Category Archives: Holidays

Visiting Disney World

Veeka and Minnie Mouse

Veeka and Minnie Mouse

Veeka had been nagging me about visiting DisneyWorld (watching Disney Channel on cable will do that to you as they run non-stop commercials extoling a visit to this place), plus I had wanted to get out of Jackson for spring break. And so I decided to treat her to three nights in Orlando, as I myself had not been to this resort in 30 years. And lots has changed. I got here in the spring of 1983, shortly after I moved to south Florida. Epcot had just been built, so there were very few buildings encircling the lake plus we were on a treeless plain. Thirty years later, Epcot is ringed by trees and gardens and when we were there Monday, it felt like another planet.

The Little One in front of the castle at Magic Kingdom a few hours before the typhoon hit.

The Little One in front of the castle at Magic Kingdom a few hours before the typhoon hit.

Our first stop Sunday morning (yes we did skip church) was of course to the Magic Kingdom, the most crowded and oldest of the Disney properties. After letting Veeka admire the castle, we headed off for various rides, including a new Ride Under the Sea for the Little Mermaid. Because of my broken foot, I was in an ECV, a moveable wheelchair that got us to the front of the line several times. In fact, we’ve not been in a regular line the whole time we’ve been here thanks to the ECV. We rode Dumbo (a letdown of a ride), visited It’s a Small World, visited the Disney princesses (Cinderella, Rapunzel and the Sleeping Beauty) in the Town Square Theater, met Minnie and Mickey somewhere and…you get the idea. A lot of things were either too cold to do (ie Splash Mountain) or Veeka was too scared to do. We had just gotten to Frontierland to eat lunch, when a typhoon hit the area and sheets of rain came pouring down. The downpour – and it was a huge one – kept us in the restaurant another hour. Afterwards, I got Veeka a Cinderella wand, which cheered her up a bit but set me back $20.

Veeka and Belle from Sleeping Beauty

Veeka and Belle from Sleeping Beauty

Which is the Disney story, it appears; getting parents to spend lots of money, even on those ridiculous autograph books that kids need for the characters to sign. Must say the characters have lovely handwriting! Sunday night, we had dinner with a friend, Kevin Flynn, who I had known 30 years earlier when we both lived in Hollywood. Now he’s hitting 60 and a lawyer while I’m not too many years behind him and have switched from journalism to academia. We both wondered how often one can reinvent oneself and we decided: Once every 20 years.

My kiddo getting an autograph from Cinderella

My kiddo getting an autograph from Cinderella

Even though I came to the park equipped with The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2013, it was obvious that we would miss quite a few things, either because we didn’t get there early enough or we just didn’t have the energy or desire to do them. Another time, I guess. Our next day at Epcot was far more pleasant. Although colder, thanks to a late snowfall that hit the upper East Coast (Washington DC got snow on March 25, the latest I’ve ever heard it happen. When I lived there, I never saw snow after March 15), the weather was in the 60s while at Epcot, meaning we really had to bundle up. I’d brought all summer clothes down here – not the best decision as it’s turned out. Anyway, our visit there was much more fun for me. Veeka got to meet Mulan and Aladdin and Jasmine – after that, she got sick of standing in lines, so passed up a chance to say hi to Alice in Wonderland – while we wandered through the various pavilions and later in the afternoon sat on the grass while she practiced cartwheels and somersaults. I talked her into staying late to see the light show over the water and she was delighted to find out that fireworks were not so scary after all. So in all, it was a good night, especially after I bought her a Cinderella dress, which will be her Halloween costume for the next zillion years.

Veeka and Mulan

Veeka and Mulan

Our last day there was miserable. We spent it at Animal Kingdom, which was crowded to the gills. All the crowds we seemingly missed on Sunday and Monday had arrived with a vengeance by Tuesday and we could barely push through the mobs. We enjoyed the Kilimanjaro safari ride but got soaked during the Kali water rapids ride to the point we were too miserable to remain in the park, especially with temps in the low 60s. So we exited, taking 45 minutes to locate the Florida turnpike, then hoofing it to Hollywood (where I used to live ages ago just north of Miami) in three hours. We met up with an old friend, Julie Kay from my Sun-Tattler days, at an Italian bistro on the Intracoastal, then repaired to a funky hotel on A1A, the Ocean Inn, for the night. Today (Wednesday) is gorgeous Greek-Mediterranean-style blue skies outside, so we’re headed to the beach.

A Tennessee Christmas

Oma, Veeka and Opa on the famous red swing at near the student union building at Union University

Christmas dawned bright and early with Miss Veeka racing to her stocking to rip out it contents. It turned out to be a puzzle that took the whole family several hours to figure out; ‘family’ being Oma and Opa, who had flown from Seattle two days before. Fortunatelythere was none of the usual pre-Christmas snowstorms in Denver (which is how they connected to their flight to Nashville), meaning they got here two days before Christmas. Well, really, three days but they got into Nashville so late on the 22nd, they spent a night at a hotel near the airport before driving 137 miles to lovely Jackson. Meanwhile, Veeka and I had been in Nashville the day before seeing the Nashville Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker, a slightly unusual production with the theme of the Tennessee Centennial. Sounds odd but it worked and I liked the first act better than the second. Veeka was not as taken with the performance; she preferred playing with the kids who belonged to the family we were with. So much for those $82/seat tickets.

Veeka in her new jumper with one of the Nutcracker ballerinas

Anyway, Oma and Opa were much taken with a tour of Union University’s campus, which was pretty deserted, my office, the local courthouse, the Green Frog (a coffee shop downtown). I thought of taking them to Shiloh, one of the most famous Civil War battlefields ever, but the temps had taken a sudden dip and it was too cold to drive an hour down there. Veeka and I had actually dropped by Shiloh for a children’s program there on the 21st, which was jammed. Then I headed east, then northeast on the Natchez Trace, a famous highway that goes from Nashville to New Orleans. Well…I was not that impressed, partly because I chose the shortest day of the year to see it, and we didn’t drive onto the Trace until almost sunset. It was kind of like being on Skyline Drive without the mountains. Which, if you’ve ever been on Skyline Drive, you know that what really makes it a special route are the wonderful views. The Trace had views of mostly woods. Maybe it’s nicer in the spring.

Opa helping Veeka assemble her new scooter

One nice thing made possible for Oma and Opa’s arrival: part of the interior of my house has been painted, so we were able to enjoy some of the pretty new walls in yellow and blue. Christmas Day was quiet for us; eating a lot (the honey-baked ham was especially yummy). It was mainly us watching Veeka open her many presents! I do wonder what my life would have been like without that little moppet and it would have far quieter and sadder.

Second week of Advent

Second candle lit

It’s been in the mid-30s the past two nights here so my banana plants outside are definitely fading away and I wore my winter coat for the first time today. And we’re lighting Advent candles; the second set during a pleasant visit by Estine Nwakwuo, a Catholic priest from Nigeria who began writing me nearly three decades ago when he and fellow seminarians discovered my “Purity Makes the Heart Grow Stronger” book. Estine and I had never met, so he happened to be in Oklahoma visiting another priest friend and the two of them drove 400 miles yesterday so Estine could see us. He had a lot of stories about what it’s like to work out of a parish in Zamfara State, which is in the heavily Muslim northern part of the country. Amazingly, he’s gotten through five years there alive! Then they drove back this morning – seven hours of driving on I-40.

Veeka and Estine

I’ve been thinking over what 2012 has been like and the second half of the year may have been the busiest in my life. There’s never been such a time when I had so much to do that had to be done right away and when there seemed to be one crisis after another that had to be tended to. Or huge things to get done, ie moving a household and starting a new job, not to mention an entirely new career. One task I took on in all this madness was getting my “Quitting Church” republished as an e-book with a different publisher that was willing to pay me better royalties. So, amidst everything else that needed to be done, I wrote an 11th chapter, an update if you will, as to what’s happened in the four years since “Quitting Church” came out. A lot of things, including the new cover, are still under wraps, but Bondfire Books, the publisher, just came out with this press release about me.

Cardinal & Cream Christmas party chez moi

Other than that, I’ve hung up Christmas lights in front of the house, made a batch of Christmas cookies containing eggnog (which weren’t all that great, oddly) and gotten most of my shopping done. I attend a Christmas lunch on Thursdays at Veeka’s school. Finals at UU are this week and I gave one today. Now I have to grade it. I and the school newspaper assistant adviser met with the editor and managing editor today to discuss staffing for next semester. And the days keep on getting shorter with the sunset at 4:30 at this point.

Late-breaking news

Standing firm at 3600 New York Avenue

And in case I ever yearn for the life back in my old newsroom, here are two posts from MediaBistro about impending layoffs again at the Washington Times. The first is about the mess that Tom McDevitt is making of the whole place and the second has to do with the black humor that reporters have adopted to cope. If anyone cares to read this post from my blog entry on New Year’s Eve 2009 (aptly titled ‘Surviving the Massacre’) about 110 people getting laid off, you’ll quickly pick up the zeitgeist from tons of reporters being shown the door during the Christmas season. Obviously the Times’ management didn’t learn any lesson from the horrible PR it received for cutting so many people lose three years ago this month, so they are playing Ebenezer Scrooge again. MediaBistro says they’re monitoring peoples’ emails, which was not done when I was there. (Not that I know of, that is). I vaguely remember security being ramped up but I knew my job was safe, so I was a lot more careless than most, even walking outside to have my photo defiantly snapped in front of the Times’ building. And it sounds like the misery index this time is much, much higher. Because they’ve been through this how many times before? I remember in the spring of 2008 when a bunch of people – including my immediate boss – were let go and we were promised by John Solomon, the editor at the time, there’d be no layoffs, firings, what-have-you after that. Solomon only lasted another 18 months (although he was brought back this year as a consultant – no doubt a highly paid one) and all the editors since him have been sacked or pushed out in one form or another. As for the employees, I wish them well and hope they end up as well as I have, at a higher salary, mind you. And I wonder if the interior of the building is in as much disrepair as it was when I left. Hopefully they re-hired the exterminator to get rid of the snakes!





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

Thanksgiving in Tennessee and requiem

For awhile there, I thought we’d be having Thanksgiving at Cracker Barrel, as I was not up to cooking a large meal and my brother (with whom we had Thanksgiving last year) now lives 800 miles away. Fortunately a faculty member from the music department heard of my situation and invited us over. And so we had a good time, good conversation, a very filling meal and lots of playmates for Miss V.

Veeka with Ariel, the little mermaid

Just tonight I thought I’d call a friend – Laurie Paffhausen, who was such a great source for a piece I did almost two years ago for WaPo on her brother, Metropolitan Jonah, then head of the Orthodox Church in America. Imagine my shock when he picked up her cell phone and said she had died last week. We had a long conversation, he and I, about the stress she was under because of his ouster from the OCA last July and how it affected her pancreas to where the bleeding would not stop. She was admitted to Georgetown Hospital in early October. I so wish I’d known that when I was in DC back then, as I would have tried to see her somehow. She was only 50 years old when she died. You know, when you’re a reporter, there are some interviews that stay with you and all the conversations we had when I wrote my Metropolitan Jonah piece often made my day. She saw through all the politics, was very discerning about where the landmines were and was worried about her brother’s enemies. Which as it turns out, she had good reason to be. She had wanted to be by his side in early 2011; she only got to move to DC last winter and we tried for months to get together and finally I took Veeka to see her in mid-May at a lovely home in northwest Washington. We spent the afternoon together and had the nicest time chatting. I remember what a gorgeous spring day it was and how all the flowers were out. She too was looking for a job and we commiserated over how hard it was to find work in your middle age. When I heard in early July that her brother had been relieved of his duties, I called and emailed her but we could never connect. I could not imagine the stress she was feeling now that her brother was out of work, she had no work herself and their aged parents had just been uprooted from San Diego to spend their last years near Jonah who presumably would be leading the OCA for the next few decades. And then I moved. Now, of course, it is too late. Surely she never dreamed that Washington would literally be the death of her. Jonah did say he received her into Orthodoxy before she died.

It’s sunny and cold here, so I’ve been chopping down my banana plants, of which I have at least four in the backyard. Am trying to figure out how to best care for them in cold weather. After chopping away the leaves, I found little green bananas underneath that never grew to full size. Our growing season is not quite long enough for them; a surprise in that it seemed quite hot here for many months in a row. It’s been suggested I take them inside for the winter, but I don’t exactly have a built-in green house with which to do so. Ideas, anyone?

The photo is from a local craft fair last week where several students dressed as fairytale characters. Seeing them was Veeka’s big moment of the day.

Birthday party

Tonight I was making myself a salad and Veeka asked for a taste of that funny green stuff I was holding. Turns out she likes to munch on raw parsley sprigs. Who knew?

Waiting to blow out candles

Saturday was my baptism of fire in terms of Little Girl Birthday Celebrations. I invited 16 kids. Half that came, which amazed me a bit – only one child from her classroom came and I’d invited nine girls. Fortunately I reached out to other girls Veeka knew from previous schools, daycare last year and the neighborhood and so we had 8 in all. Which was plenty considering there was just me and my long-suffering friend Karen to help. One thing I did not foresee was how nearly half of the girls – upon arriving – grew deathly silent and wouldn’t talk to anyone, mainly because the only person they knew at the party was Veeka. I managed to soothe the fears of most of them but one child was so miserable, she insisted on leaving even though everyone else was dashing about and having a good time. So Karen walked her home.


Lesson 1 in party planning: Kids don’t tend to follow your carefully laid plans in terms of what outdoor games they play. My attempts at leading them through “Red Light, Green Light” and “Duck Duck Goose” lasted all of one minute and they reverted back to the game they really wanted to play which was Hide ‘N Seek. My plans to have them all make themselves bead necklaces succeeded a bit better – that lasted about 10 minutes, as did pin-the-tail-one-the-unicorn. Musical chairs took up a bit more time but by the time two hours had passed, Karen and I were wiped out. But Veeka had a lovely time and a few girls lingered afterwards to build themselves a fort in the back yard, so the fun times lasted most of the afternoon. Since the party theme was rainbows, unicorns, My Little Pony and butterflies, I made a special rainbow-hued cake. Please see below for the multi-striped batter I managed to whip out. And yes, those are lilies of the valley (aka muguet des bois in French) from our front yard on the table. It was 30 years ago this month that I flew to France to join Karen and her soon-to-be fiance Tim while they were spending the first part of 1982 in Paris. I had just left my job of three years as a police reporter in Oregon City to run around Europe for 10 weeks. I remember how the street vendors in Paris sold bunches of muguet des bois on May 1 to passers-by. The smell of those flowers always transports me back  to that era.

my rainbow cake

On Sunday, I had a booth at a local book fair called the Kensington Day of the Book. Last year, it was sunny and hordes of people came. This year, the temps started out in the mid-50s and drizzling. By early afternoon, it had fallen into the upper 40s and it was beyond miserable. I had borrowed a canopy tent from a neighbor and had brought my harp there to attract customers. Even sold two books. But finally I too packed it up – along with all the other local booksellers hoping to make some money – and dashed home and stood in a hot shower for a long time. I’ll be speaking next month – on my birthday in fact – at the Gaithersburg Book Festival from 12:20-1 pm in the Rachel Carson non-fiction tent, then selling books afterwards so if you’re in the area, please come! Hopefully the weather will be a lot more reasonable.

Christmas eve

Veeka (middle) and friends vamping it up at the aviation museum

Well, except for making the dinner salad, everything’s pretty much ready to go. We leave for church in about 2 hours for the “no-rehearsal Christmas pageant” where Veeka will either be an angel like last year or maybe she’ll be one of the 3 kings. The weather here is cold but clear which is delightful for all of us up and down the East Coast who depended on decent flying weather to get in and out during the holidays. Oma and Opa arrived on Tuesday and they’ve been hanging out at the house, decorating the tree, helping me with the groceries, putting up a mirror and wrapping gifts for under the tree, 99% of which are for Miss Veeka. I, alas, am quite late with the Christmas cards, which I only recently ordered from Vista Print – great invention, that site. And there was a slight crisis with my hard drive crashing on Wednesday, which delayed my getting out the Christmas letter. Anyway, Opa is watching the Vikings vs the Redskins, Oma is dozing and I am half-watching Veeka who is playing with her dollhouse.

Veeka with 2 friends: Veronica (l) and Chloe (r) at a Christmas fair

I do have another article out; this one in The Christian Century; my first sale to that magazine and yes, it’s about politics.  I have one more big assignment due and then I need to rustle up more business. Am also starting work for a web site so we’ll see how that goes. The photo to the right shows a scene at the College Park aviation museum where I took Veeka and 2 friends to see Santa Claus land by helicopter which was a thrill (for them). Tons of kids mobbed the event but there were lots of crafts that were free so a good time was had by all except I was left exhausted! The things on their heads are balloons, btw.

Tomorrow will be quiet; opening gifts, then doing little until we head over to Rob and Jan’s for Christmas dinner. The other day, I took Veeka and a friend to the Newseum downtown which was a fascinating look at the history of media and how it has affected our culture. I never really knew about events such as the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and how that spooked the country in the 1930s. There was a whole section of the room devoted to September 11 and a whole wall of newspaper headlines that ran September 12. And screen upon screen of newsreels from the first few hours of that awful day.

My two kitties have so enjoyed all the extra attention they get from Opa so they are definitely enjoying this holiday. Five years ago this week I was in Seattle, madly getting together extra cash for my flight to Kazakhstan. Amazing how quickly the years have passed as Veeka is now 6.

Merry Christmas to all!

Halloween princess

Veeka was OK with being Mother Teresa for the third or fourth year in a row, but after I bought her an orange-and-black princess dress, that is all she wanted to wear. So here are photos of her and some little friends visiting a local aviation museum last weekend to have face paint put on, clamber around the planes, make bats and spiders out of pipe cleaners, lanterns out of paper and eat lots of popcorn. I was exhausted but they had a great time. Giving Veeka a dress – instead of a sari – to wear made walking a lot easier. The aviation museum was a Godsend in that Saturday was the day it snowed here, so there was absolutely nothing to do outside. Well, there wasthat evening walk we took through the jack-o-lantern patch in Greenbelt in the slosh and the mud.

Veeka getting her face painted

By the time most of you are reading this, Veeka will have been baptized and taken her First Communion.  What a process that has turned out to be: Two visits with the priest, the buying of enormous amounts of food for an after-the-baptism party. And the expected sheet cake I’m providing for the parish refreshment table after the service. Plus the stuff for extra punch, fruit, veggies, dips, getting the invites out, ordering and picking up the balloons, getting presents from Oma and Opa, going over the service every night with Veeka so she can properly renounce Satan during the service. Explaining to her what taking the bread and wine really mean and how not to spill anything. Buying white shoes, white flowered headband and several pairs of white tights (little girls have an amazing ability to go through at least one pair a day.)

Watching her friend Veronica Tirador get made up

Deciding the front yard looks like a mess, so spending a few hours raking piles of dead pine needles and producing six bags of yard debris. Mommy very tired after that.  Then arranging for a professional photographer to come and negotiating a contract. Figuring out where in the church we can shoot photos before the service. And getting my hair done for this event.  Getting someone to read the baptism litany during the service. Explaining everything to the godparents (who are Catholics) so they understand what goes on during an Episcopal service. Ordering invitations and sending them out.  It is like planning a mini-wedding! That said, will add that my niece – and Veeka’s cousin – Lindsay just announced her engagement and upcoming wedding next October in the Seattle area. Which means pulling Veeka out of school for at least a week. Will worry about that later.