Category Archives: Travels

The book is OUT

It took 2 months but a couple bought it and I couldn’t be happier. I was told they both attended Union University at one point (where I taught for a year), which was kind of nice. Hated to let it go, but it was time.

Once again, I’ve realized that I’ve let months go by without blogging, so I’ll try to make up for it with a l-o-n-g entry. The big news in my life is I finally SOLD my house in Tennessee; my serpent handlers book release date is coming up this month as review copies are being sent out this week and pre-orders will be filled the following week. And my epic Washington Post piece on Paula White comes out Nov. 19. It should go online the evening of the 16th and I’ll send out a more detailed blog in a few days telling about what it was like to research it.

The serpents book was actually due out Nov. 6, but some delays on the publishing end pushed things back a bit. But I am already lining up book signings, especially in the Pacific Northwest although I am open to traveling elsewhere. If anyone wants to help me promote this through Tweets, etc., let me know!

To go back a bit and review, Veeka had the last week of August off, so I decided to stay local. We borrowed a tent from the local Girl Scouts office (as a member, Veeka gets this for nothing) and packed that plus some inflatable mattresses we’d gotten from her previous troop into the car and headed for Lake Chelan State Park in central Washington. Once there, I was racing to get the 4-person tent up before dark, but finally had to beg for help from a passerby. We were right on the lake, which was pleasant but camping on the sand made us constantly dirty.
So the following day we repaired to Slidewaters, a local waterpark which was quite charming and not near as crowded as its Seattle-area counterparts. Before jumping into the water, we

Veeka chilling in front of the old Stehekin school house about 3 miles from the lodge. I was amazed how nothing in that village seems to have locks.

had an immense breakfast at Blueberry Hills Farms across the lake in nearby Manson, an area I’d never seen before. We also got to drop by two wineries. Fortunately the local wine places “only” charge $5 tasting fees, unlike outlets east of Seattle that charge a whopping $20. I found a nice Gewurztraminer at Mellisoni Vineyards and had a nice visit to Karma Vineyards as well, where they had a lovely patio area and didn’t charge us a thing.

On our third day, we caught an early morning ferry to Stehekin, a village some 25 miles up the lake that can only be reached by boat, barge or plane. We settled in at the lodge and enjoyed our next two days of biking and poking about. There were a lot of Europeans there; folks who had dropped in from the Pacific Crest Trail (which was 8 miles to the west) for a good night’s sleep in a bed. I asked several of them why they chose to come here when they had the Swiss Alps over there. Everyone told me that it’s impossible to be alone in the Alps, as there’s homes everywhere you look and no solitude. Whereas the PCT is very much about solitude.

Christina and her grandmother (my mom) at her Oct. 28 wedding in Portland.

We wandered about a beautiful historic apple orchard, hiked to a waterfall, visited a huge vegetable garden and an amazing bakery, swam in some very chilly water and explored the local school house. The bulletin board by the post office is fun to read if for no other reason that it gives you a glimpse of the folks who live in the area. And the post office was piled high with care packages for all the hikers.
And the hiking register, also in the post office, is filled with signatures of hikers from all over the world. People sign with their trail names, like “Locomotive” or “Bronco.” One wrote:

Roses are red
My body is dirty
That 15 miles
Sure felt like 30.

The Stehekin Lodge, where we stayed 2 nights, is the most relaxing place to spend a sunny afternoon.

After that, Veeka started school again and then I had a long-planned business trip to Nashville as I was part of the organizing committee for the annual conference of the Religion News Association, a gathering of journalists whose primary beat is religion. We flew there Sept. 6. It was simply haunting to be back in Tennessee.

The landscape was so green-and-rolling-hills when we landed and the temps were in the 70s, breezy and delightful. We stayed at the Gaylord Opry Hotel, which has a vast indoor garden with bridges, moats, varied-color lights, giant palm trees and the sound of water falls everywhere. It took awhile to find our room and way around, as the place was a gigantic maze plus we had to park far away to escape the $29/day lot fee.

Then we met an old friend from Union University days downtown at The Southern, a downtown lovely restaurant that served up raw oysters, fish w/grits, Thai tacos and sweet tea. Hearing the southern accents, driving I-40 through town, dropping by the Opryland Mall all brought back 3-year-old memories of our sojourn there from 2012-2014. All of which were made sweeter by texts from my real estate guy in Jackson informing me he’d found a buyer for my home and that documents awaited me to sign. Evicting my former tenant and sinking $6,000+ into cleaning the place has been SUCH a long haul in recent months so I was grateful there was light at the end of my tunnel.

Biking on the road from Stehekin nine miles to the Pacific Crest Trail trailhead, one found cute roadside objects like this.

On Sept. 7, I drove back to Jackson where Veeka was going to stay with her old friend Ava while I attended the conference. It was such a day of reliving memories. The 2-hour drive to Jackson, with the stop at Loretta Lynn’s restaurant (exit 143); the places for cheap gas (exists 126 and 108); the arrival into Jackson off exits 80 and 82; visiting Union University with the huge domed library that dominates the entire campus. I found it odd the president and provost have their offices on the third floor, which must make it inconvenient for other staff to get to them.

Then there was the new coffee bar in the campus library that was charming and driving about the campus itself, which was pretty much the same as when I worked there. Driving up the 45 bypass, I visited Alan Castleman, my real estate agent who had found me some good buyers. I left him a candy box of applets and cotlets in gratitude. For those of you not from the Pacific Northwest, that’s kind of like the official candy of Washington state.

Driving down Old Humboldt Road to our old house, we drove past cotton fields that I hadn’t seen in years. Our development, Shepherd’s Field has been dramatically expanded to the north with all new homes. When I got to my house and got inside, it didn’t look as fresh as I had left it three years ago. It took months to get the tenant out and I invested a lot in getting the place cleaned, re-painted and new carpet installed to attract buyers. Fortunately, Celeste, a friend from my old church, came by and planted some new flowers to spruce up the place, so I am very grateful to her and to Randall Cox, the yard care man who helped me get some improvements done long distance. I also retained a good agent and it paid off. The closing date was Oct. 31. Yes!

I drove back to Nashville in a fog but had a lovely time at Cochon Butcher, a mostly outdoors restaurant in the Germantown section of town that had cunningly assembled pork dishes and some real creative treatments of vegetables, ie the sweet pickles I tried. The person I met there was Langley Granbery, an old friend from Trinity days. So much water had gone under the bridge since our families had last met 2013, so we had a lot of catching up to do. He and Lois have 5 successful and smart children. They live in a lovely house south of town.

Me and James Goll on my revivalists panel. Photo by Joe Schiska courtesy of the RNA.

Then it was back to the Gaylord, where I was on the organizing committee for this conference. It’d been awhile since I’d been at an RNA event, chiefly because I was attending college journalism prof (AEJMC) conferences in recent years until my life as a professor came to an end when we moved to Seattle. One thing that made this conference touching was the presence of Jeff Weiss, a Dallas Morning News reporter who was dying of brain cancer. He got an award at the conference and I was told he would last until at least January, but he died three months early on Oct. 25. Did he have some help doing so? I don’t know, but I wrote this memorial post in his memory.

One of the most popular panels of the weekend was the one I put together on “the new revivalists,” about a movement among charismatic and Pentecostal Christians that some hate and others love. I wrote about it – in part – here last year and Christianity Today profiled one of its main leaders here but it’s a many-faceted tough movement to pin down. I felt that other journalists needed to know about this trend, so I put together this panel, which included James Goll, one of the masterminds behind the movement; Holly Pivec, who operates a blog that opposes this revivalist movement and

From left: me, James Goll, Holly Pivec and Paula White. Photo by Bobby Ross.

Paula White, President Trump’s spiritual advisor who has nothing to do with the movement but who I persuaded to come speak at the conference and this was the only panel she really fit into. James spoke at the Seattle-area church I currently attend and I had to do some wheedling among some folks to get access to him, but once I did, he agreed to come. It helped that he lives in Nashville. Holly attends my former church in Fairbanks, which I didn’t find out until after I’d moved to Seattle! So wish I’d known she was there, as I was so lonely that year we were in Alaska – I only had one friend there – but somehow we never crossed paths.

Anyway, another member of the panel had cancelled, so I contacted her on the off chance she’d want to fly to Nashville on her own dime, since the RNA doesn’t pay for speakers’ airfare. She agreed to do so and it was a good choice for her, because she got introduced to a lot of reporters in a very short time, as she had a very good presentation. I believe the panel (which I moderated) was the most-attended in the entire conference and reporters sure swarmed around Paula later to get quotes, so I considered it a success. You can listen to a video of the panel here. The rest of the conference went well enough, and afterwards I met with Allison Biggers at Loveless Cafe, a part-restaurant, part-tourist attraction west of Nashville. Lots of fun. Then I drove back to Jackson to pick up Veeka, say one last good-bye to the house, then head to Alabama to stay with Rebecca and Craig Hodge in Huntsville and zip down to Birmingham to see John Morgan, who provided many of the photos for the serpents book. Then over to east Tennessee to see Terry and Debra and Frye Mattingly and visit

It really is worth a visit.

the publisher of my book at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Also went out to lunch with John David Hatch, the photographer who provided the cover shot for the book. One place we dropped by in Scottsboro, Ala., on our way to Tennessee, is the Unclaimed Baggage warehouse, the one place in the nation where you can buy stuff from peoples’ lost luggage. I’d heard of the place but had never found the time to get there. It’s very much off the beaten track – about an hour east of Huntsville – but we had fun there and Veeka got some new black patent leather heels.

It did feel strange driving I-40 again, as I spent the better part of my two years in Tennessee criss-crossing the state on that road. Right after we got back, my niece Lindsay had her second child, a daughter, Madelyn Marie, on the 18th, keeping up with a family tradition of September birthdays. (She is Rob’s youngest daughter) And then another niece, Christina, (Steve’s oldest daughter) got married Oct. 28, which meant a trip to Portland for all of us. Fortunately, the weather that weekend was beyond fabulous, as it was awful the weekend before and the weekend after. Which puts 2017 in a much nicer light than 2016, when my dad and Lindsay’s maternal grandfather died. At least we added to the family this year instead of losing folks.

Lindsay and a sleepy Madelyn and Veeka at Christina’s wedding reception.

So now I’m in the midst of a PR blitz for my new book. I have an offer for readers of this blog: If you buy my book and can show me a receipt, I’ll send you a copy of my 2009 book: Days of Fire and Glory: The Rise and Fall of a Charismatic Community for only $5 (which covers postage). Email me at with a photo of the receipt. The publisher folks told me in Knoxville they had an unusually high number of pre-orders for the book, so they were upping their press run. Of course I’m hoping for some good reviews, as I don’t come out with books everyday. I am having a signing at 7 p.m. on Dec. 7 at Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way in Lake Forest Park, so if you live in the Seattle area and are reading this, please come. Am still putting together my presentation: Videos of snake handlers, maybe? Must say, every time I lecture on this, people are fascinated, even in a I-wouldn’t-be-caught-dead-at-one-of-these-services kind of way.

The dog days of summer

Veeka in a clothing-optional hot pool at Breitenbush

These are the dog days of summer, so named because the ancient Romans believed that the star Sirius (known as the “dog star” because it was the brightest in the constellation of Canis Major), actually radiated extra heat toward the Earth during the summer, when Sirius rises and sets with the sun.

Veeka had some time off in June, so she went to a local Bible camp, then enjoyed a soccer camp where she could bone up on the game before joining a league this fall. She did well. Meanwhile, over the Fourth of July weekend, we attended a family camp near Silverton, Oregon sponsored by Good Samaritan Ministries, a Beaverton-based charity that I’ve been connected with for years. The weather was decent and it was located in the woods near Silver Creek Falls State Park, a tourist draw in that area.

Right after that, we went to Breitenbush, an alternative resort that specializes in vegetarian food and hot springs located near Detroit Lakes, Oregon. Breitenbush is made up of scores of individual cabins near some rivers in the Oregon wilderness.

My budding soccer star

It’s a holistic retreat and conference center that’s pretty New Agey in a way but I must say I certainly gained no weight with their non-sugar, non-dairy cuisine. Veeka found a few friends there to play with in the tubs, which are clothing-optional, which was a bit odd. One was always trying to make fascinating conversation with the other people soaking away while trying to keep one’s eyes focused from the waist up. With me having gained lots of weight in recent years, I wasn’t too wild about appearing in the buff but just about everyone else did so. By this time, the weather had seriously warmed up, so it was delightful being in the mountains without simultaneously freezing to death.

The following weeks were filled with new stuff (to us) such as attending our first-ever Seattle Mariners game downtown, which was great fun in that the Mariners beat the Oakland A’s that time around. We spent a weekend camping out – with folks from our church – at Fort Casey on Whidbey Island and went harvesting mussels; a new experience. Basically, you stand in the cold water and scoop up loads of shells that are affixed to huge clumps of seaweed.

Otherwise this summer, we’ve been on a ton of hikes and trips to places like Guemes Island (in Puget Sound), Tipsoo Lake and Natches Peak (near Mt. Rainier), a Christian family conference at Warm Beach (north of Everett), Franklin Falls (near Snoqualmie Pass) and lots of other outings thanks to Seattle’s record-breaking rainless summer this year.From mid-June on, there was no rain in western Washington. Before that, there was nine months of continuous rain. We finally

Me at the summit of the Natches Peak loop hike with Mt. Rainier in the background. Gorgeous views and clear, fresh air.

got a miniscule portion of rain on Aug. 12, setting a new rainless record at 55 days, all of which drove Veeka and I to try out several unusual swimming pools in Seattle, one of which is right on the waterfront.

We also had a quickie trip to Washington, DC at the end of July for a piece I’m doing for the Washington Post Sunday magazine that I’ll talk about closer to publication. Will say that Veeka (who I took with me) and I expected hot weather but we got three very cool days there. She and I stayed near our old place in Hyattsville and got to see several old friends. I was delighted to find that the photographer accompanying me on the assignment was none other than Mary Calvert, who I knew from Washington Times days and who’s now gone freelance. (Mary shot the photo of me in Lucknow, India that’s featured on this blog). It was very odd to be reporting again in downtown DC, which included my getting on the White House grounds for about two hours. I retired from full-time reporting seven years ago, thinking I would move seamlessly to a career as a college professor. Which worked out for a few years until all the jobs in my field dried up.

So I’ve been picking up gigs here and there and trying new ones, such as helping folks write books. Will say that a book that I’ve been editing along with Dr. Bob Eckert, who was one of the chief elders at Church of the Redeemer during the 1960s and 1970s, is now out and ready to order!

). I’m very happy about its release in July because we had a ton of delays in getting that project done. If you want a good read, please order “God’s Doctor: A Texas Physician and the Miracles of God.”

Veeka enjoying the Mariners game and, even more importantly, the blue cotton candy.

AND, my upcoming book is also available for pre-order on Amazon, so naturally I’m excited. Right now I’m editing page proofs and putting together an index for the book, all while I’m also putting together the aforementioned WaPo piece, which will be about 4,000 words. Nothing like three deadlines all on the same day.

about that. I’d love to say I could make a living writing full-time but I’ve not discovered how to do that as a freelancer. Speaking of freelancing, Veeka has started a small petsitting business and just got $50 from her first cat-sitting engagement. Housing prices are sky-high anywhere near Seattle, so every little bit helps. Other than that, I’ve been reading tons of books to Veeka, including another go at The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I read straight through. Starting in May, we began watching all the movies and appendices connected with LOTR, so everything was very Tolkienesque around our household for awhile. Then I moved on to Zenna Henderson’s “The People” stories and am now wrapping up Joy Chant’s “Red Moon, Black Mountain” one of the best sci-fi books ever. So wish Studio Ghibli (a Japanese studio) would pick it up for one of their movies! It’s got just the right mystical storyline for a Miyazaki film. Will say that Chant’s worldview is very Christian, so the showdown between Lucifer and the Archangel Michael near the end of the book is one of the best confrontations in all of literature.

Our missing piece, one year gone

My mother and Veeka at Cannon Beach by Haystack Rock.

These are the lovely days of early summer when the days are long and beautiful. We’ve had a run of lovely weather lately, so I took a dip and went kayaking Thursday in the local lake, courtesy of a long-time high school friend who has a home on Lake Sammamish. Last week, I took my mom and Veeka to Manzanita, Ore., where friend have a cottage they graciously let us rent cheaply. My mom hadn’t been to the beach in ages and certainly not to the Oregon coast in at least a decade. Our first day, we wandered about Cannon Beach, a nearby town that was packed with tourists there to see a sandcastle building contest. We wandered near Haystack Rock, a huge stone island in the surf.
The next day, we sat on the beach at Manzanita where it was sunny and then a fog bank rolled in. There was still some sunlight but huge drifts of white stuff passing by us, as the clouds had come down and seeing people wander about the beach mixed in fog and sun was like a Brigadoon stage set. Of course Veeka didn’t want to be more than 10 feet from the waves at any point of time. I always forget how lush and rain forest-like the coast is. On our way back, we had lunch with a friend of my mom’s in Astoria, a city I’d never been to in all my years in Oregon. Our restaurant was right at the mouth of the Columbia River, where huge barges floated on by.

With Manzanita behind her, Veeka runs toward the water while clouds fill the beach.

A number of things have happened since I last wrote, one being that I had another birthday. Just before that, I’d seen an essay by Anne Lamott, who is the same age as me, on her thoughts about turning 61. So,I decided to write down a few pieces of wisdom about what I know at this venerable age. First is:
PERSEVERANCE – Never, never, never, never, never give in. Winston Churchill said this first, not me, and it’s true. The only way I’ve gotten a lot of things in life is that I plugged and plugged away. I’ve had TWO books that both went through more than 30 rejections from various publishers before they were picked up by actual publishing houses instead of vanity or self-publishers. One came out in 2009 and the second is coming out this fall (University of Tennessee Press, everyone!). Then I had a children’s book that came out in 1998, then was taken out of print two years later even though it was still selling. The publisher sat on the rights to the illustrations for 10 years. I never gave up bugging them about this until finally a new set of executives was hired and they gave me the rights in 2010. It went back into print in 2011.

This is a hike I dragged Veeka on that’s near Stevens Pass in the Cascades. We were on our way back from Barclay Lake.

TRAVEL – When flying somewhere for an event, always plan to arrive a day early. Airlines these days are so messed up, it’s easy to get bumped and marooned overnight if not longer. Had I not followed this advice last summer, I would have missed a friend’s wedding in Montreal. We were flying there via Washington DC when thunderstorms hit while we were changing flights at Dulles. (Note: Never fly through any East Coast city in the afternoon during the summer thunderstorm season, which lasts about 3 months. The humidity brings in the thunderheads and it’s good-bye to flying anywhere that day.) Anyway, all East Coast airports shut down and we were stuck. United put us on an early flight out the next day, then that got cancelled. Fortunately, they put on an extra plane and got a bunch of us up to Canada in time.
YOU CAN GIVE UP COFFEE – Recently, I decided to get serious about losing some weight I’ve gained in recent years and went on a diet that forbids one to drink coffee on the grounds that coffee is a toxin that compromises the liver’s ability to burn fat and thus the liver stores the fat around your middle. I’ve been on this diet off and on since 2012 (when I lost a ton of weight on it), so starting June 1, I went off the java. After the first few days, I have begun to do very well w/o caffeine. I almost have more energy than I used to and yes, the pounds are coming off. I know many people feel they can’t give up caffeine but it is possible.
I’ve gotten a few things published recently, including this piece on traveling the AlCan with kids, which appeared in AAA’s Journey magazine. Also, there’s another travel piece on Barkerville, a historic town in central British Columbia that I wrote for ParentMap, a local web site with amazing ideas of things to do with kids. Journey just came out with another piece of mine but alas, I don’t have the link for it. Here’s another link that shows a portfolio of my work in a very attractive layout. And lastly, here is the first mention of my upcoming book from Inside Higher

This is a buddy bumper ball that we discovered during Duvall Days.

We’ve done lots of local travel like a lovely fair in Duvall that Veeka and I went to one Saturday where she ended up wrapped in this huge plastic ball – called a buddy bumper ball – which apparently is the rage these days. It’s fun watching kids bang into each other, then bounce helplessly across the grass. After that, we went for dinner at the home of a Lewis & Clark alum who lives in the middle of the wilderness in a gorgeous home overlooking the Tolt River. She’s selling it for $1.3 million. Then I got a pair of hiking boots for my birthday, which means I can drag Veeka on more treks in the mountains. And the 80-year-old bed she had been using (that was used by my mom when she was a kid) broke recently, so Veeka got a lovely PINK bunk bed that some saintly friends helped us assemble.

On a sadder note, today is the first anniversary of my father’s death, which was June 24 last year. We still miss him very much and Veeka keeps on saying that she always expects him to be sitting in his rocking chair when she comes through the door. It was odd last week when it was Father’s Day and for the first time in my life, my dad was not here. And it feels that a piece of our lives will always be missing. My mom had not traveled at all since he died, which is why, over Mother’s Day weekend, I took her on a ferry to Sequim (on the Olympic peninsula), to see the new home that my brother Rob and his wife, Jan, live in. Seems amazing that seven years ago, Rob and I were both living in Maryland and, by circuitous routes, we both came back to the Pacific Northwest. It also feels odd that we are well past the middle of the second decade of this century. I remember thinking forward to what the year 2000 would be like and now we’re 17 years past that.

Veeka, my mom and Rob in front of his place in Sequim.

In which Veeka turns 12

Veeka is just about ready to blow out the candles on her cake. To her left is Wyatt, the son of her cousin Lindsay.

I was agonizing over just how to celebrate Veeka’s 12 birthday and in the end, it all came together. Her birthday was on Easter day. So I took 40 pink-icing cupcakes (with red “V’s” added for you-know-who) to her Sunday school class, which sang “happy birthday” to her and helped eat the food; then we drove to Oma’s where we had a nice Easter banquet with more family members there. Veeka delighted in her gifts, which included lots of clothes because she’s growing so fast and constantly grows out of stuff. So I make good use of the Hannah Andersson outlet north of us in Woodinville.
Her day was a bright spot in a gloomy spring, weather-wise, that has become infamous for setting a record in rainfall. Just today (April 24), we broke a 122-year record for rainfall and believe me, it’s truly felt like we’ve been in a monsoon since last summer. Easter weekend was the first rain-less weekend since September. So it’s been tough to get

My little hiker with Opa’s old walking stick and a new bun in her hair.

out. Not that we haven’t tried. Just last Friday, we hiked a seven-mile round trip slog up nearby Squak mountain that ended up in a magnificent view of Mt. Rainier during the prettiest and sunniest day we’ve had in eons. V had put up her hair in a bun, as she’s getting into hair styling these days and disocovering what fun it is. But it was row after row of switchbacks that took nearly two hours each way, and in the end it was Veeka helping me the last few hundred feet. I had worn the wrong shoes and my feet were getting blisters. Need to invest in hiking boots!
Other outings have been inbetween rain showers. During spring break, we visited the tulip gardens up in Skagit Valley (about 90 minutes north of us) but even they were soggy from all the water. We then drove through La Conner, a cute town that I had last seen as a high school student, then whipped by Deception Pass State Park, a pretty spot on the Sound that is packed during the summer.
We did get to go skiing one more, this time an early April visit to Mission Ridge in Wenatchee (in central Washington), which was sunny in ways the west side of the mountains was not. Mission Ridge was offering free lessons to fifth graders, so of course we HAD to take advantage of that. It was icy or slushy skiing for me but Veeka sailed through her ski lesson and the instructor said she was ready to get on a chair. So next year, I’ll be on the lookout for a series of

At Mission Ridge: Veeka poses with her instructor before a 2-hour lesson.

lessons. We get up so early on weekday mornings that I don’t have the heart to drag her up on Saturdays for the ski bus to Snoqualmie Pass, but there must be another way. She definitely prefers downhill to cross country.
The cherry blossoms have been out with a vengeance this spring, so we dropped by the Quad at the University of Washington, where there were lots of blooming pink creations surrounded by tons of people with cameras. And this was on a weekday, albeit one without rain. We were near the UW

Me and the blossoms on the University of Washington quad.

because Veeka was in the neighborhood for a braces appointment. Many thanks to those who’ve boosted the GoFundMe to $3,350 to date and believe me, that money will be spent. A few weeks later, we went to Portland where I showed her my alma mater, Lewis & Clark, which has expanded quite a bit since I was there in the 70s. Veeka says she hopes to attend the UW and I tell her that her academics need to improve a lot more before that happens. Otherwise, things have been quiet. We tried a visit to Seattle’s Chinatown several weeks ago but only got to a few sites because of the unrelenting downpour that day. Am so hoping sunnier days will arrive soon.

Skiing Vancouver Island

Veeka and her kind ski instructor at Mt. Washington.

It’s already March; we’re switching back to daylight savings time this coming weekend and the GoFundMe campaign for Veeka’s braces is at an even $3,000, thanks to many people. More is needed, but Veeka’s had her first orthodontist appointment at the University of Washington dental school mainly so they can assess what she needs. I’ve already had other private orthodontists do that, but most of them charged way more and the UW likes having their students do their own assessments. So there we are.
The biggest thing we’ve done in recent weeks is travel to north across the border to Vancouver Island, where I had a travel assignment for a piece on the Mt. Washington Alpine Resort  about 70 miles north of Nanaimo. The tourism bureau picked up a lot of our expenses (that’s the beauty of travel writing) so we could sample the slopes. Anyone who’s been watching the weather out here knows the West Coast has gotten a ton of snow this winter, so the skiing is pretty nice. We stayed in the town of Courtenay where there were lots of decent restaurants and less snow. A few days before we left, I discovered the Veeka had outgrown all her snow wear, so we found a very nice consignment shop in Courtenay called the Blue Toque where we loaded up on some boots, snow pants and a cheap pair of cross-country skiis for me. The U.S. dollar goes far in Canada, so why not?

Just north of Goose Spit Park is a long staircase that people climb for good views. Here’s what we saw.

We did tubing the first day, I tried some cross-country ski trails the second and Veeka took her first downhill lesson on our last day there. She learned how to do a basic snow plow and discovered she really LIKES doing downhill as opposed to cross-country (which she picked up in Fairbanks). Am hoping I can get her into some more lessons. We also visited some local parks, a place called Morningstar Farm and Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, which not surprisingly is a dairy farm that produces lots of cheese. That region is truly ski-to-sea, as we were on the slopes in the morning and in the afternoon wandering about some of the beaches on the Georgia Strait. A beach area called Goose Spit Park in nearby Comox was particularly beautiful. There was tons of driftwood and many lovely places to sit and gaze on the mountains and water. One morning when we were eating breakfast in a
Meanwhile, preparations for my upcoming book continue. Last Sunday, I spoke to a group of Lewis & Clark College alumni about In the House of the Serpent Handler: A Story of Faith and Fleeting Fame

Me showing snake videos to 15 or so fellow L&C alums. Photo by Merrilee MacLean

in the Age of Social Media and showed them some videos of serpent handlers. Peoples’ mouths always drop open when they see that stuff and I realize how fortunate I was to have a front row seat into that culture for 3 years.
And Veeka pulled off a minor triumph this year in that she sold 132 boxes of Girl Scout cookies in the past two weeks. For reasons beyond our control, she wasn’t able to start selling until two weeks ago after most of the girls had wrapped up their door-to-door sales. I don’t have a workplace where I can twist peoples’ arms to buy cookies and Veeka’s school won’t let her sell to employees there. A lot of girls have their parents sell tons of boxes for them! But other than a few orders from family, all our sales were from schlepping from door to door within a half-mile of where we live. Some of those apartment complexes

Veeka presenting cookie choices to a customer.

were a bit dicey but even in the strangest places we found buyers. Will say that the past two years, the weather has been simply dreadful every time we’ve schlepped around the neighborhood. Nothing like dodging puddles. Her last year total was 50 boxes but this year, she was quite the pro, walking up to peoples’ doors and giving them the spiel. Starting this month, she’ll be sitting in front of supermarkets helping the Scouts sell cookies to all the foot traffic. We did all this last year so it won’t be completely new. Other than that, I just marked my second anniversary (March 1) writing for the blog, for which I’m now doing 13 blogs/month. That amount increased from 11 last December. There are a few other things bubbling away that I hope to write about soon, if they turn out. I’m still subbing two days a week for the Issaquah School District and all of that in elementary schools. Being there gives me a whole new respect for teachers plus I’ve gotten lots of colds this year. Wonder why?

Down the Cariboo trail

Melody, one of the 3 spherical hotel rooms at Free Spirit Spheres. A passage from Beethoven's 9th is on the exterior

Melody, one of the 3 spherical hotel rooms at Free Spirit Spheres. A passage from Beethoven’s 9th is on the exterior

Since I last wrote, one of my articles from my British Columbia trip got published in the Washington Post. It’s about an amazing tree house hotel (Free Spirit Spheres) we stayed in near Qualicum Beach. Veeka took a huge delight in the 9-foot-wide wood sphere that was our room for two days, as it was perched in the tree canopy and reached only by a spiral staircase wrapped around a tree.
The last few days of our trip were spent heading south from Prince George, the largest city in northern British Columbia. We headed for Barkerville, a historic town at 4,300 feet altitude in the mountains southwest of Prince George. This was a major city back in the days of the Cariboo Gold Rush, which sprang to life during the years of the American Civil War. Gold was discovered on the Fraser River in 1858 and 30,000 miners – once they heard of this – showed up in New Caledonia, which is what BC was known as at the time. People had to bring everything in on mules or on boats until a stagecoach road was built in 1865. The Cariboo Wagon Road began at Lillooet (in the mountains north of present-day Vancouver) and went some 300 miles to Quesnel.
Barkerville is a reconstituted town with a school house, church, stores and many other things – along with costumed actors who play the parts of historic characters from the era – that were built along a gold-laden Williams Creek. There were three bed and breakfasts in town and we stayed at the King B&B, a good choice in that there aren’t a whole lot of lodging choices in the area and Quesnel – the nearest large town – is 50 miles away. We met a lot of nice people there over the next two days, most of them from Vancouver or Toronto and a lot of them were ethnically Chinese. As I learned later,

An actress portraying a "Miss Florence Wilson" who arrived in western Canada via bride boat entertained us with a history of the town.

An actress portraying a “Miss Florence Wilson” who arrived in western Canada via bride boat entertained us with a history of the town.

Chinese immigrants played a large part in the mining around Barkerville. Our arrival was a bit rocky, as all of Barkerville, including the visitor center, shuts down at 6 pm and we arrived at 6:30. I eventually located our lodgings, then whisked Veeka off to Wells, a town three miles away where we found a place to eat. One other quirk about the area: there was no cell phone service on iPhones.
Barkerville was in a valley surrounded by pine trees. The town had all-dirt streets, very much like Dawson City. We repaired to the visitors center where we got a pamphlet and day’s schedule. We first opted for the general tour of the town, delivered by a “Miss Florence Wilson” who had come there on one of the “bride boats” in 1864. This very entertaining actress wore a blue and white dress with hoop skirt and a straw hat, a black belt with a large silver buckle and a silver locket and carrying a parasol.
At the time, Victoria was the major civilized outpost in western Canada. The
governor of British Columbia aka new Caledonia, James Douglas, was mixed race (Creole and Scottish) and he married a mixed-race woman who was part Cree. Knowing that, 300 black families moved from California to BC just before the Civil War because they were afraid that even though California was a “free” state, things could change. After the miners came hurdy gurdy girls, dentists, assayers, lawyers, blacksmiths and other professionals to jumpstart a civilization in the middle of the woods.

The main street in Barkerville

The main street in Barkerville

Veeka’s favorite stop was the schoolhouse, where all the females were forced to put on bonnets, examine each others’ hair for lice and address the teacher as “m’am” during a lesson set in 1874. If we so much as whispered to a neighbor, the teacher yelled at us. Then we walked up the hill to an archway made of logs and spruce boughs with “Chinatown” bannered atop it. The tour guide, an archeology prof from Simon Fraser U, explained the reason that mostly Chinese men emigrated was that many of the women had bound feet at the time, which meant they could not walk anywhere, much less hike about central British Columbia.
I never thought I’d be interested in the history of Chinese immigration to western Canada, but this was fascinating. It took two months to get a boat from Hong Kong to Victoria and the Chinese were kept in the hold the whole time. From New Westminster to Barkerville, it was a 3-week walk. Still, 5,000-8,000 Chinese lived there and they even built terraced gardens on a nearby hill to remind them of home. Every year, the town’s main street would flood, which would create a sea of mud but also wash away a year’s worth of garbage and horse dung.

Veeka trying her hand at an ink well and quill pen from 1894

Veeka trying her hand at an ink well and quill pen from 1896.

I tried to push off early the next morning, as I had 500 miles to go before reaching Seattle. We had reservations at a place in Pemberton, just north of Whistler, but it was a long drive to get even there.
Driving back to the main highway (97), we first stopped in Quesnel to walk across the pedestrian bridge we’d seen two years ago during our trip to Alaska. It’s a lovely 10-minute walk and a must-see if you drive through there. We also dropped by a bookstore to pick up a book on Gold Rush history, then headed south. The next major community, William Lake, was a lovely oasis and about five miles south was a restored 1896 schoolhouse. Children can practice dipping quill pens into inkwells there, which fascinated Veeka. When the school house was opened, it was state of the art, housing 40 students in new double desks, with a cloak room, a barrel stove and separate outhouses for the boys and girls.
I had to get to Lillooet, which was Mile 0 on the Cariboo Trail while it was still light so I could take photos. From the junction of Highways 97 and 99, it was about 70 minutes to Lillooet on one of the more terrifying highways I’ve been on. Yes, the views of the Fraser River a zillion feet below were amazing and the mountain ranges were dramatic, but the hairpin turns and steep drops were enough to keep my eyes glued to the road. Plus I nearly ran out of gas. At 6 pm, we pulled into Lillooet, which had a few stores and cafes but seemed run-down to me. A pyramid-shaped Mile 0 marker surrounded by bright colored zinnias and chrysanthemums was flanked by a rock shop and museum proclaiming: “1859 Mile 0 Cariboo Trail. Welcome to Lillooet: BC’s little nugget.”

Veeka at the Mile 0 marker in Lillooet

Veeka at the Mile 0 marker in Lillooet

It was another hour through the woods to Pemberton, where we stayed at the Pemberton Valley Lodge, which was the most reasonable accommodation I could find that included a pool for Veeka. There weren’t a ton of restaurants in town, so we found a take-out pizza place.
The next day was spent first driving 25 miles to Whistler, where there were so many tourists, one could hardly drive. One had to pay for parking everywhere plus the line at the visitor’s center was long. I got a map of the area, we dropped by a very plush IGA for picnic foods, then headed out to the far side of Alta Lake (took forever to find the turnoff for it) where we found a grassy beach at Rainbow Park and clear, clear water. Veeka later said it was the highlight of her trip and she couldn’t tear herself away from this lovely spot with a gorgeous mountain range staring at us from across the lake. I can see why people like to vacation here in the summer. It was hard to leave this lovely spot but I’d promised a friend we’d meet for dinner at the Hooked Fish Bar, which was in Surrey, near the border. So we drove down to Vancouver and got stuck for nearly 2 hours in deadly traffic. But the seaside restaurant was wonderful and it faced west toward the sunset. Eventually, we had to say good-bye and get back to Seattle. In all, I drove 2,244 miles.
Since then, Veeka has started fifth grade and we’ve been squeezing in after-school hikes and swims in local lakes before the weather goes south on us.

Veeka could not keep herself out of the clear mountain lake.

Veeka could not keep herself out of the clear (and cold) Alta Lake.

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.

Seeing Vancouver Island – and another funeral

Veeka (in the red jacket) the day I dropped her off at camp on a rainy afternoon. Her cabin mates and counselor are off to the left.

Veeka (in the red jacket) on the rainy afternoon when I dropped her off at camp. Her cabin mates and counselor are off to the left.

Several months ago, I arranged to do some travel pieces for publications interested in northern British Columbia. Ever since driving the AlCan two years ago (this month!), I’ve been fascinated with the region and wanted to go back, especially if I could get some payment for doing so. The first half of my trip involved spending four days driving up Vancouver Island, a place I hadn’t been to in many years and even then, it was mainly to Victoria on its southern end. Which is where many people go, but the publications I’d contacted wanted stuff more off the beaten path. Now Veeka had just come off a week spent at Girl Scout camp, so she was a bit done with camping, but I told her we’d be staying inside and sleeping in beds, so she was game to go traveling.
The first leg involved driving from Seattle to the Tsawwassen ferry southwest of Vancouver, a three-hour ordeal. It was two hours to the border, a 45-minute wait there and then a half hour to the ferry. If you make reservations, you have to be there a half hour before boarding time, even though we didn’t actually drive on until about 10 minutes before the ferry pushed off. Finally arriving at the island just south of Nanaimo, I checked Foursquare (an app) for a place to eat.

Yes, those are goats you see atop this restaurant in Coombs, BC.

Yes, those are goats you see atop this restaurant in Coombs, BC.

It led us to an Italian bistro in Coombs, a small town on 4A west, about 5 miles west of Parkesville, but the place was packed and not taking walk-ins, so we repaired Billy Gruff’s Creamery nearby. Together with some Black Forest bread with lox and lemonade, that was our dinner. Across the way was the Old Country Market, where we saw billy goats literally standing on the roof of the place, contentedly eating grass. That certainly caught our attention as we drove up. It was a warm, lovely evening, the first of a four-day string of fabulous weather, which is not a given when you’re in that part of the world.
The next day, we drove to Port Alberni, which is on an inlet off Vancouver Island’s west coast and dropped by Cathedral Grove, which was 800-year-old strand of Douglas firs surrounded by loads of tourists. Port Alberni is surrounded by peaks and we headed toward Harbor Quay. The day was sunny, breezy, mid-70s; in other words, heavenly. We got oysters and clam chowder and sat outside. There’s a bevy of picnic tables where you can snack from several eateries selling seafood, sit next to planters of purple, white and magenta petunias and listen to a fiddler’s band playing nearby.

Qualicum Beach

Veeka @ Qualicum Beach

We drove back to a beach in Parkesville on the eastern side of the island, where the salty sea water was clear, and quite warm. The beach was strewn with logs and lots of pebbles and some rocks, but it was just right for my daughter to swim and it didn’t get deep until way out. The shimmering water, the Alaska cruise ship in the distance, the blues of the mountains, the water and the sky, the boardwalk that took one to a point out in the water; it was perfect for what we needed. There was a play area and tiny water park behind us, where my daughter frolicked plus there were food carts to grab a bite while you were covered with sand and wearing a suit. Parkesville and Qualicum Beach just north of that are noted for its nice beaches.
The next morning, we drove to the northern end of the island, passing through Courtenay, Comox and Campbell River. None of the tourism brochures cover this area, a huge disservice to the folks who live in those parts and have businesses there. We detoured to a huge provincial area – Strathcona Provincial Park – to the west. We ended up at the Strathcona Park Lodge and Outdoor Education Centre, which overlooks the shimmering Buttle Lake that goes on for miles with snow-capped peaks of the Elk River Mountains – even in August – in the distance. This was such a lovely area with beautiful vistas to the west and south. I asked the person at the lodge check-in counter for some brochures and she told me to look online, which I thought was a bit cavalier. I can see why tourism is a bit lacking in these parts when some of the institutions in the area don’t work too hard at promotion! There’s a lot of hiking and camping available in the area, but you have to almost be a local to know what’s available.

The view from the lodge in Strathcona Provincial Park.

The view from the lodge in Strathcona Provincial Park.

North of Campbell River is some 120 miles of wilderness and then two small towns: Port McNeil and Port Hardy. Our B&B was 19 miles to the west in Port Alice, an old pulp mill town, supplied by logging camps on nearby inlets. The folks at the Inlet Haven B&B were beyond helpful, driving us to nearby sites, letting us do laundry and – when it was clear there were no nearby restaurants in that tiny town where we could get dinner – fixed us a wonderful hamburger meal on their deck while the sun set over the mountains. At one point, 1,500 people lived there with about 500 employed by the mill. It finally closed in 2004, later re-opened, then shut down again in February 2015, which was unfortunately in that the mill provided 75 percent of the town’s tax base and half of its jobs.  One of the casualties was Port Alice’s one restaurant.
The area gets similar mild weather to its more famous neighbor, Victoria, to the south. It used to get copious amounts of rain, I was told, but not so this year; in fact, there was so little rain that the day we arrived, all open fires, even those on a beach, were banned.

Telegraph Cove in far northern Vancouver Island.

Telegraph Cove in far northern Vancouver Island.

We spent two nights in Port Alice, using part of our free day to see Telegraph Cove, on the eastern side of the island, which was packed with sightseers who were on whale watching expeditions or fishing boats. The cove is an antique sawmilling village with buildings dating back to the 1920s and 1930s. We wandered about the Wastell House, an airy place with a sun room overlooking the harbor. The place is surrounded by forest and that day, clear sunlight poured down. However, the place is a tourist trap; we had to pay $1/hour to park in a crowded dirt lot in a resort in the middle of nowhere. I was told the fees went for the upkeep of the access road to the resort. Our host told us that when he bought a fishing license there, they charged him $5 to merely print it out.
The next morning, we left Port Alice at 4:30 a.m. for the 45-minute drive to the ferry in Port Hardy. Boarding it was a disorganized mess. We got there just before 5:30, which I was told was the absolute hour one had to be there. The walk-on passengers were told the same thing. Drivers all sat, idling, in line for an hour. Starting around 6:30, we began inching forward. A lot of late-arriving cars were allowed in ahead of us, so it was quite arbitrary whether you were there early or not. When I asked the

The view from the balcony at Inlet Haven B&B.

The view from the balcony at Inlet Haven B&B.

reasons for the delay, I was told many of the people driving the campers had put given the wrong vehicle lengths on their reservations (one has to specify rough measurements), meaning they had to recalibrate how much room they had on the ferry. I was also told even children needed individual IDs. Being foreigners, we had passports, but what if we hadn’t? I explained U.S. kids don’t have separate IDs, which got me a stare from the ferry folks. Not only did they slowly check us in at the first gate, they re-checked us a few hundred feet later as we boarded, as if extra people had snuck into the car. The attendant explained the parking lot was unsecured, although the fencing looked pretty good to me. Maybe they figured terrorists had somehow gotten up at 5 a.m. to burrow underneath. We boarded around 6:55 and the ferry left around 7:40. Most inefficient operation ever.

The view from the Port Hardy-Prince Rupert ferry.

The view from the Port Hardy-Prince Rupert ferry.

Once on, it wasn’t a bad 16-hour trip. A public address system occasionally alerted passengers to bear and whale sightings plus historic tidbits about which early Canadian explorer named which cove we were passing by. The salmon were clearly running and we could see them soar out of the water in quick half-circles. The weather was clear and sunny – not a given in the Pacific Northwest by far – and the boat hosted a BBQ for lunch which was a pleasant break from the cafeteria. Many of us took refuge on the glassed-in sundeck on the 6th floor to gaze at hundreds of miles of forested mountains, occasional lighthouses, canneries, waterfalls and scattered settlements. We met the most pleasant family from London: Gordon and Stephanie and their 5-year-old daughter, Flo, who spent much of the day playing with my daughter.
We weren’t released from the boat until close to midnight and then I drove about Prince Rupert, which seems to fog over at night, searching for the Black Rooster, our hostel. I could barely read the street signs and either the lights were dim or the fog was heavy, but it was very hard to find my way about town. Even the next day, sans fog, I noticed a lot of the streets lack signs. As for the next leg of our journey, that comes in the next blog!

Julie Kay (left) and me in the early days after I'd gotten Veeka. We are standing at Great Falls in Virginia.

Julie Kay (left) and me in the early days after I’d gotten Veeka. We are standing at Great Falls in Virginia.

One thing I did want to add is that earlier in August, a dear friend, Julie Kay, died of ovarian cancer at the age of 54. I was with Veeka in Quebec when a mutual friend called to say she was dying and if I wanted to see her, I had to fly to Florida right then. Of course that was impossible for me, so I called around to other friends, who told me that Julie had been so secretive about her illness, very few people knew that she’d battled this thing for 10 years. She certainly had not told me she was dying, although our last conversation – where she called to express sympathy on the death of my dad – was very odd and now as I think of it, she was surely thinking of her own impending death. Yet, she said nothing to me of it and I am of course kicking myself that I didn’t question her further at the time. Julie was one of those friends I knew from my Florida days. I’ve moved around so much in my life, most people I’ve known have ceased communicating with me. But Julie was amazing in that she pursued and kept long-time friends. She visited me in Maryland; I visited her in Florida and we shared trips together to Key West and Oaxaca, Mexico. Again, it’s the same lesson that man – and woman – knows not their time and when they may be called.

A wedding in Montreal

Mount Rainier from the north. The Sunrise visitor center is below

Mount Rainier from Sourdough Ridge to the north. The Sunrise visitor center is below.

Summer is passing all too quickly and last week, Veeka and I ran off to a place on Mt. Rainier called Sunrise. The walk along a ridge near the visitor center was outstanding, as one is looking directly at this huge mountain right THERE. I’m cramming in trips to this mountain this summer, as the national parks system was handing out free year-long parks passes last year to all fourth graders, so we snapped one up. It runs out at the end of August, though. It was such a clear, beautiful day and the only downside were lots of bugs.
Early the next morning, we got on a plane for Montreal to attend the wedding of Laurie Vuoto, a longtime friend. We also sampled the delights of getting stranded due to United cancelling our flight. About Laurie: she moved to Arizona four years for a new job and also hoping she’d meet The One and last Saturday, she and Richard Horton made it official. It was a pull-out-the-stops affair. The ceremony was at Montreal’s oldest Catholic church right on the St. Lawrence River (convenient for the early fur traders). As Laurie pulled up in her limo, the bells started to ring – a lovely custom – and her brother-in-law told me she started to weep at that point with sheer happiness and with the

Laurie descending the staircase from her home to the limo that's taking her to the wedding.

Laurie descending the staircase from her home to the limo that’s taking her to the wedding.

realization that her dreams were finally coming true. Veeka and I were seated in the second row and while watching the ceremony, got called in to help amuse a very restless flower girl in the first pew. Then another inviteé pulled out an IPad and said flower girl was instantly captivated.
I was introduced to a nice custom with Italian weddings (the bride was the daughter of Italian immigrants and half the folks at the reception were speaking Italian) where there’s a 4-hour break in the action between the ceremony and the reception. That allows the bride and groom to take photos and the guests to take an afternoon snooze before a long evening party. We appreciated the break as well, although finding the venue for the reception on Ile Bîzard (Montreal is built on a series of islands) was quite difficult because of all the summertime road repairs. It was one of those sit-down dinners with party favors shaped like Cinderella’s carriage and six or seven courses, followed by an open bar and a huge desert table that was wheeled out around 11 pm. By then, I could not shove down one more morsel. There was a lot of dancing, a band, a guest opera singer and slide shows showing highlights from the couple’s courtship.
It was a lovely affair, considering the mess we had getting there. Our connecting flight from Seattle to DC was OK until the storms hit on the afternoon of the 28th. We were one of the last planes allowed to touch down before the torrents let loose. Planes after us were told to circle around or return to their origin, as it was impossible to land for the next 1-2 hours. That, unfortunately, affected the plane that was to be our connector to Montreal. It was leaving somewhere in North Carolina and it tried twice to land, could not, so returned back home. Which left us without a plane and thus our flight was cancelled.

The new Mr. and Mrs. Richard Horton at the reception

The new Mr. and Mrs. Richard Horton at the reception on Ile Bizard

We didn’t know it was cancelled until mid-evening. Veeka and I had packed lightly, so we had our suitcases with us. We had taken refuge in a United Club, as my credit card gives me 2 free tickets a year. We had just arrived when Veeka remembered she’d forgotten her IPad on the plane from Seattle, so the Club folks called over to the gate to track it down. Our plane had left the gate but a kind person had found and left the IPad at the gate podium, so we got it back. Those clubs are wonderful: Free wine, food, copies of decent newspapers, a bevy of travel agents plus one can just leave one’s stuff sitting there and no one will take it. The Houston club was a real lifesaver when V and I had a 7-hour layover on our way back from Minnesota last year.
Anyway, when we returned to our gate for the delayed Montreal flight, the United employee there was totally clueless and didn’t know the flight was cancelled until passengers confronted her with texts they were getting from Expedia saying it was no more. The lines in front of the customer service desk (to re-book) were quite long, so we returned to the Club where the agents there found us a way there Friday morning. However, we had to leave out of National and take connecting flights through Newark and Quebec City. There were lots of miserable people in line with us trying to get to Montreal, so we were lucky to get that. United put us up for the night at a Hyatt for a reduced rate (if you can call $105 reduced). I thought of calling (my brother) Rob and Jan, but it was really pouring plus Dulles is quite far from where they live in Maryland. Plus, we had an early flight the next day, or so I thought. So we just took a shuttle to the Hyatt 30 miles away in Crystal City, which was quite lovely.

Veeka, dressed in her finest black lace dress, the flower girl and other kiddos after the wedding.

Veeka, dressed in her finest black lace dress, the flower girl and other kiddos.

We had just gotten to our room and I had opened my email when I got a note from United saying the first leg of my flight out of National was cancelled. I nearly hit the ceiling, so got back on the phone. The first agent I got on the line (after 30 minutes of waiting) got disconnected from me. Called again and waited another 30-40 minutes. The new agent then told me a new flight had magically appeared and it left from Dulles at 9:45 a.m. – direct to Montreal. So we got back to Dulles at the crack of dawn, got the flight and everything (the rental car, our hotel) went well. But it reminded me to NOT fly through Washington, DC on a summer afternoon, as thunderstorms are nearly daily there and airports get shut down a lot.
We spent the day after the wedding wandering around Carrefour Laval, a large mall north of Montreal and got enamored with Second Cup, Canada’s answer to Starbucks. Then, to Veeka’s delight, we spent several hours with Laurie’s family, as Laurie’s sister and brother-in-law are the godparents to my daughter. The Vuoto family has a house in the Montreal area that the Vuoto sisters have access to and Veeka got to spend the afternoon next to their pool. Then we headed to Quebec City for the night, as I had visited there when I was 8 and I wanted Veeka to see it. It was a 3-hour drive.

Veeka in Quebec's lower city. Notice the Chateau Frontenac on the hill behind her.

Veeka in Quebec’s lower city. Notice the Chateau Frontenac on the hill.

On Monday morning, our hotel shuttle deposited us next to the Chateau Frontenac, the iconic landmark that dominates Quebec’s Old City. We then took the funicular to the lower city, rode back up, wandered about the terrace in front of the chateau, then walked along the Promenade des Gouverneurs, traipsed about the Plains of Abraham and saw two museums. So we are very much up on the French-British conflicts of 1759-60, the stories of Generals Wolfe and Montcalm and how the British scaled the cliffs to defeat the French. I was constantly pointing out to Veeka the cliffs that the invaders had to climb up, as they are massive. I didn’t realize that France was given a choice as to either give up Canada or the French Indies to the UK and they chose to give up Canada. That rates as one of the stupider real estate deals in history comparable to Russia selling off Alaska.
For lunch, we found a cute little place, L’Omelette on 66 Rue St. Louis, where the help gave us a lovely table by the window where we could see everything happening on the street. It’s just what we needed after walking on cobblestones all morning. It was killer hot that day, so we came back to hotel and jumped in the hotel pool. (Pools are essentially a non-negotiable in Veeka’s mind.) Later that day, we took Boulevard Champlain, which takes one along the Quebec waterfront; a very pretty route that I’d never seen before. We stopped by the Montmorecy falls (lit in bright colors at night), then drove to the Ile d’Orleans, about 10 miles north of Quebec. We went to La Goéliche, a restaurant overlooking the St. Lawrence River on the southern tip of the island. It was quite pretty seeing the night lights of Quebec across the river. So wished we had an extra day to see the Île, as it looked quite lovely. Am not sure when, if ever, I’ll be back there. This was my 4th visit, but at least Veeka got to see the place. Tuesday was taken up with driving back to Montreal (note: if you have a rental car, do not count on finding gas stations close to the Pierre Trudeau airport at which you can fill up your gas tank), then flying interminably back to Vancouver, then Seattle. At least I got to watch the movie “The Martian,” which I liked a lot!

My little one on the Promenade des Gouverneurs, a fantastic walk overlooking the Quebec waterfront.

My little one on the Promenade des Gouverneurs, a fantastic walk overlooking the Quebec waterfront and the St. Lawrence River.

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.