.

A baseball road trip: In May, I made a whirlwind trip that allowed me to see four Major League Baseball games in three cities in five days. I flew into Pittsburgh, then drove to Cleveland and on to Cincinnati.

In all, I covered about 400 miles from western Pennsylvania to Ohio, traveling the length of the Buckeye State through gently rolling landscapes. With Lori’s blessing, I stayed in three airbnb rentals and took the opportunity to see new sights, experience unfamiliar places, and visit with new and old friends in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

Cool concerts: There were only three this year involving pop artists, but each was satisfying in its own right.

Got to see Jackson Browne at Edgefield in August and he was outstanding. A month earlier, I saw the Dixie Chicks at a Clark County amphitheater just north of Portland and they were exceptional. Their July concert came at a time when I was feeling down, given a spasm of fatal shootings of both civilians and cops in three states.

In November, I saw Liz Longley, a favorite singer-songwriter, for the second time in 18 months, this time in the intimate space of the Alberta Rose Theater.

Excellent books: All that free time I had in the first few months of the year enabled me to dive into the world of literature. Although I slowed down considerably after going back to work, I still managed to plow through 15 books.

They ran the gamut — everything from a young reader books about a transgender youth (“George” by Alex Gino) and a deaf baseball player (“The William Hoy Story” by Nancy Churnin) to a gritty collection of stories about the Motor City (“Detroit” by Charlie LeDuff) to a rape survivor’s memoir (“Lucky” by Alice Sebold) to a sweeping novel about race, culture and class in Nigeria and the United States (“Americanah” by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie.

There was lots more by the likes of John Updike, Steig Larsson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Lauren Groff, Celeste Ng, Anne Hillerman and Robert Goodlick. You’ll find a synopsis of each one here: Books & Literature.

PIFF: Early in the year, I joined the ranks of volunteers at the 39th annual Portland International Film Festival. In exchange for helping to greet patrons, take tickets, etc., I got to see six movies for free at three theaters during the month of February.

It was a lot of fun and I’d like to do it again, but not this year. Too much going on with my three part-time jobs to even consider it.

Urban hikes: Another luxury during the first half of the year was exploring my own city with the help of a great guidebook, “Portland Hill Walks” by Laura O. Foster.

I made a routine of selecting a route that took me into mostly unfamiliar neighborhoods, where I learned a lot about the city’s history, geography and demographics. Hard to say which were my favorites, but I do recall the pleasant surprise of discovering Marshall Park in Southwest Portland and getting thoroughly soaked when I hiked through the jewel that is Washington Park.

Island getaways: We made it up to our cabin on Orcas Island three times. Each time is like opening a valve and releasing the stress that comes with living in a city of 632,000 people and an urban area of 2.4 million. Compare that to maybe 2,000 folks total on Orcas.

We’re blessed to have a place where we can hike and kayak, read, play board games, feed the birds and watch old movies — all in a beautiful place that offers Solitude with a capital S.

This year, we enjoyed a parade and community potluck on the Fourth of July weekend and hosted our longtime friends, Bob and Deborah Ehlers. We did our best to make their three-night stay a memorable one, with excursions to Doe Bay, Eagle Lake and Mount Constitution.

Pets: We lost our beloved Otto in July, shortly after our final trip to the island and just a week before Emalyn was born. He was a Jack Russell Terrier, 11 years old, blessed with a sweet disposition, and loved by all who knew him. Otto was especially close to Lori and had earned the status of “The Fourth Child.” Fittingly, he died of an an enlarged heart.

Before Otto died, he schooled little Charlotte, our Terrier-Pug-Chihuahua mix, in the ways of the world. She misses him, for sure, but she has blossomed as the sole focus of our canine attention. Charlotte and I survived a run-in with two pit bulls at a dog park, but she’s healed completely and is becoming more social with other dogs and humans.

Mabel, now the senior pet, continues to rule the roost in her own bedroom, a sweet brown tabby who refuses to come downstairs and interact with Charlotte.

Voices of August: No recap would be complete without mention of my annual guest blog project and post-publication meetup. For six years now, I’ve opened up the blog to a different writer each day during the month of August. It’s a wonderful thing to see — a diverse group of friends, relatives and co-workers from all over the country (and even abroad) each taking a turn writing about an issue or an experience that never fails to entertain, inform or resonate with an online audience.

This year’s VOA gathering was held at a Northeast Portland brewpub not far from our home and drew folks from three states, including my compadre, Al Rodriguez, and his lovely wife (and first-time VOA contributor), Elizabeth Lee.

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hillary-buttonLike the other 65 million-plus Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton, I wish we were inaugurating the nation’s first female president. Instead, I’m left to hope that in 2017 we can endure the worst of what a Trump presidency can bring and begin building a coalition that returns the White House to someone we can put our trust in.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Lessons learned from Minidoka

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An Exclusion Order posted at First and Front Streets directs the removal of persons of Japanese ancestry from the first San Francisco section to be affected by the evacuation during World War II. (National Archives)

U.S. history books tell us of the abominable sin known as slavery and of the genocidal displacement of Native Americans at the hands of European explorers and colonists.

But if you’re like me, your textbooks might not have been as forthcoming about another huge stain on America’s history of human rights violations.

I’m talking about the forced removal and imprisonment of nearly 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry during World War II — an action taken against U.S. citizens under the authority of an Executive Order signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

I’m reasonably familiar with the overarching narrative.

In February 1942, little more than two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government created a military “exclusion zone” along the Pacific Coast, where it feared an attack by the Japanese military.

Law-abiding citizens lost their farms, homes and businesses and, with no due process, were rounded up in August 1942 and sent to one of 10 concentration camps in seven states, where they lived in hastily built compounds surrounded by guard towers and barbed wire fencing.

The camps were shut down after three years, after Japan’s surrender, with no reports whatsoever of treason or enemy threat from within. Eventually, in 1988, Congress formally apologized and President Ronald Reagan signed a bill authorizing $1.25 billion in reparations – $20,000 to each of the approximately 60,000 internees then still alive.

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A splendid book published by Boise State University in partnership with College of Southern Idaho.

Knowing the big picture of that mass incarceration is one thing. Learning and absorbing the details of that humiliating experience is another thing altogether.

Thanks to an elegant book I’ve just read, loaned to me by a friend who endured wartime incarceration with her parents and siblings, I’ve got a much better understanding now.

Let me introduce you to “Surviving Minidoka,” a beautifully written and illustrated book examining the legacy of WWII Japanese American incarceration.

There’s no better time to reflect on the lessons of that era than now, given our president-elect’s campaign rhetoric about a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries and possibly a database for all Muslims in the United States.

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The Minidoka Relocation Center, also known as Hunt Camp after the nearby town of Hunt, was located in the arid sagebrush of south-central Idaho, about 130 miles southeast of Boise, the state’s capital and largest city.

Minidoka was operated by the U.S. War Relocation Authority and held more than 9,000 people from Washington, Oregon and Alaska in tarpaper barracks. “Surviving Minidoka” tells the story of that shameful period in U.S. history, tracing the long history of discrimination against Asian immigrants and the lingering bigotry that led military leaders to believe — wrongly — that Japanese American citizens living on the West Coast would be loyal to the Japanese Empire

The book’s 10 chapters, written by historians, artists, landscape architects, essayists and camp survivors, give voice to the men, women and children who were rounded up like cattle during WWII.

Poems, paintings, political cartoons and historical photographs document racist sentiments of the times while also chronicling internees’ efforts to make the best out of a deplorable situation.

On Minidoka’s 33,000 acres there were schools, fire stations, a hospital, a library, food stores, ballparks, theatres, vegetable gardens and traditional Japanese-style ornamental gardens and ponds.

Astoundingly, the federal government required all eligible Nisei men (second-generation) to register for the draft. Though dozens resisted and were convicted of draft evasion, nearly 1,000 men and women from Minidoka volunteered or were drafted for military service in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Military Intelligence Service, Women’s Army Corps or the Army Nurse Corps, according to the book.

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Fumi Onodera, 20, points at the names of her three brothers, Ko, Kaun, and Satoru, who were listed on the Minidoka Honor Roll of Japanese Americans serving in the U. S. Army. (Courtesy of UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library)

The 442nd, made up nearly entirely of Japanese Americans, had nearly 14,000 men serve in the combat unit, and together won 21 Medals of Honor and 9.486 Purple Hearts during WWII. So much for disloyalty.

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What’s most troubling about this aspect of our history is that so much of it took place in West Coast cities and communities where I’ve lived or otherwise know very well. It’s painful to see dozens of photos documenting the uprooting of Japanese families and business owners from places like San Francisco, Oakland and Salinas, California; Portland and Hood River, Oregon; Seattle, Everett and Bainbridge Island, Washington.

I’m ashamed that the campus of San Jose State University, my alma mater, served as a processing center for internees in California. I’m appalled that the Washington State Fairgrounds in Puyallup, just outside Tacoma, also served as an “assembly center.” And I’m chagrined to read about racist resort owners mistreating a family of recently released internees from Seattle who had hoped to vacation for a couple of days in Cannon Beach, Oregon.

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Residents of Japanese ancestry file forms containing personal data, two days before evacuation, at a Wartime Civil Control Administration station. (National Archives)

Though I only recently read the book, Minidoka has been on my mind for months.

A Japanese American friend and his 12-year-old daughter both wrote essays for my blog following their experiences this summer visiting Minidoka and another internment camp in Wyoming.

Related reading from Voices of August: American internment in the shadows of Yellowstone by Aki Mori; My visit to Heart Mountain by Midori Mori.

Not long thereafter, Lori and I went with friends to see a splendid play about Gordon Hirabayashi, the University of Washington student who was sent to prison in 1942 for willfully violating a wartime Army curfew. Our friend Nancy, who was just 3 years old when she and her family were sent to Minidoka, brought her copy of “Surviving Minidoka” and left it with me to peruse at my leisure. I finally got to it this month.

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Young visitors explore an original WWII internment barrack that was located at a county fairground and returned to Minidoka. There were 432 such barracks at the camp. (Photograph by Aki Mori)

As I prepare to return the book, I’m grateful for the exposure to so many stories of ordinary people who stoically endured the camps and yet emerged with a sense of dignity that no government could stamp out.

I am struck by the wisdom of Frank Yoshikazu Kitamoto, a camp survivor who was 2 years old when the FBI arrested 34 men, including his father, in a 1942 raid near Seattle:

“Anger and defensiveness cause a vicious circle of fear. As human beings we can make the choice of responding in a fearful way or we can overcome our fears to think outward. No matter how hard people may try, they can never, never, never take away a person’s authentic power. Understanding this is a key to being able to look outward from one’s self. Human rights are love based and have no exceptions.”

Christmas 2016 rewind

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The Rede siblings: Jordan, Simone and Nathan

There’s always such a long buildup to the holidays and then — poof! — they’re gone.

Well, not entirely. We still have New Year’s Eve to look forward to.

But, still, it feels as though we’ve crested the roller coaster and now we’re easing toward the final days of the year.

Quick, before the calendar leaps ahead, a look back at a fine celebration.

Friday: We got the party started on the 23rd. Lori’s brother, Jim, and his splendid wife, Judi, came over for dinner and to join us in hanging out with Jordan, Jamie and Emalyn.

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The three Js: Jordan with his Aunt Judi and Uncle Jim.

Over tamales, refried beans, beer and wine, we shared stories about parenthood and grand-parenthood, now that we’ve joined the club. Jim and Judi have six.

Jordan and Jamie arrived the day before to attend the wedding of their friends, Vaughn and Candy, so it was nice to have them plant themselves for a few days.

Saturday: The celebration continued with a gathering at our place and a traditional hors d’hoevres dinner featuring more than a dozen appetizers to fill your plate. Lori likes this option more than an elaborate sit-down meal and who are we to disagree?

Along with Jordan & Jamie, we also had Simone & Kyndall and Nathan & Sara with us — a rare treat to have all three children and their spouses/partners. (Next year, they’ll scatter to be with their partners’ families.)

Another rarity: Lori and I joined Simone at a Christmas Eve service at a neighborhood church, Augustana Lutheran, known for its resident jazz quartet and national leadership as a sanctuary congregation. Nice to be in a church that respects all cultures and faiths and lives up to the values it preaches.

We made time for an early celebration of two birthdays — Jordan’s and mine — and called it a night.

Sunday: Not long after breakfast, the opening of gifts resumed, this time with Emalyn at front and center. This perpetually smiling baby turned five months old the day before and we were delighted to have her here for her first Christmas.

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Nonni Lori and lil’ Emalyn.

A little after noon, we packed up Charlotte and headed over to Simone & Kyndall’s for a full day of activities and a four-star meal, painstakingly prepared by the two ladies.

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Our hosts: Simone and Kyndall.

Food may be the fuel but family is the real nourishment at times like these. It’s so good to be around your adult children and their wonderful partners. There were no issues with the dogs — four in total, each of them weighing 15 pounds or less — and the only glitch came when we settled in to watch “Elf.”

Evidently, too many neighbors on the Internet foiled our plan to watch Will Ferrell in his Oscar-winning (er, unforgettable) role as Buddy the Elf.

No biggie. We all left with full bellies and full hearts. Isn’t that what every family wants from this holiday season?

Sounds of the season

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Members of the Portland Intergenerational Choir perform at Pacifica Calaroga Terrace.

Monday nights usually find me at the bowling alley, sipping on a cold beer and enjoying the company of my teammates. Last night, I departed from that routine and instead found myself in the chapel of an assisted living facility.

The reason?

Lori and I went to see our daughter, Simone, perform Christmas carols and other songs as part of the Portland Intergenerational Women’s Choir. With choir members ranging in age from 10 to 80 years old, it was a musical and visual experience that lifted our spirits. Just the kind of thing to put us in a proper mood for the hectic holidays to come.

It was charming to see about 30 women of all ages gathered together to sing all the traditional songs (“Silent Night,” “Deck The Halls,” and more) as well as the 1961 classic “Stand By Me.” Five preteen girls stood next to each other, one row above four older ladies seated in chairs. All around them were women in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, etc. In the back row, a 1-year-old named Edith bobbed and bounced on the shoulders of her young mother.

All were singing with abandon, with more joy than technique. But that was the appealing thing. And I don’t think I’m being too hokey saying their happiness radiated into the audience of about 50, many of them residents of the facility who came with walkers and wheelchairs. Three choir members, in fact, live there in the high-rise retirement community known as Pacifica Calaroga Terrace.

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Simone has always loved singing. Since middle school, she’s been a part of one choir or another, performing around the metro area and even touring internationally with the Portland Symphonic Girlchoir and the Grant High School Royal Blues.

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Choir director Crystal Akins urges the audience to sing along.

She was excited to invite us to her latest group, a choral residency choir that teams up with nursing and assisted living homes to provide weekly on-site rehearsals to residents and community members.

The director is Crystal Akins, a cheerful and energetic woman who sang with Simone back in her Girl Choir days. Crystal leads multiple choirs, including one serving inmates at a women’s prison in Wilsonville and another serving homeless youth in Beaverton.

Talk about walking the walk.

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A post-concert photo of two lovelies: Lori and Simone

Though the concert was upbeat, there was a touch of melancholy associated with the venue.

Calaroga Terrace, a mile from our home, is where Lori’s mother lived in the final years of her life after she had moved up from San Francisco to be closer to us and other family members. Virginia, a devout Catholic, would attend services in the chapel where the concert was held. She died 11 years ago and neither Lori nor I had been there since.

We’re not sure if Virginia would have joined the choir had it been an option. But we’re certain she would have loved seeing her granddaughter sing — and no doubt would have joined in on the Christmas carols.