2018: Looking back, looking ahead

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Sunday morning walk in Kensington Gardens, near my accommodations in London.

A wedding, a cross-country move, a teaching stint in the U.K. Those were just a few of the highlights of this past year, when a combination of factors resulted in far fewer blog posts than normal.

Let’s get after it, shall we?

The month of May brought the biggest, most welcome news. That’s when our oldest child, Nathan, married his girlfriend, Sara Bird, in a casual ceremony on a Sunday night.

The couple had been together for eight years and it was nice to see them take the next step, surrounded by friends and family at Victoria, a popular bar and restaurant in North Portland. The bride and groom said “I do” under dim lighting in the bar as a longtime friend of both, Jared White, officiated. At least six of Nathan’s DJ friends, including Reverend Jared, took turns pumping out dance music.

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Nathan and Sara clasp hands as their wedding ceremony gets underway.

It’s funny that our oldest of three children would be the last to wed, and the youngest the first to wed. The newlyweds postponed their honeymoon until the fall, but then went big — to Spain and Barcelona. Back at work, Nathan is a line cook at Besaw’s and continues to DJ while Sara works in human resources for the Bishops haircutting chain.

Best thing of all: Now we have three daughters-in-law, as different as can be in personality, stature and interests. We love them all.

Among the guests that day was my stepmother, Ora. She flew in from New Mexico to spend a few days with us and we thoroughly enjoyed her visit. She sang a traditional Mexican song to Nathan at the wedding rehearsal lunch, and saw a lot of the sights in the South Waterfront district with me when I took a day off to ride the trolley and tram with her up to Oregon Health & Science University.

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Three generations: Lori, Grandma Ora and Simone.

The other big family news came in August, when our youngest child, Jordan, completed another cross-country move on his path to a Ph.D. He and his wife Jamie and their daughter, Emalyn, moved from Missouri to upstate New York so he could begin a five-year Ph.D program in microbiology at Cornell University.

They’re living in a rented farmhouse just outside the village of Spencer, about 20 miles south of the Cornell campus in Ithaca. They are 200-plus miles northwest of New York City, nestled in the Finger Lakes area, so named for five lakes that resemble fingers on a downward-facing hand.

They are in a beautiful part of the country,  marked by two-lane roads, rolling green hills and colonial style homes. Lori and I visited Jordan and family to help unload three big Pods and get them settled into their new place. Lori returned on her own in November for a pre-holiday visit and loved spending time with little Emmy, who at 2 1/2 years old grows smarter and more adorable each day. We’re making plans for a return visit in March.

Our time with Jordan and Jamie came on the heels of my teaching a summer course in media literacy in London, England.

It was a pinch-me, is-this-really-happening moment that lasted two weeks. I had six students come with me from Portland and Vancouver for an intense but thoroughly enjoyable time in one of the world’s leading cities. We visited the Houses of Parliament and leading media organizations, hosted guest speakers, crisscrossed the city on the tube, and saw a variety of historical landmarks and tourist attractions from a bus, a boat and on foot. On the final weekend, I took a day trip to Oxford by train and the next day saw an Agatha Christie play in a magnificent building set next to the Thames River.

Assuming I can recruit another group of students, I’m going back again in July 2019 to teach the same class. Only this time, we’re planning to have Lori join me toward the end for a shared British vacation.

(Because of my travels to London and Ithaca, I put my annual Voices of August guest writers project on hold. I’m anticipating more free time next year and looking forward to version 8.0 with contributions from near and far.)

***

What else happened in 2018? Here’s a quick rundown:

Sports: While Portland is considered a backwater for major league sports, I still got my fill of professional and amateur events. I attended a handful of Trail Blazers games, saw my first Portland Timbers match, showed up for two Portland State basketball games at the new Viking Pavilion, and took Lori to see a Portland Thorns soccer game

Most enjoyable, however, was taking in Day One of the NCAA Track and Field Championships at the University of Oregon in Eugene. The four-day meet in June was one of the last major competitions at Historic Hayward Field, which is undergoing a huge redesign and rebuilt that will culminate in a larger, world-class facility in time for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials.

My friend Eric Wilcox works for a Portland architectural firm that is part of the stadium redesign project, so he was able to get us the NCAA tickets. We had great seats in the West Grandstand with a good view of the finish line for all the running events.

Music: I saw a handful of favorite artists in concert, all of them packed into the second half of the year: James Taylor, Hall and Oates, LeAnn Rimes and Liz Longley. The superstars need no introduction, but you may not be familiar with Liz Longley. She’s a Nashville-based singer-songwriter whose music was introduced to me by a longtime friend who’s also a professional music critic. I’ve seen Liz four times now in four venues in Portland. Wonderful voice and very happy to pose for selfies after her shows.

Books:  I did relatively little reading this year, so I have no trouble recalling “Behold the Dreamers” as my favorite. It’s the debut novel by Imbolo Mbue, a Cameroonian immigrant, and her story about a wealthy New York couple and a young immigrant couple from Cameroon takes place just as the Great Recession takes hold in 2018.

I re-read two books — something I never do — but these were extraordinary novels and deserving of another read: “Devil in a Blue Dress” by Walter Mosley and “Winter’s Bone” by Daniel Woodrell. I also enjoyed “Slide!” by my talented neighbor, Carl Wolfson; “Shot Through the Heart” by MIkal Gilmore; and “The Piano Lesson,” a play by August Wilson.

A related highlight: In October, I attended a Think & Drink event with the author Eli Saslow at the Alberta Rose Theatre. Oregon Humanities is presenting a series of four conversations on journalism and justice during 2018-19, and the Saslow event was the first. He talked about his book, “Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist.” Sounds intriguing. I’ve put it on my reading list for 2019.

Sold: In September, we shared a bittersweet moment when we sold our beloved cabin on Orcas Island. During the 13 years we owned it, we treasured every trip to our little piece of paradise, a modest log cabin tucked into the woods with a view of the ocean water. It was a place to soak up the silence, appreciate nature’s beauty, and let the stress melt away. We take comfort in knowing that the place will be in good hands — those of a young Seattle-based writer who was looking for a quiet place to do his creative work.

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Here in Portland, we continue to enjoy good health, good friends and our furry companions – Charlotte, our feisty Border Terrier-Pug-Chihuahua, and Mabel, our sweet-natured brown tabby cat.

With a new runner’s watch (a birthday gift from Lori) and new resolve to use it, I look forward to a more physically active 2019. Likewise, new opportunities await at work and at play. Can’t wait to get started.

 

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Another trip around the sun

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I’ve always enjoyed having a birthday that falls between Christmas and New Year’s. Three reasons why:

No. 1: I seem to always have the day off.

No. 2: In the long run-up to the major holidays, my special day has always seemed like something of a respite. If it gets overlooked, no big deal.

No. 3: The weather is usually cold and wet. If I’m driven to stay indoors, that’s not a bad thing. I can always read a book and/or get warm by the fireplace.

This year, I was off again from work. The weather was cool and dry. And while I enjoyed kicking back yesterday morning — with a book and a swim — there was no way my birthday was going to be overlooked.

Lori took me out to dinner and presented me with a pile of small gifts afterward, ranging from sushi-themed socks to a new runner’s watch. And thanks to assorted texts, voice mails, social media posts and other well wishes sent from near and far, I’m feeling the warm fuzzies that come from knowing so many fine people in addition to my extended family.

Now that I’ve reached, um, the big Sesenta y Seis (that would be LXVI in Super Bowl years), I suppose that I ought to have something halfway profound to say. You know, something along the lines of facing life’s challenges — or looking back on this or that path not taken.

But the truth is, I feel quite content and even a little guilty.

I’m happily married to my college sweetheart, 43 years and counting. We share a lovely home with our dog and cat in a cool neighborhood in a great, if imperfect, city.

I’ve got three wonderful children, three wonderful daughters-in-law, and one wonderful granddaughter. And though only two of our kids live here in Portland, we’re making plans to visit the third in upstate New York early next year.

I’m healthy and reasonably fit, though I know could (and resolve to) work out more regularly.

I’m enjoying a second career, having transitioned from the newsroom to the college classroom three years ago.

In short, I have nothing to complain about and much to be thankful for.

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A Christmas Day gathering with some of the people I love most. Clockwise from left: son Nathan, daughter-in-law Sara, daughter-in-law Kyndall, daughter Simone and my wife, Lori.

Funny thing, the book that I’m reading now centers on a larger-than-life character who couldn’t be more different than me. In his memoir, the guy holds back nothing about his thieving, drug-addled, promiscuous past, starting with a failed attempt at college, working alongside a swashbuckling group of heavily tatted, hard-drinking  cronies, and  rising, then crashing and burning, in his chosen profession.

As I’m reading this, I’m thinking “What a life!” From a publisher’s standpoint, how great to have such a talented writer so willing to share tales of wretched excess in a compelling narrative that surely culminates in redemption. From a reader’s perspective, how enthralling to experience the “bad boy” lifestyle through the lens of the one who’s actually lived it.

And from my point of view, how very different my own life has been.

Honestly, I’m one of those guys who largely stays within the lines. I’m not a big risk-taker. Hence, no broken bones (ever), no arrests, no sordid tales from college days or travels abroad. No teenage pranks, no school suspensions, no elaborate pranks. No tattoos, no piercings. Heck, I even drive the speed limit.

No best-selling memoir for me.

But, you know, I’m pretty happy all things considered. I know there are an awful lot of people out there dealing with all manner of stresses, whether it’s work, family, finances, relationships or retirement. Depression, anxiety and worries about physical health are widespread.

I’m fortunate — blessed, really — to be in this situation and I don’t take it lightly. Having just completed another trip around the sun, I look forward to another Year of Not Living Dangerously, with appreciation for all those people I love and all the things I enjoy.

If you’ve read this far, I hope you’ll enjoy this soothing song that’s one of my favorites. It happened to come up on YouTube as I was composing this post.

Letting go of Orcas

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Eagle Lake: beautiful from any angle.

After 13 years of enjoying a piece of paradise, we no longer own our lovely cabin on Orcas Island.

We sold our vacation home in September, a bittersweet moment for sure. The fact that it’s taken me more than three months to finally write about it suggests that I may be in denial. After all, this is a place that created so many wonderful memories for our family over the years.

But, yes, it’s true.

We sold it to the ideal buyer — a Seattle-based writer who had visited the island many a time and was looking for a quiet place to nurture his creative talents. We think he made a great choice.

We bought the place in 2005 with a hefty down payment we made with our share of an inheritance from Lori’s parents. In the years since, it’s been a place where we could come and relax for a few days at a time, knowing we’d find solitude and serenity at the end of a gravel driveway with a gorgeous view of water, mountains and forest.

 

The memories are too numerous to mention. But I list a few here just to remind myself of the special occasions and extraordinary number of places on the island where one could enjoy the sights, smells and sounds of nature.

None surpasses the day in August 2014 when our daughter Simone married Kyndall on a spectacular Saturday afternoon ceremony that extended into a lively, intergenerational party in the rented Odd Fellows Hall. Nearly 100 people came from a dozen states to join in a celebration that was preceded by a rehearsal dinner at Eagle Lake.

Another favorite: When I spent a long weekend alone with my two boys, Nathan and Jordan.

 

But there was plenty more:

— Family walks and solitary runs around Mountain Lake, Cascade Lake and Twin Lakes. Day hikes to Obstruction Pass State Park and Turtleback Mountain.

— Kayaking trips out of Doe Bay and Deer Harbor. Playing nine-hole rounds at Orcas Island Golf Club.

— Sitting at the edge of Eagle Lake with a beer or a glass of wine on a sunny afternoon, gazing at a bald eagle or an osprey as trout occasionally breached the water’s surface.

— Walking the Lake Trail around Eagle Lake, first with Otto, our Jack Russell Terrier, and then with Charlotte, our Border Terrier-Chihuahua-Pug. Doing the same on the trails above our home, leading up to Peregrine Lane.

— Driving through Moran State Park to and from Eastsound, the center of commercial activity on the island. Taking visitors to the top of Mount Constitution for a majestic view of the San Juan Islands, Canada and the U.S. mainland.

— Discovering the quirky vibe of Open Mic Night at Doe Bay Resort while savoring a tasty dinner. Patronizing local vendors at the Farmers Market. Buying farm-fresh duck eggs and live clams at Buck Bay.

— Sampling the many great places to eat on the island, ranging from the elegant Inn at Ship Bay to our favorite lunch spot, Asian Kitchen, to the old-school Lower Tavern, where I could count on a delicious burger and fries and a billiards table, to Brown Bear Bakery, with its luscious treats.

 

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Even with all of that, the greatest pleasure was simply being alone in our cabin, waking up to the sounds of songbirds and preparing a leisurely breakfast. We’d have lunch outside on the deck, go for an outing somewhere, curl up with a book in front of the woodstove, cook a nice dinner, watch a movie or play a board game, and go to bed in a loft bedroom partly illuminated by moonlight and a blanket of stars.

We would come up three to four times a year, usually for a week at a time. Part of the routine was stopping for coffee breaks and designated rest areas at the same spots along I-5 on our way to and from the ferry landing in Anacortes. During the years that Jordan and Jamie lived in Spanaway, just outside Tacoma, we’d stop in for an overnight visit.

But with the two of them, and our granddaughter Emalyn, now living on the East Coast and our two oldest kids and their spouses preoccupied with many other things in their lives, we realized the time had come for us to think about selling the property.  Plus, Lori wanted to be free of the burden of maintaining a second home, especially when we were only getting up there not even a handful of times a year.

 

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We will always treasure the friendships we made on the island, particularly with Carl and Juliana Capdeville, who took us under their wing as Eagle Lake caretakers when we first arrived in this neck of the woods. We shared many a meal with them, got to know their three adult children, and were pleased to have them prepare and serve the catered dinner at Simone and Kyndall’s wedding.

I found myself feeling sad the other day, realizing there was no place I’d rather be than in the living room of our cabin, dozing in the recliner with Charlotte in my lap, and absolutely nothing to do other than read a good book. The moment passed, however, when I realized that I have this blog to remind me of the beautiful images and wonderful memories made in this tranquil place.

Like it or not, I need to close this chapter of our lives. I am letting go of Orcas.

 

Trivia for a good cause

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Members of The Young and The Restless team at trivia night. Clockwise from left: Tom, Richard, Elsa, Lori and George.

Weeknights can be pretty routine at home and pretty slow at most restaurants and bars. But schedule a trivia contest and everyone wins.

Tuesday night found us at a North Portland brewpub where we joined family and friends at a fundraiser for the Oregon Center for Public Policy, a Portland nonprofit that does research and analysis of tax, budget and economic issues affecting Oregon residents.

The event was billed as Economic Justice Trivia night, in partnership with Willamette Week’s annual Give!Guide and in keeping with the Center’s focus on support for policies advancing dequity and inclusion. We were there at the invitation of our daughter Simone, who serves on the OCPP board of directors. We, in turn, invited our friends, Tom and Elsa Guiney, and the four of us had a great evening.

How could we not?

The food and drinks were just fine. We made a new friend. The trivia contest was fun and educational. We showed our support for the Center with a donation. And, to top it off, Tom walked away with the evening’s top prize — a basketful of goodies that included a candy-filled mug and a year’s worth of free haircuts.

The event was held at the Lucky Labrador North Taproom, a spacious and well-lit brewpub in the Overlook neighborhood. I’d say about 60-70 people attended, including guests and OCPP staff, and about seven teams competed to answer two rounds of questions. Simone’s wife, Kyndall, was part of a team.

Naturally, the Guineys and Redes formed a team, too, and we called it The Young and The Restless. A friendly guy named Richard was sitting at our table. He joined in as our teammate and helped us come up with answers to a slew of questions involving Oregon tax policy, state and national politics, and elected officials.

For instance:

We knew that there are 90 seats in the Oregon Legislature, that Tina Kotek is the Oregon Speaker of the House, and that Val Hoyle is commissioner-elect of the Bureau of Labor and Industries. But we overestimated the minimum wage (it’s $12 an hour in the metro area) and we didn’t realize that the home mortgage deduction is the largest housing subsidy program in Oregon — not the Section 8 renter assistance program, as we assumed.

Not your everyday topics of conversation, right?

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We finished in a tie for third place, a respectable showing. More important, it felt good to support an organization that works for the common good in Salem; good to support Simone, who is leaving the board after 4 1/2 years of service; and good to make a new friend.

Turns out our teammate, Richard Gilliam, moved from Chicago to Oregon many years ago to work as an labor organizer. These days, he works in the construction industry,  mentors young men at Jefferson High School and three other Portland public schools, and volunteers on community issues and campaigns.

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Richard Gilliam brought warmth and wisdom (and an occasional right answer) to The Young and The Restless team.

We’re going to try to meet for coffee and learn more about each other. With any luck, we’ll make a stronger showing at the next trivia contest.

 

A date with my daughter

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With my wonderful daughter Simone.

Not to be all Grinchy about it, but I prefer to take holiday music in small doses — and the closer to Christmas Day the better.

But I made an exception this year, and for good reason. My daughter and I went out a week ago today to see LeAnn Rimes in concert at a casino north of Portland. I’ve always liked LeAnn from the first time I heard her as a teenager sounding like a young Patsy Cline.

I knew she was scheduled to perform at the Ilani Resort casino in Ridgefield, Washington. But I also knew Lori wouldn’t go with me on a Sunday night (she’s gotta get up really early to teach a Monday group fitness class). And, truth be told, I had my own hesitation because LeAnn was going to perform a set of Christmas-themed songs.

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Ilani Resort, located off Interstate 5, is owned by the Cowlitz Tribe of SW Washington in partnership with the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut.

But when Simone — out of the blue and much to my delight — asked if I wanted to go to the concert, I jumped at the opportunity. First and foremost, spending time with my grown-up girl is always a delight. Secondly, I’d never been to the casino in the nearly two years since it opened 25 miles north of Portland. And, thirdly, I’d get my chance to see a favorite artist in concert, even if it wasn’t exactly how I’d imagined it.

Turns out I hit the jackpot on all three counts.

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Dad and daughter at home, with our pink pencil Christmas tree.

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The evening began with a scrumptious dinner at Longhouse, one of 10 restaurants on site at the casino. Ilani made a decision to break from the norm by not offering the all-you-can-eat buffet that is standard at other casinos. As a result, you can pick from several restaurants ranging from budget to fancy, offering steaks, seafood, Asian, Italian or Northwest cuisine, all situated on the perimeter of the gambling floor.

We chose Longhouse, a sleek place that provided us with two seats at the counter where we could watch the chef fill steaming bowls and tantalizing dishes of Japanese food. We opted for hoisin wings, shrimp shumai, a rainbow sushi roll, and a sunomono salad. All of it was so good.

The concert was fun. We joined hundreds of others in a huge ballroom where chairs were arranged in rows just as if you were attending a conference. No risers, no V.I.P. section, no balcony. Just rows from front to back, filled with people who looked like they’d turned out for an AARP gathering. Not kidding, but the median age appeared to be 70.

Guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, given that casinos draw an older crowd. And with this being a Sunday night, anyone who had to get up early for work the next day would have had to take that into account.

We were about 20 rows from the stage with a good view of LeAnn, trim and dressed in white, and her three-piece band. They rocked it for more than an hour, mostly performing holiday songs as advertised. Imagine electrified versions of  “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree”  and “Angels We Have Heard on High” among others. But she also delivered a few of her hits, too, transitioning from “Blue Christmas” to “Blue,” the title track of her debut album, while the stage lights were cleverly turned to blue.

She also worked in “Can’t Fight The Moonlight” and “How Do I Live” and “One Way Ticket.” If I had my way, she would have done a couple of Patsy Cline covers, too — “Crazy” and “I Fall To Pieces.”

Now 36, LeAnn still has the same powerful voice that caught my ear in the late ’90s and a comfortable stage presence that reflects years of performing since she was a child. When she invited the crowd to join her in singing a verse or two of one song, I was happy to see Simone jump right in. One of my fond memories as a father is seeing her perform with choral groups in middle school, high school and college, as well as with a couple of mixed-age community groups based in the Portland area.

***

After the concert,  we headed to the slot machines. A surreal experience, for sure, with gaudy artificial lights, rows upon rows of machines, and lots of wishful thinkers chasing their dreams of a big payout.

I took out four one-dollar bills and we lost. I took out two five-dollar bills and we lost.  Never seen $14 vanish that quickly — well, not all of it.

Simone cashed in her winnings — 45 cents — and we called it a night. I pocketed my take — two nickels — and as we drove back home to Portland, I was a happy man. Had a great meal, got a chance to gamble, saw a talented singer and, best of all, spent time with my daughter.

Holiday music never sounded so good.

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving for two

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With my sweetie on the mean streets of Portland.

Thanksgiving long ago replaced Christmas as my favorite holiday. I appreciate its meaning — of giving simple thanks — much more than I do the relentless commercialism that has come to characterize the latter.

And while Thanksgiving is commonly associated with family gatherings, I’m here to say Thanksgiving for Two can be just as enjoyable. Yesterday’s celebration with Lori was totally relaxing and just as satisfying.

I was the wingman on mashed potatoes as Lori concocted another delicious feast — roast turkey, stuffing, gravy, salad and green beans casserole. We settled down to a mid-afternoon meal and took turns before and after the meal napping with Charlotte, curled up in our lap, in our favorite recliner.

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No food porn photos. Just the bottle of New York state wine that Lori brought home from a recent pre-holiday visit to Jordan, Jamie & Emalyn.

Lori worked on her crossword puzzle — a growing leisure activity for her — and I did some non-school reading.

Later, we went to see the newest remake of “A Star Is Born” at a small indie theater. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper were an impressive pair, and the story, updated for the modern age, held my interest throughout. Gaga is an amazingly talented woman, with that powerful voice and surprisingly good acting chops. Go see it.

We came home to a slice of pecan pie and an episode of “Nurse Jackie” — exactly the kind of irreverent entertainment we both enjoy.

At dinner, we agreed we were thankful for good health and general happiness, owing to our long marriage and meaningful work that we each do, and grateful that our three children and their wonderful spouses are living life independently and in pursuit of what makes them happy.

Yesterday, incidentally, marked the 9th anniversary of Jordan and Jamie’s wedding. Likewise, that meant that Lori and I have now lived in our townhouse for 9 years. What an exciting but chaotic week it was back in 2009, when we not only saw our youngest son get married in Southern Oregon, but also scrambled back to Portland to move out of our house and into this more compact place, all in the same week.

Lots to be thankful for, for sure.

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With my sweetie at the summit of Mount Constitution on Orcas Island. (July 2016 photo)

Upstate New York: Too good to be true?

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

Sometimes you’ve just gotta pinch yourself. Twice.

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

We were blown away.

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

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

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

***

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

His efforts paid off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decluttering ahead of ‘death cleaning’

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My first Hawaiian shirt at age 6. Kindergarten, Decoto School, in Union City, California.

OK, so spring has come and gone and we’re a few days into the summer of 2018. At least Lori and I have begun acting on a pledge we made to each other earlier this year: to start ridding ourselves of unneeded, unwanted possessions.

If your garage looks like ours, you’ve probably accumulated more stuff than you need. In our case, plastic bins and cardboard boxes line two sides of our single-car garage, reaching toward the ceiling. Most containers are stacked neatly on top and next to each other, but some are leaning over like a drunk.

A lot of this we brought with us when we moved out of the home we lived in for nearly 30 years, the place where we raised our three children. We downsized big-time when we made the move to this brand-new townhouse in the fall of 2009. But now we’ve been here nearly nine years and not only have we hung on to what we brought, but we’ve managed to add to the clutter.

Do we really need four bicycles? Why do we keep shoes and clothing we haven’t worn in years? And who knows what’s in some of these boxes anyway?

***

Americans are known for being pack rats. But there’s another approach that’s caught my attention.

Several months ago The Washington Post published a feature article about a Swedish woman in her 80s who’d just published a book called “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.”

As the article explained, “The concept of decluttering before you die, a process called ‘dostadning,’ is part of Swedish culture. (It comes from the Swedish words for death and cleaning.) ”

The main message from author Margareta Magnusson is this: “Take responsibility for your items and don’t leave them as a burden for family and friends. It’s not fair.”

Or, put more bluntly, “If your family doesn’t want your stuff when you’re alive, they sure won’t want it when you’re dead.”

 

Fair enough.

Just to be clear, we’re not decluttering because we see The Grim Reaper on the horizon. No, we’re doing so with a simple objective: to reclaim some more space for ourselves.

We started two Saturdays ago with several boxes and continued this past weekend with an overdue assault on a closet and a trunk in a spare bedroom. It’s amazing how much paper one can collect in the form of back taxes, canceled checks, and all manner of work-related materials. I plead guilty in the first degree.

Read about Swedish ‘death cleaning’ here

***

Magnusson, the Swedish author, suggests that age 65 is a good time to start death cleaning, but the process is freeing at any age. And she suggests that you don’t start with your photos, as you’ll get bogged down in your memories and never accomplish anything.

I’ve heeded that advice for the most part. Still, going through all this stuff, you’re bound to come across things that give you pause, spanning the years from childhood to parenthood to empty nester. So many items that reflect your status as son, husband, father, as well as student, employee and professor.

For example:

  • Family photos depicting changing hairstyles and fashion choices.
  • Grade school photos, book-ended by my gap-toothed smile as a kindergartner and my dorky high school graduation portrait.
  • A book of autographs from Major League Baseball players, including one from Hall of Fame inductee Willie Stargell.
  • Hard copies of the news stories I wrote for a beginning journalism class at San Jose State and for which I earned an A (whew!). And by hard copies, I mean typewritten words on old-school plain copy paper.
  • Business cards from The Argus, my hometown newspaper in Fremont, California, where I began as a part-time prep sports writer while attending college. Phone number only; no web address, of course.
  • A huge cache of yellowing newspapers and glossy materials relating to my three-decade career at The Oregonian, including: Stories and columns that I wrote. Sunday Opinion cover stories that I conceived and edited. Slick pamphlets that I used to recruit top prospects to Portland. Binders full of tips and best practices that I picked up at training conferences from California to Florida. Tip sheets from various speakers at our in-house training sessions. Programs from job fairs, journalism conventions and writing workshops that I attended and sometimes organized.
  • A treasure trove of documents relating to the newsroom internship program I ran for 10 years. In one folder, bios on a couple of interns who were starting work on the same day (hello, Esme Bermudez and Yvonne Ngai). In another folder, a roster of the 2004 summer intern class (including Melissa Navas, Sophia Tareen, Niki Sullivan, Shannon McMahon, April Simpson and Christine Yee.) In yet another folder, students’ autobiographical essays that resonate as powerfully today as the day I first read them 20 years ago.
  • Payment stubs for an array of prescription drugs and medical services — hospitals, physicians, ambulances, nursing homes — that piled up in the waning months of my mother’s life. As her financial representative, it was my responsibility to keep up with those obligations.

 

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Sifting through all the above and much more felt a little like an archaeological dig. It unearthed feelings of pride, seeing how rich my personal and professional lives have been; of sadness, knowing some family members and co-workers are gone forever; and of regret, seeing so much valuable journalistic content get tossed into the recycling bin.

All in all, I have no complaints. This decluttering will be cathartic. It will take us the rest of the summer, I am sure, but the time and effort will be worth it. A little more breathing room for Lori and me will be nice, even if we’re still years away from a serious “death cleaning.”

Goodbye, Missouri. Hello, Oregon

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Jordan and Emalyn take a break in Denver on Day Two of their road trip from Missouri to Oregon. On Day One, It was a sizzling 108 degrees in Kansas City.

Almost exactly a year ago at this time, my youngest son and I pulled into the parking lot of a motel in Columbia, Missouri, physically and mentally exhausted from a four-day, 2,000-mile road trip.

We were hauling the contents of an entire house in our two vehicles — a U-Haul truck and a compact car — along with two big dogs and the family cat. The purpose of the trip? To help move Jordan and his young family into a townhouse in a college town where he’d spend the next year, possibly two, at a research lab at the University of Missouri.

Fast forward a year and the scene is altogether different. Jordan and wife Jamie packed up and moved out of that townhouse at the end of May, and hit the road with daughter Emalyn, now 22 months old, for an equally long trip in the same amount of time.

As I write this on Sunday afternoon, the three of them, along with their cat and one surviving dog, are somewhere between Salt Lake City and southern Oregon, most likely speeding across northern Nevada in the family car.

After 12 months in Missouri, the kids are headed back to Oregon for the summer. They plan to spend June and July there living next to Jamie’s parents on the rural property where she and her sisters grew up outside Eagle Point, a few miles northeast of Medford.

eagle point to ithaca map

In early August, they’ll pack up again and drive nearly 2,800 miles to Ithaca, New York, where they will spend the next five or so years as Jordan pursues a Ph.D. at prestigious Cornell University. I don’t know precisely the focus of his studies but I do know it generally involves microbiology.

It’s the next step — and, boy, is it a big one — in a path that could lead to a career as a research scientist. It comes on the heels of the Professional Research Experience Program fellowship (PREP for short) at Missouri that’s designed to prepare students for graduate study in biomedical research.

The PREP fellowship enabled Jordan to build on his undergraduate studies at St. Martin’s University, a small, private school in Olympia, Washington, by offering him the chance to do research in a well-funded lab at a major public university. In essence, it’s served as a bridge from St. Martin’s to Cornell.

Cornell_University,_Ho_Plaza_and_Sage_Hall

Cornell University, a member of the Ivy League, is located in west-central New York, about four hours from New York City.

***

As I think back to a year ago, I still marvel at how much ground we covered under such trying circumstances — two blown tires on the fully loaded U-Haul truck in the first two days, and the replacement of three more worn tires on the third day as a precautionary measure. The hours-long delays in waiting for road service in remote parts of Idaho and Montana set us way back on our schedule and made for even longer days behind the wheel in order to get to Columbia on time.

When August comes, Lori and I will fly back east to join Jordan, Jamie & Emmy and help them move into their rental home outside Ithaca, a town of about 30,000 residents situated roughly four hours north and west of New York City.

We’ve seen the three of them just twice since surviving the Road Trip From Hell. First, in early December, when we flew back to Missouri for the holidays. Then, just last month, when they flew here to Portland to attend the wedding of our oldest son, Nathan.

It will be nice to have them back in Oregon for at least a couple of months. They will get to spend a lot of time with Jamie’s parents, Linda and Jeff, on several dozen acres with horses, chickens, dogs and cats, and also will be able to see Jamie’s two sisters, who both live in the area.

It’s too early to say if or when they’ll get a chance to come up to Portland. My primary thoughts are focused on their safety — their just getting here — and on the amazing resilience they’ve shown in their eight-plus years of marriage, moving from Texas to Washington to Missouri as they transitioned from the military to civilian life to a Midwest college town.

 

 

Jamie has been extraordinarily supportive as Jordan has pursued a passion for scientific research. I know she’s missed being around her family, so I hope this summer is all that she hopes for. Before you know it, it’ll be time to pack up again for the big drive to New York.

Cornell University photograph: Wikipedia.org

Grandma Ora rocks it in Portland

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Ora enjoys her ride on the Portland Aerial Tram, rising 3,300 feet above the city.

Before Mother’s Day fades into memory,  let me take some time to express thanks, love and appreciation for my stepmother, Oralia Caballero Rede.

Earlier this month, Lori and I had the pleasure of hosting Ora in the days leading up to and following the wedding of our oldest son, Nathan. She arrived on a Friday evening and left at midday Tuesday, staying next door in the basement studio of a neighbor who makes the space available as an airbnb rental.

It was a great arrangement and we thoroughly enjoyed Ora’s visit.

Ordinarily, she would have stayed with us, but we had to save the one spare bedroom for our youngest son and his family, who would be arriving the next day and leaving the same morning as Ora. It all worked out fine, with just the right amount of privacy for Ora and the peace of mind of knowing she was literally a minute away around the corner.

But on to the main point for this post…

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Ora and George in Silver City, New Mexico: April 2017

We invited Ora to come out for the May 6th wedding, knowing it would be a rare opportunity for her to see all three of our adult children and meet her great-granddaughter, as well. Though we are lucky to have both Nathan and daughter Simone here in Portland, Jordan lives in the Midwest and will soon relocate to upstate New York for graduate school.

These days, it takes a special occasion like a wedding to bring all three kids and their life partners together. After the wedding, who knows when all three couples (plus us) would be in the same place again?

Ora was reluctant at first, not being particularly fond of air travel. But gentle persistence won her over and, at age 84, she got up early one morning and drove “only” 200 miles from her home in southwest New Mexico to the airport in Tucson, Arizona, where she could catch a direct flight to Portland.

Since my dad died about a year ago, Ora has dealt with the loneliness of a widow who lost her husband of 46 years. Slowly but steadily, she has reintegrated into the community in Silver City,  the small town where they retired after leaving the San Francisco Bay Area in the late ’80s.

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Dad and Ora came to visit Lori and me in Bend, Oregon, in the years before we had kids. Photo is circa 1977 or 1978. “Your father always had his arms around me,” Ora says.

Aside from daily walks and frequent lunches with friends, Ora volunteers with various community organizations, sings in the church choir, and tutors two Spanish-speaking priests who want to improve their English. This summer, she’s making plans to travel to Honduras as a part of a medical mission — the perfect role for a retired registered nurse who’s bilingual.

I’ve always admired Ora’s selflessness, whether it was donating time and skills to her community or giving up all her activities in order to take care of my dad full-time as his health declined in the last year of his life.

Having her visit here in Portland gave us all a chance to give back to her with all the affection and attention she deserves.

***

On Friday night, we had Ora to ourselves for a traditional Mexican dinner of tamales, refried beans and Spanish rice.

Saturday, she was with us as we joined the family of our newest daughter-in-law, Sara, for lunch a day before the wedding. At the same time, we celebrated Nathan’s birthday two days late. A special moment came when Ora, spontaneously, asked Nathan if she could sing him a song: “Las Mañanitas,” a traditional Mexican birthday song.

 

Those two have always had a special relationship, and it was evident when Nathan got up from his chair at one end of the table and came over to the other end to give his grandmother a hug.

Later that day, we took a walk in the neighborhood with Ora, daughter-in-law Jamie and granddaughter Emalyn. Ora marveled at the vibrant colors of all types of flowers, as well as the variety of architectural styles, as we went from block to block. “The whole city is like a garden!” she proclaimed.

 

We went to the school near our home and ran into fellow dog owners whom we’ve come to know. Ora stepped right in and spoke in animated Spanish to Arturo, originally from Barcelona, and his American wife Lindsey, who also is bilingual.

That evening, Simone and Kyndall joined all of us for another family dinner — this time it was Lori’s lasagna — and we spent more time catching up on each other’s lives.

On Sunday, the ladies all went out together to have their hair, nails and faces done ahead of the wedding. That evening, we arrived at the wedding venue — Victoria Bar, not far from the North Mississippi Avenue Historic District — and mingled with guests indoors and outdoors.

Ora, I swear, was like a magnet. While Lori and I danced, drank and nibbled on appetizers, people of all ages and gender identities engaged Ora in conversation, as if she were a longtime Portland resident. At one point, seeing her on the patio engrossed in one-on-one talk with a young woman, I almost felt like an intruder when I approached to check in on her.

Everything was fine. They went on to exchange phone numbers.

It was pretty special (there’s that word again) having Ora as the sole grandparent, and the only person of her generation at the wedding.  It was lovely to see her and Nathan share another emotional moment near the bar.

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Nathan with Grandma Ora during the Rede family reunion, held in July 2009 in Portland. As the oldest grandchild, Nathan has always enjoyed a special bond with her.

On Monday, friends of Jordan and Jamie came over to see them, so I took the opportunity to sweep Ora out the door and onto the Portland Streetcar.

We rode across the Willamette River into Northwest Portland, made a pit stop at Powell’s Books, hopped on again and rode through downtown and the Portland State University campus.

We got off in the South Waterfront District, where we had lunch and then clambered aboard the tram to the Oregon Health & Science University campus. She loved it all — the ride, the aerial views and the cluster of medical buildings atop Pill Hill. (Of course, she would. She’s  a retired RN!)

 

On Tuesday, we said a reluctant goodbye to our easygoing guest and I drove her to the airport to catch her noon flight. I appreciated the time we all spent together and felt truly grateful that she brought my dad so many years of love, loyalty and companionship.

She drew my dad out of his comfort zone by exposing him to the arts, music and foreign destinations he likely would not have sought out by himself. They traveled together to so many places — England, Spain, Italy, Hong Kong, Costa Rica, Israel, South Africa — and yet were so grounded in Silver City.

I’ve told Ora more than once that Dad truly seemed “born again” as a result of their courtship and marriage. She’s a remarkable woman, and no one knew that better than Dad.

Want to know more about this amazing octogenarian? Read “Shoutout to Ora”