In which Veeka turns 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me and the blossoms on the University of Washington quad.

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

Skiing Vancouver Island

Veeka and her kind ski instructor at Mt. Washington.

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

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

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

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

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

Veeka presenting cookie choices to a customer.

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

The difficulty of finding friends

The past six weeks have been one deadline after another, which is my poor excuse for not blogging. I will say that my GoFundMe total is just over $2,000 although it doesn’t look that way on the GFM site. But kind individuals have privately sent contributions (that don’t get 7% taken off of them as happens on the site), so I have enough money – 25% of the total – to at least get started. Thank you, all.

Veeka relaxing in her new mermaid-shaped blanket she got for Christmas.

During the past two months, I’ve been substituting at local schools twice a week. Recently, I was teaching a class on primes and Eratosthenes’ sieve. The weird phrases kids have to muddle through with this Common Core curriculum include “identify the factors and product represented in an array” and “solve using the standard algorithm or the distributive property with a number band.” This was for FOURTH grade.
Christmas and New Year’s here was quiet; the first time my father has not been with us. This has been my grimmest year in terms of deaths of friends and acquaintances. Including my dad, there were six. One friend was 43 and two were in their 50s. All had cancer. An old friend from my Portland community days died at the age of 69. My mother keeps on saying that I’m at the age where my friends will start to die and sadly, she’s right.
I am in an à la recherché du temps perdu mood these days. Saw two interesting articles in the Seattle Times about why the natives are moving out and WHY the natives are fleeing. The comment sections in both are worth working through as many of them identify feelings I’ve been having for the past year re Seattle being not the place I once knew. One person talked about moving to the area in the late 1970s, renting an apartment for $220/month and there only being two rush hours. Serious crime was rare, people were friendly and there were actually Republicans (albeit moderates) in office. Sales tax was 5.4 percent.

This Flickr photo by Robert Martin shows the annual Christmas tree lights atop the Space Needle.

Now….(and I quote the writer) you  have traffic standstills at all hours in both directions, a U district to University Place drive in rush hour is way past 2 hours, drivers are rude, the sales tax has almost doubled and yet the services are no better. Politically, there is no opposition to one-party rule, political correctness has bred an arrogance, the friendly underbelly of the area has gone, crime is up, the gas tax has now about the highest in the nation but the roads are not equivalent to the price we pay, homelessness is accepted as a God-given right, no thought is given to how plan for growth (just throw up condos and the city collects more tax money), and yes, there is a bigoted side of the far left “progressives” that now inhabit King County at a far greater rate than they used to.  There is vile hatred of any non-far left viewpoint. There is no such thing as a “mainstream’ democrat like Scoop Jackson left.
I have to agree. Sometimes I feel like I’m back in DC, although at least there, people dressed nicely! One thing I did do recently was attend a banquet where Mike Huckabee was speaking. Someone gave me a free night of babysitting and told me to find an event to attend, so I heard of this pro-life dinner downtown. Huckabee was cool and he opened with saying he was bringing “a huge welcome from the basket of deplorables in the Midwest.” We all laughed ruefully. He brought up the “child is just an extension of the mother” argument that one hears from organizations like Planned Parenthood. But if that were true, he said, wouldn’t it always have the same DNA and blood type? (Of course we know that children have different blood types. I’m an O-, which neither of my parents are. Blood banks like me because O- is the universal donor and only 9% of the population has it.)

Mike Huckabee at the pro-life dinner in downtown Seattle.

Anyway, it was an interesting crowd and filled with the sort of folks one doesn’t ordinarily run into in this area. One of the speakers asked if there were any elected officials present. Seeing no one raise a hand, he said, “It takes real courage to run for office as a pro-lifer in the Sodom and Gomorrah that is the Pacific Northwest.” There are other places I’d apply the S&G label to faster than Seattle and Portland but it was nice to encounter people who are at least aware of local issues and politics.
I am still going through my scrapbooks and running across memories from high school in the halcyon Seattle of the mid-70s. When I was a senior, I organized Redmond High School’s first road rally, which amazingly got tons of students, faculty and local merchants involved. We even got a write-up in the local paper and even though it was raining heavily, 45 participants helped us raise $100 for the senior class (which was big money in those days). It took place on Oct. 6, 1973, and I plotted out the entire 33-mile route. Not bad, considering my parents wouldn’t let me drive until I was 17.
When my brother Rob accompanied me at one point, we got into a car accident on Avondale Road. (He didn’t see the stop sign, which WAS hidden). I came across a sheet of committee assignments that I’d typed up and I must say, I’m still impressed by my organizational gifts that were just starting to blossom. The road rally stunt helped get me chosen as Girl of the Month by the local Kiwanis.

Veeka strikes a pose while at the annual Christmas lights display at Warm Beach. It was in the 20ºFs, so we didn’t last long.

I also found photos from the July 1973 bicycle trip I took (with 32 other kids) that was sponsored by two Evangelical Covenant churches: Newport and Highland, both in Bellevue. We rode some 220 miles, with stops in Monroe, Lake Stevens, Mt. Vernon, La Conner, then to the Anacortes ferry which we took for 2 days of R&R on Lopez Island. Then took the ferry to Whidbey Island where we stayed at Fort Casey (which is filled with lots of World War II bunkers). Then rode to the Mulkiteo ferry, which we took back to the mainland. Spent the night in Everett, then biked home that afternoon. We appeared (and stayed at) Covenant churches and campgrounds along the way.  A magazine article I wrote about the trip for the Covenant Companion was my first published piece. That experience got me started on long-distance biking. The following summer, I biked with that same group to Victoria (BC) and a few years later, I was with a group that biked 800 miles from Washington, DC to Lexington, Ky., for the Bicentennial.
In high school, we had just moved to Seattle from Maryland, where there was so much social ferment. It even affected the Episcopal church we attended in Severna Park, which was close to Annapolis. I found a letter in the scrapbooks from a friend explaining she had left St. Martins (as had numerous other families) because of its emphasis on politics. The Episcopal church got really into the anti-war movement during that time period. What they missed was the burgeoning Jesus movement that was also happening. I returned to that church when I was a junior in high school and challenged the priest as to why, after 5 years there, I had not heard about the Jesus I encountered later in Young Life at Redmond High School. He felt the message had been there but I had not heard it. I didn’t challenge him at the time, but actually, the message wasn’t there. My scrapbook was filled with all the Young Life notices that I designed and helped pass out to other students.
Every so often I return to that world. There was a place out Union Hill Road that we called “Lewises” that had these wonderful Saturday night prayer meetings that everyone went to in the 70s. Tom and Gay Lewis, the couple who founded it, now have Thursday night meetings at their place, which Veeka and I have occasionally attended. They have lovely potlucks beforehand and the property is on a wonderful patch of woods that Veeka loves to wander around, provided she doesn’t encounter the local panther who prowls about. Other than the Lewises themselves, none of my old friends are there. I’ve had to make new friends during our now 17 months here and I can count them on the fingers of one hand. I drive along the freeways here and am so happy to see mountain ranges. And it is so nice to be close to family after 30+ years of living elsewhere. But if I want to be near good friends, I have to drive to Portland. But it beats flying there, as I used to have to do.

Rain, rent and raising money for braces

Dressed in her Halloween best, Veeka vamps it up a bit with her candy around her. She did learn one does not trick or treat in heels.

Dressed in her Halloween best, Veeka vamps it up a bit with her candy around her. She did learn one does not trick or treat in heels.

I’m happy to say that a GoFundMe campaign I started a few weeks ago to raise funds for Veeka’s braces-to-come has brought in $1,100. The bad news: I have another $5-$6K to go! I really didn’t want to go this route, but after being unemployed for more than 18 months (other than freelance and substitute teaching gigs), desperate times call for desperate measures. Because of a tooth that is ravaging her gums, she not only has to have braces, but also some minor surgery to get that tooth back into position. Sigh. My health insurance – which goes up 25% in 2017 – only pays for braces for medical reasons, ie birth defects.
And so I’ve told friends that I need to raise at least $2,000 to call up the orthodontist and sign the contract for two years of braces. I realize that not all can or feel led to give, but if you do, feel free to click on the above link. As I’ve been agonizing over which health insurance to choose for 2017, I am trying to squelch feelings of panic at the thought of the incoming presidential administration doing away with Obamacare. On the other hand, it feels as though insurance companies have already abandoned it, as they are getting queasier and queasier about covering anything.
Meanwhile, the rich keep on getting richer in Seattle. The median income here is now $80K.
I wonder: How many of those people with supposedly higher salaries are over 50? That’s where the real unemployment is. Past a certain age, it’s impossible to get a 9-5 job that pays more than $15/hour. Try living on that.

Veeka also got new glasses this fall because we've discovered she is farsighted.

Veeka also got new glasses this fall because we’ve discovered she is farsighted.

Or, $20/hour is what local school districts pay emergency subs, which is a good way to pick up some money if you have a degree but no teaching certificate. That’s what I’m doing two days a week, but compared to what I used to make, it isn’t much, folks. Even full-time public school teachers often only  make in the $40s around here. That’s nuts.
As many of you know, one of the many ways I eke out a living is to do freelance writing. I was on a conference call today (Dec. 12) with a group of other religion reporters and we were talking about how tough it is to sell your pieces for good money.
Try getting paid more than, say, $300, max $400 for a 1,200-word story. That’s about 30-40 cents a word. (The decent pay is $1/word for those of you not in the know.) I’ve been amazed at the low rates publications in the Seattle area pay people, considering the expense of living here.
Nevertheless, I’ve come out with three pieces since I last blogged. This piece on Jim Eichner, a local Episcopal priest who runs a food bank, came out in the November issue of 425, a magazine for Seattle’s Eastside. Yes, Jim is the same priest who was at my dad’s bed side right before he died. Then, the Washington Post ran two of my travel pieces two weekends in a row. This piece on cross-country skiing in the Methow Valley ran the weekend of Nov. 11 and my grand-circle-around-British-Columbia piece ran the following weekend. So…I am selling more travel than religion pieces.

Veeka and her little first-cousin-once-removed Wyatt relaxing at Oma's.

Veeka and her little first-cousin-once-removed Wyatt at Oma’s.

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of articles out there about house prices that continue to soar.
In late October, my brother Rob and his wife, Jan, moved from Maryland to Washington, choosing to settle somewhere on the Kitsap peninsula where the weather is a lot better than here! They chose a place in the fast-growing retirement haven of Sequim, and managed to grab a place that’s being built now. They felt lucky to get that. Nearly everyone I know is renting. No one can afford to buy. Well, I do have a friend who just bought a townhome near me and he paid a cool half a million to get it. Maybe the top 1% is doing well here, but there’s a lot of us who aren’t.
It’s been a quiet fall for us, with just one trip out of town to Portland to attend a banquet for Good Samaritan Ministries on Nov. 5. Veeka has started fifth grade and we squeezed in after-school hikes and swims in local lakes before the weather went south on us. And it looks like it’s going to be another record breaker for rain this season. While Alaska enjoys almost historically warm temps, we’ve had record-breaking rainfall. Veeka and I grimly joke that we’re both gaining weight because we get no exercise on the weekends because it’s always a.) raining and b.) cold.

Right off the TV screen: Election night 2016

Right off the TV screen: Election night 2016

As for other things: The election? Totally shocked, as everyone else was. I’m in the weird place of being glad Hillary lost but not overjoyed that Trump won, especially since he looks to be trying to dismantle half the federal agencies in one swoop. He’ll have one enemy in me if he touches healthcare. I will say I was beyond amused at the stunned looks on many of the TV anchors’ faces as the returns came in and it was clear that Hillary was not sweeping the country – or the Electoral College – as we thought would happen. So many in the media totally misread the mood of the country. I wish I could say that, one month later, I see a difference in coverage but I don’t. I mean, you have New York Times editor Dean Baquet saying they need to cover religion far more than they do. Well, no kidding. But until I see the want ads go up for an extra handful of religion reporters at the Times, I won’t believe a word he says. I heard similar breast beating back in 2004 when George Bush beat John Kerry and everyone wondered what hole those Protestant evangelicals had crawled out of. In December 2004, I wrote a column for using “It’s the hiring, stupid,” instead of the better-known saying “It’s the economy, stupid,” to point out that media organizations have been stinting on good religion coverage for a long time. I named names, calling out specific newspapers that had either left the beat empty or hired ingénues for the beat instead of seasoned reporters, making for some pretty clueless stories. Meanwhile, they scoured the country to hire for beats they considered more important like health, tech and real estate. So, of course they miss what’s really going on by a mile.

October typhoon?

Veeka (left) and her cabinmates at a Girl Scout camp she attended this summer in Carnation, Wash.

Veeka (left) and her cabin mates at a Girl Scout camp she attended this summer in Carnation, Wash.

We were supposed to be gone on a Girl Scout camping weekend today, but there’s been dire warnings about some huge typhoon hitting the Seattle area this weekend, so all sorts of things have been cancelled around the region, including our camp. Which is OK, in that it’s been raining all day and there’s nothing more miserable than tromping around a campground in the rain. So our major outing today was to Home Depot and Value Village. That said, there hasn’t been that much wind here at all so far.
Things have quieted down a bit with Veeka back in school. Last weekend, I was at a conference of regional journalism professors in Tacoma. I’m pleased to say I’m about to sign a contract for my 6th book and am spending most of this month working full time finishing up the manuscript. (More on this later when the contract is signed.) I’ve been doing some emergency substituting in local elementary schools and it’s not been bad at all, although I am exhausted when I get home.
My father’s 92nd birthday was Sept. 26, so I brought a white rose by my mother’s place. A year ago, we had a quiet dinner together. He’s been gone more than 3 months now and it will be so odd having the holidays in another month without him.
Since the place I live in is so tiny, I’ve been going through lots of boxes and tossing things that have been around more than 45 years. These include my scrapbooks as a young girl. When I was 7, the first big news event of 1963 wasn’t the death of President Kennedy but, as noted in my scrapbook, the death of Pope John Paul XXIII on June 3, several months before. I still remember the former. I was walking home from school one fall day (everyone always walked at least a mile to school in those days) and some kid rode by on his bike to say the president was dead. I didn’t believe it until I got home and saw it on the TV.

A rose for my father's 92nd birthday

A rose for my father’s 92nd birthday

My scrapbook from that year is filled with photos of brides and many drawings of birds. I loved going into the woods and drawing what was available in coastal Connecticut: towhees, blue jays, hummingbirds, goldfinches, scarlet tanagers, orioles, blue birds, pine warblers and red-winged blackbirds. Sadly, there are a lot fewer of these songbirds in the world today.
In the next scrapbook, from 1964, I found a small notebook of photos of students from my first-grade class. Amazingly, I could remember all of their first names and some of their last names. More than 50 years later, I remember names like Fay Steinhilber, Elizabeth Percy, Pam Van Ness, Melanie Carpenter, Roberta Samuels, Candy Simone, Robert Wallace, Debra Acara and Colleen Dougherty. Isn’t it odd how they stay with you? I still remember my teachers from Great Neck Elementary in Waterford: Mrs. Lyons (first grade); Mrs. Orsey (2nd), Mrs. Edgecomb (third) and then in Severna Park: Mrs. Fudjack (5th), Mr. Smith (6th) and Mrs. Taylor (7th). The name of my 4th grade teacher escapes me…
I saved tons of Valentines and birthday cards and it amazes me how all my aunts sent me cards and my maternal grandmother, Olive, would write me letters. And I was only 8! Everyone sent so many letters and cards back then. I even got a birthday card from Poodie, my grandfather’s dog. There are also letters from my first penpal (a girl in Sidney, Montana called Colleen Jensen). Those were the years when we first started using zip codes.

Veeka at a park in Bothell

Veeka at a park in Bothell

Every so often, I like to pinpoint some fascinating books I’ve run across and that I had time to read this summer: One is Putin Country: A Journey into the Real Russia,” a fascinating look into one of the world’s most polluted cities because of all the nuclear waste in the area’s rivers and air. The major city in the area is Chelyabinsk, a city not far from Kostanai, the Kazakh city where I spent 6 weeks adopting Veeka. Folks I met in Kostanai told me that Chelyabinsk was the largest city within a day’s drive and they would visit it ever so often. You may have heard of the city when a meteor fell near it in 2013. The reporter, who had been in and out of Chelyabinsk for 40 years, gives an amazing profile of a Russian region where media rarely visit. It used to be a “closed” area because of all the plutonium plants in the area. She writes a devastating portrayal of how Russians live and believe outside of the famous cities to the west. In Chelyabinsk, anyone in power is corrupt, all the officials are on the take and if you don’t toe the line, local Putin appointees will see you go bankrupt. Depressing, but a great read, as it shows how hopeless the residents feel over a situation that will not get better.

My mom got honored at St. Mark's Cathedral in September for overseeing a massive needlework project to cover all the cushions in the cathedral chapel.

My mom got honored at St. Mark’s Cathedral in September for overseeing a massive needlework project to cover all the cushions in the cathedral chapel.

Another was The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery. I’m fascinated but repulsed by these creatures; it’s hard for me to even look at them. They’ve got the worst of all worlds: a loathsome-looking head attached to tentacles. But this author talks about how she got to know successive octopuses at the New England Aquarium in Boston and how these creatures get to know humans by touch. They can feel your emotions through your skin, so if an octopus wraps one arm/leg around you, it’s sensing the chemicals in your body, plus it can tell whether you are male or female. The writer talks about them having memory and dreams, how they can be lonely and desire human company and how she learned how to pet them and communicate love to them and how the octopus responded back. If you see Hank the Octopus in the new Finding Dory movie, you realize how they can change color in quite amazing ways to blend in with their surroundings.

This place is Rattlesnake Ledge and that's Veeka sitting by the remains of our picnic dinner after we hiked up. There are sheer drops off the ledge so naturally I didn't let her go close to the edge.

This place is Rattlesnake Ledge and that’s Veeka sitting by the remains of our picnic dinner after we hiked up. There are sheer drops off the ledge so naturally I didn’t let her go close to the edge.

I have also been reading “The Rope,” a recent book by Kanan Makiya, written from the viewpoint of a young Shi’ite revolutionary from 2003 to the death of Saddam Hussein in 2006. He lays the blame for the ruin of present-day Iraq not at the feet of the Americans – who despite their faults gave Iraq its best shot ever at establishing a democracy – but at the feet of the majority Shi’ites who could not see beyond their partisan politics to want to build a united Iraq. He points out the lying and betrayal is the local currency in Iraq and that absolutely no one is to be trusted, not even your own kin, as the hero discovers at the end of the book. Thus, a Jean-Jacques Rousseau-style social contract was rejected and replaced by a social where there is no trust in anything; where you never know if the person next to you is a suicide bomber intent on blowing you up. And you can’t have a functioning society without some trust.

The book is an easy read and I found the author’s unveiling of the nature of the Arab tribal mindset fascinating. So much of this inborn resistance goes back to Ishmael and the enmity between him and Isaac that never got resolved. I visited Iraq, albeit the Kurdish part of it, in 2004, so have been fascinated by it ever since. That said, it’s a most desolate piece of real estate I’ve ever seen. BTW, the speech Saddam gives at the end of the book is amazing.

Veeka and a friend at the Washington state fair in Puyallup.

Veeka and a friend at the Washington state fair in Puyallup.

I’ve also been reading “American Wife,” by Curtis Sittenfeld, a fictionalized account of the life of Laura Bush. The author tries to get inside the head (and thoughts) of a First Lady and does a good job at guessing what it must be like to be a public figure. What I found fascinating was the character’s interior monologues about fame and power and whether being the wife of the President makes her complicit in his good – and bad – decisions. Is she responsible, she wonders, for the deaths of many Americans and even more Iraqis in the war in Iraq? When people beg her to try to change her husband’s mind on certain topics, she reasons that hers is not a Hillary-and-Bill-Clinton marriage where one got two for the price of one. So, she doesn’t try to influence her husband. Various reviewers found fault with the book but I liked it enough to continue to the end.

During my Canada trip, I also read Sittenfeld’s latest, which is “Eligible,” It’s a take-off on Jane Austen and what “Pride and Prejudice” would look like if moved to the 21st century. It’s pretty funny and very easy reading. This book was about five unmarried daughters and how four of them ended up with spouses within a year. The end wrapped up a bit too quickly to be real but there were so really profound parts as well and it’s definitely the thing to take along for easy reading.

Down the Cariboo trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

The main street in Barkerville

The main street in Barkerville

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

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

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

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

Veeka at the Mile 0 marker in Lillooet

Veeka at the Mile 0 marker in Lillooet

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

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

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

From Prince Rupert to Prince George

A waterfront view of Prince Rupert.

A waterfront view of Prince Rupert.

We were in Prince Rupert, a city on Canada’s far northwestern coast, that I’d always wanted to visit. Once there, it seemed like an overgrown fishing village. It helped that it was sunny outside, so we repaired to the visitor’s center by the waterfront first thing in the morning where there were lots of brochures and maps and an amazing exhibit on Prince Rupert’s virtues as a port city. Not only does it have a deep harbor, but it’s one of North America’s most secure ports and the only one with 100% dock radiation scanning. That is, it has four radiation portals scanning every container that moves through the port. Port security has become a big deal in an era where there’s great fears of terrorists sneaking in nuclear material to release “dirty bombs” in urban areas and one way to get them in is to ship it in via container, which is why there’s been a lot of news on how lax the security is at U.S. ports.
The art gallery next door had a zillion local and Native artworks that I would have loved to have snapped up but alas, all we bought was a Harry Potteresque wand for Veeka, who’s been wanting one now that we’re listening to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix while we drove around western Canada. Thank God for audio books. In its print version, it’s 800 pages; in audio form, it’s 23 disks and it took us the entire 11 days to listen to it all. We’d listen to it when the scenery got boring, which wasn’t often.

The cannery in Port Edward, whose history was far more interesting than I'd guessed.

The North Pacific Cannery in Port Edward, whose history was far more interesting than I’d guessed.

The day’s highlight was the North Pacific Cannery, the oldest intact salmon cannery on the West Coast. There used to be hundreds of commercial salmon canneries from California to Alaska. This place has a bunch of buildings on stilts in the shallow waters of the Inverness Passage where all the old canning equipment and nets are still set up. The tour – with a live guide – is well worth the $12 adult admission, as you wander up and down steps and across walkways and boardwalks where people used to work around the clock during the summer months. The place started up in 1889 and ran for 83 years, capturing salmon who were heading up the Skeena River.
Our tour started with a very dated 1950s-era film showing cannery workers. It was kind of like watching an I Love Lucy skit but it did give you an idea of what life was like in this self-contained village.  Never thought I’d be interested in how fishing nets were made in exact measurements so as to slip over a salmon’s head, but not its whole body, thereby trapping it. We even got to see the machines that made the lead weights for the nets. There was a swing in the net building where my daughter could swing back and forth as the rest of us walked. Veeka loved the old washing and wringing machine in the general store that was even before my time plus a little house for the company cat that was outside a manager’s door.
Later, we trekked about the Butze Rapids viewpoint on the way back. That was a three-mile hike on gravel trail and boardwalk through rain forest, muskeg, beach and meadow where we saw Sitka spruce, salmon berries, fake azalea, Pacific silver fir, shore pine, yellow cedar and western red cedar and my favorite, Labrador tea. We completed it in two hours with lots of stops on the beach, where Veeka clambered about the many piles of driftwood. Another good choice and by this time, the clouds had cleared so we could see the surrounding peaks.

Veeka on a rope swing over the driftwood.

Veeka on a rope swing over the driftwood.

On Saturday, we set out east on Highway 16 for the 90-mile drive to Terrace, which is the largest city in these parts. The gray-aqua green water, the goldenrod, the billowy clouds – clearly the local colors are grey, green, yellow plus magenta for the fireweed. It’s a 30-mile drive along the inlet, all told, and the peaks get higher and the cliffs more sheer. They say it’s one of the loveliest drives in Canada and I’d agree with that. Many fishermen were perched along the road, as the salmon were running.
Terrace was at the junction of three highways and a fairly good-sized town where we located a funky coffee shop for lunch. The local tourist bureau had recommended it. Must say that in Canada, there’s these omnipresent signs with huge question marks on them which means there’s a nearby tourism office with loads of brochures and maps. There’s nothing quite like it in the United States but those were my lifeline during this trip and while driving the AlCan two years ago. They are everywhere and the government must pour money into them. Canada tourism’s web presence isn’t the best, so many times you have to literally be in the neighborhood to learn which sights to see.

Fortunately we didn't run into any of the 4-legged creatures on this path.

Fortunately we didn’t run into any of the 4-legged creatures on this path.

I’d been told to take a detour to the Nisga’a Lava Beds, which is the site of an enormous eruption sometime in the 1700s that buried some 2,000 people in the local Native tribe. So we headed north, the mountains getting steeper and lovelier and occasionally green lakes appearing. Only in Canada have I seen these lovely aquamarine lakes made of glacial silt. One had a hanging glacier. We could see off to our right the cone; the remains of the volcano that wrought so much destruction. We explored a few short trails to a waterfall and through the lava beds, but the edges of the rocks are quite jagged, so it’s not easy hiking.
We came across a visitors center in a long narrow building at the campground. Frustratingly, the visitors center is not staffed, as I have many questions and the exhibits are sparsely worded. The place had a round door about 5 feet tall. We visited some of the local Indian villages along the Nass Valley, I wishing that we could stay the night there as the scenery was spectacular. There were some lovely suspension bridges over the local rivers and I so wanted to drive out to the coast, to see Gingolx, which recently got a paved road to its village and the route is said to be one of the most breathtaking drives in the province. It is at the head of the Portland Inlet. There was another village near that, which had a museum of aboriginal art. But we had reservations elsewhere plus it was starting to rain, so I sadly drove back to Terrace, then east on Highway 16 another two hours to Smithers, pop. 5,000. We found a great Mexican restaurant near the train tracks, so the evening wasn’t quite a loss.

We loved the suspension bridge in the village of Gitlaxt’aamiks.

We loved the suspension bridge in the village of Gitlaxt’aamiks.

The next day was a Sunday and we learned that a lot of places close up on Sundays, even at the height of tourism seaso. It rained all day. A few miles past Smithers was Telkwa, a tiny town with a lovely red brick walk along the river with a gazebo and hanging flower baskets – perfect for a picnic had it been a lot warmer than the 60ºF on my car’s thermostat. We then drove another hour or so to Burns Lake. I’d picked up some literature at a tourism bureau about it being Canada’s “lake district” and it sure looked like England’s Lake District with lots of rolling hills and a zillion lakes where lots of folks were fishing. But it was raining the entire time and although we drove through the region a bit, the weather was enough to make us give up on seeing the area, a real loss, I thought.
Back on Highway 16 and nine miles to the east was Homeside Antiques, a truly delightful barn and several other buildings full of the coolest stuff, a lot of which I remember from the 1960s plus a very engaging owner and a very friendly dog and long-haired tortoiseshell kitty who was abandoned on their property. From Burns Lake, it was about 2 hours to the Fort St. James, a historical property that was to be our hotel. The nearest large city was Prince George, but we’d stayed there two years ago and I was less than thrilled with the place back then, so I’d searched the Internet for somewhere more interesting. I found this national park, founded by fur traders, on a lake northeast of Prince George that had several historical buildings on it and where they let you stay the night. You also get dinner and breakfast. I figured I’d never again get the chance to stay in a historic Canadian fur trading post, so reserved it.

We truly enjoyed the pancakes at Fort St. James B&B.

We truly enjoyed the pancakes at Fort St. James B&B.

We arrived there shortly after 5 and were served a wonderful dinner an hour later in a café overlooking a lake. I was amazed to see hummingbird feeders are outside the windows, as I didn’t know they made it this far north. One of the employees told me that winters aren’t as cold as they used to be. Instead of -60ºF, it’s -40, which I guess is an improvement. The lake doesn’t freeze as fast as it used to. Winters used to be colder and summers hotter; now it rains more during the summer and isn’t as hot.
Out on Lake Stuart, all was greys and Brigadoon-like mists. Back in the houseI  where we were staying, there were tons of antique clothing and furniture (ie large wooden cradles and what I think was a captain’s secretary desk) plus we had to think of things to do by flashlight, as we were pretending it was 1896 and supposed to be getting by without electricity. There was a deck of cards, but I haven’t played cards in years. There was a cribbage board, one of many I saw during our trip, but I hadn’t played that since I was a child. There was a checkers board (fortunately I remembered how to play THAT) and Crokinole – a game developed in rural Canada in the 1860s..
It was a stormy night outside and our quarters had no bathrooms, so we had to sprint across the lawn to the second floor of the nearby maintenance shop. I began to understand the reason for chamber pots.

The bed I stayed in.

The bed I stayed in.

The following day, it had stopped raining and the sun was out, yet it was quite cool, with a cold wind coming in from the lake. Breakfast was pancakes with sausage in the same lovely café. We begin to wander about the buildings and learn the history of the area and how the place was founded in 1806 by Simon Fraser and it became the capital of New Caledonia, which was what British Columbia was called for the next 70 or so years. When you travel around western Canada and Alaska, you learn how vital a part the Hudson Bay Company played in the development of this whole part of the world. All of western Canada was opened up by the fur trade and explorers used a system of lakes and rivers to get everywhere. I was told one could actually canoe from Stuart Lake all the way to Vancouver by portaging over to Babine Lake, then catching the Skeena River south from there. Simon Fraser did it by using the Fraser River, although it wasn’t called that when he went on it in 1808, traveling 520 miles to Vancouver and nearly getting killed more than once in the rapids. Lewis & Clark’s expedition had been from 1804-1806, so that was really quite the decade for exploring the western half of the continent.
We began wandering about the fort, stopping by a house filled with the kind of furs they trapped back then: Ermine, silver-tip fox, coyote, wolverine, lynx, otter, martin, mink, muskrat and otter, to name a few. The guide told use there are 2,800 trap lines in the area, bit there weren’t large animals in the area until 1914, when the railroad was put through from Alberta and the animals happily followed the rail lines west. I got this mental picture in my mind of bears migrating west along the railroad tracks. Veeka was given a rabbit pelt here that she had to take to a general store where she had to bargain with the storekeeper there for the kind of food they ate in the late 19th century. Employees were dressed in period costumes. The biggest fun was the daily chicken race that’s held each morning, so a crowd of us bet on which chicken would win. Ours lost both times. Outside was also huge “historic game box” with croquet, horse shoes, ropes for tug of war and a collection of sticks and be-ribboned hoops called the “game of graces;” a popular Victorian activity for girls in the 19th century, à la Jane Austen.

It was tough to capture all the grounds of Fort St. James in all one photo, but this captures the lake and the beauty of this isolated spot.

It was tough to capture Fort St. James all in one photo, but this captures Lake Stuart and the beauty of this isolated spot. The flag was what Canada used in 1896.

It was hard to tear ourselves away, but we had to get to Prince George (the main interior city in northern BC), then go to another historic village – this one a relic of Canada’s gold rush days – by nightfall, so off we went. I’ll finish describing our trip in the next blog.

Seeing Vancouver Island – and another funeral

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qualicum Beach

Veeka @ Qualicum Beach

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

The view from the lodge in Strathcona Provincial Park.

The view from the lodge in Strathcona Provincial Park.

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

Telegraph Cove in far northern Vancouver Island.

Telegraph Cove in far northern Vancouver Island.

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

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

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

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

The view from the Port Hardy-Prince Rupert ferry.

The view from the Port Hardy-Prince Rupert ferry.

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

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

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

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

A wedding in Montreal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farewell to the admiral

Veeka and I in front of St. Mark's Cathedral

Veeka and I squinting in the sun in front of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle.

I think one of the loveliest moments during my dad’s funeral last Sunday was listening to the organ play “Nimrod” from Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations. If you have never listened to it, do so by clicking on the link. It’s lovely and poignant.
We were fortunate in that although the day started out with rain, the sun was coming out as we approached the church. And during the reception, it was warm enough to leave the doors open.
The family had a brief Communion service just before the funeral, then all of us processed into the nave at St. Mark’s Cathedral. Coast Guard Admiral Mark Butt, who had just moved to Seattle three weeks before, showed up at my mother’s side to walk her down the aisle. I was so grateful for that. My mom had been married 65 years and she’s used to having my dad walk with her. I processed with Veeka, who was delighted with her sleeveless black dress and new high heels.
IMG_2111The funeral program came with two photos: One of my dad in full dress uniform and one of him relaxing during a vacation in Israel. He was sitting in a hotel garden in Jerusalem when a stray kitty wandered by and jumped into his lap and took a snooze. My dad loves cats and that photo was so him.
My brothers and I read from Scriptures that my father had selected years ago that he would like read when the time came. We sang his favorite hymns, including “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” and of course “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” Then after prayers and a short sermon given by the dean of the cathedral, a bugler played “Taps,” during which two US Coast Guard men in uniform unfurled a flag and held it up for all to see. Then Admiral Butt presented it to my mother.

Admiral Butt presenting the flag to my mom and thanking her for my dad's many years of military service.

Admiral Butt presenting the flag to my mom and thanking her for my dad’s many years of military service.

Adding to the drama was a congregant seated in the front row across the aisle from us who fainted at that point. As people rushed to his side, they could not find a pulse for a brief moment, but fortunately he eventually revived, right in time for the 911 medics who came dashing in. Never a dull moment.
Afterwards, the reception table was laden with a huge spread, including the wine and cheese that my dad insisted we have, because going to heaven is a celebration, right?
I am so grateful to some of my friends who showed up; a couple from Church of the Redeemer who lives just east of me and some friends who made the three-hour drive from Portland, which is true commitment! Three of my dad’s nieces flew in: One from California and two from Minnesota. There’s not much you can say during these times, but presence means everything. And for the 137+ who sent me messages on Facebook along with a few who sent personal notes, thank you as well. I’ve learned that when death happens, it’s important to say *something” even if it’s only a few words and nothing profound. Believe me, those grieving notice every kindness.
And so we adjust to the new normal, as my mother is now living alone, although her friends at the retirement home promise me they will keep her busy. And I live only 14 miles away; Steve is three hours away and Rob is moving back to the area in the fall. With us, there is little other news. A journalism/PR position came open at the last minute at university just south of me, but I lost out to someone with a PhD. In that I’d just gotten another MA to ward off such a possibility, it wasn’t enough.