Drippy January

Veeka on one of the wooden boats on South Lake Union on a Sunday afternoon.

It’s truly a drippy January here, but one thing brightening up my week was my piece for Religion News Service (that just came out) about a new opera premiering at Kennedy Center this weekend on serpent handling. You heard that right. The composer and librettist were searching for something authentically American, so they hit upon that. Naturally I, as one of the experts on the custom as it’s being practiced in the 21st century, got to write on it.

My only other recently published story, out Dec. 10, was also with RNS, ) was about the Lummi (Indian) tribe and their relationship with the region’s iconic orca whales. It took several interviews and a trip to Bellingham to research my story but I learned a lot of local history through it plus lots of trivia about orcas. I had no idea their existence was so endangered.

Veeka with her American Girl doll

We’ve had a quiet few months here. There’s a place in the South Lake Union area (near Amazon’s headquarters) called the Center for Wooden Boats that offers free rides on Lake Union on Sundays. During the summer, there’s lines out the door and you have to be there at 8 a.m. to get a spot. Not so in the fall. It was a gorgeous November afternoon with no wind and on a whim, I took Veeka there after church. We got a spot on one of the boats. Actually the lack of wind was problematic as we hardly went anywhere but at least Veeka got to see what it was like.

I appeared at several craft fairs this fall selling books and potholders plus I’ve been substitute teaching for two local school districts. One thing that hasn’t worked out is travel writing. I went to a travel writer’s conference in April and put lots of energy pitching articles in 2018 to various publications. Things have definitely changed since I got four articles in the Washington Post in 2016. Actually WaPo did approve one article for me to research this summer but we could not agree on a price. An editor at another outlet made me do a lot of research on a pitch, then rejected it on a pretext. I kept on running into publications that only paid a few hundred dollars per piece (while I was having to shell out way more than that for lodging and gas) or they wanted a really unusual angle that was impossible for me to do. Or someone would respond to a pitch and I’d email them back with specifics and then … nothing. Also, the conference featured three editors affiliated with the National Geographic Traveler, the San Francisco Chronicle, etc., who indicated they would respond to my pitches post-conference. They didn’t. I probably won’t be putting my future energies into that sort of writing when travel writers are treated like used Kleenex. Christmas was a quiet affair at my mom’s with Veeka and my sister-in-law Susan. Veeka got lots of lovely gifts. One friend gave her an American Girl doll, which was so kind, as there’s no way I’d afford such a thing. Everyone else gave her pretty things too. She’s growing so fast, she needs new sets of clothes each year.

Susan, Veeka, Oma and me on Christmas Day

After Christmas, we decided to get out of town for a few days, so Veeka and I went to Portland first to see old friends and drop by Multnomah Falls, which Veeka had never been to except as a 3-year-old. It was pouring while we were there, but we hiked up to the first bridge, then met some old Lewis & Clark friends in the parking lot on our way back. Veeka had never driven through the Columbia River gorge, so it was fun to show her that. We were headed for a town north of Walla Walla called Dayton. There was a place called the Weinhard Hotel; a lovely place decked out in Victorian décor, where we stayed. I’d dropped by there several years ago and was impressed by its low prices and attractive setting in a small burg in the middle of the Palouse highlands.

Our first night there, we had dinner at Chief Springs Fire & Iron Brew Pub on the town’s main street. It was set up like a sports bar with 2 screens going and a sign stating “It’s been 13 days since Kate broke a glass” posted above the bar. There were firefighter helmets hung high on a brick wall and knickknacks (trucks, signs, toys) on shelves near us. The place was being run by a retired fire chief. We had chili and calzones. There were Christmas decorations still up in town and the stars were out. Their beer was pretty good and I learned that Dayton has the oldest (1887) working courthouse in the state.

The interior of the Weinhard Hotel

Also, Lewis & Clark came through the area on May 2, 1806 on their way home via the Nez Pierce Trail. The next morning, we dropped by the place where they set up camp some 2 miles outside of town. There was the cleverest display of copper figurines all over a field showing people cooking, tending the livestock, cleaning guns, etc. Then we set off 21 miles to the southeast to go skiing at Bluewood, a homey ski area I’d always wanted to visit but never had the time to go out of my way to see.

The setting was pretty, especially atop the main chairlift, and it was sunny that day. But the runs were barely – or not – marked, meaning I got lost twice, which is tough to do at such a small area. The chairs were wooden – had that 70s feel – and the backs covered with ice, making the rides up chilly. Fortunately, there was no wind. The two trails on both far sides of the mountain – Tamarack and Country Road – were snow tracks, sometimes with steep drop-offs. Such tracks aren’t for beginners and I felt sorry for the newbies on those trails. Still, it was a pleasant place to spend a few hours and there was quite a bit of very nice snow. The lodge was the kind of place where you could leave your stuff and it wouldn’t get stolen, which is how things used to be when I started skiing as a teenager. I like that part of Washington; it’s not crowded and the mountains aren’t as high.

Back in Dayton, we dined at My Dad’s Place, a pizza place with some Italian dishes. We tried pasta and then ‘desert pizza’ and my lemon selection was pretty good, but Veeka hated her chocolate/peanut butter choice. Can’t say I’d ever had sweet pizza before. It was New Year’s Eve at that point and we simply went back to the hotel, as there was nothing going on in town except the following at a local theater: A “New York New Year’s Eve,” described thus: Our annual New Year’s Eve Bash features the wildly entertaining 1973 film, “The Sting” starring Robert Redford, Paul Newman and Robert Shaw. A flute of champagne and fun eats are included in the ticket price. After the movie we’ll ring in the New Year in sync with the New York ball drop (9:00 pm PST) and still be in bed and a decent hour!

On New Year’s Day, we drove through Walla Walla (the only place open in town was the Starbucks) and spent a few hours with one of my college friends. So that was our big adventure in the eastern part of the state. We’re back more to a routine now and we just took Oma with us to see the new Mary Poppins movie in Redmond. All it does here is rain in the lower elevations and snow in the mountains, so I’m glad I got at least one skiing day in so far.

A golden fall and hiking Mt. Rainier

The walkway to the main building at Malibu. My Nootka 3 cabin was on the middle floor overlooking the water.

The winter rains have begun here after a truly golden fall. When my family first moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1971, the falls were very monochrome. In the past 45 years, maybe some maples have moved in, as leaves are far brighter and more colorful than they once were.
Veeka has returned home after nine weeks at Ryther, a residential facility in north Seattle. A lot of things I hoped would be changed turned out not to be, partly because of the lack of staff and patient overload cut back on time that my daughter needed for therapy. By the time two months rolled around, the insurance company was threatening to stop benefits in that it felt Veeka would do just as well on an outpatient basis. So she moved home on Sept. 19.
Since then, we’ve done a bunch of hikes (something she was not allowed to do there) at Wallace

Veeka and I two miles into a hike at Wallace Falls.

Falls (just east of Everett), Skyline trail on Mount Rainier, a ghost town southeast of us in Black Diamond and multiple parks around Bellevue. The Rainier hike, on a sunny Saturday through golden fields and clumps of red-leafed shrubs and wheat grass with a huge mountain in front of us, was beyond lovely. It’s a 3-hour drive to get to Paradise lodge, where the hike begins, but the crowds are way down in the fall.
We visited the Amazon spheres, two huge domes smack in the middle of Seattle’s South Lake Union district that are about four stories high and contain multiple gardens and seating arrangements for Amazon employees. On the weekends, the public is allowed to wander through, so in we went earlier this month. There was a huge multi-story wall of tropical plants; a section with lounges (guess Amazonians need to lie down in order to work?) and one seating area of wooden benches dangling mid-air and called the “bird’s nest.”

Veeka overshadowed by one of the huge spheres connected to Amazon’s international headquarters in downtown Seattle.

One thing I got to do the weekend before Veeka’s release was to go to a women’s retreat at Malibu, a Christian youth club about 100 miles north of Vancouver, BC off the Jervis Inlet. It’s a four-day affair to drive up there and stay, so I thought I’d grab the opportunity now while I had free babysitting, so to speak. Except for the first day, it rained the entire time, unfortunately, so there was no swimming or boating to speak of except for a few hardy souls who braved weather in the 50s to venture out. I stayed in Nootka 3, a cabin very close to where I may have stayed as a teenager when I first visited Malibu in 1972. The whole place has been re-modeled to the tune of $14.5 million since then with lots of innovations (a mountain bike track and zip lines) added in. The place has no wireless for good reason; kids are supposed to put away their phones while there. Hopefully I can get Veeka up there in a few years.
My cabin was filled with lots of friendly women, several of whom had traveled up there alone, like me. The speaker was Joyce del Rosario, a Young Life staffer from California who, I was grateful to note, was also unmarried like me. One odd note was the weekend was evangelistic in that it was for winning souls even though 99.9% of the women there had been Christians a long time. I was surprised at this, as I’d expected something quite different, so I can’t say the spiritual content of the weekend was all that helpful. I needed something more for those of us who’ve been in the trenches awhile. But I was eager to take what I could in terms of respite, as being a single parent is wearing.

For our meetings, we met in the new assembly hall at Malibu, a gorgeous building that’s quite new there

A year or two ago, I heard about a place called Jill’s House, which offers a weekend on the Kitsap peninsula for special-needs kids so parents can have a day or two to themselves. Turns out I was swamped with a deluge of paperwork. The web site had 21 forms, many of them multiple pages including everything from HIPAA policy, medical summary, a multi-page intake profile the kid is supposed to fill out – yeah, right – to consent for services, release of information, health history, diagnoses and behavioral support, daily functioning needs – the list was endless. Many of the forms were repetitive, asking the same info (listing one’s doctors, dentist, psych, etc. ad nauseum) so the same thing gets asked over and over. Then I had to print out 21 pages and then scan them ALL with signatures. Who has the time of day to do this? It turns out that we got turned down because the weekend was for a whole different type of kid than Veeka. Unfortunately that info was not communicated to me before I put in hours of work on those dratted forms.

One of the switchbacks on the Golden Gate trail above Paradise lodge leads to the Skyline trail. Veeka is in the distance and the mountain towers over everything.

Halloween is this week and I’ll be taking Veeka out trick-or-treating this year, as she still likes to go and dress as Jasmine from the Aladdin films. I am working on some articles for Religion News Service and the Seattle Times magazine plus Interfaith Voices out of Maryland finally released a tape of their interview with me about my serpents book that was recorded last April. I’ve done a few book appearances lately but have had no luck in selling books at either venue. I think my serpents book would do a lot better if I were still living in Tennessee rather than here. My next appearance is at the Emerald Downs Holiday Gift Festival southeast of Seattle so if you’re free the Nov. 10-11 weekend, please come! I’ll also have a few dozen quilted Texas star potholders for purchase.

Sunshine Coast and my weird summer

The summer of 2018 has been probably the most unusual one in my life. It started out well. I’d wanted to travel Canada’s Sunshine Coast, which is the area north of Vancouver. We planned to end up on Texada Island, the largest of the Canadian gulf islands, and a trip that required 3 ferries to get there. Coming along was Joey Marguerite, a college friend from Lewis & Clark. Our first crisis was when my oil light went on as we were in line at the border, so I w

Veeka and Joey in the amazing “artist’s loft” place in Powell River.

as praying the car would hold up until we could get to the first gas station. Fortunately, we made it to one. We headed north on Rt. 15 to catch Highway 1 to Horseshoe Bay, from which we took a gorgeous ferry ride to Langsdale. We stayed at the Cedars Inn and Convention Centre
in Gibsons, clearly a budget accommodation, but everything else around there was surprisingly expensive.
Gibsons was a cute town, but tiny. We had breakfast at the Black Bean Roasting Co. near the water but didn’t find the famous Sunday market that the tourist brochures spoke of. The next major town was Sechelt. We stopped just north of that to hike 2 kilometers to Smuggler’s Cove, which was a lovely interlude – think Tolkien-in-the-rainforest. We went on several boardwalks through ghostly clumps of trees over black-water fens, coming out into more forested up-and-down paths through openings in the rocks and up staircases of railroad ties on the steepest inclines. There were lots of mini-coves plus arbutus trees, which looked just like our madronas. There was a zillion viewpoints of the Strait and Vancouver Island lurking like a blue shadow to the west.
This was on a Sunday, and the further north we drove, the less signage we found that led to anywhere. Some of the signs were truly outdated, which led us on some rabbit trails when it came to looking for a lunch spot. Then it started to rain. We took another ferry to the next island up, then pulled up outside the Artist’s Loft, a lovely AirBnB place in the woods 13 miles south of Powell River.

Veeka outside our cabin on Texada island

The next day, I took Veeka for a hike on Valentine mountain above Powell River, which was quite pleasant and had nice views. There were 100 stone steps to get to the viewpoint and we could wander about to other viewpoints in all directions. We then went to a local beach in Powell River where Veeka could get ice cream, visited an art gallery and the visitor’s bureau (which took awhile to find). Powell River was not what appeared to be in the brochures in that it too was a bit underdeveloped. Like there’s this lovely 13-km path around Inland Lake a few miles to the east, but nowhere nearby to rent bikes from. You have to get them (+ a carrier) in Powell River.
The really interesting thing to do in these parts is to hike the Sunshine Coast Trail, a 180-kilometer trail in the back country east of Powell River. There’s amazing huts in which you can stay and were I younger and more fit, that’s how I’d like to spend 2 weeks.
The following day, we took ferry #3 to Texada, landing at Blubber Bay. We headed for another Airbnb spot in Van Anda, which is the largest town in those parts.

Turtle crossing on Texada island. Like I said, life is slow there.

It was a sunny day, so we headed for the beach at Shelter Point Regional Park. It had the nicest concession stand with lots of creative, nice food – for a remote island – like some fish and chips for Veeka and some kind of cheese-toast concoction for me and an oyster burger for Joey; great pies, including blueberry, pecan and chocolate cream. The water was cold and the beaches were rocky.
The next day, we visited the local museum, an attractive hodgepodge of history in several rooms. A curator called Doug showed us around and told us that limestone was still being quarried there and that in 2006, 10 million tons a year were quarried. LaFarge, a French-owned group, does the quarrying and I’d seen their sign and trucks.
We learned that an Ed Blewett – the same Blewett as Blewett Pass in Washington state – and part of a mining empire, found his way to Texada in the late 1890s. Iron ore was first found on Texada in 1871. It’s odd how this island has so many metals while Powell River and Comox (on Vancouver Island) do not. Texada had high-grade iron as well as copper, silver and gold and as far as I know is the only Canadian Gulf island like this.
There were old-fashioned pictures of some of the early mine financiers, ie Harry Whitney Treat and his wife, Olive, and VanAnda, who was Blewett’s wife. In the hallway of the museum, a former elementary school, was a collection of model ships dating back to the 1700s, one in particular looking like a dead ringer for the Dawn Treader. Other rooms included a reproduction of a mine shaft, primitive ox plows with seeders attached, and other farming and mining implements plus house wares. Doug said a lot of the school kids who visit haven’t a clue of what a rotary (dial) phone is. Or what washboards and beaters are and other things I knew from the early 1960s.

Sandy McCormick, the immensely talented artist on Texada Island, displaying one of the driftwood pieces I bought. This photo does NOT do it justice.

I was interested in hiking to Stromberg falls, on the southwest side of the island, so someone directed me to the post office and to ask for a “John Wood,” the local hiking guru. Wood was out for the day but his substitute, a young woman, told me how she and her husband only recently went there in a van and that the road was steep, but they finally reached a clearing and the falls weren’t far from there. Then again, it was late June and there might not be much water. No one much knew. I was learning that Texada was a very informal place with no tourism office to speak of, so everything was word-of-mouth on what was available plus the southern part of the island was hardly visited by anyone. Only gravel roads went there and not all of them were very drivable. Deer wander about everywhere and there was a “turtle crossing” on Gillies Bay Road.
Now I had seen the most cunning mirror surrounded by cut glass at the place we were staying and I wanted to get one and it turns out the artist was one Sandy McCormick, the Powell River Regional District Electoral Area D director – kind of like a county commissioner. I learned she used to write for Canadian Press while she lived in Vancouver.
I kept on calling this woman all day and around 5:30 pm, I got a call from her that she’d been in Vancouver and had just gotten home and I could come by and visit her. So we agreed to meet at the emu farm on Mouat Bay Road just past Shelter Point. We followed her black Jeep about a mile further over a bridge and through a gate to a patch of land with 5 homes right on the driftwood-strewn beach and killer views of Vancouver Island. Her home was the last one and glass concoctions were everywhere; hanging from her walls, surrounding pictures and mirrors, outside on her deck. I went into her work room where I saw about 10 lovely mirror sculptures with not only shells and beach glass, but old bottle caps – one in Japanese or Chinese, coral, chains, driftwood, stones, beads, cutlery, bottle parts, pieces of china, tiles, jewelry, parts of fuses, marbles, tools, handles from God-knows-where, dice and whatever else she could scavenge from the beaches, which are goldmines for the ocean’s largesse. The current sweeps all sorts of stuff past Vancouver (where she said the collecting was awful) and deposits it on Texada’s isolated and remote beaches.

The viewpoint from Menucha on the Columbia River Gorge.

She started collecting (in Vancouver) in April 1974 and, “I’ve collected on all 7 continents,” she told me. “It’s an adventure. You don’t know what you’re looking for until you find it… It’s the ultimate in recycling.”
One of the sculptures I bought was all in gold – which she said was unique to Texada. She scoured the beach near the ferry dock to get a lot of those materials, a lot of which were trash from miners that had sat around on the beach for decades and had turned metallic colors. In every sculpture, she puts a “Texada rock,” which are unique to the island. They appear to be beige rocks with black starburst patterns on them, forged by ancient volcanoes.
About Texada: “We’ve an industrial base but an artistic heart,” she said. On her desk were glues and cements, emery boards and scissors and many boxes of glass all sorted by color. Most popular were blue and sea-green sculptures. I bought the gold one and another one mostly in whites. Veeka chose an expensive-looking white confection filled with smoky white glass and white nautilus shells.

The psych ward at Children’s. Everything was bolted down and locked.

That was a real highlight of our stay. We then spent the next two days driving back to the USA, which is where things took an unfortunate turn. Veeka had been having problems with tantrums during the entire trip and I was only 20 or so miles from home that Friday afternoon when her violent behavior caused me to pull over on the interstate and call the police.
That led to 12 nights and 11 days in the psych ward of Children’s Hospital in Seattle. We could not have chosen a worse week to go there. We were heading into the Fourth of July holiday and there were different medical teams circulating in and out almost daily. A lot of folks were on vacation. It was tough to get the same person there two or more days in a row to observe her. A team of people who were supposed to work with me (the parent) never materialized. There was one doctor there, Robert Hilt, who was very discerning and who seemed to “get” Veeka more than anyone else.
The wards were something out of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest;” well, maybe not that bad, but I saw kids there who made Veeka look angelic. Seattle Children’s was supposed to be short-term facility for emergency cases, yet I saw kids who’d been there longer because there was nowhere else to put them. There were some really tragic cases and I felt so bad for everyone involved; the patient staff who had impossible jobs; the violent and lonely kids and of course my daughter, who was getting different meds tried out on her each day. I stayed the nights with her and I was the only parent I saw doing so. Many of the kids appeared to be just left there.
It took a week before I began sending annoyed emails to folks in my church asking for SOMEONE to come visit us. Everyone knew we were at Children’s, but no one came by for 8 days. And then a bunch came at once.

Former Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, about whom I wrote endless blog posts this summer.

We were eventually discharged, but it was clear the stay at Children’s had solved nothing, so Veeka was admitted to a place that offers residential care for kids. There’s a lot of families I know who want to send their kids there as well and who haven’t been able to get in, so we were very fortunate.
But the whole situation is very sad and depressing. I go to this place twice a week for parent/family therapy. Veeka is slowly getting better but is not out of the woods. I’ve been home alone, trying to catch up on projects I never had the time to tend to. I’ve gone on hikes that were impossible to do beforehand, as she couldn’t do the same distances. I attended a reunion (of the Christian fellowship group I was part of at college) that took place at Menucha, a lovely retreat place outside of Portland. I went on a bike ride in the Skagit Valley near LaConner one sunny day; I rented a paddleboard at Lake Sammamish State Park late one afternoon and had the loveliest time splashing about in the lake. I’ve started in an exercise club (very much needed) and sold my 2006 Subaru and acquired my mother’s 2003 Subaru, which had far less miles on it. In terms of religion news, this summer has been insane, as THREE major crises hit the U.S. Catholic church. The first was when the Catholic cardinal of Washington, D.C., was unveiled for being a sex predator; something I’d known about for 10 years but had never been able to write about it. My first post on him came out June 21 and it was about why journalists have been silent about this man for so long. Then I wrote another and another and another … and then the grand jury report came out in Pennsylvania, which was about how several dioceses hid horrible instances of priestly sex abuse. And then a few weeks later, a Vatican archbishop broke ranks with the papacy and published an amazing expose on Cardinal McCarrick (who’s actually been demoted back to archbishop). So I have spent much of my summer covering this stuff and occasionally tipping off other reporters as to how they can find out more information.

With my mom in white seated in the middle, the rest of us grouped around her. From left: Steve, Nancy, Jan, me, Veeka, Rob, Carley, Jed, Lindsey with Madelyn and Wyatt; Jason, Susan, Bill and Kathy

I had to cancel a bunch of things I had planned for the summer, but I will say the smoke from regional forest fires that covered the Pacific Northwest for much of August put a gloom on everything. I hardly did any swimming. So, it was not altogether a bad time to be working on things. It was an odd month. My Aunt Lee died on Aug. 6 near Philadelphia, leaving my 90-year-old mother the sole surviving Hammer daughter (she was one of 6 girls). Fortunately, she’s in good health! And then my cousin Nancy on the Duin side of the family died on Aug. 19 of lung cancer. I’ll not get to attend her funeral in London, but she was only 68 and she leaves behind a son, Alex. A lot of us gathered in May to celebrate my mom turning 90 and I put together a slide show about some of the highlights in her life.
So we are definitely in the midst of an adventure here; not one I would have chosen, nor one that has a clear ending. I sensed things were coming to this point, and that we had to find answers as to what has been ailing Veeka all these years. We don’t have answers by far, so those of you who pray, please do intercede for us.

Graham Kerr in his kitchen in Mt. Vernon

I did get some things published this summer, including an op ed in the Wall Street Journal in mid-July; my second one this year. (My first op ed came out May 3.) Both appeared in “Houses of Worship,” a guest column the Journal runs every Friday. Then there was my
short profile on the famous “Galloping Gourmet” cook Graham Kerr for AARP magazine. I did the research in June and the piece just came out. It was lovely to meet Mr. Kerr, now 84 and living in Mt. Vernon, about 70 miles north of me. AARP sent a photographer and a “groomer” who made sure Graham’s every hair was in place for the photos; which amused him greatly. Then he cooked us the lunch that is featured in the magazine piece. It was heavenly and in a year that’s had some really tough spots in it, that afternoon was like being on a shining hilltop for a few hours.

Visit to Iceland (finally)

The lovely AirBNB near Hallgrimskirkja

Yes, almost two months have passed since I went to Iceland. Did you know that Icelandair names its fleet of planes after its many volcanoes? The one I took into Reykjavik was named Snaefells. We flew just to the west of Hudson Bay and over Greenland. I looked in vain for the northern lights, as two kids screaming behind me all night made sleep impossible. Early morning at the Keflavik airport (a good 30 miles west of Reykjavik) was a jumble of American flights arriving and European flights leaving. So, I headed out of the airport into the dawn air with that familiar parched lava-covered-in-moss landscape that makes up much of the Reykjanes peninsula on which the airport (and the famous Blue Lagoon) sit. The peninsula’s landscape “is a bit alien,” the Iceland Monitor says and that’s a fact.

Skiing at Iceland’s Blafjöll resort in the wind.

Avis (which had the grouchiest agent waiting on me at the airport) didn’t give me a copy of my contract until I called the next day twice to get it sent to me. Bu they did assign me a stick shift car, which took me awhile to remember how to use! (I remember a press trip I went on in Greece where the journalists had to go about in such cars and I was one of only 3 who knew how to drive those things). So off I went to Reykjavik at about 8 a.m. in the morning sun. My (very nice) AirBnB place atop a hill in downtown Reykjavik was close to Hallgrimskirkja, a massive church shaped like a rocket atop a hill overlooking the city.

I wandered down the street to Reykjavik Roasters to get a slurp of coffee and a pastry to keep me awake and going until nightfall, then decided to head for Blafjöll, a ski resort about a ½ hour outside of Reykjavik. It was sunny (which can be a rarity in Iceland) and I figured I’d never again get the chance to ski there plus there’s nothing like speeding down a slope to stay awake). Off I went on a main highway out through the same volcanic landscape for about 20 miles. Then I headed up the mountain to the resort, which is not exactly suited for foreigners. It took me a few tries to find out where to rent skis, boots and a helmet, all of which set me back $51. It was another $27 for a 3-hour lift ticket (I didn’t get there until 2 pm) and there were no signs to various lifts plus several lifts were closed. In the States, there are people manning the lifts who can answer your questions. At Blafjöll, no one. I had to return to the ticket office to figure out certain basics. One problem was the high winds. To get to one of the few available intermediate runs, I went up on the ridge and nearly got blown off by the gale. I felt sorry for the kids up there who weighed far less than I did. The view of the top of Mt. Esja to the north was quite pretty. The visit ended with me tripping over the (hidden) step into the rental shop and falling to the floor, scattering poles and skis everywhere. They might want to put a ramp in that spot.

Standing on the grounds of the residence of the president of Iceland with a gorgeous mountain view to the east.

Afterwards, I headed back to Reykjavik for a soak in one in their legendary collection of thermal hot pools. I went to the largest: Laugardalslaug, a complex in the western part of the city where I had my choice of pools at 38ºC, 40º, 42º or 44ºC. The hottest I could go was 42. There was also a salt-water pool that was packed. On a Sunday afternoon in April, it appeared mostly locals were there. The locker room was amazing; they gave you a bracelet that opened, then locked a locker door (good for all my ski clothes) without the mess of a combination lock. I was so jet-lagged, I nearly dozed off on a rock in one of the pools. Then I wandered about the touristy area downtown hunting for a cheap place to dine; finally settling on Jomfruin on Lækjargata, a Danish restaurant. By then I’d been up 36 hours at least. (Note – also visited Sundhöll Reykjavíkur and Vesturbæjarlaug pools later in the week).

Braud & Co., the top-rated bakery in Reykjavik, happened to be a block from where I was staying. The BEST pastries and breads were there along with lines of buyers.

Monday was shopping day, which meant a stroll from my apartment down Skólavörðustígur and touristy streets such as Laugavegur, Bankastræti and Austurstræti, noting some of the Norse god names such as Odin’s Street (Óðinsgata), Thor’s Street (Þórsgata), Loki’s Path (Lokastígur) and Freya’s Street (Freyjugata). The weather was a carbon copy of Seattle’s: moist with patches of rain and sun and in the mid-40s.

Nice surprises included the Hlemmur food hall in the previously run-down Hlemmur district at the end of Laugavegur. There was a nice Thai food restaurant across the square and a vintage clothing shop next door run by the Red Cross. Food there was pricey (a bowl of tomato bisque for $16?!) but it was one of the places in town where you can get nice salads. That’s a switch from when I first visited Iceland 21 years ago where you couldn’t get restaurant salads anywhere.

The afternoon and evening were spent talking with friends including Mike and Sheila Fitzgerald, longtime Assemblies of God missionaries to Iceland and founders of the radio station Lindin. The Fitzgeralds told me that because of tourists and AirBnB, the locals find it impossible to rent a place. A one bedroom would be about $1,500/month. Another friend, Ragnar Schram, took me up to the top of Perlan (a tower with a pearl-shaped roof to have coffee in its famous restaurant with city-wide views. He directs the Icelandic branch of SOS Children’s Villages, an international NGO that provides homes in 134 countries for orphaned and abandoned children.

A sign for clueless tourists in Reykjavik

I spent Tuesday morning agonizing over the cloudy skies and whether to drive about 40 miles east to the small town of Hveragerdi and  do the 3-km walk to the natural hot springs in the hills above the town. I finally drove out there and the rain clouds lifted and things got warmer BUT the trail was closed due to overuse by tourists. That sort of thing is happening more and more in Iceland, where the population triples in the summertime. So I visited the small geothermal park in town, then returned to Reykjavik. That evening, I had dinner with a newspaper editor I knew in town who – with his wife – had a lovely home east of the city.  I was telling them of Steinunn Johnannesdottir, a female author I was trying to get ahold of. She had written about Guðríður Símonardóttir, wife of Hallgrímur Pétursson, an extraordinary 17th century couple from those parts. Hallgrímur wrote a lengthy series of Passion Hymns that are sung in Icelandic churches every Good Friday. He’s like the country’s poet laureate for the ages. Within 5 minutes, this editor had her on the phone, as everyone seems to be listed in the Icelandic version of our white pages. Turned out she lived about 2 blocks from my AirBnB. She and I agreed to meet.

Hallgrimskirkja, the enormous church overlooking Reykjavik, has a statue of Leif Erickson out front.

So on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, I walked over to her home on a side street near Hallgrimskirkja. She served me coffee with lumps of sugar cubes and told me how, trained as an actress, she had been engrossed in stories of womens’ empowerment. The role of reading the Passion Hymns during Good Fridays in Iceland is a well known role for any actress and it was through this that Steinunn heard of Guðríður and her amazing history. It’s all based in the story behind some 1.5 million “white slaves” who were kidnapped from coastal cities all over Europe by Barbary pirates and taken to North Africa, most of them to never be heard from again.The summer of 1627 was a living hell for Icelanders, which is when 400 of them were snatched from their homes and thrown onto slave ships.The Westman islands (the islands off the southern coast of Iceland that got the brunt of the attacks) was massively de-populated by this heist, as their numbers were 1 percent of the Icelandic population at the time. There is a movie about

Reisubók Guðríður Símonardóttir is a novel describing how the Barbary pirates depopulated coastal towns in 17th century Iceland.

this called Atlantic Jihad you can find here or the YouTube version here. Ignore the warning that prefaces it.  A lot of Icelanders died trying to defend their homes from these Moroccans or “Turks,” as they were known to be back then. In 1629, the Turks attacked the Faroes, which are islands to the east of Iceland. Some 300 people died there including a 7-year-old son of a pastor who was horribly butchered.  In 1631 these corsairs went to Ireland. Most Irish didn’t consider this a major historic event because they were also invaded by the British, Vikings and so on. But some 100 were kidnapped. The northern Europeans were easier prey than the Spanish, which had fortifications against them.“It’s only in Iceland that we have the documentation of this,” Steinunn said,  “because so many people could read and write.” At the end of the film, Olafur Grimmson, the president of Iceland when the film was made, said his countrymen forgave the invaders; which tells me this event remained engraved in the racial memories of Icelanders if they were still talking about it nearly four centuries later.

The kidnappings were also a declaration of war against the Danish, (who were running Iceland at the time) but the king didn’t have the money to go to war against Moroccans. There was also a raid in eastern Iceland where people were simply grabbed out of their homes and in Breiddalur, eastern Iceland, there’s still a place called “Turkish peninsula.” Some were freed by the Turks for the purposes of getting their home countries to fork out ransom for the rest. One Lutheran pastor was sent back from Algiers but had to leave his son behind. He got his wife freed but never saw his children again. As one of the hapless 400, Guðríður spent 10 years in what’s now Algiers before the Danish government finally ransomed as many prisoners as they could. Only about 10 of them were located; the rest having died or disappeared into the slave camps or harems or God-knows-where.

I was struck by this horrific story and how little it is known today. Americans don’t realize that one of the first things the fledgling U.S. Navy did in the 1790s was build six ships that were used to defeat the Barbary pirates and send the U.S. Marines to North African shores. Steinunn’s novel about Guðríður, Reisubók Guðríður Símonardóttir, came out in 2001 and was translated into French and German but Steinunn says she’s been unable to get it into English. A New York filmmaker contacted her about her book, but after 9/11, he vanished. “So many people have wanted me to make a film or TV series about this,” she sighed, “but the subject matter is so delicate.” I told her there must be huge interest in this subject matter, but she felt she can’t compete against the “Nordic noir” novels that are all the rage right now. I took notes, hoping to pitch her story to an American magazine. It’s time it was told.

Bessastaðir, the Icelandic White House

By then it was time to show up for the opening reception for the Iceland Writer’s Retreat late that afternoon. This was my major reason for being in Iceland, as I’d won a partial scholarship to be there. It was situated about a half-mile from my lodging at a hotel near the domestic airport. We were all assigned five workshops along with a full day of touring “literary Iceland,” as they called it. My first instructor was Pamela Paul, editor of the New York Times Book Review. Imagine having a staff of 24 for a book section! Most newspapers don’t have anywhere near that luxury. Make your reviews entertaining, she told us. Don’t just give them what they can get on Amazon. And you can show your biases as a reviewer because after all, the review is about your relationship with the book.

The next day, I attended more workshops, including one by Icelandic writer Andrei Snaer Magnason whose best quote was  to write what you want to write about, not what you think you should write about and the audience will be there. Lina Wolff, a Swedish writer, showed us how to create believable anti-heroes and how to help readers connect with these complex, ambivalent characters. One of the most famous anti-heroes in literature is Gollum from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Tolkien helped us hate and pity Gollum at the same time. I’ll be saying more about what I learned later.

President of Iceland Gudni Jóhannesson and his wife, Eliza and moi.

One of the highlights of our conference was the visit to the house of Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, the president of Iceland. His wife, Eliza, was the co-founder of the conference before he got elected. After she became Iceland’s first lady, she continued her involvement with the conference and arranged for us to visit her home, which is known as Bessastaðir. It’s on a peninsula just south of Reykjavik and all the writers had the greatest fun walking about it and exclaiming over some of the art pieces. Afterwards, three other of the female writers and I went to Laekjarbrekka, a lovely restaurant on Bankastraeti at a major intersection in Reykjkavik’s touristy section. We managed to walk in without a wait, but during the high season, we wouldn’t have had a chance.

Another day, some of us went on a “literary tour” of Borgarfjördur, the region north of the capital. I’ve never read the work of Halldór Laxness, Iceland’s sole Nobel literary prize winner, but we got to visit Gljúfrasteinn, his home in the country. A writer named Yrsa Sigurdardottir met us there and read us a creepy excerpt out of her new horror novel “The Legacy.” Now I know what they mean by “Nordic Noir.” We swept past waterfalls, the War and Peace Museum in Akranes, a hot spring in which our guide boiled some eggs and Reykholt, the home of 13th century chieftain Snorri Sturluson. Geir Waage, a Lutheran pastor who was beyond fascinating, spoke to us for a time on the history of the area and who Snorri was. I could have spent the whole day there, as there was a fabulous library there. And I could have spent even longer in Iceland, but home beckoned and pretty soon, I was on a plane home.

Another month, another contest won

In this photo taken by my brother, I’m speaking at Chaparral Books in downtown Portland. Interested onlookers included one dog.

Lots has happened recently with the best being my winning another contest; this one being the annual Wilbur awards given out by the Religion Communicators Council. I was amazed to learn in late February that my piece on Paula White for The Washington Post Magazine won first place in the Wilbur’s national magazine/top 15 markets category. I’d won the same award back in 2015 for my story on Nadia Bolz-Weber for More magazine plus I won another Wilbur (in the large newspaper category) back in 2002 for a series I co-wrote in The Washington Times. But I never thought I’d circle back for a third time.
The Post magazine folks were nice enough to pay the rather expensive entry fee for my story and sent in this description with the story:

When we learned that controversial, stiletto-wearing, thrice-married, Trump-campaign supporting televangelist Paula White was jetting to Washington frequently to continue to serve as spiritual adviser to the president and to play a key role in connecting him with other conservative faith leaders, we knew we wanted to find out more. The notoriously press-shy White granted religion reporter Julia Duin unusual access during a trip to Washington, and Duin not only followed her through meetings at the Old Executive Office Building, a pop concert and a religious gathering, she got White and her family members and supporters to open up. The result was a story that was newsworthy is many ways. It illuminated what White is doing at the White House, why she supports Trump despite his flaws, what evangelicals are hoping to accomplish through the “unprecedented opportunity to have our voice and say heard” in the Oval Office, and what her relationship with Trump is like — including the fact that he doesn’t challenge her claim that she led him to Christ. But, like any good profile, it revealed intriguing personal details about White that few were aware of: her son is a registered Democrat and studied feminist theory, her rock-star husband influenced her style, she turned to the prosperity gospel as a way to make money, her relationship with Trump has caused parishioners to leave her church, she goes on tour with her husband, she pays her own way with the White House. The story was one of our most read for the year, garnered more than 1,100 comments and was named one of the Top 10 Religion Stories of 2017 by The Media Project.

Veeka in a skiing lesson at Mt. Baker on March 3. The snow was fabulous.

With that kind of buildup, how can one not win? Anyway, am very grateful to all who helped me get there. So that’s the good news. The bad news is that the awards ceremony is in Atlanta on April 7, the same night I’m flying to Iceland for the writer’s retreat.
Otherwise … I’ve been appearing here and there for book signings, including a trip to Portland in mid-February to see old friends and sign some copies at Chaparral Books, a store that my brother Steve works at part time in downtown Portland.
I’ve been skiing twice: Once at Crystal Mountain Resort on a day when Veeka was off at a youth retreat across the mountains in Leavenworth. The other time was at Mt. Baker up in Bellingham, a place I hadn’t skied at since I was a teen. It didn’t look like it had changed much since then! Bellingham, which is close to the Canadian border, is a two-hour schlep from Seattle, so I don’t get up there a lot but this time we got together with some newer friends and wandered about Lummi island, home of the famed Willows Inn. Not that we could ever afford to be there plus it was closed when we dropped by.  We then headed to the Kitsap peninsula to spend the night with my brother Rob and his wife, Jan, then drove to Port Ludlow for another booksigning. The weather was sketchy but better than last winter’s record rains.

Veeka driving a car at DisneyLand. She wanted to do it by herself.

Meanwhile, my book has gotten more write-ups, including this and this mention by Religion News Service and this review in Publisher’s Weekly, which got the King County library system to decide to buy some of my books. I was overjoyed at that, as I can now do booksignings (and sell more books) at local libraries. I am grateful to Kimberly Winston who helped get my book mentioned in all those publications. And the Knoxville News-Sentinel ran this in late February. Not only that, but I’ll be in Spokane in late April speaking at a media ethics event at Whitworth College, then back there in May to appear at a SpokaneFAVS event regarding the book. So, things have picked up.

Veeka at the Shake Shack near Crystal Cove State Park near Newport Beach, Calif., on a sunny January afternoon.

And near the end of January, I did get southern California for a Religion Newswriters Association conference at USC that only lasted a day. But it was fun to be in contact with folks in my field. Then there was a meeting of writers for getreligion.org some days later in Irvine. It was such fun to be in warm weather and taken Veeka to Disneyland, which I don’t ever have to see again in this life. But now she’s been. We also drove through Hollywood, visited a friend who lives just south of Malibu and stayed with a family of 9 during our first few days there. It was a lovely break.
The rest of March is very quiet for us as April is non-stop busy. We do keep moving, even if it’s a hike in the lowlands like what we did last Sunday. The weather was so gorgeous, half of Seattle was outside doing something. Oh, and on Feb. 6, Veeka finally got her braces. That’s been more than a year in the planning, so finally we’re on our way.

January in Rainy City

Me, Veeka, Susan and my mother before our Christmas lunch.

It is still raining endlessly here in Seattle, but at least we’re not getting buried by mudslides like parts of California! Speaking of the Golden State, we’re headed down to Los Angeles in late January for a one-day Religion Newswriters Association meeting at USC and for a Media Project meeting to discuss the GetReligion blog I write for. It’s the first time since I’ve worked there that we’re all going to meet together, so am looking forward to that. So if anyone Down There wants to see us, we’re in town the last week of January. Disneyland is certainly on the itinerary one of those days and we may take a look at Knotts Berry Farm, which I’ve never seen.

The parliament building in Victoria at night.

Christmas, by the way, was very quiet. We spent time with my mother and sister-in-law Susan. Just before that, Veeka and I did an overnight to Victoria, doing a walk-on to the ferry and seeing the Christmas lights at Butchart Gardens. We had a lovely time visiting bookstores in Victoria and Chinatown. Unfortunately it rained the whole time! But it was lovely seeing the Parliament building outlined in Christmas lights. Planning continues for my visit to Iceland and the sponsors ran an interview with me here.
. I snagged a ticket that my Alaska Airlines miles paid for, so that’s one huge expense I don’t have to bear. I’m putting together a list of all I want to do there, so am reading delicious articles like this one on Reykjavik bakeries. (Who knew?
It’s a slow time of year; a good thing that allows me to catch up on things. I’m waiting for reviews of my book to come out and thus far, only the Nashville Tennessean has written it up. However, the book’s release came a month late, so it’s no wonder reception has been slow.
A few more things: Did you know that it costs a minimum of $76,000, according to this article, to live in Seattle? .
Believe me, most of the people I know are making a lot less than that. House prices in Seattle have risen 53 percent in the past four years. The country’s fastest-growing housing markets are Portland, Seattle and Denver. This article says Seattle/Portland home prices have risen at twice the national rate. I think the rest of the country has finally realized they want to live somewhere that’s beautiful so they’re all heading to Washington, Oregon or Colorado. Whenever I have neighbors over for dinner, house prices is about all we talk about and how impossible it will be for any of us to buy within 50 miles of Seattle. See this piece for what rents are expected to be east of Seattle (where I live) for 2018. It is still stupendous. So we won’t be buying any time soon unless we win the lottery!

About the Paula piece and the Iceland incident

A White House photo of Paula White with Melania and Donald Trump taken mid-2017.

The closing months of 2017 have been unexpectedly pleasant for me in that I finally sold my house, published my book, got a huge article in the Washington Post Sunday magazine about Paula White (President Trump’s spiritual advisor) and won a contest for a trip to Iceland. I was long overdue for some good things to come my way.
About the Iceland trip: I’d seen this ad about a swishy retreat for writers in downtown Reykjavik and I was dying to go. I’d visited Iceland twice: In 1997 and 2001, but other trips and adopting Veeka made it tough to go back in recent years. Plus, the country itself has undergone a huge tourism boom in that the island’s population triples each summer with all the visitors.
But this retreat, situated at a nice hotel near the municipal airport, seemed so lovely with interesting speakers and an international clientele. Only a handful of people were going to get scholarships to go and I wanted to be one of those people. And the timing is during Veeka’s spring break, making it easy for someone to take care of her while I’m gone. So, I applied, sketching out my writing experience; why I – as a single parent – was more than ready for some time to myself; my financial needs; all about my interest in Iceland; why I wanted to hear the speakers who were showing up for the retreat and my personal writing history plus how I have a manuscript for young adult readers that I’ve been trying to get out the door for years but haven’t had the time to do that final push. I also got a good friend from my getreligion blog and a Washington Post editor to write the recommendations.
I also knew the odds were against me. I was much older and I was sure any help would go to younger applicants, so I asked for a partial scholarship, figuring I had a better chance than asking for everything to be paid. It turned out that more than 700 people from multiple countries applied. They chose four.

Veeka displaying the lovely cover of my new book.

Thus, on Dec. 2, I saw an email that looked innocuous but was an announcement that I was one of two people given a partial scholarship. The announcement, which ran Dec. 4, showed photos of the four of us. I am beyond delighted. I’d gotten a hunch that 2018 was the year I might begin traveling again and this will be a great start. And arrangements for Veeka’s care during that week are coming together as well.
Veeka, for her part, was promoted up to middle school level in late November, which made for much rejoicing on her part, as she was more than ready to move out of her present class. In her new class, she is learning some German along with everything else, so we are practicing simple sentences at home.
Then on Nov. 14, my long-awaited, nearly 6,000-word piece on Paula White came out in the Post’s online editions with the print edition out on the 19th. I got some very nice reaction from lots of folks, as no one else had published anything like it elsewhere. I’d worked so hard on it over the months and gone through so many drafts. My fellow getreligion bloggers nicely wrote it up here and I did a follow-up piece with more information on Paula here. I won’t go into a full recital of all the behind-the-scenes drama that accompanied it, but let’s say it was a piece that got passed around lots of people at the Post before it ran. I wish I could have gotten some quotes out of Trump himself for the piece, but that was not to be, even though I contacted the White House to ask if that was possible.

Veeka practicing her preaching skills.

One of the people most affected by that article was Veeka, who was entranced by the thought of women preaching and pastoring. She decided God had called her to preach or lead worship, so she set up a music stand in our living room, grabbed a toy mic that we had and loaded a bunch of Bibles and other notes on the stand to help her preach. I put on some Paula videos to inspire her. We’re attending a new Bible study just south of us on Monday nights where she likes to watch, then copy the adults as they pray for people. Although it’s been hard to get to know people at our church, I made some progress to that end this fall, when we attended Thanksgiving at the home of one of the families we’ve gotten to know. They live way out in the foothills of the Cascades beyond a town called Carnation. I signed up to be part of a welcoming crew on Sunday mornings. Seattle is a little less strange and lonely.

I spoke Dec. 7 at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park near Seattle.

So, November was a good month. Other stuff that got published included my piece in ParentMap about skiing at Vancouver’s Mount Washington ski area last February. We traveled very little this fall, instead staying home to do things like make brandied fruit for Christmas and viewing a jag of sand-and-sandal movies like “Ben Hur,” “The Robe,” and a bunch of life-of-Christ epics and Christian movies like “I am Not Ashamed” (the story of Columbine martyr Rachel Scott; “To Save a Life” which we really liked; “God’s Not Dead” #1+2 and “The Hiding Place,” which introduced Veeka to the concept of the Holocaust for the first time.
And we’ve been branching out in the Japanese anime world, having already watched every Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli film in existence. We’ve been making our way through works by Makato Skinkai, which are almost as good. The other day I won a Fandango movie gift card for $40, which means we’ll be going to see “The Last Jedi” pretty soon as well.
And I’ve started doing booksignings. The one at Third Place Books went OK – the Seattle traffic that night made the roads horrific and even I was almost late in getting there. About 10-12 folks listened in and fortunately my Powerpoint worked well. More signings are scheduled in the coming months (will be posting those on my blog under a new ‘book signings’ tab) and I’m hoping for some good reviews. Have had no luck in getting on radio, but someone did contact me to ask for movie rights. That will be the day!

The book is OUT

It took 2 months but a couple bought it and I couldn’t be happier. I was told they both attended Union University at one point (where I taught for a year), which was kind of nice. Hated to let it go, but it was time.

Once again, I’ve realized that I’ve let months go by without blogging, so I’ll try to make up for it with a l-o-n-g entry. The big news in my life is I finally SOLD my house in Tennessee; my serpent handlers book release date is coming up this month as review copies are being sent out this week and pre-orders will be filled the following week. And my epic Washington Post piece on Paula White comes out Nov. 19. It should go online the evening of the 16th and I’ll send out a more detailed blog in a few days telling about what it was like to research it.

The serpents book was actually due out Nov. 6, but some delays on the publishing end pushed things back a bit. But I am already lining up book signings, especially in the Pacific Northwest although I am open to traveling elsewhere. If anyone wants to help me promote this through Tweets, etc., let me know!

To go back a bit and review, Veeka had the last week of August off, so I decided to stay local. We borrowed a tent from the local Girl Scouts office (as a member, Veeka gets this for nothing) and packed that plus some inflatable mattresses we’d gotten from her previous troop into the car and headed for Lake Chelan State Park in central Washington. Once there, I was racing to get the 4-person tent up before dark, but finally had to beg for help from a passerby. We were right on the lake, which was pleasant but camping on the sand made us constantly dirty.
So the following day we repaired to Slidewaters, a local waterpark which was quite charming and not near as crowded as its Seattle-area counterparts. Before jumping into the water, we

Veeka chilling in front of the old Stehekin school house about 3 miles from the lodge. I was amazed how nothing in that village seems to have locks.

had an immense breakfast at Blueberry Hills Farms across the lake in nearby Manson, an area I’d never seen before. We also got to drop by two wineries. Fortunately the local wine places “only” charge $5 tasting fees, unlike outlets east of Seattle that charge a whopping $20. I found a nice Gewurztraminer at Mellisoni Vineyards and had a nice visit to Karma Vineyards as well, where they had a lovely patio area and didn’t charge us a thing.

On our third day, we caught an early morning ferry to Stehekin, a village some 25 miles up the lake that can only be reached by boat, barge or plane. We settled in at the lodge and enjoyed our next two days of biking and poking about. There were a lot of Europeans there; folks who had dropped in from the Pacific Crest Trail (which was 8 miles to the west) for a good night’s sleep in a bed. I asked several of them why they chose to come here when they had the Swiss Alps over there. Everyone told me that it’s impossible to be alone in the Alps, as there’s homes everywhere you look and no solitude. Whereas the PCT is very much about solitude.

Christina and her grandmother (my mom) at her Oct. 28 wedding in Portland.

We wandered about a beautiful historic apple orchard, hiked to a waterfall, visited a huge vegetable garden and an amazing bakery, swam in some very chilly water and explored the local school house. The bulletin board by the post office is fun to read if for no other reason that it gives you a glimpse of the folks who live in the area. And the post office was piled high with care packages for all the hikers.
And the hiking register, also in the post office, is filled with signatures of hikers from all over the world. People sign with their trail names, like “Locomotive” or “Bronco.” One wrote:

Roses are red
My body is dirty
That 15 miles
Sure felt like 30.

The Stehekin Lodge, where we stayed 2 nights, is the most relaxing place to spend a sunny afternoon.

After that, Veeka started school again and then I had a long-planned business trip to Nashville as I was part of the organizing committee for the annual conference of the Religion News Association, a gathering of journalists whose primary beat is religion. We flew there Sept. 6. It was simply haunting to be back in Tennessee.

The landscape was so green-and-rolling-hills when we landed and the temps were in the 70s, breezy and delightful. We stayed at the Gaylord Opry Hotel, which has a vast indoor garden with bridges, moats, varied-color lights, giant palm trees and the sound of water falls everywhere. It took awhile to find our room and way around, as the place was a gigantic maze plus we had to park far away to escape the $29/day lot fee.

Then we met an old friend from Union University days downtown at The Southern, a downtown lovely restaurant that served up raw oysters, fish w/grits, Thai tacos and sweet tea. Hearing the southern accents, driving I-40 through town, dropping by the Opryland Mall all brought back 3-year-old memories of our sojourn there from 2012-2014. All of which were made sweeter by texts from my real estate guy in Jackson informing me he’d found a buyer for my home and that documents awaited me to sign. Evicting my former tenant and sinking $6,000+ into cleaning the place has been SUCH a long haul in recent months so I was grateful there was light at the end of my tunnel.

Biking on the road from Stehekin nine miles to the Pacific Crest Trail trailhead, one found cute roadside objects like this.

On Sept. 7, I drove back to Jackson where Veeka was going to stay with her old friend Ava while I attended the conference. It was such a day of reliving memories. The 2-hour drive to Jackson, with the stop at Loretta Lynn’s restaurant (exit 143); the places for cheap gas (exists 126 and 108); the arrival into Jackson off exits 80 and 82; visiting Union University with the huge domed library that dominates the entire campus. I found it odd the president and provost have their offices on the third floor, which must make it inconvenient for other staff to get to them.

Then there was the new coffee bar in the campus library that was charming and driving about the campus itself, which was pretty much the same as when I worked there. Driving up the 45 bypass, I visited Alan Castleman, my real estate agent who had found me some good buyers. I left him a candy box of applets and cotlets in gratitude. For those of you not from the Pacific Northwest, that’s kind of like the official candy of Washington state.

Driving down Old Humboldt Road to our old house, we drove past cotton fields that I hadn’t seen in years. Our development, Shepherd’s Field has been dramatically expanded to the north with all new homes. When I got to my house and got inside, it didn’t look as fresh as I had left it three years ago. It took months to get the tenant out and I invested a lot in getting the place cleaned, re-painted and new carpet installed to attract buyers. Fortunately, Celeste, a friend from my old church, came by and planted some new flowers to spruce up the place, so I am very grateful to her and to Randall Cox, the yard care man who helped me get some improvements done long distance. I also retained a good agent and it paid off. The closing date was Oct. 31. Yes!

I drove back to Nashville in a fog but had a lovely time at Cochon Butcher, a mostly outdoors restaurant in the Germantown section of town that had cunningly assembled pork dishes and some real creative treatments of vegetables, ie the sweet pickles I tried. The person I met there was Langley Granbery, an old friend from Trinity days. So much water had gone under the bridge since our families had last met 2013, so we had a lot of catching up to do. He and Lois have 5 successful and smart children. They live in a lovely house south of town.

Me and James Goll on my revivalists panel. Photo by Joe Schiska courtesy of the RNA.

Then it was back to the Gaylord, where I was on the organizing committee for this conference. It’d been awhile since I’d been at an RNA event, chiefly because I was attending college journalism prof (AEJMC) conferences in recent years until my life as a professor came to an end when we moved to Seattle. One thing that made this conference touching was the presence of Jeff Weiss, a Dallas Morning News reporter who was dying of brain cancer. He got an award at the conference and I was told he would last until at least January, but he died three months early on Oct. 25. Did he have some help doing so? I don’t know, but I wrote this memorial post in his memory.

One of the most popular panels of the weekend was the one I put together on “the new revivalists,” about a movement among charismatic and Pentecostal Christians that some hate and others love. I wrote about it – in part – here last year and Christianity Today profiled one of its main leaders here but it’s a many-faceted tough movement to pin down. I felt that other journalists needed to know about this trend, so I put together this panel, which included James Goll, one of the masterminds behind the movement; Holly Pivec, who operates a blog that opposes this revivalist movement and

From left: me, James Goll, Holly Pivec and Paula White. Photo by Bobby Ross.

Paula White, President Trump’s spiritual advisor who has nothing to do with the movement but who I persuaded to come speak at the conference and this was the only panel she really fit into. James spoke at the Seattle-area church I currently attend and I had to do some wheedling among some folks to get access to him, but once I did, he agreed to come. It helped that he lives in Nashville. Holly attends my former church in Fairbanks, which I didn’t find out until after I’d moved to Seattle! So wish I’d known she was there, as I was so lonely that year we were in Alaska – I only had one friend there – but somehow we never crossed paths.

Anyway, another member of the panel had cancelled, so I contacted her on the off chance she’d want to fly to Nashville on her own dime, since the RNA doesn’t pay for speakers’ airfare. She agreed to do so and it was a good choice for her, because she got introduced to a lot of reporters in a very short time, as she had a very good presentation. I believe the panel (which I moderated) was the most-attended in the entire conference and reporters sure swarmed around Paula later to get quotes, so I considered it a success. You can listen to a video of the panel here. The rest of the conference went well enough, and afterwards I met with Allison Biggers at Loveless Cafe, a part-restaurant, part-tourist attraction west of Nashville. Lots of fun. Then I drove back to Jackson to pick up Veeka, say one last good-bye to the house, then head to Alabama to stay with Rebecca and Craig Hodge in Huntsville and zip down to Birmingham to see John Morgan, who provided many of the photos for the serpents book. Then over to east Tennessee to see Terry and Debra and Frye Mattingly and visit

It really is worth a visit.

the publisher of my book at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Also went out to lunch with John David Hatch, the photographer who provided the cover shot for the book. One place we dropped by in Scottsboro, Ala., on our way to Tennessee, is the Unclaimed Baggage warehouse, the one place in the nation where you can buy stuff from peoples’ lost luggage. I’d heard of the place but had never found the time to get there. It’s very much off the beaten track – about an hour east of Huntsville – but we had fun there and Veeka got some new black patent leather heels.

It did feel strange driving I-40 again, as I spent the better part of my two years in Tennessee criss-crossing the state on that road. Right after we got back, my niece Lindsay had her second child, a daughter, Madelyn Marie, on the 18th, keeping up with a family tradition of September birthdays. (She is Rob’s youngest daughter) And then another niece, Christina, (Steve’s oldest daughter) got married Oct. 28, which meant a trip to Portland for all of us. Fortunately, the weather that weekend was beyond fabulous, as it was awful the weekend before and the weekend after. Which puts 2017 in a much nicer light than 2016, when my dad and Lindsay’s maternal grandfather died. At least we added to the family this year instead of losing folks.

Lindsay and a sleepy Madelyn and Veeka at Christina’s wedding reception.

So now I’m in the midst of a PR blitz for my new book. I have an offer for readers of this blog: If you buy my book and can show me a receipt, I’ll send you a copy of my 2009 book: Days of Fire and Glory: The Rise and Fall of a Charismatic Community for only $5 (which covers postage). Email me at jcduin@aol.com with a photo of the receipt. The publisher folks told me in Knoxville they had an unusually high number of pre-orders for the book, so they were upping their press run. Of course I’m hoping for some good reviews, as I don’t come out with books everyday. I am having a signing at 7 p.m. on Dec. 7 at Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way in Lake Forest Park, so if you live in the Seattle area and are reading this, please come. Am still putting together my presentation: Videos of snake handlers, maybe? Must say, every time I lecture on this, people are fascinated, even in a I-wouldn’t-be-caught-dead-at-one-of-these-services kind of way.

The dog days of summer

Veeka in a clothing-optional hot pool at Breitenbush

These are the dog days of summer, so named because the ancient Romans believed that the star Sirius (known as the “dog star” because it was the brightest in the constellation of Canis Major), actually radiated extra heat toward the Earth during the summer, when Sirius rises and sets with the sun.

Veeka had some time off in June, so she went to a local Bible camp, then enjoyed a soccer camp where she could bone up on the game before joining a league this fall. She did well. Meanwhile, over the Fourth of July weekend, we attended a family camp near Silverton, Oregon sponsored by Good Samaritan Ministries, a Beaverton-based charity that I’ve been connected with for years. The weather was decent and it was located in the woods near Silver Creek Falls State Park, a tourist draw in that area.

Right after that, we went to Breitenbush, an alternative resort that specializes in vegetarian food and hot springs located near Detroit Lakes, Oregon. Breitenbush is made up of scores of individual cabins near some rivers in the Oregon wilderness.

My budding soccer star

It’s a holistic retreat and conference center that’s pretty New Agey in a way but I must say I certainly gained no weight with their non-sugar, non-dairy cuisine. Veeka found a few friends there to play with in the tubs, which are clothing-optional, which was a bit odd. One was always trying to make fascinating conversation with the other people soaking away while trying to keep one’s eyes focused from the waist up. With me having gained lots of weight in recent years, I wasn’t too wild about appearing in the buff but just about everyone else did so. By this time, the weather had seriously warmed up, so it was delightful being in the mountains without simultaneously freezing to death.

The following weeks were filled with new stuff (to us) such as attending our first-ever Seattle Mariners game downtown, which was great fun in that the Mariners beat the Oakland A’s that time around. We spent a weekend camping out – with folks from our church – at Fort Casey on Whidbey Island and went harvesting mussels; a new experience. Basically, you stand in the cold water and scoop up loads of shells that are affixed to huge clumps of seaweed.

Otherwise this summer, we’ve been on a ton of hikes and trips to places like Guemes Island (in Puget Sound), Tipsoo Lake and Natches Peak (near Mt. Rainier), a Christian family conference at Warm Beach (north of Everett), Franklin Falls (near Snoqualmie Pass) and lots of other outings thanks to Seattle’s record-breaking rainless summer this year.From mid-June on, there was no rain in western Washington. Before that, there was nine months of continuous rain. We finally

Me at the summit of the Natches Peak loop hike with Mt. Rainier in the background. Gorgeous views and clear, fresh air.

got a miniscule portion of rain on Aug. 12, setting a new rainless record at 55 days, all of which drove Veeka and I to try out several unusual swimming pools in Seattle, one of which is right on the waterfront.

We also had a quickie trip to Washington, DC at the end of July for a piece I’m doing for the Washington Post Sunday magazine that I’ll talk about closer to publication. Will say that Veeka (who I took with me) and I expected hot weather but we got three very cool days there. She and I stayed near our old place in Hyattsville and got to see several old friends. I was delighted to find that the photographer accompanying me on the assignment was none other than Mary Calvert, who I knew from Washington Times days and who’s now gone freelance. (Mary shot the photo of me in Lucknow, India that’s featured on this blog). It was very odd to be reporting again in downtown DC, which included my getting on the White House grounds for about two hours. I retired from full-time reporting seven years ago, thinking I would move seamlessly to a career as a college professor. Which worked out for a few years until all the jobs in my field dried up.

So I’ve been picking up gigs here and there and trying new ones, such as helping folks write books. Will say that a book that I’ve been editing along with Dr. Bob Eckert, who was one of the chief elders at Church of the Redeemer during the 1960s and 1970s, is now out and ready to order!

). I’m very happy about its release in July because we had a ton of delays in getting that project done. If you want a good read, please order “God’s Doctor: A Texas Physician and the Miracles of God.”

Veeka enjoying the Mariners game and, even more importantly, the blue cotton candy.

AND, my upcoming book is also available for pre-order on Amazon, so naturally I’m excited. Right now I’m editing page proofs and putting together an index for the book, all while I’m also putting together the aforementioned WaPo piece, which will be about 4,000 words. Nothing like three deadlines all on the same day.

about that. I’d love to say I could make a living writing full-time but I’ve not discovered how to do that as a freelancer. Speaking of freelancing, Veeka has started a small petsitting business and just got $50 from her first cat-sitting engagement. Housing prices are sky-high anywhere near Seattle, so every little bit helps. Other than that, I’ve been reading tons of books to Veeka, including another go at The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I read straight through. Starting in May, we began watching all the movies and appendices connected with LOTR, so everything was very Tolkienesque around our household for awhile. Then I moved on to Zenna Henderson’s “The People” stories and am now wrapping up Joy Chant’s “Red Moon, Black Mountain” one of the best sci-fi books ever. So wish Studio Ghibli (a Japanese studio) would pick it up for one of their movies! It’s got just the right mystical storyline for a Miyazaki film. Will say that Chant’s worldview is very Christian, so the showdown between Lucifer and the Archangel Michael near the end of the book is one of the best confrontations in all of literature.

Our missing piece, one year gone

My mother and Veeka at Cannon Beach by Haystack Rock.

These are the lovely days of early summer when the days are long and beautiful. We’ve had a run of lovely weather lately, so I took a dip and went kayaking Thursday in the local lake, courtesy of a long-time high school friend who has a home on Lake Sammamish. Last week, I took my mom and Veeka to Manzanita, Ore., where friend have a cottage they graciously let us rent cheaply. My mom hadn’t been to the beach in ages and certainly not to the Oregon coast in at least a decade. Our first day, we wandered about Cannon Beach, a nearby town that was packed with tourists there to see a sandcastle building contest. We wandered near Haystack Rock, a huge stone island in the surf.
The next day, we sat on the beach at Manzanita where it was sunny and then a fog bank rolled in. There was still some sunlight but huge drifts of white stuff passing by us, as the clouds had come down and seeing people wander about the beach mixed in fog and sun was like a Brigadoon stage set. Of course Veeka didn’t want to be more than 10 feet from the waves at any point of time. I always forget how lush and rain forest-like the coast is. On our way back, we had lunch with a friend of my mom’s in Astoria, a city I’d never been to in all my years in Oregon. Our restaurant was right at the mouth of the Columbia River, where huge barges floated on by.

With Manzanita behind her, Veeka runs toward the water while clouds fill the beach.

A number of things have happened since I last wrote, one being that I had another birthday. Just before that, I’d seen an essay by Anne Lamott, who is the same age as me, on her thoughts about turning 61. So,I decided to write down a few pieces of wisdom about what I know at this venerable age. First is:
PERSEVERANCE – Never, never, never, never, never give in. Winston Churchill said this first, not me, and it’s true. The only way I’ve gotten a lot of things in life is that I plugged and plugged away. I’ve had TWO books that both went through more than 30 rejections from various publishers before they were picked up by actual publishing houses instead of vanity or self-publishers. One came out in 2009 and the second is coming out this fall (University of Tennessee Press, everyone!). Then I had a children’s book that came out in 1998, then was taken out of print two years later even though it was still selling. The publisher sat on the rights to the illustrations for 10 years. I never gave up bugging them about this until finally a new set of executives was hired and they gave me the rights in 2010. It went back into print in 2011.

This is a hike I dragged Veeka on that’s near Stevens Pass in the Cascades. We were on our way back from Barclay Lake.

TRAVEL – When flying somewhere for an event, always plan to arrive a day early. Airlines these days are so messed up, it’s easy to get bumped and marooned overnight if not longer. Had I not followed this advice last summer, I would have missed a friend’s wedding in Montreal. We were flying there via Washington DC when thunderstorms hit while we were changing flights at Dulles. (Note: Never fly through any East Coast city in the afternoon during the summer thunderstorm season, which lasts about 3 months. The humidity brings in the thunderheads and it’s good-bye to flying anywhere that day.) Anyway, all East Coast airports shut down and we were stuck. United put us on an early flight out the next day, then that got cancelled. Fortunately, they put on an extra plane and got a bunch of us up to Canada in time.
YOU CAN GIVE UP COFFEE – Recently, I decided to get serious about losing some weight I’ve gained in recent years and went on a diet that forbids one to drink coffee on the grounds that coffee is a toxin that compromises the liver’s ability to burn fat and thus the liver stores the fat around your middle. I’ve been on this diet off and on since 2012 (when I lost a ton of weight on it), so starting June 1, I went off the java. After the first few days, I have begun to do very well w/o caffeine. I almost have more energy than I used to and yes, the pounds are coming off. I know many people feel they can’t give up caffeine but it is possible.
I’ve gotten a few things published recently, including this piece on traveling the AlCan with kids, which appeared in AAA’s Journey magazine. Also, there’s another travel piece on Barkerville, a historic town in central British Columbia that I wrote for ParentMap, a local web site with amazing ideas of things to do with kids. Journey just came out with another piece of mine but alas, I don’t have the link for it. Here’s another link that shows a portfolio of my work in a very attractive layout. And lastly, here is the first mention of my upcoming book from Inside Higher Ed.com.

This is a buddy bumper ball that we discovered during Duvall Days.

We’ve done lots of local travel like a lovely fair in Duvall that Veeka and I went to one Saturday where she ended up wrapped in this huge plastic ball – called a buddy bumper ball – which apparently is the rage these days. It’s fun watching kids bang into each other, then bounce helplessly across the grass. After that, we went for dinner at the home of a Lewis & Clark alum who lives in the middle of the wilderness in a gorgeous home overlooking the Tolt River. She’s selling it for $1.3 million. Then I got a pair of hiking boots for my birthday, which means I can drag Veeka on more treks in the mountains. And the 80-year-old bed she had been using (that was used by my mom when she was a kid) broke recently, so Veeka got a lovely PINK bunk bed that some saintly friends helped us assemble.

On a sadder note, today is the first anniversary of my father’s death, which was June 24 last year. We still miss him very much and Veeka keeps on saying that she always expects him to be sitting in his rocking chair when she comes through the door. It was odd last week when it was Father’s Day and for the first time in my life, my dad was not here. And it feels that a piece of our lives will always be missing. My mom had not traveled at all since he died, which is why, over Mother’s Day weekend, I took her on a ferry to Sequim (on the Olympic peninsula), to see the new home that my brother Rob and his wife, Jan, live in. Seems amazing that seven years ago, Rob and I were both living in Maryland and, by circuitous routes, we both came back to the Pacific Northwest. It also feels odd that we are well past the middle of the second decade of this century. I remember thinking forward to what the year 2000 would be like and now we’re 17 years past that.

Veeka, my mom and Rob in front of his place in Sequim.