Category Archives: Veeka

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.

In which Veeka turns 12

Veeka is just about ready to blow out the candles on her cake. To her left is Wyatt, the son of her cousin Lindsay.

I was agonizing over just how to celebrate Veeka’s 12 birthday and in the end, it all came together. Her birthday was on Easter day. So I took 40 pink-icing cupcakes (with red “V’s” added for you-know-who) to her Sunday school class, which sang “happy birthday” to her and helped eat the food; then we drove to Oma’s where we had a nice Easter banquet with more family members there. Veeka delighted in her gifts, which included lots of clothes because she’s growing so fast and constantly grows out of stuff. So I make good use of the Hannah Andersson outlet north of us in Woodinville.
Her day was a bright spot in a gloomy spring, weather-wise, that has become infamous for setting a record in rainfall. Just today (April 24), we broke a 122-year record for rainfall and believe me, it’s truly felt like we’ve been in a monsoon since last summer. Easter weekend was the first rain-less weekend since September. So it’s been tough to get

My little hiker with Opa’s old walking stick and a new bun in her hair.

out. Not that we haven’t tried. Just last Friday, we hiked a seven-mile round trip slog up nearby Squak mountain that ended up in a magnificent view of Mt. Rainier during the prettiest and sunniest day we’ve had in eons. V had put up her hair in a bun, as she’s getting into hair styling these days and disocovering what fun it is. But it was row after row of switchbacks that took nearly two hours each way, and in the end it was Veeka helping me the last few hundred feet. I had worn the wrong shoes and my feet were getting blisters. Need to invest in hiking boots!
Other outings have been inbetween rain showers. During spring break, we visited the tulip gardens up in Skagit Valley (about 90 minutes north of us) but even they were soggy from all the water. We then drove through La Conner, a cute town that I had last seen as a high school student, then whipped by Deception Pass State Park, a pretty spot on the Sound that is packed during the summer.
We did get to go skiing one more, this time an early April visit to Mission Ridge in Wenatchee (in central Washington), which was sunny in ways the west side of the mountains was not. Mission Ridge was offering free lessons to fifth graders, so of course we HAD to take advantage of that. It was icy or slushy skiing for me but Veeka sailed through her ski lesson and the instructor said she was ready to get on a chair. So next year, I’ll be on the lookout for a series of

At Mission Ridge: Veeka poses with her instructor before a 2-hour lesson.

lessons. We get up so early on weekday mornings that I don’t have the heart to drag her up on Saturdays for the ski bus to Snoqualmie Pass, but there must be another way. She definitely prefers downhill to cross country.
The cherry blossoms have been out with a vengeance this spring, so we dropped by the Quad at the University of Washington, where there were lots of blooming pink creations surrounded by tons of people with cameras. And this was on a weekday, albeit one without rain. We were near the UW

Me and the blossoms on the University of Washington quad.

because Veeka was in the neighborhood for a braces appointment. Many thanks to those who’ve boosted the GoFundMe to $3,350 to date and believe me, that money will be spent. A few weeks later, we went to Portland where I showed her my alma mater, Lewis & Clark, which has expanded quite a bit since I was there in the 70s. Veeka says she hopes to attend the UW and I tell her that her academics need to improve a lot more before that happens. Otherwise, things have been quiet. We tried a visit to Seattle’s Chinatown several weeks ago but only got to a few sites because of the unrelenting downpour that day. Am so hoping sunnier days will arrive soon.

Skiing Vancouver Island

Veeka and her kind ski instructor at Mt. Washington.

It’s already March; we’re switching back to daylight savings time this coming weekend and the GoFundMe campaign for Veeka’s braces is at an even $3,000, thanks to many people. More is needed, but Veeka’s had her first orthodontist appointment at the University of Washington dental school mainly so they can assess what she needs. I’ve already had other private orthodontists do that, but most of them charged way more and the UW likes having their students do their own assessments. So there we are.
The biggest thing we’ve done in recent weeks is travel to north across the border to Vancouver Island, where I had a travel assignment for a piece on the Mt. Washington Alpine Resort  about 70 miles north of Nanaimo. The tourism bureau picked up a lot of our expenses (that’s the beauty of travel writing) so we could sample the slopes. Anyone who’s been watching the weather out here knows the West Coast has gotten a ton of snow this winter, so the skiing is pretty nice. We stayed in the town of Courtenay where there were lots of decent restaurants and less snow. A few days before we left, I discovered the Veeka had outgrown all her snow wear, so we found a very nice consignment shop in Courtenay called the Blue Toque where we loaded up on some boots, snow pants and a cheap pair of cross-country skiis for me. The U.S. dollar goes far in Canada, so why not?

Just north of Goose Spit Park is a long staircase that people climb for good views. Here’s what we saw.

We did tubing the first day, I tried some cross-country ski trails the second and Veeka took her first downhill lesson on our last day there. She learned how to do a basic snow plow and discovered she really LIKES doing downhill as opposed to cross-country (which she picked up in Fairbanks). Am hoping I can get her into some more lessons. We also visited some local parks, a place called Morningstar Farm and Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, which not surprisingly is a dairy farm that produces lots of cheese. That region is truly ski-to-sea, as we were on the slopes in the morning and in the afternoon wandering about some of the beaches on the Georgia Strait. A beach area called Goose Spit Park in nearby Comox was particularly beautiful. There was tons of driftwood and many lovely places to sit and gaze on the mountains and water. One morning when we were eating breakfast in a
Meanwhile, preparations for my upcoming book continue. Last Sunday, I spoke to a group of Lewis & Clark College alumni about In the House of the Serpent Handler: A Story of Faith and Fleeting Fame

Me showing snake videos to 15 or so fellow L&C alums. Photo by Merrilee MacLean

in the Age of Social Media and showed them some videos of serpent handlers. Peoples’ mouths always drop open when they see that stuff and I realize how fortunate I was to have a front row seat into that culture for 3 years.
And Veeka pulled off a minor triumph this year in that she sold 132 boxes of Girl Scout cookies in the past two weeks. For reasons beyond our control, she wasn’t able to start selling until two weeks ago after most of the girls had wrapped up their door-to-door sales. I don’t have a workplace where I can twist peoples’ arms to buy cookies and Veeka’s school won’t let her sell to employees there. A lot of girls have their parents sell tons of boxes for them! But other than a few orders from family, all our sales were from schlepping from door to door within a half-mile of where we live. Some of those apartment complexes

Veeka presenting cookie choices to a customer.

were a bit dicey but even in the strangest places we found buyers. Will say that the past two years, the weather has been simply dreadful every time we’ve schlepped around the neighborhood. Nothing like dodging puddles. Her last year total was 50 boxes but this year, she was quite the pro, walking up to peoples’ doors and giving them the spiel. Starting this month, she’ll be sitting in front of supermarkets helping the Scouts sell cookies to all the foot traffic. We did all this last year so it won’t be completely new. Other than that, I just marked my second anniversary (March 1) writing for the GetReligion.org blog, for which I’m now doing 13 blogs/month. That amount increased from 11 last December. There are a few other things bubbling away that I hope to write about soon, if they turn out. I’m still subbing two days a week for the Issaquah School District and all of that in elementary schools. Being there gives me a whole new respect for teachers plus I’ve gotten lots of colds this year. Wonder why?

Rain, rent and raising money for braces

Dressed in her Halloween best, Veeka vamps it up a bit with her candy around her. She did learn one does not trick or treat in heels.

Dressed in her Halloween best, Veeka vamps it up a bit with her candy around her. She did learn one does not trick or treat in heels.

I’m happy to say that a GoFundMe campaign I started a few weeks ago to raise funds for Veeka’s braces-to-come has brought in $1,100. The bad news: I have another $5-$6K to go! I really didn’t want to go this route, but after being unemployed for more than 18 months (other than freelance and substitute teaching gigs), desperate times call for desperate measures. Because of a tooth that is ravaging her gums, she not only has to have braces, but also some minor surgery to get that tooth back into position. Sigh. My health insurance – which goes up 25% in 2017 – only pays for braces for medical reasons, ie birth defects.
And so I’ve told friends that I need to raise at least $2,000 to call up the orthodontist and sign the contract for two years of braces. I realize that not all can or feel led to give, but if you do, feel free to click on the above link. As I’ve been agonizing over which health insurance to choose for 2017, I am trying to squelch feelings of panic at the thought of the incoming presidential administration doing away with Obamacare. On the other hand, it feels as though insurance companies have already abandoned it, as they are getting queasier and queasier about covering anything.
Meanwhile, the rich keep on getting richer in Seattle. The median income here is now $80K.
I wonder: How many of those people with supposedly higher salaries are over 50? That’s where the real unemployment is. Past a certain age, it’s impossible to get a 9-5 job that pays more than $15/hour. Try living on that.

Veeka also got new glasses this fall because we've discovered she is farsighted.

Veeka also got new glasses this fall because we’ve discovered she is farsighted.

Or, $20/hour is what local school districts pay emergency subs, which is a good way to pick up some money if you have a degree but no teaching certificate. That’s what I’m doing two days a week, but compared to what I used to make, it isn’t much, folks. Even full-time public school teachers often only  make in the $40s around here. That’s nuts.
As many of you know, one of the many ways I eke out a living is to do freelance writing. I was on a conference call today (Dec. 12) with a group of other religion reporters and we were talking about how tough it is to sell your pieces for good money.
Try getting paid more than, say, $300, max $400 for a 1,200-word story. That’s about 30-40 cents a word. (The decent pay is $1/word for those of you not in the know.) I’ve been amazed at the low rates publications in the Seattle area pay people, considering the expense of living here.
Nevertheless, I’ve come out with three pieces since I last blogged. This piece on Jim Eichner, a local Episcopal priest who runs a food bank, came out in the November issue of 425, a magazine for Seattle’s Eastside. Yes, Jim is the same priest who was at my dad’s bed side right before he died. Then, the Washington Post ran two of my travel pieces two weekends in a row. This piece on cross-country skiing in the Methow Valley ran the weekend of Nov. 11 and my grand-circle-around-British-Columbia piece ran the following weekend. So…I am selling more travel than religion pieces.

Veeka and her little first-cousin-once-removed Wyatt relaxing at Oma's.

Veeka and her little first-cousin-once-removed Wyatt at Oma’s.

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of articles out there about house prices that continue to soar.
In late October, my brother Rob and his wife, Jan, moved from Maryland to Washington, choosing to settle somewhere on the Kitsap peninsula where the weather is a lot better than here! They chose a place in the fast-growing retirement haven of Sequim, and managed to grab a place that’s being built now. They felt lucky to get that. Nearly everyone I know is renting. No one can afford to buy. Well, I do have a friend who just bought a townhome near me and he paid a cool half a million to get it. Maybe the top 1% is doing well here, but there’s a lot of us who aren’t.
It’s been a quiet fall for us, with just one trip out of town to Portland to attend a banquet for Good Samaritan Ministries on Nov. 5. Veeka has started fifth grade and we squeezed in after-school hikes and swims in local lakes before the weather went south on us. And it looks like it’s going to be another record breaker for rain this season. While Alaska enjoys almost historically warm temps, we’ve had record-breaking rainfall. Veeka and I grimly joke that we’re both gaining weight because we get no exercise on the weekends because it’s always a.) raining and b.) cold.

Right off the TV screen: Election night 2016

Right off the TV screen: Election night 2016

As for other things: The election? Totally shocked, as everyone else was. I’m in the weird place of being glad Hillary lost but not overjoyed that Trump won, especially since he looks to be trying to dismantle half the federal agencies in one swoop. He’ll have one enemy in me if he touches healthcare. I will say I was beyond amused at the stunned looks on many of the TV anchors’ faces as the returns came in and it was clear that Hillary was not sweeping the country – or the Electoral College – as we thought would happen. So many in the media totally misread the mood of the country. I wish I could say that, one month later, I see a difference in coverage but I don’t. I mean, you have New York Times editor Dean Baquet saying they need to cover religion far more than they do. Well, no kidding. But until I see the want ads go up for an extra handful of religion reporters at the Times, I won’t believe a word he says. I heard similar breast beating back in 2004 when George Bush beat John Kerry and everyone wondered what hole those Protestant evangelicals had crawled out of. In December 2004, I wrote a column for Poynter.org using “It’s the hiring, stupid,” instead of the better-known saying “It’s the economy, stupid,” to point out that media organizations have been stinting on good religion coverage for a long time. I named names, calling out specific newspapers that had either left the beat empty or hired ingénues for the beat instead of seasoned reporters, making for some pretty clueless stories. Meanwhile, they scoured the country to hire for beats they considered more important like health, tech and real estate. So, of course they miss what’s really going on by a mile.

Seeing Vancouver Island – and another funeral

Veeka (in the red jacket) the day I dropped her off at camp on a rainy afternoon. Her cabin mates and counselor are off to the left.

Veeka (in the red jacket) on the rainy afternoon when I dropped her off at camp. Her cabin mates and counselor are off to the left.

Several months ago, I arranged to do some travel pieces for publications interested in northern British Columbia. Ever since driving the AlCan two years ago (this month!), I’ve been fascinated with the region and wanted to go back, especially if I could get some payment for doing so. The first half of my trip involved spending four days driving up Vancouver Island, a place I hadn’t been to in many years and even then, it was mainly to Victoria on its southern end. Which is where many people go, but the publications I’d contacted wanted stuff more off the beaten path. Now Veeka had just come off a week spent at Girl Scout camp, so she was a bit done with camping, but I told her we’d be staying inside and sleeping in beds, so she was game to go traveling.
The first leg involved driving from Seattle to the Tsawwassen ferry southwest of Vancouver, a three-hour ordeal. It was two hours to the border, a 45-minute wait there and then a half hour to the ferry. If you make reservations, you have to be there a half hour before boarding time, even though we didn’t actually drive on until about 10 minutes before the ferry pushed off. Finally arriving at the island just south of Nanaimo, I checked Foursquare (an app) for a place to eat.

Yes, those are goats you see atop this restaurant in Coombs, BC.

Yes, those are goats you see atop this restaurant in Coombs, BC.

It led us to an Italian bistro in Coombs, a small town on 4A west, about 5 miles west of Parkesville, but the place was packed and not taking walk-ins, so we repaired Billy Gruff’s Creamery nearby. Together with some Black Forest bread with lox and lemonade, that was our dinner. Across the way was the Old Country Market, where we saw billy goats literally standing on the roof of the place, contentedly eating grass. That certainly caught our attention as we drove up. It was a warm, lovely evening, the first of a four-day string of fabulous weather, which is not a given when you’re in that part of the world.
The next day, we drove to Port Alberni, which is on an inlet off Vancouver Island’s west coast and dropped by Cathedral Grove, which was 800-year-old strand of Douglas firs surrounded by loads of tourists. Port Alberni is surrounded by peaks and we headed toward Harbor Quay. The day was sunny, breezy, mid-70s; in other words, heavenly. We got oysters and clam chowder and sat outside. There’s a bevy of picnic tables where you can snack from several eateries selling seafood, sit next to planters of purple, white and magenta petunias and listen to a fiddler’s band playing nearby.

Qualicum Beach

Veeka @ Qualicum Beach

We drove back to a beach in Parkesville on the eastern side of the island, where the salty sea water was clear, and quite warm. The beach was strewn with logs and lots of pebbles and some rocks, but it was just right for my daughter to swim and it didn’t get deep until way out. The shimmering water, the Alaska cruise ship in the distance, the blues of the mountains, the water and the sky, the boardwalk that took one to a point out in the water; it was perfect for what we needed. There was a play area and tiny water park behind us, where my daughter frolicked plus there were food carts to grab a bite while you were covered with sand and wearing a suit. Parkesville and Qualicum Beach just north of that are noted for its nice beaches.
The next morning, we drove to the northern end of the island, passing through Courtenay, Comox and Campbell River. None of the tourism brochures cover this area, a huge disservice to the folks who live in those parts and have businesses there. We detoured to a huge provincial area – Strathcona Provincial Park – to the west. We ended up at the Strathcona Park Lodge and Outdoor Education Centre, which overlooks the shimmering Buttle Lake that goes on for miles with snow-capped peaks of the Elk River Mountains – even in August – in the distance. This was such a lovely area with beautiful vistas to the west and south. I asked the person at the lodge check-in counter for some brochures and she told me to look online, which I thought was a bit cavalier. I can see why tourism is a bit lacking in these parts when some of the institutions in the area don’t work too hard at promotion! There’s a lot of hiking and camping available in the area, but you have to almost be a local to know what’s available.

The view from the lodge in Strathcona Provincial Park.

The view from the lodge in Strathcona Provincial Park.

North of Campbell River is some 120 miles of wilderness and then two small towns: Port McNeil and Port Hardy. Our B&B was 19 miles to the west in Port Alice, an old pulp mill town, supplied by logging camps on nearby inlets. The folks at the Inlet Haven B&B were beyond helpful, driving us to nearby sites, letting us do laundry and – when it was clear there were no nearby restaurants in that tiny town where we could get dinner – fixed us a wonderful hamburger meal on their deck while the sun set over the mountains. At one point, 1,500 people lived there with about 500 employed by the mill. It finally closed in 2004, later re-opened, then shut down again in February 2015, which was unfortunately in that the mill provided 75 percent of the town’s tax base and half of its jobs.  One of the casualties was Port Alice’s one restaurant.
The area gets similar mild weather to its more famous neighbor, Victoria, to the south. It used to get copious amounts of rain, I was told, but not so this year; in fact, there was so little rain that the day we arrived, all open fires, even those on a beach, were banned.

Telegraph Cove in far northern Vancouver Island.

Telegraph Cove in far northern Vancouver Island.

We spent two nights in Port Alice, using part of our free day to see Telegraph Cove, on the eastern side of the island, which was packed with sightseers who were on whale watching expeditions or fishing boats. The cove is an antique sawmilling village with buildings dating back to the 1920s and 1930s. We wandered about the Wastell House, an airy place with a sun room overlooking the harbor. The place is surrounded by forest and that day, clear sunlight poured down. However, the place is a tourist trap; we had to pay $1/hour to park in a crowded dirt lot in a resort in the middle of nowhere. I was told the fees went for the upkeep of the access road to the resort. Our host told us that when he bought a fishing license there, they charged him $5 to merely print it out.
The next morning, we left Port Alice at 4:30 a.m. for the 45-minute drive to the ferry in Port Hardy. Boarding it was a disorganized mess. We got there just before 5:30, which I was told was the absolute hour one had to be there. The walk-on passengers were told the same thing. Drivers all sat, idling, in line for an hour. Starting around 6:30, we began inching forward. A lot of late-arriving cars were allowed in ahead of us, so it was quite arbitrary whether you were there early or not. When I asked the

The view from the balcony at Inlet Haven B&B.

The view from the balcony at Inlet Haven B&B.

reasons for the delay, I was told many of the people driving the campers had put given the wrong vehicle lengths on their reservations (one has to specify rough measurements), meaning they had to recalibrate how much room they had on the ferry. I was also told even children needed individual IDs. Being foreigners, we had passports, but what if we hadn’t? I explained U.S. kids don’t have separate IDs, which got me a stare from the ferry folks. Not only did they slowly check us in at the first gate, they re-checked us a few hundred feet later as we boarded, as if extra people had snuck into the car. The attendant explained the parking lot was unsecured, although the fencing looked pretty good to me. Maybe they figured terrorists had somehow gotten up at 5 a.m. to burrow underneath. We boarded around 6:55 and the ferry left around 7:40. Most inefficient operation ever.

The view from the Port Hardy-Prince Rupert ferry.

The view from the Port Hardy-Prince Rupert ferry.

Once on, it wasn’t a bad 16-hour trip. A public address system occasionally alerted passengers to bear and whale sightings plus historic tidbits about which early Canadian explorer named which cove we were passing by. The salmon were clearly running and we could see them soar out of the water in quick half-circles. The weather was clear and sunny – not a given in the Pacific Northwest by far – and the boat hosted a BBQ for lunch which was a pleasant break from the cafeteria. Many of us took refuge on the glassed-in sundeck on the 6th floor to gaze at hundreds of miles of forested mountains, occasional lighthouses, canneries, waterfalls and scattered settlements. We met the most pleasant family from London: Gordon and Stephanie and their 5-year-old daughter, Flo, who spent much of the day playing with my daughter.
We weren’t released from the boat until close to midnight and then I drove about Prince Rupert, which seems to fog over at night, searching for the Black Rooster, our hostel. I could barely read the street signs and either the lights were dim or the fog was heavy, but it was very hard to find my way about town. Even the next day, sans fog, I noticed a lot of the streets lack signs. As for the next leg of our journey, that comes in the next blog!

Julie Kay (left) and me in the early days after I'd gotten Veeka. We are standing at Great Falls in Virginia.

Julie Kay (left) and me in the early days after I’d gotten Veeka. We are standing at Great Falls in Virginia.

One thing I did want to add is that earlier in August, a dear friend, Julie Kay, died of ovarian cancer at the age of 54. I was with Veeka in Quebec when a mutual friend called to say she was dying and if I wanted to see her, I had to fly to Florida right then. Of course that was impossible for me, so I called around to other friends, who told me that Julie had been so secretive about her illness, very few people knew that she’d battled this thing for 10 years. She certainly had not told me she was dying, although our last conversation – where she called to express sympathy on the death of my dad – was very odd and now as I think of it, she was surely thinking of her own impending death. Yet, she said nothing to me of it and I am of course kicking myself that I didn’t question her further at the time. Julie was one of those friends I knew from my Florida days. I’ve moved around so much in my life, most people I’ve known have ceased communicating with me. But Julie was amazing in that she pursued and kept long-time friends. She visited me in Maryland; I visited her in Florida and we shared trips together to Key West and Oaxaca, Mexico. Again, it’s the same lesson that man – and woman – knows not their time and when they may be called.

A wedding in Montreal

Mount Rainier from the north. The Sunrise visitor center is below

Mount Rainier from Sourdough Ridge to the north. The Sunrise visitor center is below.

Summer is passing all too quickly and last week, Veeka and I ran off to a place on Mt. Rainier called Sunrise. The walk along a ridge near the visitor center was outstanding, as one is looking directly at this huge mountain right THERE. I’m cramming in trips to this mountain this summer, as the national parks system was handing out free year-long parks passes last year to all fourth graders, so we snapped one up. It runs out at the end of August, though. It was such a clear, beautiful day and the only downside were lots of bugs.
Early the next morning, we got on a plane for Montreal to attend the wedding of Laurie Vuoto, a longtime friend. We also sampled the delights of getting stranded due to United cancelling our flight. About Laurie: she moved to Arizona four years for a new job and also hoping she’d meet The One and last Saturday, she and Richard Horton made it official. It was a pull-out-the-stops affair. The ceremony was at Montreal’s oldest Catholic church right on the St. Lawrence River (convenient for the early fur traders). As Laurie pulled up in her limo, the bells started to ring – a lovely custom – and her brother-in-law told me she started to weep at that point with sheer happiness and with the

Laurie descending the staircase from her home to the limo that's taking her to the wedding.

Laurie descending the staircase from her home to the limo that’s taking her to the wedding.

realization that her dreams were finally coming true. Veeka and I were seated in the second row and while watching the ceremony, got called in to help amuse a very restless flower girl in the first pew. Then another inviteé pulled out an IPad and said flower girl was instantly captivated.
I was introduced to a nice custom with Italian weddings (the bride was the daughter of Italian immigrants and half the folks at the reception were speaking Italian) where there’s a 4-hour break in the action between the ceremony and the reception. That allows the bride and groom to take photos and the guests to take an afternoon snooze before a long evening party. We appreciated the break as well, although finding the venue for the reception on Ile Bîzard (Montreal is built on a series of islands) was quite difficult because of all the summertime road repairs. It was one of those sit-down dinners with party favors shaped like Cinderella’s carriage and six or seven courses, followed by an open bar and a huge desert table that was wheeled out around 11 pm. By then, I could not shove down one more morsel. There was a lot of dancing, a band, a guest opera singer and slide shows showing highlights from the couple’s courtship.
It was a lovely affair, considering the mess we had getting there. Our connecting flight from Seattle to DC was OK until the storms hit on the afternoon of the 28th. We were one of the last planes allowed to touch down before the torrents let loose. Planes after us were told to circle around or return to their origin, as it was impossible to land for the next 1-2 hours. That, unfortunately, affected the plane that was to be our connector to Montreal. It was leaving somewhere in North Carolina and it tried twice to land, could not, so returned back home. Which left us without a plane and thus our flight was cancelled.

The new Mr. and Mrs. Richard Horton at the reception

The new Mr. and Mrs. Richard Horton at the reception on Ile Bizard

We didn’t know it was cancelled until mid-evening. Veeka and I had packed lightly, so we had our suitcases with us. We had taken refuge in a United Club, as my credit card gives me 2 free tickets a year. We had just arrived when Veeka remembered she’d forgotten her IPad on the plane from Seattle, so the Club folks called over to the gate to track it down. Our plane had left the gate but a kind person had found and left the IPad at the gate podium, so we got it back. Those clubs are wonderful: Free wine, food, copies of decent newspapers, a bevy of travel agents plus one can just leave one’s stuff sitting there and no one will take it. The Houston club was a real lifesaver when V and I had a 7-hour layover on our way back from Minnesota last year.
Anyway, when we returned to our gate for the delayed Montreal flight, the United employee there was totally clueless and didn’t know the flight was cancelled until passengers confronted her with texts they were getting from Expedia saying it was no more. The lines in front of the customer service desk (to re-book) were quite long, so we returned to the Club where the agents there found us a way there Friday morning. However, we had to leave out of National and take connecting flights through Newark and Quebec City. There were lots of miserable people in line with us trying to get to Montreal, so we were lucky to get that. United put us up for the night at a Hyatt for a reduced rate (if you can call $105 reduced). I thought of calling (my brother) Rob and Jan, but it was really pouring plus Dulles is quite far from where they live in Maryland. Plus, we had an early flight the next day, or so I thought. So we just took a shuttle to the Hyatt 30 miles away in Crystal City, which was quite lovely.

Veeka, dressed in her finest black lace dress, the flower girl and other kiddos after the wedding.

Veeka, dressed in her finest black lace dress, the flower girl and other kiddos.

We had just gotten to our room and I had opened my email when I got a note from United saying the first leg of my flight out of National was cancelled. I nearly hit the ceiling, so got back on the phone. The first agent I got on the line (after 30 minutes of waiting) got disconnected from me. Called again and waited another 30-40 minutes. The new agent then told me a new flight had magically appeared and it left from Dulles at 9:45 a.m. – direct to Montreal. So we got back to Dulles at the crack of dawn, got the flight and everything (the rental car, our hotel) went well. But it reminded me to NOT fly through Washington, DC on a summer afternoon, as thunderstorms are nearly daily there and airports get shut down a lot.
We spent the day after the wedding wandering around Carrefour Laval, a large mall north of Montreal and got enamored with Second Cup, Canada’s answer to Starbucks. Then, to Veeka’s delight, we spent several hours with Laurie’s family, as Laurie’s sister and brother-in-law are the godparents to my daughter. The Vuoto family has a house in the Montreal area that the Vuoto sisters have access to and Veeka got to spend the afternoon next to their pool. Then we headed to Quebec City for the night, as I had visited there when I was 8 and I wanted Veeka to see it. It was a 3-hour drive.

Veeka in Quebec's lower city. Notice the Chateau Frontenac on the hill behind her.

Veeka in Quebec’s lower city. Notice the Chateau Frontenac on the hill.

On Monday morning, our hotel shuttle deposited us next to the Chateau Frontenac, the iconic landmark that dominates Quebec’s Old City. We then took the funicular to the lower city, rode back up, wandered about the terrace in front of the chateau, then walked along the Promenade des Gouverneurs, traipsed about the Plains of Abraham and saw two museums. So we are very much up on the French-British conflicts of 1759-60, the stories of Generals Wolfe and Montcalm and how the British scaled the cliffs to defeat the French. I was constantly pointing out to Veeka the cliffs that the invaders had to climb up, as they are massive. I didn’t realize that France was given a choice as to either give up Canada or the French Indies to the UK and they chose to give up Canada. That rates as one of the stupider real estate deals in history comparable to Russia selling off Alaska.
For lunch, we found a cute little place, L’Omelette on 66 Rue St. Louis, where the help gave us a lovely table by the window where we could see everything happening on the street. It’s just what we needed after walking on cobblestones all morning. It was killer hot that day, so we came back to hotel and jumped in the hotel pool. (Pools are essentially a non-negotiable in Veeka’s mind.) Later that day, we took Boulevard Champlain, which takes one along the Quebec waterfront; a very pretty route that I’d never seen before. We stopped by the Montmorecy falls (lit in bright colors at night), then drove to the Ile d’Orleans, about 10 miles north of Quebec. We went to La Goéliche, a restaurant overlooking the St. Lawrence River on the southern tip of the island. It was quite pretty seeing the night lights of Quebec across the river. So wished we had an extra day to see the Île, as it looked quite lovely. Am not sure when, if ever, I’ll be back there. This was my 4th visit, but at least Veeka got to see the place. Tuesday was taken up with driving back to Montreal (note: if you have a rental car, do not count on finding gas stations close to the Pierre Trudeau airport at which you can fill up your gas tank), then flying interminably back to Vancouver, then Seattle. At least I got to watch the movie “The Martian,” which I liked a lot!

My little one on the Promenade des Gouverneurs, a fantastic walk overlooking the Quebec waterfront.

My little one on the Promenade des Gouverneurs, a fantastic walk overlooking the Quebec waterfront and the St. Lawrence River.

Age discrimination is simply everywhere.

Me running away from it all by skiing at Stevens Pass.

Me running away from it all by skiing at Stevens Pass.

See this picture of me skiing? That’s what I do when I can’t handle the age discrimination in the job market. After eight months of applying to everything from Amazon to Alaska Airlines’ magazine, I’m amazed when my resume and cover gets no responses. OK, we’ve got two master’s degrees here, a distinguished job record and joy of joys: This weekend the Washington Post is publishing my travel article on the Dalton Highway in Alaska’s far north. You’d think articles like that would at least get me a call back. I’ve won awards for my writing all over the country but the past eight months has been a frustrating desert.
People ask me: Why aren’t you a technical writer? Well…here’s what Google expects of its tech writer applicants for jobs in their spiffy low-slung white-walled office building in Kirkland:

Responsibilities
• Learn complex technical information and write technical documentation for Google engineers, such as architectural overviews, tutorials for software developers, API programming guides, and more.
• Respond to technical questions from Google engineers about the subject matter that you documented.
• Edit documents written by others; coach engineers to improve their writing skills.
• Develop tools and processes to automate document creation and maintenance.
• Read and write code in C++, Java, JavaScript or Python.

Sorry, folks, I don’t do Python. Even non-techie places like the real estate company Zillow has openings with these names: Data scientist, quantitative analyst, graphics engineer, senior IOS engineer. I’d need a third MA for that. Jobs that end with the disclaimer “college degree required” are not aimed at anyone over 25. A lot of companies want advertising or design agency experience, which I don’t have. I loved getting this second MA, but it is not helping me get hired. So I run away and drag Veeka on mountain hikes like Little Si, whose summit is shown below.

At the top of Little Si in North Bend. This charming hike in the Cascades was crowded due to the long-awaited sun. Veeka is in the foreground.

At the top of Little Si in North Bend. This charming hike in the Cascades was crowded due to the long-awaited sun. Veeka is in the foreground.

There was a fascinating Seattle Times article about how local industry is scrambling for talented help. Then I read the comments section where folks over 50 were saying no one’s looking for them. One person wrote:
“On the one hand, a company doesn’t want to spend time/money on giving a older worker any “on the job training.” And on the other hand a company will hire a new graduate with no real world working experience – and spend $$ more on extra perks and creating a youth culture environment. That student usually is ill-prepared to hit-the-ground-running at a new job. They may as well help train the older worker, it’s probably less expensive.”
Then someone with 30 years in Systems Engineering and Systems Management in the IT field said he couldn’t find work because companies are hiring college grads and H-1B visa foreign workers.
Person after person (in this same comments section) talked about the willing and desperate older workers who’d take jobs in a second. For example, one wrote, Microsoft is willing to train young veterans with minimal tech experience by giving them classes in the basics, then putting them to work in entry-level jobs. Why not tap the “older worker” in the same manner? Many already have much tech experience and only need a refresher class to bring them up to date, and a chance to work.
Another said, Yep, I agree with you but don’t expect anything to change. I’m in my 60’s, EE, mgmt experience, web design, C, C++, HTML/CSS/js, sql, php and electronics design experience but nobody will even call or email back if I put my history on the resume. (The reason why, he added, as that older people don’t want to work 100-hour weeks, they want decent pay and they tend to get sick more).
Another said: You would do very well getting high-paying temporary assignments. You can make a living that way if you have skills that are in demand–I do, and I’m not even in tech. If they don’t have to pay you benefits, employers don’t care how old you are.

At least someone in our family is making money. Last day for Girl Scout cookies

At least someone in our family is making money. Last day for Girl Scout cookies

And even if you do get hired, if you’re female, you’ll still get paid less, according to this  New York Times piece.

Surely, folks tell me, you could get hired by Amazon? They’re scooping up as many humans as possible to move to Seattle. Well, here is what they are looking for in a tech writer:
• Degree in English, Technical Writing, Computer Science or related field highly desirable
• Experience with cloud/Web Services, IaaS, PaaS, or related areas is a plus
• Previous experience working with agile project management methodologies is a plus
• Programming skills in at least one programming language, such as Java, JavaScript, Python, Ruby, PHP, or .NET (C#) is a plus
• Experience with GitHub a plus
• Experience working directly with engineering teams

I don’t even know what PHP is. I do know what Ruby is, though. Should I try somewhere else? How about the travel company Expedia? Well, here’s their ad:

Expedia is seeking an experienced IT professional with a background in Technical Writing, Onboarding & Operational Readiness. The person will have responsibility for the creation/editing of technical content created by the Engineering teams and create onboarding/transition-support documentation, operational processes and procedures for the EDW Platform. This is a key role that will involve you partnering with the Engineering teams and creating the right level of high quality documentation and ensure that all procedural / technical details are gathered completely and accurately. This is a senior role that will require you to be self-disciplined, self-motivated professional. This will be a rich, rewarding opportunity for the right professional, to include exposure to some of the best IT talent and technologies in the world, and an opportunity to be largely self directed and to be afforded creative latitude to develop the processes for this new function.

Veeka and her troop hard at work selling those Thin Mints. Companies are hiring folks closer to her age than mine.

Veeka and her troop hard at work selling those Thin Mints. Companies are hiring folks closer to her age than mine.

One bright spot this month was that Veeka sold 55 boxes of Girl Scout cookies by slogging it out door to door and then she earned about 100 more points  helping sell cookies in front of various Safeways and WalMarts. I taught her how to present the cookie sale sheet; how to explain what each cookie contains and that we don’t collect the $4/box now but later when we deliver and by the time we were doing the last 10, she was getting pretty accomplished at her spiel. I had hoped for 30 sales; she easily surpassed that during our walks around the complex where we live, so I began to hope for more. We had finally reached 50 and were walking home when we dropped by a neighbor I’d met by the condo dumpster, who ordered 4 more. Veeka gets a badge if she reaches 55, so I threw in a box for us and her goal was met. And we got to meet a bunch of people near where we live.

From Poo Poo Point to the Palouse

 

Opa's 91st birthday. From left: Opa, Oma, Veeka, Susan and me.

Opa’s 91st birthday. From left: Opa, Oma, Veeka, Susan and me.

Lately I’ve been realizing I must update my social media accounts, which all have pictures of me in some cool Alaska locale. However, I am Down Here but I’m inbetween jobs, so it’s hard to categorize what I am right now. I’d like to stay in academia but I may have to go back into “the industry,” as they call it. Yes, I’m working on several unfinished projects but in terms of living as a freelance writer, been there, done that. It does not pay the bills. So I’m blogging part time for getreligion.org and I hope to return to teaching. I am not wild at the prospect of being an adjunct, as there are already lots of them around here and it’s not the happiest existence. There were great professorial spots elsewhere in the country but I chose not to apply, as I so wanted to move closer to home. And so we are here.

Atop Poo Poo Point. Notice the gorgeous view to the west of us.

Atop Poo Poo Point. Notice the gorgeous view to the west of us.

And so I’ve been networking with some old friends and new contacts. Was on the University of Washington campus speaking at a journalism day for high school students when I walked into the offices of the Mass Comm dept. I saw this on the door of the department chair.
SAFE ZONE – This is a safe place to talk about lesbian, bisexual, queer, intersex or transgender issues. Disrespectful or prejudicial language or actions will be addressed.
Seriously, folks, what are the chances that the ultra-lefty UW campus is a hive of anti-gay sentiment? I could see this on the door of a counseling office or psych department, even. But journalism? Why not something about this being a safe place for all opinions, as journalism is a place for truth seekers? This department chair had made up his mind as to which issue was uppermost for him.

The WSU campus and Miss Veeka.

The WSU campus and Miss Veeka on a fall day.

Two weekends ago, I attended a conference of local college professors (the Pacific Northwest Association of Journalism Educators) meeting in Pullman. Now Pullman is in the far southeastern corner of the state. Veeka and I drove east four hours to have dinner with a friend in Spokane, then south for another 90 minutes to Pullman, a small town that houses Washington State University. I’d never been to WSU and it was a nice campus albeit in an isolated spot. One of the broadcast journalism profs was from New York and she was wryly commenting on how there is so little to do there. No kidding. I got to the journalism buildings, wander about campus, then quickly dash east a few miles to Moscow, to see the University of Idaho. All this was in the “palouse,” a huge area of rolling hills and farmland over lava from ancient volcanoes. Eastern Washington is so unique because of the sand dune nature of its farmland. Most breadbasket regions are flat, but not here. On our way back, we stopped by Palouse Falls, a waterfall in the middle of nowhere that appears in the basalt canyons that bisect this territory. There is such a beauty to this region that

Veeka in the foreground; the Palouse Falls in the background and lots of rolling hills all around.

Veeka in the foreground; the Palouse Falls in the background and lots of rolling hills all around.

you don’t see in places like Kansas where there’s no topography to speak of. Tons of winter wheat grows here along with vines, which was the reason we stopped at several wineries on our way to Walla Walla, to spend our last night in the region with a friend. It’s not the Napa Valley, but the state has some 700 wineries, so it’s getting there. A lot of them were getting started when my family moved out west in the 1970s and some of them have lovely show rooms. We discovered one winery in Benton City that produces not only Gewurztraminer, my favorite kind of wine, but also ice wine, an unusual drink where you let the grapes sit on the vines well into winter and where the weather must be 17ºF or lower three nights in a row before you harvest frozen grapes in the middle of the night. I am not making this up. The Canadians produce this stuff, but I was glad to find a winery nearby that does so as well. They were nice enough to open an hour earlier for me on Columbus Day as I was trying to get home and didn’t want to hang around until their official opening time of noon. Later that day, we were in Ellensburg, where we dropped by the home of my niece and Veeka’s cousin Carley and her cutie pie daughter Brynley.

Brynley and Veeka

Brynley and Veeka

Brynley is talking now, so the two girls played together.
Compare all this with Fairbanks, which had its second snowiest September in history this year. They closed school in Fairbanks because of it (which is very unusual). Note the link says schools are never closed in the Denali borough, home to the just-renamed mountain. Usually it’s in the 40s during September – as it was last year when we were there. Looks like all that snow that went to Boston in 2014-2015 may end up back in Alaska this winter although friends of mine up there say the September snow quickly melted. On several levels, it seems like the timing was right for us to be in Fairbanks last year. My mom’s health is better than it was a year ago but my father is far more fragile. He just turned 91, so Veeka, my sister-in-law Susan and I were there to help celebrate.
Veeka/Ollie and I miss Alaska more than we thought we would. When I left New Mexico 20 years ago this fall, I had bonded in a similar way with that wonderful state and I returned there for many years. Alaska changed me more than I thought it would. I am still writing about it; just re-did an academic article on Alaska’s newspaper barons that I hope to

During one of our walks along Lake Sammamish.

During one of our Sunday walks along Lake Sammamish.

publish in an academic journal although the first editor I sent it to ripped me to shreds for not having a literature review! (For those of you not familiar with academic papers, it’s an overview of the scholarly materials the writer will use for his/her paper). I reminded him that other journalism history papers at the recent journalism profs convention I attended in California didn’t have lit reviews either. Anyway, it’s not just the landscapes but the people in Alaska who are such a mixture of darkness and light. It’s a state where domestic abuse is sky-high and sexual abuse of children is six times the national rate, especially in the villages where there’s no police and nowhere to go for help. But it’s also a state where if your car breaks down, there’s a ton of people who will stop to help because they know that getting stuck outdoors is a matter of life and death. I can see why the reality shows can’t stop filming there. Anyway, the disconnect I feel being in the Seattle area is balanced with the fact that we got to explore a wonderful place for a year. A week ago, there was a meeting of UAF alums in downtown Seattle that I got to attend. Ollie, who is newly afraid of heights, didn’t like being on the 34th floor in the offices of the law firm that hosted us but eventually she was entranced by sunset over Puget Sound. The news at this gathering is that budget cuts are continuing at UAF, so it’s not the happiest of places at present.

Carley presenting Veeka with her new bike.

Carley presenting Veeka with her new surprise bike.

On Oct. 16, Veeka turned 10 ½ years old, which pleased her to no end. We celebrated by going to a park on Lake Sammamish and buying her a small desk lamp at a crafts sale. Being that it’s officially fall, we’ve gone on some hikes. One was called Poo Poo Point (no joke) aka the Chirico Trail and it’s a steep climb up Tiger Mountain to a spot where the hang gliders jump off the mountain. Once we finally got there at about 3:30 pm, we saw two of them take a run and glide off the mountain. The views were lovely. But it nearly killed us to get up there. It’s been a really nice fall here so I’ve been trying to get out.
And then a few days ago, I got a call from my sister-in-law Susan who had been trying to find a used bike for Veeka. She works at a nail salon, where one of her customers said she’d order a NEW bike for my daughter. And so last Sunday, with an unsuspecting little girl talking with Susan and Lindsay (together with Brynley and Wyatt, age 1), Carley snuck up to the back door wheeling this 24-inch aquamarine bike. Ollie was stunned at this huge gift. Now she doesn’t want to go a day without riding her new bike. Of course she has to get her homework done first…

From left: Brynley, Carley, Susan, Wyatt, Lindsay and Veeka.

From left: Brynley, Carley, Susan, Wyatt, Lindsay and Veeka.

Settling in Issaquah

Veeka waiting for her school bus

Veeka waiting for her school bus.

We’ve been in our new apartment almost 3 weeks in Issaquah, a town in the foothills of the Cascades that is best known for its Salmon Days festival where the salmon swim up the local creek to the area around the hatchery to spawn and then die. We live near the creek and it’s quite the sport to stand there and watch the fish splashing their way up the river. Some 150,000 people will arrive in town that first weekend in October for it.
The town is laid out in a way that makes it one big traffic jam from 3-7 pm each day with schools letting out and then the commuters driving home from Seattle. I didn’t have Internet for awhile, which is why I was camping out a lot at the local library and at various Starbucks around town. In comparison to Fairbanks, which had no free-standing Starbucks stores, this region has one on almost every corner.

Veeka relaxing with her first-cousin-once-removed Wyatt, which is to say Lindsay's son. They don't live far from us.

Veeka relaxing with her first-cousin-once-removed Wyatt, which is to say Lindsay’s son. They don’t live far from us.

One night, we were eating at Five Guys, a popular hamburger franchise that’s gone nationwide (although I remember patronizing the original Five Guys off of Rt. 7 in northern Virginia 20 years ago). I’d noticed a homeless guy standing at the corner near the restaurant, so after we ate, we took our (uneaten) bag of fries to this man, who looked very harmless and about 20 years old, to where he was standing. He had just taken our bag when Veeka shrieked, “Mommy, police!”
And sure enough, across the street were three police officers walking toward us. They ignored us and approached the panhandler, said they had a warrant to arrest him for drug dealing and handcuffed him right there. We slunk off and returned to our apartment, where I let Veeka wander about the grounds of the school across the street. Pretty soon, however, two police cars pulled up near Veeka who ran back toward me as I came out of the apartment. A teenager who was hanging around the area walked up to the officers; I later learned she was 16 years old and had called the police on us, as she’d seen Veeka wandering about alone and she thought that was dangerous.

To give Veeka something to do, I've taken her places like the Japanese garden near the University of Washington.

To give Veeka something to do, I’ve taken her places like the Japanese garden near the University of Washington.

Now the part of town we live in is very quiet and off the beaten path. One of the officers saw me and recognized me, as he’d been one of the guys arresting the panhandler! I was beyond annoyed that this young woman hadn’t bothered to ask Veeka where her mother was, as Veeka could have told her I was watching her out our window. This happens a lot, I’ve found; people don’t bother to ask basic questions but assume the worse and call the police on you! Of course the officers and I had a nice conversation and they said it’s unusual for a kid just to be wandering about alone. Most kids have someone with them. We don’t have that luxury in that we know no one here and no one has really befriended us. But I do wonder about some of the locals. Like someone just posted a note on my door complaining about some things I had done with the cardboard boxes from us moving in. I hadn’t stacked them right in the condo recycling center, it seems; however some of the things this person accused me of, I didn’t do! This is such a sign of the times and how impersonal things can be. People hide behind their cell phones and never go out and talk with people, nor check to see if their crazy assumptions are correct.
So last weekend, I went down to Portland for a day to meet with a group of friends I’ve known for some 35 years and spend time with them. It was lovely to be with people to whom I didn’t have to explain myself nor Veeka. Other than that, am treading water on several fronts. My father is doing better, thank God. But the job hunt is going very slowly. My book on serpent handlers that I worked so hard on hasn’t gotten accepted by any publisher and my agent has tried quite a few. The religious market where I’ve sold my previous four books doesn’t want to touch this one with a 10-foot pole, because, as one explained to the agent, there’s no spiritual “take away” to the book. In other words, no clear moral or happy ending. Sigh – do these folks get what real life is about? And I thought there were many moral lessons in my narrative. But the secular outlets aren’t biting either, which frustrates us a lot, as I got tons of hits when I wrote about the same folks for the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. Plus, the advance from this book was what I’d counted on to support me this fall while I’m in between jobs.

The Bangladesh satellite group + guests: The men in the back starting on the left are Jamie Dall, Leo Franz and Tim Forsyth. The middle row, from left, includes Judy Shrader, Karen Forsyth and Becky Franz. The bottom row, from left is Gail Dall, me and Bettie Mitchell

The Bangladesh satellite group + guests at the Franz homestead north of Portland: The men in the back starting on the left are Jamie Dall, Leo Franz and Tim Forsyth. The middle row, from left, includes Judy Shrader, Karen Forsyth and Becky Franz. The bottom row, from left is Gail Dall, me and Bettie Mitchell. Everyone in this photo looks decent except for moi, who looks half asleep.

So we live in interesting times. I’m still amazed when I walk into stores here and see bananas for 19¢ a pound whereas they were 99¢ a pound in Fairbanks. I still miss Alaska, though. Fairbanks just got snow last week, which was 3 weeks earlier than last year, when it didn’t snow until Oct. 4. I miss the beauty and the lack of crowds. I miss the friendliness and the freewheeling spirit there. I’m glad I turned down a possible job at the University of Oregon to go up there last year. And I’m glad I’m not in Eugene this year. It feels so much better to be only 14 miles from my parents and close to the mountains.
I settled in an area where I was sure there’d be kids playing outside. But in the afternoons, there are none. Do they all sit inside and watch TV? So my daughter is very lonely. I take her to an Awana club on Wednesday evenings but finding playmates is a work in progress.

To California and back

Once again, it’s been awhile since I wrote but with good reason. We’d scarcely gotten off the boat in

Ollie at a California rest area near the Oregon state line where we searched fruitlessly for tourism brochures.

Ollie at a California rest area near the Oregon state line where we searched fruitlessly for tourism brochures.

Bellingham when my father came down with weird stomach pains that kept on getting worse and worse. A week later, I was set to leave on a 10-day trip to and from California (will explain why in a bit) when I learned he’d have to have an operation to figure out the problem. Doctors thought it all pretty pro forma until about a week later when his intestinal problems got serious enough to move up the surgery two days. My brother Stephen quickly drove up to Seattle to be with my mother. My sister-in-law Susan, who lives in the area, also was there. Already on my way back from California, I cut my trip short by a day to get north faster. My dad is now recovering in the surgical unit of the retirement place where they live and seems to have come through it all fairly well for his 90 years. But the last few weeks have been quite the reminder of how fragile our lives are.

Mt. Shasta, of course

Mt. Shasta, of course

I’ve arrived here to find a Seattle that’s totally changed from what I remember when I lived here while in high school. I’ve jetted in and out over the years, not spending more than 2 weeks here at one time. But now we’re here for good and I’ve been stunned at the traffic here after the tranquility of a year in Fairbanks. It takes forever to get anywhere, the freeways are often jammed and one rarely if ever goes into Seattle if you can help it. Instead, much of the population, as does my family, lives in what’s called the Eastside, the suburban side of Seattle. Cities like Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland, Woodinville and others have developed their own cores and malls with every outlet imaginable. I think of my years in Prince George’s County, the majority black and Hispanic county east of DC, and how impossible it was to get a Trader Joes into the county or decent mall or more than one lone Starbucks in Hyattsville. Whereas here, there are more Trader Joes and Starbucks than I can count.

One of my last tasks for UAF was attending a conference of journalism professors in San Francisco. I was moderating one panel and speaking on another, so I was given a budget plus I planned to spend a few extra days vacationing here and there. I hadn’t driven to and from California since 1980. We spent the first night in the Portland area with friends, then headed south on I-5 toward Redding. I had

Bethel Church in Redding

Bethel Church in Redding

forgotten how pretty the Siskiyou mountains are on the Oregon/California border and how lovely a drive it is during that first 100 miles into California. Mt. Shasta was out in all its glory but it was quite difficult to find any tourism offices open on the Saturday we drove down. There was nothing at the various rest stops we came to, the result of state budget cuts, I guess, so it wasn’t until I drove into the town of Shasta itself that I found a grumpy person just closing up the tourism office there. At least she gave us a map up the 14-mile Everitt Memorial Highway that takes you to a rocky volcanic bowl at 7,900 feet from where you get a pretty good view of Shasta’s peaks. There were a bunch of young hippies with backpacks lounging about the town which was just north of the city where we stayed the night.

The next morning in Redding, smoke from nearby fires in the Mendocino National Forest had blocked out the sun. Those fires were burning constantly during our time in California, sadly. We attended Bethel Church, a famous congregation in evangelical/charismatic circles, which was the first place where I’ve encountered a line of people waiting for church. We managed to get a seat near the front, but then during the worship time, tons of people jammed the area in front of us, using it as a mosh pit for dancing and singing. Veeka was most taken by a liturgical dancer who whirled about the stage. I was intrigued by how the band and pastor all wore neutral colors. The sermon was one of the better

Veeka enjoying her first Virgin Mary drink at an Italian restaurant in Calistoga.

Veeka enjoying her first Virgin Mary drink at an Italian restaurant in Calistoga.

ones I’d heard recently as it was aimed toward mature Christians. And the congregation had dozens of ministries happening. We then headed south toward Sacramento. The terrain changed to olive groves and walnut tree farms but looked awfully dry otherwise. We finally turned off at Winters and headed west along a lovely route that wound past Lake Berryessa and finally, as we entered Napa County, past tons of wineries and vineyards perched on impossibly steep slopes. We finally got on a larger route through St. Helena and then to Calistoga, where we ate an Italian dinner, then drove to Santa Rosa for cheaper lodgings. And to Veeka’s delight, for the second night in a row, we had a pool.

We spent much of the next day wandering about wineries in Sonoma County. I liked one place called Mazzocco Sonoma that had amazing Zinfandels. Also liked a winery called the Matrix; Veeka liked the Francis Ford Coppola winery with a museum and a pool. Then I realized we had about 150 miles to drive before our next stop, so I headed into several hours of numbing rush-hour traffic circling about

The moppet at the beach at Carmel

The moppet at the beach at Carmel

San Francisco on I-680 before ending up at place in Seaside, just north of Monterey. These were friends from our Tennessee days; the wife had been a student of mine and the husband was studying at the Defense Language Institute. We spent the next two days catching up plus a wonderful day wandering about Carmel and its art galleries. And of course Veeka loved lounging about the beach and wading into the ocean.

On our way back to San Francisco, I had lunch with my cousin Casey (and her daughter Liz and 2 grandchildren), whose spacious Los Altos home I’d not seen since my college days. We went to a place called Bumble, a restaurant that is designed for people with small kids. Would have loved something like that when Veeka was young. Casey’s mother Ollie is one of the people Veeka/Ollie is named after. Eventually we ended up at the Marriott Marquis in San Francisco, where our first order of the day was having a pho dinner with a fellow University of Memphis grad who was in town to receive an award at the same conference. My conference was the annual meeting of the Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Communications (AEJMC); a conference I’ve attended three summers in a row but may not attend again because of the expense. The hotel alone cost me (or UAF) more than $900. I had to stick around until the very end of the conference for both of my events, or I would have taken off long before Sunday morning.

Walking down the Filbert Street stairs from Coit Tower

Walking down the Filbert Street stairs from Coit Tower

But on Thursday, I had little planned until later in the day, so I took Veeka on a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf, which felt crowded and dirty. The wait to get on the car was two hours. Once on, it took awhile to get anywhere but eventually we got to Ghirardelli Square and Lombard Street. I spent part of the next day meeting various academics, attending workshops here and there and jobhunting when possible. Veeka and I took a cable car to Grace Cathedral where we walked the labyrinth, then visited the Contemporary Jewish Museum next to the Marriott. They had a retrospective on the late Amy Winehouse, a British singer whom I’d never heard of but who died Janis Joplin-like at the age of 27. I better liked “Night Begins the Day: Rethinking Space, Time and Beauty,” an exhibit that merged Jewish thought with interstellar light. Definitely worth the entrance fee.

By Saturday, I was finally getting the hang of the city’s transit system, so we took the underground to the Botanical Garden at Golden Gate Park and took a bus to Coit Tower, then walked down the Filbert steps through lovely gardens to the waterfront and a ride home on the N trolley. Buying a three-day bus/cable car and train pass had been a good idea. I moderated a session that day on media portrayals of Muslims and Mormons, which was lightly attended as well as a media law session that was packed. No one during that four-day conference seemed to notice I was from UAF or had any questions about what the universities in Alaska offer in terms of media education. Sadly, the one paper I submitted that related to this topic – and which I had planned to present at this conference – was turned down because it was too conversational! Must work on that, I guess.

Sunday morning, I was a panelist at a session on why journalism students should learn how to cover religion – along with courts, sports and politics. A handful of people attended, thanks to the awful scheduling spot we were given. Then we were off, heading back to Golden Gate Park to see the

The Japanese Tea Garden

The Japanese Tea Garden

Japanese Tea Garden that had been closed the night before when we’d tried to see it. Huge crowds were there, so we didn’t linger. Veeka was thrilled to see the Golden Gate bridge, which she’d heard about. We stopped by Mt. Tamalpais, which I’d wanted to hike up for years. We drove close to the top, then clambered up the last quarter mile in really wilting heat. We spent the night in a village called Occidental in Sonoma County that was filled with cheese farms and many cool places to eat. By the following morning, it was clear things were a bit more serious with my father than I’d thought, so we drove as quickly as possible up the coast, which was much more inhabited then when I saw it 35 years ago just after college. Mendocino was pretty but Ft. Bragg was dreadful. We stopped at the Avenue of the Giants late in the afternoon, as I wanted Ollie to see the majestic redwood trees as God only knows when we will be back there. I had last been there as a high school student in 1972! By then we had learned my father’s operation had gone well. We stayed in Eureka that night, then reached Portland the following night and then Seattle the next day. With bursitis in one arm, I could only drive so far in one day.

Atop Mt. Tamalpais overlooking the San Francisco Bay

Atop Mt. Tamalpais overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Notice the fog over part of SF. 

And so we are here, looking for a place to live. The prices are worse than Fairbanks and I thought Fairbanks was pretty high! Two-bedroom apartments with 800 to 100 square feet that aren’t absolute dumps run at least $1,500 a month and usually more than $1,700. Thanks to Yelp, nearly every complex has online reviews and most apartment complexes get pretty bad ratings from residents, so I’ve avoided some of the cheaper ones for that reason. Utilities are extra and often they charge you for a parking place. The place where we may land doesn’t have a pool or a rec hall, hence the rate is a bit lower but still, that will be the highest rent I will have paid in my life. There are cheaper habitations well to the south or north of town but those are further from my parents than I’d like to be plus the school districts aren’t as equipped to help kids with special needs.

Hugging a redwood

Hugging a redwood

I’ve already taken Ollie/Veeka on one berry-picking trip to a nearby blackberry patch to show her what I did as a kid for many summers in a row. She was less than thrilled. We both miss Alaska more than I would have thought. It is now fall there and a year ago this week she was beginning school at University Park Elementary. Now I am trying to figure out how to pack the contents of a four-bedroom home (that we had in Tennessee) into a 1,000-square-foot apartment. Tomorrow I’ll see a friend who has a home on Lake Samammish and we’ll laze away some time there but then it’s nose-to-the-grindstone time in terms of finding work. A bunch of things have fallen through job-wise; things I had thought would carry us through the fall, so the next few months will be interesting ones indeed.