Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

Enjoying the sun in Corpus Christi

Veeka overlooking the Gulf of Mexico from our restaurant

Veeka overlooking the Gulf of Mexico from our restaurant on the Bob Hall pier.

We are in Corpus Christi this week and it’s been so delightful feeling the sunny breezes. When we walked off the plane, we were wearing dark clothing for the gloomy weather we left behind and we looked like refugees from the Land Where Rain Never Stops. Meeting us were Bob and Nancy Eckert, who were major players in the saga of Church of the Redeemer that I wrote about in my 2009 book. Bob is now writing a book about his life and he asked me to come down for a week to help him finish it. Veeka and I have taken walks in the sun and visited two beaches, one of them a restaurant on a pier overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.
I’ve been following the Yukon Quest – which is a dog mushing race considered tougher than the Iditarod – and I found this delightful video about musk oxen, who live WAY north in Alaska and Greenland. So, click on it if you want to transport yourself up to the northern regions.
Back in Seattle – well, actually I live on the Eastside, a region where a lot of folks don’t travel downtown if they can help it. I run into plenty of people who tell me they are never in Seattle and don’t want to be. I try to get downtown if possible, as there are things there that one cannot find in the suburbs. It’s a place where you can find restaurants that serve “decadent vegan food” and where anything right of Bernie Sanders is mocked in the local media.

Veeka got a box of chocolates from one of her classmates for Valentines Day. Having all boys in her class has its advantages.

Veeka got a box of chocolates from one of her classmates for Valentine’s Day. Having all boys in her class has its advantages.

As it says in the Seattle Weekly “Conventional wisdom in Washington politics states that all the votes Democrats need to win a state majority can been seen from the Space Needle, but in recent elections Republicans have successfully nibbled at the edges of this turf.” This was from a column that lamented how the Neanderthals in eastern Washington are trying to outlaw abortion and that due to an unfortunate accident of geography, the much despised and red-state Idaho lies just to the east of that. Of course I’ve lived in blue states before but rarely where the loathing of all things conservative is so palpable.
Another really depressing part of being here is the housing. Homes everywhere are selling for more than half a million dollars; condos (which is what I’d probably be in) are edging close to $300,000. I’ll get some money from selling my house in Tennessee, but not that much. And without a full-time job, there’s no way I can make enough money to buy a home at present. Housing in King County, where I live, went up 11% in a year and it’s not going down any time soon. Not only that, but lots of Wall Street speculators are in town, buying up homes like crazy, then renting them. This editorial tells why consumers are being had over this. No wonder there’s so many homeless here in town!

My little Girl Scout in the process of selling those 55 boxes.

My little Girl Scout in the process of selling those 55 boxes.

One bright spot this month was that Veeka sold 55 boxes of Girl Scout cookies by slogging it out door to door. I taught her how to present the cookie sale sheet; how to explain what each cookie contains and that we don’t collect the $4/box now but later when we deliver and by the time we were doing the last 10, she was getting pretty accomplished at her spiel. I had hoped for 30 sales; she easily surpassed that during our walks around the complex where we live, so I began to hope for more. We had finally reached 50 and were walking home when we dropped by a neighbor I’d met by the condo dumpster, who ordered 4 more. Veeka gets a badge if she reaches 55, so I threw in a box for us and her goal was met. And we got to meet a bunch of people near where we live.

Thanksgiving weekend in the Seattle suburbs

Veeka playing with Wyatt

Veeka playing with Wyatt

Must say I need to be posting more than once a month! We had a lovely Thanksgiving at the home of my niece Lindsay and her husband Jason, who live about seven miles south of us. Lindsay is an amazing cook and her table settings were so elegant. Veeka had a great time playing with their 1-year-old son Wyatt, a real cutie. And Wyatt has a huge playroom all to himself, which Veeka very much envied. She had similar space back in Tennessee but the days of living in a 2,400-square-foot home are passed, I am afraid. Earlier that day – it was sunny out – we had a lovely ride along the shores of Lake Sammamish in what I hope will be a yearly tradition. The bike path, lined with bushes of snowberries and rosehips (we had rosehips in our back yard in Fairbanks so they’re quite a hardy plant) were so pretty and all sorts of people were out walking.

My little Elsa with some face paint on.

My little Elsa with some face paint on.

Otherwise, there has been so much rain this past month. It poured buckets on Halloween, so I had to take Veeka to a party at the church, as it was no fun walking about. She had on the perfect Elsa get-up. Fairbanks was sunny and dry. Traffic and rain here are not a good combo, even with a populace who I thought were practiced in driving in wet conditions. There’s not been a lot of news this past month although it looks like we’ve settled on a church about nine miles away from our place. My days have been taken up with getting physical therapy and acupuncture for my frozen shoulder plus lots of issues in getting the right medication and counseling for Veeka. I am beginning to set out some Advent decorations and start working on Christmas cards.
Today (Black Friday), I took Veeka on a 2-3-mile hike around Anti-Aircraft Peak, a popular Cougar Mountain trail not far from our home. The views of the mountains were spectacular and she really enjoyed exploring an abandoned clay pit and walking through a forest filled with frosted brown leaves. I did a holiday bazaar last week but the attendance was low and I lost money by going there. That is, the table fee was more than I made! I have another one in Snohomish (which is east of Everett) next weekend and I hope to do better there.

Hiking on Cougar mountain

Hiking on Cougar mountain

Veeka is still without friends, which is heartbreaking, but it doesn’t help that her classroom at school is all boys, many of whom are quite kind to her, but it’s not the same as having little girl friends. So, I’ve enrolled her in an Awana classs at a nearby church on Wednesdays which is helping a bit. Last week, she memorized enough Bible verses to win a green and white T-shirt and backpack, which pleased her to no end. But our apartment complex is mainly older people and although there’s a family across the way with two girls her age, they’ve not reached out at all to us. We’ve dropped by there twice to say hi but when there’s no response, one has to move on. That kind of attitude is more typical than you’d think. We were amazingly fortunate last year at UAF to have a family in the next duplex who were friendly and had an open door policy in terms of kids. Then again, Alaska is in a time warp (of a nice sort) whereas here, it’s very 21st century in how all kids are kept inside and no one plays outdoors.
So Veeka and I tend to do things together, like visit sushi places and coffee shops. An article in a local magazine rated all 104 Seattle Starbucks stores, which I thought was pretty funny. Wish they’d do that for the Eastside!

It’s getting lighter and lighter

Veeka happily trying out a kite on May 16 that she got on her birthday

Veeka happily trying out a kite on May 16 that she got on her birthday

I cannot let myself go to sleep yet. It is almost midnight, yet the pale blue light lingers in the sky all night. It’s getting tougher to sleep, of course. It’s definitely May here. For one, the mosquitos are coming out. And there are the good-bye parties. I was at one not long ago that was framed a “picnic” in 51-degree weather out on a patio. It was put on by the history department (I was taking Scandinavian history so I was allowed to sneak in) and awards were given to MA candidates researching topics like fisherwomen of Alaska, the Athabascan names of star constellations and minority population representation in Northwest Territory governments (in Canada). A lot of these folks give presentations and there have been fascinating lectures all year. To my regret, I’ve gone to almost none of them either because there was no one to look after Veeka or I was just too overloaded with my own stuff.
Anyway, the sky is still bright. Classes have ended, I’ve turned in my grades and am slowly cleaning up my office. Whereas a few weeks ago, all the trees were bare, in a space of about three days, leaves mysteriously sprouted out. They call it “the greening” up here. We remain here another two months to enjoy the Alaskan summer. On Thursday, we’ll depart on one of two trips I’ve been wanting to take since I got here. The first will be in the Yukon (as in the Canadian province) to see sights that we zipped by on our way up here. I can’t see us getting up this way again, especially with my own car, so we’re driving about now. A garage took the snow tires off and checked to make sure my Subaru, at 144,000 miles, is good for awhile longer.

Posing by the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks where there are some very cool bike trails.

Later on the 16th:Posing by the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks where there are some very cool bike trails.

Before the weekend, was 71ºF. Then it was 74. And then it was 75º this whole weekend. Curiously, we are warmer than Anchorage even though the latter is 260 miles to the south. But they’re on the water and we are not. I am finally in shorts although people were going bare-legged and in sandals while it was still in the 40s. I got to go to Anchorage several weeks ago to speak at an Alaska Press Club event there and to poke about the city. While at the airport bookstore, I began poking around the Alaska section and was amazed to find how many memoirs there were with titles like “One Man’s Wilderness:An Alaskan Odyssey” or “Memoirs of Life in the Kuskokwin Region.” The winner was this mouthful: “Homesteaders in the Headlights: One Family’s Journey from Depression-Era New Jersey to a New Life in Wasilla, Alaska.”
There were tons of photo books and stories about the Alaska pipeline, the Klondike, Arctic Circle, women of Alaska, the Iditarod, tons of photo books of beluga whales, wolves, statehood and even bars of Alaska. One was just called “The Spill” as if everyone was expected to know about the 1989 Exon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound. Or a book about Haines (one of the places we will visit hopefully this Friday) called “If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name” about “aging hippies, salty fishermen, native Tlingit Indians as well as the moose, eagles, sea lions and bears with whom they share this wild and perilous land.” It’s as if once you move here, you’ve become part of this moving tapestry of colorful characters who inhabit landscapes begging to be on reality shows.
Today (Sunday, the 17th), I took Veeka on a hike with me through the lowlands along the Chena River NE of town. It was a small loop that is part of a bigger loop called the Granite Tors Trail where the landscape of spooky rock formations looks like something out of Barrow-downs in The Fellowship of the Ring. Am dying to try it, but it’s a 15-mile trip that I cannot do in one day. And I don’t have the gear for an overnight trip. Hiking is not her first love, so I had to bribe her with a visit to a local hot springs afterwards. The day before, we biked a 10-mile round trip along the Chena River through downtown Fairbanks. This time the bribe was a stop at the fudge shop downtown. My daughter is a pretty decent biker, even if she was on training wheels up until just before her 9th birthday.
On Tuesday, I will enter the last year of my 50s, which gives me some pause, namely because I’m still job hunting for whatever I’ll be doing come August. Say a prayer, if you could.

Winning a Wilbur and a quick trip to DC

Wilbur Award winners line up for a final photo. My burgundy evening gown was a hit. Jill loaned me the necklace and shaw.

Wilbur Award winners line up for a final photo. My burgundy evening gown was a hit. Jill loaned me the necklace and shaw. We are all holding stained-glass trophies.

As I write this, I am sitting in the Alexandria (Va.) home of Jill Melton, a friend from Gegrapha days. I learned six weeks ago that I’d won a Wilbur Award from the Religion Communicators Council for my story on Nadia Bolz-Weber in More magazine last year. More wasn’t picking up travel expenses for me to go pick it up but I figured that it’d be fun to go to Washington DC for the weekend for the ceremony and I had just enough frequent flier miles on Alaska and United Airlines to make it happen, along with Hertz points for very cheap car rentals. And so I flew to Seattle Thursday April 9 and spent the night with my parents, whom I’d not seen since Christmas. My mother spent most of 2014 feeling very bad but thankfully she’s doing so much better these days. Friday, I flew from SeaTac to DC and this morning I got up early to go pick up a friend, Diane Karadimos, to go to the Tidal Basin and see the cherry blossoms. The weather here has not been good and the blossoms are weeks late but FORTUNATELY the weekend I chose to come to DC was the one in which the blossoms were out. We parked at the Pentagon City mall and took the metro; a fortuitous choice as I might have never found a parking space and the crowds were enormous. Most were tourists from other counties; I think half of Japan was there clicking away plus there seemed to be a lot of people from the Middle East. The crowds thinned a bit on the southern side – near the Franklin D. Roosevelt memorial – so we relaxed there. It was a bright, sunny day with a breeze and temps in the mid-60s. The blossoms were lush and soft and just right.

It was a gorgeous day to see perfect blossoms at the Tidal Basin.

It was a gorgeous day to see perfect blossoms at the Tidal Basin.

I then whisked over to Oakton (a northern Virginian suburb) to visit some Kurdish friends for only 2 hours and they served me their traditional food which I really liked. I was there not long enough but it was either drop by for a short time or not see them at all. Then I drove back to Jill and Howard’s place to slip on a burgundy-colored formal gown I picked up in a consignment shop in Fairbanks for very little money. Jill loaned me a shaw and some jewelry and I do think I looked pretty spiffy. Jill and her husband, Howard, went with me to the Wilbur Awards banquet where we met up with longtime chum Sheryl Blunt who I told years ago about freelancing for Christianity Today. She followed up and became a contributing writer. We had not seen enough other in years. The awards banquet was 3 hours long but each winner got a film clip devoted to their work, which was gratifying. As for the rest of my trip, tomorrow is Maryland day where I visit my brother Rob and his wife, savor old haunts in Hyattsville and then dinner with a Washington Times friend. She and I were both laid off and she’s glad to be out of there.
Veeka/Ollie was left back in Fairbanks as she had school to attend and I didn’t have enough airline miles for us both. She and I had an unusual Easter last week in that we showed up at an Episcopal church (wanted to hear all those Easter hymns that only Anglicans sing), then repaired over to the house of a friend who had kindly invited us for dinner. It was a lovely sunny day and she got to go on an Easter egg hunt in the snow in the tiny village of Ester, 7 miles southwest of Fairbanks. We had never been to Ester before, so it was a lovely day. Our hostess was so kind and gave Veeka a Japanese doll.

Prayers being said at the Easter service we attended.

Prayers being said at the Easter service we attended.

It is getting lighter and lighter in Alaska as we gain 7 minutes of sunlight a day. Things are tough up there as the decline in oil prices has led the state to cut lots of jobs. Some 55 teachers in our school district are being laid off and there were big cuts to UAF’s budget. Fairbanks is actually losing population, sadly. I’m hoping that Alaskans be more willing to pay either sales or income tax, as there’s not enough money from oil revenues to run the state. There are no taxes up there, except in a few municipalities where there’s sales tax, but that is rare. They are also putting through a bill in the state legislature to do away with daylight savings time, which is understandable. During summer months, you don’t need more daylight.
Ollie turns 10 on the 16th, so am trying to think up good birthday ideas as it is a milestone event. The local swimming pool wants two adults if there is more than 4 kids at the party, so that idea is out. Lots of stuff to take into consideration.

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.

Developing Alaska’s west coast

Once again I’ve been remiss in posting although I have a good excuse: I’ve been working like a dog in

All bundled up for trick-or-treating below 10 degrees.

All bundled up for trick-or-treating below 10 degrees.

recent weeks on my master’s project. It’s really a master’s thesis – all 165 or so pages of it – but it being a book manuscript more than a thesis statement, it made more sense to call it a project. I had much of it written but not most of it, meaning that in the past two weeks, I was tweaking parts of 15 chapters; doing factchecking and calling people in Tennessee and Florida to fill in the holes. Then I had to format it, insert a bibliography, download some stats from a Surveymonkey project I’d done on serpent handlers and then assemble it all which took a chunk of time.
Somewhere in there I had to be a mom and teach a class and take 2 other classes, so my plate’s been full. We will start with Halloween, where the temps were about 9 degrees. You have not lived until you have trick-or-treated in the snow. Fortunately two other moms (who were married to profs in my department) picked us up and took us to a rich part of town where EVERYONE comes to trick or treat (as it turned out) and thus Veeka in her pretty little Cinderella getup over a snow suit, was plodding through the snow from house to house with the other kids. The cold did get to her so she and I spent a lot of time in the car drinking hot chocolate. She still got a pretty good haul insofar as how much candy she got (and I helped her eat).

What we left for trick-or-treaters

What we left for trick-or-treaters

In the Life-in-Fairbanks category, I’m trying to learn about the local seafood. Was in Safeway a week ago where I saw crab for sale. Asked where it was from and was told: Argentina. Argentina?? Well, they said, a lot of the best stuff goes to Seattle. I’ve been trying prawns (not bad) and since we’re up here might as well buy wild salmon instead of farmed. At the beginning of the month, the coho was in stock. I was told to show up in about a week when the sockeye come in. The farmed stuff was good for Tennessee, but here? Not so much. As to where the sockeye comes from, who knows? Anyway, just bought some of that yesterday so we will eat it tomorrow.
I finally found someone who sells spruce tips and spruce tip syrup, a must-buy for my new cookbook from the Yukon. Found someone else who sells “moosetard;” that is spicy mustards that you mix with cream cheese. We’re trying out the “alder smoked” but they also have something called “bear sauce.” Hmmmm.

This grouchy dog stuck in a car parked on campus did not want his photo taken

This grouchy dog stuck in a car parked on campus did not want his photo taken.

Another odd phenomenon I’ve had to get use to here is Dogs in the Car. Yes, people bring their dogs to the university, then park their cars and leave the dogs there inside all day. When someone did this outside my apartment, I called the campus police, only to be told that yes, it’s legal. Why don’t folks leave Fido at home?
During my stay here, I’ve gotten more and more interested in what they call ‘northern studies” or the study of the circumpolar north. I’ve long been interested in places like Antarctica and Greenland and Iceland. This past Wednesday, the campus hosted a woman called Alice Rogoff, the publisher of the Alaska Dispatch. Now there used to be the Anchorage Times and the Anchorage Daily News. The Times eventually folded. The Dispatch started as a web site, then this past year bought out the Daily News and renamed it the Dispatch so now it’s a web site and a print product. I heard that Alice was visiting the campus but there were no plans for her to drop by my building and talk with budding journalists. So I contacted a few people and got her to drop by and speak to us.

I am now officially an Alaska resident. Got the driver's license Nov. 4 - Election Day and a great time to visit the DMV. No lines.

I am now officially an Alaska resident. Got the driver’s license Nov. 4 – Election Day and a great time to visit the DMV. No lines.

“There’s so much need for good journalism in Alaska,” she told us after explaining why she’d rather hire journalists from Alaska universities but they’re not turning them out fast enough. “There aren’t kids with good enough credentials,” she added. Why? Because there isn’t a culture of journalism in junior high and high schools. The kids in my class were nodding at that one. One piped up to say that so much of Alaska is small villages where everyone has to get along and no one wants to confront. “There is a culture here of not questioning authority,” Alice said and of course being a reporter means constantly questioning authority. Plus, Alaskans will stand up for each other when questioned by outsiders from the lower 48, as they deeply feel that Those Below do not understand what it is like in the land of the last frontier. Having moved to numerous states to pursue a journalism career, I say give the newcomers obits to write and an assigned reading list for a few months until they get the hang of the local zeitgeist. I mean, you always get the same routine everywhere you move; that as a non-local, you simply can’t understand what life is like in (pick one): the South, the inter-mountain west, New England, whatever. A good reporter who listens will soak up the local mentality quickly. Anyway, we were talking in my class about how  a newspaper in one high school got cut because it made the students too curious and administrators thought they were asking too many questions. Not only that, but the University of Alaska just announced this week that it’s $14 million in the hole and one of the programs they’re looking at cutting is ….the journalism department! Well…that and many other programs but the problem here is low enrollment. Apparently there was a baby bust 12-15 years ago and those kids are the ones who are not present in large numbers in college.

All of a sudden, electric blue lights have popped up around campus.

All of a sudden, electric blue lights have popped up around campus.

More on Alice Rogoff: I learned that she graduated from Conn College (my mother’s alma mater), then got an MBA at Harvard, worked for Office of Management and Budget under the Carter Administration for two years, then for the Washington Post where she helped create the national weekly edition. She got married moved here in 2002 where she learned how to be a pilot (which is good if you want to get around this state), bought a home in Anchorage, became majority owner of the Dispatch in 2008; bought AND in April for $34 million.
It must be nice to have so much money but one must say in her behalf that she’s tried to do good things with it. Her big cause is developing Alaska’s western coastline as a second Panama canal because it’s going to become that, she told us (and an audience later that day) whether we want it to or not. The Russians already have 13 icebreakers (the US has one functioning icebreaker and none on the drawing board) and they’ll need them all, with all these polar routes opening up. The Northwest Passage across northern Canada is a reality and the Russians are sending stuff across their part of the Arctic as well.
She has all sorts of ideas, such as wanting to develop Alaska’s 2,000-mile coastline in the Bering Sea, not to mention another 1,000 miles on the Arctic (northern) coast. She asked us what the East Coast (of the USA) would look like without a port and we agreed it’d be bad. Well, Alaska has NO deepwater ports to be found along its western edge, she said, because people tend to cross off that region, thinking it all belongs to the Natives anyway. In a few decades if not sooner, tons of ships will be sailing up the Alaskan coast and to date, there is no plan for increased patrols by the US Coast Guard, no plans to make Nome or Port Clarence places for these ships to dock – we need a development plan for that entire coast, she said, along with an east-west highway that cuts across the state from Fairbanks to, say, Nome, Unalakleet, Kotzebue, etc. (These are places I barely knew about 3 months ago). I will say that when I arrived here, I found it odd there were so few highways across Alaska and there not being an east-west one (which would at least unite all corners of the state) was a real shame. This would be a highway that would roughly follow the Iditarod trail.
But the Bering Sea is America’s future and definitely Alaska’s future as the world looks to the North because of global warming and other trends. (The north, for one thing, is where water is). As you can imagine, the area is hardly Florida beach front in terms of weather but hey, Florida’s going to be flooded in a few decades by melting sea ice, so Alaska will be the next California, right? One thing Rogoff has done is help found a non-profit called Arctic Circle, which has annual meetings in Reykjavik (note to self: get an all-expenses-paid assignment to cover that). It’s been fascinating seeing the role Iceland has been taking. It hosted the Arctic Circle last year and this year, conveniently in October which is a low tourism month for them and – along with other Arctic venues such as the Arctic Council-  now it’s a must-attend. The Russians are there, Greenpeace is there, even China is elbowing its way in.

Here's my car plugged into one of those outlets so my engine will start. This week I finally broke down and bought specialty tires to handle the ice and - voilà - my car is no longer sliding sideways down the hills.

Here’s my car plugged into one of those outlets so my engine will start. This week I finally broke down and bought specialty tires to handle the ice and – voilà – my car is no longer sliding sideways down the hills.

Back to Alaska: “The shipping is growing faster than anyone thought it’d be,” Alice told us. “Where is the Alaskan investment in the future Panama Canal in our back yard? No villages have seasonal docks nor harbor masters. We are out of sight, out of mind.” At this recent conference in Reykjavik,  she met folks from Singapore who would build a coastal port tomorrow if Alaska would allow it. (Note: the present port of Singapore handles some 471 million tons of cargo a year. Could Nome be far behind?). Well, it’d be nice if UAF could become an uber-center for U.S. Arctic policy but right now things seem to not be going in that direction. Someone said at Alice Rogoff’s evening event that the US Coast Guard has been ordered not to talk with its Russian counterparts in that all contact must go through the State Department, which sounds inane in that State is 6,000 miles away. And so, lots of things to ponder and read about. Am definitely not bored here.

-1ºF today in Fairbanks

Veeka at Birch Hill

Veeka at Birch Hill

Actually, -1 is pretty light stuff compared to how cold it will get in the next few months but still, brrrr. When I stepped outside this morning to walk Veeka to the bus, I knew the temperature had shifted in a major way. No more wearing just jeans for me. One piece of fabric is not enough for this girl. Looks like winter underwear will become a constant. Am quite glad for the return to Standard Time this weekend, as it will make our dark mornings lighter for awhile.
We are doing our best to go with the flow. We spent last weekend taking cross-country ski lessons at Birch Hill, the local x-country trail place. It had fresh snow the night before, so the snow was wonderful and I really liked this kind of skiing, although the skis don’t have edges on them like downhills do, so I was sliding all over the place. It’s cost me all of $15 to outfit my daughter in that I bought some cast-off boots and skis for $5, then got her some poles for $10. As for me, hmmm, the local ski store told me it’d be $300 to outfit me in skis, bindings, boots and poles. Fortunately we can rent this stuff cheaply on campus but one hates to throw away too much money on rentals.

In the only-in-Alaska category: One of the school clubs made money today selling reindeer chili in Gold Rush era cast iron pots in the snow.

In the only-in-Alaska category: One of the school clubs made money today selling reindeer chili in Gold Rush era cast iron pots in the snow.

I am still reading Alaska books. For my media history class (which I am taking as a grad student at the University of Memphis), I will probably do a paper on a history of Gold Rush newspapers in this neck of the woods. The California, Canadian and Alaskan gold rushes never interested me in the slightest but it’s hard not to be intrigued with folks who did the most unbelievable prospecting in the coldest corner of the continent. I was reading yesterday of gold diggers who found gold flakes sitting on the beaches of Nome and how the ones who got to it early were millionaires and how these instant cities sprang up on the Yukon River delta. If you’ve ever been there, it’s flat, treeless and barren countryside for many miles around. I can’t imagine wintering there more than a century ago.
One of the blessings of this city is its excellent public library with zillions of kids books, DVDs, an Alaska collection and tons of CDs I can listen to. I’ve never seen a public library with so much resources. There’s also the local Barnes & Noble that has a circular fireplace that people love to gather around. It’s the only such place in the city, so it’s a common meeting place.

A 90th birthday party

The US Coast Guard-themed cake that my dad got for his birthday

The US Coast Guard-themed cake that my dad got for his birthday

It truly is getting colder here and today I put on some leggings (atop 2 other layers of clothing) for the first time. Glamour is not huge in these parts. One simply piles on more layers of clothes. The most gorgeous moon is rising to the northeast of my apartment. They do seem to have pretty lunar tableaux here.
The last week of September, I was in warmer climes when my daughter and I flew from Fairbanks to Seattle for my dad’s 90th birthday. We had the festivities at the retirement place where they now live, which made things much easier and more convenient. On Friday the 26th, my dad’s actual birthday, we had a reception for the residents of the retirement community and the following day was a party for immediate family and various cousins. The weather was gorgeous that day so I’d gone outside to the entrance to greet guests, when I saw some cars pull up. Three of my cousins jumped out – two of them from Minnesota – causing me to do a double take as I had no idea they were going to show up.

My dad and his sister, Alice

My dad and his sister, Alice

And then the big surprise was that my Aunt Alice, my dad’s 99-year-old sister, climbed out of the car. No one had any idea that she was going to make the trip but since one of her daughters lives quite close to my parents, I think she wanted to see my dad and see this cousin’s new home. My father almost fell over when his sister walked into the entrance hall. Ever since my Uncle Ed had died in 2007, only my dad and Alice were left of the original 4 Duin siblings. They had grown up in New Ulm, Minn. during the 1920s and 30s.
It was delightful having everyone there – all the grandchildren made it, one of them flying up from California and of course Veeka and I coming in from Alaska. We had a fun party with lots of wine and speeches (from my 2 brothers and me) about my dad’s many exploits plus some toasts from the oldest cousins in both the Hammer and Duin families and a slide show of the highlights of my dad’s life.

My parents at my dad's 90th birthday dinner. Someone must have been cracking a joke at that point.

My parents at my dad’s 90th birthday dinner. Someone must have been cracking a joke at that point.

There were several people there I hadn’t seen in many years and these days one cherishes each moment there is. Once you’re over 50, you never take extra time for granted! We got to see the newest addition to the clan: Lindsay and Jason’s 6-week-old son Wyatt.
All too soon it was over and we were back on a plane landing in chilly Fairbanks. By this time I have had my car winterized – which means adding several heating elements to your engine so the car doesn’t conk out at 20 below. Which is why you see cords danging out from underneath the hoods of everyone’s cars. And electric outlets everywhere around town. And signs on the fronts of stores telling you not to keep your engine running. That may sound weird but apparently with some cars – once you turn off the engine – good luck in getting it started again. We’ve had our first snow – on Oct. 4 to be exact – and yesterday I made Veeka happy by tromping all over town to find her a sled so she doesn’t have to borrow one from other kids.

Wyatt Nicholas, the first born of Lindsay and Jason

Wyatt Nicholas, the first born of Lindsay and Jason

It’s midterm week here so I have a pile of papers to grade. I myself am taking 2 graduate courses to finish up my MA by December, so I’ve no lack of things to do. One of the courses is my master’s degree project which means putting together a book manuscript. It’s mostly done but there’s a lot of factchecking I need to do. Plus I may have another assignment from More magazine, so I need to do some prep work for that. Plus I’m auditing a sort of advanced Photoshop course Mondays and Wednesday mornings where I am learning neat tricks for doing digital art. Plus Veeka undergoes all manner of life dramas, so my plate is always full. The other big event that happened here was my Snedden speech on Oct. 1. The Snedden felloow (me) is expected to come up with a keynote speech to which the community is invited and where one makes all sorts of remarks about the State of Journalism Today. The department ran ads in the Fairbanks News-Miner for a week, I put up notices around campus and about 50 people showed up to hear me (which is not a bad

Me giving my speech at UAF's Murie auditorium

Me giving my speech at UAF’s Murie auditorium

turnout, actually). I even sold a few of my books. Yes, I did talk about where journalism was going but what everyone was fascinated by were my stories of Appalachian pentecostal serpent handlers. Yep, the topic I’ve been talking about for some time but it never fails to fascinate, especially up here where folks aren’t at all familiar with Appalachia. I got quite a few questions as well. I expect to keep speaking about this topic until the book I’m writing about all this comes out, so you’ll be hearing more on it, but it is fascinating and as I told the audience, these pentecostals plus the Amish are the only Americans who are willing to die for their faith these days.

Catherine Marshall turns 100 & I read more books

The cool 100th birthday cake that was served at the ChristyFest gathering this past May in eastTennessee.

The cool 100th birthday cake that was served at the ChristyFest gathering this past May in east Tennessee.

Wanted to note that this coming Saturday, Sept. 27, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Catherine Marshall, which is why I attended a ChristyFest in her memory this past May in eastern Tennessee. I so wanted to do a biography of her but – as related in earlier posts – I got tremendous resistance from certain family members. It was so odd, in that when the idea first hit me, I then discovered that Catherine’s grave was a mere two miles from my home in Hyattsville, which is just north of the District line. Catherine, Peter and two of their grandchildren are buried in the Ft. Lincoln cemetery down Rt. 1. Had Peter Marshall – her son – still been alive, I would have gotten somewhere because he might have approved this project. But, alas, he died a year before this idea occurred to me. Catherine herself died in 1983. Anyway, Catherine was one of the most interesting women of the 20th century and a ground breaker for female Christian writers. A lot of people under 50 have never heard Catherine’s story. When I first got this idea, I did a few days’ worth of research with the help of the University of Maryland library, which was two miles from my front door in the other direction from Catherine’s grave. Clearly this family has a legacy. Catherine’s 31-or-so books have sold 18 million copies. That’s an empire.

A cabin on the site of the mission (in the middle of absolute nowhere) where Catherine's parents worked and to which she returned in the late 1950s when she was researching "Christy."

A cabin on the site of the mission (in the middle of absolute nowhere) where Catherine’s parents worked and to which she returned in the late 1950s when she was researching the book “Christy.”

This spring, I drove to ChristyFest in east Tennessee, which is a celebration of Catherine’s most famous book Christy and the TV series by the same name, and I picked up a bit more information there. One person who’d done a lot of research on Catherine said that Catherine’s family has her journals and that those have never been published. The writer who has access to those is the one who should do Catherine’s biography, she said, which makes sense. As I’ve related elsewhere, a lawyer connected with the family told me that if I wrote about Catherine, I’d break some law she said protects the reputations of the dead. It was a not-so-veiled threat. This past spring – when I ran across another attorney well versed in media law – I discovered that I can write whatever I want about someone who has died. There’s no law on the books that can stop me or anyone, really.
But I digress. Catherine’s parents Lenore and Jim Whittaker served at the mission in Del Rio, Tenn., from 1909 to 1912 and the story is that they wanted to start a family but didn’t want do so in such an isolated area. So they moved to Johnson City, Tenn., which is where Catherine was born 100 years ago this month. I have always thought she was an extraordinary woman and I hope someone – if not me then someone better – gets to write her biography. Yes, I know that Catherine wrote an awful lot of books about her inner life but there’s still room for a biography, since it’s been decades since her last books were written. Also, 90 years ago this month, my father was born in New Ulm, Minnesota, and later this week we’re flying to Seattle to celebrate it. More on that later.

A cool painting of the Del Rio area by local historian Jimmy Morrow. If that looks familiar, it should - Jimmy is a primitive American artist who is also a snake-handling pastor AND who has really cool paintings of old-time religion serpent handling and baptisms and revivals at his church a few miles from the ChristyFest.

A cool painting of the Del Rio area by local historian Jimmy Morrow. If that looks familiar, it should – Jimmy is a primitive American artist who is also a snake-handling pastor AND who has really cool paintings of old-time religion serpent handling and baptisms and revivals at his church a few miles from the ChristyFest.

I am still wandering about the Alaska collections of local libraries. On Sunday, I found a history of Alaska newspapers, John McPhee’s “Coming into the Country,” Tom Rose’s “Freeing the Whales: How the Media Created the World’s Greatest Non-Event” (about the freeing of 3 stranded California gray whales off the coast of Barrow in September 1988), “Extreme Tourism,” a book about tourism in northern latitudes and “The Bishop Who Ate His Boots” about Isaac O. Stringer, the pioneering turn-of-the-century Anglican bishop of Yukon. In those days, there were no roads, so people got about by floating down rivers – of which there plenty in these parts plying the waters from Whitehorse to Dawson – by dogsled, horseback or simply walking. (Thanks to the Canadian gold rush some decades before, there were trains in the region as well). The Beaufort Sea was also frequented by whaling ships. This man visited places on the Arctic Ocean (ie Herschel island on MacKenzie Bay near the Alaska state line) that even today are dicey; yet he was tromping about the area more than 100 years ago. Places such as the Porcupine and Peel rivers that only the hardiest of outdoors people try today; hamlets such as Ft. McPherson, which is way north of the Arctic Circle – that’s where he hung out for 40 years. The title comes from an incident in the fall of 1909 when the bishop and a companion were traveling from Ft. McPherson and Dawson, got lost in the wilderness for 51 days and only survived by chewing on their mukluks. When they traveled from mission post to mission post, he and his wife camped out in the wild without Gortex, iPhones or any of our 21st century conveniences.

Fall colors in the Mat-Su valley north of Fairbanks

Fall colors in the Mat-Su valley north of Fairbanks

These days, you drop by a tourism office somewhere in British Columbia or southern Yukon and pick up glossy tourist brochures telling you to drive to Inuvik via the Dempster, a gravel highway that parallels much of the same territory the Anglican missionaries traversed more than a century ago. These days, the area is being sold as a backpacking, mountain biking and ecological paradise. Judging from what I saw in the southern Yukon, Canada has plowed major funds into making these isolated provinces a tourist draw.
Of course none of this would be of interest to me had I not driven through part of this territory a month ago. I now am so grateful for having driven the AlCan, which provided the reference points I needed while reading “The Woman Who Walked to Russia,” a travel/adventure story by Cassandra Pybus, an Australian who in 1998 tried to retrace the steps of a woman who walked (or hopped freight trains) from the east coast of the United States to Dawson City in central Yukon. Her trip through British Columbia – following a path known as the Collins Overland/Yukon Telegraph Trails that sought to connect North America to Europe via Siberia – was in 1928 and the author followed her trail, driving down the most isolated back roads imaginable in western BC. I knew nothing about this area in July but by the end of August I had learned quite a lot! August, I’ve learned, is the best time to travel through these parts. The mosquitoes are pretty much gone and early autumn has set in, causing all the birches and aspens to turn a flaming yellow.