Category Archives: Holidays

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.

From Prince Rupert to Prince George

A waterfront view of Prince Rupert.

A waterfront view of Prince Rupert.

We were in Prince Rupert, a city on Canada’s far northwestern coast, that I’d always wanted to visit. Once there, it seemed like an overgrown fishing village. It helped that it was sunny outside, so we repaired to the visitor’s center by the waterfront first thing in the morning where there were lots of brochures and maps and an amazing exhibit on Prince Rupert’s virtues as a port city. Not only does it have a deep harbor, but it’s one of North America’s most secure ports and the only one with 100% dock radiation scanning. That is, it has four radiation portals scanning every container that moves through the port. Port security has become a big deal in an era where there’s great fears of terrorists sneaking in nuclear material to release “dirty bombs” in urban areas and one way to get them in is to ship it in via container, which is why there’s been a lot of news on how lax the security is at U.S. ports.
The art gallery next door had a zillion local and Native artworks that I would have loved to have snapped up but alas, all we bought was a Harry Potteresque wand for Veeka, who’s been wanting one now that we’re listening to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix while we drove around western Canada. Thank God for audio books. In its print version, it’s 800 pages; in audio form, it’s 23 disks and it took us the entire 11 days to listen to it all. We’d listen to it when the scenery got boring, which wasn’t often.

The cannery in Port Edward, whose history was far more interesting than I'd guessed.

The North Pacific Cannery in Port Edward, whose history was far more interesting than I’d guessed.

The day’s highlight was the North Pacific Cannery, the oldest intact salmon cannery on the West Coast. There used to be hundreds of commercial salmon canneries from California to Alaska. This place has a bunch of buildings on stilts in the shallow waters of the Inverness Passage where all the old canning equipment and nets are still set up. The tour – with a live guide – is well worth the $12 adult admission, as you wander up and down steps and across walkways and boardwalks where people used to work around the clock during the summer months. The place started up in 1889 and ran for 83 years, capturing salmon who were heading up the Skeena River.
Our tour started with a very dated 1950s-era film showing cannery workers. It was kind of like watching an I Love Lucy skit but it did give you an idea of what life was like in this self-contained village.  Never thought I’d be interested in how fishing nets were made in exact measurements so as to slip over a salmon’s head, but not its whole body, thereby trapping it. We even got to see the machines that made the lead weights for the nets. There was a swing in the net building where my daughter could swing back and forth as the rest of us walked. Veeka loved the old washing and wringing machine in the general store that was even before my time plus a little house for the company cat that was outside a manager’s door.
Later, we trekked about the Butze Rapids viewpoint on the way back. That was a three-mile hike on gravel trail and boardwalk through rain forest, muskeg, beach and meadow where we saw Sitka spruce, salmon berries, fake azalea, Pacific silver fir, shore pine, yellow cedar and western red cedar and my favorite, Labrador tea. We completed it in two hours with lots of stops on the beach, where Veeka clambered about the many piles of driftwood. Another good choice and by this time, the clouds had cleared so we could see the surrounding peaks.

Veeka on a rope swing over the driftwood.

Veeka on a rope swing over the driftwood.

On Saturday, we set out east on Highway 16 for the 90-mile drive to Terrace, which is the largest city in these parts. The gray-aqua green water, the goldenrod, the billowy clouds – clearly the local colors are grey, green, yellow plus magenta for the fireweed. It’s a 30-mile drive along the inlet, all told, and the peaks get higher and the cliffs more sheer. They say it’s one of the loveliest drives in Canada and I’d agree with that. Many fishermen were perched along the road, as the salmon were running.
Terrace was at the junction of three highways and a fairly good-sized town where we located a funky coffee shop for lunch. The local tourist bureau had recommended it. Must say that in Canada, there’s these omnipresent signs with huge question marks on them which means there’s a nearby tourism office with loads of brochures and maps. There’s nothing quite like it in the United States but those were my lifeline during this trip and while driving the AlCan two years ago. They are everywhere and the government must pour money into them. Canada tourism’s web presence isn’t the best, so many times you have to literally be in the neighborhood to learn which sights to see.

Fortunately we didn't run into any of the 4-legged creatures on this path.

Fortunately we didn’t run into any of the 4-legged creatures on this path.

I’d been told to take a detour to the Nisga’a Lava Beds, which is the site of an enormous eruption sometime in the 1700s that buried some 2,000 people in the local Native tribe. So we headed north, the mountains getting steeper and lovelier and occasionally green lakes appearing. Only in Canada have I seen these lovely aquamarine lakes made of glacial silt. One had a hanging glacier. We could see off to our right the cone; the remains of the volcano that wrought so much destruction. We explored a few short trails to a waterfall and through the lava beds, but the edges of the rocks are quite jagged, so it’s not easy hiking.
We came across a visitors center in a long narrow building at the campground. Frustratingly, the visitors center is not staffed, as I have many questions and the exhibits are sparsely worded. The place had a round door about 5 feet tall. We visited some of the local Indian villages along the Nass Valley, I wishing that we could stay the night there as the scenery was spectacular. There were some lovely suspension bridges over the local rivers and I so wanted to drive out to the coast, to see Gingolx, which recently got a paved road to its village and the route is said to be one of the most breathtaking drives in the province. It is at the head of the Portland Inlet. There was another village near that, which had a museum of aboriginal art. But we had reservations elsewhere plus it was starting to rain, so I sadly drove back to Terrace, then east on Highway 16 another two hours to Smithers, pop. 5,000. We found a great Mexican restaurant near the train tracks, so the evening wasn’t quite a loss.

We loved the suspension bridge in the village of Gitlaxt’aamiks.

We loved the suspension bridge in the village of Gitlaxt’aamiks.

The next day was a Sunday and we learned that a lot of places close up on Sundays, even at the height of tourism seaso. It rained all day. A few miles past Smithers was Telkwa, a tiny town with a lovely red brick walk along the river with a gazebo and hanging flower baskets – perfect for a picnic had it been a lot warmer than the 60ºF on my car’s thermostat. We then drove another hour or so to Burns Lake. I’d picked up some literature at a tourism bureau about it being Canada’s “lake district” and it sure looked like England’s Lake District with lots of rolling hills and a zillion lakes where lots of folks were fishing. But it was raining the entire time and although we drove through the region a bit, the weather was enough to make us give up on seeing the area, a real loss, I thought.
Back on Highway 16 and nine miles to the east was Homeside Antiques, a truly delightful barn and several other buildings full of the coolest stuff, a lot of which I remember from the 1960s plus a very engaging owner and a very friendly dog and long-haired tortoiseshell kitty who was abandoned on their property. From Burns Lake, it was about 2 hours to the Fort St. James, a historical property that was to be our hotel. The nearest large city was Prince George, but we’d stayed there two years ago and I was less than thrilled with the place back then, so I’d searched the Internet for somewhere more interesting. I found this national park, founded by fur traders, on a lake northeast of Prince George that had several historical buildings on it and where they let you stay the night. You also get dinner and breakfast. I figured I’d never again get the chance to stay in a historic Canadian fur trading post, so reserved it.

We truly enjoyed the pancakes at Fort St. James B&B.

We truly enjoyed the pancakes at Fort St. James B&B.

We arrived there shortly after 5 and were served a wonderful dinner an hour later in a café overlooking a lake. I was amazed to see hummingbird feeders are outside the windows, as I didn’t know they made it this far north. One of the employees told me that winters aren’t as cold as they used to be. Instead of -60ºF, it’s -40, which I guess is an improvement. The lake doesn’t freeze as fast as it used to. Winters used to be colder and summers hotter; now it rains more during the summer and isn’t as hot.
Out on Lake Stuart, all was greys and Brigadoon-like mists. Back in the houseI  where we were staying, there were tons of antique clothing and furniture (ie large wooden cradles and what I think was a captain’s secretary desk) plus we had to think of things to do by flashlight, as we were pretending it was 1896 and supposed to be getting by without electricity. There was a deck of cards, but I haven’t played cards in years. There was a cribbage board, one of many I saw during our trip, but I hadn’t played that since I was a child. There was a checkers board (fortunately I remembered how to play THAT) and Crokinole – a game developed in rural Canada in the 1860s..
It was a stormy night outside and our quarters had no bathrooms, so we had to sprint across the lawn to the second floor of the nearby maintenance shop. I began to understand the reason for chamber pots.

The bed I stayed in.

The bed I stayed in.

The following day, it had stopped raining and the sun was out, yet it was quite cool, with a cold wind coming in from the lake. Breakfast was pancakes with sausage in the same lovely café. We begin to wander about the buildings and learn the history of the area and how the place was founded in 1806 by Simon Fraser and it became the capital of New Caledonia, which was what British Columbia was called for the next 70 or so years. When you travel around western Canada and Alaska, you learn how vital a part the Hudson Bay Company played in the development of this whole part of the world. All of western Canada was opened up by the fur trade and explorers used a system of lakes and rivers to get everywhere. I was told one could actually canoe from Stuart Lake all the way to Vancouver by portaging over to Babine Lake, then catching the Skeena River south from there. Simon Fraser did it by using the Fraser River, although it wasn’t called that when he went on it in 1808, traveling 520 miles to Vancouver and nearly getting killed more than once in the rapids. Lewis & Clark’s expedition had been from 1804-1806, so that was really quite the decade for exploring the western half of the continent.
We began wandering about the fort, stopping by a house filled with the kind of furs they trapped back then: Ermine, silver-tip fox, coyote, wolverine, lynx, otter, martin, mink, muskrat and otter, to name a few. The guide told use there are 2,800 trap lines in the area, bit there weren’t large animals in the area until 1914, when the railroad was put through from Alberta and the animals happily followed the rail lines west. I got this mental picture in my mind of bears migrating west along the railroad tracks. Veeka was given a rabbit pelt here that she had to take to a general store where she had to bargain with the storekeeper there for the kind of food they ate in the late 19th century. Employees were dressed in period costumes. The biggest fun was the daily chicken race that’s held each morning, so a crowd of us bet on which chicken would win. Ours lost both times. Outside was also huge “historic game box” with croquet, horse shoes, ropes for tug of war and a collection of sticks and be-ribboned hoops called the “game of graces;” a popular Victorian activity for girls in the 19th century, à la Jane Austen.

It was tough to capture all the grounds of Fort St. James in all one photo, but this captures the lake and the beauty of this isolated spot.

It was tough to capture Fort St. James all in one photo, but this captures Lake Stuart and the beauty of this isolated spot. The flag was what Canada used in 1896.

It was hard to tear ourselves away, but we had to get to Prince George (the main interior city in northern BC), then go to another historic village – this one a relic of Canada’s gold rush days – by nightfall, so off we went. I’ll finish describing our trip in the next blog.

Whizzing through the snow

As the snow falls on Cleo, the Ewing's affable kitty, their chalet is in the background. Dick made it basically by hand and it took years for it all to come together.

As the snow falls on Cleo, the Ewing’s affable kitty, their chalet is in the background. Dick made it basically by hand and it took years for it all to come together.

For years, I’ve wanted to go cross-country skiing in the largest cross-country ski area in North America and this past MLK weekend, we did so. It was a 238-mile drive over 2 mountain passes to Winthrop, Wash., home of the Methow Trails in the beautiful Methow Valley in north-central Washington. To get there from Seattle, it’s about five hours with a short dinner break. And of the 120 miles of trails that exist there, I only scratched the surface. I’d advise anyone going up there, however, to have some kind of traction tire and fortunately I had my Firestone Blizzaks from spending last year in Fairbanks (where one MUST have snow tires).
We were spending 3 nights with longtime friends Pam and Dick Ewing, who moved to the area 30 years ago. I’ve stayed at their gorgeous log home many times and this was Veeka’s third stay there. We’d always come in warmer months, so this was a first. But winter is high tourist time up there. When we showed up the next morning at the ski rental place in neighboring Mazama, it was packed with folks from Seattle. Like us. We learned later that Saturday was their busiest day EVER renting out skis. We hit one of the loop trails just to warm up. Now Dick *teaches* cross-country skiing so it was great to hear some of his tips on how to correct what I was going wrong. Veeka had taken lessons last year in Fairbanks, so she kept up a fairly good pace. I was OK until I tried to go downhill and ended up falling backward. One problem with these skis is it is very hard to get UP off the ground when you’ve fallen and especially if you’ve a frozen shoulder like I do. We recovered afterwards with Mexican hot chocolate at the Mazama General Store, a lovely place in the woods that sells pretty things and great food.
On Sunday, we tried a trail through the forest. I think I did a face plant at one point. Dick

This was near the end of our first day and Veeka was getting tired, so Dick thought up a cool way of towing her back to the car.

This was near the end of our first day and Veeka was getting tired, so Dick thought up a cool way of towing her back to the car.

had waxed my skis, which made things even more interesting. It was showing hard, which made the abundant snow even fresher. Veeka, whose Kazakh heritage includes some snow in her blood, adores winter weather and spent a lot of her free time running around Pam and Dick’s 5 acres on the edge of town. There were so many other places to try, but we only had 2 full days and believe me, I was even more tired after the second day. Am very out of shape….
Other than that, it has been a quiet month. Veeka has joined a local Girl Scout troop that meets in a neighborhood of $1.3 million homes. The meeting spot has some of the best views of the Seattle area I have ever seen, as it’s atop Cougar Mountain. Veeka walked into the home, saw the gorgeous views and just shrieked with happiness.

One of the weird contraptions at the Chihuly.

One of the weird glass contraptions at the Chihuly museum.

A few weekends before, we visited the Space Needle which she didn’t like because of the height but the view was great. We also saw the Chihuly Garden next to the Space Needle. The Chihuly is a killer collection of cool glass sculptures with brilliant colors and exotic shapes that I’d never seen. And I’d not been atop the Space Needle in decades. We then drove up Queen Anne hill to get more views and again, I think it was the first time I’d even driven up there.
Other than that, the one event of note was that my parents finally bought an iPhone so they are now officially in the 21st century! Of course it’s been a tough go in terms of them learning how to work the thing so I tell them that it took me 4 months to figure out how to operate my Apple laptop back in the fall of 2006.
Job-wise, things are not looking up at all. One website contacted me about working nearly full time for them doing writing and editing out of my home, which seemed ideal. We were several steps into negotiations and everything seemed like a go and then they disappeared into the ether. Fortunately, an old friend contacted me recently to ask for help in writing his book. I’ve been asked this sort of thing before by friends who expect me to do many hours of line editing for free, so I told him my hourly rate and that I simply could not give away my talents any more. He was willing to pay it, so I’ve been spending much of January working on his manuscript. I have really enjoyed it and wish there was a way to get more work like that.

Pam and Veeka playing in the snow.

Pam and Veeka playing in the snow.

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.

The long good-bye

Veeka on the Savage alpine trail

Veeka on the Savage River alpine trail

I’ve been so glued to my computer in recent weeks but on Friday the 3rd, I decided to go on a lengthy day jaunt to Denali National Park. I mean, how much longer will we live 2 hours (117 miles) away from one of the prettiest parks in the country? I’d scoped out some hiking trails during a previous visit, so informed Ollie/Veeka that we were going to do a “strenuous” walk up the Savage (River) Alpine Trail. Although forest fire smoke made Fairbanks hazy, it was better going south of us, so by 2:30 pm we were poised at the trailhead. Up 1,250 feet we climbed and at one point, Ollie wanted to quit. So of course we had an argument and she huffed her way ahead of me only to see lovely vista after vista unfold. Although the skies alternated between gloomy and sunny, eventually the clouds cleared and we were dancing through high meadows full of arctic ground squirrels that had burrows just like prairie dogs. They

Ollie making her way down the Savage trail

Ollie making her way down the Savage trail

were quite tame. A lot of folks were hiking along with us and near the end, we were climbing through Dall sheep country but sadly none of them were lounging about. The trail is only 2 years old and a National Park crew built the thing with steps and a boardwalk over 4 miles. The panoramas were spectacular with one thing missing: Denali itself was fogged in. But hey, I was glad to see much of the Alaska Range out for our enjoyment. I’ve seen Denali twice, so don’t feel all that deprived. Once we got to a decent height, Ollie clambered about and stopped complaining; a good thing. Near the end there were some really steep drops and terrifying pinnacles, but she hopped about like a goat while I was nearly down on all fours, praying I’d not fall. Then she zoomed down the final slope, which was almost straight down. Just in time we caught a bus that took has back to our car. We were only gone 3 hours. Dinner was at Black Bear Coffeehouse, a vegan place that was very yummy. Sometimes the scenery feels like we’re living in a fairytale land here.
The next day we were in the tiny town of Ester, 7 miles from Fairbanks; a village known for being kind of counter cultural. There was a Fourth of July parade, then a lovely picnic for basically anyone who cared to show up and pay a fee. I took Veeka and one of her friends and it was so pleasant to be there. And yes, I hadn’t seen hippies like that in years!
Then we went swimming in one of the local swimming holes, as it was quite hot here. The Tenana River makes its way through braided terrain south of us which makes for lots of little beaches. The city has set up a stand at one that offers free life jackets for people to use. Can you imagine that in the lower 48? They’d be stolen in a minute. That’s one thing I like about being here; sometimes I feel we’ve gone back 40 years to a far simpler lifestyle where you could leave things out or doors unlocked and nothing would ever get stolen. Will so miss that.

After lots of hard work, I deserved to luxuriate in the gorgeous views.

After lots of hard work, I deserved to luxuriate in the gorgeous views.

The real high light of this week has been the publication of an article on Alice Rogoff, the new publisher of the Alaska Dispatch that I slaved over from February-May for the Washington Post Sunday magazine. Her husband David Rubenstein is a billionaire and co-founder of the Carlyle Group. I had heard her speak last November and was impressed enough to pitch an idea for a profile to the Post. But I had no idea how difficult writing this piece would be. Alice changed her mind three times as to whether she’d work with me. Fortunately she was in a “yes” mode during the 2 months I did much of the prep for the piece and followed her to Nome for the Iditarod. Then I innocently called her husband just to get a sentence or two – and whoa, did that cause fireworks! When I was told he hit the ceiling, I kept on asking the PR guy at Carlyle: Why? To this day I’m not sure what the problem was. As for her, she was just about to pose for the cover shoot for the article when she heard I’d called him. She cancelled the photo at the last minute and whenever I’d try to interview her friends, she’d ask them not to talk.

What the magazine cover looks like for my Alice Rogoff piece

What the magazine cover looks like for my Alice Rogoff piece

I reminded Alice this was a profile and that, as a newspaper publisher, she’s a public figure. If she asks her reporters to investigate people all over Alaska, shouldn’t she get some scrutiny? She didn’t respond to me, but I heard she contacted the Post to complain. All this made the piece quite a challenge to do but I’ve not spent 30+ years in journalism for nothing. You learn to never give up. Fortunately I got through to some helpful people – including Alice’s 92-year-old mother – who filled me in on important details. And my immediate editor at WaPo was incredibly supportive as one challenge after another came up. Nearly every journalist in the state I contacted refused to talk about her on the record. They all claimed that their careers would be finished if she blackballed them. When there’s one major newspaper in Anchorage and she owns it, they have a point. But some of the people I chatted up weren’t in any danger and still they chickened out. Thus, I am grateful to the folks who did allow themselves to be quoted. Then, I was told Alice wasn’t allowing the Dispatch to release photos for my piece and they were the only folks with any pictures of her. Fortunately I got through to one of the editors there who went to bat for me and I’m very pleased with the photos we got. So far, the reaction has been good and the folks at UAF were glad to see it.

With Athabascan drummers in the center, there was a Native hoe-down at the anniversary gathering last Monday.

With Athabascan drummers in the center, there was a Native hoe-down at the      100th anniversary gathering of the Tenana chiefs last Monday.

 

 

Lastly, on Monday there was the coolest ceremony on campus to mark the 100th anniversary of UAF’s founding and the 100th anniversary of the meeting of the Tanana (Native) chiefs with government officials (specifically Judge James Wickersham) on July 5, 1915. It was the beginning of a formal relationship with the Athabascan tribes and the U.S. government. That is, instead of making – then breaking – treaties as had been done throughout the 19th century, the U.S. government actually tried working with the Natives. There is a cool stained-glass window about that meeting in St. Matthew Episcopal Church that I’ll try to post here. The gathering was on a hillside where a Native studies center will be built. Anyway, at one point, Trimble Gilbert, one of the present-day chiefs, was giving an invocation. He mentioned that he is an Episcopal priest and made the sign of the cross and recited the Lord’s Prayer in Gwich’in. Most folks probably think the Natives here are smoking peyote but

This stained-glass window in St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Fairbanks shows the Tenana chiefs as they were meeting with Judge Wickersham on July 5, 1915.

This stained-glass window in St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Fairbanks shows the Tenana chiefs as they  met with Judge Wickersham in 1915.

those Anglican missionaries more than a century ago did their jobs and the tribes are quite Christianized. After the prayer, a bunch of people got up with their birch wood and moose skin drums and had the coolest hoedown for about five minutes. It was lovely to watch and then we all processed across campus for lunch.
And so these recent weeks have been a long good-bye for us as we slowly tear ourselves from this city and state. There’s so many things I didn’t get to do, ie going anywhere near Valdez or Cordova or hiking in the hills over Anchorage. I have no contacts in Anchorage whom I know well enough to stay with and hotel rooms in the area are very expensive in the summer. And we lack camping equipment, so I guess the mountains around Anchorage will have to wait. After we leave Wednesday afternoon, we’re heading south for a few days on the Kenai Peninsula so we can at least glimpse that pretty part of the state. And yes, hotel rooms are more than $200/night. Until then, I’m giving away stuff to neighbors, sending out copies of my Post piece and becoming immersed in packing boxes and bubble wrap scattered around the apartment.

In which Veeka turns 10

The Big Event of the past two weeks has been Veeka’s 10th birthday. It’s amazing to realize that 10

My blue Cinderella is about to blow out her candles.

My blue Cinderella is about to blow out her candles.

years ago on April 16, 2005, I was wandering about the island of Capri taking a rest from pope coverage. Three days later, Joseph Ratzinger would be elected Pope Benedict XVI and I’d be there in St. Peter’s Square watching it all. Meanwhile in Rudny, Kazakhstan, a little girl was born two months premature in a drab concrete bunker hospital. And 22 months later, she and I would meet.
The 16th was pretty quiet other than the obligatory cupcakes I supplied to her class. Then on the 18th, about 11 kids gathered at a local movie theater to watch the new “Cinderella” film and then march off to a birthday room where Veeka blew out 10 candles on a birthday cake with white coconut icing. She wore her blue Cinderella dress and crown she’d gotten at Disney World, so everything worked, thematically. Members of my family sent her gifts and in so doing, they got a whiff of what I’ve put up with all year in terms of slow mail delivery. Packages sent Fed Ex took DAYS to get here, partly because I have a PO Box number, as does everyone on campus. Meanwhile, the days here just keep on getting longer and longer as we gain 7 minutes of light per day. I snuck out this morning at 2 a.m. and darned if the western horizon wasn’t still light. And there’s two more months to go until summer solstice.

Veeka and her friends at her party

Veeka and her friends at her party

The rest of my stay in DC was lovely, by the way. Had brunch with Rob and Jan, then visiting with some of Veeka’s friends (and mine) plus a lovely evening prayer service outdoors in the cool spring evening air. Veeka and I always used to go to these things every Sunday evening and we loved seeing all the families and kids and Veeka would be running off and playing with them. I went back – it was Divine Mercy Sunday so there was a huge gathering of people I’ve known for the past 7 years; friends who’ve had new babies and old friends who like me are a bit older and heavier! It was so wonderful being in a place where the temps were over 50º! All the flowering trees were out. We don’t get those in Alaska.
The next few weeks are pretty crazy as I work on the second draft of a large article I’m doing for the Washington Post plus wrap up several classes. Finals week is the first week of May – and the time when my WaPo draft is due – so lots to do. The weather in Fairbanks lingers in the ‘40s but it’s sunny outside so who minds that?
As I write this, I’m in Anchorage for an Alaska Press Club gathering where I have to deliver a speech as the Snedden Fellow is expected to do. They’ve brought in speakers from around the country, so it’s a nice opportunity to hear journalists talk about our craft. My field is so endangered these days. The University of Alaska system is contracting quite fiercely and the journalism department where I’m resident has been put on notice to increase enrollment within the year – or else. UAF announced this week they’re cutting whole departments – including philosophy – because of the loss of oil revenues. Was talking with someone tonight about whether Alaska and other oil states have planned for a future where oil stays $40/barrel or under. “The oil industry counted on selling 150 million barrels/day; the top this year has been 90 million,” he said. All Greek to me but clearly Alaskans are used to a fantasy existence of not paying sales or income tax. So now they’re talking about laying off tenured teachers from my school district because of no money from the state and partly because of shrinking enrollments. Fairbanks is losing population, sadly. Including us. We have less than three months to go here.

Alyeska skiing, train to Anchorage, of museums and good books

Oh, it was wild and weird and wan, and ever in camp o’ nights
We would watch and watch the silver dance of the mystic Northern Lights.
And soft they danced from the polar sky and swept in primrose haze;
And swift they pranced with their silver feet, and pierced with a blinding blaze.
They danced a cotillion in the sky; they were rose and silver shod;
It was not good for the eyes of man — ‘Twas a sight for the eyes of God.
– Robert Service, “The Ballad of the Northern Lights”

A blurred selfie of Veeka and I on the train to Anchorage. There only being 4 hours of daylight, most of the trip was by night.

A blurred selfie of Veeka and I on the train to Anchorage. There only being 4 hours of daylight, most of the trip was by night.

Sadly, the northern lights is one thing I’ve not been able to see these past few months. Apparently Fairbanks has too much light pollution (even up on a hill where the university is), plus one has to be up from 1-3 a.m. to see them, which is not the greatest hour for me. It’s been a huge frustration barely glimpsing them even though we live directly in their path.
For the past two weeks, we’ve been a bit far south to see them anyway. First, we took a train from Fairbanks to Anchorage on a Sunday (the one day of week they head south) and it was a l-o-n-g 12-hour ride. It was on the 21st, the shortest day of the year. Skies were clear in the morning. The heavens were a mix of periwinkle blue, purple and grey and the clouds briefly lit up with white fire when the sun rose. We rode past still white landscapes with moving black dots – moose – in the distance. Everything was frosty-icy-dusky except for the dark green river (the Nenana?) flowing beneath us with chunks of ice. The Healy canyon was the prettiest part of the trip and the train slowed to 25 mph. Ordinarily it’s a 2-hour train ride to Denali National Park but the train took four.
There were a bunch of foreigners aboard including two nice Swiss women across from us with whom I practiced my German. Why anyone would visit Alaska this time of year is beyond me but there they were. And some Japanese. The rest of the trip was in the dark. We flew to Seattle the next day to meet my parents at SeaTac. I was the only one of the three children to get home this Christmas; my brother Steve had

Oma and me in our red sweaters. Unfortunately, she was not feeling well during our week-long visit.

Oma and me in our red sweaters. Unfortunately, she was not feeling well during our week-long visit.

dropped by a week or two before and Rob only gets out west once a year. We mostly lazed about for a week, had a few visitors, ventured out for some shopping, a Christmas Eve service at St. Mark’s Cathedral and to see a production of Mary Poppins at the Issaquah theater – and that was about it. I spent some time looking at old family photos of my maternal grandmother and her 6 daughters and plowed my way through a bunch of books (described below) and mainly rested. It had been a tiring fall. I was teaching one course, taking two graduate courses and auditing an undergrad course, so I had a full plate.
We flew a bumpy flight back to Anchorage on a Tuesday, then spent the next few days at the Alyeska ski resort, about 26 miles south of Anchorage. Because of the icy roads and potential avalanches, it takes an hour to get there. Veeka/Ollie and I lounged about the pool and hot tub, had lunch at the spiffy Seven Glaciers restaurant (really good food) atop the gondola lift and spent New Year’s Eve watching fireworks and skiers snowplow down the mountain carrying red torches. One problem with Alyeska is there was very little snow! There was too little at the base to even run the lifts but

Veeka and her little 2nd cousin, Brynley. Veeka is having to adjust to not being the baby in the family.

Veeka and her little 1st cousin (once removed), Brynley. Veeka is not the baby in the family now that Brynley and Wyatt are here.

 

 

 

fortunately there was a lot more some 2000 feet higher up. So on Jan. 1 – a sunny day – we took the gondola back up to the ski runs on an upper bowl and I spent about 2 ½ hours sliding about while Veeka sat in the Bore Tide, an eatery with huge windows overlooking the slopes, reading her books. That may not sound like a lot of skiing, but I was very out of shape and my legs were killing me so I finally staggered inside. I had no sooner sat down for lunch than a nasty wind picked up on the slopes. I decided to call it a day. The skiing (before the wind picked up) had been pleasant although I’d call the blue runs advanced intermediate. They were not marked well, so one never knew if there was a nasty black diamond ahead or a kinder blue slope. Alyeska is an expensive resort, so I was a bit surprised to see basics like slope markers neglected.

Opa and Kitty, who thinks she is the star of the household

Opa and Kitty, who thinks she is the star of the household. The other kitty, Chloe, never shows her face.

Then it was back to Anchorage for the weekend. The B&B in which we were staying had a lovely view of Cook Inlet and the Alaska Range beyond that. We traipsed around local art galleries during a First Friday series of openings, then today we walked 6-7 blocks to the Anchorage Museum, a huge glass-walled edifice and the state’s largest museum. Veeka really liked the Legos exhibit but I was blown away by Voices of the Wilderness, a compilation of all the projects accomplished by people who had been artists in residence at the various national parks scattered about the state. Some of the photos of exotic climes such as the Gates of the Arctic National Park (there are no trails or roads there. A helicopter drops you in) were lovely. Then there was a huge gallery devoted to the various Native cultures in Alaska: Tlingit, Athabascan, Yupik, Siberian Yupik and so on. I thought I’d breeze through there quickly but I was fascinated with what I picked up about life on the ice. There were fur jackets made of 85 small animal pelts; waterproof coats made of seal bladders, all manner of dolls, ivory hooks and utensils, ceremonial masks, containers of birch bark (and having helped Veeka make an Athabascan shelter out of birch bark last fall, I know how tough it is to work with), all sorts of clothing and implements made with parts of bowhead whales; bowls made of driftwood (there are no trees and hence few wood products near the Alaskan west coast and Northern Slope); clothing out of seal skin as well as fox, wolverine and even birds. One thing I did not see were products from bears. Were none of them killed and their fur used for clothing? I realize polar bears live in Canada, not Alaska but I

Couldn't resist this close-up of Opa and Oma's kitty, who loves to strike a pose and rule the household while she's at it.

Couldn’t resist this close-up of Opa and Oma’s kitty, who loves to strike a pose and rule the household while she’s at it.

thought there might be trading back and forth between coastal and inland tribes. There were touch screens next to the exhibits where you could get more details about these objects and I just stood there awed. Mindful that Veeka’s attention span was not forever, I got halfway through that exhibit.
Another thing I got to do during vacation was to read. I worked my way through a pile of Alaska books as part of my immersion into this state. I started with Conroy and Walshe’s Sarah from Alaska to get a grip on what really happened with Sarah Palin after the 2008 election. The book says she was way out of her league running for vice president; however, she could have come back here, finished up her term as governor and studied up for the next few years so she could have come back as a viable candidate. The GOP has no one all that thrilling for 2016. She could have been ready. She should have never stepped down as governor. Only millionaires like Mitt Romney can afford to be a former governor and run for president. She could have written some thoughtful books; she could be doing what Alice Rogoff (new publisher for the Alaska Dispatch News) is doing now in terms of developing Alaska to be ready for the increased shipping that will be sailing by its west coast toward a melting Northwest Passage. What I gather from my mere four months here is that she is almost a non-person in this state. As my hairdresser said (and we all listen to our stylists, right?), Sarah left the state in the hands of Sean Parnell, her lieutenant governor, who was hugely disliked and who was not reelected this fall. Even though her Facebook page labels her as a politician, she’s mainly doing reality shows and a new series for the Sportsman’s Channel.

The gorgeous iconostasis at St. John's Cathedral in Eagle River. It sure kept Veeka fascinated.

The gorgeous iconostasis at St. John’s Cathedral in Eagle River. It sure kept Veeka fascinated.

I had already reread Coming into the Country. Although the book is 40 years old, it explained events from the 1970s that affect Alaska today. Also read Freeing the Whales: How the Media Created the World’s Greatest Non-Event by Tom Rose. Then dove into biographies of Bob Atwood, Bill Snedden and Kay Fanning for an academic paper on Alaska newspaper barons, along with Bent Pins to Chains: Alaska and its Newspapers, by Evangeline Atwood and Lew Williams. I also read a Palin biography by the late Joe McGinniss called The Rogue: In Search of the Real Sarah Palin, which looked intriguing but which turned out to be a 318-page hit piece. First, how would you like to have an author publish a map showing people how to get to your house?
I kept on waiting for some kind of objective treatment of Sarah but that was not to be. There was not one positive thing about her in it. Instead of giving her some credit for not aborting a Down syndrome child, he goes on for pages wondering if she borrowed someone else’s kid to wave about as a prop during the 2008 campaign. McGinniss didn’t seem to have a clue about what’s involved in raising a DS child. Also, didn’t Palin’s church get burned down after the election? Why no mention of that? McGinnis’ reporting about religion was also pretty bad; he had no concept of what the Third Wave meant; he was wrong on some details about evangelist Todd Bentley and everyone who had the slightest evangelical views was in his mind an extremist. Plus, blaming Palin for wearing high-priced clothing during the campaign was disingenuous; the Sarah from Alaska book explained that it was campaign staffers who bought the clothing and basically told Sarah to wear it and that she and her family were brought on the campaign with what they could pack in a few suitcases. Just being in Alaska the short time I’ve been there has shown me that people really don’t dress up in these parts. So it’s understandable that she was underdressed for a campaign and McCain’s people needed her to look better – fast.

The fantasy novel Bell Mountain

The fantasy novel Bell Mountain

I also started on a series of Christian fantasy books by Lee Duigon, an author who lives in New Jersey and who’s writing 7 or 8 of these novels. I read Bell Mountain – the first in the series – to Veeka and she really liked the story, which is about a boy and a girl who set off to ring a mythical bell atop a nearby mountain. There was a legend that someone would ring it and and to the childrens’ astonishment, they were the ones supposed to do it. And so the tale is set along the familiar lines of The Quest. The story of how they got past various fantastical beasts plus an assassin to ring the thing kept me busy reading Veeka to sleep for several nights. (Although she refused to sleep – sigh because she found the story exciting).
I also made my way through Book 4 of the Game of Thrones series and I’m now working on the latest (A Dance of Dragons) that I got cheap in a fabulous Anchorage treasure called Tidal Wave Used Books. It was an absolutely huge place with unusual things like a 20-foot-long shelf of Christian fiction; 4 rows of Alaska books and a huge children’s section. I got Ollie a kid’s Bible and some other books (she’s really into reading these days) and I scarfed up some Alaska history plus the Dragons book. Afterwards, we found a restaurant of Indian and Tibetan food next door called Yak and Yeti Himalayan Restaurant. Their ads read along the lines of: “Sick of eating salmon and crab? Visit us!” It was a bit pricey but we stretched that meal into 3 meals because the portions were so filling. I have come to one conclusion about the Thrones books: They are depraved. They may be brilliant in their own way but I get the feeling the author has lost control of the narrative.
One of the last things we did in Anchorage is visit St. John’s Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral about 12 miles north of town in the hamlet of Eagle River. I think 99% of the people there were converts to Orthodoxy from evangelical Protestantism. Their church is by far one of the loveliest Orthodox churches I’ve seen in the States. Although not as ornate as, say, St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington, DC, there was a purity of line and color there, plus the inlaid birch (?) wood ceiling was a delight to look at. The music was lovely too. One thing you can say for Alaska: If you’re going to visit Orthodox churches, there’s a bunch up there, thanks to the Russians, who were establishing missions there in the early 18th century.

Dark nights and days and a new MA degree

A really pretty moonrise to the north of us. Am not sure how the moon can rise in the north - must be a latitude thing.

A really pretty moonrise to the north of my apartment. Am not sure how the moon can rise in the north – must be a latitude thing.

A few nights ago, I ate downtown with a friend at a Thai restaurant; the third such restaurant I’ve eaten at since arriving here. Fairbanks apparently has a sizeable Thai community that operates numerous establishments in the area; for what reason, I have no idea. The weather here is the polar opposite of Bangkok! And there were no Thai restaurants in Jackson, so things have improved for us. We’ve also found a Pho restaurant (none of those in Jackson, either). I haven’t eaten out that much, as nearly everyone I know is on a student budget plus the cost of living here is quite high. Fall semester is done here and I handed in my grades today. So we have a breather of nearly a month. I’ve not seen my evaluations yet, but I was reading a piece in Slate trashing anonymous student evaluations. They cited a study showing that when the professor is a woman, she loses an entire point in ratings. From the article: They (North Carolina researchers) found a way to blind students to the actual gender of instructors by focusing on online course studies. The researchers took two online course instructors, one male and one female, and gave them two classes to teach. Each professor presented as his or her own gender to one class and the opposite to the other. The results were astonishing. Students gave professors they thought were male much higher evaluations across the board than they did professors they thought were female, regardless of what gender the professors actually were. When they told students they were men, both the male and female professors got a bump in ratings. When they told the students they were women, they took a hit in ratings. Because everything else was the same about them, this difference has to be the result of gender bias.

Sign for the friendly pooches that were hanging out in the UAF library.

Sign for the friendly pooches that were hanging out in the UAF library.

Given that many universities demand copies of your student evaluations when you apply for jobs, this concerns me quite a bit. Let’s hope for the best. This week on campus has been one of Christmas receptions and “finals dogs,” which are dogs from a local shelter brought in for students to cuddle and apparently get less nervous about their tests. There were four dogs and a bunny on display in the campus library. Veeka got to make a gingerbread (actually graham cracker) house and meet Santa Claus at one party for campus residents. Today is “pajama day” at her school where she will arrive in her nightgown and run around in her bedroom slippers and bathrobe all day. That’s a new one but apparently it’s done right before Christmas break.

Santa and Veeka. All she wants is a new CD player.

Santa and Veeka. All she wants is a new CD player.

The big news for me this week is the master’s degree I got Sunday from the University of Memphis. Were I still living in Tennessee, I would have traipsed across the stage, but with no family or friends to speak of anywhere near Tennessee, it seemed a waste to fly back there but for a few seconds onstage. But I now have my second MA which will hopefully aid my job-hunting prospects. I am so glad I went and did it, as I learned so much getting that degree and it really added to the things I can use as a professor. It was 18 months of hard work and I’m happy to say my GPA was a 3.68, the highest I’ve ever had. Not bad for cramming in 4 graduate courses a semester. Which sounds a lot easier than it was.
The next two weeks will be busy. On Sunday, we take a 12-hour train ride through the snowy wastes from Fairbanks to Anchorage, then fly to Seattle to spend Christmas with my folks. We leave Seattle Dec. 30 to return to Anchorage, spend several days there, then fly back to Fairbanks just before Veeka’s school starts. Seattle will feel like the tropics compared to what we’ve lived through since

This is sunshine. Around 2-2:30 pm, a shaft from a sunset zips across the trees across the street, turning everything golden for a few minutes and providing us with the only Vitamin D we'll see all day.

This is sunshine. Around 2-2:30 pm, a shaft from a sunset zips across the trees across the street, turning everything golden for a few minutes and providing us with the only Vitamin D we’ll see all day.

early October. Today I splurged and got my hair done and the stylist – like everyone else here – was telling me how warm it’s been in Fairbanks, as they usually are in the -20ºF range at this time of year. And it was a balmy 17ºF instead. But January and February are yet to come. And, I’m getting used to walking Veeka to her bus in the dark, as dawn doesn’t come until 10:57 a.m. It’s not pitch black until then; it’s just kind of a foggy grey. It’s just that getting her dressed for the bus in boots, heavy mittens, snowsuit and cap takes several minutes. It’s become our morning ritual and she’s gotten pretty quick at it. This weekend is the darkest we’ll get all year. Officially, we’ll have 3 hours and 42 minutes of light, which is kind of a shame because much of our train ride will be in the dark. At least the pretty part around Denali will be during daylight.

Thanksgiving and falling snow

Our Mongolian guests and my ordered-from-Safeway dinner

Our Mongolian guests and my ordered-from-Safeway dinner

Thanksgiving in Alaska certainly was a departure from last year. It was a quiet day in which we slept late, then had a Mongolian family over for dinner. I figured they had nowhere else to go and I wanted to show them what an American Thanksgiving is like. The father is on some kind of government-funded scholarship for a mining degree, as there are a lot of metals in Mongolia. The effort fell flat. Some of the food they clearly didn’t like. The language barrier was likewise frustrating. One thing we did manage to communicate about was Mongolian cashmere, which they said is far superior to what is sold in China. Now China markets its cashmere as from “inner Mongolia” which of course is not the Mongolia the country at all and my guests said the Chinese mix their cashmere with 20% polyester. . Apparently, cashmere is the warmest thing you can wear in the winter.
Last Saturday, I was an exhibitor in one of five zillion local winter bazaars that start in early November and go every weekend. If you want good made-in-Alaska stuff, these are the places to visit. I splurged on some seal otter ear muffs at one as furry earmuffs are nearly impossible to find in the lower 48. Knit headbands, yes. Earmuffs? No. The woman selling them was called Umara and she was a Native seamstress living to the southwest of us in Slana (on the way to Valdez) and she promised they’d be warm. Well, they sure are! As for my books, I had shipped them up here for my Snedden lecture, then figured I might as well as try to sell them rather than ship them back. I made about $122 from it but…with what I had to spend for the vendor’s fee and babysitting, I netted about $27! But I had fun exhibiting, though. I’ve learned some tips. First you have to engage people. As people sidle by my booth, I point to Knights, Maidens and Dragons (my kid’s book) and say, “That’s for kids over 8!

Me hawking my books

Me hawking my books

Do your kids read??” Then I guide them to a newspaper article about my book. I had boxes of free CDs (from a college radio station that basically leaves them on the floor of one of the admin buildings) and a bunch of free candy. As people munch on the candy, I talk about my “Quitting Church” book (“It’s not Quilting Church?” a woman asked me) and I got into a bunch of theological discussions on why people quit church. You truly have to be nice to everybody because sometimes people dressed in the sloppiest clothes were the ones who purchased my books. Or people who didn’t look like they’d be interested in what I do ended up being really fun to talk with. Good bets are always grandparents who need to buy a bunch of gifts for grand kids (and Knights, Maidens and Dragons of course is super-light to mail). The one downer is that a few things I’d brought along to sell that would have brought in $30/each (and would have paid me back faster for my expenses) did not sell. Except for a couple who bought 2 books, I sold nothing over $20. So you really have to hustle to sell multiple small things to bring in any meaningful money. Believe it or not, I’m going to try one more bazaar this coming Saturday.

Our new winter-ready boots

Our new winter-ready boots

Sunday night, had for dinner a couple from Yellowknife which, if you dig out your Canada map, is in the Northwest Territories. Which is basically the whole northern part of Canada. He was a magazine editor; she researches bowhead whales in the Beaufort Sea. The latter is that huge body of water on Canada’s northern coast aka (to those living much further south) as the Arctic Ocean. They’re both in Fairbanks camping out in housing similar to mine to finish master’s degrees. I asked them what they were doing for Thanksgiving and they said they would be cross-country skiing 7 miles into the wilderness to stay at a cabin. I just gaped. I can’t imagine skiing 7 miles, much less packing in food, etc. to stay in a cabin God-knows-where. After we talked, I went to the gorgeous map store that’s in the UAF geophysics building and bought a circumpolar map that has the North Pole in the middle and with which you can see the enormous parts of Canada, Greenland, Russia and Norway that are at 80 degrees N latitude. It’s on the wall of my living room now and we love to stare at it. Oddly, the map store does not have very good Internet links, making it tough to order from them online; a fact that the man who runs the store is aware of but apparently there is little he can do about it. I’ve run into several things like this at UAF that are beyond cool, but the university doesn’t publicize them well at all. I found some links here and here as well as an intriguing WaPo piece about mapping elsewhere in Alaska and how the lives of pilots depend on good maps. One of the state senators, Ted Stevens, saw his wife die in one small plane crash and he died in another.

My little ski bunny

My little ski bunny

After a dearth of snow for much of the fall, the white stuff is falling in earnest now. Which is why the little one and I have had to invest in better winter wear, such as the boots shown here. The boots we brought up from the south had no traction and we were both sliding everywhere. The winter wear here is truly the real thing: Furs, cashmere and wool neck warmers. The enhanced wardrobe has also helped Veeka with her cross-country ski lessons, which are doing better now that she’s actually warm. This morning, I walked her to the bus stop through swirling flakes in the dark (the sun doesn’t rise until almost 10) and it seemed like a scene out of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: A dark sky with falling snow and a street lantern lighting the way. We expected to see Mr. Tumnus come marching along with his packages any minute.

Spring break, part II

Veeka is perched by the toilet seats at the entrance to Le Tub.

Veeka is perched by the toilet seats at the entrance to Le Tub.

I left off with arriving in Hollywood, Fla., to stay at the Ocean Inn, a funky place along the Intracoastal (which is a waterway) and about one block from the beach. The owner was a young Russian in her early 20s; long blond hair with a delightful accent to whom, I learned later, her parents gave this hotel as an investment. Russian money has been pouring into south Florida for some time and now they’re buying up places in south Broward County, my old haunt. We met an old friend, Julie Kay, who look us to this delightful Italian bistro and then for lunch the next day we ended up at Le Tub, a world class hamburger joint that Oprah and others have patronized. Amazing what you find in Hollywood these days; the place used to be the dreggy no-man’s land between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, so it’s come up in the 30 years since I lived there.

Veeka enjoying the sun on a sunny March morning in Hollywood.

Veeka enjoying the sun on a sunny March morning in Hollywood.

After that, we repaired to a city beach off Johnson Street and relaxed away the afternoon until we had to climb into the rental car and take off for West Palm Beach where we were to stay a few nights with Debbie Maken and her family. She showed us some lovely gardens in the city that I had not seen yet and of course we had to drive by the homes of some of the rich and famous plus visit The Breakers and of course Worth Avenue. Such lovely things for sale – problem is that most of the womens clothing was of silk and from sad experience, I’ve learned that silk is not the best investment for hot weather, saris notwithstanding. But it was nice to look. Worth Avenue is one of the last places in America where people actually dress up to go shopping and we saw lots of people all decked out in gorgeous clothes.

The dog walkers of West Palm Beach

The dog walkers of West Palm Beach

One thing I could not get over were the folks who had their poodles (and other small dogs) in *strollers* out to take the air, I suppose. Never saw any of those dogs jump down and take a piddle. Still could not resist taking one picture of ladies with their dogs.It was nice for Veeka to be with Debbie’s girls – finally someone her age – to play with and the following day, we were up in North Palm Beach sunning ourselves and making sand angels. My foot was still bound up in a cast so I could not go swimming, but Veeka was happy to splash about in the surf. The next morning, we went on an egg hunt at the Maken’s church, and then we were off back to Orlando to catch our plane. One thing we were able to do before we left is have lunch with another old friend and former roommate: Cheri duMee, who I’d not seen in a decade. We are both employed now by Baptist colleges, as she works at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Strange how things turn out.

Veeka and friends making sand angels in North Palm Beach

Veeka and friends making sand angels in North Palm Beach

Easter itself was low-key. We went to church, then had a quiet day at home. A few things I got to do during vacation was watch “Avatar,” a movie I’d never seen. Now I know why there was so much ferment about the movie four years ago in blogs such as this one. I just loved the beauty of the landscapes and the music so I didn’t get too upset about the pagan underpinnings because I felt that whoever makes the movie gets to spin the world view. There’s nothing stopping the evangelical Christian world from making something just as good from C.S. Lewis’ “Perelandra” space trilogy or Mary Doria Russell’s “The Sparrow” and “Children of God.” I also got to read Mark Joseph’s The Lion, The Professor and the Movies, about the making of the three Narnia movies and the mis-steps made by the films’ makers. Kind of sad now that Walden has lost the Narnia franchise and the chance of getting the other four Narnia movies made at this point is close to zero.

Frolicking in the surf.

Frolicking in the surf.

And I read William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain, an account of how Christians are vanishing from the Middle East and a history of what Byzantium was like from 300-600 AD. I never knew that Palestine back then was honeycombed with monks’ caves and how overwhelmingly Christian lands like Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt were back then. And how persecution by Muslims and (in Israel) Jews are emptying these lands now. It was a lot more enjoyable than the History Channel’s “The Bible” series that I just finished watching tonight. It felt very low budget to me and I wished they had ended the last part with a breathtaking vision of Revelation rather than John simply watching Jesus vanish into the horizon.