Category Archives: jobs

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.

Of dogsledding and ice carving

First you have to get positioned on the musher's tracks

First I had to get positioned on the musher’s tracks.

Although it is March here, it seems like we’ve had more snow than ever these past few days. Which is good for us in that tomorrow, the Iditarod (a famous 1,000-mile race from Fairbanks to Nome by dogsled) will take place and for that they need snow. Usually it starts near Anchorage, but this year’s warm temperatures up here has made Anchorage a no-snow zone. So the race start was switched to Fairbanks. I’ll be with my daughter’s class tomorrow helping to chaperone – and for selfish reasons – because I figured that school buses will be able to park closer to the starting line than the general public will. To get in the mood, I did some dog mushing myself a few weeks ago. Someone brought a team of dogs to UAF to let students have a run around a field next to the rec center, so that’s me in the

Then - off you go!

Then – off I went!

very back, in the white jacket. Once you get the hang of balancing yourself on the runners in the back, it’s a lot of fun.
I’ve been filling my days with several classes, one of them a Scandinavian history class I’m taking for fun. Hadn’t realized how many Danish kings were called Christian or Gustav or Carl; ditto for Sweden. Did not know a thing about the history of that part of the world, except I am sort of the class expert on Iceland, having been there twice. Now we’re reading The Emigrants to get a feel for 19th century life in Sweden, which was grim.
For the religion reporting class that I am teaching, I’ve been having a steady stream of guest speakers. So far there’s been a Catholic priest, Baptist minister, Jewish writer, a Muslim grad student and a UAF professor who practices Zen Buddhism. Because of the influx and outflux of military residents, the Baptist church has a turnover of 50% every five years, its minister told us. They average 80 visitors each Sunday, a surprise to me, as I have seen some real lacks in their outreach to visitors. The median age there is 28. Fairbanks has lots of independent churches, he said, and the incidence of sexual abuse among the general population is so high, they have to have extra-vigilant tests for childcare people. The Muslim speaker said there were 120-150 Muslims in Fairbanks (which I thought was a high estimate as there were only a handful at one of the services a student attended) and 3,000+ in Anchorage.

Miss Sunglasses Cool poses by an ice house sculpture

Miss Sunglasses Cool poses by an ice house sculpture

Last Sunday, we visited a real treat: the World Ice Carving Championships, which are here. There was a children’s park of ice houses and sculptures you could slide down or climb on, then a forest full of single-block sculptures done in the most beautiful fashion. I have no idea how some of these folks carved the mermaids, dolphins, horses and other shapes there were. When we visited, the folks carving the multi-block sculptures were just getting started with their chain saws and chisels plus a backhoe to haul in all the ice blocks. It was a sunny afternoon when we visited and it was so much fun.
One announcement: A few weeks ago, I was asked to be one of several contributors to, a 10-year-old blog that critiques religion writing from around the country. I started March 1. My introductory post was here and subsequent posts have been here and here. I’m concentrating on media from Denver and points west and my first piece was on how the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angles Times have treated Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone. Thanks to low news budgets and massive layoffs, there are several states without one religion reporter and some of the major media have no one on staff covering the beat that I can figure out. I’m very happy to be joining a really good group of analysts and getting paid for reading religion news pieces.

Seen in the twilight, this lovely ice carving of a horse's head caught my attention. It was an entry in the World Ice Carving Championships in Fairbanks.

Seen in the twilight, this lovely ice carving of a horse with its foal caught my attention. It was an entry in the World Ice Carving Championships in Fairbanks.


It’s my mother’s 86th birthday today, so I called her, all wheezy with a nasty spring cold that crept up on me unawares. I still have one more term paper to do for a course where our instructor abandoned us two-thirds of the way through the winter-spring term. Another professor – who is quite good – has taken over and has given us until the end of May to get our final papers done. I was slammed with lots of work for my other three courses, so I’m grateful for the reprieve.

Unlike high school, college profs get course evaluations. When I was an undergraduate, I remember how unkind we all were.

Unlike high school, college profs get course evaluations. When I was an undergraduate, I remember how unkind we all were.

Things are coming down to the wire on my job search. I’m on a short list for several positions, which has been gratifying. I’m now waiting, waiting, waiting for committees to make their deliberations while at the same time preparing my house to go on the market. There are so many Ph.Ds available. So I have to work double hard to persuade folks that a person like me with two master’s degrees and a ton of newsroom experience and bylines in top publications is just as good. I was looking at the resume of a friend who’s getting his doctorate this year and it was so discouraging to see how thin his newsroom experience is. But – he will probably do better than I because he has the right degree. A friend told me just today that a major university in Tennessee is laying off its adjuncts, so there’s more people out of work. Here’s an essay comparing the use of adjuncts to slave labor.
One new thing with us is that Veeka finally learned how to ride her bike without training wheels! So she and I have been riding in the evenings, visiting the place where new homes are going up a few blocks away. I’d been trying to get her to learn how to balance herself on a bike and it wasn’t happening and then one

Veeka on her bike.

Veeka on her bike.

day she just went outside and did it. Her bike is way too small for her so now I have to look into getting another one. Her school wraps up next week but even now I have serious questions as to whether anything academic is going on in her class. She doesn’t have homework any longer and it sounds like little is being taught. I’ve already reserved her for several camps (one has to do that around here) in the summer. We’ve also discovered two boys about her age who live just down the street from us, so lately she’s actually had playmates; something she’s lacked for the past two years.

Tweeting and Nadia Bolz-Weber

This week was trying out all sorts of stuff on Twitter. Learning it was not easy! I added more people to my list of those I’m following (about 50), mainly people in journalistic and religion reporting fields. Did a search for serpent handlers, but the only entries are by journalists who are covering the topic or by commentators making fun of those who practice handling. The handlers themselves aren’t on Twitter. One of my requirements was to sign onto Vine, a Twitter subsidiary, which creates 6-second videos. You heard me: Six-second videos. Weird. I know. Here is the one I shot of planes at the Denver airport. I also had a class assignment to tweet about eight or nine different things and even interview people on the street. I got the majority of that done, but it wasn’t easy. Trying to cram a quote into 144 words, as you’ll see in my Broncos tweet, was a challenge.

Nadia Bolz-Weber speaking at a music festival last June.

Nadia Bolz-Weber speaking at a music festival last June.

Intermixed with all this was a magazine assignment for which I got to fly to Denver last Friday for a write- up on Nadia Bolz-Weber, a most interesting Lutheran minister who is 6-foot-one, just wrote a very popular book called Pastorixis covered with tatoos and has a very untraditional congregation called House for all Saints and Sinners. While I followed her about the Parkview section of east Denver, I was sneaking in tweets of various locales, ie the coffeeshops she hangs out in, for this class assignment. Doing everything on one’s iPhone is also awkward as all get-out as I’m wedded to my laptop and not to a tiny screen. Once I got all my photos shot and tweets composed, I put it all together in an ensemble called Storify that is like an Internet bulletin board of all your social media about one topic. I just joined Storify on Tuesday and am trying various ways to make it work.

Cover from Nadia's book "Pastorix."

Cover from Nadia’s book “Pastorix.”

While I was doing all this, I was holed up at a local Marriott where I’d type up my notes when not pursuing Nadia to various coffee shops, her CrossFit class, her home and then to a Thai restaurant where I had a few hours to pose questions. But 4 pm Saturday, we were both tired, so I took off to do some shopping at stores that don’t even exist in Tennessee. It being sunny that Saturday, I thought I’d run up into the mountains for a quick ski Sunday morning. Well…I woke up at 6:30 a.m. Sunday to find a huge storm had blown in, several feet of snow was falling on I-70, traffic was already backed up and the wind chill factor at the ski area I was aiming for was -2. And so I chose to relax in my hotel room, finish typing up my notes, watch the Olympics and warm up in a hot tub. Later on I ran into a man in the hotel elevator who said he’d been stuck on the highway for eight hours. I did well to stay in Denver.

And so now I’m back in Jackson as a few snow flakes lazily float through the air. One of our assignments this week was to read Clay Shirky, an NYU prof and media critic whose “Here Comes Everybody” is on our syllabus. He also operates a web site, where he posted this depressing look at high education late last month. I seem to have a talent for entering fields as they’re cutting back. I was in journalism 30 years, the last five of which were filled with cutbacks and lay-offs. Am now in academia, which has seen better days. While sitting in the hotel room Sunday morning, I polished off three chapters with titles like “Everyone is a Media Outlet” (true, depressingly); “Publish, the Filter” and “Personal Motivation Meets Collaborative Production.” The first chapter has to do with what happens to journalists when everyone thinks they can report on and publish news.

I shot this photo of Nadia in June 2012 at the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina. She is to the right, presiding at Communion.

I shot this photo of Nadia in June 2011 at the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina. She is in the center in a black tank top, presiding at Communion.

It used to be that journalists were trained and screened in or out through jobs and apprenticeships at smaller media that weeded out all but the most talented and persistent. If you lasted through the first five years at various small-town sweatshops, you then graduated to a Big Newsroom, which is what happened to me. After 6 1/2 years at two small newspapers, I was magically elevated to a post at the Houston Chronicle at the age of 30. Which is why, several years later, I was not amused to see large newspapers (where I eventually wanted to end up) hiring much cheaper people straight out of college and skipping those of us who’d gone through the training. I (and a lot of other babyboomer reporters) were never able to get to the top tier of newspapers for this reason. Most of my friends dropped out of newspapers and went into PR or academia. I hung out at the Washington Times until my 50s. But there was never any debate as to whether I was a journalist. These days, says Shirky, just about anyone with video capability and a blog platform is clamoring for the privileges that it took me and those like me years to earn.

Sign for Nadia's church

Sign for Nadia’s church

Which is why journalists (who are trained) and bloggers (most of whom are not) are at such loggerheads with each other, as NYU prof Jay Rosen points out in this speech. His point is that bloggers are closer to what American media was like during its first 200 years: Opinionated, sometimes horribly wrong but always passionate. Only in the 20th century did objectivity (I’d call it professionalism) enter in, he says. Rosen thinks journalists need to get a life but I’ve been both journalist and blogger and my response to bloggers is that if you want the privileges of journalism, you need to accept its  liabilities, ie lawsuits. The Washington Times had its own legal department to deal with all the people who wanted to sue us and every other newspaper has one too, or at least an attorney within close reach. I’m still waiting for inaccurate bloggers to get hit with some of the lawsuits that newspapers get threatened with. The only reason there’s been so few of them is because bloggers don’t have the deep pockets that newspapers have. (That sounds nasty, doesn’t it? I really don’t want anyone to be sued but I haven’t enjoyed being edged out of an occupation partly because of things that bloggers do).

On a personal note, Veeka was named Student of the Month for January in her 2nd grade class. It was a nice gesture in what's been a very lonely year for her.

On a personal note, Veeka was named Student of the Month for January in her 2nd grade class. It was a nice gesture in what’s been a very lonely year for her.

Shirky also spent an entire chapter on Wikipedia, explaining why such a chaotic mess somehow works. The book is a bit dated in that he doesn’t include the reasons behind Wikipedia’s pleas for contributions.  He does have some interesting theories on “love” as manifested in the Internet. (Wikipedia is a Shinto shrine; it exists not as an edifice but as an act of love, he writes. Wikipedia exists because enough people love it and, more important, love one another in its context.) People work on Wikipedia entries for that reason, he says. Because everyone contributes, it’s a pages magically self-correct themselves thanks to an invisible cadre of editors out there who have the free time to monitor their pet topics. But how does one attract the sort of person who builds up instead of vandalizes? I’m not sure he says.

Anyway, I built a file about my trip in Storify. Click here to see it!


Holy Saturday tulips

Can’t help boasting about all the lovely flowers out in my yard. The first photo shows a row I planted along what was an ugly back alley in back of my garage. It now looks lovely with tons of yellow, orange and purple tulips everywhere. I bought a whole bunch of bulbs from Holland America last year and worked my butt off planting them last fall all over my yard and am now reaping the benefits.

New plantings outside the garage

We’ve had unbelievable weather in the past few days: crisp, golden spring days with blue, blue skies. Kind of nippy temps in the 50s but it goes up to the 60s in the afternoons with a cool soft breeze. Took Veeka to an egg hunt this morning at church, then lingered afterwards to help arrange flowers. Miss V is losing so many of her upper teeth, she’s taking on a vampire look. But with those teeth come visits by the Tooth Fairy which allow Veeka to buy packets of her beloved Trident gum. We’re still working on her counting abilities up to 100 and on Saturdays I am teaching her how to dust – about time she helped Mommy, no?

More tulips underneath the crape myrtle

Am also trying to get a treehouse built in time for her 7th birthday which is coming up. Tonight we head to a meeting of the American-Kazakh Association at some ballroom in Virginia. Decided to splurge on tickets as it’s the first ethnic-y thing I’ve been able to take her to. Have been reading “Inheritance,” the last of the 4-part Eragon series by Christopher Paolini – what a pleasure it’s been to lie in bed and read cool fantasy. And for your viewing pleasure, here is an article I have in today’s Wall Street Journal – my first in that publication – on young snake handlers. It was supposed to come out weeks ago but they delayed it three times until – finally – today. Enjoy it here.

Sunny, cold days

Snowball maker

It is in the 30s these days, but at least – unlike poor Alaska – we’re not having snow. Being that I got into a fenderbender last weekend and my car is quasi-driveable, I am glad for the lack of white stuff. However, I got a $10 LLBean coupon in the mail so today Veeka and I went to the store to see what we could get for that amount of money. She latched onto – I kid you not – something that looked like a cross between a red plastic pair of tongs and an ice cream scoop. The clerk told us it was a snowball maker. OK….

Veeka and her oeuvre d'art

The photo here is of Veeka posing next to some artwork she did for a class last month. Her teacher thinks she is quite talented so I am trying to encourage her art. And a few other things: She is taking a swim class at the county pool on Saturdays but because she could not glide far enough, she was demoted from Level 2 to Level 1 to get her stroke down. She is so thin, she shivers in the pool so I am looking about for a thermal suit to buy her. Other news: My “Days of Fire and Glory” book finally made it into Kindle so you can download it here.

And some friends of mine who run a think tank known as the Edmund Burke Institute just ran one of my essays here. This week has been filled with preparations for teaching a religion writing course at the University of Maryland starting Jan. 25. I finally turned in my syllabus, which took more work than I thought. It’s tough to think 15 weeks in advance as to what you might be teaching as this is a new course and I have no idea how long certain things might take to cover. And my class is a nearly 3-hour marathon on Wednesday mornings which saves on parking fees but basically mandates a coffee break midway through. So now I’m getting all sorts of emails from the university and gradually getting to know the campus as I drop by to get my faculty/adjunct ID number and next, my parking passes as there are parking ghouls aplenty on that campus that literally sit and wait for you to be one minute late to your car. One was waiting for me in a white pick-up on Thursday; fortunately I had three minutes on my meter but I would have loved to have fired a dart into one of his tires.

Sixteen years, 18 months

It was 16 years ago on Nov. 23, 1995 that I drove east on I-66 on Thanksgiving Day to begin a new life in the DC area working for the Washington Times. I swore I’d only be here 2 years. Sixteen years later, am still here. Funny how life works out that way. I’ve always loved the West but the bulk of my life has been spent back East.

Veeka at the memorial

The photos are of Veeka at the Sept. 11 memorial at the Pentagon. I recently visited the place with a friend and it’s amazing how many years it took me to finally visit there. I got to see Ground Zero about six months after Sept. 11 but the Pentagon memorial is tough to get to, especially for little kids. Actually I did drive up to the actual spot in one of the Pentagon parking lots about a month after the event until a Humvee started chasing me around. So I went to a hillside overlooking the place that was filled with signs and crosses and flowers.

And as of Dec. 1, I will have been out of work 18 months. I can’t even list how many places I’ve sent resumes off to; how many phone calls I’ve made, e-mails sent. And so many times I’ve had my hopes raised, only to have them thoroughly dashed, like a certain university that seemed on the brink of flying me out for a job interview – and then they picked someone else to talk with. Funny how they rejected him, too. I never knew how draining it was to look for work and how drawing up separate applications and cover letters for each job takes at least an hour per opening. Which really eats up your day. And how certain web sites, ie and some of the military sites simply devour your resume. I’ve been in the middle of filling in all their blanks when a note will flash, saying I’ve been on their site too long and zzzzap – all the information I’ve inputted is gone.

Veeka on one of the memorial slabs

The word on the street is that it’s basically useless applying for any job unless you know someone on the inside because you just get lost in the pile. I’ve found that to be true; and the only chances I’ve gotten are places where I’ve had an “in” somewhere.  I’ve been amazed too at the people who I’ve helped throughout the years, yet now that I am in need, they never bother to call or help out. Fortunately there have been a few saints who’ve gone out of their way to give me ideas and help me through this mess.

Veeka is fine and really hasn’t noticed the belt tightening. She is always full of theological questions. “How will we get up to heaven?” she asks. “We float up like Mary Poppins” I tell her. “I’m scared,” she says. “Oh, it’ll be fun,” I reassure her. “Woo hoo!” she chortles. “Can I give Jesus a hug?” She also is curious about how we will all fit on Jesus’ horse when he show up for the Second Coming. I explain only he will ride the horse, the rest of us will float about with the angels, apparently.

This Sunday we will light the second candle on our Advent wreath. Another year is coming to an end.