Remembering Kay Balmer, remembering Rich Holden

First, it was Kay. A friend and co-worker I can only describe as luminous.

Then it was Rich. A wise and dapper colleague on the national recruiting circuit.

Two deaths, one day apart. One on the West Coast, one on the East Coast.
Both people so influential in my journalism career. Both now gone. So many of us here in Oregon and across the country left to mourn their passing,

Feels small in the scheme of things, but here’s my tribute to both.


Kay Balmer succumbed to cancer on April 14. She was a proud Montana native who worked in newsrooms in California and Oregon, including The Register-Guard in Eugene and, most recently, The Oregonian here in Portland. She was a talented editor who brought out the best in others and inspired tremendous loyalty along the way.

For me, she was a sounding board and major ally in the effort to bring new talent and new perspectives to The Oregonian newsroom. I was the newspaper’s first fulltime recruitment director. When I left that job for another position in the newsroom, Kay moved into the role and built on those early successes to diversify the staff and upgrade the overall talent. And when Kay was promoted to a senior editor position, I eagerly returned to the recruiting job with an expanded charge to coordinate our newsroom training program.

At every step of the way, Kay was there to offer support, ideas and encouragement. Her big smile, distinctive laugh and warm personality made her a delight to be with.

The last time I had lunch with Kay was at Bollywood Theater on Southeast Division Street. We shared memories on that summerlike September day in 2018 and bites of Indian food off each other’s plates.

Little wonder that when she passed, our former colleagues reacted with the most beautiful of memories. One called her “a glorious burst of light and strength.” Another described her as “one of the kindest, smartest, funniest people I’ve ever known.”

For me, “She was the rare person who made you feel like you were just about the most important person in her life (well, except for husband Bob). She gave you her complete attention. She listened, fully and completely, and she looked you in the eye. She asked how you were doing, never failing to ask about your spouse and each one of your kids. Our conversations were most often fun and free-flowing, and other times serious and focused. Either way, my day always felt better having engaged with Kay.”

Oregonian editors past and present at The Alberta Rose Theater on Jan. 24, 2019. From left: Kay Balmer, Sandy Rowe, George Rede, Therese Bottomly

Rich Holden died on April 15 in a New Jersey hospital after a lengthy illness. He was born in Missouri, received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the renowned University of Missouri School of Journalism, and spent his entire 41-year career with Dow Jones & Company, publishers of The Wall Street Journal.

An obituary shared on Facebook by his wife, Mary-Anna, aptly summarized Rich’s career. He began in 1973 on the Journal’s national news copy desk. In 1976, he moved to Hong Kong as one of the original staffers that started up the Asian Wall Street Journal. During his tenure there, Rich served as a lecturer in residence at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Returning to New York in 1979, he worked in numerous editing capacities at the Journal and branched out to recruiting, hiring and training.

In 1992, Rich left the Wall Street Journal for the non-profit side of Dow Jones as Executive Director of the Dow Jones News Fund, a position he held until retirement in 2014. In that role, he helped steer promising college students of all races and backgrounds to the copy desks of newspapers across the country, including The Oregonian.

The 20th annual American Copy Editors Society convention in Portland gave me a chance to reconnect with Ron Smith (left) and Rich Holden in April 2016.

Rich was a man of great influence within the industry and a fixture at minority journalist conventions, where he would give freely of his time to volunteer on student news projects, and mingle with young and midcareer professionals alike.

I never got to work directly with Rich – well, except for the couple of times we teamed up on student newspaper projects at industry conventions in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. Through our work and connections made on the recruiting circuit, we knew many of the same journalists in newsrooms around the country and enjoyed seeing them as they progressed in their careers and also became spouses and parents.

Thanks to Rich, I was invited to serve as Journalist in Residence at DePauw University in Indiana, an experience that in retrospect helped set the stage for the college-level teaching that I’ve done since leaving The Oregonian in 2015.

Rich had a smoky, baritone voice and a full-bodied laugh. He was a stickler for detail, as you would expect from a master headline writer and world-class editor. He was also a stickler for fashion, known for his matching ties and pocket squares, shirts with coordinated collars and French cuffs.

More than 60 friends and colleagues attended a retirement party on June 21, 2014, for Rich Holden to pay tribute to his career with the Dow Jones News Fund and The Wall Street Journal. Photo credit: David Sullivan

The outpouring for Rich was both heartbreaking and heartwarming. From Los Angeles: “Of all the sad news in the world, this is the saddest. Rich had the kindest, most generous soul.” From Florida: “Rich Holden meant so much to me and my career at the Miami Herald.

And from me: “Rich was a giant. I’ll forever be grateful for the wisdom and mentoring he so generously shared as a recruiter and champion of diversity. He made thousands of us not just better journalists but better people by living his values.”

Rich Holden: a master of the pun and a champion of diversity.

Journalism lost two beacons in the space of 24 hours. The human race lost two wonderful people. I am grateful to have known both.

George’s 2020 book giveaway

Now here’s a cool idea worth repeating.

A year ago at this time, my daughter-in-law Jamie made a pitch on Facebook designed to encourage reading while also lessening the load on her bookshelf. I liked it so much that I stole the idea — and here I am doing it again.

The first five people to respond to this post — down below with an actual comment/request — will receive a book from me sometime this year.

Each book will be chosen specially for the person that will receive it. And I will decide how and when the book is delivered. Perhaps I will invite you out for coffee; perhaps I will send it via postal mail.

The only criteria is that you post this challenge to your wall, offering five books to five people. They don’t have to be new books or your favorite books. Just books selected with care and thought for each individual.

Let me be clear about one thing, however. This is a one-way giveaway. You don’t need to send me a book — in fact, please don’t. I have plenty, believe me, to keep me going all year long.

I’d much prefer to see your generosity channeled into giving away your own books.

Now, who’s down with this?

Southern California Dreaming: Romance and Reality

There’s nothing like a romantic wedding and a well-thrown reception to bring people together in the best of ways. At least, that was my takeaway following our visit to Southern California last weekend.

We hadn’t been to that part of the state for a while, so it was nice to get away and make the most of a few hours at a local nature park and beach access point. But the real reason for going was a special occasion.

My best friend’s daughter was getting married on Nov. 16th, and Lori and I were invited to join in the crosscultural celebration.

On one side, Nicole Lee-Rodriguez, the only child of our friends Al and Elizabeth, who’s grown up in Santa Barbara with parents of Mexican and Anglo heritage. On the other side, Andrew Myung, the oldest son in a family of Korean immigrants who’ve settled in Orange County.

They got married on a Saturday afternoon at Calamigos Ranch, a beautiful venue tucked away in a canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains a few miles inland from Malibu. The outdoor wedding was lovely, with chandeliers hanging from the trees, a string trio playing soothing music, and heartfelt vows that left no doubt these two young people were meant for each other.

Andrew was tearing up even before the first groomsman and bridemaid made their way up the aisle. Nicole looked radiant and relaxed. The groom’s two grandmothers were the scene-stealers, though, as “flower grandmas.” They wore colorful, traditional garments, carried woven baskets and tossed rose petals onto the ground, bringing smiles from everyone.

The reception was fun. How could it not be with an open bar, a sitdown dinner and good company at our table? The DJ kept people on the dance floor for hours — including Lori, who busted a move with the best of them and kept me out there for all but a handful of songs.

***

On the front end of things, our experience wasn’t quite what we had envisioned. We arrived on a Thursday about 5 pm, just in time to join rush-hour traffic on a 90-minute ride from LAX to our hotel in Westlake Village.

We had imagined we’d be closer to Malibu, where we imagined we’d be able to walk along the oceanfront and do some window shopping at local businesses in the central business district. Well, there really is no center. Malibu stretches out for 21 miles along the Pacific Coast Highway.

When we took a Lyft car to the oceanfront community, we were dropped off at the Malibu Country Mart, a boutique shopping mall consisting of high-end clothing and souvenir shops with eyepopping prices. There was a cool art gallery, a Starbucks and a Chipotle, but other than that it felt like I’d wandered into an exhibit of conspicuous consumption.

I don’t know why I wasn’t better prepared. I mean, the freeways leading to Malibu and nearby cities were lined with BMW, Porsche and Ferrari dealerships. And Calabasas itself is home to the Kardashians, Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez and Drake, among others.

Thank goodness we discovered an asphalt path on one side of the mall that led us into a nature park dedicated to improving water quality, restoring native riparian habitat, and preserving open space. The 15-acre project is known as Legacy Park and it was a welcome respite from the Country Mart’s dedication to consumerist capitalism.

We enjoyed the peace and quiet along with the cartoonish figures of a coyote, an owl, a king snake and other critters scattered throughout the park. Little did I know this area was so arid.

Once we were done there, we crossed the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu Lagoon State Beach, where Malibu Creek meets the Pacific Ocean.

Once again, reality proved different than what I imagined. In place of wide-open beaches populated by visitors from around the world, there were several luxury homes literally built onto the sand, a solitary lifeguard shack, and lots of shorebirds on the small spit of sand we were able to walk on.

Don’t get me wrong. It was calm and I enjoyed the view of the lagoon, but it was hardly the postcard scene I had imagined.

***

Sunday morning came, bringing with it a chance to take a run in the residential neighborhood near the hotel and an opportunity to chat with Al about the wedding as he drove us to LAX for a mid-afternoon flight.

Lori and I both grew up in and near San Francisco, so I had something of a rose-colored view of Los Angeles and its environs as an adolescent. But as someone who’s lived in Oregon now for more than 40 years, the place holds little attraction other than to visit. Yeah, L.A.’s got some great fish tacos, but I’ll take Portland’s eclectic personality, bodacious food and beer, and change of seasons anytime.

Lady power on a Friday night

The muititalented Clara Baker in the lobby of the Alberta Rose Theatre.

Lori and I had second-row seats in the cozy Alberta Rose Theatre last night as we watched Portland native Clara Baker and her band Five Letter Word knock out an hourlong set during an evening of excellent music and beautiful harmonies.

Clara is a musical prodigy who plays guitar and fiddle, sings and writes songs, and someone we’ve known since she was a baby. (Her brother Marshall, an equally talented musician based in New Orleans, went to preschool with our youngest son, so we’ve known them and their parents, Greg and Rebecca, for almost 30 years.)

It was Clara’s mom and dad who invited us to Friday’s show, just days after they had joined me at a Liz Longley concert on the other side of town while Lori was out of town. And, boy, were we in for a thoroughly enjoyable evening of versatile musicianship and dazzling harmonies. .

Five Letter Word was the opening act in a show headlined by a Portland-area duo, Beth Wood and Ara Lee James, who perform as Stand and Sway and were celebrating the release of a new album.

Between the two bands, we heard folk, Americana and bluegrass and a couple of songs with a hint of gospel, thanks to James’ soulful voice. Each group did an a capella song that was just breathtaking. And when they all took the stage together during a couple of songs, well, it was pretty amazing to see all that female talent on display.

Five Letter Word takes its name from the unlikely fact that all three band members have five letters in their first and last names. In addition to Clara, there’s Leigh Jones on guitar, percussion and vocals and Audra Nemir on upright bass and vocals.

All three are songwriters and the music they produce is truly greater than the sum of their parts. (Check out Willamette Week’s review of their CD, “Siren” here.)

Jones has a striking soprano voice that reminds me of Alison Krauss. Nemir lays down the beat and brings great energy. In fact, she ended the set by climbing on top of her instrument while still playing it.

And Clara? Well, she does it all, and joined Stand and Sway for a song that highlighted her fiddling. She’s toured nationally, most recently in California, as a solo artist as well as in duos and trios, and has released a couple of CDs of her own.

We would have been happy had the evening begun and ended with Five Letter Word. But things went to another level when Beth Wood and Ara James came on out for their own set.

With 20 years of touring and 11 studio albums to her credit, the Texas-raised Wood also is an accomplished songwriter and poet. Her second book of poetry, Ladder to the Light, won the 2019 Oregon Book Awards Readers’ Choice Award — a remarkable achievement in a city full of writers. She plays guitar and piano and sings beautifully.

James, raised in Tennessee, has been singing professionally for over 20 years as a soloist and studio vocalist. If I had closed my eyes, I’d have imagined someone like Annie Lennox or Florence Welch. Together, the two have a lovely sound that’s been described as “gospel-infused folk.”

Oh, and did I mention their lyrics reflect their politics?

The first single they put out together was “Nasty Woman,” titled after the comment Donald Trump made about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign. What was intended as a slur became an anthem for the pair and the subject of a video that you can see here.

We left the theatre on a musical high, grateful to know that both of these bands perform locally as well as throughout the Pacific Northwest. With any luck, we’ll see them again. Separately or together, either one will be fine.

VOA 8.0

The motley crew at McMenamin’s on Sept. 21, 2019. From left and across the front row: Al Rodriguez, Elizabeth Hovde, John Killen, Eric Scharf. Andrea Cano, Kate Carroll de Gutes, Lakshmi Jagannathan, George Rede, Raghu Raghavan, Jason Cox, Alana Cox (seated with Cece). Back row dudes: Bob Ehlers, Eric Wilcox, Leroy Metcalf. Not pictured: Melissa Jones.

It’s coming up on four full days since a motley crew gathered at a local brewpub to celebrate another year of writing, reading and friendship — and the glow is still mighty warm.

I’m talking about the Voices of August meetup, the annual gathering of friends, neighbors and work colleagues that happens after each iteration of the guest blog project I started in 2010.

We skipped a year last year because of my work commitments, but VOA 2019 was pretty awesome, both online and in person. We had the usual wide variety of topics, a high degree of writing quality, four new writers among us, and stimulating conversations on the digital platform.

On Saturday we had the opportunity to engage face-to-face in a private room at McMenamin’s on Broadway, a place that I think may soon become our official “home.”

We had about two dozen people in attendance, nearly twice as many as in 2017. I think the extra numbers contributed to an exceptionally positive gathering.

A few highlights:

— Once again, we had people come from Oregon, Washington and California, with Al Rodriguez and Elizabeth Lee coming up from Santa Barbara and Lakshmi Jagannthan and Raghu Raghavan coming up from the San Jose suburbs. Those who couldn’t join us contributed their blogs from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey.

— We had four new writers this year: Eric Scharf, who described his passions for cycling and food; Melissa Jones, who reminisced about her stash of ticket stubs; Kate Carroll de Gutes, the author of two award-winning memoirs; and 12-year-old Ayumi Mori. the youngest VOA participant ever, who wrote movingly about her gay older sister.

— A trio of writers/cyclists — Al Rodriguez, Eric Scharf and John Killen — took it upon themselves to organize a Saturday morning bike ride. Nothing like a 50-mile-plus ride to wake up the senses, right?

— After 8 years of doing this, VOA writers account for about 250 of the more than 700 posts on my humble blog. The beauty of this endeavor is that it draws out thoughtful commentaries on so many different topics. This year alone, we had essays covering the spectrum from birth to death and everywhere in between — pregnancy, miscarriage, breastfeeding and parenting. Writers also touched on education, religion, travel, wildlife, politics, gender identity and recreation (thanks for that put-us-right-there piece on skydiving, Eric Wilcox).

***

Finally, thank you and congratulations to the four writers whose essays emerged as this year’s favorites. They are not “the best” per se. But they are the ones that resonated most broadly with the writers and regular readers of VOA who cast a ballot for their three favorites.

The top vote-getters win a gift card to a bookstore. Oddly, not a single one of these four writers was at the meetup. Nevertheless, here’s a hearty online round of applause for those whose essays struck us as extra special:

Jennifer Brennock: “The way men sit in chairs” — A powerful piece about “manspreading” that calls out the way some dudes intrude on others’ physical and psychological space.

At the poetry reading, someone sits down on my left. The man extends both legs fully, each jutting out directly from the corners of his seat. It makes the lower half of his body into a big v. A big valentine v. As if he can’t help from spilling over. You know, cuz he’s so big. He has a right to all this space because he was randomly born with some anatomy that is apparently a foot wide. Men sit like this.

Lillian Mongeau Hughes: “When you’re sitting on a plane: a reflection about a mother’s love” — What does it feel like to be jammed into in a middle seat on a plane from Portland to Boston to see your mom when you’ve just learned she’s been diagnosed with cancer? This is how.

“(You) cycle through all the things your mother has ever said to you about living so far from her. And you cycle through all the things she hasn’t said to you, but you know she thinks. And you settle on the one she’s repeated the most. She wants you to be happy. If you’re happy, she’s happy. And because you have a daughter now, you know that’s true, so you try to stop the cycling.” 

John Knapp: “To no one in particular” — Laura was the oldest of six kids and the anchor in John’s eastern Oregon family. When his sister died on Valentine’s Day, she broke everyone’s heart. I’ve never read a more touching tribute.

“Laura was not famous, held no public office and was not high profile in her local community. She led a straightforward life, with the usual markers and life events that others experience. She was a wife, mother, daughter, sister, artist, baker, and did an above average job in all those roles. But still, you might say she was no one in particular, except to those who knew and loved her.”

Jacob Quinn Sanders: “Up to my ass in alligators” — A former newspaper reporter recalls the time a certain police captain in small-town Arkansas was left in charge of the department while the chief and the public information officer were away on vacation. When the captain refused to comment on a minor shooting, insisting he was “up to my ass in alligators,” Sanders was left with little choice.

“I went to my editor. People should know that’s what he said, I told him. I’m going to quote him directly in this little brief. From there, you can do what you like. No hard feelings if you have to take it out — but I’m putting it in there. My editor thought that was a pretty good idea.”

Ha! Already looking forward to VOA 2020!

Tears

By Andrea Cano

Lagrimas…Tears.

It was one of those lazy, sunny weekends with friends, wine flowing, laughter, the simple delight of being ourselves and enjoying one another – as we have for decades. 

Then a thought crossed my mind.  I could lose any one of them if their heart stopped beating or if they had one, last breath.  How could I live a day without any of them?  Not to say I haven’t had the same, heart crushing thoughts about my partner, son, father, and other family members.  But this was the first time I realized how much my friends meant to me as we step into our tercera edad  – our elder years and into the homestretch of our lives.

My eyes filled with stinging tears – not the kind that easily roll down your face. These flame your eyeballs first, puddle up in the crevices, then leave a burning, acid trail down your cheek if you don’t wipe them away first.

Glass beads symbolize our lagrimas or tears.

I don’t remember my last stinging tear episode, but this one jolted me. Not only the thoughts which prompted them, but also the physical reaction.

It reminded me that there are different qualities of tears. In the same way I learned to understand that Eskimos had numerous words to describe snow – because there are different characteristics of snow. 

Large, wet, clumpy snow.  Dry, flaky snow.  Pristine, artsy flakes.  Blowing blizzard snow.   Almost snow – ice pellets and sleet.   And a zillion other expressions of this phenomena.

Tears are like that.

They can signal a zillion, glistening expressions of what we are feeling or thinking, even when we don’t want them to.

They are in charge – even in a darkened movie theatre.

They are relentless ­ – during profound grief and sorrow.

They are what makes us human. They frame empathy, regret, frustration, disappointment, relief, anticipatory loss of any kind, and more.

On the other end of the tear spectrum, are the ones we are literally happy to shed.

The birth of a first child or grandchild, or any child.

Offering or receiving a proposal of marriage.

You fill in the blank _____________________________________.

A spontaneous carcajada (loud peal of laughter) among friends and strangers triggered and shared at the very same second.

And my personal favorite – during howling, uncontrollable and virtually unstoppable, almost pee-in-your-pants laughter.  You have to be with others to fully experience this, re-live it again five minutes later as you pick yourself off the floor anew. 

Then you recall this event and others like them years later with those same cherished friends, for those shared moments and shared memories are golden. 

Stinging tears or grateful tears.  They crystalize our connectedness to one another which is essential to our humanity – and to all who were breathed into being, into family, and into community.  I look forward to more.

Andrea Cano is now semi-retired, meaning she doesn’t go to work every day.  She still serves as an on-call clinical chaplain for Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital, leads conversations for Oregon Humanities, and enjoys collaborating on projects with the great team at the National Policy Consensus Center.  Her next personal projects are to organize Sunday suppers with family and tetulias at her home to conjoin the constellations of people in her social universe, and laugh until tears of joy runneth over.

***

Editor’s note: Even in semi-retirement, Andrea makes me look like a slug. She is a wonderful example of someone who is involved in her community on spiritual, cultural and policy levels. She is a former journalist who grew up in Southern California and chaired the Oregon Commission on Hispanic Affairs for several years. I was fortunate to meet her while I was still at The Oregonian.

Tomorrow: The treasure of diversity | Michael Arrieta-Walden

Viking Pavilion

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With my buddy Steve Beaven, formerly a reporter at The Oregonian and a writer for the Portland State University Foundation.

Portland State’s new Viking Pavilion opened in April with a lot of fanfare on the South Park Blocks — and now I can see why. The $52 million facility provides a new home for the university’s basketball and volleyball teams at the south end of campus.

The 3,000-seat arena has, at most, only about a third of the capacity of its two in-state sister institutions, the University of Oregon and Oregon State University, which both play in the more prestigious Pacific 12 Conference.

But the smaller scale is a big part of the appeal of Portland State’s arena. Having been there twice now, I can say that the more intimate space makes it a fun place to watch a game.

Last night, I went with a friend and former work colleague, Steve Beaven, to see PSU play its last preseason game of the year against Cal State Bakersfield. A couple weeks earlier, I went on my own, as a respite from Finals Week, to see PSU take on its intercity rival, the University of Portland.

The Vikings lost a close one last night, 76-71, but easily defeated the U of P,  87-78.

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I sat in the general admission area for the first game and had a great view from the second-level seats. At the second game, it was an even better view from the reserved section, just two rows back from the floor at mid-court. The action is so much faster and the athleticism so much more apparent when you’re that close.

The venue itself is open and inviting, and there’s not a bad seat in the house. At one end of the arena, you can sit as if you were at a long bar counter and look out onto the action. At the other end, there is a reserved section for large groups. On either side, there are additional reserved sections that pass for suites. (Nobody was using them at last night’s game.  Not a surprise, given the low stakes of a non-conference game when students are off for the winter break.)

There are just two concession stands and a couple of places to get a beer or cider (yes, cider, this being Portland). There is also a display of exhibits featuring Hall of Fame athletes as you enter the building.

During halftime last night, I noticed a couple members of the coed stunt team join the line for a snack, something you definitely wouldn’t see at the Moda Center, where the NBA’s Trail Blazers play. That little vignette underscored my overall take of the Viking Pavilion — that the place has the cozy feel of a high school gym.

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I’d never attended a PSU game before now. There was little incentive last year, when the Vikings had to play their home games across town at Lewis and Clark College. Now I’m inclined to go back again.

With affordable prices, convenient parking on the street and entertaining basketball, what’s not to like?

 

Trivia for a good cause

trivia-team

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.

trivia-richard

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.

 

Back to the beach

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Lori, George and our feisty Charlotte.

The Oregon Coast is a wonderful place to visit, no matter the time of year. When you can enjoy it in the company of long-time friends, the experience is all the sweeter.

Last weekend, Lori and I broke away for a couple of nights to spend with four folks we’ve known for four decades. (Hmmm, that doesn’t make us old, does it? Nah! Just well-acquainted.)

I’m talking about Tom and Elsa Guiney and Brian and Gayle McCay. All six of us attended San Jose State University. The three ladies were roommates, and all five were friends before I came onto the scene as a college senior.

Tom and Elsa split their time between Portland and their beach house south of Tillamook. The McCays live in suburban Boston and carved out time to spend with us during a days-long visit that included stops in Washington and Oregon. All three couples have been married 40-plus years.

Lori and I hadn’t been to the beach since July, so it was nice to get out of the metro area. Just driving to the coast with the fall leaves turning yellow and red, and passing through a string of small towns along Highway 101, puts me in a good frame of mind.

Once we arrived, it was nothing but R&R.

We took a short hike in the neighborhood one afternoon and a couple longer walks on the beach the next two mornings, with our dogs romping alongside. We mostly hung out at the Guineys’ place, watched two World Series games (Brian and Gayle are big Red Sox fans), played a board game, and ate well, thanks to Lori’s homemade lasagna.

We split up on Saturday, with the ladies doing some shopping and us guys shooting some pool, and shared a lovely dinner in Pacific City that evening.

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Sunday morning came too soon. It’s always fun to be around friends who know you well and whose generosity comes from a deep place.

Can’t wait for our next beach trip.

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Charlotte at the edge of the continent.

 

A trio of terriers and one red dog

terrier trio

It’s treat time at the dog park and these three are ready to snack. From left: Penny, Charlotte and Coco.

They are three lovable rascals named Coco, Penny and Charlotte. All three are a terrier mix of some kind. All three are female. All three are rescue dogs. And along with their buddy, a handsome male Shiba Inu named Yukai, they are the reason why Lori and I met up with their owners for a potluck in the park on Sunday evening.

More precisely, we were at the elementary school in our Northeast Portland neighborhood where our four dogs formed a canine friendship that has transferred over to us humans. We come from the South, the Midwest, the West Coast and Western Europe. We represent three generations. We are two married couples and two single people.

Yes, we are all dog people. But we wouldn’t have become friends so quickly — or maybe  even at all — were it not for our “girls” and Yukai.

***

There’s a small athletic field where the three terriers have been romping around on the emerald-green grass for the past six months or so, rolling and tumbling and chasing each other as if they had known each other all their lives. Yukai, meanwhile, stays on his long leash, acting as something of a sergeant-at-arms should any visiting dog get too rowdy.

Seeing them play never fails to bring a smile. No matter what kind of day we’ve had, we know we can take pleasure in seeing these creatures greet each other and tear across the field. Makes any personal stresses melt away.

What’s remarkable is how they’ve spurred a friendship among six people who could not be more different as individuals.

dog people

Dog people, from left: Arturo and Lindsey with Penny; George R., Laura, Lori with Charlotte, and George W.

There’s George W., owner of Coco. He’s a mid-40s public engagement specialist for a regional government agency, Raised in Arkansas and educated at Harvard, George is gregarious, well-traveled and an “11” on a friendliness scale of 1-to-10.

There’s Lindsey and Arturo, owners of Penny. They are a married couple in their early 30s. Lindsey is from Orange County, California, and works for a vacation rentals company, often taking Penny to work with her. Arturo works for Nike and comes from Barcelona, Spain, where he and Lindsey met when she was a study-abroad student. The two complement each other well with their warm personalities.

There’s Lori and I, owners of Charlotte. We grew up in San Francisco and its suburbs, respectively.

And there’s Laura, about the same age as Lori and me, who is the owner of 11-year-old Yukai. She’s originally from Minnesota and also works for Nike as a consultant. Laura is direct, assertive and witty. She walks the neighborhood streets with her red dog and two cats. It’s quite the sight, with the two felines trailing behind and occasionally taking cover behind a bush or plant.

George adopted Coco last November. Lindsey and Arturo adopted Penny in January. We’ve had Charlotte for four years and Laura has had Yukai for twice as long.

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The reason for the potluck?

Lindsey and Arturo are leaving their apartment, located across the street from the school, and are moving to a house they bought in Southwest Portland. We’re all happy to see them buy their first home, but sad to know we won’t see them as often. They’ve promised to visit from time to time.

We wanted to send them off with a casual gathering and so we did it Sunday. The dogs were well behaved when they weren’t fully occupied with each other and Yukai kept a regal eye on things. The food was delicious. Laura brought enough banana bread that we could share a slice with a few others who came later — a couple whose Australian Shepherd is another regular at the park and an 8-year-old girl who’s won our hearts as someone who adores each of our pets.

She’s Katie. She lives near the school and she visits often, with her younger brother or her best friend, and frequently joins us in a seated circle on the lawn. She knows all of her our names, she throws balls for the dogs, and keeps up to date on school and her other activities.

Her brother Alex and mother, Jo, showed up last night, too. Jo has had a plot in the same school/community garden as Lori, so we’ve met her before.

As we enjoyed the perfect weather and tasty meal, we all agreed how serendipitous it was that just the right circumstances brought us together. All of us were looking for a place to exercise our dogs. We found it and much more: a community of dog owners who’ve transcended generational differences to find friendship.

There’s no doubt we owe it to Coco, Penny and Charlotte — and Yukai.

Previously on this blog: Charlotte’s playground