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.”

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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.

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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”

Hitched! Nathan and Sara

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

On a lovely Sunday evening at a Portland bar two weekends ago, in front of well-scrubbed family and friends, our oldest son, Nathan, and his charming girlfriend, Sara, joined the ranks of the married.

For us, it marked the third time becoming in-laws. For them, it put an exclamation point on an eight-year courtship. For all in attendance, May 6th was a night to remember, with an emphasis on fun and celebration that stretched into the wee hours of Monday.

Unlike most weddings, which tend to follow a traditional format, this one had all the hallmarks of a mature couple doing things their way. As in no frills.

 

No wedding party of bridesmaids and groomsmen. No flower girls, no ring-bearers. No processional music. No father walking his daughter up the aisle. No printed programs. No posed photographs. No wedding cake. And, God forbid, no speeches by anyone.

Essentially, Nathan and Sara just invited everyone to come join their party with a drink or two and lots of dance music played by a half-dozen DJ friends of the couple. Half the crowd spread out at wooden picnic tables outdoors while the other half circulated inside the massive bar space.

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Big smiles as Reverend Jared does his thing.

The ceremony was short and sweet, and took place in subdued lighting inside Victoria Bar in North Portland. Jared, a 6-foot-7 teddy bear of a man and someone who’s known both Nathan and Sara for years, officiated, looking dapper in a purple fedora.

Reverend Jared told a charming anecdote about the early days of their relationship (something about Nathan being short on cash but offering to cook Sara a burger), then quickly got to the heart of the ceremony.  Each pledged “I do” to the other — having already shared their vows privately — and that was pretty much it.

We raised small flutes of Champagne to the newly-marrieds and then spent the rest of the evening socializing, dancing, and noshing on beef sliders, cocktail shrimp and other nibbles before the dessert came out: churros with chocolate and vanilla dipping sauces.

***

It was wonderful seeing our first-born at the center of things, along with his bride. So many of their friends, from the worlds of music, food and hair-styling, approached Lori and me to offer congratulations and express their affection for Nathan and Sara. As one would expect, a majority of the crowd were sporting tattoos or piercings or both, just like the bride and groom.

 

The evening was extra special for us in that both of Nathan’s siblings were there, along with his one remaining grandparent. Our daughter, Simone, and her wife, Kyndall, came from East Portland. Our youngest son, Jordan, flew in from Missouri with his wife, Jamie, and our granddaughter, Emalyn.

My stepmother, Ora, came out from New Mexico and chatted with assorted hipsters as if she were a longtime Portlander. (My only regret? That neither my parents nor Lori’s lived long enough to see Nathan get married.)

The day before the wedding, both sides of the family gathered for a celebratory lunch at Vivienne Kitchen & Pantry, a favorite restaurant near Lori’s work. We preordered a family-style meal, topped off by a Lemon Olive Oil Cake, and sang “Happy Birthday” to Nathan, who had turned 38 just two days earlier on May 3rd, three days ahead of the wedding.

 

We’d already met Sara’s parents, Jon and Katie, as they live in Hillsboro (Sara’s hometown) but we also got to meet Sara’s older sister, Leslie, and her boyfriend, Jeff, who flew in from Massachusetts. Nice, nice people.

All in all, it was a busy but enjoyable few days.

Ora arrived Friday evening. Jordan and family arrived on Saturday.  Nathan and Sara got married Sunday. Childhood friends came over Monday to visit with Jordan, while I took Ora out to see some of the city.

Early Tuesday morning, I took Jordan, Jamie & Emalyn to the airport, and a few hours later did the same with Ora.

Whew!

Don’t know when circumstances will bring all of us together again. For now, we’ll make these matrimonial memories last. Pretty special occasion with some pretty special people.

Family, friends and hoops at Easter

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George and Lori on Easter Sunday 2018.

What a great way to end spring break: Easter dinner with family, followed by a Trail Blazers game with longtime friends.

I didn’t plan it this way, but it worked out just the same. Weeks ago, when I was scanning the Blazers schedule for a weekend game to attend, I bought tickets to the April 1 match-up against Memphis, thinking we would be returning from vacation a day earlier. It was only later that I realized the game would be played on Easter Sunday.

Oops.

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Simone & Kyndall

Simone & Kyndall and Nathan & Sara came over during the afternoon for an early dinner of ham, potatoes, salad, deviled eggs and carrot cake. We got caught up on recent travels (S&K to Victoria, British Columbia) and plans for next month’s wedding (N&S are tying the knot after a 8-year courtship — yay!).

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Carrot cake, topped by a white chocolate bunny, made by Simone.

It’s always fun being around our kids and their partners. Soon enough, we’ll have a chance to see all three reunited when Jordan, Jamie & Emalyn come out to Portland for the wedding.

(Love this gallery. Credit goes to Simone, the photographer.) 

After the meal, Nathan and I had a NBA game to catch. At the arena, we met up with Bob and Chris Ehlers, whom we’ve known since Chris and Nathan were born the same week in the same hospital in Salem, Oregon, in 1980. Bob and his wife, Deborah, were in the same babysitting co-op that formed among us and a few other new parents. So, clearly, we got back quite a ways.

For the record, the Blazers whipped the Grizzles, 113-98, behind the stellar play of All-Star guard Damian Lillard. With the win, the Blazers secured a spot in the playoffs for the fifth straight year.

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Dos amigos: Chris & Nathan

Far more entertaining was seeing our boys exchange hugs and launch into 2 1/2 hours of animated conversation as they sat to our left. They were best buddies in the co-op and seemingly have only grown closer over the years, despite periods where they’ve gone years without seeing each other.

Chris is an adventurous sort who has traveled across much of Europe and Asia, and only recently moved back to the U.S. after several years of teaching English and running a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

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Bob, Chris & Nathan

The two of us dads managed to interrupt our sons at halftime as we gathered around a bistro table with our beers. Next up: A gathering to include our wives.

 

 

Remembering Dad

That’s my dad, holding my infant self, in Oakland. California, in early 1953.

We’ve been here on Orcas Island since Saturday and it’s rained pretty much nonstop. No biggie. It’s what the weather forecasters predicted.

So why am I thinking about the sunny Southwest? And why am I thinking about spring training just as it’s come to an end? After all, the regular Major League Baseball season starts tomorrow.

It’s because of Dad.

My father died a year ago today, six days after turning 91 years old. In the year since then, I’ve thought of him often – and always with appreciation for the man he was and the life he led.

Read “90 years and still kicking”

Read “A son’s remembrance”

A man who valued family and faith and an honest day’s work. A man who could build or fix anything. A man who encouraged me to pursue the college education he never had a chance to dream of for himself. A man who was proud of his service as a Navy veteran and who served his community in Silver City, New Mexico, the place where he and my stepmother Oralia chose to retire.

Time and again at his memorial service, I heard my dad described as kind and generous and, quite simply, as a good man.

***

Dad loved baseball. It was my favorite sport, too, growing up.

At his service, I told the story of how he bought me my first baseball bat – a heavily-taped, too-heavy-for-me Willie Keeler model that cost him 50 cents at a weekend flea market.

We played countless games of catch in our backyard, and watched the Giants and Dodgers go to battle on our black-and-white TV screen.

When I joined a Little League team, he volunteered to be an assistant coach. When I moved up to Pony League as a 13-year-old, he volunteered to be the manager. During my five seasons of organized baseball, I don’t remember him ever missing a practice or a game.

san-francisco-giants-logo-transparentSeveral years after he retired, I made good on a vow to take my dad to spring training in Arizona. I flew from Portland to Tucson, drove 150 miles to his home in Silver City, picked him up and, the next morning, drove back 300 miles to Phoenix.

For three days and nights, we hung out together, taking in three ballgames in three stadiums scattered around the metro area. It was all I’d hoped for as a father-and-son experience. Sleep in, get breakfast, go to the ballgame, grab dinner, relax in our room, sleep and repeat.

I still remember seeing these teams with him:

  • A’s vs. Cubs
  • Giants vs. Padres
  • Mariners vs. Royals

And I still remember how content he seemed, sitting in the cheap seats with a beer and a hotdog, enjoying his favorite sport alongside his adult son.

Now that he’s gone, I hope to take a walk around Eagle Lake today with Lori and keep him close in my thoughts.

Dad and Ora visited us here once at our island cabin, and we took them on a short walk on the Lake Trail. Though he had slowed down some, I know he appreciated the natural beauty of this place.

Yes, my father was a good man.

I miss you Dad. Love you always.

Your son, George

 

¡Esteban!

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Simone and Esteban, 18 years after we hosted our Costa Rican exchange student.

Nearly two decades have passed since we opened our home to a foreign exchange student from Costa Rica.

During just two weeks with our family, Esteban Villalobos struck as then as friendly, outgoing and destined to succeed.

Turns out we were right.

On Friday night, Esteban and his partner, Marco, met us for dinner with our daughter,  Simone, her wife, Kyndall, and their friend, Hunter, who happened to be visiting from California.

Esteban was the same as Lori and I  remembered: bright-eyed, with a big smile and a hug for each of us. But where there was once a head full of dark hair was now a neatly-shaven head. Now 34, Esteban is an architect, a habitual early riser who gets to the office by 6 a.m.

He was visiting Portland for a couple of days with Marco, and then they were headed up to Seattle for more sightseeing. Marco works in marketing for a liquor distributor, and seems well matched with Esteban. Both speak English very well, as they use it frequently, if not daily, at work.

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Marcos Arias and Esteban Villalobos

Simone was a high school junior and our youngest son, Jordan, was still in middle school when Esteban came to live with us in the spring of 2000. He would tag along with Simone as she went through her daily schedule at Grant High School. After school and on weekends, there was time for Esteban and Jordan to hang out, too.

We have fond memories of the two of them watching “The Matrix” (Keanu Reeves) and “Bring It On” (Kirsten Dunrst) in the family room basement. Esteban reminded me that I took him to a Trail Blazers game, a multi-sensory experience that included a victory over the woeful New Jersey Nets. I remember a drunken fan near our section being expelled from the arena before the game even started.

Friday was a treat in more than one way. It was our first time dining at Ken’s Artisan Pizza. The restaurant has been a fixture on Southeast 28th Avenue since 2006, but we’d never made it over there until now. The wood-fired oven serves up a nice, thin crust with more than a dozen toppings, along with tasty salads and a killer calamari appetizer. Simone and Kyndall chose a great place.

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Clockwise from left: Marco, Esteban, Kyndall, Hunter, Simone, Lori and George.

In an era when air travel is something we take for granted, it’s easy to overlook the distance that Esteban covered as a teenager to live with us: 4,400 miles. (Check the map.) We’re glad he had a sense of adventure, and we’re even more glad that he enjoyed his time with us so much as to come back and visit.

Foreign exchange students can enrich your life, even with a short stay. We recommend it highly.

 

Jordan at 30

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Jordan flashes a big smile after receiving his diploma during commencement exercises at St. Martin’s University in Lacey, Washington.

Today brings yet another New Year’s Eve, but in our family December 31st means something more special: our youngest son’s birthday.

This year, it’s extra special: Jordan Emilio Rede is turning 30 years old.

Hardly seems possible but, yes, our little guy is saying adiós to his 20s.

Distance prevents Lori and I from celebrating with him in person, as he’s now living two time zones away. But that doesn’t lessen our pride and joy as his parents. And I’m sure Nathan and Simone would agree that their little brother has developed into quite a guy.

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The pumpkin patch at Sauvie Island was always one of Jordan’s favorite outings.

Over the years, Jordan has transformed himself from an energetic, physically active, risk-taking adolescent into a solid, responsible young husband and father with a bright future ahead of him.

His trajectory in the last few years has been breathtaking. But let’s not get ahead of the story.

***

Growing up, Jordan was the most physically active of our three. No surprise, considering he started walking at 10 months, well before either of his siblings. He’d climb trees, skateboard and break dance. In high school, he played coed soccer, took up snowboarding and Shaolin kung fu, and wrestled.

When he joined the Army at 21, he took it to another level during basic training. I’ll never forget how trim and deeply tanned he looked when we traveled to Fort Benning, Georgia, in the summer of 2009 to see him graduate and become an active duty soldier.

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Lori and George with Jordan in July 2009 following his graduation from boot camp at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Joining the military isn’t what we had in mind for Jordan, but he was intent on becoming an infantryman and seizing the opportunity to challenge himself and be part of a team in service to his country. Of course, we worried when he was deployed to Afghanistan for a 12-month tour ending in December 2012 — five years ago this month.

That day he returned to Joint Base Lewis McChord, safe and sound with hundreds of other troops, stands out as one of the most emotional days of our lives.

Read “A soldier’s return” here

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U.S. Army Specialist Jordan Rede with wife Jamie and his proud parents in December 2012.

Jordan completed his four-year enlistment the following year and since then, the years seem to have passed in a blur.

Using his G.I. Bill benefits, he enrolled at St. Martin’s University, a small school with a veteran-friendly reputation, and plowed through four years of undergraduate study in the sciences. From their home near Tacoma, he endured a daily 50-mile round-trip commute to attend classes.

In May of this year, at age 29, he graduated magna cum laude in biology. Along the way, he won a National Science Foundation summer fellowship to study at Marquette University, an experience that piqued his interest in science research as a career.

Read “Jordan’s Journey” here

Immediately after graduation, he and his wife and their young daughter packed up and moved to Columbia, Missouri, home of the state’s flagship university, where he began a one-year fellowship aimed at giving post-baccalaureate students more experience in the lab in preparation for graduate school.

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All bundled up in Missouri: Jamie, Emalyn and Jordan.

When we visited Jordan, Jamie and Emalyn earlier this month, we was just hearing back from the first of several top-notch universities he’s applied to in hopes of pursuing a Ph.D in genetics and microbiology. Early next year, if the best-case scenario plays out, he’ll have a choice of where to go. (No specifics here, but we’re talking about Ivy League-caliber public and private schools.)

During our visit, I had a chance to see the lab where Jordan works on the Mizzou campus. Impressive.

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In spite of all his academic accomplishments, nothing makes us prouder than seeing Jordan in his element as a husband and young dad.

He and Jamie, sweethearts since he was in high school, have been married eight years now. She has been the wind beneath his wings, offering love and support from Day One.

They were married eight years ago on a crisp fall day in southern Oregon, not far from where Jamie grew up on a ranch. She worked as a licensed veterinary technician for several years but has shelved that for now to focus on being a stay-at-home mom.

Their daughter, Emalyn, was born in July 2016 and we were privileged to be the first ones (other than Jamie and Jordan) to see and hold her as an infant, within hours of her birth. Seeing the three of them together, whether in their cozy townhouse or out and about on a holiday outing, brought smiles to our faces.

So much has happened in the nine years since Jordan enlisted. That was a turning point in his life, for sure, as it gave him purpose while testing him physically and mentally. I would have never imagined he’d follow a path leading from the military to the college classroom to a university lab, but I’m damn proud that he has.

Today stands as a major milestone in his young life. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

2017: A year of transitions

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In a year of transitions, Lori and George celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary in September.

This year has felt like no other.

Seeing the White House change hands from the most inspiring president of my lifetime to the least qualified and least compassionate was bad enough. Watching that train wreck of a human being proceed to drive even deeper wedges into an already splintered populace — well, that was even worse.

But I’m not here to dwell on politics.

No, not even Trump can take the luster off a year that produced plenty of memorable moments for the extended Rede family.

Yes, there was sadness with the passing of my dad, Catarino Allala Rede, just six days after he turned 91 in March.

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The scene at the funeral home in Silver City, New Mexico.

But even then, there was a silver lining to his passing. I got to do a mini-road trip with daughter Simone to and from the Phoenix airport to Dad’s home in southwestern New Mexico. There, we were reunited with my stepmother, my two sisters, a niece, a nephew, and assorted cousins that I hadn’t seen for several years.

It’s funny how life’s milestones — births, weddings and deaths — are those that bring families together from near and far. But when your siblings and other relatives are spread out all along the West Coast — from Alaska to Southern California — that’s the way it is.

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With my sisters Cathy (from Dillingham, Alaska) and Rosemary (from Oceanside, California).

Aside from Dad’s death, this year of transitions was dominated by our youngest son’s graduation from college, followed just days later by his move to Middle America.

In May, Jordan graduated with a degree in biology from St. Martin’s College, a small Benedictine school outside Olympia, Washington, where he had commuted for four years from his home in Spanaway, near Tacoma. It was a remarkable accomplishment for someone who began college just months after completing a four-year enlistment in the U.S. Army, including a one-year posting in Afghanistan, and who became a father during his junior year.

 

We had barely had time to celebrate before Lori and I returned to Spanaway to help Jordan and Jamie pack up their house for a 2,000-mile move to the University of Missouri. There in Columbia, Jordan would do science research in a fellowship program designed to help students prepare for the rigors of graduate school.

Father and son embarked on a four-day road trip, with me driving a 20-foot U-Haul truck and Jordan driving the family’s Honda Fit, packed to the gills and including their two dogs and one cat. I had envisioned the trip as an upbeat adventure, but it quickly took a dark turn when the U-Haul truck got a flat tire on the first day and again on the second day in remote areas of Idaho and Montana.

We made it on schedule, but only after pounding through really long third and fourth days where sightseeing took a back seat to the urgency of sticking to our schedule. We arrived late on a Friday, unloaded the truck’s contents on Saturday, and I flew home early Sunday.

 

How I wish Dad had lived to see his youngest grandchild graduate from college and become a father, as well.

As for the rest of 2017, well, it’s no wonder it feels like these 12 months flew by. Lots of memories and two end-of-year milestones.

Travel: We stuck close to home with three trips to our quiet cabin on Orcas Island. We always look forward to the week-long respite from urban life. The trips entails a 250-mile drive to Anacortes, where we board the ferry for a one-hour sailing to the island, and then an additional 45-minute drive to our place above Eagle Lake.

Pictures are worth a thousand words.

 

In early December, Lori and I returned to Missouri for a quick pre-Christmas visit. It was a joy to spend time with our sweet granddaughter, Emalyn, and her loving parents.

Books: Literature is a passport of its own, with talented authors opening doors to unfamiliar places, people and experiences. Among those I enjoyed this year were: “Among the Living and the Dead,” a memoir by my Latvian-American friend and former colleague, Inara Verzemnieks; “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest,” the last in the trilogy of Swedish crime thrillers churned out by the late Stieg Larsson; “Hillbilly Elegy,” a window into the Appalachian hillbilly culture written by one who escaped, J.D. Vance;  “Lab Girl,” a peek into the world of Hope Jahren, a pioneering research scientist; and “Evicted,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning examination of American poverty through the  racist practice of eviction. (Racist? Read the book and you’ll see what I mean.)

 

Music: I like to think I have broad tastes, though family members would disagree.  But, what the heck. I think I did pretty well catching a handful of concerts featuring artists ranging from Janet Jackson and Coldplay to Lady Antebellum, Michelle Branch, Tuxedo, Liz Longley and ZZ Ward.

Movies: No links this year because I wasn’t as diligent as usual. But I did enjoy “Get Out,” “Lady Bird,” “Detroit” and, most recently, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

Visitors: We had a surprise visit in early May from Chiho Hayamizu, a lovely young lady from Japan who was just 20 when she came to live with our family during a year of study at Portland State University. Our oldest child, Nathan, was just 13 when Chiho moved in with us in the spring of 1993.

Chiho, now 44 but still looking 20 (and even 30) years younger, was back in town for an unofficial reunion with friends who’d also been exchange students in Portland.

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Lori and Chiho: Radiant smiles, no matter the location or the year.

In October, my best friend, Al Rodriguez, came up from Santa Barbara to spend a few days timed to coincide with the annual Voices of August writers meetup. It was great hanging out with my longtime buddy, whether it was grabbing lunch from the downtown food carts or attending opening night of the Trail Blazers’ 2017-18 season. (They actually won!)

 

In November, two of Lori’s best friends, Terry (Long) Mullaney and Lin Dillon, came up from San Francisco for a long weekend of sightseeing and hanging out. Lori and Terry grew up on the same city block, and the two of them met Lin at the all-girls high school they attended. Nice to see such an enduring friendship.

Voices: For the seventh consecutive year, I curated a month of guest blog posts during the month of August. It’s become something that I look forward to every year, the opportunity to be informed, inspired and entertained by a changing cast of friends, relatives and online acquaintances, with ages ranging from 14 to 65-plus. Each person writes on a topic of their choice and does so in a way that brings variety and texture to the whole.

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This year’s VOA peeps gathered Oct. 20 at McMenamin’s on Broadway. Front row, from left: Gosia Wozniacka, Elizabeth Gomez, Jennifer Brennock, Lynn St. Georges, Lori Rede, Lakshmi Jagannathan. Back row, from left: George Rede, John Killen, Bob Ehlers, Al Rodriguez, Keith Cantrell. Not pictured: Eric Wilcox.

This look back at 2017 wouldn’t be complete without two final notes:

— This is the year both Lori and I moved into a new age bracket: 65. She’s still rockin’ it as the owner of her personal training business and I’m enjoying my work as well, as an adjunct college instructor and part-time communications coordinator for a local education nonprofit.

— Chalk up another year with our two pets: Mabel, the mellowest of cats, and Charlotte, the energetic mutt who’s won our heart with her antics and underbite.

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Up to no good. Again.

 

 

The mother of all milestones

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Three reasons to be a proud father: Nathan, Simone and Jordan, all gathered at a family dinner in May 2017.

So I’m sitting in my favorite chair, with my little dog stretched out atop my lower legs, and I’m looking out the window at a silvery-gray sky. It’s perfectly quiet.

“I don’t know what to think or how I’m supposed to feel,” I say.

“It’s just like any other day,” Lori responds.

“Is it?”

A milestone day I never imagined has arrived. On this 27th day of December, life’s odometer has reached LXV. The Big Sesenta y Cinco. Sixty-Five.

An age that officially makes me a senior citizen, though some businesses and organizations consider you to be so at 62 or 60 or even 55. Whatever.

In any case, I’m now 65, eligible for Medicare and Social Security.

I don’t feel it. I’m still swimming, running, lifting weights. Working three part-time jobs: teaching at two universities and working for a local nonprofit. Reading, writing and blogging.

Two thoughts come to mind:

— The two people who gave me life are both gone now. My dad, Catarino, died in March of this year, six days after reaching his 91st birthday. My mom, Theresa, died four years ago in October, one day short of her 86th birthday.

I am eternally grateful to them for instilling so many enduring values — of hard work, honesty, loyalty — that I’ve tried to live by, as well as pass on to our three children.

I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without their love, support and encouragement. Neither had the opportunity to attend high school (though my dad went back and got his G.E.D. much later in life). Both worked a variety of blue-collar jobs and took pride in my earning a college degree, knowing I could then make a living with my head instead of my hands.

— I have much, so much, to be grateful for.

Three adult children — Nathan, Simone and Jordan — each with a personality as different from the others as one can imagine. Two daughters-in-law — Kyndall and Jamie — and one more —  Sara — who will become the third next May. One granddaughter. Emalyn. Everyone in the family healthy, happy and gainfully employed, or else in school or at home by choice.

Two furry roommates that provide entertainment and companionship: 12-year-old Mabel, our brown tabby cat, and 4-year-old Charlotte, our border terrier mix.

One wonderful wife. Lori has been with me since college and at least a half-dozen moves, most of those coming in the early years of our marriage. She adapted every time as we moved from San Jose to Portland to Bend to Salem to Ann Arbor, back to Salem and up to Portland again, finally settling in a place that brought financial stability and a great city in which to raise our family and build our careers.

SC.jacketI know I drive her nuts after 42 years of marriage, with my forgetfulness and I’ll-get-to-it-in-just-a-minute approach toward too many things. But there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t recognize what an amazing and tolerant and generous woman she is. I love her deeply.

And not to be overlooked: My stepmother, Ora, now living without my dad in the home they made together in his native New Mexico. We grew very close over the course of her 46 years of marriage to my dad, and I am grateful for her love and support as well.

So, is turning 65 just like any other day?

We shall see.

Today I’m wearing my dad’s San Francisco 49ers jacket, the one I inherited upon his death. Wearing it with pride.