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Anchorage, Denali and more

Rainbow Ridge along Richardson highway. My point-and-shoot cannot do justice to the lovely colors just before sunset

Rainbow Ridge along Richardson highway. My point-and-shoot cannot do justice to the lovely colors just before sunset

Word is around here that if you’re going to see Alaska, do it before it’s cold. September is said to be the best month, as the mosquitoes are gone and the fall colors are lovely. But it takes a long time to drive anywhere. Which is why I spent Labor Day weekend in Anchorage. It’s a 400-mile drive each way. We left that Friday, driving first east to Delta Junction, then south along the Richardson Highway, which follows the oil pipeline. The latter is a major piece of construction as it goes along the highway for hundreds of miles. We drove 252 miles to Glennallen, a small town. It had been raining but midway through, the clouds lifted just enough for us to see some lovely peaks. One, called Rainbow Ridge, is famous for its red and green volcanic rock and yellow/pastel siltstone and sandstone. I rounded a corner and saw this unbelievably steep ridge in the early evening light, shimmering with mustard yellow, ochre, orange and brown hues. An orange and white cloud hovered above, reflecting the sunset. It was unearthly beautiful. The next morning, we set out along the Glenn Highway, an east-west thoroughfare through various mountain passes, past glaciers and through lovely tableaux. Veeka and I took a short walk among the quaking aspens, which were golden against the blue sky. The beauty was immense. We loved Mt. Pinnacle as well, as it looked a large pencil against the sky.

Overlook (with aspen trees) of the Metanuska glacier.

Overlook (with aspen trees) of the Metanuska glacier.

We ended up in Palmer, the site of the annual state fair, which was packed with people. The folks at the visitor’s center showed us the back way to get there (saving us nearly an hour) and we wandered about, enjoying the pumpkins the size of a small car (the growth season for veggies there creates huge cabbages, pumpkins, gourds and so on) and lots of rides to go on plus tons of junk Veeka wanted to get and free magic shows, a jousting tournament and so on. The weather could not have been better. We drove a very pretty 40 miles to Anchorage where we holed up in a B&B. They lent us bikes the next day to ride a path known as the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, a very pretty paved trail crammed with bikers, joggers and two moose that showed up at one point. Then we found Fire Island Rustic Bakery, a great spot a few blocks from the B&B – for lunch. With all the bikers and hikers sitting outside sipping their coffee and munching on organic breads, it felt like the Pike Street Market (Seattle) or the Pearl District (Portland). That afternoon, we drove to Girdwood, site of the Alyeska ski resort. The pitches are quite steep and I

The prize-winning mother of all pumpkins at the Alaska state fair.

The prize-winning mother of all pumpkins at the Alaska state fair.

wondered if that was a good place to bring Veeka after all as I can’t imagine her learning to ski there. I had thought it’d be cool to at least try skiing in Alaska but there are several barriers to it. Bu we shall see. The drive along Turnagain Arm (the inlet south of Anchorage) there was lovely too as there were stops for people to look at Beluga whales, various waterfalls or just enjoy the views. The next day, we drove back north towards Palmer but through Wasilla – at one point driving past the tiny city hall where Sarah Palin had her office as mayor once – and then north towards Denali, aka Mt. McKinley. The drive is supposed to be spectacular but it was cloudy and we got rained on midway through. We stopped at a small town – Talkeetna – for lunch. Never again. What a tourist trap and there were loads of tourist busloads there. Arrived home in the rain and fog – exhausted.

The cool lodge at Earthsong in the early morning light.

The cool lodge at Earthsong in the early morning light.

However, by the middle of the following week, I saw that the weather report for the following weekend showed that the middle of the state would be sunny. It so happens that everything in Alaska seems to shut down as of Sunday the 14th. It’s the oddest thing; it’s as if someone turned off the lights. Everything that is remotely tourist-related stops functioning as of Sept. 15. And I knew that if we didn’t see Denali this month, it’d be May before we got up there, as nothing opens around there until May. That’s 8-9 months away, not long from when we’ll be leaving Alaska for good. (I hope to linger for mid-summer, provided I can find enough friends to take trips around Alaska and western Canada with me!) And this was the time to not only see the fall colors (blazing yellows, reds and oranges covering the plains and slopes) but there were no mosquitos! Plus I also knew that the weekend of Sept. 12-14 was taken up with something called the ‘lottery;’ that is, people can win a statewide lottery allowing them to drive about Denali National Park for themselves. (Usually one has to take buses to get about). So that left the weekend of Sept. 6-7 to go there and Sunday looked to be totally sunny according to the Weather Channel. We’re only 117 miles away from the entrance (which is next door compared to typical distances in this state), so I booked a hotel for Saturday night and drove down. That was Earthsong, a collection of cabins and a lodge in the town of Healy, just south of Denali, was like visiting Hobbiton in Middle Earth. All these cool cabins with water fountains and mossy plants

The lovely road to Denali (center).

The lovely road to Denali (center).

and clever sculptures and wooden walkways above the permafrost were charming plus we got the loveliest sunset that produced “alpenglow;” the red light that illuminates a mountain range just before the sun sinks below the earth. The sky was in red and purple flames and we could just see a few peaks.
The next morning, I peeked out the window and majestically arrayed in front of me was 20-30 snowy peaks known as the Alaska Range, which bisects the state just south of Fairbanks. It’s what blocks the really nasty weather from us and keeps any wind from blowing during winter months. That and the Brooks Range to the north (which shields us from Arctic winds) keeps Fairbanks livable. Veeka too was awed by this march of white mountains. We gulped down breakfast and got back on the main highway to reach the park so as to catch a 9 a.m. bus. There being construction simply everywhere in the state during the dry months, we fortunately only got held up a tiny bit; road crews can slow you up for a half hour or more. And so we jumped on a green shuttle bus at the Wilderness Access Center for the Eielson Visitor Center about 66 miles into the park. The bus was packed with folks from overseas who wanted the driver to stop at

This is the cloest we got to the brown bears that hang out in Denali National Park.

This is the cloest we got to the brown bears that hang out in Denali National Park.

every squirrel, moose, wolf, grizzly, golden eagle and caribou siting. Even if there was a Dall sheep two mountain ranges over, they wanted to jump out and snap away. The ride into the park took 4 hours and there were portions of it where sheer cliffs were on both sides. We started seeing a huge snowy peak in the distance and finally after rounding a bend there was Denali, looking like a huge vanilla ice cream cone you could jump into. We were finally at the visitor center, which had lovely large windows from which you could gaze at all the peaks or take hikes. It was hard to take my eyes off all the mountains, which were just magical. We didn’t stay long enough there for my taste; and pretty soon we were back on the bus. We still didn’t get home until dark, but it was a glorious day.

When we’re not tromping about mountain peaks, life is interesting here. One of the professors does photo shows and he invited people in the department to the opening of his exhibit about zoos. I’d heard about how, in some cities like Houston or Alexandria, Va., artists take over a warehouse district and turn it into a warren of studios. Never thought I’d see that in Fairbanks but sure enough, we found a section near a railroad yard called Well Street and it was a true warehouse district with two galleries. The one with the UAF professor’s photos in it had run out of food, so Veeka and I wandered over to the other gallery, which also had a show going (was the first Friday of the month, which is when such events typically happen) and they were dishing up hotdogs and soft drinks. Much better.

Mt. Pinnacle off the Glenn Highway NE of Anchorage.

Mt. Pinnacle off the Glenn Highway NE of Anchorage.

Veeka catches a bus to school, which is less than 2 miles away. There’s quite the menagerie of parents who meet at the stop each day. Along with us, there’s a Korean family and then two new arrivals: a family from Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories and another from Nome. That is, the husband is an Inuit from Nome, the wife is Caucasian and they’ve been in his hometown for years where she said the kids are used to having the run of the place because it is ultra-safe. And now she’s got an all-expenses-paid two-year MA program in northern languages at UAF, so our families are becoming friends. We all live in 60-year-old apartments on a north-facing slope that allows us a nice view of the Northern Lights, which I’ve only seen once as a green haze hovering in the sky. Unfortunately they tend to appear in the middle of the night when I am not up.
I’ve gotten a card at the local library, which is the only library serving the entire city. And the breadth of their CD collection is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Ditto for their children’s DVD collection. It dwarfs anything I’ve seen in the lower 48. I’ve started wandering about the UAF library as well, which has two floors devoted to its Alaska collection. I’m checking out as many books as I think I can get through.

My best shot of Denali.

My best shot of Denali.

One of the nice parts about driving the AlCan are the cool visitors centers along the way. There’s a book “The Boreal Feast” that is sold in every one, so I thought I’d splurge and get it. It claims to have recipes from various Far North climes, ranging from Scandanavia to western Canada to Alaska (must see if they have Iceland and Russia anywhere in there) but the one problem has been the exotic ingredients. I’ve been visiting various stores and markets looking for spruce tip oil (which only seems to be sold in Whitehorse), birch syrup (like maple, but thicker. Finally found it at an outdoor market); honey ale, mead or lager (had to scour Fred Meyer’s liquor department for apricot ale which was the closest I could get); wild blueberries (bought some from a Russian at aforementioned market), lingonberries, which are known locally as “low bush cranberries,” and so on. All sorts of cranberries are out this time of year, most of them pretty sour. Currants are big here, too. I’ve also bought a book on Alaskan wildflowers and plants. We’ve seen watermelon berry, high-bush cranberries (which shine more), fireweed (a chartreuse-colored flower that is simply everywhere); bluebells, yarrow, squirreltail grass and more. The leaves here have all turned a lovely golden color that reminds me of high-altitude Colorado.

Coming into the country

IMG_0579I realize I’ve not posted a blog in several weeks. Sorry about that. I have been overwhelmed with things to do, as one might imagine.
We last left off at the beginning of the Alaska-Canada highway. I first drove to Dawson Creek so we could be at the official start of the route, which also came with a great visitor’s center and an hour-long film on the building of the AlCan. What a miserable job that was in 1942 for the poor guys assigned to it. Especially the roads cut into sheer cliffs – aaeeii – turns out later the Canadians rebuilt or re-routed large portions of the highway to make it less dangerous. We stayed the first night in Ft. St. John, a smallish town about 30 miles to the north where we found a great indoor water park for Veeka to jump in that evening. The next day, we were off towards Fort Nelson, an easy drive to an outpost that was a city of about 6,000 people where the housing is expensive because lots of oil and road workers are there. There’s tons of oil drilling and fracking to the north, I was told and the roads were under quite a bit of construction. Fort Nelson actually had several creature comforts, like the Organic Vegetarian Café and Coffee Bar, a really cool boutique that sold stuff I would have thought you could only get in Vancouver. Like many touristy towns in Canada, the visitor’s center there was exquisite and they served free coffee.

Just some of the gorgeous views in the mountains west of Ft. Nelson

Just some of the gorgeous views in the mountains west of Ft. Nelson

Thus fortified, we headed west towards some vast real estate known as the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area that had the loveliest mountains such as Steamboat Mountain, Indian Head, Mt. St. George and more. Where these peaks differed from their cousins in the southern Rockies were how much lower the tree lines were and how rocky the summits were. I know summits usually are rocky, but most mountains in the southern Rockies have trees well up to the summit. These were different. Some of the road was rather precarious and I’d read somewhere this was the toughest part of the AlCan to build. But it was beautiful and we ended up that night at Toad River Lodge, a simple place next to a lake.
The next day, we drove past Folding Mountain (which looked like an accordion with all its layers compressed), deposited our stuff at Northern Rockies Lodge, then drove 34 miles up the road to Laird River Hot Springs. This was a true delight; splashing about in this rocky quarry surrounded by tropical plants and chatting with folks from around the world. We returned to the lodge, which was perched on Muncho Lake, a real beauty of a lake surrounded by mountains. The lodge also charged top prices for various things, such as $1.79/liter (for guests; non-guests had to pay $1.99), which was $6.77 a gallon, I later found out. Talked with some of the workers, who had come from various countries. Got the impression from some of my conversations that they felt overworked plus there’s not a whole lot of places to go on one’s off time other than hiking nearby.

Veeka at Muncho Lake

Veeka at Muncho Lake

And I could understand that, as it took us three hours to get to the nearest town: Watson Lake, the next day. I never saw the ‘lake’ part of this town, but it had a nice planetarium, the Northern Lights Centre, where Veeka and I watched shows on the aurora borealis and black holes. It also had an amazing ‘forest’ by the visitors center of license plates and directional signs from around the world. Had the weather been better, we would have lingered more, but it was raining and we had to be in Whitehorse by nightfall. That was our longest day of driving; more than 400 miles. The weather improved by the time we reached Teslin, a Tlingit (pronounced kling-it) village. But once we crossed from British Columbia to Yukon, the roads got worse and the temperatures dropped 10 degrees. In BC, it was summer temperatures but Yukon was colder.

The 'sign forest' at the Watson Lake visitor center.

The ‘sign forest’ at the Watson Lake visitor center.

Finally we got to Whitehorse, a really progressive little place considering it was truly in the middle of nowhere in the Yukon province. There were at least two Starbucks there, all sorts of car dealerships, chain restaurants, museums, a riverside walk and a great view of nearby mountains. The Best Western there was pretty nice and so was the Burnt Toast restaurant we visited the next morning for breakfast. But the situation there was like so many places in this part of the world; the waitress is also the cashier, which means that there’s only one person tending the customers. We have run into this at more places; restaurants are so understaffed and so few people seem to work there. The next day, a Monday, was some kind of provincial holiday so, we got in free to a really cool Beringia Museum that talked about the boreal forest and how this part of the Yukon never got covered with glaciers and that it’s where people from Russia ended up when they used the land bridge to Alaska during the last ice age. We also visited the Old Log Church Museum, which had all sorts of exhibits about Anglican missionaries to the Yukon. Even today the area is a hardship post; I cannot imagine leaving Wycliffe College at Oxford – as one missionary did – to travel to western Canada a century ago.

Blissful Liard Hot Springs

Blissful Laird Hot Springs

I also learned that Monday that my Aunt Dottie Hammer had died at the age of 89 and I was so sad. I had not seen her in years, actually. I think 2006 was the last year I saw her, as I adopted Veeka the following year and I never took Veeka to see her, as she’d moved into a retirement place and then one day she fell. After that, she really didn’t know anyone, even my mom, the Hammer sister closest to her in age. There were six girls born to my grandparents Birchall and Olive Hammer and now only the youngest two: my mother and her youngest sister, Lee, are left. She was the only one of my aunts who never married and I took some comfort from that.
That Tuesday, we drove through Haines Junction, which was a gorgeous intersection of two mountain ranges, then drove north along another range towards the US border. After a night in Beaver Creek in a less-than-stellar hotel, we finally crossed into Alaska and pulled into Fairbanks late that afternoon. The AlCan is technically 1,488 miles long and we’d made it in 1,507 miles. Added to the 870 miles it took us to drive from Seattle to Dawson Creek, we drove 2,377 miles that week. My entire trip from Tennessee was 5,777 miles, give or take a few. Amazingly, my car did not break down although it seems to be using up more oil than it used to. It’s at 140,000 miles at this point. I want to say at this point that the AlCan is extremely doable but it is spendy.

What my car looked like near the end of the AlCan - unbelievably dusty due to road construction

What my car looked like at our last lodging near the end of the AlCan – unbelievably dusty due to road construction

The university put us up in a B&B that night, but the next day I was able to move in and collect the 19 boxes of clothing and various kitchen things I had shipped up. Typing this two weeks later, there are lots of things I wish I had brought up with me and some things I wish I had not! Like the coffee pot here is awful; the warming plate has worn out, I am afraid, and had I known that, I’d have shipped up my own coffee pot. There’s no can opener or bottle opener or salt/pepper shakers; simple things I could have mailed but…oh well. I did mail up my spices, as they are expensive.
The next few days were beyond crazy. Veeka had to be enrolled in her new school, which she very much likes. She’s decided to try out the nickname “Ollie” there to see how she likes that. We’re only there a year, so she can switch to ‘Veeka’ the next school she’s at, if she wants. The Common Core curriculum for third grade math is pretty difficult for her, however. We landed in a place where the skies stay light until 11, it’s 60 degrees in August (although by September it was hovering in the 40s), there are no free ATMs (my credit union here charges me $3.50 per transaction!), all the parking lots come with electric sockets so you can plug in your car to keep it warm and there are tons of Subarus here as it supposedly is the best car to weather winter roads. I had my car winterized a week into my stay here (electric cord, heated oil pan and some other stuff they did for my engine) although I have it good here; my garage is heated, so at least my car won’t be impossible to start in the winter. Down sides: It takes more than a month to get WiFi in my apartment, so I have to lug my laptop to campus constantly. And once Veeka is home from school, it’s too difficult to use my computer with her wandering about so essentially I’m without the Internet most evenings.

Ollie/Veeka on her first day of school.

Ollie/Veeka on her first day of school.

The biggest trauma our first week was the loss of my 22-year-old tortoiseshell cat, whom I’d dragged all the way from Tennessee. She’d slept most of the distance and I’d make the mistake of letting her wander about our new yard, then taking my eyes off of her for too long. She ended up getting disoriented and wandered off. I called the pound and the campus police and gave her up for gone when a week later, a woman down the street called me to say they’d found someone like Serenity. They had thought she was near death, so they spent $800 on her at a vet, they said, to give her fluids, shave off her matted fur, etc. And sure enough, looking like a large rat, was my kitty in their garage. I think she wanted to stay there as she looked rather put out at having to return to us.
Early on, I got to see my new office, which is an easy walking distance from our apartment. There were some flowers to greet me when I got there and my first few days were taken up with getting my computer working and hooked up to the campus mainframe, getting a photo ID, PO Box and other things plus unpacking. Our first weekend here, I took Veeka to Chena Hot Springs about 50 miles NE of town, which is a resort with a bunch of really nice, hot pools. There was also a tour of an ice palace, where they served martinis (apple-tinis they called them) in iced martini glasses (that is, the glasses were made ALL of ice and they quickly melted once outside) and where there were ice sculptures. Veeka was beyond miserable in there and screeched until I finally told her to go outside and wait for me. Hmmm….if she’s cold NOW….We also went to a park known as a nesting place for sand cranes while they migrate south. What is beyond weird here is to see all the Canadian geese, swans, cranes, etc., heading south away from us. I’ve always lived in places where these fowl spent the winter. Now I’m so far north, I am in a place where these birds originate.

3,400 miles

Veeka trying to fish in the lake at Coulter Village.

Veeka trying to fish in the lake at Coulter Village. The Tetons are in the background.

Yes, that’s what I ended up driving over a two-week period. I did rest in Minnesota for three nights and spent another three nights in the Grand Tetons National Park, so I might have driven the distance in less time, but it would have killed me, I think. We left off in Casper, Wyoming, soon after a coal truck sent a rock into my windshield. It made for a large crack that I had to wait until Seattle to get fixed.
It took all day to drive across Wyoming – 347 miles to be exact – and we took the southern, prettier route across the state although there were some really isolated patches where I’d hate to be stuck without gas. The vistas got prettier and prettier as we approached Grand Tetons National Park and I realized to my horror that I had booked at place in Jackson Hole, one of the less accessible parts of the park. We first reached Jackson, the lovely and expensive town that you hear about where all the rich people hang out. We wandered into Nikai, a nice sushi place on Broadway, which is where we got a very nice meal. We lodged at a hostel in the small village at the foot of the Jackson Hole ski area some 10 miles away. Even the hostel cost us $110/night but it was one of the cheaper places around and it would take our cat, which many places would not. It turned out that the hostel and several of the inns surrounded a grassy green quadrangle where Veeka would play at the end of the day with other kids.
Our first day, we visited several of the water spots: String Lake and Jenny Lake, looking for places to swim. The mountain peaks were all out and it was sunny and gorgeous – and crowded. And that evening I persuaded Veeka to come up with me on the gondola to a restaurant high above Jackson Hole. She’d never been on such a contraption before and she was frightened but she finally consented to climb on and discovered it was not so bad after all. Dinner was at Il Villagio Osteria, an Italian place nearby that she picked out.

My expert bicylist

My expert bicyclist

On Monday, I gave up my plans to see Yellowstone, as I was tired of driving and we wanted to hang around the Grand Tetons. So we both picked an activity. She wanted to ride bikes, so we went to Dornans – a small village with lots of services – and got bikes for us both. At first she complained that she could NOT balance on the purple bike she was given but eventually she got the hang of it. We rode 7 miles to Jenny Lake and then 7 miles back – 14 miles – not bad for a kid who just got off training wheels a few months ago. Then we rafted the Snake River, an almost three-hour expedition with Barker Ewing, a well known local company. Peter, our guide, was unbelievably fascinating about all the wildlife we saw. Veeka was more taken with a small hedgehog that someone brought along the ride as a pet

Rafting the Snake River and dodging a storm.

Rafting the Snake River and dodging a storm.

(although the last thing I’d do on a raft expedition would be to bring along my pet porcupine) and she ignored the bald eagles to coo over the spiky little creature. By late afternoon, it was raining elsewhere in the valley but miraculously we escaped a downpour. That night we dined at the Gun Barrel, a restaurant in Jackson famed for all the dead animals hanging on its walls and NOT a place for an animal rights person. Must say the elk I tried was pretty good.
The next day, we drove 387 miles from Teton Village to Boise. Idaho took a long time to cross plus we had some mountain passes to traverse getting out of Wyoming. Southern Idaho can be dull but we found a gorgeous lookout in Twin Falls of the Snake River. The next day was a 380-mile drive up the center of Idaho – not the fastest route but it was prettier. We began on Route 55 following the Payette River. When I took this trip back in my teens, I remember buying sacks of Idaho potato chips. No more. I learned that Idaho apparently doesn’t sell its own potatoes in state and there aren’t the famous chips any longer.

From atop White Bird Hill - a view of the Salmon River Valley just east of Hell's Canyon.

From atop White Bird Hill – a view of the Salmon River Valley just east of Hell’s Canyon.

The drive was gorgeous and we ended up in McCall for lunch. This is a small town on a lake and we chose a Chinese restaurant with an outside terrace 20 feet from the lake, mainly because I had to bring the kitty with me (could not leave her in a hot car) and I figured an outdoor restaurant wouldn’t mind her). The boats on the lake, the sun and people on the beach next door made for a lovely setting. From there we followed the Salmon River north on Route 95 which was also lovely. The steep meadows and impossibly vertical pitches of the 3,000-foot bluffs were truly stunning to see. To the west was Hell’s Canyon and I so wished I had an extra day to drive about the bluffs and see the views. Then we drove for miles up White Bird Hill through Nez Pierce Indian country. The drive from Grangeville to Lewiston was through the lovely Camas Valley, which had the most interesting and daredevil railroad trestles through all the cornfields.
We cross the state line into Clarkston and then drove another 100 miles along the Lower Granite River through the prettiest fields and hills of southeastern Washington. One thing I’ve noticed during this drive is the thousands of windmills that have been built across the country and I saw the most ever in eastern Washington. Apparently they sell their power to the Bonneville Power Administration. Am not sure how it all works but it was amazing terrain until I got to Walla Walla where we stayed with a friend for the night.

Veeka and the African hedgehog on our Snake River rafting trip.

Veeka and the African hedgehog on our Snake River rafting trip.

The next and last day was a push for my parents home in Redmond, just east of Seattle and it was a long, hot and difficult day. When I showed up, hot and sweaty at the PetSmart in Woodinville, just north of Redmond, I expected them to take my cat for 10 days for boarding. Apparently my ancient kitty hissed the wrong way at the clerk and she refused to take my animal. I stood there at 6:30 pm and just yelled at her. I’d driven 3,400 miles, I said, with the understanding that there’d be a place for my cat to stay, as my parents’ two cats would not suffer the presence of my kitty. I HAD to put her somewhere. But the folks at PetSmart thought she was too violent (this cat has never bitten ANYONE and she is decrepit, believe me) and so I was turned away.
Happily when we reached Redmond, my parents said the kitty could stay on the porch/balcony for a night. She created so little fuss, they said she could stay another night. And….so she is camping out on the porch for our entire stay. Fortunately the weather outside is in the 90s, so she’s quite comfy. Thus endeth part 1 of our journey to Alaska.

Of grasslands, corn and Mt. Rushmore

Lover's Leap just south of Hannibal, Mo.

Lover’s Leap just south of Hannibal, Mo.

Our Great Across Country Trek continues. For those of you on social media, I’ve been tweeting and Facebooking my way west, posting numerous photos via Instagram. When I last left off, we were making our way north along I-55 and the Mississippi. I then veered off the freeway after St. Louis and went north on Rt. 61, a most boring route. I’d decided I would spend this trip trying out different fast food places, albeit #anywherebutmcdonalds. The only other place I could find an iced coffee was the Dairy Queen – now known nationwide as DQ. This has been a theme of my trip: Finding iced coffee in the afternoon. Around 2:30 pm is the witching hour for me. That’s when I am sleepiest and SO want a nap. Our stop in Hannibal, Mo., was a disappointment. Veeka’s too little to know or read anything about Mark Twain and the town was mainly one street of touristy shops. We got a better view of the Mississippi River and Hannibal from Lovers Leap, a cliff south of town. That night, we were with the Webers, folks we’d met at a Christian conference last year and who had a daughter, Evvy, close to Veeka’s age. Evvy’s mom Heather happens to be an assistant pastor of an Assembly of God church – LifeChurch, I think

My cousin Faith with Evelyn, her youngest grand daughter.

My cousin Faith with Evelyn, her youngest granddaughter.

they call it and we attended the service there Sunday morning to hear her preach. It’s the same kind of place that’s all the rage now among new churches: a box-like structure with no windows, a praise band and one person preaching during an hour-long service. The church is big into service projects. Approaching Minneapolis that afternoon, we drove hundreds of miles through endless cornfields which is what I remember Iowa as being when I saw it as a child. We spent much of the time on Rt. 27; which had signs proclaiming it was a “highway of the saints” connecting Sts. Louis and Paul cities. It was the idea of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, businessman Ernest Hayes, who envisioned a four-lane highway between St. Paul and St. Louis in the 1980s. Most of its 563 miles went through cornfields, believe me. There were nice spots, such as the welcome center in Nashua, Iowa, but I was sure glad to pull into the Minneapolis area that afternoon. I spent several days catching up with various relatives – all cousins and their offspring from my dad’s side of the family – whom I’d not seen in 5 years. Veeka enjoyed meeting and playing with her 2nd cousins and wiling away lazy afternoons swimming and

Veeka with her great Aunt Alice

Veeka with her great Aunt Alice

eating buttered corn and hamburgers, as we all did at the Burkhow’s home the night before we left. I stayed with my cousin Faith and saw my 99-year-old Aunt Alice with whom I communicated through a boogie board as she cannot hear. Wednesday morning, we pushed off toward South Dakota, first stopping by New Ulm, where my dad grew up and where I got have lunch with Liz, wife to my cousin, Bob, at Iola’s, a charming place on Minnesota Avenue. I drove by the old house on Washington Street and then went to see the cemetery full of Duins and Engelberts and Hinnenthals just north of the city. Fortunately there is an enormous urn near several of the graves, making them easy to find. Veeka really liked being there. Then it was off to find I-90. We stayed that night in Chamberlain in a pleasant Best Western near the shores of the Missouri River and enjoyed a nice dinner at Upper Crust Pizza across the street. Amazingly, they had a bottle of Gewurtztraminer available. The next day, we saw the Badlands, which were amazing as usual and then I drove about a lesser-seen part of the Badlands along the Sage River where there were lovely hills covered with yellow clover flowers and blue sage. Veeka adored watching the prairie dogs,

Overlooking the Badlands, where the temps were in the upper 90s the afternoon we visited.

Overlooking the Badlands, where the temps were in the upper 90s the afternoon we visited.

which would pop their heads out of their holes and squeak at her. We stayed in the Black Hills, after the obligatory visit to Mt. Rushmore. The area had changed greatly in the 43 years since I’d visited – a new visitor center, walkway, museum, etc., plus a stunning $11 parking fee. Fortunately, Veeka was impressed with the sculptures. If you’re up there, it’s best not to stay in Rapid City but to go up to one of the places in the hills. We were in Hill City, which I disliked, including the Mangy Moose Saloon, a wretched place where there were flies everywhere and the table wasn’t even cleaned off for us. We gulped down some Mexican food, then fled for a nearby ice cream place. Most of the towns up there were filled with odd touristy contraptions and the hotels were horribly expensive.
The next day, I diverged from the path my parents took back in 1971. They had headed north towards Spearfish and Devil’s Tower whereas I headed south towards the Oglala National Grassland, as I’ve become quite fascinated with grasslands. This brought me south into Nebraska, a state I had never visited, especially its northwestern panhandle, which is pretty isolated. But I found the area is part of a “fossil byway” which means it’s covered with sites of major fossil finds. The western interior of the

The limestone buttes overlooking Crawford, Neb. They're a lot prettier than this photo shows.

The limestone buttes overlooking Crawford, Neb. They’re a lot prettier than this photo shows.

US used to be a shallow sea and western Nebraska was the eastern beach of this sea, hence, lots of animal remains. One fascinating display were the bones of two bull mammoths who died fighting each other some 10,000 years ago. Their tusks became locked and they fell to the ground together and both died as a result. That display was at Ft. Robinson, a very pleasant former military installation and WWII POW camp transformed into a quasi-resort. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to visit some of the other fossil beds in the area, as that would have been another day and most of the sites were down long dirt roads. Must add, though, that because of the heavy rains in the area last month, all the grasslands were beautiful shades of bright green – something one only sees in the spring in those parts, rarely in late July. The area is 4,800 feet in altitude, which keeps it from getting super hot. I did locate one boutique coffee shop – Perennial Haus – at the edge of town, but the area could use some other restaurants as the town of Crawford itself seemed pretty deserted. Some stunning limestone buttes overlooked the town and indeed limestone formations were scattered everywhere in that part of the state, some of them rising up from the grass like huge rock thumbs. It was a real switch from Thunder Basin National Grassland next door in Wyoming, a huge area that’s being mined for coal. We’d no longer crossed the state line than when we saw enormous trains – a mile long – bearing car after car of coal. No wonder you hear of so little tourism in eastern Wyoming; the coal companies own the place.

Veeka has a chat with a prairie dog.

Veeka has a chat with a prairie dog.

So far, I’ve managed to escape any car trouble, although some passing truck or car tossed a large rock at my windshield yesterday, which put quite a crack in it. The cat has been as amenable as can be expected for a furry creature who’s been sclepped from motel to motel each night with no chance to wander about a garden, which she likes to do. She also likes to start mieowing at 4 a.m., which has made for some early mornings here. This morning we are in Casper, meeting with a friend for breakfast before setting off for prettier climes further west.

Out the door

We found the moving team quite entertaining and so far, I've liked this company a lot - way better than the movers two years ago.

We found the moving team quite entertaining and so far, I’ve liked this company a lot – way better than the Mayflower movers I used two years ago who were disorganized.

We pulled away from my home of two years at about 7 pm tonight. Veeka and I were so glad to finally be leaving a place that for the most part has so not worked out for us. I was having lunch today with a woman who was one of the few people at church who reached out to us and I told her of how I put a note in the church bulletin asking if we could stay with someone the last night we were in town, as we’d have no furniture. Not one person responded – and there are lots of people in my church with large homes! Well…one woman did come up to me to say her house was too small but could she help us out with a meal? I listed 3 times that we could use some help and each time she said she had a conflict. (Will say that on Tuesday night, we had dinner with Glory and Jason Griffin, a couple who live 10 miles away but who’ve been so kind to us. Veeka met their daughter, Ava, at a camp last summer and we’ve stayed friends since. Glory was such a help a few times when I had to go out of town on business or job interviews and I needed someone who could watch Veeka for a night. The two girls have really hit it off and they invited us to their Fourth of July family celebration at a home near the Kentucky state line. We shall miss them. )

Veeka and Ava clowning about at the Italian restaurant in Medina (a town north of Jackson).

Veeka and Ava clowning about at the Italian restaurant in Medina (a town north of Jackson).

And so on our last night, Veeka and I slept on the floor in my room with a flashlight for company. I’ve been up as late as 3 a.m. some nights/mornings trying to get everything done. Today was our last day. Thankfully, Veeka was taking theater classes all week, so for 5 hours each day, she was busy doing that plus swim lessons later in the afternoon. She got a ribbon tonight saying she had passed the American Red Cross Learn-to-Swim Level 3. Her swim stroke is pretty good, now if we can get her to turn her head to breathe side to side. But we are well past the days when she couldn’t swim at all. And I think she treaded water for 30 seconds yesterday.
After the carpet cleaner did his magic on our rugs, we spent time saying good-bye to our lovely home. The rest of the day was spent taking Veeka to theater class, two visits to the post office, visits to the

Left: Veeka in her bit part in the play 'Pinocchio.'

Left: Veeka in her bit part in the play ‘Pinocchio.’

local Goodwill and also to a ministry to ex-prisoners so I could give them things, ie a vacuum and lawn mower that I could not drag to Alaska and that I won’t need for a long time in that we will be living in apartments for the foreseeable future. I’m done with home ownership for awhile (assuming I sell this place). I also visited the local utility to shut off certain things, the bank, the county dump and packing my car to make sure I could fit 3 suitcases, tons of bags and one grouchy 22-year-old cat with her food and litter box and kitty container. Hence the extra visit to the post office to ship off what would not fit in the car to Alaska.
The Wheaton Worldwide Moving Co. that I used was very good in that they kept in touch with me well before the move to tell me what to expect and I really liked the van driver. He told me my cargo weighed in at 5,100 pounds, which is 800-some pounds less than the 5,900 pounds I had when I arrived in Tennessee. I’m storing everything in the Seattle area and thankfully my parents have stepped up to be there when the shipment comes in, in case I’m not. Am planning to cross the country in 10 days, which should be fun. The only mitigating factor is a term paper I’m supposed to be doing for a class during that time. It’s due Aug. 5 and I plan to make it something about ADHD and the media but haven’t thought it through much more than that.
One nice thing that finished off our day was that Veeka’s theater class put on a production early this evening. She had a bit part that required her to say two lines – which she did! – and she was dressed in a kind of pioneer-girl-style costume. She also had some walk-on parts where she was part of a crowd. It was all new to her but she really loved it and wants to act again, so I think we’ve hit the jackpot here. I was amazed at how good some of the kids were and how many lines they’d memorized but some of them have been at this since they were 6. After that, we jumped into our packed car with a sleeping kitty, drove by the house one more time to say farewell, then rode off into the sunset.

Crater Lake and moving boxes

One of many views of Crater Lake from its southern end.

One of many views of Crater Lake from its southern end.

Without a doubt, the highlight of my Oregon trip was the stay at Crater Lake, which is a former volcano that fell in on itself some 7,700 years ago. The guides say it took all over three hours for Mount Mazama to erupt, then cave in on itself and drop at least 6,000 feet. That is, once all the lava had spewed out, there was nothing to fill the mountain’s inside cavity, so it caved in. The result is this incredible lake in a caldera that is six miles across and 1,943 feet deep. Centuries of rain and snow created this lake. There’s been a lot of volcanoes up and down the Pacific Coast, but none have left such a huge caldera as this one. However, it’s puny compared to the Valles Caldera near Jemez, N.M. which is 13 miles across.
What is so amazing is the blue color which is partly due to the fact that no rivers flow into the lake, which means no outside dirt comes in. My friend Gail Dall and I and Veeka stayed at the lodge on the lake’s southern end; a really nice place that got refurbished some 20 years ago. Sitting on the front porch/deck was lovely as you just drank in this huge blue puddle in front of you. I wouldn’t let Veeka wander far, as the nearby drop-offs are sheer cliffs that go right to the lake’s edge. The weather was

Phantom Ship Island, another cool boat stop along the way. On the south side of the island, the depth went from 30 feet to about 1,000 feet instantly.

Phantom Ship Island, another cool boat stop along the way. On the south side of the island, the depth went from 30 feet to about 1,000 feet instantly.

unbelievably gorgeous and the highlight of our stay was the 2-hour boat ride around the lake. First, one had to hike 40 minutes down a steep grade to get to the dock. Then you were taken past all these cool volcanic formations that showed how the mountain was constructed in its interior before it erupted. There’s even a cool cinder cone called Wizard Island – a volcano within a volcano that one can walk around. But that would have been another boat trip. The 45-minute slog back up the path was very difficult. Veeka led the way while Gail and I huffed and puffed.

Veeka and Gail eating lunch outside, which considering this is Oregon where it always rains, was a miracle of good weather.

Veeka and Gail eating lunch outside, which considering this is Oregon where it always rains, was a miracle of good weather.

The presence of snow on the ground ensured that we could not do the entire Rim Drive but we saw enough in the two days we had there. Would have loved to have been there longer. We returned to Gail’s home in Beaverton where Jamie (her husband) awaited us for more good times. Saw another old friend, Bettie Mitchell, the day before we left and then – whoosh – we were back in Tennessee.
Am now beyond overwhelmed with the move and arranging all sorts of things, from who’s going to take care of my yard once I’m gone to Veeka’s school in Alaska and arranging for that. AND, what sort of health care we should sign up for. The premiums for any coverage in Alaska are enormous and I can see they’re going to eat up more of my salary than I’d like. I’m juggling all sorts of plan ideas and it’s a massive headache. I hate moving, and it looks like I’ll be doing more of it in the next few years – sigh.

Alaska-bound and visiting Elvis

The Chugach mountains in Alaska.

The Chugach mountains in Alaska.

I’ve been dropping hints in recent weeks that I had a job offer. Yes, we are moving to Alaska in less than a month’s time. This past winter, I applied for numerous academic jobs and finally by the beginning of March, started getting called for interviews. Then it got crazy. By the end of April, I was on the short list at three places. One of them even flew me in for an interview, but hired an inside candidate instead. Another decided I was too much into journalism for them (odd, I know). But the third is what I got.
Along with full-time positions, I also applied for some guest lectureships. One was in Ann Arbor (never heard back from them); one was in Montana (I was told I was a strong candidate but didn’t win) and the third was the Snedden Chair, a guest lectureship at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks. It’s an endowed chair by Helen Snedden, widow of Bill Snedden, once the owner of the Fairbanks News-Miner. I knew there was a lot of competition for it and they were very late at deciding who’d get it but on May 29, I got the offer and just this past week I signed the contract, so it’s off to Fairbanks we go. Wouldn’t you know it, another university contacted me even more recently to say I was a finalist with them as well but…I was already taken for this year.

We'll be living in the purple area in the center.

We’ll be living in the violet area in the center of the state.

Of course this means my house is now up for sale (I’ve been prepping it for many weeks and now all sorts of people are walking through it) even though the local market is not great right now. It was lovely when I bought it two years ago and I’m hoping that other folks will find it lovely now. And I’m planning a drive across country to Seattle where we’ll rest for about a week before the final drive to Alaska up the AlCan. That will be 5,000+ miles. So I’m doing all sorts of doctors’ appointments and car check-ups and ordering of maps and assembling of things to ship to Fairbanks ahead of us. I’m also taking a graduate course at UMemphis this summer plus needing to plan the syllabus for my fall course so sometimes it’s hard to sleep with all I have to do. Most of my things will go into storage for a year, so I’ve had to locate a place in the Seattle area for that, plus get moving estimates – the list goes on.
So with all that going on, what did we choose to do today? Visit Elvis Presley’s Graceland in Memphis. I felt I could not leave west Tennessee without seeing this place, which is located near the airport in a pretty scuzzy area of town. So off we drove for 90 some miles. You’d think for all the money they charge for parking ($10) and the steep admission fees that the venue would be a bit better kept up, but I found the gift shop area kind of shabby. The mansion was in a 1960s-70s time warp and it was fascinating to look at all the bejeweled pantsuits that he wore. I had no idea that Graceland was the second-most-visited house in the U.S. after the White House. I also didn’t know that he had a twin brother who was delivered still-born 35 minutes before he was born. His grave, those of his parents and his brother are all at Graceland.

Elvis's living room

Elvis’s living room

It was fascinating to tour his private plane and gaze at the furniture he had that seemed so exotic at the time but looks ordinary now. There was a museum just devoted to his cars. We enjoyed the pink Cadillac, so of course Veeka had to have a little one for herself. You only live once. I was dumbstruck by all the videos and movies. I had not really followed him when he was alive; he was really before my time and I was still in college when he died. By the time I was aware of pop music, the Beatles, Mamas and Papas, Moody Blues and other groups more to my liking were on my radar – Elvis appealed to folks born a decade before I was. But watching him today, I had no idea how amazing a dancer he was and how good a showman he could be nor of the punishing performance schedule he kept up year after year.

Metrics, waterfalls, hounds and whiskey

The 256-foot-high Falls Creek Falls

The 256-foot-high Falls Creek Falls

Spring break for Madison County Schools was this past week, so I decided to go on an adventure for a few days at what’s supposed to be Tennessee’s loveliest state park. This was Falls Creek Falls State Park about two hours SE of Nashville in a wilderness known as the Cumberland Plateau. We were actually closer to Chattanooga and probably could have gotten there in an hour if one drove fast on the back roads.
Our first full day there, we explored the various waterfalls in this park, some of which came with delightful swinging bridges that frightened Veeka to death but fascinated me. She eventually got used to them, I think. We hiked about two miles through forest and around to various overlooks. None of the parks in that region have any barriers at these overlooks, which means that if you stray too close to an edge, it’s a 100-foot drop to the forest below. It was in the low 60s, so not THAT chilly although the clouds made it seem colder than it was.

Veeka on a swinging bridge near Piney Creek Falls.

Veeka on a swinging bridge near Piney Creek Falls.

The next day was also gloomy, so we spent it driving two hours each way across the countryside to the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchburg, due south of Nashville. But – whoa – in the middle of nowhere. Still, the parking lot was packed on a Friday morning. Jack Daniels is known as sour mash Tennessee whiskey and the highest-selling of its kind in the country. The visitor’s center – and it is a very nice one – gives you an hour-long tour where you first see workers burning stacks of sugar maple wood to make charcoal. Meanwhile, the local spring water is mixed with corn, rye and malted barley, then distilled in copper vats. We got to smell the gloppy mess as it fermented. The liquid this produces is filtered through a 10-foot stack of the aforementioned charcoal, which gives it its flavor. It’s then mellowed for several years in specially-made oak barrels. Veeka was likewise fascinated with the process, although she was sad to not be able to taste the whiskey on the spot. We both learned what various parts of the barrel (staves and bung holes) are all about and she got to see how they are made. I’ve since learned there’s something called the Tennessee Whiskey Trail and that there’s lots of other distilleries in the state.

A statue of the founder of this famous whiskey - and one admirer.

A statue of the founder of this famous whiskey – and one admirer.

One thing I picked up while there is how the Jack Daniels folks are very good at branding. This article in the Atlantic explains how it was done and how certain can-do American values were entwined with what the whiskey business was all about. There’s quite a debate over whether Jack Daniels is the best whiskey, but it clearly has the most distinct labels and bottle shape and some legendary stories about its founder. Speaking of branding, that’s what we are now learning about in my social media class. Permit me to engage in a small detour into a discussion about metrics; that is, how to determine who or what is clicking on your web site and how to get them to come back for more. First, there are page views (how many times a web page was accessed). The first time I got excited about page views was in April 2012 (2 years ago this month!) when my WSJ piece about 20-something serpent handlers got more than 37K page views over Easter weekend. Which is a lot. And that is before Drudge picked it up.

The spiffy Jack Daniels visitors center

The spiffy Jack Daniels visitors center

Then there is ‘unique visitors, which means the number of different people who click on a site. You can have, say, 50 page views but some of those 50 might be the same people who went back and forth from your page. Everyone wants their number of unique visitors to go up.
Then there is ‘time on the site,’ which means pretty much what it says. What you want is a low ‘bounce rate’ of people who look at one page of your site, then ‘bounce’ elsewhere. Then there is ‘sources of traffic,’ which tells you how people found your site. Then there is ‘keywords,’ which are actual words hidden in the metadata (HTML code) of your site so that if someone is looking for ‘singles’ and ‘adoption,’ they will hopefully pick up the same key words embedded on my site. They are the words people use to search for me or…whatever.
I took a look at the WordPress stats for my blogs. The singles/adoption one gets almost no visits, but then again I’ve not promoted it much. The most visits it got was on March 8 at 41 views. Most of that probably came from my social media class! As for my juliaduin.com blog, I get very few referrals from other sites. That is, people don’t google something, then click on my site. That site gets a lot more traffic. For instance, I got 29 visitors to the site and 62 views. That is, 29 people visited the blog and they clicked on more than one page. Maybe I need to run more pieces on whiskey?

The following day, I drove 90 minutes to Sewanee to meet up with a hiking group from Jackson. The weather was so deplorable, we spent the morning at the Blue Chair, a famous local hangout, and then each went our own ways. I drove to Chattanooga, then north on Rt. 27 until I reached Dunlap, where we found the Cooke Jar Cafe, a most fetching country-cooking restaurant in the middle of absolute nowhere. You have to drive down a few farm roads to get there but the cooking was good. As we headed back to the state park, we passed on the road a Basset Hound walking down the side of the road. Again, it was the middle of nowhere. I swung around, jumped out of the car and threw the wet dog into our car and tossed Veeka’s unfinished hamburger towards it, which it gulped down.

Where we ate Saturday morning in Sewanee

Where we ate Saturday morning in Sewanee

After telling Veeka to stop shrieking (she’s not a dog fan), I called 911 and got switched to several sheriff’s departments. Finally a deputy from Van Buren County told me they have no animal control and that I might as well leave the pooch where I had found her and maybe she’d find her way home. Yeah…right. It was raining, the temps were sinking into the low 40s and it was past 4 p.m. on a Saturday. I started going down driveways to see if I could find any local residents. I encountered one couple in a pickup who said people abandoned their animals on the highway all the time but there was a neighbor who kept Basset Hounds and maybe he might know to whom this dog belonged. Meanwhile, the hound, who had a leather collar but no ID, had fallen asleep in the back of my Subaru. I found the neighbor’s home and a barn but no one seemed to be around.

The hound we picked up looked a lot like this doggie.

The hound we picked up looked a lot like this doggie.

Now, the lodge at where we were staying did not allow pets so taking the dog with us was not an option. So I woke up the dog and put her (or him, I am not sure which) in that neighbor’s barn where I knew she’d be at least fed and kept dry. She was not happy about being left there but I didn’t have a great range of choices.  And on our way back to the lodge, I explained to Veeka that being a Good Samaritan can involve helping dogs too.

 

It’s been one of those weeks

Excel hell

Excel hell

Maybe I am just tired, but I feel like it’s been non-stop work for many weeks. First it’s the magazine article I slaved over, only to learn recently that I didn’t get it right, so have to almost start over. Or it’s my taxes, which took up most of yesterday and today. I was still unfinished as I walked into the preparer’s office this afternoon with my laptop open to an Excel spreadsheet. I had not realized I had to group all of my business trips in three categories: food, hotel and mileage. Those are the categories that make sense on a Schedule C. I had all the expenses for each trip clumped together so had to re-do that at the last minute. (The good news is that I get a nice refund, thanks to being a grad student and buying a Mac last June, both of which were write-offs.)
Or maybe it’s the non-stop needs of my daughter. Won’t go into details here but being a single P1010368parent is hard. I bought her a nice (and pink) guitar but she will NOT practice. I have shown her the music from “Let it Go,” one of the hits from the movie “Frozen” which she listens to continually on her iPad. Now, I tell her, when you learn to place chords, you can sing like THAT. We leave tomorrow for a few days out of town where I hope to do some hiking. Problem is, the weather is cold this week and it’s not going to warm up until Saturday. Or maybe it’s the constant job applications I’m sending out, each of which needs individual TLC. I got interviewed by one faculty committee this week, which is a nice sign that my resume is getting noticed in places.
This week I experimented with a social media app called Foursquare, where you “check in” to various places of business. It’s really kind of cool and I tootled around Jackson “checking in” to Starbucks, Home Depot, Ulta, Kroger and so on. If you’re a reporter looking for sources in a particular place, I can see where this would really come in handy. It doesn’t really fit in my focus topic (singles adoption) unless I was sitting in a hotel lobby in Beijing looking for other adoptive parents. Same thing with serpent handlers, most of whom can’t afford to hang out in Starbucks. You go to church to find those folks!
Speaking of Excel, I drove to Memphis twice last week to listen in on an undergrad class whose instructor was helpfully teaching basic Excel. I got lost pretty quickly. Am not sure what it is with most computer programs, but I’m not a natural at this stuff. And there are different Excel programs out there. I’m taking a class in InDesign this term and let’s just say most of the undergrads there are a lot better at it than I am. I always thought I was pretty good with graphics. Well, maybe not. Just listening to videos at lynda.com isn’t always the answer. I need hands-on, instructor-in-the-room type of learning.
I also joined Yelp, a site that lets you do online site reviews of places, ie restaurants and hotels. I reviewed three Japanese ones in town, figuring that they could use the PR, as lots of folks here seem to only eat Southern-style. And…catfish. Jackson, Tenn. is not exactly full of ethnic restaurants even though we’re right on I-40. We have one small Thai one, precious few coffee places and no Indian eateries. One minor problem, though; you can get sued for what you post on Yelp. Read the link. Guess that’s a discussion for my media law class.

YouTube, singles and more church messes

An image from my video

An image from my video

This past week has been a welcome respite known as spring break in which I got lots of stuff done. One huge task was to create a video, which took me forever.  It was to be a video about our second blog topic, which for me is about Singles adopting. Soooo, what images do you use to impart that? I had to use some creativity to explain things such as people who discourage others from adopting. I finally finished everything last night about midnight. Do click on the link (above in red) and watch it.

A Turkish hijab

A Turkish hijab

We also had to critique an academic journal article about YouTube or online videos. I chose Framing and praising Allah on YouTube: Exploring user-created videos about Islam and the motivations for producing them,” which is a 2012 in New Media and Society (albeit reprinted last year) by two Dutch scholars. One thing the article reported was that 4,900 videos a week on Islam are uploaded onto YouTube. The authors sampled 120 of them during March 2008. The majority of posters were male (women were only 12 percent) from 26 countries. The greatest number sought to

A fashionable hijab

A fashionable hijab

educate people about Islam but the second-treated number (at 39 percent) were critical of Islam. Another popular topic was women in Islam, with the largest percentage of those videos being critical of women’s place in Islam. However, there were a growing number from Muslim women themselves saying they were not oppressed. (And in recent years, I’ve seen a bunch of Islamic views starring women on topics such as how to wrap a hijab). The positive ones about women mentioned in this paper featured Muslim women in the west wearing cute tunics, tights and color-coordinated headwear; the negative ones showed burka-clad slave-like creatures in the east. The largest amount of users were from the U.S. and the UK, then equal amounts from Canada, Pakistan and Egypt. Positive videos showed lovely scenes of Mecca or other cities with monuments; negative videos showed photos of suicide bombers and kids with guns. If nothing else, Islam does not lack for images! IMHO hijabs are fine if you have a pretty face. I, alas, do not, so I’d look frightful.

What some people think of upon hearing the word 'Islam.'

What some people think of upon hearing the word ‘Islam.’

The authors concluded that YouTube videos of Islam are fairly balanced; that is, 51 percent were negative whereas 49 percent were positive. Obviously Muslims are learning their way through this propaganda war. One common theme in videos is footage of wounded people in places like Iran, Afghanistan and Syria; many of them images that’d be inappropriate on TV. Basically YouTube, they said, has allowed Muslims to counter what they see is a biased media by telling their story in their way. YouTube is their new public sphere. One thing they did not mention were the beheading videos nor the Al Qaeda recruiting videos, which are in a whole class by themselves.

This was also our last week to read Clay Shirkey’s “Here Comes Everybody,” also about new media. He says a lot about something called “distributed and delayed payback,” which is another way of saying ‘what goes around, comes around.’ The Internet, he said, has worked best when unpaid volunteers post information about all manner of things and so contribute to a global cloud of shared knowledge. I took advantage of that ‘cloud’ yesterday when I watched three different videos on ways to operate iMovie. He calls this a global talent pool that depends on the goodwill of basically everyone to help each other out. Which is what made the computer software Linux such a success. It was open source; meaning people could contribute ideas on how to improve it. Wikipedia operates under the same assumption. It’s a nice idea and but it’s annoying when people will tell me – when I have a question about something – to ‘just watch a video on it.’ Because some videos are good and others aren’t. Also, I still cannot understand how a company like Apple is so successful when the directions they give with their products are so shabby. Any Apple product I’ve bought has meant hours of sitting in one of those Apple stories learning how to operate it. Anything to do with computers is not intuitive for me.

Veeka reading her new 'Barbie the Pearl Princess' book.

Veeka reading her new ‘Barbie the Pearl Princess’ book.

This past Saturday, I was about to get some more hours of desk work done when a chance Facebook post caused me to look up a congregation, Covenant Life Church, that I had once reported on. CLC was an outgrowth of a beloved Christian ministry, Take and Give, that I attended in the 1970s near downtown DC. The two men who led it: CD Mahaney and Larry Tomczak, were brilliant speakers and some 2,000 of us crammed into Christ Church on Tuesday nights to hear them. It morphed over time into a large church in Gaithersburg, Md. and I was dimly aware of it when I moved back to the area in 1995. It turns out that 1995 was around the time that its lead pastor, CJ, was kicking out Larry. I eventually encountered Larry and got out of him the story of what had happened. And in 2003, I did a profile of the church for The Washington Times, which is when I took over the religion beat. There was something about CLC that gave me the creeps – as did CJ. I sat in CJ’s office, but only got cliches out of him. This was not the same guy I had heard preach so well back in the mid-70s. Things at the church seemed very controlled and everyone was into submission, which was a red flag for me.
I wrote the piece and had included in the article what had happened to Larry. At the last minute, the man editing my piece took out anything remotely critical of the church, excising the whole mess about Larry. I know this sounds bizarre, but that editor was a member of CLC. The day the article came out, I was nearly sick to my stomach. It was over Christmas, so it was several days before I could complain about it to the managing editor. And of course I had to call Larry up and profusely apologize. He wasn’t too happy either, as he was so hoping that this article would get out his side of the story. Fortunately the managing editor severely disciplined – so he told me – the offending editor, but the damage was done.
A few years passed and I began hearing about real problems at CLC. People who had left had formed several blogs, the most famous of which was SGM Survivors. I left the Washington Times but at some point in there met with Larry when he was in town and heard more about things at CLC. It had taken years for Larry to build his life back up again and he was moving to Nashville (or thinking of it; I forget the exact time sequence). By the summer of 2011, things at CLC were at a boiling point and I was freelancing for WaPo at that point. I really pushed to do a magazine article on the mess going on there but the editors there thought it was too much inside baseball and plus, a staff reporter had done a short story on the matter, so that settled it in their minds.
Eventually CJ was forced out of CLC and ended up moving to Louisville to start a new church in 2013. (I toyed with visiting the place when I was up there last fall but thought the better of it). What I didn’t realize is that there’d been a lawsuit filed in early 2013 detailing massive sexual abuses over several decades there and charging nearly every leader connected with the place of knowing who the perpetrators were but allowing them access to kids nonetheless. I just read the lawsuit today and it is horrifying: Rapes of young children, the gang rape of an 8-year-old; stuff that makes anything I wrote about concerning Church of the Redeemer seem like child’s play.

Bill Gothard

Bill Gothard

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years that evangelicals have just as many skeletons in their closet as do Roman Catholic priests and the dirt is only now just starting to spill out. There’s a great blog out there called the Wartburg Watch that’s detailing the never-ending stream of scandals going on now involving various evangelical churches these days and how it’s non-stop. I was just emailing one of my high school friends about the scandals involving Bill Gothard of what was once Basic Youth Conflicts, the Bible study seminar that so many of us attended in high school and college. At the age of 79, this man has been unmasked as a child molester. Who back in the 1970s would have dreamed this?