Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas in Seattle


Well, we did have a snowy time of it the first few days. My parents were biting their collective nails Tuesday the 23rd hoping we'd get there which of course we did just fine although I was ragged from putting up with 5 1/2 hours of Veeka on the plane. Because she would not take a nap. Sigh.
Anyway, we've not done much other than a few quick runs into Seattle although tomorrow (Monday) at 10 a.m. PST I am going to be on the Dave Ross show, a local talk show host, talking about "Quitting Church" and then I am going to be part of a group of 5-6 authors at a mass booksigning at Harvest Logos bookstore up on NE 85th later on in the afternoon. I've tried to rest and get some reading done but Miss Veeka has made sure I don't get a whole lot of time to myself. Although I did get a delicious hour at a masseuse in Bellevue, courtesy of my parents.
So here is Opa and Veeka in the Seattle snow, which is a lot for this time of year and nearly historic in its intensity but seeing as how the holiday could have been a lot worse but was not, I am thankful that all has turned out well.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Appearing in Seattle


Sorry it's been so long since I've posted but I've been down with the galloping crud for the past 2 days. And before that, Veeka was under the weather. Fortunately I had enough sick leave at work to cover it all but it really strained my ability to get ahead at work. So my desk is still piled high with all sorts of stuff.
Let's see....I've been busy writing a Hanukkah piece on a local Jewish woman who heads up the edgy Sixth and I historic synagogue downtown (which is where Veeka and I spent last Friday night singing Hebrew songs), covering the end of a year-long Episcopal trial (the conservatives won all four court judgments which no one expected them to do), having an open house last Sunday to show off my new place and setting up an appearance in Seattle.
Yes, an appearance. Thanks to my mom-the-booker, I'm going to be on the Dave Ross show on KIRO radio 710 (AM I think) at 10 a.m. Monday the 29th. I thought to myself: Why not have a booksigning later on that day? Two secular bookstores told me I was asking too late in the game but an evangelical Christian store, Harvest Logos bookstore on N. 85th St. near Greenwood jumped at the chance. It helped that the owner was Michael Adeney, who I'd known for years (although I know his wife, Miriam, somewhat better) who was willing to order my books rush at the last minute. He also decided to make this a big party. So he's coaxed five other authors: Tom Sine, Gib Martin, Kimberlee Conway, Richard Dahlstrom and Jon Sween to also show up with their books. I've interviewed Tom Sine before (he's a futurist) but it's been years since we talked. The party is at 115 N. 85th St. and the store, I believe, is in a strip mall across the street from a Blockbuster's Video.
Thirty of my books will be on sale at a great discount so please show up if you live in the area. The time: 3-6 p.m.
Some house-sitting friends fly into town this Sunday just to make sure my kitties don't feel neglected while Veeka and I are gone. After a frantic day at work Monday tying up loose ends - poof! - we are off to Seattle. Hopefully the snow and gluck elsewhere in the country won't come anywhere near Washington DC before we leave.
Posted here is a photo of Veeka and me at a Kazakh embassy reception.

Monday, December 8, 2008

As Advent progresses



I am trying to teach Veeka what the Advent wreath is all about and why it's not something you blow out like birthday candles. We do have a Christmas tree up - the first I have had in many years as now I live in a place where there is room.
Getting it into the house was quite the process. After church, I'd picked up a scotch pine and was yanking it out of my car when one of the neighbors leaned out her window and asked if I needed help. Standing there in my nice shoes and stockings and nice coat with this huge tree, I guess I looked forlorn. We hauled the thing into the house, then discovered that the hole I had drilled for the tree stand had gone in wrong, hence my tree leaned like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. So this neighbor sent over her husband who sawed away and hammered and loaned me THEIR old tree stand and finally got the protesting piece of shrubbery up with many needles now on the floor.
I am fine although I have started yet another round of physical therapy because of bad rotator cuff problems I now have from lifting You Know Who. So that is 3 mornings a week. And our little doll has discovered the art of making faces. Look at the two photos with this post carefully. The little minx made one of her faces in one.
Work is fine - am grateful I am not in one of the zillions of newspaper layoffs this month - Gannett, one of the chains, is dumping much of its labor force just before Christmas. Lovely timing.
Book sales are up to 8,721. We just have to offload the next 1,129 and it's 2nd printing time, folks. The publisher still says they are very happy with how the book is doing and they've got plans to put it out in paperback. And for you Seattleites, I've landed a spot on Dave Ross's talk show on Dec. 29 (KIRO) at 10 a.m. as of course I will be in the Emerald City at that point.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Video queen


The Higher Ups at the Washington Times are asking us all to produce video, video and more video so today I and another female staff writer premiered Take Two: A Woman's View on the faith/family side of the news. (She covers social issues and I of course do religion). It's on the front page of our site now - sigh - my hair was dangling in front of my face and I think I was slouching. There is lots of room to improve here.
Of course it would help if we had some training on how to do video/TV stuff but it's not in any budget I know of so here we are, talking before cameras about, well, whatever pops into our minds. I have been doing weekly videos about the religion beat that usually show up Sundays on our site - an example is here - but I must admit it's hard to talk non-stop for 3 minutes without a teleprompter and just spout off names and statistics and get them all correct. I still have to glance down at a notepad which is a no-no. There's always something that goes haywire: either my mini-microphone is creating static or I'm pursing my mouth in a weird way or - the list goes on. Often my mind just BLANKS out for a few seconds as I am trying to remember this Senate minority leader or that bishop. But I still jumped at the chance to do all these videos as the folks at the paper want them and I have lots of expertise on my beat so, well, pourquoi pas? Hopefully in a few months I'll be a lot better in front of the cameras.
As for Veeka, here's a photo of her posing in her school get-up. She loves her little back pack and her lunch box, etc. And she is only 3. At her age, I was pretty much hanging out at home all day but it's a new century and the age of the Single Mom and my little darling ends up at daycare which to be honest I think she really prefers because being with Mommy all day is a tad boring compared to all the kiddos she gets to play with at "school" as she now calls it.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I am off to a friend's place in the Shenandoah Valley. So much has happened this year - mostly good - for me and I am thankful for that.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Susan Shaughnessy, RIP


The photo with this entry shows four people who attended Veeka's 2nd birthday party. The young woman on the far right, wearing a blue blouse, was Susan Shaughnessy, a lovely young woman who loved helping the poor and house sitting my kitties when I traveled. During the past 3 years when I was on longer and longer trips (India, Italy, Australia), Susan was the one who took up residence in my condo and kept everything going while I was gone. Good housesitters are hard to find and in time we became friends.
She also stayed at my place when I was gone nearly 7 weeks adopting Veeka and she was the only person to meet me at the airport when I flew in, waiting patiently for nearly 2 hours while I cleared customs with all of Veeka's paperwork. The last time she housesat my place was in July when I was in the Pacific Northwest. That's when I learned of Eduardo, her new sweetheart from Spain and a man she was seriously interested in marrying. She was so excited about him. In October she flew to Madrid to meet his family. Her future seemed bright. A year or so after her mother had pulled out of colon cancer and survived, finally things were going Susan's way.
Then in mid-October she began getting headaches and finally came down what seemed like the flu. But she felt more more exhaustion than one usually does with the flu. Concerned, she visited her doctor, but he just told her she had a weird strain of the flu and to go home and rest. His advice proved fatal. She rested the next day and then on Saturday Oct. 25, she went to bed early trying to sleep off whatever was wrong. She never woke up.
The next day her housemates found her in a coma and rushed her to the hospital. Turns out she had a virus that turned into a freak case of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which is an auto-immune disease where the body attacks healthy brain cells. Basically she was brain-dead. A lot of us began praying and fasting for her. On Saturday, I got a phone call that if I wanted to visit her, to come that very day, as the family was going to disconnect the respirator the next day. When I arrived at the ER, with her broken-hearted family sitting there and the man who was about to become her fiance also sitting there, I just wanted to break down. It was awful. Susan was hooked up to all sorts of machines but her dad said the part of her brain (the cortex?) that regulates body temp and involuntary reactions was fried. They tried shining a flashlight into her eyes and her pupils didn't even contract. Someone at the Mayo Clinic who saw her MRI (or brain scan I forget which) said it was the worst case he'd ever seen. What would have happened had that doctor, instead of basically ignoring her, had taken a blood test then rushed her to Johns Hopkins?
They unhooked her respirator on Sunday morning and her breathing slowed to about 80 percent. Her vital signs continued to do well for a day or so and then everything must have collapsed because she died about 6 pm Monday. I went to her office today at Catholic University to talk with her boss and she had such a lovely view of the basilica and the quad and the sunsets. And so now her life has set. She was only 30. I'll be doing a column for Thursday's paper on how once again evil things happen to good people. I dug around in my photos and discovered I did have one of her, albeit a group shot.
Here was a friend who was cut down with a bizarre sickness that happens to a tiny percentage of the population. Still, she was cut down in the flower of life. Man - nor woman - knows not their time.
PS - Here is the column I wrote about her for the Nov. 20 Washington Times. It got *lots* of good reaction.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Applez everywhere


This is a typical Friday night here where, to amuse Veeka before bedtime, I made some pumpkin bread. (I had made some pumpkin custard a few days before and it was such a disaster, I had to figure out something to do with all those pudding molds, so I threw two of them into some bread dough). That is baking in the oven now. She is slowly learning how to knead bread. Hopefully by the age of four she'll be making her own lunches.
Then Veeka and I made applesauce. That is, I did all the work while she munched on apples and tossed a few pieces here and there. I am including a photo of Veeka in a local apple orchard. We've been to two this fall and she loves picking apples and taking one bite and then FLINGING them into the grass. The sheer waste really gets her going.
The painters were here today to do the spare bedroom in a coral pink. I really like it (all the rooms in my place are in bright colors) but I am sure my mother will be horrified as she's into beiges. Not moi. Let's see...other news - I am doing webcasts on religion for the Times web site. Sometimes I look good and other times - ugh. They appear like 3-minute TV spots where I am jabbering about some religious topic. I spent 2 days this week covering the Catholic bishops in Baltimore. It's raining out. Things are dull but at least I have a place to go for Thanksgiving.
It is also 10:30 p.m. and Veeka will NOT go to sleep. I think she's waiting for the bread to be done.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Our little Mother Teresa


When I took Veeka to an All Saints Day party, I had to figure out quick how to dress her. Idea: take an old shower curtain, sew some blue stripes on it and wrap it about her like a sari and voila, she's now Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, soon to be a saint. Our little one was SO cute all wrapped about in white and blue from head to toe and with a scarf about her head. Sitting through the church service was a tad difficult and when all the "saints" stood up in front of the church to be quizzed by the priest, Miss Veeka began to wail. She zoomed back to the pew and jumped into my lap.
The day before, she was Nemo the fish, walking gamely about the neighborhood on a clear, gorgeous evening, gathering a bag of candy. She thought that was pretty cool - just go to a house and people give you yummy things.
No big news here. I won't have any part in covering the election - thank God - other reporters get to stay up all night doing that. I am recording weekly webcasts on religion for the Washington Times, so click on their site, then look for "videos" and you'll see a "Duin on religion" headline. And moi underneath. I am still learning how to work the camera equipment.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Veeka dresses as Nemo




Yes, this year Miss Veeka has become Nemo-the-fish. She has a lovely orange little fish suit. Am including some photos from a Halloween party I took her to tonight. One photo shows her with tail and all and another is her trying to show me her little tail.
The other photo is me at a booksigning. Am not sure why the flash attachment did not work well. I have been having the worst time getting my books on the "new non-fiction" display shelves at Borders - have been in 3 of the stores that are close to me and "Quitting Church" is nowhere to be found. And have I heard stupid excuses. Like the buyer at the Borders at 14th and F Streets (about 2 blocks from the White House) downtown said most people there weren't interested in religion but in politics. I pointed to Victoria Osteen's book sitting prominently behind him and asked, "What is THAT then?" So if any of you are inside a Borders, complain like crazy that this book is not on display, especially since it's done relatively well as books go.
I've met enough people who saw my book in a store and simply picked it up to know how helpful it is to simply have a book sitting there waiting to be bought. My booksigning last week was pretty low key. I unloaded 12 books, which is kind of minimal. The bookstore owner, to my shock, had only ordered five of my books, as though she thought that is all I would sell and she was not going to invest any more of her money in it than she had to. I was furious. Fortunately I had some author's copies in the car which we sold, but those are for a bunch of purposes and not to be a back-up when the bookstore owner doesn't feel like ordering the minimum number. It was weird because the owner ordered in some lovely refreshments but...only five books?
Work was busy, busy this past week. I covered an Episcopal property trial, a Catholic pharmacy opening where the pharmacist won't stock birth control or any kind of contraception, pornographic magazines or cigarettes. It's one of a few in the country like that. And then I did something on humanist Sunday schools and Catholics holding vigil outside of abortion clinics around the country.
My bed is calling....

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

7,000 sold so far


No huge news yet but I just heard from my publisher that 7,000 copies of "Quitting Church" have sold - and that's only 6 weeks since the publication date! Plus it's mostly word of mouth plus some radio interviews as I have had NO major - or minor for that matter - TV exposure. If anyone has links to Fresh Air, CSPAN's book show, Dennis Wholley on PBS, Oprah and others, *any* others, please let me know! I have called a few of these folks and cannot even get my calls answered. A fellow staffer at the Times who has also just come out with a book on national security is having tough times getting through to folks as well. He told me it's really hard to market anything other than something on the election or the economy right now. So I guess I've done fairly well, considering everything.
I do have a publicist with the publisher helping me out but he has no ins here in Washington, unfortunately.
Still, I am working at keeping the buzz going, so will be having a booksigning this Saturday at the Book Nook, 5606 Baltimore Ave. in Hyattsville (20781) in, of course, Maryland, should anyone reading this want to drop by. The time is 3-5 pm. I finally landed one at the well-trafficked Barnes & Noble in Tysons Corner (remember B&N has my book in stock) but not until January :(
I have gotten a few notes from some folks in Seattle who have read the book, so if anyone wants to put together a signing for the week I am there (during Christmas), let me know. Maybe Bellevue Square?
BTW, if you click on the WTimes web site, and then click on the videos, you can see the new ones I post each week on religion topics. I just learned that ones I an among the top five persons whose videos are viewed.
Pictured here is Miss Veeka lazing on my bed.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Oma and Opa visit



Oma and Opa dropped in last week, starting with a late night arrival at BWI (airport) and ending up in my bed as I slept on the couch downstairs. Opa got put to work fixing various things around the house and putting up hooks and light fixtures. Oma helped me catch up on my sewing and rearranged Veeka's messy room. They pronounced themselves pleased with my new home. It's really good they were there as the following night, at exactly midnight, we were all awoken by a horrible barking sound which turned out to be the Little One herself with a case of croup. She'd just had a shot that day - a booster for DTP or DPT - anyway, she could barely breathe.
I was too upset to handle being on the phone with the nurse (who kept on asking inane questions while Veeka was lying there gasping for air), so Oma handled the medical end of things with her while Opa and I found hot steaming bowls of water, the vapors of which we forced Veeka to inhale until she began to breathe easier. She finally fell asleep in his arms. We were up til 2:30 a.m. and I ended up on the floor beside her bed. We all stayed home the next day and my parents gave up one day of their trip to Connecticut to make sure Veeka was going to stay well. The next day, we put them on the train at Union Station so all was well that ends well.
So, here are photos of Opa reading to Veeka about triangles from a book that tries to help kids understand geometric concepts and of Oma reading, I think, to the little one. She loved having them around because Oma taught her how to have tea with her dollies and Opa provided a lap she loved crawling onto. Of course Veeka will jump on the lap of any male present in the room - she wants a daddy more than a sister it seems - but unfortunately her mommy can't always conjure up such things.
So now we are back to just the two of us. I continue to do lots of radio interviews for "Quitting Church" and my first book signing will be at a local bookstore on the 18th. The weather is warm but unfortunately it's getting too dark in the evenings for our daily walks. Veeka loves going out after dinner to explore the neighborhood and seek out the local kitties.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Even more radio interviews


Today I did six radio interviews to stations in places like Sacramento, San Francisco, Carson City, Nev., Albuquerque and - the most exotic - Auckland, New Zealand. I told the latter that I'd love to come speak down there. The Kiwis saw a nice spread I got in Sunday's Washington Times whereby much of the first chapter was excerpted on page A9 along with a nice review that ran in the book section.
I wish the headline of the former had not said Americans are leaving the church "in droves" as that's not what my book is saying although the "back door revival" is significant. But the leave-takers are tough to count. Many won't admit they've actually left. Several people wanted to know exactly how many have gone and to be honest, I couldn't say how many thousands or millions of people this entails. I could say that evangelical churches, like everyone else, tend to inflate their membership figures. Only in the past year or so have the Southern Baptists, said to number 16 million+, have admitted that weekly attendance is closer to 6 million. That is quite a drop.
Some people confused my talk of evangelicals leaving with ALL people leaving churches which again was not accurate. The mainline Protestants have been dropping for decades so that would not have been news. Anyway, today was my first real taste of peoples' reactions nationwide and some of the criticisms they have about my findings. Some people emailed the WTimes to suggest I was not a believer at all whereas some said bravo, such as the former Assemblies of God pastor who said he could have written my whole excerpt himself. So at least he agrees!
This past weekend I presented my findings at a panel sponsored by the Religion Newswriters Association. But the real hit was not my scintillating research but the presence of Miss Veeka who stole the show at a book launch Thursday night at the K Street Lounge. Veeka does very well at these cocktail soirees with all that yummy bread and cheese lying around.
The photo is several months old; taken at the Moby Dickens bookstore in Taos back in March when Veeka discovered the bookstore kitty conked out on a little divan. I never got to post it, so here it is now.
If any of you are looking to buy the book, Barnes & Noble and B. Dalton are carrying it, at least in northern Virginia. I was at the Barnes & Noble at Seven Corners in Falls Church and there was a lovely stack right near the front door on the "new non-fiction table.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Veeka makes her radio debut


A friend who works with AP (Associated Press) radio invited me to be interviewed last night, so Veeka and I repaired to his studio and talked about "Quitting Church" while Veeka dashed around the sound booth trying to push buttons and pull out plugs. Out of all that ruckus, Steve Coleman, the reporter, turned in a very nice podcast that you can listen to here. Just scroll down to "A Closer Look."
The photo is of Miss Veeka at the console.
She was a good sport, really, considering how late I kept her out. I hate to drag her to places *after* dinner but there is no getting around it. Tonight we had to go food shopping and the little pumpkin fell asleep on the way home. I am so busy at work, it's not like I can dash to Safeway on my lunch hour. My main task seems to be reporting on how the U.S. Catholic bishops are sending out statements every other minute chastising House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Sen. Biden for their thoughts on how St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas might not have thought abortion was totally evil - or at least murder. Have they gotten slammed for wading into church doctrine. It's been a ton of fun following this war of politicians vs bishops.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

My book: reviewed in the Wall Street Journal!


All sorts of nice things are starting to happen with my new book, "Quitting Church." Monday was the official release date and Tuesday morning I was sitting at work when someone I didn't know emailed me to congratulate me on the nice review the Wall Street Journal had given my book. I dashed about the office looking for a hard copy and finally found one. Then found the online version here. What a trip! What fabulous press for me! First Publisher's Weekly, now this.
I also noticed that on the Baker Books site, "Quitting Church" has been moved up to a prime spot. I think the publishing folks were not sure how it was going to do but now my book is sitting beside that of Leanne Payne. And she is far better known than I. So it was a good day all around.
No Veeka photos at this point; my camera has been packed away and only recently found. Then I forgot to take it with me on the lovely weekend we just had in Ocean City, Md., where I was part of a singles retreat that allowed kids. Veeka loved splashing about in the water and getting sand simply everywhere. She loves her new daycare and generally is happy as a little clam.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

After the move


Well, I am sitting in a nice big house now filled with boxes and packing paper all over the floor. Maryland doesn't feel like home at all at this point and I am casting about looking for new dry cleaners, playgrounds for Veeka, restaurants, etc. Did discover a cool Ethiopian diner tonight that served a mean coffee. I needed it, as I'd been out on the Mall all day covering a huge prayer meeting of 50,000 people named TheCall DC. Fortunately the weather was not humid but it was still a ton of work tromping about the Mall interviewing folks as to what they were praying about and why they were there. I also got to talk with some of the leaders who were on the stage. Then I had to go write up the gathering in the press trailer, which had no video feed to the main stage. Fortunately, thanks to an Internet card loaned to me by a Call staffer, I could view everything that was going on 100 feet from me on stage through the God TV web site, which was filming the whole thing. It was reminiscent of the huge Promise Keepers gathering 11 years ago; people singing Christian praise music, prostrate on the ground in prayer, etc.
It's about midnight now and of course I've been sleep-deprived most of this week staying up for the Olympics - mainly the gymnastics. WHY they put the gymnastics at the ungodly hour of 11 p.m. is beyond me and totally infuriating as NBC broadcasts mindless gluck such as beach volleyball at the more civilized 9 pm hour.
I've not been able to photograph the new house as my camera is still packed away...somewhere. So, portrayed here is Oma, Opa and Veeka at one of the pretty spots we visited in Montana. I think they are gazing at a bald eagle. Or a plane.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Marvelous Montana


I'm sitting in the dark (Veeka is asleep) in a Missoula hotel setting the alarm for an early morning flight out of here tomorrow. I had not been to Montana in 30 years, since my college graduation. I've spent the last 5 days at a family reunion, relaxing and eating too much food at the Double Arrow resort at Lake Seeley, one of several lustrous lakes just south of Glacier National Park. For all those family members who sat this gathering out: You should have been there.
There were about 30 of us from Minnesota, Washington state and Virginia gathered there thanks to gargantuan efforts made by my Minneapolis cousins who realized, along with us all, that we could not wait for weddings and funerals to bring us together. Ever since Uncle Ed's funeral 17 months ago, the thought was that maybe the rest of us could intentionally spend more time together before more pass into eternity.
So we met at this lovely ranch underneath bright blue skies, about 2,000+ feet up, meaning there were no mosquitos! Some of us did whitewater rafting on Wednesday on the Clark Fork west of Missoula and others golfed, rode horses or simply ate. Or gazed at the stars at night. I was glad, with all the infusion of babies from the Hinnenthal side of things, to have at least one little one represented from the Duin side of the picture. For those who are not familiar with my father's side of the family, everything springs from Siegfried, the 11th son of a peasant family in northwest Germany, who immigrated here in 1903 and married Alma Englebert. They settled in New Ulm, Minn., and had four children. My Aunt Alice, 92, on the far left of the photo, was #2. My father, 83, who is standing, was #4. The aforementioned Uncle Ed was #3. The fourth, Jerry, who was the eldest, died at the turn of this century. From those four came tons of kids and grandkids. The photo shows the Duin side of the clan, which includes myself, my mother and Miss Veeka. Suggestion for our next gathering: Post a family tree chart.
With all sorts of people to cuddle up to and talk with, Veeka's vocabulary has made great leaps since I flew out this way July 16. Now it's back to sweltering Washington where I close on two homes this week, pack, move and collapse.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Lavender fields forever


We have been in the Pacific Northwest for a week now and it's been lovely escaping those 97-degree temperatures back east. After a tiring plane ride from Washington via Detroit, made bearable by a very nice steward on Northwest Airlines who amused The Child after I was about to throttle her, we arrived in Seattle - and 60-degree temperatures. Two days later, we were bound for the Olympic peninsula where I fulfilled a longtime dream of attending the annual lavender festival in Sequim. Sequim, a small town on the northern peninsula coast, grows more lavender plants than anywhere else in the country; thus eight farms were open for us tourists to drop in at.
We had the best time strolling through fields of purple plants, looking through all the lavender gift items (did you know lavender tincture is good for insect bites?), listening to some cool bands, sampling the local wines and introducing Veeka to pet llamas, all in very mild, sunny weather. It's so odd to see folks wearing sweaters here when back east everything is sweltering. That evening, we stayed in my cousin Kathy's fabulous waterfront-view-of-Puget-Sound home, then it was off to Portland to attend a reunion of folks who I met in the 1970s in the Lewis & Clark College Christian Fellowship. These days, the Princeton Review rates L&C as one of the top 10 godless colleges in the country but 30 years ago, things were a bit more religion-friendly. So, about 40 of us spent 2 days at a Presbyterian retreat house overlooking the Columbia River gorge catching up. I found an amenable 16-year-old sitter for Miss Veeka, who loved wandering around the family farm with cows, dogs, a kitten and other delights.
I still cannot get over the profusion of flowers in the Pacific Northwest - so different from what one experiences back east in the summer - and the waterfalls. A bunch of us visited Multnomah Falls at the close of the retreat and luxuriated in the sunshine. Then I spent 3 nights lodging chez my friend Gail Dall and her husband Jamie while visiting several friends in Salem and Portland plus being the beneficiary of a delightful party Gail organized for me and a bunch of folks from Good Samaritan Ministries, a Christian group I got to know years back while living in the River City.
We returned to Seattle yesterday, detouring for lunch with Amy, a Veeka friend whose recent marriage to a soldier at Ft. Lewis necessitated a move to Tacoma. While Amy and I talked, Veeka dashed about a park on the western edge of the military reservation. Today, her grandparents took Veeka to a water park of sorts in Bellevue where she happily dashed about before crashing a class of Japanese-speaking students. Her mother will try to rest a bit before we take off for a week in Montana for a family reunion.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Publisher's Weekly hypes my book


My publisher, Baker Books, was a'twitter today when they saw the most recent issue of Publisher's Weekly, a bible for those in the publishing world, give a very decent review of my upcoming book. PW always writes short little synopses like this:

Quitting Church: Why the Faithful Are Fleeing and What to Do About It
Julia Duin. Baker, $17.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-8010-6823-2
Duin brings two kinds of experiences to bear in this engaging little jeremiad: as religion editor for the Washington Times, she is in her element marshaling statistics, interviewing authors and clergy, and commenting on the trend of faithful evangelicals who increasingly vote with their feet by leaving their churches. But she's also a self-described born-again evangelical herself, coping with the personal pain of not having a viable and permanent church home. Drawing heavily on research by pollster George Barna, Duin diagnoses a widespread dissatisfaction among evangelicals, who feel their churches do a decent job with new Christians but fall far short with mature believers. In particular, Duin shows, women and singles are leaving churches in ever-greater numbers. (As a single woman herself, she discusses her own experiences with being marginalized while successfully evoking a larger context through research and polls.) Duin has some prescriptions to help with these problems, including meatier sermons that address real issues; house churches and micro-churches that foster more genuine community; and even in-church matchmaking services to help singles who want to find a mate. (Sept.)

So, if you want to pre-order or anything, just click here.

Wish I could say I had lots of speaking engagements lined up, but books on why churches are doing such a rotten job aren't inspirational enough for a lot of Christian meetings. I will appear on a panel in September with other journalists at a large gathering of religion writers in Washington, which is gold, PR-wise.

Other news: both contracts for the condo (to sell) and the house (to buy) are signed and I just lined up my mover and settlement company today.

The photo of Miss Veeka shows her on a hot summer night setting a dinner place for Miss Kitty.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Kind of boring here


Actually it's the calm before the storm as I may be moving in August back to the state where I was born. Guess where that is? Hint: It is across the river from the Washington Times building. No, it's not New Mexico unfortunately. I spent all Saturday afternoon putting together an offer for a house. Haven't heard back on that yet. About my current abode, had the house inspection today. I hope the inspector saw all that expensive insulation 4 of us homeowners put in the crawl space two years ago. Am starting to schedule visits for moving estimates. Everything must move quickly as my vacation starts July 16 so all must be done before then.
If any of you want to read my stuff on the Washington Times web site, go to the main page and in the search space, put in my name in quotes, ie "Julia Duin." For some weird html reason, that's the only way to call up all my bylines. I've had one story after another; black pro-lifers demonstrating on Capitol Hill, the latest Pew Forum survey on the religious views of Americans, a court ruling by a Fairfax County judge on an Anglican/Episcopal church split and today, a story about a Catholic bishop in Richmond who allowed a poor immigrant girl who was a ward of Catholic Charities (which operates under the aegis of the diocese) to get an abortion. That was in just one week. Then I had 2 columns and a blog to do - well, 7 article-like things; eight if you count the sidebar I wrote for our web site on what the pro-lifers said. Yes, that's like eight articles in a week. My brother Stephen does 3 columns a week and a blog for the Oregonian and calls THAT a full-time job. And gets paid a lot more than do I.
The photo is of Veeka in a cute little Chinese dress "riding" the duckies outside a Baltimore restaurant. The Little Darling does love to pose. It's been in he 90s here so we just go to a water park and I find a lawn chair by the wading pool and just let her splash about. She's becoming a little fish and sort of gets the concept of kicking. Afterwards we had a favorite: Pizza. She is a bit slow on the speech end but she can pronounce that.
There's so much you have to teach kids. Like how to eat a popsicle. They don't come into the world knowing that so you have to show them how to hold the thing, lick it just so and gobble it fast so it won't drip. Let's just say we go through lots of dish towels here. And thanks to Uncle Rob, she has a CD player and little earphones with which she likes to fall asleep. I gave her some New Age music tonight but it was not bouncy enough so I found a CD of Keith Green (contemporary Christian rock and folk) which she loved. I could hear her giggling as she fell asleep.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Beach princess


Well, here Veeka is at a beach retreat I attended last weekend on the Jersey shore. Note the cupped hands, the engaging smile, the little knee bent just so. I did not coach her at all; she just struck that pose when she saw the camera. I think some of the 15 folks at the retreat were not too sure about sharing time with a 3-year-old but Our Princess behaved beautifully; sitting on peoples' laps, quietly listening during our sessions, clapping during the music - I wondered if this was my child. I think she was also glad to be out of my clutches.
The good news is that another offer has come in and we are finalizing that contract now. Wednesday I go visit the house I most like in the neighborhood I'm looking at and hopefully make an offer soon after that. August may be a very busy month for me. Not much in the way of other news - at least news I can share on a public blog - but generally things are doing well. My twice-weekly column in the Washington Times, named "Stairway to heaven," is doing OK - you can read one of my latest here which was my ruminations on what is the besetting sin of Washington, DC. The columns, tho, have doubled my workload and the breaking news, which I also must cover, is not letting up. Last week I broke a front -page story about officials in the Catholic Diocese of Richmond helping a 16-year-old immigrant girl get an abortion (!) and there's more dirt to be spilled on that one. Generally to find my stuff, go to the Washington Times front page (www.washingtontimes.com) and put in "Julia" and "Duin" in the search field and you'll come up with some of my stuff. I am trying to get the web people to create a "faith" tab where EVERYTHING religious would be filed but that's not quite working yet.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Then again, maybe not



I got The Call this morning from my agent saying my buyer had chickened out. When he was late by several days in returning the signed contract, I began to wonder. Now it's back to keeping this place squeaky clean again - now into my 13th week. I had been fairly happy with the offer; it was one I could live with although quite a cut from what I wanted and the condo deserves to get. But real estate is so bizarre and quirky these days that simply everyone is having a rough time. It is not uncommon for homes to be on the market 6 months around here.
Meanwhile, Veeka and I are living large. The photos of her dressed up in a princess costume and blowing bubbles with a 4-year-old friend, Ruth Elizabeth I think her name is. She was at a babysitters when they were taken. Veeka likes to be babysat because she has a lot more fun than she does with Boring Mommy. Tomorrow Mommy is going to drag her to some house showings but Sunday she gets to meet her 2nd cousins, once removed, who are visiting friends in Annapolis. Their mom, Allison, and I, are planning a fun time in the hotel pool.
Her mother is also working hard at the paper. I have been given a twice-weekly religion column, called "Stairway to Heaven." Here is my latest entry which is kind of inside baseball for local Catholics but it sure got good react. Sunday, I'll be doing a column on Washington's besetting sin. Now if you look for me on the Washington Times new jazzy web site, you may not find me! Even we employees do not understand our revved-up site with the news "cube" (you press an arrow to 'turn' it to different stories) on the front page. To find my blog and articles, click on culture in the header and you'll get some of my stuff, like this blog here.
Now I am writing 2 weekly columns, doing breaking news (1-2 articles a week) and running a blog. That is 4-6 separate pieces a week. My brother at the Oregonian does 3 weekly columns and a blog and gets paid a lot more!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Finally a contract


Yesterday, on a blazing hot Saturday, I was seated at a Starbucks in Ashburn filling out my end of a contract to sell my condo. The closing date is August 11. Wheeee!
This is a huge load off my mind. It's been on sale for 12 miserable weeks; during which time I have had to keep the place impossibly clean. This was truly a burden on mornings when Veeka had speech therapy and we had to be AT the elementary school by 8:30. I had to have all messes cleaned up by 8:15; things vacuumed, breakfast dishes done and put away, all smudges cleaned off the walls - aaargh. I had realtors calling me at odd hours of the day and night wanting to show the place at very short notice. I think the worst was the person who showed up on Memorial Day, a day I really thought no one would be by. This realtor had called an hour before, I had not heard my cell phone ring and when she arrived and began walking in, Veeka and I were in the shower. I dashed down, with only a towel wrapped around me and Veeka stood, naked, atop the stairs, screeching.
And this past week there's a tree in my back yard that decided to bear huge blackberry-like things. Don't think it's a mulberry tree - I have no idea what it is but it has dropped squishy purple messes ALL OVER my back yard. What was once a lovely white stone corner looks like raisin pudding with all sorts of dark things interspersed with the stones. The birds love it but the backyard looks is a mess.
Anyway, the buyer is a single guy and everything looks good so I am praying and hoping all the other hoops one must jump through line up. Of course I have no idea where I will move to. I know the area I want but two homes that I very much wanted slipped through my fingers; that latter because I did not have a contract on my place. It's been the craziest market and all the regular real estate rules are not working any more. I am OK with the price I got; once I dropped 20K in the asking price (!) people came out of the woodwork to see the place and it sold.
The photo is of Veeka - about two months ago - sitting on my ironing board. I did not put her there; she climbed up there and posed there like you see. She knows she is forbidden to be up there but does that stop her? Nooooo.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Oma & Opa return


At least they tell me they're back in the country, having just come into Dulles this evening. And then back to Seattle on Saturday. And today is my brother Rob's birthday! It's pretty warm here so Veeka and I might go scope out some water parks as our pool (that I pay a hefty monthly condo fee for) is having construction work done on the pool house for the next month. Talk about absolutely lousy timing.
The photo is of Veeka and Opa while Opa was working at the computer a few weeks ago. The new car is doing well. Unfortunately I have not gotten ONE nibble on my home so today my realtor and I made the sad decision to cut the price by quite a lot of $$$. The going rate seems to be dropping by $1,000 a day in these parts.
For those of you who take a peek at the Washington Times web site [www.washingtontimes.com] my series on the sanctuary movement ended today. It ran Tuesday-Friday and was it a relief to finally get *that* published. It got good play the first two days, then so-so play the last two, to my disappointment. It did start on the front page all four days but it was a pretty slow news week to boot, so it SHOULD have started on A1. Don't think I'll propose any more series for quite some time, as certain folks on the paper basically got tired of the story by the third day. Sigh.
I took Veeka out tonight for her first ice cream cone. Bright bubble-gum pink and pretty messy.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Oma turns 80



Oma and Opa's car just pulled away a few minutes ago to speed toward Dulles airport and a Turkish vacation. They were here (with a one-day run up to Philly to see my Aunts Dottie and Lee) for about six days now. On Tuesday, Opa and I went car shopping; the result of which you can see right behind them in the photo of everyone posed in their church best by my 2006 Subaru Outback. YES - it is loaded with all sorts of cool things; a sun roof, leather seats, seats that HEAT up plus it's a cool color. And nifty things like a CD player (first time I have had one of those) and a gauge that tells you the outside temperature from inside the car.
Opa and I first spotted the car Tuesday in a Toyota parking lot (someone must have traded it in for a Prius) and from experience I knew that some of the best buys are when you buy a car of one make in the parking lot of a dealer specializing in something else. I'd bought my Honda Accord 9 years ago in a Toyota lot too - usually the dealers want to off load them fast, so they are willing to make some discounts. They did not take our first offer on Tuesday but by Wednesday night we had agreed on a price that everyone was pleased with. Opa and I had gone to another dealer to try out some Subaru Forresters but this Outback was by far the superior car. It was so nice to have someone with me who knew how to bargain down the dealers. Y'all know what it's like when you're a female alone doing the car shopping. Did that nine years ago - never again.
The Accord, by the way, went to a Christian car ministry to be given away after being spruced up a bit, as it has another 1-2 years on it. But at 185,000 miles, I figured it was time to switch.
Thursday, Oma and Opa and I went househunting in the area I wish to live in which, again, was helpful insofar as having more than one pair of eyes present. Basically though, they pretty much hung out, giving me some much needed time to catch up on stuff, such as going to the county courthouse to register Veeka's adoption with the state of Virginia and yesterday going to see the new movie "Prince Caspian." I have not been to a movie in SO long....
Thursday night, we went to a pretty waterfront restaurant to celebrate Oma's big day. They brought out a dessert with one candle so Opa and I sang to her softly. There were also lots of walks to the park, the Saturday market and time spent petting the kitties. Oma pioneered a new technique in putting pigtails in Veeka's hair as is shone in another photo taken this morning.
Tomorrow (Monday) is MY birthday.
In the top photo, by the way, Opa is holding Veeka's Sunday school drawing.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The little ballerina


I just wanted to post a photo of Veeka at today's recital. She's the third person from the left, staring off into space for some reason. It was so cute, the way all these 3-year-olds were lined up, trying to do something to the music but having no idea what! Five zillion little kids were whizzing around in all manner and color of tutus and hair ribbons. I didn't realize that it's the custom to present your kid with flowers when she has a recital. Hmmmm. I never got flowers during MY ballet career.
Then tonight I took her to a Kurdish party downtown where she bounced from table to table and charmed everyone and, of course, danced, until about 11 p.m. She wanted to close down the party but I said NO. Other exciting news here: My For Sale sign disappeared from in front of my house Thursday, so I filed a police report on the missing sign. Turns out the condo association pilfered it because they found something arcane in the by-laws that didn't allow something attached to the sign. Of course my sign has been up six weeks; am not sure why they went after it now - but when they got wind of the police report, they quickly replaced it, without the offending attachment.
Honestly these condo commandos are something. Neither my realtor nor I got any written note, warning, nothing. I was frantic to get it replaced by the weekend, which is the big time people come looking at the place. People show up at my door without even a realtor; they are in the neighborhood and want to see the place. Today Veeka was sequestered for a nap when someone knocked on the door so of course she bounced out of bed. I have to keep this place obscenely clean all weekend long just in case folks drop by which gets to be a real strain after awhile, especially after 7 weeks on the market. I will be so glad when this is over...

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Ballet recital this Saturday


Yes, here is a photo of the Little One in her tutu preparing for her recital this Saturday. She looks charming there, but - sigh - she is now in the Terrible Threes. The daycare people today were telling me she was a very naughty little girl today - hitting the other kids, constantly picking her nose - sigh. And she is just refusing to fall asleep these days - doesn't conk out til 10-10:30 p.m. Am at wits end on this one.
The recital will be this Saturday at the local high school with all sorts of cuties performing. I found another mom who had an extra pair of ballet slippers and the tutu and leotard came with the class fee. So we are off. Then on Monday, Oma and Opa come for 6 or so days. Do we have things for them to do! Repair Veeka's bedroom door. Help fix living room chairs. De-rust Veeka's new red wagon (well, it is used). And other fun jobs. Plus help me buy another car and look at potential homes.
No, I have no contract yet. Am going crazy, as some of the homes I want are getting snapped up by other buyers while I just tread water here.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Surviving the layoffs



It was like a morgue at my workplace this week. Maybe 20 people from the newsroom were let go in the past 10 days and it was so sad to see folks trudging sadly from the personnel office, packing boxes in hand. We had all guessed at whom some of the laid-off employees might be but others were a surprise to everyone. People were wandering about the newsroom, giving the let-go folks hugs and commiserating with them. It was so sad.
Fortunately we had a large meeting in my newsroom today where it was announced the layoffs had ended and there'd be a huge switch in who reports to whom. I have a new boss to whom I will report starting Monday. I actually did well in that I will get a part-time assistant to help in the religion reporting. There's also talk of my getting a column, some weekly religion pages, more TV and radio time, etc. etc. So I have done well in this transition. It helps that the WTimes is very partial to religion, naturally.
A few highlights: Last Saturday, I got to attend - along with 3,000 other journalists, movie stars and politicians - the White House Correspondents dinner downtown. You can see here two views of the strappy sandals and strapless gown I wore along with my newly done hair. Fortunately the weather was quite warm. Veeka unfortunately looks a little spooked as she had a hard time getting into the spirit of it all. Perhaps she wasn't sure why her mommy was so dressed up. The two guests - both clergy - I got to invite were very charming and appreciated being there. One was a bishop and the other, I suspect, will soon be one. It was a $200/plate dinner, so it was nice that my paper allowed me to attend.
Other nice things: I just won a first-place award in a local journalism contest (can't remember the name right now) for my India series and am one of 10 finalists in another contest - for religion specialists - for best religion reporting in 2007. Considering I was on maternity leave for 3 months of that year plus had mono for another 2-3 of those months, that's pretty good.
About my home - STILL no contract. Every other place nearby that's on sale DOES have a contract, so I am a bit depressed. And all of those places sold for substantially more than I am asking, so go figure. Meanwhile, I am down to a final 2-3 choices for the home I want to move into, so it'd help if I could sell my current abode. I have already reserved a place for Veeka at her new daycare across town, so am just treading water.
Miss Veeka, newly 3, tries her best to cause trouble. I now have to lock the screen doors as she has a nasty habit of opening the door and running as fast as she can out into the street. Even tho the condo association re-did the latch on my back gate, she has learned how to un-do that and, again, tear into the back parking lot. She has learned to say "ouch" and loves shoving one finger up her nose just to bother me. Tonight she somehow got ahold of the Comet underneath the kitchen sink, brought it upstairs and poured it all over the hallway carpet.
Twice now when she's been in the bathtub, I've heard a surprised, "Poopee!" and looked down in the bath water to see...well, take a guess. That ends our bath time pretty quick. Potty training, unfortunately, seems more distant than ever. Her new love is Trader Joe's, because they hand out balloons. Speech lessons are going slowly because, as the speech therapists and I have realized, it's not that Veeka can't say all the words. She just doesn't want to. But when she wants to communicate, the words bubble up. Examples: "cookie," "balloon," and "no."

Friday, April 25, 2008

Covering the pope


Sorry, folks, it's been awhile since I've posted but it's been one thing after another. First it was six straight days of covering His Holiness here and in New York. I no sooner got back Monday than I came down with a nasty cold which I am still trying to shake off. So I was off work Wednesday trying to recover. Then yesterday my boss got laid off! Yes, there are interesting personnel changes going on at my company. So that threw us all for a loop.
Meanwhile people keep tromping through my home to view it so everything has to be kept very neat and clean, a real trial with now 3-year-old Veeka. Who did real well in her yearly medical exam, by the way. She weighs just under 25 lbs and is 35 1/2 inches - almost exactly 3 feet. She is in the lowest 5% in terms of weight but in terms of height she is in the bottom 20% - pretty good for a kid who has been very small for her age. But that's what happens with a preemie, I hear so hopefully in a few years she will shoot up. Still, I am pouring kefir (a yogurt-like drink) down her to drive up that calcium level.
The photo is of me looking hot and bloated at one of the papal venues in Yonkers, N.Y. Before the pope showed up at this youth rally, the media had to sit in the dust on a hill overlooking the stage for about 5 hours - in the sun, I might add. Notice the Secret Service tags around my neck - we couldn't move anywhere without those. One reason I got sick was because of the interminable lines we had to sit in for hours waiting for our security clearances; like we were al Qaeda. It was nuts. I have always had pretty unprintable thoughts about the SS and the over-the-top way they act with the media.
I found papal coverage pretty inspirational. Even though Benedict's accent was strong, we had his printed texts to follow so that his speeches made sense. Once you read them, you can see how profound they are. And the fact that he met with the sex abuse victims was a real coup -very impressive. So it was a pleasure to cover.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Veeka turns 3


By the time most of you read this, Our Little One will be 3. Because I am snowed in with papal stuff, we celebrated her special day tonight (her birthday is actually the 16th) with a quiet spaghetti (her favorite food other than cookies) dinner and a fruit tart she picked out from Whole Foods. THAT was her birthday cake. The problem with buying a regular cake is the Mommy ends up eating it all and Mommy has no wish to get fat.
So here is the photo of the Birthday Moment. Thankfully, despite a papal-and-presidential motorcade through town, the traffic was not too awful tonight, meaning I could get home in a decent hour to cook dinner for us and Diane, a friend who came over and brought lots and lots of cookies. And Veeka ate a lot of them. Problem is, she is on this incredible sugar high as it is now 11:40 p.m. and she is still screeching from her bed. Note to self: No sugar after 6.
The WTimes came out with a lovely papal section Monday with my writing all over it. Just call up www.washingtontimes.com and check out the big square that says "special section." There are also some excellent photos and videos in this package. And if you want to read Tuesday's piece on the cost of the visit, click here. Plus I've got a papal blog that I update as often as possible. Tomorrow (Wed) is the huge White House reception for the pope followed by a parade through town, plus his birthday lunch at the papal nunciature, then another parade then his meeting with the U.S. Catholic bishops at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception - well, you can tell I have his schedule memorized!
Stay tuned for more.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Happy Nauriz


Oh my goodness, what a pain the past few days have been. Late Wednesday afternoon I finally Fed Ex'ed the galleys of my book back to the publisher after a grinding 2 weeks worth of work. They mailed them to me circa March 26 and wanted everything back by April 7. That was a fantasy as there were 100+ corrections and edits that needed to be done. The only way they did get done even 3 days past the deadline was because Veeka came down with a fever Monday and was home sick Tuesday and Wednesday. Never knew what the virus was all about, but I ended up staying home with her, the pile of work on my desk re papal coverage notwithstanding.
Warm weather has finally hit here and the cherry blossoms are fading. That's the best part about living in this area; the heavenly pink clouds of cherry trees planted simply everywhere, plus the white clouds of pear blossoms not to mention plum, apple, you-name-it. A friend was in town Saturday, so we went off to Great Falls Park, with its thrilling views of the Potomac, then to a Nauriz celebration sponsored by the Kazakh embassy. That was downtown and there were all sorts of people running around dressed in Kazakh costumes. Nauriz is the spring new year's celebration observed by lots of Central Asian and Middle Eastern folks. My Kurdish friends said that was the biggest event in their year as well.
This Nauriz began with a concert by Roksonaki, a trio of musicians who played the oddest instruments; kind of like a screeching violin twinned with drums. I felt like I was sitting in a yurt drinking fermented mare's milk on a moonlit night with camels sitting nearby. Miss Veeka put up with this concert for maybe 15 minutes, then began to wiggle, so I had to take her out to the foyer where all the other parents were with THEIR kids. Of course we were all chowing down from the snack table, not that the foods there were all that Central Asian. They were more like Whole Foods.
In other venues, Veeka is more akin to western music; please note the photo I took of her trying to play the church organ on Easter. She actually managed to bang out a few notes on the thing before the organist dashed back to stop her. My Little Prodigy. Next week 2 things happen: the pope flies in on Tuesday and Veeka turns 3 on Wednesday. If anyone wishes to help her observe her big day, may I suggest stockings (we never have enough) or selected picture books (ask her mommy for titles she doesn't have) or one of those new thermometers they advertise in Parents magazine whereby you take a kid's temperature by measuring the heat in their ears. Sounds weird but I need something a lot better than the oral thermometer I tried using this week. Veeka kept on spitting it out. She also thought the grape-flavored kiddie Motrin was pretty yucky.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The galleys have arrived


Galleys are next-to-last copies of a book manuscript and mine arrived with a vengeance less than two weeks ago. The due date for them to be *back* at the publisher is tomorrow but alas, that won't happen as I am 1. running behind and 2. they must have included 200 corrections in there. When I saw them all, I wanted to just hide. Anyway, the galleys are taking forever to work on because the publisher wanted the bibliography done a whole different way than I had understood it was to be done. Not only that, but to look up the missing info is tedious work and impossible to do during Veeka's waking hours.
Usually I would take a day off to work on such things but with the pope arriving April 15 and enormous amounts to be done for a large papal section we are assembling, there is no way I can take time off. In fact, the deadline for mountains of copy was
Friday, which I would have made had not two daily stories in a row delayed me Thursday and Friday. The latter concerned one of the biggest church legal battles in the country, happening right here in northern Virginia and which I am monitoring closely. Turns out the circuit judge in charge of a lawsuit pitting the Episcopal Church and Diocese of Virginia against 11 breakaway churches decided to release his 83-page opinion about 10 p.m. Thursday.
I got the call from one of the lawyers at 12:09 a.m. Fortunately I was up (working on the galleys, of course), so....I quickly wrote 5-7 paragraphs and they went up on the Washington Times web site by 1 a.m., beating all the other media by many, many hours. But ...was I tired on Friday. By the time I got in, various articles for the section had to be edited, some extensively plus I had to do a second-day rewrite of the Episcopal piece for Saturday's paper.
Oh, and the phones at the Washington Times office weren't working all day. Plus people kept on dropping by, asking me pope questions, as I. And the headline on the internet piece was inaccurate, so I had one Episcopal official continually emailing me, demanding it be changed (reporters do not control what is in the headlines). Finally, I threw in the towel, deciding my big take-out on the pope will have to be written Monday.
Then it was off to Dulles airport to pick up a friend coming for the weekend. We went out to eat sushi, so the photo here is of Veeka chowing down. No real estate agent called Friday night to say she was dropping by with a customer, so I left early Saturday morning to be on a journalists' panel out by Dulles while my friend Julie babysat Veeka. But of course we left the house a mess and wouldn't you know it, an agent walked in with some clients right when we were both gone and there piles of disgusting things everywhere. Sigh.
Which is why I went for a massage today to relieve all the tension that's been knotting me up.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

House for sale


A year ago, I'd only been home a few days with my little darling when I realized my 788-square-foot condo was not going to cut it in terms of space. Veeka's wardrobe seems to multiply every few days as all sorts of friends of given me their old kids' clothes, packing Veeka's closet with enough outfits for 30 straight days.
Plus, the commute has become worse and worse. In my pre-mom days, I used to saunter home at 7 p.m. or later, easily missing all the worst traffic. Nowadays, I have to tear out of my office by 5 p.m. to wend my way through 17 miles of heavy artillery on some of the nation's most clogged freeways to arrive at the daycare by 6 p.m. Veeka's current providers are very kind and allow me a few minutes of grace time. But when I switch her to a larger daycare, I will be charged $1 each minute I am late. Veeka's speech therapists are recommending I switch her sooner rather than later, to improve her vocabulary a lot quicker.
As I have looked around the city of Falls Church, my current abode, there is almost nothing under $500,000 that has the three bedrooms I want. Which is a shame, as Veeka is already benefiting from the city's excellent school system. But I do not earn that kind of money! So, for the last year, I have slowly been making the improvements one must make to sell a home where one has lived for 12 years and in mid-March, it went on the market. No offers so far, but I am almost alone on my block in terms of places for sale. Not only that, but Falls Church has one of the state's best school districts, so this place should sell.
Where move to? Well, I am looking to move closer to work. I have been househunting several times within a 10-mile radius of my workplace and I've narrowed the area down to 1-2 specific cities. So I am comparing school systems, crime stats, commuting times and trying to figure out just what it is I want in a home. The current drop in home prices is really going to benefit me this spring. But preparing to move has really sapped my energy. For several weekends in a row, I worked like a dog preparing my home for sale, reducing all the clutter and painting and cleaning everywhere.
However, there are chinks in any plan; just today, the Washington Times management announced it will be having layoffs in the newsroom! Sooooo, don't want to bid on a home for the next few weeks until that dust settles. I am working endlessly preparing articles about Pope Benedict's visit. Just interviewed an imam yesterday who will be meeting April 17 with the pope. Am doing a spot today for a British TV station on the state of the American Catholic church. If you click on www.washingtontimes.com, you'll see on our front page the "papal visit" blog that I am contributing to every day. I am happy to say I am doing pretty well against the competition in terms of breaking stories no one else has (ie the secret birthday party being thrown for the pope on April 16 at the Italian embassy starring Placido Domingo) and more is forthcoming.
Am also trying to juggle care for Miss Veeka while I work 24/7 covering the pope from April 15-20 in Washington and New York. Unfortunately, the busiest day will be on her third birthday, also April 16. I may not even see her on that day. Now if I can just sneak her into that Italian embassy party...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Inside the Land of Enchantment




Well, we are back from our spring vacation to New Mexico; as a friend of mine reminded me, "You're not really going on vacation; you're just having a change of venue."
With a 2-year-old, that is certainly true. Actually, Veeka was a real trooper the first day of our trip when Southwest Airlines decided to bump us from our flight. I had been up to 2 a.m. getting ready but I had NOT printed out our boarding passes, thinking that we'd be at the airport (BWI) in plenty of time. Well, we were there in plenty of time, but Southwest overbooked and everyone except 4 of us had boarding passes already in hand. I was so furious having to stand there and watch my direct flight to Albuquerque take off without us. As I sat there and argued with agents (who eventually booked us on a flight going out the next morning but connecting in St. Louis), Veeka happily played with people and had a lovely time. That night, some friends from Baltimore (where we were stranded) picked us back up from the airport and lodged us at their place close by.
Finally by late Saturday afternoon we were in Albuquerque but the delay had caused me to miss a highly desired day of skiing at Ski Santa Fe, the mountain directly behind the city. Sigh. Spent Sunday following a Palm Sunday procession around the town plaza, shopping at my favorite art galleries and then relaxing at the spa of spas: Ten Thousand Waves right outside of the city. Pictured here is Veeka dressed in her cute little kimono by the outdoor hot tub. Snow is somewhere in the background. We splashed and played for about an hour, sipping the cucumber water provided by the spa.
But something went wrong either there or at the Italian restaurant we had dinner at because at midnight, I awoke to a full-blown case of food poisoning. Was up all night emptying my stomach. Was so weak by the morning, I could hardly stand up. Somehow I managed to get packed and get us both to Taos, about an hour down the road. Collapsed at the home of some friends who are doctors in Taos. Veeka loved the balcony of this cool home plus walking in the sagebrush with Alan, our host. His wife, Gillian, is the only cardiologist for miles around. They live on the mesa just west of town, which comes with some gorgeous views.
The scenery at this city 7,000= feet up is so stunning with mountains simply everywhere and the clearest light imaginable. Perfect for artists. By Tuesday, I had recovered enough to go skiing at Taos - a great resort - while Veeka cavorted in the Kinder Kare program where of course she was a hit. However, my friends' home was NOT childproofed, so I was continually watching Veeka to make sure she did not pour something awful onto their carpets.
Wednesday we left for Farmington. A blocked mountain pass meant we had to go north via Antonito, then south through the Cumbres pass into Chama, then west on Highway 64, all of which are my old haunts from the time I lived there in 1995. We stayed at the home of my friend Kathy, whose farm fascinated Veeka to no end. Will try to include a photo of her trying to feed a goose. She thought the hens, dogs, cats, pet rat and cockatoos were pretty cool too.
We spent Thursday shopping around the Navajo reservation for just the right handmade rug (they are not cheap) made out of wool from the old Spanish Churro sheep. The weavers spin their own wool and the weaver from whom I bought a rug - pictured here - had appropriately calloused hands from the rough wool. She took 4 months to make what you see here in her spare time. If you are fortunate enough to meet the weaver of your rug, it's OK to ask lots of questions as to what went into the making of it. She - her name was Shirley - was so happy that I chose her rug; apparently it was a nice financial windfall for her. There are lots of weavers competing for this luxury market but then again, they are unique. I bought mine at the Two Grey Hills trading post. Two Grey Hills is a type of weaving whereby you use only the natural colors that come on sheep: Browns, whites and blacks. Other Indian styles employ dyed colors. Anyway, it'd been a longtime dream of mine to get a Two Grey HIlls rug. We also dropped by the nearby Toadlena trading post which also had great rugs costing more than $10,000 - with incredible craftmanship.
The next day, I hung around with the Exxons - my former neighbors in Farmington - and we had a picnic by the Animas River. Because of the spike in natural gas sales, Farmington's economy is doing real well these days. All of the Four Corners area is profiting from that. Then it was a four-hour drive back to Albuquerque, then an uneventful (thank God) flight back to Baltimore. I so enjoyed the beauty everywhere we went: the oranges and blues on the reservation; the blues and greens of Taos and the full moon over Albuquerque.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sleeping beauty


I'm back to waking up at 6:30 a.m. or so when a little blue octopus toddles in from her bedroom and climbs in with me. Some times she will sit on me like some kind of recumbent horse and bob up and down as though she were riding this tired mare. A mother's work is never done, especially as I still have to pack for tomorrow's trip to New Mexico. YES, we are taking a week's vacation off to fly back to the Land of Enchantment which I have not seen for some 5 years now. I used to get back there every year and then that dropped off around 2002. How I miss the place. I'd go back in a minute; however the afternoon newspaper just went defunct a month ago so there's all sorts of laid-off journalists in the area.
So we will wander about my old haunts in Santa Fe, Taos and Farmington; maybe even buy a Navajo rug, now that the second half of my book advance just came in. Actually another car might be more helpful as I am now a 182,000 miles on my present one. Yes, Veeka is coming with me. I am staying with friends in 2 places but in Santa Fe, it took me a whole evening to find a B&B that would take someone under 3. Most wouldn't take small children at all. I wanted a B&B for several reasons; wanted more room for Veeka to run around; wanted breakfast in-house, etc. Anyway, finally found a B&B several miles north of Santa Fe.
Today was exhausting as I went to 2 press conferences about the upcoming papal visit and didn't even get home til 9 pm as I was writing a huge piece for tomorrow's front page. Thankfully, I had already arranged with a friend to pick Veeka up from daycare. Once I get back, I will be working on pope stuff full-time. Am already lining up who's going to take care of Veeka while I cover the pope in Washington and New York.
Anyway, here is a photo of the blue octopus once she moved into my bed, then fell back asleep after she thoroughly woke me up.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Our bathing beauty



Yes, this is Miss Veeka discovering bubble bath. That lavender-scented stuff at Whole Foods does just the trick in relaxing her and getting her to SLEEP. Which is what I did not do today and am repenting at leisure. It is...10 p.m. and guess who is sitting on my lap nibbling wheat crackers and goat cheese? Hint: it is someone I ordered to bed two hours ago. They wear you down, don't they? She gets up and up and up...she can already climb over the baby gate to her room so I can't block her in that way.
So that's the Sleepless Veeka. Then there's the Lot's wife/pillar-of-salt Veeka - who one morning was found to be testing out that really cool salt shaker by emptying it all over the dining room table and floor five minutes before we were to go somewhere. Mommy turned into a screaming hyena as salt is just wonderful for wooden floors. People at work probably wonder why I am always such a crab. Well now you know.
Veeka just reached for another helping of Wheat Thins. It is 10:08 p.m. now. Sometimes she is a little dream, like yesterday when some friends and I went to brunch then went for a walk around a lake where Veeka found some nice playground equipment. She was delighted to miss her nap and be with us and she behaved beautifully in the restaurant. Tonight at Bed, Bath and Beyond, she was a model of decorum. But once we hit La Madeleine for dinner, she began running about the restaurant. Not good. We left quickly.
And today she was so naughty, the daycare folks practically threw her at me when I arrived to pick her up. As for potty training? Ha! Our Little Pooper loves to tell us after the fact.
Other things: Mommy went and saw the New York City Ballet last night - good as ever but very different style from the Kirov. I have seen 4 ballets in the past 2 months - a real luxury.
Then I arrived back home to an asleep child. But...what do you do with a child who considers the word "NO" merely advisory?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Riding piggyback


Yes, you see us doing Veeka's latest passion: Riding piggyback on Mommy's back. She loves to be carried to and fro at all times, convenient or not. Veeka likes to remind me that cuz she is a bit behind kids her age in some ways, the Terrible Twos are going to continue indefinitely. Sigh.
One of the problems is that "no" is a word that just does not resonate with her. She simply does not listen. Like I TOLD her not to run down the sidewalk but she did and got the scrap on her nose that you now see. I TOLD her not to stand atop my bureau and no sooner had I done that, she tossed one of my favorite pieces of pottery to the ground. The glue is drying as we speak but she got sent to bed (it was late anyway) for that one.
I am doing some painting today and as soon as my back is turned, Veeka not only goes into my room, she goes to the worst place possible; over by the can of open paint. I can't even run into the other room ...?! She gets into *everything* I tell her not to. The moment she peeks into my room, if she spots my open purse, she makes a beeline and whips out 1. the cellphone and/or 2. the lipstick/chapstick. She does not go open a book. Noooooo. She goes for the purse, the briefcase, the phone, the computer...Usually I hang my purse over the top of the drawer but sometimes I need to get something out of it and if I have to sprint downstairs for a moment, You Know Who grabs her opportunity to turn the purse over and WHEEEEE, all the 40-50 business, credit and store cards come pouring out.
As you can see, she is in her little ballet suit there but such efforts hardly use up a hundredth of all her energy. Plus she is putting food away like a Sherman tank. She eats as much cereal as I do and the daycare folks tell me she never stops eating from the moment she arrives there. They don't have any of that nasty low-calorie stuff that her mommy has. Nope, Veeka can pig out - and does.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Tearing my hair out


Well, it has already started. Veeka got one Valentine in the mail today and I got NONE. I see a trend.
Miss Veeka seems determined to make sure I never forget she is a Terrible Two. The photo shows what she did when I took my eyes off her. We were upstairs but all of a sudden I noticed she'd disappeared. Not only had she slipped into the kitchen, she got on a chair and climbed onto the counter where she found a bowl and then found her favorite granola and poured the latter into the former as much as she could. This is the mess I found when I got downstairs. She was not repentant.
But that was nothing compared to tonight when she locked herself into the downstairs bathroom. I have these kiddie plastic knobs around my doors but I had looked at the downstairs bathroom door which didn't have a locking mechanism. Or so I thought. Tonight I found out how wrong I was when she shut the door, pushed the knob in, then CLICK. When I noticed she was not exiting the bathroom, I tried the door and - oh, no. I began to panic and pound on the door and screech her name. NOW what? I didn't have an electric saw with which to cut around the door knob. I pounded, prayed and shrieked at her for a few moments and she was shrieking back sooooo, I very reluctantly called 911, with visions of firemen kicking in the door and me having to buy a new one.
They were already on their way when I tried the door one more time and - it opened! Fortunately I was able to cancel the call. She had somehow crawled up on the counter and twisted the knob so it would open. Sigh.
Every day is full of such delights. Yesterday at the daycare while taking her nap, for fun she removed her diaper and ended up leaving poop all over herself, her clothes, the bed - oh, the daycare folks were in a great mood after that. She so loves to take off her diaper (yet she won't be potty trained - go figure) at night that I have to pin her pajamas shut.
Or there's her habit of pouring her glass of milk onto whatever I have served for dinner. So I give her nothing to drink until she's done. And she no sooner gets in her car seat than off comes her shoes and socks. Which sounds like nothing until you've put her shoes back on for the zillionth time. Or there is the throw-all-her-bedclothes-onto-the-floor trick. Or the how-much-bath-water-can-we-splash-outside-the-tub trick. She would pull the kitty by the tail more except my tabby has put the fear of God into Veeka (unlike me) and Veeka doesn't dare mess with her.
This week is an anniversary for us. Her adoption papers were signed Feb. 10 and on Feb. 17, we flew home. It's been one year! Amazing I still have any hair left.