Category Archives: Family

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 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.

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

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.

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.

October typhoon?

Veeka (left) and her cabinmates at a Girl Scout camp she attended this summer in Carnation, Wash.

Veeka (left) and her cabin mates at a Girl Scout camp she attended this summer in Carnation, Wash.

We were supposed to be gone on a Girl Scout camping weekend today, but there’s been dire warnings about some huge typhoon hitting the Seattle area this weekend, so all sorts of things have been cancelled around the region, including our camp. Which is OK, in that it’s been raining all day and there’s nothing more miserable than tromping around a campground in the rain. So our major outing today was to Home Depot and Value Village. That said, there hasn’t been that much wind here at all so far.
Things have quieted down a bit with Veeka back in school. Last weekend, I was at a conference of regional journalism professors in Tacoma. I’m pleased to say I’m about to sign a contract for my 6th book and am spending most of this month working full time finishing up the manuscript. (More on this later when the contract is signed.) I’ve been doing some emergency substituting in local elementary schools and it’s not been bad at all, although I am exhausted when I get home.
My father’s 92nd birthday was Sept. 26, so I brought a white rose by my mother’s place. A year ago, we had a quiet dinner together. He’s been gone more than 3 months now and it will be so odd having the holidays in another month without him.
Since the place I live in is so tiny, I’ve been going through lots of boxes and tossing things that have been around more than 45 years. These include my scrapbooks as a young girl. When I was 7, the first big news event of 1963 wasn’t the death of President Kennedy but, as noted in my scrapbook, the death of Pope John Paul XXIII on June 3, several months before. I still remember the former. I was walking home from school one fall day (everyone always walked at least a mile to school in those days) and some kid rode by on his bike to say the president was dead. I didn’t believe it until I got home and saw it on the TV.

A rose for my father's 92nd birthday

A rose for my father’s 92nd birthday

My scrapbook from that year is filled with photos of brides and many drawings of birds. I loved going into the woods and drawing what was available in coastal Connecticut: towhees, blue jays, hummingbirds, goldfinches, scarlet tanagers, orioles, blue birds, pine warblers and red-winged blackbirds. Sadly, there are a lot fewer of these songbirds in the world today.
In the next scrapbook, from 1964, I found a small notebook of photos of students from my first-grade class. Amazingly, I could remember all of their first names and some of their last names. More than 50 years later, I remember names like Fay Steinhilber, Elizabeth Percy, Pam Van Ness, Melanie Carpenter, Roberta Samuels, Candy Simone, Robert Wallace, Debra Acara and Colleen Dougherty. Isn’t it odd how they stay with you? I still remember my teachers from Great Neck Elementary in Waterford: Mrs. Lyons (first grade); Mrs. Orsey (2nd), Mrs. Edgecomb (third) and then in Severna Park: Mrs. Fudjack (5th), Mr. Smith (6th) and Mrs. Taylor (7th). The name of my 4th grade teacher escapes me…
I saved tons of Valentines and birthday cards and it amazes me how all my aunts sent me cards and my maternal grandmother, Olive, would write me letters. And I was only 8! Everyone sent so many letters and cards back then. I even got a birthday card from Poodie, my grandfather’s dog. There are also letters from my first penpal (a girl in Sidney, Montana called Colleen Jensen). Those were the years when we first started using zip codes.

Veeka at a park in Bothell

Veeka at a park in Bothell

Every so often, I like to pinpoint some fascinating books I’ve run across and that I had time to read this summer: One is Putin Country: A Journey into the Real Russia,” a fascinating look into one of the world’s most polluted cities because of all the nuclear waste in the area’s rivers and air. The major city in the area is Chelyabinsk, a city not far from Kostanai, the Kazakh city where I spent 6 weeks adopting Veeka. Folks I met in Kostanai told me that Chelyabinsk was the largest city within a day’s drive and they would visit it ever so often. You may have heard of the city when a meteor fell near it in 2013. The reporter, who had been in and out of Chelyabinsk for 40 years, gives an amazing profile of a Russian region where media rarely visit. It used to be a “closed” area because of all the plutonium plants in the area. She writes a devastating portrayal of how Russians live and believe outside of the famous cities to the west. In Chelyabinsk, anyone in power is corrupt, all the officials are on the take and if you don’t toe the line, local Putin appointees will see you go bankrupt. Depressing, but a great read, as it shows how hopeless the residents feel over a situation that will not get better.

My mom got honored at St. Mark's Cathedral in September for overseeing a massive needlework project to cover all the cushions in the cathedral chapel.

My mom got honored at St. Mark’s Cathedral in September for overseeing a massive needlework project to cover all the cushions in the cathedral chapel.

Another was The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery. I’m fascinated but repulsed by these creatures; it’s hard for me to even look at them. They’ve got the worst of all worlds: a loathsome-looking head attached to tentacles. But this author talks about how she got to know successive octopuses at the New England Aquarium in Boston and how these creatures get to know humans by touch. They can feel your emotions through your skin, so if an octopus wraps one arm/leg around you, it’s sensing the chemicals in your body, plus it can tell whether you are male or female. The writer talks about them having memory and dreams, how they can be lonely and desire human company and how she learned how to pet them and communicate love to them and how the octopus responded back. If you see Hank the Octopus in the new Finding Dory movie, you realize how they can change color in quite amazing ways to blend in with their surroundings.

This place is Rattlesnake Ledge and that's Veeka sitting by the remains of our picnic dinner after we hiked up. There are sheer drops off the ledge so naturally I didn't let her go close to the edge.

This place is Rattlesnake Ledge and that’s Veeka sitting by the remains of our picnic dinner after we hiked up. There are sheer drops off the ledge so naturally I didn’t let her go close to the edge.

I have also been reading “The Rope,” a recent book by Kanan Makiya, written from the viewpoint of a young Shi’ite revolutionary from 2003 to the death of Saddam Hussein in 2006. He lays the blame for the ruin of present-day Iraq not at the feet of the Americans – who despite their faults gave Iraq its best shot ever at establishing a democracy – but at the feet of the majority Shi’ites who could not see beyond their partisan politics to want to build a united Iraq. He points out the lying and betrayal is the local currency in Iraq and that absolutely no one is to be trusted, not even your own kin, as the hero discovers at the end of the book. Thus, a Jean-Jacques Rousseau-style social contract was rejected and replaced by a social where there is no trust in anything; where you never know if the person next to you is a suicide bomber intent on blowing you up. And you can’t have a functioning society without some trust.

The book is an easy read and I found the author’s unveiling of the nature of the Arab tribal mindset fascinating. So much of this inborn resistance goes back to Ishmael and the enmity between him and Isaac that never got resolved. I visited Iraq, albeit the Kurdish part of it, in 2004, so have been fascinated by it ever since. That said, it’s a most desolate piece of real estate I’ve ever seen. BTW, the speech Saddam gives at the end of the book is amazing.

Veeka and a friend at the Washington state fair in Puyallup.

Veeka and a friend at the Washington state fair in Puyallup.

I’ve also been reading “American Wife,” by Curtis Sittenfeld, a fictionalized account of the life of Laura Bush. The author tries to get inside the head (and thoughts) of a First Lady and does a good job at guessing what it must be like to be a public figure. What I found fascinating was the character’s interior monologues about fame and power and whether being the wife of the President makes her complicit in his good – and bad – decisions. Is she responsible, she wonders, for the deaths of many Americans and even more Iraqis in the war in Iraq? When people beg her to try to change her husband’s mind on certain topics, she reasons that hers is not a Hillary-and-Bill-Clinton marriage where one got two for the price of one. So, she doesn’t try to influence her husband. Various reviewers found fault with the book but I liked it enough to continue to the end.

During my Canada trip, I also read Sittenfeld’s latest, which is “Eligible,” It’s a take-off on Jane Austen and what “Pride and Prejudice” would look like if moved to the 21st century. It’s pretty funny and very easy reading. This book was about five unmarried daughters and how four of them ended up with spouses within a year. The end wrapped up a bit too quickly to be real but there were so really profound parts as well and it’s definitely the thing to take along for easy reading.

Farewell to the admiral

Veeka and I in front of St. Mark's Cathedral

Veeka and I squinting in the sun in front of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle.

I think one of the loveliest moments during my dad’s funeral last Sunday was listening to the organ play “Nimrod” from Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations. If you have never listened to it, do so by clicking on the link. It’s lovely and poignant.
We were fortunate in that although the day started out with rain, the sun was coming out as we approached the church. And during the reception, it was warm enough to leave the doors open.
The family had a brief Communion service just before the funeral, then all of us processed into the nave at St. Mark’s Cathedral. Coast Guard Admiral Mark Butt, who had just moved to Seattle three weeks before, showed up at my mother’s side to walk her down the aisle. I was so grateful for that. My mom had been married 65 years and she’s used to having my dad walk with her. I processed with Veeka, who was delighted with her sleeveless black dress and new high heels.
IMG_2111The funeral program came with two photos: One of my dad in full dress uniform and one of him relaxing during a vacation in Israel. He was sitting in a hotel garden in Jerusalem when a stray kitty wandered by and jumped into his lap and took a snooze. My dad loves cats and that photo was so him.
My brothers and I read from Scriptures that my father had selected years ago that he would like read when the time came. We sang his favorite hymns, including “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” and of course “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” Then after prayers and a short sermon given by the dean of the cathedral, a bugler played “Taps,” during which two US Coast Guard men in uniform unfurled a flag and held it up for all to see. Then Admiral Butt presented it to my mother.

Admiral Butt presenting the flag to my mom and thanking her for my dad's many years of military service.

Admiral Butt presenting the flag to my mom and thanking her for my dad’s many years of military service.

Adding to the drama was a congregant seated in the front row across the aisle from us who fainted at that point. As people rushed to his side, they could not find a pulse for a brief moment, but fortunately he eventually revived, right in time for the 911 medics who came dashing in. Never a dull moment.
Afterwards, the reception table was laden with a huge spread, including the wine and cheese that my dad insisted we have, because going to heaven is a celebration, right?
I am so grateful to some of my friends who showed up; a couple from Church of the Redeemer who lives just east of me and some friends who made the three-hour drive from Portland, which is true commitment! Three of my dad’s nieces flew in: One from California and two from Minnesota. There’s not much you can say during these times, but presence means everything. And for the 137+ who sent me messages on Facebook along with a few who sent personal notes, thank you as well. I’ve learned that when death happens, it’s important to say *something” even if it’s only a few words and nothing profound. Believe me, those grieving notice every kindness.
And so we adjust to the new normal, as my mother is now living alone, although her friends at the retirement home promise me they will keep her busy. And I live only 14 miles away; Steve is three hours away and Rob is moving back to the area in the fall. With us, there is little other news. A journalism/PR position came open at the last minute at university just south of me, but I lost out to someone with a PhD. In that I’d just gotten another MA to ward off such a possibility, it wasn’t enough.

In memory of my father

“Why is there death, Mommy?”

The memorial to my dad set up at the retirement place where my parents live

The memorial to my dad set up at the retirement place in Redmond where my parents live.

That’s the sort of questions Veeka has been asking me ever since my father – and her grandfather – died a week ago on June 24 at the age of 91. Mercifully, she’d been at camp all day but when I picked her up late that afternoon, she knew something was wrong right away. Much earlier that day, the nurses in the unit where my dad was staying woke my mom up to say he seemed much worse. She went downstairs to the unit and held vigil for a few hours, then returned to her apartment for a quick nap. Then my brother Steve arrived from Portland. He’d left at the crack of dawn to get there and he found a kind employee called Ron Cole who, not wanting my dad to be alone while my mother slept, had been sitting by my father’s side. Steve wrote about this encounter in the Oregonian this week.
Then my mother returned to the room. Also arriving was Jim Eichner, an Episcopal priest I knew from a nearby parish and someone who dropped by my parents’ retirement center to offer Communion every fourth Friday. Several days before, I’d asked him to drop by my dad’s bedside before going to the monthly service. So he showed up just after 10 a.m. at about the same time my brother and mom walked in. At this point, my dad was breathing quite laboriously and Jim quickly surmised that he didn’t need Communion; he needed Last Rites. He quickly prayed this over my dad, ending with the Lord’s Prayer. I think he left the bedside at this point and texted me, saying I’d better drive over as quickly as possible.
I’d just gotten out of the shower, so I texted Steve to ask how Dad was doing and to say I was on my way. He and my mom both noticed that after the Lord’s Prayer, my dad had visibly relaxed, as if the prayers had released him in some way. Or maybe he knew he could let go. His breathing slowed and then stopped. They called in a nurse, who listened for a heartbeat. There was none. It was just before 10:30 a.m. Steve called me to say not to hurry too much, as my father was already gone.

Veeka poses with her two counselors at the camp she was at last week. It was a few minutes after I took this picture that she noticed something wasn't quite right with me. It was then that I told her that Opa had died.

Veeka poses with her two counselors at the camp she was at last week. It was a few minutes after I took this photo that she noticed something wasn’t quite right with me. It was then that I told her that Opa had died.

I got there about a half hour later and the three of us held vigil by his body until the funeral home got there two hours later. We were dazed, not believing that he had left us so quickly. It had been such a grace that the priest had arrived at just the right time to say the prayers that helped my dad depart and that Steve had left Portland 180 miles away at just the right time he needed to reach my father’s side so my mother would not be alone.
I insisted about an hour later that we call my parents’ church so they could be looking for a date for his funeral. It will be July 10; a military funeral at the Episcopal cathedral where my parents attended for so many years. Two days after his death, the Compline choir at St. Mark’s kindly included my dad’s name in their prayers for the newly deceased. You can listen to it here at about moment 21. And many folks have been reading the column that Steve wrote last summer about my father’s last trip to his birthplace in New Ulm, Minn., and his farewell to his older sister. She died last December and now he’s followed her just over six months later.
Just a week before on a Friday, my father had been sitting in his apartment, there to see his beloved kitties. We didn’t realize it would be his last visit there. The following Sunday, Veeka and I went raspberry picking and showed up in his room with a flat of fresh berries. He ate one but at that point, he was hardly getting down any food. That was the last day I saw him alive. And so we’ve planned a service that has the hymns he wanted and a reception (wine and cheese!) he would appreciate.
At the same time, we go shopping today for the appropriate black shoes and clothing for a funeral. As I’ve thought and mourned, this Benedictus by Karl Jenkins has expressed the emptiness I feel. And so does the arrangement of “In the Mansions of the Lord” from the movie “We Were Soldiers.” I selected the version played at President Reagan’s funeral, which I thought was heart-breakingly beautiful, expecially the instrumental part when the crucifer team heads down from the main altar. When people die, you know they are happier and pain-free now. We mourn for ourselves, the dreadful loneliness that we feel when someone we’ve known since birth is gone. The older you get, the harder it is to form new relationships and the more you lean into the ones you’ve had when you were young. For instance, we’ve been back in the Seattle area almost a year now and I’ve made no friends. Oh, there are people who’ve helped us in various ways, but there’s been no new friends. Most of mine are in Portland or back in Washington DC.

St. Mark's Cathedral on Capitol Hill overlooking Seattle.

St. Mark’s Cathedral on Capitol Hill overlooking Seattle.

And so family is all we have here. And it’s been so wonderful to be part of peoples’ birthdays and holidays and to no longer have to wait for strangers to invite us in.
Fortunately, three of my high school friends are in the area. All of us are turning 60 this year. If I live as long as my dad did, my life is only two-thirds done. The way ahead sure feels lonelier. At least I live close to my mother; Steve is still a three-or-four-hour drive away and my other brother Rob is moving back to Washington state in the fall, although he’ll be several counties away. I am so grateful that this year is not last June, when I was still in Fairbanks. I would have gone crazy knowing my dad was dying and not being able to be there and do things like get the paperwork filled out for the crematorium and just be there. I am glad we are back home at a place where I can see the mountains when I am driving down the freeway.
I keep on telling Veeka that our true home is elsewhere and that if at times we feel homesick, it’s a natural feeling that shows us we’re meant for heaven. C.S. Lewis wrote about this inconsolable longing in Mere Christianity:

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others do the same.”

May showers and birthdays

My yummy chocolate cake

My yummy chocolate cake

We’re finally into May and since I last wrote, there’s been several birthdays. This past Thursday, I had a birthday, a rather significant one, but one that made me feel quite old! When I turned 50, I was months away from adopting Veeka, still employed at the newspaper and at the top of my game. I traveled to Jamaica and India that year and skiied at Breckenridge for a week. Those days are over and things are tougher now. But it is wonderful to be close to family, as this birthday was the first one in 34 years that I’ve had at home in Seattle. I think there were 13 of us assorted brothers, sisters, grandchildren and grandparents, so we simply dined in one of the rooms at the retirement place where my parents live and my mother bought me a cake from QFC because they’re so moist.
Unfortunately, the rules at the center forbid lighting candles inside, so I had none to blow out, which is just as well. Of course it was rainy outside. For awhile, it had been sunny and quite lovely here (finally) after a record-setting rainy winter. One of my snow tires wore out, so I ended up gifting the rest to the local Firestone. In early May, there was a Northwest Paddling Festival at Lake Sammamish

Veeka trying out a toddler boat in the kiddie pool at the paddling festival. To her chagrin, she could not keep it.

Veeka trying out a toddler boat in the kiddie pool at the paddling festival. To her chagrin, she could not keep it.

state park, not far from where we live. So when Veeka arrived home from school, I told her to forget the homework, put on a bathing suite and off we went. We got to kayak twice and wander about these wonderful boating and camping booths. Would love to start camping but I have nowhere to store equipment. I did get to paddleboard on the lake and it was magnificent. On the first try, I felt into the lake, but on the second, I was happily zooming about on the board. Would love to do more of that.
My WaPo piece on the Dalton Highway got lots of hits (I am told) and was picked up by the Denver Post and Alaska Dispatch (in Anchorage), among other places. About two weeks later, another piece of mine came out on the Religion News Service about the #westcoastrumble, which I’ve talked about previously. I talked with two experts on a movement that this revival is related to known as the New Apostolic Reformation. Some of its leaders claim they know nothing of it nor are a part of it, but it’s a loose network of evangelists, revivalists and “apostles” who visit each other’s churches and share teachings and personnel. For instance, the Seattle Revival Center, which was at the center of my piece, is in frequent contact with folks from Bethel Church in Redding, Calif., which is at the epicenter of this movement. Christianity Today’s April 24 cover story talks a lot about Bethel. There are some professors at Biola University outside of Los Angeles that are following this movement. This is what one of them said (and which got cut from the RNS piece because of length):

Brad Christerson, a sociology professor at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., and a fellow with the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture, is coming out with a book on the new Pentecostal networks that Goll, Nelson, Martin and Shamp belong to. He noted that very few of these revivalists are answerable to a denomination.
“What’s unique about this group is their network structure, which is much more suited to growth in the global religious marketplace,” he said. “It is flexible and you can do experimental things you can’t do with a church that has a board and a doctrinal statement. They are independent agents but they are networked together and share each others’ resources and followings.”
Many of the 30-something revivalists are networked with Bethel Church in Redding, Calif., pastored by Bill Johnson, a key leader in this movement. Bethel left the Assemblies of God in 2006.
“Bill Johnson told me he travels 250 days a year,” Christerson added. “These guys are going all over the world. These guys have god-like status among their followers. I don’t have the sense there’s abuse going on but the amount of influence they have is frightening.” 

Veeka blowing out candles at her birthday brunch.

Veeka blowing out candles at her birthday brunch.

The folks at Seattle Revival Center (which parted ways with the Assemblies of God in 2015) were pretty happy with my piece and the meetings are continuing there in their 12th week. The last time Veeka and I went, there were 65 folks there; not huge numbers. As I’ve watched the services online, I have noticed how the church is not at all full, which one could interpret several ways. I have heard of some good and maybe miraculous things happening there, but spectacular healings are not one of those things. As the pastor says, “We’ll show up as long as God shows up,” so it’s a matter of figuring out how much God is truly showing up. It must be costing a mint to fly in these evangelists plus hire local worship bands, so if the crowds are thinning out, folks must be wondering where this is going.
Other events: Veeka turned 11 in April, so some of the family kindly showed up at a brunch I held for her. Then we spent the afternoon seeing the Pacific Northwest Ballet perform “Coppelia,” which was a gift from Oma and Opa. The month since then has been lots of ups and downs. For a time, I thought I was going to get a well-paying contract to help someone write a book. I did some preliminary work on it, only to have this person get cold feet and walk off the project. But Veeka finished a year with Awana in May and has a T-shirt and lots of Bible verses to show for it.

Sol Duc Hot Springs

Sol Duc Hot Springs

I’ve gotten two assignments from local magazines and three more travel assignments from the Washington Post, so my freelancing has picked up. Then a week ago, my mother had a birthday, so we showed up on a rainy Sunday evening with a lemon cake and dinner, as my dad was feeling poorly and my mother didn’t feel like cooking. Oh, and a coupon for a massage, as I’ve been trying to talk my mom into patronizing a very nice salon in downtown Redmond. This was a few hours after Veeka and I arrived home from a weekend Girl Scout camp on Vashon Island. The locale was nice but the weather stunk. Another bright light was the few days we spent over spring break with friends in Port Ludlow, across Puget Sound from Seattle. It was a nice break just to get away and they drove us to places like Neah Bay and Sol Duc Hot Springs in the Olympic National Park. We also drove down the Dungeness Spit in Port Angeles and spent a (rainy, of course) today puttering about Port Townsend.

Oma celebrating her birthday. We had to light her candles on the balcony, as the place where she lives doesn't allow lit candles indoors.

Oma celebrating her birthday. We had to light her candles on the balcony, as the place where she lives doesn’t allow lit candles indoors.

Jobhunting continues apace but for the most part, things are quite discouraging. I went to a local job fair last week and realized I could be an emergency substitute and that the hours might work for me along with my freelance projects. So, we will see. I’m also putting together a creative writing class for fifth graders that I’d like to shop around the district. It’s based on a similar class for talented writers that I had in fifth grade and which really got me started on a writing career. So I’ve been volunteering at a nearby elementary school, working with nine fifth-graders each week to see what lessons work and which ones do not, as fifth graders have changed a lot since I was 10 years old. The teacher tells me they really enjoy it and he is glad to recommend me to other teachers. In a few weeks, I’ll have an author day at the school where I’ll be doing a reading and hawking my children’s book, so am hoping for good things. I am grateful this particular elementary school is letting me try out my ideas with their students this spring.

The funeral before Christmas

The light show at Bellevue Botanical Gardens

The light show at Bellevue Botanical Gardens

This is the first Christmas in 32 years where I don’t have to climb aboard a plane to go back home. Instead, we drove 14 miles on E. Lake Sammamish Blvd. past gorgeous homes with flashy light displays against a dark lake. It’d done nothing but rain here recently, but it’s dumped 15 feet of snow in the mountain passes to our east which means GREAT SKIING as soon as I get my snow tires on next week. We spent yesterday with my parents going to Christmas Eve services at St. Mark’s Cathedral downtown and generally lazing about today.
It was nice being restful considering what the rest of my week was like. On Dec. 14, we got word that a beloved aunt, Alice Hinnenthal, had died at the age of 100. She caused an uproar when she showed up at my father’s 90th birthday party last year. Then my parents and brother Steve went to visit her in Minneapolis this July, a meeting that Steve chronicled so tenderly in a newspaper column as they all sensed it’d be the last time they would see each other.
Alice had some 39 descendants which, together with spouses, totaled about 51

To the left, Alice with four of her 5 children. To the right, a news clipping about my father. Below, from left to right: My father, Alice, Alma and Ed and Jerry (brothers). This was taken sometime in the late 40s.

To the left, Alice with four of her 5 children. To the right, a news clipping about my father. Below, from left to right: My father, Alice, Alma and Ed and Jerry (brothers) sometime in the late 40s.

people who were flying or driving in for her funeral on the 21st. Starting when I moved to Virginia 20 years ago, I had been seeing more and more of my father’s side of the family, all of whom descended from Siegfried Duin, who immigrated to Minnesota from northern Germany in 1903. He was the 11th child and only 17 when he came over, as he was due to be conscripted by the Prussians for the draft when he turned 18 and his family didn’t want that to happen. He already had two brothers over here and a sister named Gretchen who’d become pregnant outside of marriage and so was being shipped to the New World to not bring disgrace on the family. Siegfried married a young woman named Alma Engelbert and they settled in a small town called New Ulm, had four kids, the 2nd of whom was Alice and the 4th being my father. Unfortunately, my grandfather died at the age of 38 during a botched gall bladder operation, leaving behind a wife with four kids, the youngest being my dad, age 2.
The three sons grew up and all had military careers and moved away from Minnesota. Alice stayed, married the pastor’s son and moved to nearby St. Peter and had five children. When we would drive from Maryland during my childhood to visit them, I remember the hot summer evenings we’d spend playing with their kids and generally hanging out. For years, we all attended each others’ weddings and sadly one funeral – my cousin Anne who died at age 39 of breast cancer – until now. None of the Duins outside the Hinnenthal clan (Alice had 5 children, 13 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren) were coming to the funeral that I knew of, so after lots of thought (Veeka was off school and I wasn’t working), I decided to go. Who knew when I’d see a lot of these folks again and besides, Alice deserved it! I managed to amass enough frequent flyer miles to get us to Minnesota and back plus pay for a rental car and hotel.

Veeka (who fortunately had a black dress) and I at the grave site.

Veeka (who fortunately had a black dress) and I at the grave site.

So we flew there on the 20th, getting up before the crack of dawn and arriving at SeaTac (the local airport) to find huge crowds there at 4 a.m.! We got to Minneapolis by mid-day (thank God for clear weather nationwide), got to Alice’s viewing, had tons of conversations with people, then left for some down time at the Mall of America and the hotel pool. The next day, we attended the actual funeral at St. James Lutheran, where we marched in the procession (we were, after all, part of the extended family) and met folks who were descendants of another of the Duin sons (George) who’d emigrated along with Siegfried. From them and other folks, I pieced together more of my grandfather’s story. I had thought our family was basically peasant farmers but no, they were well-to-do landowners near Leer and Hasselt, small towns on the German/Dutch border. And my great-grandfather had traced the names of all 11 of his children in cement circles at the family farm. When Siegfried died, my grandmother had to do sewing and take in borders to make ends meet. Someone told me that the boarders got to eat butter with their bread, but not the kids, as Alma couldn’t afford butter for both. I can’t imagine not being able to afford butter.
Veeka and I had been through Minnesota 18 months ago when we were moving to Alaska and had connected with some of the clan back then, but many who were at the funeral were folks I’d not seen in since a 2008 reunion in Montana. We all then drove about 70 miles to New Ulm for the burial in a cemetery I had visited the summer before. It was so odd to have only been there the year before in the hot July sun and then to be so quickly back onsite on a cold December afternoon. Mercifully, it was not snowing, as I’m not sure that my rental Kia could have gotten through any white stuff without sliding everywhere. At the reception afterwards at St. Paul’s (these are all Wisconsin Synod churches), I had more conversations with many family members who, like old friends, I have known for many years. Finally, we pulled away.

Part of the Hinnenthal clan as they posed for a family photo.

Part of the Hinnenthal clan as they posed for a family photo.

Thankfully, our trip back the next day was problem-free, although we did have an eight-hour layover in Houston. But an old friend was in a nearby terminal at IAH, so he came by where we were camped out at one of the United Clubs. I only get 2 passes a year for those clubs and thankfully I had my two for this year, as it was a lifesaver for us to just relax there. And the BlackLivesMatter demonstrations that partly shut down the Minneapolis airport came a day after we departed on the 22nd.
The rest of our month has been quiet. I’ve taken Veeka to Christmas lights displays, a dinner party with old friends from Maryland, a gingerbread house decorating party at her school and a Lucia fest at a Lutheran church in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. There’s a lot of ethnic Swedish places in the area and this church had a service on Dec. 13 wherein a high school senior marches down the aisle in a white gown and a crown of blazing candles set atop her head. Other girls march down as well holding candles but the “Lucia queen” is actually balancing them. It was a rainy, nasty evening but the service was interesting and the treats afterward were quite the sugar high.

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 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.

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.