The Big Event of the past two weeks has been Veeka’s 10th birthday. It’s amazing to realize that 10
years ago on April 16, 2005, I was wandering about the island of Capri taking a rest from pope coverage. Three days later, Joseph Ratzinger would be elected Pope Benedict XVI and I’d be there in St. Peter’s Square watching it all. Meanwhile in Rudny, Kazakhstan, a little girl was born two months premature in a drab concrete bunker hospital. And 22 months later, she and I would meet.
The 16th was pretty quiet other than the obligatory cupcakes I supplied to her class. Then on the 18th, about 11 kids gathered at a local movie theater to watch the new “Cinderella” film and then march off to a birthday room where Veeka blew out 10 candles on a birthday cake with white coconut icing. She wore her blue Cinderella dress and crown she’d gotten at Disney World, so everything worked, thematically. Members of my family sent her gifts and in so doing, they got a whiff of what I’ve put up with all year in terms of slow mail delivery. Packages sent Fed Ex took DAYS to get here, partly because I have a PO Box number, as does everyone on campus. Meanwhile, the days here just keep on getting longer and longer as we gain 7 minutes of light per day. I snuck out this morning at 2 a.m. and darned if the western horizon wasn’t still light. And there’s two more months to go until summer solstice.
The rest of my stay in DC was lovely, by the way. Had brunch with Rob and Jan, then visiting with some of Veeka’s friends (and mine) plus a lovely evening prayer service outdoors in the cool spring evening air. Veeka and I always used to go to these things every Sunday evening and we loved seeing all the families and kids and Veeka would be running off and playing with them. I went back – it was Divine Mercy Sunday so there was a huge gathering of people I’ve known for the past 7 years; friends who’ve had new babies and old friends who like me are a bit older and heavier! It was so wonderful being in a place where the temps were over 50º! All the flowering trees were out. We don’t get those in Alaska.
The next few weeks are pretty crazy as I work on the second draft of a large article I’m doing for the Washington Post plus wrap up several classes. Finals week is the first week of May – and the time when my WaPo draft is due – so lots to do. The weather in Fairbanks lingers in the ‘40s but it’s sunny outside so who minds that?
As I write this, I’m in Anchorage for an Alaska Press Club gathering where I have to deliver a speech as the Snedden Fellow is expected to do. They’ve brought in speakers from around the country, so it’s a nice opportunity to hear journalists talk about our craft. My field is so endangered these days. The University of Alaska system is contracting quite fiercely and the journalism department where I’m resident has been put on notice to increase enrollment within the year – or else. UAF announced this week they’re cutting whole departments – including philosophy – because of the loss of oil revenues. Was talking with someone tonight about whether Alaska and other oil states have planned for a future where oil stays $40/barrel or under. “The oil industry counted on selling 150 million barrels/day; the top this year has been 90 million,” he said. All Greek to me but clearly Alaskans are used to a fantasy existence of not paying sales or income tax. So now they’re talking about laying off tenured teachers from my school district because of no money from the state and partly because of shrinking enrollments. Fairbanks is losing population, sadly. Including us. We have less than three months to go here.