Letting go of Orcas

OI eagle lake

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.


Decluttering ahead of ‘death cleaning’

george kindergarten

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.”

The mother of all milestones

SMU nathan-simone-jordan

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.




My second act


Nice way to welcome the new adjunct instructor.

Who would have imagined at this point in my career that I would undergo not one but two orientations as a new employee?

Few people, I’m sure. But, then, sometimes things just fall into place better than one can imagine.

Yes, I’m back at work again. Nine months after leaving The Oregonian/OregonLive as part of a buyout offer extended to senior employees, I’ve been hired to teach in a college classroom and work for a educational nonprofit. The two jobs allow me to draw on my journalism experiences in pursuit of twin interests in education and career development.

I’ve enjoyed the time off I’ve had since Jan. 1 to relax and recharge, to sample the early-retiree lifestyle of regular exercise, lots of reading and writing, and a steady diet of coffees, breakfasts and happy hours with assorted friends. There’s even been some travel to new places.

But all the while I’ve kept open the possibility of returning to work if the right opportunities were to come along. I’m happy — no, delighted — to say that’s the case.

Last week, I started a part-time job as communications coordinator at Portland Workforce Alliance, a small but influential organization that works with employers, teachers and students to expand career and technical education opportunities for high school students.

pwa_logo_home2Along with a board of directors and hundreds of volunteers, the staff helps to arrange career days, job site visits, mock interviews, internships and more, all with an aim of exposing students to the world of work and what it takes to break in and sustain a career, whether it’s in the trades or as a professional as an architect, graphic designer or software engineer.

I love that the organization makes an extra effort to reach kids at public schools where diversity and poverty rates are higher, where students are most likely to be first in their family to attend college.

I’m working with three other full-time employees, led by executive director Kevin Jeans Gail, a former neighbor and all-around good guy who was instrumental in founding the nonprofit in 2005. I’m also working again with Susan Nielsen, a marvelously talented former colleague who was an editorial writer at The Oregonian when I was the Sunday Opinion Editor.

portland-state-university_416x416This week I also started as an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Portland State University. I’m teaching Media Ethics this fall and Media Literacy next winter. Both are lecture/discussion courses looking at the spectrum of mass media — journalism, public relations and advertising — rather than hands-on journalism.

Yesterday was my first class and it went very well. I’ve got a diverse group of about 30 communications majors, nearly all of them juniors or seniors. Many are in their mid-20s and many are working and/or raising a family. I’m confident we’re going to learn a lot together.

(Click on images to view captions.)

I’ve previously worked with young adults in the classroom. Twice before I’ve taught weekend courses at Portland State. Years earlier, I was a guest faculty member at summer training programs at UC Berkeley and the University of Arizona that helped prepare people of color for entry-level journalism jobs. Along the way, I also worked as as an editor on student newspaper projects at national conventions of minority journalists.

Some people might think I’m crazy to give up the leisurely schedule I’ve enjoyed these last few months. But I’m excited and invigorated by the twin opportunities that have come my way. (A big shout-out here to Professor Cynthia-Lou Coleman, who hired initially me to teach at PSU and encouraged me to apply again as an adjunct.)

My hours vary during the week, but my Fridays  are free — and I’m already looking forward to an additional teaching gig during the spring semester at Washington State University’s Vancouver campus.

Am I a lucky man? Damn right.


This thing called retirement


Elizabeth Lee: Making the transition from work to retirement.

By Elizabeth Lee

So what’s this thing called retirement all about?  I am 68 and I retired almost a year ago from my position as a grantwriter for the largest social service agency in Santa Barbara County.  Before that, I was a community mediator and director of an alternative dispute resolution program in a rural northern California county, and before that the director of a Head Start delegate agency in San Diego. I had my first summer job when I was 16. Lots of shorter jobs and volunteering in between 16 and 68 – whew! I was soooo ready to go! If I had had to write another grant proposal, I would have dissolved into a (rather resentful) puddle of green slime.

The day came! I was feted and congratulated! I basked in mornings without having to pry myself out of bed and rush to work. I still appreciate not having to rush everywhere (forget those screaming drives to the YMCA at noontime, and screaming drives back to the office!).

Then I came face to face with Medicare.  It was going to cost me $435 per month for one of the medications I was taking!  So I foolishly decided to take myself off it without letting my doctor know.  Whammo – I dropped almost overnight into the abyss of depression.  With treatment, therapy and a new source of the medicine at an affordable price, I am back on my feet again.

ELee abstract landscape

“Abstract Landscape” by Elizabeth Lee.

But still, how do I define myself now that my working identity is gone?  I’m not quite ready for giant steps, but I have been taking art classes.  First I took abstract painting.  It was fun and freeing.  Okay, I did produce some works that I was happy to paint over – like one that looked for all the world like a depiction of Pepto Bismol in the digestive system.  And I had to teach my dear husband not to look quizzical or scratch his head when I brought my pictures home from “school.”  I told him, “Just say wow.” He obeyed.  And I began doing things I actually liked!

Now I am taking collage/mixed media.  It requires much more thinking, and I spend quite a bit of time sleuthing for materials.  I creep around the house opening drawers and explore the far reaches of our overstuffed garage.  The one thing I have refused to do is go out and buy something to use – I rely on found materials, including those from nature.  So our most recent assignment was to create an assemblage centering on the theme of birds. Pretty, pretty birdies.  I found myself rebelling like an adolescent.  And one day I walked into the bathroom, where I spied upon the windowsill my little rubber duckies (in a row, of course).  Feeling mischievous, I decided to hang the duckies from the top of the cigar box with which we had been provided, each from a tiny noose.  Voila! The title of the art piece is “Dead Ducks.”  I hope its viewers are rewarded with a chuckle.

ELee dead ducks

“Dead Ducks” by Elizabeth Lee.

The art classes are definitely helping me to find my new identity, but there is a lot more exploration to be done.  So far, retirement has been a hell of a zig zag path.  It’s a big transition, after all, and one full of opportunity – but I am still learning how and what to make of it.


Elizabeth Lee is embarking upon retirement after a lifetime of working in the nonprofit sector with children, adults in conflict, family violence issues, and raising money for programs for youth and the elderly.  After almost 40 years in California, she still identifies with her roots on the East Coast, in New Jersey, upstate New York and New England.  She is married to frequent VOA contributor Al Rodriguez.

Editor’s note: It takes a special woman to put up with the shenanigans of my best friend, Al Rodriguez. With her sass and multitude of charms, Elizabeth is that very special woman. So happy to visit them in Santa Barbara from time to time and to welcome her as a first-time VOA contributor.

Tomorrow: Gosia Wozniacka, The memory keeper

The Queen City


A Portland visitor on the Cincinnati riverfront.

First impressions can validate a gut feeling or they can be wildly misleading. In the case of Cincinnati, if my visit last week had been a first date, I’d be very open to a second one.

As with Cleveland the day before, I spent less than 24 hours in Cincinnati, barely enough time to form snap judgments. But since that’s all I’ve got to go on, my quick take amounts to this: Cincinnati is, on the surface, an appealing place with lots of hills and trees, a dynamic riverfront, a mix of gleaming and tattered structures, gourmet restaurants, and a historical legacy centered on its location directly across the Ohio River from Kentucky, a slave-holding state.


The Cincinnati skyline, viewed from the southern shore of the Ohio River.

Dubbed The Queen City because of spectacular growth in the years after its founding in the late 18th century, Cincinnati later became a major center for the Underground Railroad for slaves fleeing to the north. Yet, race relations, racial profiling and police brutality have been an issue, as they have in most U.S. cities, and I saw distressed areas north of downtown where large numbers of African Americans live in substandard housing amid few thriving businesses.

The city was wracked by a four-day riot in 2001, the largest in the U.S. since the 1992 Los Angeles riots, and last year drew national attention when a white campus police officer shot an unarmed black man after a routine traffic stop. (Of course, so did Cleveland, when a cop fatally shot Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old holding a pellet gun.)

In short, Cincinnati is an intriguing place I’d like to see more of.


I rolled into town just before 1 p.m. Friday, following a 250-mile drive that cut diagonally across Ohio, from the industrial Northeast to the more rural Southwest and passed through Columbus, the state capital.

It was Day Four of my five-day baseball road trip that took me to three major league stadiums in Pennsylvania and Ohio. I’d never been anywhere near Cincinnati but I had plans to reconnect with a friend who’d worked with me at The Oregonian and to meet a fellow blogger I’d only known through online correspondence.

Had he been in town, I most certainly would have spent time with Peter Bhatia, my former boss at The Oregonian and now editor of The Cincinnati Enquirer. Unfortunately, work required him to be in Chicago.

And so the visit began at Arnold’s Bar and Grill, the city’s oldest tavern, established in 1861.

I met Rachel Lippolis for lunch, finally coming face to face with someone who’d first come to my attention when I was first exploring the blogosphere. I came across her blog and was impressed with her intelligent writing and choice of topics, ranging from literature to politics to baseball.

She’s a librarian, quiet by nature, married and newly pregnant, and a native of Cincinnati. She’s been a contributor to my Voices of August guest blogging project from the start, and I anticipate she will write something for our online community once again this year. Nice to put a face to a name.

On Rachel’s recommendation, I headed to the riverfront and was dazzled by what I saw. From my vantage point facing south, I could see on my right the football stadium where the Bengals play and, to my left, the Great American Ball Park that is the home of the Reds.

Directly in front of me, the majestic John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, connecting Ohio and Kentucky. Below, a grassy park and asphalt path for joggers and bicyclists. Behind me, a 3D art sculpture proclaiming “Sing The Queen City” and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

Oh, how I wish I had more time at the museum. Even a 30-minute visit was educational, though. I learned more about Cincinnati’s conflicted past. Though the city served as a center for abolitionists and safe harbor for fugitive slaves able to cross the Ohio River at its narrowest points, many white Ohioans moved south during the Civil War to fight for the Confederacy, according to Ohio History Central.

There in the museum, viewing an actual slave pen (chains bolted to the floor to prevent escape) and reading of the barbaric slave trade that thrived across the river, I felt an overwhelming sadness, along with contempt for all those who participated in an economic and social structure built on the backs of men, women and children who were treated as subhuman chattel. Shame on America.


Brooke and George.

Wandering the riverfront, I was experimenting with different locations and angles for a selfie when a young woman approached and offered to take my picture. Sure, I said. She took several photos, all of which turned out nicely.

Turns out she was a professional photographer from Georgia who regularly offers to shoot pictures for tourists. Indeed, I saw her make the same pitch to a woman who was photographing her two girls. She introduced herself as Brooke and shot a quick selfie of us. A nice, random moment.


Checked into my airbnb room and briefly met my host, Ian, a high school physics teacher who lives with his dog and two cats near the University of Cincinnati. He struck me as a nice guy, but circumstances were such that we only had time for a quick hello and no sit-down conversation.

I headed to the ballpark to meet with Anne Saker, a talented reporter I helped recruit to The Oregonian and a bonafide baseball fan. Anne was born in Columbus, went to school at Ohio University, and is now back at The Cincinnati Enquirer, where she once worked as a college intern.

It was great to hang out with Anne, who is one of the most gracious and outgoing people on the planet. She knows her home state, her city and her hometown baseball team all very well, and it was a pleasure to talk with her about all that while swapping newsroom war stories. We traded thoughts about the past, present and future of journalism, shared baseball anecdotes, and reminisced about our shared history in Portland. Sure hope she makes it back to Oregon again.

As for the ballpark, what can I say?

Like Pittsburgh and Cleveland, Cincinnati is an amazing place to see a ballgame. Great American Ball Park, GABP for short, opened in 2003 on the banks of the Ohio River. It’s equipped with a state-of-the-art jumbo scoreboard, a wide concourse featuring an actual market with chilled beverages and fresh fruit as well as the usual fare of grilled sausages, pizza and cheese coneys, a local favorite featuring the city’s signature Cincinnati Chili, onions and shredded cheese on a steamed bun and hotdog.

Our tickets were on the first-base side several rows up behind the Reds’ dugout. We sat in the shade on a warm night, a welcome contrast to Cleveland, where the night before the game-time temperature started at 54 and fell to 51. It was not only Fireworks Friday but Star Wars Night, so the whole Midwest vibe took on an extra layer of Disneyesque wholesomeness.

The game featured the two weakest teams in the National League’s Central Division and yet another one-sided outcome. The Reds won easily, 5-1, and fans enjoyed a post-game fireworks celebration.


On Saturday morning, I got up early, ran through the University of Cincinnati campus, checked out of my room and headed downtown for a final meal — a delicious croissant omelette with fresh fruit at the small and cozy French Cafe.

I crossed the Roebling Bridge into Covington, Kentucky, and admired the Cincinnati skyline, all the while aware I was looking across a body of water that separated North from South, freedom from slavery.

En route to the airport, which lies about 20 miles away in Northern Kentucky, I marveled at the physical beauty of the area — green, rolling hills — and soaked up the last few moments of my trip to the Midwest.

I packed a lot of activities and as many people as I could into my five-day, four-night adventure. Though the purpose of the trip was to see professional baseball in three cities separated by just a few hundred miles, I came home with new experiences, new and rekindled friendships, and a better sense of this region to add to my bank of memories.

I’d love to do it again. Next time, though, I may have to take Charlotte with me.


Missed my little terrier mix, Charlotte. Toward the end of the trip, my wife texted: “I think she misses you.”



The city by the lake


Progressive Field in downtown Cleveland features the most impressive graphic quality I’ve seen in a jumbo scoreboard.

Poor Cleveland.

Among U.S. cities, few have a national reputation as bad as Ohio’s second-largest city, located on the southern shore of Lake Erie. Chalk it up to high crime, bad sports teams, a faltering economy, white flight, and the infamous 1969 oil slick that caught fire on the Cuyahoga River, making the city a symbol of environmental degradation.

No wonder that an unwelcome nickname like The Mistake on the Lake persists.

I spent less than 24 hours in Cleveland during my baseball road trip last week. That wasn’t nearly enough time to make my own judgment. But what I did see — and what I’ve read since — is enough to make me think and hope that better times lie ahead for this beleaguered metropolis.


A huge water tower on the Shoreway attests to Cleveland’s age, established in 1796.

Signs of blight are hard to miss. Arriving on a Thursday afternoon, I passed a number of shuttered storefronts, vacant homes and weedy lots en route to my airbnb rental on the city’s inner west side.

At the same time, I saw glimpses of improvement. Clearly, people are striving to make things better through new businesses and new or renovated housing.

According to a recent article in curbed.com: “…Cleveland has begun to embody another trend: The nationwide phenomenon of Americans, especially millennials, wanting to live a hipper, less-car dependent lifestyle in the urban core.

“Cleveland is among a group of mid-sized Midwest cities, including Cincinnati, Columbus, Kansas City, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Detroit, experiencing a downtown Renaissance.”

Read more: Millennial Influx Helps Cleveland Shake Rust Belt Reputation

The downtown population is rebounding, workers are racing to add 900 hotel rooms in advance of the Republican National Convention, and the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, hope to deliver an NBA championship this summer.


Quicken Loans Arena, located nearby Progressive Field, is the home of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the site of this summer’s Republican National Convention.

With sincerity, I say good luck with all of that. Cleveland does have the Rock and Hall Hall of Fame and Museum, but residents deserve more as they strive to create a better future.


The 135-mile drive from Pittsburgh to Cleveland took a little over 2 hours, not counting rest stops, and had me on five interstate highways. I crossed the Ohio state line the day after Gov. John Kasich withdrew from the GOP presidential race.

Arriving around 2 pm, I had a choice: late lunch or a neighborhood run. I chose the latter.

My airbnb room was located in the historic Ohio City neighborhood, not far from the Shoreway that follows the shore of Lake Erie, connecting east and west Cleveland.


My rental car and airbnb rental in the Ohio City historic district of Cleveland.

During a cool but sunny run, I saw a crazy quilt pattern of housing — older homes, some cared for better than others; newer apartments; and sad, boarded-up structures. Turning onto Detroit Avenue, I came upon the Gordon Square Arts District, where a $30 million capital campaign has helped beautify and revitalize the neighborhood with a focus on arts and culture.

(Portlanders: Think of the Alberta Arts District’s restaurants, galleries and tattoo shops, and throw in three major theaters.)

The biggest surprise? Coming upon the two-lane track where the Cleveland Area Soap Box Derby will host the 2016 National Derby Rallies Championship in August. On second thought, it does makes sense that such an event would take place here, given Ohio’s role in producing cars, tires and other parts for the auto industry. Cleveland is one of three cities with soap box derby races dating back to 1934.

Toward the end of the run, I passed a boarded-up elementary school — a sure sign, I thought, of strained school finances or dwindling enrollment. I was wrong. Turns out the school is one of two in the area that closed last year so students at both can be moved into a new building in 2017.

I returned to the arts district for a pregame meal at Rincon Criollo, a Puerto Rican restaurant that served up a tasty platter of roasted chicken, rice and beans.

I never did meet my airbnb host and her Boston Terrier, but the accommodations were great (a clean, compact bedroom with access to a bathroom of my own) and the location was convenient (a 10-minute drive to the ballpark).


With the Detroit Tigers in town to play the hometown Indians, I was prepared to catch some razzing as a visiting fan. Didn’t happen.

No flak necessary because Cleveland jumped to a 4-0 lead in the first inning and cruised to an 8-4 victory, thanks to two home runs and three outstanding fielding plays that kept the Tigers from scoring more runs.

I exchanged high-fives with a nearby Tigers fan after a home run that briefly narrowed the deficit to 4-3, but that was the only highlight.


A solitary Tigers fan under the lights at Progressive Field. 

I bought my ticket on the street just as the game was starting. Paid $8 for a $36 ticket in the upper deck behind home plate, but didn’t sit there. Unlike other ballparks, the ushers didn’t seem to much care where you sit, so I found myself a seat at field level on the third-base side. Later, I wandered the stadium and plunked myself down behind home plate and the right-field line just to get different vantage points of the field.

Progressive Field is impressive, I have to say. The scoreboard graphics are the best I’ve seen, the field is spectacular, and the whole place is fan-friendly. Many seats were removed, I was told, so that several concession stands are closer to the action. Fans evidently like to stand while they watch the game, so there are a lot of bistro tables throughout the stadium.

CLE.progressive fiel

Progressive Field was ranked as Major League Baseball’s best ballpark in a 2008 Sports Illustrated fan opinion poll.

There were some colloquial touches during the evening: A group of young ladies known as the Cleveland Strikers performing dance moves in the center field bleachers. A handful of team mascots depicting sausages (on this evening, dressed up in ludicrous sombreros in recognition of Cinco de Mayo). A rendition of the state song, “Hang On, Sloopy,” complete with YMCA-type hand gestures spelling out “O-H-I-O..” And a Chick-fil-A sponsored contest where one fan was selected to use a camera to try to find the company’s cow mascot somewhere in the midst of screaming spectators. (Actually, the same Spot-the-Cow contest also happened in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.)

I spoke separately to two ushers between innings and they epitomized Midwest-friendly. One of them, John, said he’s a lifelong fan of the team who retired last year. He got himself a job as an usher and now gets to attend the games for free while making a little money on the side. Sounds ideal, I told him. Wish I could do the same but the Mariners are too far away in Seattle.


Friday morning I arose early, knowing I had a four-hour plus drive to Cincinnati.

Found a place for breakfast that would rival any in Portland. It was called Jack Flaps and, according to my friendly waitress, has received national acclaim. I can see why.


What a way to begin the day: My favorite magazine, Esquire, and a bodacious breakfast at Jack Flaps.

I ordered the Benedicto Mexicano — a variation on Eggs Benedict that’s made of masa corn cakes, housemade chorizo with ranchero sauce, two eggs and herb crema sauce. It was divine.


Along with fabulous food, Jack Flaps provided excellent service. Shannon exemplified Midwest friendliness.

Note: The Tigers’ loss that I witnessed was their sixth in a row to Cleveland this season and part of a seven-game losing streak that finally ended last night with a 5-4 win over the Washington Nationals. The way the Tigers looked, I won’t be surprised if they fall short of the playoffs for a second straight year.

Tomorrow: The Queen City

The Steel City


Despite a 7-1 loss to the Cubs, I still had a smile as I paused on the Roberto Clemente Bridge. (Photo by Lauren Pusateri.)

I’ve got a soft spot for Pittsburgh.

The feeling took root in the summer of 2010, when I drove cross country with my daughter to help her get set up for graduate school at Carnegie Mellon. It grew stronger during two visits my wife and I made, culminating with graduation ceremonies and a baseball game at PNC Park on a clear, summer-like evening. Since then, I’ve been rooting for the Pirates.

When the opportunity came to make The Steel City the starting point for my 2016 baseball road trip, I jumped. Good call.


Downtown Pittsburgh viewed from the Station Square light rail station.

During a two-day visit last week, I made the most of my time, visiting new and familiar places, hanging with friends and, of course, watching the Bucs play a couple of games.

My anchors were Lauren Pusateri and Kyle Nilson, a recently engaged couple who met in Portland and moved back to Pittsburgh (Lauren’s hometown) last year. I met Lauren through a mutual friend who was organizing a coed team to play cornhole — a popular game across the Midwest that’s similar to horseshoes. Soon enough, I met Kyle, who’s originally from Seattle.

As partial season ticket holders, they offered to have Lauren go with me to one game and Kyle to another. Couldn’t have worked out better.

Here’s how everything played out:

Tuesday: Drove from the airport to Smallman Street Deli, the same Jewish deli in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood where Simone and I had our first father-daughter meal all those years ago.

Fueled by breakfast, I checked into the airbnb room I was renting from a young married couple, both medical students, then went for a run along the Allegheny River in the Lawrenceville neighborhood where Simone and Kyndall used to live.

Met Lauren, for a pregame meal at Fiori’s, one of the city’s top pizzarias. Sausage and pepperoni on hand-tossed dough never tasted so good.

Watched the Chicago Cubs — longtime patsies turned juggernaut — thoroughly dominate the Pirates in a 7-1 win behind Jake Arrieta, the best pitcher in baseball.

Wednesday: Met Kyle for breakfast at Pamela’s Diner in The Strip district, a place that’s popular with politicians, notably Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Gotta say, the Pittsburgh Hash is pretty wonderful — kielbasa with sauerkraut, mixed with potatoes, topped with Swiss cheese and served with two eggs.

Went to the nearby Heinz History Center, which was featuring a new exhibit on Toys of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Talk about memories. There was everything from Gumby, Slinky, Mr. Potato Head, Cootie and Barbie to Tonka trucks, Star Wars, and Schwinn bikes with banana seats.

Upstairs was the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, which took up three floors with impressive displays of photos, uniforms, equipment and more, ranging from professional sports to all sorts of high school and amateur activities.

Naturally, there was a big focus on the Steelers (six-time Super Bowl champions, folks) and the region’s football history, as well as the Pirates and the Penguins, the hockey team. Proper homage was paid to Roberto Clemente, the first Latin ballplayer elected to the Hall of Fame who died at 38 in a plane crash as he was delivering humanitarian aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. But there was also lots of space given to Pittsburgh’s Negro League baseball teams and a slew of athletic clubs founded by the city’s European immigrant communities.

From there, we headed to the ballgame for a 12:30 pm game. Same result: Cubs throttled the Pirates again, 6-1.

Said goodbye to Kyle, had dinner at an Asian restaurant down the street from my rented room, then finally got a chance to talk with my hosts, Cecilia and Gil. Had an enjoyable conversation, learning how they met, what they are studying, and probing their thoughts on religion and the afterlife.

(For the uninitiated, airbnb enables travelers to rent rooms in private residences, typically for less cost than a motel room. Depending on circumstances, you may or may not meet the person(s) you’re renting from. And you may share the living space with pets, as I did.)

Thursday: Met for breakfast with Jacob Quinn Sanders, a journalist friend I’ve known for about 15 years since I was a recruiter and he was a college student. Though we never worked together, we’ve kept in touch through the years and his many moves, and he’s been a regular contributor to my annual guest blogger project Voices of August.

We reconnected at Nadine’s, a Southside bar and restaurant that’s been featured on “Diners, Dives and Drive-ins.” As promised, it was a “full Yinzer” kind of place, catering to blue-collar, native Pittsburghers in sports-themed T-shirts and caps. Among a handful of retirees seated at the counter that morning was a younger guy with a man-bun and Penguins garb, sipping on a beer at 8 a.m., no doubt having just finished the graveyard shift.

Jacob left the newspaper industry not long ago to follow his own path as a freelance journalist and web developer. As such, he represents the best of today’s ever-evolving journalists, a writer of content and code and totally at ease in the world of social media.

As I hit the road for Cleveland, it dawned on me that the social aspect of this trip was essentially like hanging out with my own adult kids. My fellow baseball fans, my airbnb hosts, my journalist friend — all are in the late 20s to early and mid-30s, just like my two sons and daughter.

Though it may seem odd or least curious that I’d hang out with people young enough to be my children, I felt totally at ease. I’d like to think they felt the same.

Tomorrow: The city by the lake

Midwest baseball road trip

pgh.pnc night

The Pittsburgh skyline looms above the right field fence at PNC Park.

Five days. Four nights. Three baseball games in three cities. Two states. One rental car. One baseball fan. One generous wife.

Add them all up and you get one jam-packed, solo trip to see six baseball teams in three stadiums in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati.

road trip map

As part of the deal, you get to hang out with new and older friends, stay in the homes of three strangers, feast on tasty foods, visit a couple of museums, and be alone with your thoughts as you drive hundreds of miles on interstate highways where Northeast meets Midwest and the Rust Belt transitions into America’s Heartland.

Self indulgent?




Call it the Great Midwest Baseball Road Trip of 2016.*

* (I understand western Pennsylvania is part of the Northeast, but five of the six teams I saw are from landlocked states so I’m keeping it simple and going with “Midwest.”)



Progressive Field in Cleveland — one of three impressive baseball stadiums I visited within a four-day span.

As a youth baseball player and lifelong fan, I’ve always fantasized about seeing a game in every Major League Baseball park. Living on the West Coast, it was easy to get to the first six. Reaching those in other regions of the country has been challenging at times but after this trip I’ve now been to 25 stadiums, leaving just 5 to go.

Several years ago I’d done something like this on a smaller scale when I drove my dad from his home in rural New Mexico to Arizona so we could see 3 games in 3 days at 3 ballparks during spring training. That preseason fling was a piece of cake because we stayed in one place and the parks were relatively close to each other in the Phoenix metro area.

In contrast, this trip required not just more time but more planning. And I got a big assist with the logistics from my mother, a devoted fan of the Oakland A’s right up until the day she died. (More on that below.)

I flew from Portland to Pittsburgh late Monday night and arrived Tuesday morning. I saw games there Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon. I drove to Cleveland the next day and saw a game that Thursday night. I drove to Cincinnati the next day and saw a game that Friday night. I flew home the next day and arrived Saturday evening, just ahead of Mother’s Day.

Some might wonder why I did this alone. Why not ask a friend to come along?

Well, a trip like this isn’t out of the ordinary for me. When I traveled the country as The Oregonian’s newsroom recruiter, I was typically on my own, flying to cities I often hadn’t been to before, getting a rental car and staying in a blur of hotels.

Frankly, that’s how I managed to see ballgames in so many different places. If my work  hadn’t taken me to places like Houston, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Minneapolis, I most likely would have gone there on my own.

Having retired at the end of last year, time wasn’t the issue in planning this excursion. Rather, it was a matter of finding game dates in nearby cities within a few days that wouldn’t cause havoc for Lori, knowing she had to maintain her work schedule, manage our three pets and respond to any household issues that came up in my absence.

Bless her. She agreed.



Visiting Mom at her residential group home in July 2013.

My late mom had a role in this too. .

When she died in the fall of 2013, I had to cancel a work-related trip to Iowa. The airline wouldn’t refund the full cost of my ticket but I did get a voucher for partial credit. It was enough for a one-way ticket I could use at a later date.

Well, that opportunity presented itself when I made my travel arrangements. The flight from Cincinnati to Portland was essentially free. I’d like to think Mom would be happy knowing she contributed to my Midwest adventure.

For the record,  my two favorite teams went without a win in my presence.

In Pittsburgh, the Pirates lost twice to the Cubs. In Cleveland, the visiting Tigers fell to the Indians.

In Cincinnati, I had no vested interest in either team so I didn’t mind at all cheering the Reds to victory over the visiting Brewers.


Wearing a Cuban National Baseball Team jersey at the Cincinnati riverfront.

Though baseball was the main attraction, I’ve got to say the overall adventure was mighty fine. The combination of new and familiar experiences, hanging with friends, and seeing more of this landlocked part of the country made for a great trip.

It was fun to be in Pittsburgh again. It was sobering to spend time in Cleveland. And it was an epiphany to visit Cincinnati for the first time.

Map: Zesco Inc.

Tomorrow: The Steel City

Downshifting on Orcas

OI.eagle lake1

A walk around Eagle Lake is good for the soul.

Several years ago I was part of a Hood to Coast team that adopted a memorable slogan for the 198-mile relay race from mountain to the beach. It was so cool we put it on our T-shirts with an image of a snail: “Start out slow, then taper off.”

That thought came to mind during our recent vacation on Orcas, the gem of the San Juan Islands. If you’re already retired, how do you take it down a notch?

Lori is still working, so the question didn’t apply to her. But for yours truly, my “challenge” was to find a new level of relaxation during our weeklong stay at our log cabin in the woods.

Consider the challenge met.


Mount Baker rises in the distance in this view from the Anacortes ferry parking lot.

From the time we board the ferry in Anacortes and find ourselves a table near a window, the process of decompressing begins. It’s a smooth, silent hour-long ride across the water to Orcas, meaning there’s ample time for a book, a snack or a nap.

Arriving at the ferry dock, we set off on a leisurely 45-minute drive to our place, traveling on two-lane roads that pass one pastoral scene after another. Our route takes us through the village of Eastsound and an expansive state park, along the shoreline of a lake and two bays, and then to the outer reaches of the island, where the locals sell farm fresh eggs, fresh-picked flowers and bundles of kindling.

(Fun fact: There is not a single traffic signal on Orcas.)

By the time we chug up the graveled road leading to our place at the top of a hill, we are tired from a day of travel, for sure, but also in a frame of mind to appreciate the slower pace of life in a place that oozes charm.

We hadn’t been up since July, so it felt great to reacquaint ourselves with everything we love about this place. Clean, crisp air. Confetti-like stars in the night skies. Greenery in every direction. And a blanket of silence. It’s quiet enough to hear a hummingbird’s beating wings, and the wind swooshing through tall treetops.

But enough of that. Here’s a fond look back at our favorite vacation place.

Every day started with a walk above our house, a much quieter experience than usual, when Charlotte and Otto are apt to see (and bark at) other dogs in the neighborhood.


We had a persistent visitor — an American Robin that kept flying toward our front-door window, wings flapping and claws extended. A quick internet search suggested the bird perceived us as a threat to a nest somewhere nearby. Felt sorry for him because he kept up this behavior the entire time we were there.


This American Robin hung out on our porch the whole week.

We had no schedule and were content to mostly hang around the cabin, reading books, playing board games, watching a trio of movies on DVD, and preparing most of our meals. We made one exception: a lovely dinner at Doe Bay Cafe, which is part of the Doe Bay Resort, known for its hippie aesthetic.

We had our friends Carl and Julie over for dinner one night. A couple days later, I played golf with Carl and his buddy, Terry, and afterwards had dinner and played billiards  at the Lower Tavern.

While Lori knitted some days, I went on solitary runs in the Eagle Lake area. Together we went on a short hike at Obstruction Pass State Park, a favorite place of ours.

We also walked around the Eagle Lake area, admiring the many well-maintained homes and enjoying views of the lake and Georgia Strait, which separates the United States and Canada.

As if all this relaxation weren’t enough, I took it down a notch one afternoon. With the sun shining and no hint of a breeze, I headed toward the hammock down the hill from our cabin. Took a pillow and a book — John Updike’s “Rabbit Is Rich” — and read a few pages before nodding off.

I know. It sounds decadent. All this fresh air, R&R, good food and healthy living. So grateful to have the opportunity to enjoy it all. And so grateful to be able to spend the time with my wife.