Life is not a science experiment

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A giraffe bends low for water at a game preserve outside Durban, South Africa. “This giraffe impressed me. His knees work better than mine.” — Molly Holsapple

By Molly Holsapple

It’s been 5 years since I retired from a career that I loved but that consumed most of my time and energy.  Since retirement, I have exchanged a daily van ride to Salem for the chance to hone my expertise in using TriMet to explore every part of Portland.  I had found the right balance in life, splitting my time between keeping fit, enjoying my friends, local adventures, being in two book groups, volunteering in two grade schools, and doing just enough consultant work to fund one big trip a year.

In the last year that balance has disappeared and I find myself thinking about a science experiment on expansion and contraction from Mr. Harris’s 4th grade class.  Do you remember the one?

Put a balloon on an empty soda bottle…heat the bottle and the air molecules expand blowing up the balloon…then put the bottle in ice water and the air molecules contract and the balloon reduces in size enough to fit inside the bottle. 

That grade-school experiment could very well define my life during the past year.  Last summer began with a left knee replacement that caused me to spend time in a hospital and rehab facility and has confined me for months at a time in my house.

As someone who is accustomed to independence and variety in her daily life, the physical ordeal of recovering from major surgery meant I was trading in those freedoms for a longer-than-anticipated period of dependence and routine. Being forced to stay indoors as I recuperated was a soul-crushing experience that made me, at times feel very downhearted.

But my international and domestic travels brought out the adventurer in me. And now that a full year has gone by, I am able to see how my life expanded and contracted just like the balloon on the empty soda bottle.

***

My life deflates to inside the bottle

The doctor’s projections after my June 2016 surgery were that I would go home and with physical therapy I could expect to be back to my old lifestyle in around 6 months.  Those projections became a different reality when as a result of a weaker right leg, I was unable to walk up 5 stairs on the third day in the hospital.

A social worker visited my room to tell me that because I could not climb stairs I could not go home.  I had one day to identify a rehab facility where I would be transferred.  Thank God for basic community knowledge and friends who helped review and screen my options.

No matter what you call it, rehab in a nursing home stinks.  Your life shrinks when you stay most the day in your room, share with changing roommates, eat delivered meals at designated times, bathe on a schedule, and are humbled by having to ask and wait for essential help with basic care or movement.  I was frustrated and angry at having to live here for 2 weeks.  Each day was a lifetime and by day 4, I began to dream about being in prison.  Despite all of that, I stayed positive on the outside, and recall fondly hour-long escapes with friends and creating a tradition of afternoon and evening 7-Up and cranberry juice cocktails with Ruby, my 85-year-old nearly deaf roommate.

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My trusty cane.

When I finally went home, I was physically and intellectually prepared, but in no way ready emotionally for a slow and episodic recovery.  During the next 5 months following rehab, I lived primarily in the small world of my house. Drugs and ice helped with pain, but initially made it impossible to concentrate to read.  No matter how many channels are on TV they dull rather than expand your mind and world.

PT was 2 days a week and progress was slow but visible.  I started regular walks around the block and then a bit further with neighbors and progressed from a walker to a cane. Progress and sometimes the ability to move at all were detoured by falls, infections in my right foot and sometimes the weather. One step forward and two steps back. Despite that I was determined to be ready for adventure.

My life expands beyond the bottle

I wanted to believe that my life would be back to normal by November 2016, so I planned for it to be so. Beginning several months prior to the knee replacement, I was asked to join friends on trips.  Rather than being cautious, I said a resounding “YES” to every opportunity.   I would go on three trips on four continents that got me outdoors and allowed me to get up-close to wild animals and new cultures.

Meg, an Ohio work colleague who knew I loved my 2001 trip to Ireland, invited me to join her and 6 of her lifelong friends there for Thanksgiving week.  I joined online planning, and met my new traveling companions at a bar in the Boston airport.

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Molly and friends enjoy a dinner of Irish Stew on Thanksgiving Day in Ireland.

Leaving just 2 weeks after the presidential election, we hoped to escape the constant politics at home.  We headed off intent on enjoying the hills, pubs, castles, people and music of Ireland.  I did it all of that with the exception of the castles, which were not very accessible to a gimp, even with a blue shiny balancing cane. Ireland’s weather is like Portland and the people are just as welcoming.  I especially enjoyed lessons on how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness in the expected 119.5 seconds.

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Pour a pint of Guinness in 119.5 seconds? “I did it on the first try! All you need is a teacher with 60 years’ experience,” says Molly.

Contrary to the classic saying about all politics being local, I discovered that in today’s world all politics is international and there is no escaping it. The first two questions in every pub: So you voted for him? What the heck is the Electoral College?

My old college roommate Bobbie and her husband Chris annually spend February as East Coast snowbirds in Fort Myers Beach, Florida.  Joining her seemed perfect. It was a chance to leave Portland’s wet and snowy winter.  More importantly, Bobbie had come at the time of surgery to spend a week with me and I was stuck in the rehab facility instead.  A week of cooking, laughing, wine, short walks and sharing stories in the Flamingo State was the best remedy for my depression at slow progress in healing.

My life inflates yet again

Millie, a lifelong friend and traveling companion, won a week-long photo safari in South Africa at a United Way fundraiser in Alaska.  Even though Africa was not on my bucket list, I jumped at the chance to join her at a game lodge. (View it here.) In the weeks before departure I got shots, bought and learned to use a camera, and packed and unpacked multiple times for what was to become the trip of a lifetime.

I left Portland at 10 am March 31st and we arrived in Durban, South Africa, after more than 40 hours of flying at 7 pm on April 2nd.  Durban is an industrial city of 4 million people on the Indian Ocean coast of Africa. We took our tour leaders’ advice and stayed a couple of days to sleep and acclimate before moving on to the safari. My image of this time is our white faces in a sea of welcoming black ones.

Arriving at the game reserve, we joined a group consisting of 4 other couples hailing from England, Canada and the United States. In each case, someone had purchased the trip as part of a fundraising event so that gave us something in common.  We met Chris, an Afrikaner, who became our weeklong Land Rover driver, experienced tour guide, joke teller, and the answerer of all our ridiculous questions.

I was “glamping” in a game lodge.  The lodge staff, mainly comprised of Zulu people from local tribes, had a genuine interest in all who visited their “home” and would readily engage in conversations about their upbringing, families, life in the bush and the best tasting game meat to sample at nightly buffets. I was impressed that all the people in doing their jobs spoke at least 3 languages fluently.

Every day we moved at a pace that mirrored the animals.  I did not have to worry about walking and falling.  We started each morning with a game drive at 5 am so we could see both the sun and the animals rise.  We would return for breakfast, some activities, a midday rest and be out again at dusk to check the watering holes.  I felt like I was being welcomed into a quiet unexposed world that was momentarily peaceful. Through each day and the week, I was a visitor to the homes of cheetah, lions, elephants, rhinos, hippos, water buffalo, giraffe, zebra, nyala and much more.

(Click on photos to view captions.)

The animals were accustomed to sharing their habitat with Land Rovers and did not react to our human presence.  Yet we were also made aware of danger and the encroaching outside world.  On one day a loud and pesky helicopter was rounding up 200 nyala to move to another reserve to guard against over grazing.   We saw the remains of the wildebeest dinner of the pride of lions we were observing.   We heard that locals who earned $250 a month could earn $65,000 in one evening of poaching tusks and of the estimates that all rhinos would be gone from the continent in a decade or less.

Saying goodbye to the safari, we again spent a day in Durban before flying on to Dubai. Dubai is a city-state that is part of the United Arab Emirates located in southwest Asia.  Since I have a young friend there running a Montessori school, we added a two-day stay in this city of contrasts to our itinerary.  Dubai is the business, advertising and marketing capital of the Middle East. It looks like New York on steroids given the space and new buildings, but take a water taxi across the bay and you are in the 17th century spice, cloth or gold markets.

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Molly, left, and Millie cross the harbor in a water taxi with the Dubai skyline in the background.

Dubai’s population of 1.7 million is 80% emigrants, mostly Indian and Pakistani, and mostly young professionals.  Its commitment to internationalism was evident even at the school we visited, where 3- to 5-year-olds are speaking French, English and Arabic throughout their day. On our short visit, welcoming conversations and inquiries were initiated by both a young woman in western dress at Friday brunch at the Westin and an older woman in a niqab at the spice market.

***

My life settles down

I am happy to be home and feel more ready to face my continuing recovery.  My goals sound simple: to be pain-free, cane-free, able to carry my own groceries, and have the endurance and balance to walk safely for an hour or more.  Whether I reach these goals or not, I want to remember the best of the lessons learned over this year.

  • Travel has made me feel that I have more in common with others. The world seems smaller, more friendly and safer than I expected.
  • Each animal’s pace is different. My recovery period is certainly more than the 6 months originally predicted. Even it takes me 2 years to get there I must stay focused and find peace with that.  I will find peace even if I have to keep the cane.
  • The normal ups and downs in everyone’s life are so much more than a science experiment. My life will fill to the degree to which I include friends and adventures whether at home or across the world.   I must remember the best of the larger world when I have to stay in the smaller one.
  • Promote the positivity, appreciation and gratitude that were evident in the people I met across the world and in the friends that are part of my everyday life.
  • Never forget how lucky I am to have the stability, resources and opportunity to travel outside my own everyday reality.

I will find balance moving forward.  I have postponed a hoped-for trip to Thailand because I am not ready for jostling crowds in the city.  No matter what, I will keep moving and planning to see the broader world.

Photographs: Molly Holsapple

***

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Molly Holsapple

Molly Holsapple spent a career and lifetime as an advocate and implementer of quality supports for employment and a full life for persons with disabilities, primarily persons with developmental disabilities.  Now she tries to spend a more balanced life in her neighborhood, community and the world. 

Editor’s note: Molly is a longtime friend, a fellow Northeast Portland resident, and personal training client of my wife, Lori. She is tenacious, passionate, opinionated, well-read and, now, well-traveled.

Tomorrow: Elizabeth Hovde, Luigi is mine

 

 

Orcas on my mind

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Daybreak on Orcas Island. Nothing more peaceful.

I’ve been home less than 24 hours and already I’m missing the place where I just came from: Orcas Island.

Maybe it’s because we returned home to 100-degree weather — 25 degrees warmer than what we left. More likely it’s because the past week was so relaxing — again.

Lori and I visited from Saturday to Saturday, marking the second time this year we’ve visited our humble log cabin in the woods at the far east end of the island.

The first time, in late March, was bittersweet. We began our stay by sharing the cabin for a couple of days with our son, Jordan, his wife, Jamie, and our granddaughter, Emalyn. We ended it by heading back to the ferry with the knowledge that my dad had died the day before at age 91.

This time, it was just us and our little dog, Charlotte.

(Click on images to view captions.)

***

Our first two days on the island were damp and wet. At one point, a thick fog rolled in worthy of San Francisco, making it impossible to see very far down the hill, let alone all the way down to the water.

No worries, though, because we had some settling in to do in order to transition from the everyday stresses of urban life. We each started a new book and I kept the wood stove going. We did some light maintenance around the property and waited for the weather to clear.

When it did, it reminded us of what a lovely place this is. It’s not just the view of Mount Baker and of nearby islands that we enjoy from our porch. Nor is it the ability to walk up the road above our house and see deer and a forest panorama of cool green hues.

No, it’s simpler than that. It is the utter stillness of the place.

Morning brings the welcome sound of grosbeaks, juncos and finches flocking to the bird feeders. A stiff wind might rustle the trees. But for most of the day, and certainly when evening comes, it’s nothing but silence.

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Morning visitor visible from the dining room window.

***

On Sunday, despite the drizzle, we headed out to the Orcas Island Artworks Gallery to attend an annual ice cream social and view the latest creations by some 50 artists. A line of volunteers crowded onto on the porch to dish up sundaes while others huddled under a lawn tent to do face-painting.

We walked around Eagle Lake one afternoon, anticipating a leisurely outing. Charlotte was overwhelmed by the scents of wildlife, however, and I wound up carrying her two or three times just so she wouldn’t overdo it straining to pull ahead on her leash.

We left her home the next day while we hiked around Cascade Lake on a picture-perfect morning. We’ve done that hike several times and it never gets old. We came upon a Pileated Woodpecker hammering away at a fallen log, and enjoyed the variety of lake views as we circled the water.

As we passed through the concessions stand at one end of the lake, we “bought” a scoop of locally made Rocky Road ice cream to share on the back end of the route. I say “bought” because I left my wallet in the car and had no money to pay. The teenage server said, “Just pay later today. We’re open until 6.”

And so we did. We’d planned to have dinner out anyway, so we stopped in and paid before continuing on to the Inn at Ship Bay, a marvelous place that’s the equal of any in Portland. We ate at an outdoor table with a magnificent view of the water. Before the food arrived, we joined other diners in wandering down to the water’s edge to see an enormous bald eagle perched in a tree. How many times does that happen in the city?

I got up early the next morning and ran around the perimeter of Mountain Lake. I arrived in time to snap a few photos of the sun glinting like a diamond on the water’s surface. Until the last half-mile, when I encountered a young couple coming toward me, I had the nearly 4-mile-long trail to myself.

We ventured into Eastsound on Friday. I hit a bucket of balls at the driving range (I still suck) while Lori did some light shopping. We went to lunch at The Kitchen, a local institution that serves “fast (enough) Asian food” featuring organic vegetables and other local ingredients. Jordan worked there for part of one summer long ago, so we’re especially fond of the place.

On the way back home, we stopped in to visit our longtime friend, Juliana, at her place overlooking Buck Bay. Her husband, Carl, was away in Montana for a few days, but we hope to see them soon if a planned trip to Oregon’s wine country materializes this summer.

Before we knew it, it was time to close our books, pack up the Scrabble game, and clean up the cabin in preparation for Saturday morning and the trip back home. We left reluctantly, knowing the mainland would bring triple-digit weather and the usual handful of testosterone-fueled drivers who make I-5 an uncomfortable place to be.

Seated now at the window looking out at my urban neighborhood, I can’t complain.

No. 1: If you’re going to live a city, they don’t come much better than Portland.

No. 2: This year’s World Naked Bike Ride took place in Southeast Portland, miles away from our home. For those 10,000 people who biked in the buff, more power to you. All the same time, I’ll keep my clothes on.

 

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Look closely. Can you see what an inspired hiker left on the Cascade Lake trail?

 

Don’t forget about Idaho

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Waiting for a rear truck tire to be replaced on our moving van, we found ourselves next to  the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes.

My recent storytelling about the Road Trip From Hell probably was unfair to Idaho. So let’s set the record straight.

On Day One of our four-day drive from Washington to Missouri, Jordan and I were slowed down by a flat tire in a mountainous area of northern Idaho as we were traveling eastbound toward the Montana border.

We had to wait three hours for a two-man crew to arrive with a spare tire for our U-Haul moving van. That gave us plenty of time to kill while we waited just off Interstate 90 somewhere in between the towns of Kellogg and Wallace.

The delay set us back significantly on our goal of reaching Missoula, Montana, that same evening. We made it — nearly 500 miles — but we arrived just before midnight rather than at 8 or 9 pm as I had envisioned.

The flat tire experience, resulting in another three-hour delay, was repeated on Day Two as we made our way from Missoula to Billings.

In looking back over the four-day diary, I realized I’d mentioned Idaho just the one time — and obviously not in the most favorable light.

So here goes…

***

It was still early afternoon when we cruised through Spokane, in eastern Washington, and crossed over into Idaho. We knew we wouldn’t be here very long, as I-90 covers only 75 miles of the Idaho Panhandle before continuing into Montana.

With out two-vehicle caravan, we zipped through Post Falls on the western end of the state and stopped to refuel and get lunch in Coeur d’Alene, population 44,000. Lake Coeur d’Alene is gorgeous, even when you’re passing by on the freeway.

Lori and I had stayed here one night during our honeymoon in the mid-70s, but I’m not sure I’d ever been back. Pulling off the freeway, Jordan and I parked the U-Haul van and the Honda Fit and let the dogs out for an extended walk on the grassy area just off a freeway exit near the city center.

There was a fair amount of public art here in this park adjacent to the Idaho Centennial Trail, a 900-mile scenic trail that traverses the state. We enjoyed the shade for a bit, then went to get gas and a quick meal.

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Next road trip, I may be taking Charlotte along in a Dawg Sled.

We wound up at Roger’s Ice Cream & Burgers, an old-school place that’s been around since 1940 and offers more than three dozen milkshake flavors. We took our orders to go and ate in the shade of some leafy trees on a residential street.

Quick story: I had to use the public restroom two blocks away on a four-lane commercial street. As I stood on a corner of an intersection with no stoplights, no stop signs and no crosswalk, not one but two drivers stopped to let me cross. Nothing like small-town politeness.

With full bellies, we took off again toward Missoula. Forty miles later, a rear tire gave out on the U-Haul and I feared we’be stranded, not knowing whether we’d even get cell phone reception in that remote an area.

Fortunately, I was wrong. While help was on its way, I took a walk in the area and found it to be quite lovely.

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Waiting for the road service crew to arrive, I could at least appreciate the clean, free-flowing Coeur d’Alene River outside Wallace, Idaho.

Turns out we had broken down near the Coeur d’Alene River and the paved trail I was walking along was part of the Trail of the Coeur’ d’Alenes,  a 73-mile trail that follows a former railroad right-of-way from Mullan, a mountain mining town near the Montana border, to Plummer, a town on the prairie near the Washington border.

Idaho is among our country’s most conservative states, so there’s no way I’d even think of living here. But this part of Idaho is undeniably beautiful, with its clear mountain streams and lush forests.

I’ve traveled through southern Idaho a few times on Interstate 84 and that dry, high-desert landscape has no appeal, believe me. If and when there is next time I’m traveling I-90, I hope circumstances will be far different. I wouldn’t mind hanging out in Coeur d’Alene again for a couple of days.

 

Road warriors diary: Day four

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Jordan and George celebrate the end of the journey with burgers, ribs and brewskis at T.G.I. Friday’s on, yes, a Friday night.

Friday, June 2:

After three days of driving across the Northwest states and the Great Plains, plans for our final day on the road called for a straight shot to the eastern border of South Dakota, a sharp turn to the south through Iowa and western Missouri, and then another straight shot east to our final destination: Columbia, Missouri.

Jordan and I were eager to get this Road Trip From Hell over, knowing we had to arrive on time so that we could spend the next day unloading the 20-foot U-Haul trailer we were driving.

Jordan took the Honda Fit with the two dogs and cat, and I hopped up into the cab of the U-Haul truck.

We hadn’t done any sightseeing and today would be no different. Except for breaks to get fuel, use the rest area bathrooms, and grab a caffeinated drink every so often, we were moving.

That meant no stopping at the George McGovern Legacy Museum in Mitchell. (The former U.S. senator was a decent man who was trounced by Nixon in ’72, and he was the first candidate to receive my presidential vote.)

Likewise, no stopping in Sioux Falls, the state’s largest city, as we turned off I-90 and picked up I-29 South.  Originally, I’d hoped to at least go on a quick drive around town, as that’s where my lifelong best friend, Al Rodriguez, attended his first two years of college on a track scholarship before transferring back to a state college in our home state of California.

Not a chance.

We cruised right on past the sign to the University of Sioux Falls and did the same when we passed Vermilion, home of the University of South Dakota.

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Brandi, Jordan and Jax take a walk at a rest stop in Brule, South Dakota.

Before long, we were crossing the state border into Iowa. No offense, Hawkeyes, but Sioux City is one ugly city. Reminded me of what my Texas friend Mike Granberry used to say about Waco, Texas. “If you were going to give the United States an enema, you’d do it in Waco.”

Things got better as we zipped through one small town after another, the names meaning nothing and the scenery failing to hold my attention. That’s a shame because I’ve driven across Iowa a few times and I mostly remember it as pretty — even the endless fields of corn.

Click on images to view captions.

 

 

After three days of burgers and other greasy foods, we opted for something “healthy.” Best thing we could do was pop into a truck stop that had a Subway franchise. Didn’t know whether to be amused or appalled at the guy next to me who ordered a Cu-BAN-o sandwich with Chipotle dressing.

***

Refreshed and recharged, we did our best long-haul trucker impressions and kept on keeping on.

Soon enough, we were in Missouri. And the first thing we both noticed was the preponderance of giant fireworks stands, like those you see along I-5 just north of Vancouver. Are folks in this state unusually patriotic? Or just fascinated with fireworks?

(The Fourth of July is my least favorite holiday, owing to what I consider the ridiculousness of setting off these loud devices that serve no purpose other than to cause someone to clean ’em up afterwards.)

We passed a sign for Oregon, Missouri (population 857, according to the 2010 U.S. Census) and made a point of stopping at the last rest area before approaching Kansas City, a Portland-sized city that straddles the Kansas-Missouri border.

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Coming or going? Both. Jax (foreground) and Brandi take a water break.

As I feared, we entered the city from the northern end just as Friday evening rush hour was materializing. I was in the lead as we snaked our way through the city (try it in a 20-foot moving van), zigging and zagging from one lane of the interstate, and keeping an eye on the rear view mirror to be sure Jordan was staying close behind.

We managed to exit onto Interstate 70, the route between K.C.  in the west and St. Louis at the opposite end of the state. Columbia was 125 miles, just a couple of hours under normal freeway conditions.

But were these conditions “normal”?

Of course not.

There were fender-benders, work zones and reduced speed limits that together added another hour to this final stage of our trip. True confession: Traffic was at such a standstill that I pulled out my phone and made an online reservation for a motel room right there on I-70.

We pulled off the freeway one last time for fuel and a nature break. We were so ready to be done with driving.

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Tired (actually, exhausted) and a little punchy after completing our four-day road trip.

Finally, we crossed into the city limits. Of course, our motel wasn’t located off the first or second exit, but the last one, which extended our trip just a few miles more.

We finally reached the exit and pulled off; tried to follow Google’s directions in a confusing jumble of local and state roads; and at last found the driveway into the asphalt lot where we could finally park, shut off the engines, and declare victory with a father-and-son hug.

We’d logged 625 miles — the most of any of the three days — and nearly 2,000 miles total.

It was time for a treat: a sit-down dinner at T.G.I. Friday’s and a couple of frosty mugs of beer. Jordan had yet another burger and fries, while I opted for a half-rack of ribs, mashed potatoes and cole slaw. It was so good.

***

Postscript: Saturday, June 3:

A full day of unpacking the truck and car lay ahead, and I wanted to start the day off right with a hearty breakfast. On the recommendation of our waiter from the night before (a chill dude from Seattle), we found ourselves at a sidewalk table at Ernie’s Cafe & Steak House, a local institution since 1934.

Nothing fancy, but it hit the spot.

 

 

We checked out of our motel room, picked up the keys to the apartment where Jordan, Jamie and Emalyn would be living a few miles northwest of the University of Missouri campus, and got to work.

It had taken three of us (thank you, Lori) to load everything on the other end. Now it was just two of us unloading it all.

Miraculously, nothing had broken despite the sudden jerking and stopping caused by the first two days’ flat tires. We kept at it, filling every room on two floors and a small patio with furniture, bicycles, endless boxes and other stuff.

I was running low on energy and we still had the heaviest pieces to unload. That’s when a fellow resident of the apartment complex showed up and offered his help. He was a thin but fit guy in his mid-to-late 20s, in a nondescript T-shirt and jeans, and his name was Michael. He pitched in and, within 30 minutes, we were done around 6 pm.

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Whew! Done!

We invited him to join us for takeout pizza but Michael had a better alternative. He’d just made a pot roast, with spices and carrots, and had plenty left over. Would we be interested? And did we drink beer?

Yeah. And, hell yeah.

Michael brought over a crock pot, plastic bowls and utensils, and three bottles of Blue Moon. We stood around in the kitchen (of course, there was nowhere to sit and no utensils, either) and learned a little more about our helper. He’d grown up in a small community in south-central Kansas. He’d recently gotten his A.A. and was transferring this fall to Columbia College, an independent liberal arts college there in town, with plans to study Information Technology.

You’ve heard of Midwest hospitality, right? It’s a real thing. I’ll offer up Michael as proof of that.

Jordan and I went back inside the apartment. By midnight, he was sound asleep on the couch — the only piece of usable furniture — with Jax, the pit bull, curled up on his lap. I went upstairs, laid on the carpeted floor for an hour of sleep, and pulled an all-nighter.

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Everything was unloaded and the temperature had cooled to the mid-70s by nightfall Saturday.

My return flight to Portland would depart at 6 am Sunday and that meant we had to leave the apartment around 4:30 to get to the regional airport on time to check in. I would catch naps on the two legs of the journey and be back home at PDX by 11 am.

Lori was there to greet me in the airport, with a fresh haircut and a bear hug. She had just hosted Jamie and Emalyn during the entire time Jordan and I were gone. Lori had just driven mother and daughter to the airport so they could fly to Missouri to reunite with our son, while I was in the air going the opposite direction.

It felt so, so good to be back home again.

In the passenger seat.

Road warriors diary: Day three

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Spectacular sunset neat East Lyman, South Dakota.

Thursday, June 1:

As we braced for another day of pounding the asphalt, I realized in frustration that we were still in Montana. We’d ended our first day in Missoula, in the western part of the state, and driven several hours the second day, only to get as far as Billings, in the southeastern corner.

And yet here we were, on our third day, and we were looking at another 260 miles of driving — four hours-plus – just to cross the state line into South Dakota.

After the previous day’s fiasco with a second flat tire in two days on our moving van, we went directly to a U-Haul dealer in Billings to have the lug nuts tightened on the replacement tire. The guy who’d changed the tire didn’t have his power socket wrench with him and suggested a safety check.

The service technician inspected our tires and said not to worry about the log nuts. He had a bigger concern. He said he was sending us to another U-Haul location in town to have three tires replaced.

“Really?”

We appreciated his concern for our safety but we knew the job was going to delay our departure from Billings. We hoped to reach Sioux Falls in easternmost South Dakota by nightfall but I knew there was no way that would happen.

By the time we got back onto I-90, it was already 9 am.

Our slow start was compounded by slow travel on a portion of the route that AAA had recommended to us as a shortcut.  The marginally shorter route took us off the four-lane interstate and onto a two-lane federal highway through Indian Country – specifically, the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations.

Intermittent road repairs and construction meant we had to slow down as we traveled through work zones. Passing slower vehicles also was a bit of a challenge at times on the narrower highway.

Travel was beginning to resemble a blur.

As before, we had no time to dilly-dally, so we passed by the sign pointing to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument where Lt. Col. George Custer and his band of U.S. soldiers died fighting died fighting thousands of Lakota and Cheyenne warriors. Likewise, after we cut through a tiny section of Wyoming and finally crossed into South Dakota, we had to pass on the opportunity to see the Badlands.

***

We stopped for lunch, gas in both vehicles, and a water break for the animals in Broadus, population 451.

Talk about the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t exactly a ghost town with tumbleweeds blowing down the middle of the street. There was a municipal building and a small park, a couple of gas stations, a grocery store, a bowling alley and a Western-themed business district consisting of a handful of shops and a tired, old motel.

But, still, with the midday sun beating down and nearly 100 miles more to the state border, it felt like the end of the Earth.

Back on the road, we pretty much pointed ourselves eastward and pushed ahead. We bore down in our separate vehicles, trying to chew up the miles and stopping only as needed for fuel, rest area breaks, and beverages (coffee, energy drinks, snacks) at gas station convenience stores.

We passed through Belle Fourche, a farming town of 5,600 I’d never even heard of, in western South Dakota. At some point, the monotony turned to surprisingly green and beautiful, with lots of gently rolling hills and generally flat landscape. We saw plenty of grain silos, old-school highway billboards at ground level, and, in my rearview mirror, a spectacular orange sunset.

Just before dusk, we pulled into Chamberlain, in the middle of the state, and caught our first glimpse of the fabled Missouri River. It was 8 pm. We’d covered more than 500 miles but had lost another hour due to the change to Central Time Zone. We were tired and hungry but thankful there hadn’t been an issue with the tires.

 

We checked into a motel, hauled our bags into the room, then watered, fed and walked the dogs. We put them in the room and walked across the street to an Arby’s for dinner. I pulled on the door but it was locked. They had closed at 9 pm. It was 9:05.

We returned to the front desk. The clerk made a couple of calls to restaurants she thought might still be open. Nope. Nope. Nope. Literally our only choice was McDonald’s.

Sigh.

SD chamberlain

Lake Francis Case, a large reservoir behind Fort Randall Dam on the Missouri River near Chamberlain, South Dakota.

Thankfully, Jordan is not easily ruffled. We made light of the situation and agreed neither of us would ever want to live in such a small community (population: 2,400) so far from an ocean.

We watched some cartoons, I did some writing, and we crashed, knowing we’d need to cover 600 miles and three states the next day to make it to central Missouri as planned.

Up next: Road warriors diary: Day Four

Road warriors diary: Day two

MT window

Even through a rest area window, the Montana landscape is dazzling.

Wednesday, May 31:

Montana is a big and beautiful state.

So big that you can leave Missoula, in the western part of the state, and drive all day to Billings, in the eastern part, and still find yourself a couple hours short of the state border with South Dakota.

So beautiful that you can’t just drive through it. You’ve got to pull over to the roadside and snap at least a few photos that attempt to capture the rugged beauty of the place they call Big Sky Country.

On our trip, we saw pristine rivers; muscular peaks, still capped by snow; spacious blue skies, with white tufts of clouds; and, late in the afternoon, ominous storm clouds over the Crazy Mountains.

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Storm clouds gather over the Crazy Mountains near Livingston, Montana.

Montana is the fourth largest state after Alaska, Texas and California, measuring 630 miles across (roughly twice the length of Oregon) and 255 miles up and down. Even with a legal speed limit of 80 miles per hour, it still takes several hours to traverse the state.

On the second day of our trip, we aimed to get from Missoula to Billings by early evening and keep on going into South Dakota. It didn’t happen, though, because we got another flat on our moving van. We had to endure another three-hour wait for a service call and limped into town closer to 9 o’clock, well short of our 500-miles-a-day goal.

Here’s how it happened:

We got up early and left Missoula without even touring the town. It’s too bad because Jordan and I had visited the University of Montana campus when he was a high school senior, trying to decide where he wanted to enroll in an Army ROTC program. We both had good memories of our visit in 2006 but there was simply no time to dawdle.

All was going well as we passed by Butte, the former mining capital, and smaller towns like Deer Lodge en route to lunch in Bozeman, the home of Montana State University, about 200 miles from Missoula. We had our one sit-down lunch – burgers from Five Guys – and resumed our travels. We had gotten barely than 30 miles east of Bozeman when the front tire on the passenger’s side of the U-Haul truck came apart as Jordan was driving.

The same frustrating scenario from the day before repeated itself. We were just outside Livingston, a town of 7,000 residents nestled along the Yellowstone River, and just a half-hour from the college town, with ample services, that we’d just left. Yet, we had to wait three hours for service. Turns out the U-Haul dispatcher, based in Arizona, gave the repair guy a wrong location, so he was driving back and forth on Interstate 90 looking for us, when we were miles up the road.

MT blowout

Jordan was driving on I-90 just east of Livingston, Montana, when the second tire blew out. This time it was the front tire on the passenger’s side.

When he finally arrived, he replaced the tire in 15 minutes but also advised us to check the lug nuts the next morning because he’d forgotten to bring a special power tool to tighten them properly.

We hit the road again, drove a few hours, and checked into our motel in Billings, tired as heck. We ordered Chinese takeout to be delivered to the room, watched some mindless TV, and fell dead asleep.

Before we did, I reflected on the similarity of this experience with a solo road trip that I made on this same highway some 33 years earlier. In the spring of 1984, I had just finished a fellowship at the University of Michigan. I was traveling with our two cats in a U-Haul trailer, hauling our tired Volvo station wagon back to Oregon after 10 months in Ann Arbor. Lori was flying home with Nathan and Simone. (Jordan wouldn’t come along for four more years.)

Entering Montana from the east, the plains of North Dakota, I remember being numbed by the sameness of the barren landscape in eastern Montana and then dumbstruck by the awesomeness of western Montana, with its towering mountains, endless vistas of evergreen trees, and occasional waterfalls. I recall stopping several times just to admire the state’s beauty.

This time, driving eastbound on I-90, I felt cheated.

Because of the long delay caused by the second flat tire and bungled service call, we had no time to really appreciate what we were driving past. We had a schedule to keep and now we were looking at 600 miles a day for the next two days to arrive on time in Missouri.

Next up: Road warriors diary: Day Three

Road warriors diary: Day One

WA spanaway

Gentlemen, start your engines.

Tuesday, May 30:

Long before Jordan and I hit the road on our recent multi-state trip, there was much to do to get ready. Not just plan the route and calculate how much ground we needed to cover each day on the 2,000-mile trek, but actually rent a moving van and pack it.

That process began in earnest three days in advance of starting the trip. Jordan and Jamie had arranged to sell their split-level house and vacate the premises on Tuesday, May 30, the day after the holiday.

For that to happen, everything had to be packed, sold or given away, and then the entire house cleaned. We started in on Saturday, picked up a U-Haul truck Sunday, and finished packing it Monday. We were exhausted before even starting the trip.

WA em-jordan-jamie

Having sold their home in Washington state,  Jordan, Jamie and baby Emalyn looked forward to their Midwest move.

Come Tuesday morning, we were ready to roll. I hopped into the cab of the 20-foot truck trailer while Jordan took the Honda Fit and the three animals – Jax, an energetic pitbull terrier mix; Brandi, an aging chocolate Lab; and Sage, a thankfully mellow cat.

Leaving Spanaway, their suburban home just outside Tacoma, we headed for Interstate 90, our route for most of the first 1,500 eastbound miles.

Click on images to view captions.

 

I’d never been on this particular freeway, the main connector between Seattle and Spokane, so I looked forward to seeing new things. We drove over the Snoqualmie Pass in drizzle and fog. Crossing into the drier eastern side of the state, we passed by Moses Lake, the town where our daughter-in-law Kyndall grew up, and Spokane, where Jordan began his college career 11 years ago at Gonzaga University.

(He wasn’t ready for college then, he readily admits, and he has no regrets about withdrawing as a first-semester freshman so that someone more motivated could claim his four-year, full-ride scholarship in the Army ROTC program. Suffice to say things turned out just fine.)

We were cruising along in the early afternoon, admiring the splendor of Lake Coeur d’Alene in northern Idaho when things started to go wrong. About 40 miles east of the resort community, I heard a loud “pop” come from the back of the truck and pulled over.

The inside left back wheel had blown out. Here we were in the remote mountains of northern Idaho, somewhere in the 10-mile stretch between the towns of Kellogg and Wallace, and I wondered how long it would take to get help.

Two calls to the U-Haul “hotline” produced the same result: 10 minutes on hold and no answer. Jordan went online and, despite sketchy internet connection, managed to file a claim for road assistance. We wound up waiting for three hours for a crew to arrive from neighboring Montana. Yes, it’s that sparsely populated in that part of Idaho – services few and literally far between.

A burly guy with low-slung pants that looked like they’d last been washed 5 years ago got to work replacing the tire while his companion, an older guy wearing a baseball cap and a sleeveless shirt revealing sun-burned, tatted arms, periodically offered advice.

The younger guy had the word “redneck” inked on his neck. I found myself trying to remember if the movie “Deliverance” was filmed here in Idaho or somewhere in the South.

 

Turned out the guys were a father-son team who’d recently moved to Montana from Missouri, where we were headed.

While we were waiting for them to arrive, the most amazing coincidence occurred. Through Facebook, Jordan learned that one of his former Army buddies had just moved back to Wallace, Idaho, a couple weeks earlier. He texted him and in minutes, his friend, John Ramirez, was on his way. John’s ex-wife and daughter live in a small town 20 miles to the west. John himself had recently interviewed with the county sheriff’s office for an entry-level patrol position and was feeling good about his chances of getting hired in his old hometown.

The two ex-soldiers laughed and chatted and got caught up while I took a walk on a paved bicycle trail running parallel to the interstate. If we had to be stuck somewhere, this was a beautiful spot.

 

Finally, the replacement tire was put on. We thanked the rednecks (nice guys, by the way) and resumed our travel. We were too late to shop at the local market (it had closed a few minutes earlier at 8 pm) and so we braced for the remaining hours of driving through a national forest that took me, in the lead, down steep mountain grades and several S curves. Not the most fun thing to do in the dark of night.

We arrived in Missoula – 500 miles from our starting point – and checked into a motel just before midnight. We fell into bed knowing we’d have to be up at 6 am to grab breakfast and hit the road.

Next up: Road warriors diary: Day Two

2016: What a year

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a quick take:

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

whole damn family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Happy New Year, everyone.

The Lady and the Lotus

LJ lotus

In Asia, the delicate, beautiful lotus is a sacred symbol of transcendence.

By Lakshmi Jagannathan

The flat round leaves, anchored with bulbous stems, float gently in the water like giant saucers. A black-and-white bird steps on a leaf delicately with one leg, walks on water and gently skitters on to another leaf.  Scattered throughout the floating barge of green are ethereal blooms of water lily radiant in the morning light – pale yellow, pink or with a peach colored hue. In Asia, the lotus is a sacred symbol of transcendence – of purity rising from the muddy waters.

I am in a cottage on stilts on Lake Inle in Myanmar. The lotus-filled water stretches out for miles to hills in the distance.  It could easily be the time of the King Anawrahta, who founded a kingdom by developing an irrigation system in a dry land and turning it into the rice granary of the region. In a way, this trip is also a quest for roots. A great uncle lived in Rangoon in the early part of the 20th century. At that time, Burma was a province of British India. An aggressive Burmese king had prompted the conquest, not to mention the need for teak and rubies.

LJ lake inle

A cottage on Inle Lake in Myanmar evokes a feeling of serenity, a world away from urban stresses.

I hear the gentle splish-splash of a boatman who stands on a stick and uses his leg to row the boat. It’s far away from a world of mass shootings and barbaric terrorist attacks. No traffic gridlock, no phone calls or appointments. It is life reduced to the bare elements, water, sunshine, air and lotus. Except for one thing – the 4G here is better than in the U.S. For years the country was undeveloped because of military rule, but now, since there was no slow evolution of technology here, cutting edge mobile connectivity is instantly available. So I post my lotus picture on Instagram – not so much for validation, but in a feeble attempt to freeze the present moment.

I love that the women seem empowered, somehow, in their fitted blouses and stylishly draped longyi skirts. No hiding hair with scarves or hunching behind veils to cover their breasts.  Whether it’s a village woman cleaning fish on the banks of the lake or a smart businesswoman in the capital, they seem confident and are treated with respect. The only restrictions are in pagodas. For some reason, the management is obsessed with “spaghetti straps” and there are warning signs everywhere not to wear them. Or shorts. And women are not allowed in the inner sanctum.

Lotus cloth is a big industry in Lake Inle and designers from Europe pay big money for this cloth more expensive than silk. I can see why as a woman at a weaving house extracts lotus fiber from a stem – the process is very labor intensive. And the end result is cool like cotton – not smooth and fine, but a great alternative if you have ethical concerns about silk.

LJ pagoda

A couple worshipping at the Shwedegon Pagoda sport their longyis, traditional Burmese attire.

The night sky feels primeval as a full moon shines over the lake. This phase of the moon is considered holy, and there is chanting all night in the monastery across the water.

Coincidentally, the next day is also a major national holiday – Martyr’s Day – the day the “Father of the Nation,” General Aung San, was assassinated by a political rival. When we get back to Yangon we discover that admission is free at the Bogyoke Aung San museum (his former home) because of the holiday.

From the crowds that throng the house, it is obvious how much the brilliant statesman is still venerated. There are pictures of him with world leaders.  I read a letter he has written to the British government announcing Burma’s choice for independence. A picture of him playing joyfully with his young kids shows so much hope and promise, that it’s sad to see the following one –  of his wife weeping over him on his last day. The sadness seems to permeate the house even now.

At the doorway, you have to take your shoes off and carry them (this is something you have to do a lot in Burma – in temples and, apparently, sometimes even in offices). The furnishings are stark and simple – a teak bed with a mosquito-net stand, a coat rack and a glass cabinet displaying the leaders uniform. A wedding picture graces the wall.

LJ General Aung San

A wedding portrait of Burmese General Aung San, “the father of the nation” and his wife.

Another bedroom contains Aung San Suu Kyi’s crib. As it is with Burmese names, her name actually consists of her father’s first name, her mother’s (Kyi) and a grandmother’s – Suu. I can relate to this because in South India – we don’t have last names either. It’s hard for me to understand the sacrifices Suu Kyi was willing to make. She refused to leave the country to see her dying husband because she knew the military regime would never allow her back. But her prioritizing country over family can be explained by her spiritual beliefs – the Buddhist concept of embracing suffering as a meditation practice.  It might also explain the patience and gentle demeanor of the people that we encounter everywhere, despite the poverty and the hardship they must have endured.

Even though Suu Kyi’s party won a historic election in 2015, rules concocted by the military did not allow her to become the President.  Instead, she is the “State Counselor” and also has to share power with the military which retains 25% of the seats in parliament. She is poised to implement agricultural and infrastructural reforms so Myanmar can join the global economy, but the path could be difficult since democracy is so new. Another serious issue is the persecution of religious minorities and armed ethnic tension.  I learn that for an American NGO based in Yangon, conflict management education is an important task.

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Lakshmi Jagannathan with a woman who is a weaver and also teaches the skill to guests.

On the last day of our stay there is a heavy downpour – it’s peak monsoon season. We are in a fancy new pizza place, that serves microgreens, but when it’s time to leave, the compound is flooded. “No problem” says the manager. A taxi is hailed and people place benches on the water so we can step across and sit in the car seat. Burmese hospitality at its best.

Ever since Aung San Suu Kyi came into office, expectations are very high for her, but the challenges are many.  I hope the peace they have now lasts and the country continues on its path of reform and accomplishes its goal of a brighter future for its people.

***

Lakshmi Jagannathan is a writer, startup cheerleader, reiki healer/counselor and tree-hugger. “Lately,” she says, “I have found that if I call myself a writer I get asked too many questions by immigration officials in different ports, so now my official occupation on application forms is ‘counselor.’ It works — the junta left me alone in Myanmar.” Follow her @BeavertonWriter. Read her Living La Vida Pura blog on WordPress and her Veggie Travel posts on Facebook.

Editor’s note: I met Lakshmi in the fall of 2007, when she was one of a dozen people selected for The Oregonian’s Community Writers program. Then and now, I’ve admired her intelligence and writing ability, her multicultural sensitivity and love of the natural world. Through her VOA posts, I feel as if I’ve traveled to multiple Asian and African countries.

Tomorrow: Elizabeth Hovde, A haven for political junkies

America: Still ‘the beautiful’?

MG taylor-browne

Iconic greats James Taylor, at 68, and Jackson Browne, 67, still bring it. Big time.

By Michael Granberry

CHICAGO — On a cloudless night in late June, my wife and I began our vacation at Wrigley Field. Sitting in the outfield just a few rows back from the stage, we listened to James Taylor sing “America the Beautiful.”

Thus began my long period of introspection. Is it really “America the Beautiful?” Is it still? Despite Taylor’s velvet baritone insisting it was, I couldn’t help thinking of our national rage, of mass shootings, deep, ugly racial divisions and hopeless politics.

We had begun our 12-day vacation on the banks of Lake Michigan because I wanted to see my favorite singer-songwriter, Jackson Browne, team up with a fellow member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Browne and Taylor are iconic greats from the early 1970s, when I was in college, bursting with innocence and idealism.

Jackson and James did not disappoint.

Michael Granberry

Michael Granberry

With the sun still shining on the 102-year-old ballpark where Babe Ruth allegedly called his shot by pointing to where he would (and did) hit a homer in the 1932 World Series, Browne opened with “Rock Me on the Water.”

Oh, people, look around you, the signs are everywhere.

He played “Fountain of Sorrow,” from his landmark 1974 album, Late for the Sky; “Somebody’s Baby” from the soundtrack of Sean Penn’s 1982 breakout film, Fast Times at Ridgemont High; and “These Days,” which Browne wrote when he was only 16.

“These Days” ends with one of my favorite declarations:

Don’t confront me with my failures
I had not forgotten them

He played “The Pretender” and “Running on Empty” before inviting Taylor to the stage for a pair of duets: “Take It Easy,” which Browne co-wrote with the late Glenn Frey, who used the song as the Eagles’ signature anthem, and “For a Rocker.”

MG wrigley

A 12-day, multistate vacation began in Chicago with a concert at venerable Wrigley Field.

Then it was Taylor’s turn, and though I was there mainly to hear Browne, Taylor emerged as an AARP revelation. Browne is 67, Taylor 68. The tall, balding singer sang 21 songs, launching his two-hour set with “Something in the Way She Moves.”

He covered Carole King’s “Up on the Roof” and “You’ve Got a Friend” — which he said King wrote for him, back when Taylor, Browne and King were all performing at the legendary Troubadour in West Hollywood in the halcyon era of the early 1970s.

Taylor sang “Carolina in My Mind,” saying he wrote it in London, where he had gone at the invitation of a group called the Beatles to record his debut album on the Fab Four’s Apple Records. Despite the euphoria of reaching such a pivotal moment, what he mainly felt, he said, was homesick.

And so a classic song was born. He sang “Angels of Fenway,” drawing a smattering of friendly boos when he told the Chicago crowd how deeply he felt their pain. He’s a Red Sox fan who had to wait until 2004 to see the Curse of the Bambino — inspired by the Red Sox inexplicably trading the Babe to the dreaded New York Yankees – die a slow, painful death. After decades of futility and failure, the Bosox had emerged as champs. At the moment, Chicago is cautiously optimistic that 2016 will be the first time since 1908 that the Cubs might actually win the Series. (Footnote: Browne and Taylor played their second of two concerts on Aug. 3 at Fenway Park in Boston.)

At Wrigley, Taylor sang  “Fire and Rain,” one of the most magnificent songs ever written, about his friend Suzanne, whose suicide inspired this wondrous elegy, in the context of his own grueling battle with heroin addiction.

He sang “Sweet Baby James,” “Shower the People,” “Steamroller” and “Mexico” before giving me something to think about with “America the Beautiful.” He invited Browne to the stage for an encore; the two sang Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes.”

Taylor closed the show with his own fittingly sweet goodnight ode “You Can Close Your Eyes.” The 41,000-plus of us who populated sold-out Wrigley Field pounded toward the exits, most of us boarding the subway, where my mind continued to fixate on “America the Beautiful.”

***

Amid the clatter of the train as we returned to the downtown Hampton Inn, I chatted with a young woman who told me how much she loved Chicago, where, she said, she feels safe. “You have to know where you’re going,” she said.

It’s her kind of town, Chicago is.

She was warm, engaging and non-judgmentally curious about my hometown — Dallas — where I live with my wife and four sons. Everyone we met in Chicago was as friendly as that young woman.

And then we drove all the way to Cleveland, where I longed to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I should tell you at this point that my wife and I were combining our several-states car trip with an informal book tour. Nancy Churnin, to whom I am married, is the author of a recently published children’s book, which is doing fantastically well. (Nancy even got a rave from The New York Times and from the great George Rede.)

[Editor’s note: Who am I to argue with the author’s adjective?]

MG amish

Outside of Cleveland, Mike and Nancy (the one without the bonnet!) helped a Pennsylvania-bound driver who was transporting a busload of Amish children by driving him to a restaurant where he could tell the kids and their parents that he was headed their way.

After checking out of our Cleveland-area hotel, we spotted a broken-down bus in the parking lot. Its poor driver was beside himself. He was transporting a busload of Amish children and their families back to their home in Pennsylvania.

Finally, the driver, who had driven all the way from Nashville, got his tire fixed. We helped him out by driving to a Red Lobster to tell the Amish kids and their parents that he was headed their way. That gave Nancy a chance to tell them about her book, which she never tires of doing.

“The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game” chronicles the life of William “Dummy” Hoy, who played in the 1800s and early 1900s and who may have been responsible for the hand signals that everyone now takes for granted.

The Amish kids seemed fascinated, enthralled, as kids everywhere tend to be about Nancy’s book. They were so cute! Not to mention incredibly friendly. Maybe Taylor is right, maybe it still is America the beautiful.

From the young woman on the subway to the Amish kids, I was being shown that it is, despite my raging cynicism.

At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a spectacular building on the banks of Lake Erie, I met more friendly people, who love music as much as I do. There on the walls, I saw all my favorite musicians: Browne, Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, the Eagles, Elvis Presley, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

So many musical greats came from Texas! Those in the hall include Stevie Ray Vaughan, who like me is a native of Dallas; Eagles’ great Don Henley, who lives in Dallas; and native son Steve Miller, a 2016 inductee who graduated from Dallas’ Woodrow Wilson High School.

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Niagara Falls: “nothing less than amazing.”

From Cleveland, we drove to Buffalo, N.Y., and then in the improvisational chutzpah that only car vacations can produce, we drove all the way to Canada, where we stayed overnight and saw Niagara Falls, which is nothing less than amazing.

From there, we drove to the Catskills, where my wife and her Jewish family spent their treasured summer vacations, but not before stopping in Amherst, N.Y., where Nancy checked in at a Barnes & Noble bookstore. A sweet, young B&N saleswoman named Kaylee Willis took to the book instantly.

Again, America with its kindness was telling me it was beautiful.

Nancy, my brown-eyed girl, wept softly as she walked Thompsonville Road near Monticello, N.Y., remembering idyllic summers spent with her mom and dad, her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in the family’s Mountain View cottages. The Catskills are not what they used to be, but Nancy and I loved meeting a young Hasidic couple, who leave Brooklyn each year to spend their summers in the Catskills, just as her family did. Nancy saw a deer standing majestically on the same parcel of land where her grandparents had built their cottages and where their grandchildren played for years. The deer made Nancy feel better. These days, the land belongs to him.

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July 4 brought the opportunity to visit the grassy hillside where the Woodstock music festival unfurled over four days in 1969.

We celebrated July 4 by driving through the splendor of the Catskills to Bethel, N.Y., where the seminal Woodstock music festival was held in 1969, in August, the month I entered my senior year of high school. We strolled the grassy hillside where more than 400,000 people spent four historic days, awash in rain and mud, listening to the cacophony of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Crosby, Stills and Nash and so many more.

But the best thing about stopping at the Woodstock site was getting to meet Rhoda and William Pollack, a couple from New Jersey. Two of the kindest people I’ve ever met.

On July 5, we saw a mama bear and two cubs scamper across the highway as we drove to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., where my wife would speak and where my all-time favorites appear in plaques on the wall: Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks and the one who became my friend, the late great Tony Gwynn.

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Tony Gwynn is immortalized in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Nancy got a super-charged confidence boost about her Hall appearance from Kerry Featherstone, who works the night shift at our hotel in Oneonta, N.Y. Kerry gave Nancy the best hair-do she’s ever had. Kerry asked for $10. We gave her $20. Kudos to Kerry, who radiates kindness.

The next day, Nancy spoke to a packed crowd at the Hall, sharing with them the incredible true story of the great Dummy Hoy. Kids by the dozen asked her questions and (thank goodness) begged their parents to buy the book (which they did). The next day, Nancy did readings of the book at two Manhattan libraries, one in Harlem, the other in a Dominican neighborhood. The kids reveled in the story, asking her to read it to them again and again and again.

I could almost hear Taylor singing “America the Beautiful” as I drove our rented Subaru Outback onto the Hudson Parkway and gazed at the Statue of Liberty in the distance.
When we went to bed that night, we felt peaceful, so serene, as though we had savored the most exquisite vacation we’d ever had. And then we turned on the television.

***

Back home in Dallas, a gunman had fatally shot five police officers during an otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter protest.

Suddenly, it was hard to sleep, just as it was on the night of Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, when, as a 6th-grader, I struggled with the grim reality that earlier that day President John F. Kennedy had been slain in my hometown.

The new atrocity occurred only a few blocks east of where Kennedy was assassinated, taking with him to his grave so much idealism and hope. In my mind, America hasn’t been the same since 11/22/63. Much of its beauty died on a street in my hometown.

I was hardly surprised the next morning, when our editors called, asking me and Nancy to each write a story on deadline. The newsroom had entered one of those voracious all-hands-on-deck situations.

We extended checkout two hours, wrote our stories and began the 12-hour trek back to Chicago for the flight home. We got there a bit early and ordered two “very berry” hibiscus drinks at a Starbucks in Park Ridge, Ill., where we met Rob, one of the friendliest baristas you’ll ever meet. We talked about the Cubs, the Bears, the Rangers and the Cowboys. We joked about the Rangers and Cubs meeting up in the World Series. Hey, it could happen! We exchanged contact info. I hope he’ll visit Dallas, as he said he would.

And then Rob told us something we didn’t know — quaint, bucolic Park Ridge is the hometown of Hillary Clinton. We drove by the house where she spent her youth, the Methodist church she attended, the library where she loved to read and where she made a recent campaign stop at the historic Pickwick Theatre.

Rob was like all the other people we met on our amazing vacation — warm, friendly, someone you’d love to get to know, the kind of sweet soul who makes America beautiful.

Not once during our 12 days of summer did we meet a single unpleasant person.

Not once did anyone make an offensive comment when we announced where we lived, as a few nasty people did on a car trip to Colorado I’ll never forget months after Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas.

Not once did anyone make us think that Taylor is wrong, that America isn’t beautiful.

And yet, back home, five Dallas policemen lay dead, their homicides apparently triggered as a response to the grotesque epidemic of policemen using deadly force all too often. The resulting carnage has left black men dead in Louisiana, Minnesota and too many other American locales.

Since we returned, Dallas has been a city in mourning, and yet, we have shared many beautiful moments. Our recent memorial service at the Meyerson Symphony Center saw President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush share the stage in a show of unity. A Dallas gospel singer named Gaye Arbuckle filled the Meyerson with the most soulful, healing music you’ll ever hear.

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Gaye Arbuckle performs during the July 12 interfaith memorial service for the fallen Dallas police officers. Among those gathered were Jill Biden, Vice President Joe Biden, Laura Bush, George W. Bush, Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama.

At the moment, Dallas is a city pulling together. But as President Obama said, we have seen far too much of this. It has to stop. It will remain America the beautiful, but only if we let it. There have been too many examples of a country whose problems are beginning to feel … overwhelming, insoluble.

Don’t confront us with our failures. We had not forgotten them.

But we must act on those failures as soon as possible. Or it won’t be America the Beautiful.

Nor will anyone remember when it was.

Dallas photograph: Susan Walsh, The Associated Press

***

Michael Granberry is an arts and feature writer and a Sunday arts columnist for The Dallas Morning News. He is working on a book about the founder and first owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Clint Murchison Jr. 

Editor’s note: Mike and I met as college students when we were summer interns at The Washington Post in 1973, when the Watergate investigation was at its height. He was a groomsman in our wedding; some 43 summers later, I’m honored to call him my friend — even though he’s from Texas. He’s a prodigious, immensely talented writer with a great sense of humor.

Tomorrow: Lillian Mongeau, Mile 17