Category Archives: Friends

First week of Advent

My little Kazakh in native garb

It’s that time again when I put out the Advent wreath and teach Veeka the Christmas countdown. This year was kind of fun in that I bought a wreath that was pink and purple (Advent colors) and had 33 Cardinal & Cream (the student newspaper) students over for a big Advent party bash at my home on Monday. It was the first party I had at my new digs and it went rather well, if I say so myself. Ordering about $350 worth of food didn’t hurt either.

Veeka reading the Bible to her doll students

And things are winding down at school. Finals are next week and I’m already saying good-bye to students who are taking off for the holidays. I am struggling with the computer program for ordering books for next semester, as I was supposed to have my “book adoptions” done weeks ago. But I’ve had the worst time deciding which textbooks to order. None of the beginning journalism selections are what I want. I have to use bits and pieces from various books to cobble together a course. So many of the books are into ‘convergence’ which is basically how everything is going digital. Am not sure one needs several chapters of a textbook to say the obvious. What I need most are chapters on how to write, copy edit and know basic grammar.

Veeka and cousin Carley, who's expecting a little girl

Veeka is holding her own. One bright spot last week is we finally discovered some little people who live around the corner and who (joy!) attend her school. Finally some friends down the street. The lack of friends has been a real cross for her to bear. There’s one girl her age a few houses away whose parents never let her out of the house. When I knocked on their door one day, the whole family stared at me as though I was a space alien. Veeka had one friend at her previous school who lives close by but since Veeka’s left there, the girl never calls her. That child’s family knows how lonely Veeka is but…out of sight, out of mind. It’s hard to be sanguine about such treatment when you’re having to hold your daughter as she cries about no one liking her. And so, as you can see above, she ends up setting up a ‘classroom’ for her dolls. And one other bright spot that is my answer to Kate and William’s royal baby announcement: Veeka’s cousin Carley, pictured above, just found out that her new arrival next April will be a girl.

First candle lit

Two weeks….

Faiza and me in my Kurdish robes

Saying good-bye is hard to do. I recently resigned from the board of the Hyattsville Life & Times, which I’ve chaired for the past three years and wrote my farewell editorial. I took Veeka past our old home in Severna Park, so she could see where I lived from 1966-1971. The house has been thoroughly remodeled and doesn’t look much like the kind of tacky place it was so long ago. The present owner even came out and chatted with us. I had forgotten some of the back streets of Cape Arthur, Oakleigh Forest and Westridge. We stopped for pizza across the street from Dawson’s, which has turned into a liquor store. The shopping center was horribly run-down; probably all the new development has gone to malls but it’s a shame how bad it looked. Drove past my old junior high, which has been very much rebuilt and added onto.
Spent an evening with my Kurdish friends saying good-bye to them. We have known each other since 1997 when I befriended a new family from northern Iraq. Never dreamed it would lead to my taking a year of Kurdish and going to northern Iraq in 2004. They gave me a lovely Kurdish outfit, which I am wearing here while picture with Faiza, the matriarch of the clan. Unfortunately it makes me look VERY heavy – it’s all an optical illusion! The 18 pounds I lost is still pretty much off!

Veeka striking her modeling pose

Had another lunch with Veeka’s godparents who showered her with gifts. Am getting my car fixed for the 800-mile trip and was horrified to learn today I had a nail in one tire that was making it leak. And some ball bearings that would have caused my car to come to a dead halt – fortunately the Subaru corporation has a warranty on right rear bearings but still that means I have to drag my car to the dealership on Friday. Today I polished off the first draft of a WaPo piece (probably the last I’ll get to do for awhile) I’m working on plus a book PR gig I’ve been working on and off on since May. July 17 was the pub date but my goodness, *everyone* seems to be on vacation this week. I didn’t sign Veeka up for camp this or next week, so I need to amuse her so let’s just say things are very busy. What doesn’t help is that, either due to some electrical snafu from recent power outages or…something, my TV refuses to work. The set top box does, but not the TV. So Veeka can’t watch her movies. Which makes for some long days here.

The countdown begins

Veeka's 'come hither' pose on Billy Goat trail

Less than 3 weeks to go before the packers and movers and I am very, very busy. Was gone over the weekend to research one last WaPo magazine piece and I’m fighting to find the time to write it, as there’s so many other things I have to do. Like put in a textbook order for my classes!

Am trying to spend some quality time saying good-bye to old friends, some of whom I do not know if I will see again. The WaPo piece took me just east of Richmond to Charles City, Va., to a fascinating farm and to some fascinating folks to interview. I then took an extra day to go to Norfolk to see two more sets of friends I won’t be seeing again in a long while and then dropped by a third friend in Dumfries to bid farewell to her. The place we stayed in Norfolk was the home of Diane Husson and her husband, Emile; Diane being an artist that I did an article on years ago for The Washington Times and then became friends with. Then she married Emile, who has also become a good friend. I love to spend time in their home and gave at all the cool art that Diane has put all over the walls, such as the troika of female beachgoers. She does coastal art, for lack of a better word; beach and sea scenes, sculptures and lots more on her website which is here. I have bought some of her art as well since it’s priced quite reasonably and maybe someday I can afford even more of it.

Diane's tropical bar scene art piece

In the past month, I’ve been trying to cram in a few things that I want to do before leaving the eastern seaboard, one of which was hiking on the Maryland side of the Great Falls of the Potomac. A friend took Veeka and I along the Billy Goat trail and that was one hazardous little journey over some very nasty rocks. While I creaked along, Veeka clambered up 50-foot sheer drops. I still like to hike but I’m realizing that one false step these days can lead to a lot of grief and that I am a bit more fragile than I used to be. Also realized that hiking without decent hiking boots is really dumb. Being without health insurance (my COBRA ran out in December) has made me ultra-cautious.

Veeka makes her way down the rocks

Anyway, saying good-bye is becoming quite sad, especially when there are friends with pretty serious health issues they may/may not survive. I had several long talks with friends who are the same age or older than me about growing old and how terrifying it appears when it looks all downhill from here! Still think the smartest thing I ever did was adopt a child at age 50; if anything keeps one young, it’s raising a 7-year-old. At least I can kid myself for awhile longer that I’m living the life of a 20- or 30-something. Years ago, I used to scorn older people for not wanting to take risks. Now I’m entering that category and I hate myself for giving into fears I should not have but which crop up. We are so fragile, all of us. Even inanimate things; the moving company today just emailed me to ask me the dimensions of my harp, because they want to build a special carton for it. I will be camping out in a campus apartment for several weeks, so won’t have access to my things. And sometime in there must schlep to Memphis to get the harp out of storage, as it will warp if it sits in a warehouse too long.

Finally reached the bottom

I feel like I no sooner take care of one crisis than another erupts. The latest headache is Veeka’s future school. I had chosen one I really liked and when we flew to Jackson two weeks ago, she interviewed there and I thought all was well. Then I heard that her math scores were too low and I was told I had to get a tutor to get them up (in 3 weeks time – right) by the time we returned to Jackson and *if* she was improved, she could be admitted provisionally until everyone was sure she could hack it in their first grade. And if I could not make this happen, maybe Veeka should go back to kindergarten? I informed the admissions committee that Veeka had already been held back a year and she was entering first grade this year come hell or high water. And so…I am now looking for a new school, which is incredibly difficult from 800 miles away. Because I could go public school, this has thrown into disarray my decision as to which house to buy. Had I known this first school would act like this, I would have changed the plane reservations to be there an extra day so we could have interviewed at other schools but now we must wait until we get there in early August. And schools in that part of Tennessee for some bizarre reason start incredibly early. Public schools start Aug. 3! So the first thing we must do upon arriving is take Veeka to a pediatrician who can write up a Tennessee immunization form because her Maryland records aren’t good enough. Our appointment is the morning of Aug. 2. Aaeeii….

More Diane art: Notice the dog relaxing. Wish I could.


Easter celebration

Mother Carol (the rector) and Veeka

Recent Easters have been pretty crummy weather-wise but this one came through with cool, windy and sunny weather. Some of us were talking about how Easter frocks are never made for the real weather that comes this time of year. What one gets on the racks are summery dresses when the reality is quasi-wintry weather. Anyway, the day before, Veeka participated in an egg hunt at St. Andrews where she happily collected lots of plastic eggs with stickers and some candy. We returned there the next day for Sunday service, followed by a leisurely afternoon with old friends Karen and Tim Forsyth and their son David. It was this time 30 years ago that I was about to fly to France to spend 10 weeks running about Europe. I based myself in Paris, where Karen – who was almost but not quite engaged to Tim at the time – was working as an au pair. It was a fabulous spring running around Europe after 3 years of working my tail off as a police reporter at the Enterprise Courier in Oregon City. And so, 3 decades later, here we are. It is good to have old friends. We even dyed Easter eggs; something I have not done in who-knows-how-long.

Our little egg collector

The aforementioned Wall Street Journal piece got 37,000 (!) hits the weekend it ran and that was before it was picked up on Drudge that Monday morning. The young serpent-handling pastor I wrote about was overjoyed at the news – and then this week he was laid off of his minimally paying job at the local supermarket. Am hoping that someone in the IGA hierarchy didn’t go after him because of the article. As he has a wife and 4 kids 5 and under, I am very concerned about him because there aren’t tons of jobs in La Follette, Tennessee. Also on the writing front, I got another Post magazine article published this weekend. You can read it here. I only had two weeks to put it together but it was fun – has nothing to do with religion but it does concern a new local university that gives out BS and MS degrees in animal studies.

Karen, Tim, Veeka and moi

Currently presents and cards are arriving on our doorstep for that big Day of Days: Veeka’s 7th birthday. I just finished making 21 pink strawberry cupcakes starting at 10 pm for her little classmates to eat up. Invites to her birthday party have already gone out and I’ve bought some of the decorations. I sent out 13 invites, most of them to her classmates and although a few have told Veeka they are coming, none of the parents have contacted me (except one to say her kiddo can’t make it) which is pretty stunning; what do these folks think the word “RSVP” means?? So I have no idea how to plan, how many adults and/or teens to ask to come by to help, how much food to buy, punch to make, etc. etc. Since I needed to get some branches of one of my backyard trees cut down, I had the lovely idea of putting a tree house up there. Veeka is dying to have one ever since I told her that I read books in trees when I was little. And Oma did the same thing. And Veeka is just starting to read. But there are no climbable trees nearby. Then I got the estimate for how much it’d cost. Sigh. It’s about $1,200. Yes, I know the materials are $400+ and the labor is $600+, but still…Am taking contributions for Veeka’s Treehouse Fund if anyone feels so moved!

Rain, rain, go away

Had to attach this photo of Miss Veeka with her new umbrella which I bought in Nova Scotia. She adores it and loves walking in the rain underneath it. It is a perfect size for her. Just today we took a walk through the puddles as she tried licking water off the leaves of the bushes. Strange child.

Veeka with her new umbrella

Yet another death, unfortunately; this time the genial host of a classical music program for the Roanoke NPR affiliate. The obit is here.  I met Seth Williamson while researching the snake handlers piece about six weeks ago in West Virginia and we had just started a rousing email correspondence about the matter. Seth won his way to my heart real fast when he told me he had been following my work for years (and liked it!) which of course got my attention. I still have emails from him in my in-box but unfortunately, he died a week ago after what was thought to be a routine operation. He was only 62 which at this point in my life, doesn’t seem that old!

Good-bye, Carol Lee

Choppy, Veeka and Carol Lee

This is a quick post sent from Durham, NC, where I’ve been for a few days attending the Religion Newswriters Association annual meeting. I got to see quite a bit of Duke University, including my niece, Lauren, and just hobnob a lot with people in my profession. Miss Veeka stayed with a sitter and then with Jan and Uncle Rob for the weekend. Rob and I talked today and he is exhausted. Good training for being grandparents, I must remember to remind him.
I will say the job outlook for religion writers is bleaker than ever and there were quite a few of us hanging around with ‘freelance’ on our name badges who two years ago had stable jobs. Several people talked of upcoming layoffs at their newspapers and were unsure if they’d have jobs even a month from now. Others working in newspapers from Greensboro to Seattle, had their beats cut out right from out under them and found themselves assigned to topics they knew little of and cared less about. The way ahead is truly unclear; talked with one contact about getting a doctorate and the hoops he described having to jump through sounded quite numerous. Got several offers to freelance which for now will have to do.
Today there was a funeral for Carol Lee Cusachs, a dear friend who died Sept. 2 at the age of 66. We were very good friends in Houston and she was one of the people to whom I dedicated my “Days of Fire and Glory” book. I’m enclosing a photo of her and husband Choppy holding Veeka (who was looking pouty) when we visited Houston in early 2010. For a few years in the late 1980s, Carol Lee also served as a spiritual director and guide for me, as she did for a number of people throughout the years, so I was truly sorry that the breast cancer, which she struggled against for many years, finally did her in.