Thursday, December 31, 2009

Surviving the massacre


It's New Year's Eve but I'm in no mood for celebrating anything considering I lived through one of the most wretched days I've had in a long time.
Yesterday, the Washington Times laid off 65 percent of the newsroom; approximately 110 reporters, editors, photographers and other employees. Today, most of them showed up to pack their belongings. It was absolutely horrible having to say good-bye to people whom I've known for more than 14 years. Four departments: photo, sports, metro and entertainment, were decimated. Business did not fare too well either. Nearly everyone in management was wiped out. Both our managing editors (David Jones and Jeff Birnbaum) are gone. The deputy ME, Ted Agres, is also gone, as are nearly all the assistant managing editors, such as Barbara Slavin and Geoff Etnyre (who was my boss). Only 12 editors remain, I believe: six on the news desk and another six elsewhere in the newsroom although that number is fungible. Several people on foreign desk, including old friends like Willis Witter, are gone or their fate is unknown. Four employees remain on that desk. Our web desk also lost quite a few folks, such as Jilly Badanes (the bright, cheery face on our webcasts who was the face of the newsroom each morning), Jim Ivancic and David Eldredge.
National desk, which I am on, fared a bit better although Ben Conery, Richard Slusser, Mike Wheatley, Andrea Billups and Sean Lengell (some of them did politics as well) were let go. Sean was the last person I bade farewell to when I left this evening and he was busily trying to go through all his emails, as were many other folks today (before their accounts were shut off).
I missed the big staff meeting yesterday when all this was announced (we were flying into Dulles at that moment - more on that later) so it was with lots of trepidation I arrived at work today. Arriving at the human resources department, I was handed a thin envelope, which meant I was staying. About 60 of us were retained. Those who were being let go had thicker packets detailing their severance packages. A hapless sports writer, Mark Zuckerman, walked in with me. He was one of 25 sports department workers who was let go. He gamely said he expected it. Then it was back down to an awfully grim newsroom where folks were cramming their belongings into boxes and hugging each other.
(By the way, a staff writer at the Washington Post wrote a really classy column here that said really nice things about our sports department and how they often did a better job than did the Post at covering sports stories. I also was heartened by how, in the past few weeks, people from outside the paper including several competitors, emailed me to see how I was doing. Thank you, all.)
It was impossible to concentrate and do much work with all this happening, so I spent much of my day saying good-bye to everyone and getting emails from folks I wished to keep in touch with. Although a lot of the politics reporters were kept, long-timers like Greg Pierce were let go. The big shock on national desk was that Audrey Hudson, our national security reporter who spent Christmas Day at work reporting on the Northwest Airlines would-be bomber, was also let go. No one could understand that one. I wandered over to features, where I said good-bye to Stephanie Green, who has really made a name for herself doing what I'd call investigative society reporting, for lack of a better description. She ended up having to write the article that announced her own layoff. She was packing up. So was Gabriella Boston, Denise Yourse and Cindy Brown.
Barbara Slavin, who was brought in from USA Today only about 18 months ago, was a real class act, as she went around the newsroom shaking hands with everyone and wishing them well before she left. It was just heartbreaking to see some of the editors and reporters who, on their last day there, were faithfully working on their last assignments to get out tomorrow's paper instead of walking out on the spot. One poor woman on news desk was celebrating her birthday with two chocolate cakes by the coffee pot - and she was being let go as well.
Most of the folks I talked with had no idea where they will end up. One of the librarians, Clark Eberly, may go back to school. Only two had definite jobs they were sure they'd get. Everyone else who had been sending out resumes said they'd had no luck whatsoever. My across-the-aisle seatmate, Don Lambro, will still have his syndicated political column but he's in no mood to retire yet. He was let go. So was Rita Tiwari, who helped do bookkeeping for the newsroom. One of the worst-luck stories is Lois Carlson, who worked alongside Rita. Not only did she lose her job; so did her husband, Eric, who works in the library. They have three kids but no income. Wally Hindes, who did radio for us, is also gone.
And our photographers - I got to say good-bye to a few, but we had an excellent batch who nearly landed a Pulitzer in 2003. Only two - Joe Eddins and Melissa Cannarozzi - are being kept on, mainly to do desk work. The new photo editor, Janet Reeves, had fortunately kept her home in Denver when she moved here last fall. Good thing she did.
Lots and lots of conversations were held about what is in store for those of us who stay. Nothing has been revealed as to what we should expect but fortunately for me and two other reporters on related beats, the Higher Ups wanted to retain reporting on social and cultural issues, which includes religion. Considering that so many religion reporters have lost their jobs this year, I am very fortunate to still have mine.
But to lose so much unbelievable talent is such a sad way to close out the year. I am enclosing a photo of Veeka in the cockpit of our Boeing 757 which flew us back from Seattle yesterday. We got up at 4 a.m. to make the flight, but she acted like a little angel the whole time.
Here's to hoping 2010 will be a better year.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Farewell Aunt Dot & hello snow




Soon after Miss Veeka arrived on these shores, my Uncle Ed passed away and she came with me to his funeral on a sunny March day, adding much light and joy. She fulfilled this duty again on Thursday when we had a funeral at the same church and same grave site locale for his wife, Dorothy Duin, who passed away Dec. 9 in California. Her family flew here (from California and London at no little expense) to have a pre-Christmas funeral and so we all showed up on a sunny-but-wintery day of 40-degree temps to say good-bye. It was so odd to be back at the same places we were at nearly three years ago when we said good-bye to Ed. Instead, this time it was Nancy who gave the farewell sermon instead of my father.
It being Dec. 17, I was the only member of the family who got there as tickets were at a premium this crowded time of year. The first photo is of Veeka posing with Nancy and Alex, one of Dot's daughters with the only grandchild. After the funeral, we all went to the lovely home of one of the St. Paul's Lutheran Church parishioners who put on a great spread. The second photo shows Veeka on Alex's lap. Sadly, I am not sure when I'll see him or his aunts/my cousins again.
Speaking of which, they are stranded here as we speak due to the lovely two feet of snow we are receiving as I type (on Dec. 19). All the flights in and out today have been cancelled. Turns out we have tickets to Seattle and for a time, I was unhappy that I could not get us out of here until Christmas Eve. Now I am very grateful we are not leaving for another five days because the airports will be horribly jammed at the beginning of the week with all those poor folks who could not get out today. I put Veeka in her old snow suit and photographed her romping around the backyard. Problem is, I forgot to buy her new boots and her feet were way too small for the tiny boots we crammed them into.
I did, I will add, teach her now to make a snow angel.
The big mercy is this is all occurring over the weekend, so no one has to get to work for two days. The snowplowing in town has been lackadaisical at best, so at present, my car is trapped in my garage as the alley is piled high with white stuff.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

40 % to be laid off


Well, the other shoe did drop and we were told Wednesday (the 2nd) that 40 percent of our 370-person workforce would be laid off. That means about 170 people. All sorts of guessing is going on right now as to which sections (entertainment? metro? sports?) will get the ax and whether those of us who work on national desk are truly safer. Providentially, our main competition ran a front-page story on the layoffs and the last thing the president of our company said is he wants to keep the religion/values reporting. So *my* job seems secure although technically we have all been laid off. Then 60% will be told they are retained, although the conditions they will continue to work under might be quite different. Which is what a lot of us are also wondering about.
Anyway, the first wave of people who will have to go will start in about two weeks, we're told, JUST before Christmas. Isn't the timing lovely? So of course all of us are wondering how much to spend for Christmas, whether that bathroom remodel we'd planned for January will have to be scrapped; that sort of thing. Many people in the newsroom are quite depressed and angry at the recent revelations of some of the obscenely high salaries that the higher-ups in my organization were getting while the rest of us have been scraping along. It's been a real morale killer.
But at this point all of us are simply glad to have work - and health insurance - which puts us in a better place than where many Americans are at this point.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Insanity in the newsroom


This week was really quite the week at my place of employ. On Monday morning, we walked in to find that 3 top people in charge of the company - including the president - were fired over the weekend. Extra guards were in the lobby and the third floor - where the administration was - got put on lockdown. Immediately every media outlet in town, smelling blood, was filing reports about our alleged soon-to-be demise. We had a large staff meeting where the new president of the company essentially read out loud a press release that we'd already seen - then refused to take questions. Bad sign. A number of us then surrounded the two managing editors and demanded to know more. We got a few details - ie that there would not be layoffs - but not much.
More news trickled out and more outside reporters were calling us staff writers on the sly and then a bigger bomb dropped on Thursday when, on deadline, they announced that our top editor had resigned. He had been missing all week, so this was not a great shock but it was still very weird and left a lot of unanswered questions.
It seems that a lot of the mess stems from debates high up in the ranks of our owners involving our finances. We have always operated at a huge deficit and the question is how long they want this state of affairs to continue. Although there are some things that I cannot say in this public space, I can say I am concerned. I've already had one friend email me a job possibility and it's no secret that much of my newsroom is panicked. Although we just hired a photo editor and started a new radio talk show last Monday, we lost two of our White House reporters in last two months, so things are not trending up. And on Friday, we got the inevitable memo from Human Resources saying the company, as of immediately, was cutting its matching contributions to our 401Ks. Other newspapers did the same thing ages ago so we were lucky to have kept ours this long. Still, employee morale has tanked.
On the plus side, Veeka - shown here in her new pink loafers and Russian-style white hair bow - was the model child Friday morning when CBN arrived at my home to shoot a segment on single adoptive moms. As a camera man followed us about, we made my bed, picked produce in our garden, I combed her hair and brushed her teeth and we posed next to the harp.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Work, work, work


I'm probably breaking child labor laws here by having Veeka push the vacuum around but she does insist on being Little Miss Cleaning Lady. We both have been struggling with colds for the past week and today was the first day in quite awhile that we both were operating anywhere near normal. Today was going to be catch-up day at work - or so I thought - until I was told I had to go to the mosque where the Ft. Hood shooter once hung out. So I drove to the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring and easily found the place because of the TV trucks parked in front. Those poor people; have dozens of TV and radio reporters show up for their Friday prayer time and getting buttonholed by all those nasty reporters. Of course I *was* one of those nasty reporters - dressed in a long skirt with a scarf around my hair - interviewing whoever I could find. You can read about it here.
It's been quite a week with Islamic stuff today and the leader of world Orthodoxy - known as the Ecumenical Patriarch - in town and who I followed around this past week (here was the advance piece) along with doing articles on Joel Osteen (see here) and a group of humanistic Jews. I dragged Veeka (who was borderline sick) to their meeting in Northwest DC on a rainy Sunday morning. After 45 minutes of Israeli folkdancing, we attended a class taught by a rabbi who identified himself as a bi-sexual atheist. Fortunately, Veeka had no idea what was going on.
Meanwhile, Veeka has discovered "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" so she wants the video played continually because she wants to see the lion, as she says. She was sick on Halloween but when she saw the heavy bags of candy kids were carrying, she decided to recover long enough for us to walk around the block in the rain gathering goodies for her. Because we were on the late side, people were emptying loads of candy into her little bag.
And, as we've been switching into winter clothes, I discovered Veeka had a growth spurt this summer and a lot of things are now too small. She lost about half her clothes to the fact that she is now bigger...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Finally getting some TV


I took today off to prepare for a 5-minute segment about the new book that will be showing on the Christian Broadcasting Network. Today we filmed it in front of Christ Church on Massachusetts Avenue, a church that was a beacon during the 1970s in the charismatic/pentecostal movement. Of course I was late, the traffic was nasty and Veeka screeched during the filming (her daycare had the day off) but the weather was out of this world and I took care to wear the most colorful outfit I had which is a must for TV. The church pastor came out just before the cameras started to roll, so afterwards I had a long talk with him about how dry the whole renewal movement is these days in the USA.
Am apparently coming down with a cold, so am not in the best spirits now but am happy that last week's rain has changed into this week's sun which hopefully will redden the few remaining green tomatoes on the vines in my back yard.
Had a lovely booksigning for my latest two books last weekend in Virginia and got 25 people which was much appreciated.
Will let y'all know when the CBN spot airs. I have a few more possibilities in the cooker so stay tuned. Fortunately, Veeka cheered up after the shooting for me to get this photo. The host, Paul Strand, is in the background in blue.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Booksignings, booksignings


Well, it is nice to be busy selling my book. Yesterday, I spent several hours at a local conference of newly minted Anglicans (formerly Virginia Episcopalians) trying to hawk my wares. Fortunately, one of the bishops at the gathering - Martyn Minns - decided to make the lessons from "Fire and Glory" part of his sermon, which brought several people to my book table afterwards. Thanks, bishop. I owe you one.
And this coming Wednesday I will be heading north to Grove City College, an evangelical Christian place about an hour north of Pittsburgh to deliver some lectures and...yes, hawk more books! Veeka is coming because the organizers - bless them - have agreed to babysit her all day Thursday. A photo of Veeka with her little friends at daycare is included here.
Work has been busy, busy, busy - feels like I never get to rest as there is always something breaking plus two weekly columns to churn out. This (Oct. 3-4) is the first weekend I've been home in almost a month. Last weekend, I was with friends in Bethany Beach, Delaware renting out a place there super-close to the ocean; the weather, unfortunately was a tad chilly. And the weekend before, we were in New York for a journalists confab and booksigning there. I don't get to Manhattan often, so it was much fun seeing the uppper West side near Columbia University, which was much nicer looking than when I last saw it in 1993.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Where I win an award and Minnesota part 2




In the past month, I've been to Minnesota twice, once to cover the Lutherans and the other to attend a Religion Newswriters Association contest where I picked up two very nice awards on Sept. 12. The WTimes just ran a piece today announcing the awards (a week late but oh well) which looks fairly nice. It was not the first time I had placed second in the Religion Reporter of the Year award - I also came in second 20 years ago. NOW if I can only place first...
My brief four days in Minnesota ran into a spell of nice, warm weather and of course that is when I had my book launch party. I am just at the beginning of getting word out about "Days of Fire and Glory" but when I show up at various venues, people are quick to grab it. It sells out before "Quitting Church" does.
My final days in Minnesota, by the way, were quite pleasant. Veeka and I spent a week at the Trapper's Lodge on Leech Lake, which was quite lovely. We found lots of things to do, so I have posted photos of Veeka by the lake, Veeka actually catching a fish (she had no idea what to do with it) and of course Veeka standing by a large blue ox, which is the local symbol up there. So I have been reading her tales of Paul Bunyan and explaining to her what an "ox" is. Can't say we have those in Maryland, especially of the large blue variety. We spent one day in Itasca State Park, where the headwaters of the Mississippi are; that is one lovely area with tons of lakes and white birch trees. We even went biking (with her in a little cart behind my bike) but the mosquitos ate us up. I spent one evening near Bemidji at Ben Israel, a Christian community about which I wrote this column a few days later.
On our last day, we arrived back in the Twin Cities just in time for a Hinnenthal family barbecue hosted by Beth and Chris, so we got to see everyone once again.

Friday, September 11, 2009

My book is finally out!


I am here in Minneapolis, the day after my book launch party at the downtown Marriott. It was a lovely time - in a 31st-floor suite with a view of I-94. I'd say about 30 people, including some of my Minneapolis-area relatives showed up for a nice event showcasing work by Joe Rigert - a former AP reporter who wrote a book about abusive Irish Catholic priests - and myself. "Days of Fire and Glory: The Rise and Fall of a Charismatic Community" has been in process 20 years and it's such a triumph for me to have the hardback in hand - finally!! It has been such a long road with so many disappointments but I hung in there and hung in there and....well, here is the Amazon link to what I think will be the best book I will ever write.
I am also including the wonderful cover with a fabulous photo by Debbie Scott of Graham Pulkingham - the iconic priest whom the book portrays - in the middle celebrating the Eucharist. Everyone's hands are raised in praise; it's a high point of the liturgy. I cannot be happy enough about this; if there was any problem with the launch party, it was that I didn't buy enough wine for all those thirsty reporters. Instead of having it be an event where everyone stood around and had mini-conversations, I instead set Joe and I in the middle of things and we led a fascinating discussion on what makes some religious movements fail. It was invigorating and will hopefully lead to some nice reviews.
For those of you who wonder what this book is about, I am attaching material from a press release. Please enjoy and...order the thing!

"Days of Fire and Glory: The Rise and Fall of a Charismatic Community" is about one of the most gifted leaders of the charismatic movement and the newspaper reporter who unwittingly unearthed his secret.

Millions of evangelical Christians who lived through the Jesus movement and the charismatic renewal of the 1970s and 1980s wish to process what happened them in the early days of their faith. Some even moved into Christian community households to replicate the pattern of the early church in Acts 2. Many are seeking to regain the spiritual power and assurance they felt during those days. Still others have watched how this pentecostal subset of American life went mainstream beginning in the year 2000, penetrating even to the core of the White House and even becoming an issue during the 2008 election in the person of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
"Days of Fire and Glory: The Rise and Fall of a Charismatic Community" is the story of God, sex and power, how a huge 20th century religious experiment in the life of one cleric led to the rise and fall of many. The author, Julia Duin, is the award-winning religion editor of the Washington Times and the author of five books. She worked for the Houston Chronicle from 1986-1990.

Her book traces the journey of Graham Pulkingham, an Episcopal priest who led Church of the Redeemer, one of the nation's fastest growing and most vibrant churches in a Houston slum and left a legacy that lasts to this day. He held thousands spellbound with his Gospel preaching and influenced millions with his daring vision of a compelling, charismatic Christianity made visible by a system of worldwide communities. Yet, Pulkingham hid from his followers a dark double life that he at first resisted, then secretly pursued and finally allowed to twist his personal theology into a gordian knot of accommodation and self-deceit and finally death.

Twenty years ago, Miss Duin, then a Houston Chronicle reporter, set out to do a laudatory account of events at Redeemer, only to discover the hidden sins not only of one Houston church but of an entire movement.

At its heights, Church of the Redeemer was a place afire. It was a megachurch before megachurches came into vogue. It had everything: an international reputation, fabulous music and joyous worship. It was not only a vibrant center for the Jesus movement that was transfixing the country in the early '70s, but it was the energy center for the charismatic movement, a type of Christianity straight from the exciting miracles of the New Testament book of Acts. Christians who were being "baptized in the Holy Spirit" within this movement felt they were witnessing the waking of a 2,000-year-old giant and experiencing a renaissance of the glory days of Christianity's beginning.

But there was more. Lurking in the shadows of Church of the Redeemer were dark secrets that in time made the church a living symbol of the charismatic movement's rise and decline; of a time when people's desire for God's love and power was shot through with pride, obsession with control and twisted sexuality.

It all began in 1964 when Graham Pulkingham, a burned-out Houston clergyman, traveled to New York and found himself transformed by the experience of being "baptized in the Spirit" through the prayers of David Wilkerson, author of "The Cross and the Switchblade" and today one of the world's best-known pentecostal preachers. Returning to Houston, the on-fire priest helped lay the groundwork for the Jesus movement. Under his leadership, the church catapulted itself into the communal living movement, creating dozens of extended Christian households encompassing more than 400 people in low-income neighborhoods. Through the books and magazine articles describing this remarkable church, thousands of curious babyboomer Christians visited Houston. Artists and musicians from around the world drifted in, creating a new genre of Christian music.

Things began to unravel in the mid 1970s after CBS's laudatory hour-long special in 1972 drew overflow crowds, overwhelming the church and its households. Pulkingham traveled to England to extend his influence by planting communities there, but left a cadre of authoritarian elders ruling the church in his absence. These elders began implementing the principles of a ruinous "discipleship movement" that was also sweeping contemporary Christianity - and devastating lives. The top elder at Redeemer was caught in adultery and the unrelated Jim Jones Guyana tragedy cast a pall over the notion of communal living. The household communities rapidly split up and even though Pulkingham moved back into 1980 to fix up the place, it was too late.

Not that Pulkingham was the best one to go around cleaning up anyone's reputation. A husband with six children, he had struggled with a lifetime of homosexual urges. Believing himself rid of them forever after his spiritual transformation in New York, he let himself be enticed back into the lifestyle several years later and began to act on these urges in England. He and his wife moved into separate bedrooms and he began propositioning male followers for sexual favors. In Houston, other followers noticed his theology had taken a decidedly left-hand turn. As more sex scandals - again involving elders - rocked the church, he was forced out just two years after his return. The charismatic movement had reached every corner of the globe by this time, but many of its American originators had turned on each other.

By the mid-1980s, both Pulkingham and the charismatic movement had run out of steam as disappointed followers penned books such as "Power Religion," "Churches That Abuse" and "Disappointment With God." Insiders who tried to reform the movement – and Pulkingham’s church - were largely ignored.

Then the PTL and Jimmy Swaggart scandals became double black eyes for Christianity while the 1988 presidential run of the first openly charismatic Christian candidate Pat Robertson politicized the movement. The monastic trio of poverty, chastity and obedience in the lives of early charismatics that had propelled their movement to such heady successes became the three-way trap of sex, money and power. God's love and power, which had transformed Church of the Redeemer, had been perverted to become raw power and sexual desire. Rocketing way beyond its biblical basis, the charismatic Christian movement in the 1990s became fertile ground for bizarre spiritual manifestations, such as believers being overcome with "holy laughter," uncontrollable shaking, making animal noises during services and people claiming that God was supplying them with new gold fillings for their teeth.

The book climaxes with Pulkingham's betrayal at the hands of the wife of a former lover and the collapse of a new community he founded north of Pittsburgh. By the time he was stricken with a fatal heart attack while caught in the midst of a 1993 supermarket shootout, Pulkingham was disgraced by a decades-long string of homosexual flings, under investigation by his bishop for propositioning some of the troubled men he counseled and on the verge of being defrocked by the very denomination he helped energize for three decades.

The reporter who narrates the book becomes part of the tale when she acquires a job at the Houston Chronicle at the midpoint of the book. Her investigation of Graham Pulkingham is the final straw that leads to his downfall and ultimately his death.

"Days of Fire and Glory" required 182 face-to-face interviews. It reveals how sex and religion, unhappily tangled, are still the stuff of headlines. The amazing characters, who were gifted people with the best intentions, failed miserably when they allow their faith in God to succumb to the desires of their bodies. Theirs is a cautionary tale that would well be heeded by all for whom the Gospel has become the foundation of their earthly success. Intentional community movements are becoming popular among young Christians and some of the worst excesses of religious authoritarian movements of several decades ago are popping up under new names.

However, the book is an inspiration that shows what God once did among an unlikely group of people in Houston and what He can do again.

As for babyboomers who lived through the religious movements of the last decades of the millennium, "Days of Fire and Glory" is a long-awaited validation of their search for God.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tornadoes and Minnesota part 1



Last night after Veeka fell asleep, I walked out to see a blanket of stars over the lake. I never get to see the Milky Way like this, near as we are to the Big City.
But this week we are away from the maddening crowd in the Minnesota north woods. How did we get here? Well, last week I was sent on a business trip to cover the biennial convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. As it turned out, it was a good call because they ended up making ecclesiastical history in that they are now the largest American Christian denomination to accept gay clergy. Which is what they voted to do plus a few other things this past week. You can read the walk-up to the event here, and and follow-up here and some of the react here and here and here. It was one highly interesting event to cover because of a tornado that bore down upon the gathering on Wednesday afternoon that some saw as a warning from the Almidghty to not proceed along the path the ELCA seemed to be going. My blog on this highly interesting event (nothing like having a tornado heading towards you) is at the end of this post.
Anyway, my cousins who live in town were super-helpful in arranging care for Veeka while I was covering all this. After dinner one night with the Weispfennings (related to my late cousin Anne) who live on a lovely bluff overlooking downtown St. Paul (or is it Minneapolis?), I got lots of help from Allison (actually my first cousin once removed as she's the eldest daughter of my cousin Faith) who has kids Veeka's age. So Veeka stayed at the daycare next door to Faith and Allison and husband Jon (shown with Veeka in one of the photos) picked up Veeka in the afternoon so she could play with her second cousins once removed: Charlie, Lucy and Cassie until Mommy got home from covering the ELCA. It sounds complicated but it all worked out quite well.
Finally on Saturday morning we were free to depart and head 200 miles northwest of Minneapolis to a lodge I'd found on the Internet on Leech Lake which has turned out to be a world Veeka's never encountered. Yesterday she touched her first fish and a little girl (who was equipped with a Barbie doll fishing rod) showed Veeka how to cast for fish. She's also seen cattails (none of those in Maryland) and experienced bonfires and tasted marshmallows. She's learned to say "Minnesota" and is reading a little paperback I bought her on Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox (might as well inculcate her in the local culture. After all, her grandfather is from these parts).
Stayed tuned for more Lessons in the Wilderness. Attached is another photo from our visit to the Mall of America and the interesting creature we met there. And below is my WTimes post on the tornado:


It was just before 2 p.m. when someone rushed into the press room and told us to vacate the place fast. A tornado had touched down close by, we were told, and it was heading our way. We were covering the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's churchwide assembly in Minneapolis. The police wanted us all in a safe place away from the glass windows that encase the huge Minneapolis Convention Center.
So everyone rushed into the main hall to join some 1,045 voting members who were listening to a Bible on the prodigal son being given by Luther Seminary Old Testament professor Diane Jacobson. As she continued speaking, a palpable blanket of fear descended on the entire group as the doors to the outside hallways were shut, enclosing us in the giant room which apparently was the safest place to be in the case of a tornado. Worse, we could hear the winds howling outside. I thought of my rental car parked nearby and hoped it'd stay in one piece. It also did not help the general atmosphere that the air conditioning was set on minus 2.
And a tornado *was* headed our way. Just after 2 p.m., the twister knocked the cross off the steeple of Central Lutheran Church just across the street from the convention center. I walked outside afterwards to look at it and the steel cross was dangling high up in the air.
During the storm, ELCA President Mark Hanson read outloud the 121st Psalm to us to calm everyone down.
"We trust the weather is not a commentar on our work," said the Rev. Steven Loy, chairman of an ad hoc committee on a controversial statement on human sexuality that was on the floor that afternoon. The statement, which seems to open the door to greater acceptance of homosexual practice, passed by an exact two-thirds vote a few hours later. One or two votes less would have killed it. There was quite a gasp when we saw the results.
Later some of us were discussing in the press room whether the Almighty had sent a tornado to send the Lutherans a message. After all, one of the reporters said, the ELCA endured an electrical storm during one of their previous conventions - where human sexuality was also on the table - in Orlando.
And if God was speaking, was anyone listening?
- Julia Duin, religion editor

Friday, August 7, 2009

A year in Hyattsville


Well, here is a photo of my home into which we moved one year ago this weekend. The Virginia-to-Maryland switch has gone reasonably well; I really miss all the great restaurants and retail over there in the Old Dominion as what's available here in Prince George's County is not much to write home about. Then again, one of my great discoveries was a Massage Envy outlet that was almost half the price of what I was shelling out for shoulder rubs to the south. And the community "feel" to this area is lightyears better than what I had, plus the availability of kids, family-friendly stuff for Veeka, lots of people with children and WAY more support than I had available in Virginia made it a very good move.
Fortunately nothing awful, other than a broken garage door, happened my first year and the biggest problem I have is keeping my tomatoes out of reach from the squirrels. MUCH nicer neighbors than what I had in Falls Church (although the people immediately next to me in my former condo were nice enough) but the 2 Hyattsville list serves I am on have been invaluable as to helping me out in so many ways. Living only 5 miles from work is one good idea. The biggest pain has been switching doctors, etc. The first dentist I found here did not work out so will try another. Last week I visited what I thought would be Veeka's new pediatrician but walked out after we were kept waiting 40 minutes. There were no toys to play with and Veeka was bouncing off the walls. And the waiting room was dirty and there was little privacy; you could walk 3 steps down the hall and watch what was going on in one of the exam rooms. When Veeka did just that - run down the hallway and gape at a little screaming kid getting some kind of shot - I bolted.
My next choice for pediatrician is over the county line into Silver Spring - a longer commute but I was getting so many mixed reviews of the local kiddie doctors. A shame one must go to a richer county for better service but that is the way of it here in PG County which deserves some of the bad rep it has for things just being a lot shabbier than elsewhere in the DC metro area. However, the park system is great but apparently the schools are not - a headache I will have to face a year from now.
Veeka is growing like a little stringbean - up and down - but not OUT, meaning some of her clothes from two years ago are still fitting her. Am dragging her to that newest pediatrician a month from now for a physical just to make sure everything is on schedule but she looks as healthy as can be and gives the pre-school people fits because of her high-energy antics and refusal to take naps. I have gotten very strict about the latter and told her she MUST sleep at naptime (she is a bear if she does not) because I have gotten some very unhappy notes from her teacher informing me what a terror she is at naptime (rocks back and forth and sings to herself, wakes up the other kids, sometimes runs around the room - aargh).
Her vocabulary is doing great so no more special ed this coming year like she's had since she came here.
As for me, am passing around galleys of my new book which is available here should you wish to pre-order! More on that for a later post. Am preparing to go to Minneapolis in a little more than a week to cover the Lutherans so am using this coming week to wrap up many loose ends.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

In which my parents leave their home



Well, it finally happened; the lovely family home that's provided for us years of mountain and Lake Sammamish views just east of Seattle is in the past. My parents moved last week to a retirement place (altho they would not call it that) 8 miles away in Redmond WITH NO VIEW. They got to experience, like we did a year ago, the delights of moving lock, stock and barrel. They'd owned the place since that summer of 1971 when they and us kids rolled into western Washington state and wondered what we'd gotten ourselves into. We'd just spent two weeks crossing the country and camping out along the way. Back then, we were from sophisticated Maryland and Bellevue and especially Redmond seemed a bit behind the times, we thought. My entire family ended up settling in the Pacific Northwest except for me, the wandering Jew of the lot. I've included an older photo of the place which I will miss like anything. It's the closest thing I ever had as a family home, being that we moved every few years when I was younger.
My dad has promised that NOW he will finally get a kitty so we shall see if he keeps his promise. Soooo, no more lovely roses like the ones that always greeted me when I came home in the summers. I didn't fly back to Seattle this summer as it turned out; my parents' topsy-turvy home situation being one reason.
But Uncle Steve was in town this past weekend so Veeka and I wandered over to his in-laws where I caught a photo of them and Aunt Nancy at the dinner table. Veeka is now very taken with Uncle 'Teve and his brother, Uncle Gob. And Oma and Opa of course. As usual, Veeka charmed everyone.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The finish line approacheth



Yes, I know it's been awhile since I've posted but I am in the final weeks of PUTTING OUT A BOOK. You can tell the signs: piles of unread newspapers around the house; unread mail, unpaid bills, mountains of kitty fur that need to be vacuumed up. For those of you who know me, this is the "Redeemer book" that will be launched this September at the Religion Newswriters Association convention in Minneapolis and plans are afoot now for a reception somewhere in the host hotel (the downtown Marriott). I'd wanted a pricey setting with wine flowing and hors d'oeuvres but my publisher didn't want to lay out too much money, so I am shopping about for alternatives.
If I had my way, the launch would be in Houston, where most of the action takes place, but circumstances have not worked out yet for me to get down there.
But I cannot say how glad I am that this 20-year project is almost over. I am now working on proofing copy, scanning photos, re-reading the dust jacket copy, negotiating with the photographer and digging up obscure facts. I spent last Wednesday in Baltimore doing a last-minute read through the manuscript which is about 300 pages.
As for Veeka, well, she is fine. There is one photo of what looks like a blur bouncing a ball. That is our little honey bunch learning how to bounce a ball. I got her a red ball so she is trying to learn how to dribble. Where is Uncle Steve when I need him to show her how?
Potty training is almost down pat. There are a few bad days but she has made incredible progress since her birthday when she decided to get serious about learning how. She doesn't need a kiddie diaper in the pool any more which is a great relief.
The other photo is of Veeka at the beach where I took her and the daughter of a friend who helped me take care of her. Am learning that on a weekend at the beach, I need someone along to help, as she has to be constantly watched. Despite there being two of us, she escaped us at one point and dashed two blocks down the beach just because she felt like running. Fortunately some people spotted my frantic looking about and told me they'd seen her. I sprinted down the sand and finally saw her - on the lifeguard stand happily enjoying herself. Grrrrr.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Off to Dallas


Well..for only a few days to cover the conference that officially establishes a new Anglican province made up of dissaffected Episcopalians. Problem is, the archbishop of Canterbury doesn't recognize this group but he may at some point. Anyway, on Sunday night, I fly from Baltimore to DFW to lodge with a reporter friend from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and share a rental car as we spend 3 days in Texas. For me, it will be a chance to greet tons of old friends as many of these folks are people I knew in seminary or in various churches I've been in along the way.
As soon as I heard of this trip, I dashed to Kinkos to print 200 postcards advertising my upcoming book on the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer and Graham Pulkingham which had a working title of "Power and Desire: The Rise and Fall of Christian Community and Charismatic Renewal." We've re-tooled that to a new title: "Days of Fire and Glory: The rise and fall of a charismatic community" which is not as far-reaching but may be more accurate.
The photo is of a happy Veeka lounging on her new bed with the kitty who sleeps on it every day. My right arm is still terribly sore now that I have begun physical therapy and I'm still on pain meds. I've worked 2 six-day weeks in a row and I'm pretty weary.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Free from the sling


Although the photo shows me still in the darned thing, the orthopedist gave me the green light Monday to shed the sling just short of a month of wearing it. That last week, my arm was cramping quite a bit with it on plus I was starting to drive by myself and had to take it off while in the car (one gets a ticket if you're driving with one of those things on). So I am well into physical therapy at this point.
This week has been crazy with daily stories zinging me every day. I am flooded with work. Monday was a press conference with abortionist LeRoy Carhart who was a close friend of George Tillers and was in town to give a eulogy for him at a memorial service. Turns out I had Carhart nearly to myself and got to ask him quite a bit about life as a doctor who aborts babies in the third trimester. I really blanched when he told me about the suicidal woman whose fetus he aborted at 30 weeks, as Veeka was born at 32 weeks. I learned later when I interviewed a gynecologist, abortion often makes women more suicidal, not less. Near the end of the interview, however, I did refer to that thing in the womb as a "baby" at which point Carhart, his wife, daughter and about 10 other people in the room started looking at me strangely as to ask "how did she sneak in"? We got into quite a discussion of where God stands on abortion; a little bit of which I am repeating for my June 11 "Stairway" colum.
Anyway, on Tuesday, it was announced the Tiller clinic was shutting down for good so I had to do another story. And today, there was a shooting at the Holocaust museum so I had to drop everything and do a story on the Jewish reaction to it all. Fortunately I had tons of Jewish contacts - and their cell phones - in my files so I was able to throw a story together within a few hours.
But all these stories mean I've been late in picking up Veeka at the daycare. The poor child has been traumatized by all the thunderstorms we've been having at dusk. And yesterday a huge tree branch from the abandoned house next door came crashing down into my back yard, covering one-quarter of it. Fortunately the bank that owns the house agreed today to send someone with a chainsaw to remove the mess. Amazingly, none of my phone or electric lines went down with it.
One bright spot have been these meals brought to me by members of a small group I belong to, since it's difficult for me to put together a full meal with my right arm in this much pain. A succession of casseroles, salads, chips and cookies have been showing up each evening. It's been lovely every night getting different stuff that I don't have to cook. Tonight we got the best gooey caramel and chocolate Haagen-Daz ice cream. Slurp.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Week #3 of The Sling



Well, here at last is a photo of this awful contraption taken by Gail during our Maryland Tour last weekend. It does kind of envelope my whole right side, doesn't it? I was at the Amish market and you can see their horses in the background. I've gone through 3 sessions of physical therapy and believe me, this is going to be a long haul. I can lift my right arm at 110 degrees - a bit more than right angle to my body.
Gail, unfortunately, flew out Tuesday and I was all alone for the first time in 2 weeks, which was gloomy for me. Not only that, but Veeka suddenly came down with a fever at noon so the last thing Gail ended up doing was racing to the daycare to pick up Veeka and bringing her home and putting her to bed while I nabbed a co-worker who drove me back home. Fortunately the Little One "only" had a 24-hour virus that most of the little kids - I later found out - in the neighborhood all got but all the same, it was nasty seeing her temperature rise and being trapped, unable to drive even to a pharmacy. A friend who has 7 kids took pity on me and brought us some cooked rice, iced popsicles and Tylenol suppositories to get medicine into Veeka since it's hard to ingest orally when you're vomiting. That got me through the night - it's so nasty when you live alone and you can't run to a pharmacy when there's a sick kid at home.
Later in the week, a similar situation arose where I needed to run out for 10 minutes but Veeka had just fallen asleep and it was so frightfully hard to get her down for a nap, I was frantic not to wake her. Fortunately I spotted a neighbor gardening who graciously agreed to sit in my home to watch Veeka while I went and picked up someone at the Metro (only a mile away so I can drive that far) who had come for the day to help me clean the house. And starting tomorrow, I have a succession of friends - most of them part of a Sunday night Catholic prayer group I attend - who are bring us meals. With this arm, it is excruciating to slice veggies or work the can opener. So we've had lots of cheese, crackers and sausage lately.
In the midst of all this mess, I was working full time and ended up - during a four-day work week (cuz of Memorial Day) putting out six articles. Need to slow that pace down. The second photo, also taken by Gail, is of Veeka and one of the Amish girls in a buggy. Veeka has a way of elbowing her way into every photo op.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

And I turn 53


Oh, how age creepeth on. Tuesday was *my* birthday, so my parents and I went to a "Hawaiian fusion" restaurant in Crofton which we all liked. Also there was Gail Dall, an old friend who had flown in to be with me during my 2nd week of convalescence so it was lovely having all sorts of nice people around me. (A babysitter was with Veeka who has little patience for restaurants these days).
And so Oma and Opa flew off in a plane, much to Veeka's bewilderment, and now Gail is helping me get dressed, undressed, clean around the house unload/load the dishwasher, shop for food and tons of other stuff that needs to be done. I am still pretty much operating with one arm although I CAN type with both. Physical therapy on Thursday was excruciating - most painful was an exercise where you just let your arm dangle - this lengthens the hurt muscles I guess - but aaeeah.
Today was fun; in an effort to show Gail some of the local scenery, we headed east of Washington to St. Mary's County where we visited an Amish market (Veeka could not wait to climb up into the Amish carriages), then headed further east to Calvert County where we visited a cypress swamp and a beach (to Veeka's delight). Gail had never swum in the Chesapeake before but the water was so warm, the jellyfish were already out (usually they don't appear until July at the earliest). Veeka adores any and every beach. Then we headed south toward a children's museum on Solomon's Island, but got sidetracked by an airshow at the nearby Air Force base where the Blue Angels were performing. We arrived just when the show started and found a fabulous parking space with a view. Unfortunately Veeka shrieked every time a jet roared over so 45 minutes into the show, we decided to leave because of her wailing. Turns out the show ended right about then so we beat all the traffic out of there. The whole day was like that; through several fortunate coincidences - or favors from God - we ended up at the places we needed to be just when we needed to be there. Like, if we had not stopped at the tourism center, we would not have learned where the Amish market was.
Then we drove 50 miles north to Annapolis where Gail and I walked up and down Main Street and had crab cakes at Middleton Tavern, a really nice restaurant right there at the waterfront. The night was so warm and everyone was out with their beach clothes and their dogs and everyone was in such a good mood because the Naval Academy graduation had been Friday so lots of folks were in town. Sunday and Monday we rest and Tuesday, GAIL LEAVES. And I'll be bereft!
(The photo is from several weeks ago when Veeka and I were in Ambridge and staying overnight with a very nice family who have a 4-year-old, Lydia, the same age as Veeka. The two got along great.)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Oma hits 81!


Yes, for the second year in a row, Oma and Opa are with us during mid-May. The occasion: Julia's right shoulder surgery that took place May 13 (my parents' 59th wedding anniversary, in fact). It was not the most romantic day for them because I showed up at the hospital just before noon and was released shortly before 6. My dad is the one who held vigil at the Kernan orthopedic hospital, which was in Baltimore. We don't yet have the right name of the muscle tear in my right shoulder that's been bothering me for 2 years but the doctor definitely found it and hopefully repaired it all. I was in quite a bit of pain all day Thursday and groggy to boot with all the painkillers plus an ice pack that was attached to my shoulders. Hardly left my bed. Friday managed to plunk down a birthday card for Oma and then later on in the day, we ordered take-out from the Olive Garden which turned out to be surprisingly good.
So it's been pretty quiet here. Oma accompanied me to my Pilates class today so she could see what one looks like and to help me get up and down. My right arm is all encased in a black gortex sling with a bolster - tomorrow we will try changing the dressing. Opa has been busy doing errands around the house; he just got done repairing a bookcase. We visit the doctor on Monday and I start physical therapy on Thursday. Am not sure when I drive again but I can't right now. Oh, and Oma/Opa also patiently waited at Costco to get me new tires so that I didn't have to sit there for hours. We should have them visit more often, no?
The photo is of Veeka sitting on Oma's lap just after the candles were blown out.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Veeka's dedication





One other thing that happened recently was that I had Veeka dedicated to God at a local church. I'm not into infant baptism - want to let her be baptized when she makes her own decision to be a believer but I wanted to do something. Some friends of mine arranged for her to be dedicated to God and prayed over at an Assembly of God church in Fairfax, which is what we did. The people at Way of Faith AG were super gracious even though no one really knew me; they just knew Sue and Rebecca (show with Veeka and I in a photo here). They gave us a little certificate which I will put in my soon-to-be assembled Veeka Scrapbook.
After the service, Rebecca arranged for a 2nd birthday party at Arties, a local restaurant where we had all sorts of presents and balloons and once again, Veeka's favorite meal of hamburger and French fries. The Little One adored all the balloons and streamers. Rebecca and Sue also gave her a necklace with a heart containing a little seed that symbolized God's word growing like a seed in one's heart. Being that Sue and Rebecca are moving to Alabama shortly, it was a bittersweet time of good-byes as I am not sure how much I will see them again. The "Quitting Church" book was dedicated to them, among others, and they will be missed.
Potty training is doing well enough and Veeka is going on long jags of hours without end of accident-free days. However the slipcovers on the white couch in my living room are showing a few slip-ups and I know I must wash them before The Visit by Oma and Opa starting May 11. Yes, they will be in residence for a week, as I am getting shoulder surgery May 13 and expect to be in a sling for up to a month - am hoping the surgeon lowers that estimate (I had been told it'd be 2-3 weeks when I first agreed to do this!) - to repair a capsular tear in my right arm that has bothered me for two years. Lifting Veeka and the repetitive motion of reaching back to her car seat did something bad that 2 sessions of physical therapy did not heal.
Sooo I am trying to set up people to help me once my parents leave, as I will not be able to sling Veeka around simply with my left arm. My biggest needs are help for 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the evening although that could change - I just do not know how mobile I will be. One friend is going to try to get some 6th-grade-age girls to help out in the evenings for their community service credits but mornings could be a problem as no one is available to help out weekdays. I did ask 3 sets of friends if they could fly here to help me (even offered free plane fare!) but people generally cannot break free.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Veeka turns 4



She was looking forward to it for days: the big FOUR. The day before, we spent Aunt Susan's check on shoes and girly underwear as Miss Veeka is finally getting serious about potty training (size 4 for any of you who want to help contribute to the cause). She was hungry and pouty at Target, so I took her down the mall to McDonalds where she cheered up after having her favorite meal: hamburger, fries and ice cream. Yum yum.
And the next day, I dressed her up and sent her to school while I put together a nice meal for a guest who was coming over (a fellow single mom-to-be from Kazakhstan). That night Veeka opened her gifts and was especially entranced by a pink scooter furnished by Oma and Opa. She rode all over the neighborhood on that one. A kind neighbor brought over a chocolate birthday cake so she could BLOW out her multiple candles. Four really is the age where they "get" birthdays and talk about them weeks before the actual occurrence. I suppose some day I will have to put together an actual party but for now, our little get-together worked just fine.
This weekend we're in the Pittsburgh area for a speaking engagement for "Quitting Church" at my old seminary while I show Veeka off to friends. Today I just filmed some more episodes for CBN, whose producers seem to like me and want to have me on for their new 24-hour channel. So if any of you watch religious TV, I'm now popping up here and there. I've finally found a hairdresser who has given me a cut that looks decent on TV and which I can easily reproduce at home. It's taken me years to find a "look" that works but that day has arrived.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter day


I really tried to get that signature Easter photo but just could not get the right shot no matter how hard I tried. We had a lovely, sunny day. Veeka and I went to church with Veeks who is dressed in a lovely pink knit given by a friend of my parents and afterwards planned a new red-bud tree I had bought at the nursery. I also mowed my jungle of a lawn, thanks to a kind neighbor who lent me his mower. Then we went to a friend's home for an Easter egg hunt (see Veeka holding her egg collection bag), then pot-luck. Amira, the lady of the house, decorated her Victorian home beautifully with roses and flowers and Scripture verses and candies placed about - it was a truly lovely day. She even had cupcakes decorated in lovely pastel icings.
Unfortunately many of us could not squeeze down a lot of the cupcakes and SO Amira told me to help myself which....I did as I need cupcakes for this Thursday, Veeka's BIG DAY whereupon she turns 4. She totally gets the concept of birthdays now and is very excited about her presents. A little pink scooter from Oma and Opa sits in the garage waiting for her delighted swoop. I got her a combo orchid/cactus hanging plant with bright pink flowers for her birthday and a cool doll from Grenada. If anyone wants ideas...well, she needs lots of little-girl underwear because Oma and Opa will be here in May to help finish potty-training. Being that she will be 4, it is TIME. (Bubble bath is a good gift idea too as we go through lots of it).
One of my kind neighbors has offered to bring over a cake plus I'm having a friend in who is thinking of adoption.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Back from the Caribbean




I'm facing a mountain of emails and Things To Do after being gone 7 days on a boat. Yes, that's what the family told Veeka: That her mommy was gone on a big boat. When I got back late Saturday, she could not stop kissing my face. Now she is back to throwing tantrums when I turn off the TV.
Anyway, I flew to Puerto Rico and wandered about old town San Juan for awhile before boarding this large cruise ship. The large fort built by the Spaniards over a 200-year period had magnificent ocean views. We took off late March 28 for Sint Maarten, a Dutch/French island that was our first port of call. Now I had been in touch with a Christian charity that is funding an outreach out of Philipsburg, the largest city on this tiny island - and I was interested in seeing some of the illegal immigrants (from Haiti and other places) they were helping. Although a lot of Haitians get to US shores, even more land on other Caribbean islands. I missed my appointment with a Catholic priest cuz the ship came in later than I thought so I wandered off to a beach for a few hours, then returned and tried calling him on my cell phone. Amazingly, I found the man and after showing me his food pantry, he assigned a parishioner to take me around to the slums of Sint Maarten to meet poor and desperate people.
The next few hours were amazing. I am posting a photo of one little girl standing in front of a container - that is where her family lived in the midst of an auto junkyard. Her dad, in his 60s, cannot find a job. They were beyond poor. I happened to bring along some stuffed animals (purloined them from Veeka's stash of thousands) with me, so gave her two and she was so delighted to get anything resembling a new toy. Another woman I visited had taken on 17 orphans - all dumped on her front doorstep by druggies and prostitutes. Another woman, who had diabetes, was desperate for funds for her medication and to pay her daughter's school fees. She was an illegal immigrant from Guyana, where she said life is even worse. Her husband, also illegal, had been deported and was of no help. Another family had been cheated by a ruthless Chinese merchant and was being evicted from their home. They need a lawyer but cannot afford one. Most of the women I met had no husbands or male support whatsoever. The men tend to abandon the women so in one instance, three women had moved in together and pooled care of their kids.
I hope to do an article for the WTimes on Easter Sunday about this as the situation was truly pitiable on an island that's known as a tourist draw. The money that this US-based charity provides has to stretch to accommodate 250 families who are all in dire straits.
The following day, we were in Dominica, an eco-tourism spot I had long wanted to visit. First thing we did was visit an aerial tram that sped us through the tree-tops of pristine forest. A biologist with us was dishing out reams of info about herbal remedies, tropical woods and the rain forest. Of course we got rained on while in this gondola-like contraption. Am posting a photo of me on an 84-foot suspension bridge over a gorge in the rain forest. Then we visited Trafalgar Falls where some of us found lovely natural hot water pools - see the third photo of me submerged in cloudy aqua water. Then we coaxed our driver into taking us one-quarter of the way around the island to see a lovely place - the Emerald Pool - in another rain forest. It was a long day but our favorite island, as it turned out. It's not an easy island to fly to but I'd really recommend going there to anyone who likes to hike. The paths were beautifully kept up and there are NO MOSQUITOS on the island cuz of the sulphur from the volcanic lakes.
I didn't get to see much of Grenada, the next island, because I was exhausted from Dominica plus I needed a place to use the Internet and purchase gifts. I found a lovely beach and died for a few hours.
The last two islands: Bonaire and Aruba, are very different. They are mostly desert - lots of cactus. I snorkeled and water-skied near Bonaire and on Aruba, I tried wind-surfing. Maybe John Kerry makes it look easy but it was HARD. I fell off that board many times into the lagoon and the boom would hit me or the sail would slap me. A few times I did manage to glide along but then I could not *turn*. The weather was fabulous the whole time; my roommate was very friendly and the group I was with was very cordial. The beaches and the ice-blue water was wonderful. Aruba was far more developed and touristy than Bonaire. I was not impressed with the snorkeling in Bonaire - maybe it was a bad reef day but I've seen better elsewhere.
Fortunately our last day was spent solely on the ship before sailing in Saturday morning. I managed to find a lovely bike path near the San Juan airport that I explored part of Saturday - cool mangrove swamps and great orange-sand beaches - before catching my plane which turned out to be 3 hours late! I tried not to eat too much on the ship but gained 3 lbs unfortunately. Now it is back to real life.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Off to the Caribbean



Even though this photo (of Veeka at Jerry Falwell's gravesite - get a load of the eternal flame atop the cross) is a few weeks old, I thought I'd post it as I'll have livelier stuff later. Yes, yours truly is taking a much-needed rest on a Ski Club of Washington DC trip to - no, not Aspen but to the southern Caribbean. It's a cruise! Yes, my first one. The cruise lines are having bargain basement prices so I thought I'd go - plus the JetBlue flight was pretty cheap too.
So, Saturday morning I fly to San Juan in Puerto Rico and that night we take off for all sorts of interesting islands. I have been in that part of the world but not to any of the islands on the itinerary. I desperately need the rest AND the break. Work has been crazy and pressured plus there have been more massive layoffs of journalists at newspapers around the country this week. Even the folks at the Oregonian (my brother's paper) are taking pay cuts; as for me, things are still stable at the WTimes but I do not claim to know all that is going on behind the scenes. We are, in fact, doing some hiring; maybe one of the only newspapers in the country to be doing so.
And yes, there's a family taking care of Veeka (who is pictured here with 2 of my Lynchburg friends: Phil and June Weeks). She will get a 5-year-old "sister" to stay and play with so I am praying and hoping for the best. But it seems like so much comes up at the last minute. On Wednesday, she stayed home (along with me) cuz of a cold. Now apparently she has pink eye so it's off to the doctor we go tomorrow morning. And my cat just came in from a late-night stroll all bedraggled as she apparently tried to get into a fight with a trespassing kitty. I will not breathe a sigh of relief until I am on the plane.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The ides of March


Today was one of those days where nothing seemed to work. I took Veeka downtown to go to a movie, only to be delayed by huge crowds of people wandering about in the rain (tourists?) and NO parking spaces. Finally found an underground lot and arrived at the ticket counter only to find out the show was sold out. Then went to Costco to try to redeem a little bit of the afternoon and ran into huge enough crowds that I barely had time to get anything. Oh, and the coupons I had clutched in my hand - found out they didn't go into effect until Monday. Great.
The photo here was taken a few weeks ago when Veeka and I went on a snowy hike off Skyline Drive. She was pretty miserable up there. Today she managed to break both my best picture frame and a harp statuette sitting in the living room. She has this habit of climbing up on everything. And last week, she wanted to sit on the porch swing, as it was very warm. I HAD to use the potty, so I told her to stay put and dashed inside. I was not gone 20 seconds before I heard a car honk. Sure enough, she had jumped up and dashed toward the street. The driver was alarmed enough to slam on his brakes. Don't think she jumped into the street but I nearly had a heart attack. So I cannot trust her out of my sight. I thought that this almost-4-year-old would have outgrown this craziness but nooooo, she just does the same things but she runs faster.
Friday I got my taxes done for the first time by a professional instead of spending a whole day on TurboTax. It was such a pleasure getting the whole sordid process over in less than three hours.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Veeka's official in Virginia


February is a month of anniversaries for us; Feb. 10, 2007, being the date the adoption papers were all signed, making it official Over There - and Feb. 17 being the day we arrived back in the USA, turning Veeka into an American citizen. And now on Feb. 12 of this year, Veeka's birth certificate was recorded in the state of Virginia. It's known as "re-adopting" one's child in the home state and because I began the process while we were Virginia residents, her birth certificate is filed there. We just got a copy of her Virginia birth certificate today. I also have copies of her Kaz birth certificate, translated from Russian, but everyone tells you to get it re-recorded here in the States so that should she need copies for official purposes some day, she can order them from here. It's hard to explain but apparently it makes a big difference in the grand scheme of things which is why I did all the paperwork starting last May to get it done.
So here is a photo of the little one trying out my hairdryer. She is growing every day and for the last month has developed a love for the TV. Her first 2 years with me, she didn't care much for it. Now she is glued to the thing and that's all she wants to do. So when I took off today for a chiropracter's appointment and to see "Slumdog Millionaire" (what a grim film), she just sat in front of the TV. Whenever the sitter tried to get her to walk to the park, The Child shrieked. Hmmm.
The other news here is I've been told I need to get shoulder surgery in the next few months, so am trying to figure out just when I can be off work for several days and not driving for 2 weeks (one is not supposed to drive while wearing a sling). Would like to get a lot of that behind me before the weather turns warm and I want to go swimming. The shoulder injury stems from either lifting Veeka or repetitive motion reaching back toward her car seat - whatever caused it, two years of on-and-off physical therapy have not healed it so, after looking at my most recent MRI, the orthopedist thinks there's a tear there some where. Great.
So I am also trying to figure out who can come nurse me and take care of Veeka for several days. Cannot say candidates are exactly lining up at the door.
Things are quiet other than that, except to say there seems to be a newspaper closing every week somewhere around the country these days.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wintergreen weekend


Yes, Veeks and I went on a 3-day trip to the exotic confines of central Virginia, spending our first night in Charlottesville with friends (whose cats Veeka endlessly pursued), then moving onto the ski resort of Wintergreen 50 miles SW of Charlottesville. Very overpriced (lift tickets $69; daycare a whopping $100) and small compared to anything west of the Mississippi but there's not much else available for us East Coasties within a 3-hour drive.
Then onto Lynchburg, where we stayed 2 nights with more friends. One highlight was visiting Jerry Falwell's grave site at Liberty University - what a huge contraption with an "eternal flame" a la JFK burning out of a cross at the grave. Lots and lots of money invested in that school although Liberty U has a weird location in the middle of town with a campus bi-sected by a freeway. Not the most scenic of spots.
The morning we left, it was snowing, so it was with some trepidation that I headed toward Skyline Drive to go home that way. The day turned sunny and we had the loveliest drive on good roads but the terrain was snowy. THEN I hauled Veeka out of the car at one point and made her walk 1.3 miles (round trip) with me up a hill to a cool viewpoint. She screeched and complained the entire way, claiming she was exhausted, cold, etc. (She was bundled up in a cozy snow suit). So, while the snowy forest was lovely to walk through, the sound effects from The Child were not. Any foxes or deer within earshot surely fled fast.
And - wouldn't you know it, she still did not fall asleep for a nap when we arrived back at the nice warm car. She really liked gazing out the windows at the pretty blue ridged mountains on either side and chomping on Valentine candy I'd brought along to keep her quiet.
The photo is of she and I watching TV at the Lynchburg home of Philip Weeks, a friend from way back.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Me on C-SPAN


Yes, here is the link to my attempt at stardom this past Sunday morning. I was called late Friday afternoon about appearing on Washington Journal at 8 a.m. Sunday (!) to discuss Obama's Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships office - not a topic I am expert in but when C-SPAN calls, one goes. I told them because they were calling so late, I'd have to bring Veeka along as there are no babysitters at 7 a.m. on a Sunday.
Sooo, up we got at 6:15 and an hour later, we were headed downtown. I forgot to snap a photo of Veeka at C-SPAN's studios (the one here will substitute nicely) but she acted pretty well. She grabbed every piece of breakfast food in sight, chomping down on a banana, apple, some buns and of course drinking as much cranberry juice as she could get down - you'd think I starve the child. She screeched when I was out of the room and on TV but fortunately there was an aide there who was forewarned she was coming, so made sure to watch her. Even provided a coloring book, which Veeka ignored.
No other huge news. We are hoping to get away for Washington's b-day weekend. I really need a break from here. But when I picked Veeka up from the daycare today, she had a sore throat, so I am hoping that doesn't mean anything nasty is coming.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Remembering the Japanese martyrs


Sigh - I really wish I took better photos but this is a recent one of Veeka and I. I spent today chasing a story about Obama's new "faith council" of pastors who are going to be - in theory at least - advising him on public policy matters. We shall see. I was a bit miffed at having to do the piece at all, as I thought it was something our 3-4 White House reporters should have been onto instead of me. But other news organizations were breaking this story by mid-day, so I knew we'd look bad if there were nothing on it by Thursday morning in our paper, so I offered to do.
One nice thing is that "Quitting Church" (and I) got profiled on Beliefnet.com if you want to check here to read it. And supposedly the book is reviewed in the February issue of Charisma but I've been unable to lay my hands on a copy nor can I locate the review online. I am also speaking about the book to Senate and House aides on Capitol Hill this Friday so things are humming.
Veeka is fine and we will be spending next week making Valentines for her little classmates.
And 412 years ago on Feb. 5, 123 Japanese Christians were crucified for their faith in Nagasaki. Fortunately things have improved since then for most of us although I wouldn't say it's exactly party time for those of the faith who live in North Korea and Iran.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Veeka becomes a TV hog


Sigh - I knew it had to happen but Veeka has now discovered a cartoon called "Noggin" (or maybe it's a channel - don't know) - anyway, she glues herself to this "pre-school channel" whenever she can. Must say it's nice to have something for her to do that allows me to relax over the paper after dinner instead of her threatening to scrawl red crayon on the walls if I am not paying her close enough attention. I think Noggin is pretty harmless but I've been aghast at some of the PG-13 stuff on teen channels only a few clicks away from Noggin.
We are fine - going through the yearly ritual of the social worker visit for Veeka's annual report to the Kazakh embassy on how splendidly she is doing two years into being my daughter. And yes, the court date was two years ago this week - Jan. 25. The photo you see attached to this is of Veeka dancing last month at a synagogue. Taken by the WTimes' Joseph Silverman, it shows Olivia Veronika as her perennially dancing self.
We woke up to snow falling out of the skies today but fortunately the daycare was operating. Mommy is working on yet another book in her spare time during this quiet time of the year when it's not all that desirable to be running about outside. Things are ho-hum: the cats went in for their annual check-ups; I am doing physical therapy for rotator cuff problems from lifting Veeka and I taped a show last week on CBN. Click here to see my video. Also appeared Sunday on Rabbi Lapin's show on KSFO-AM out of San Francisco. So, we're still pushing "Quitting Church." No word as to a second printing yet.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The era of naps endeth


I wanted to post my latest faith and family video that I did with Cheryl Wetzstein, a longtime friend and social issues reporter on the paper, that we taped last Wednesday. Heretofore I have been unable to copy and paste video to this blog and the photo is too small but this link works. You can also call up www.washingtontimes.com, then click on "videos" on the top right and scroll down til you see "Faith and Family."
She and I have had fun taping these things. As for everything else, nothing major - today was typical in that I was up four times last night to help Miss Veeka who gets these nasty croup attacks in the middle of the night. Fortunately I have a vaporizer steaming away by her bedside. The doctor's office said this is typical among kids under 5 that their airway passages are not developed all that well so they get blocked. Sooo, I was up a lot.
A babysitter spirited her away for several hours while I got some work done but once she was back, she refused to take a nap (this is happening more and more) and wanted to be amused all afternoon so my work came to a standstill. Couldn't go outside much as the weather is truly frigid and the pipes to my washer (which are in an outside wall) seem to have frozen.
One nice thing: I will be in a short segment on CBN (the Christian Broadcasting Network) this Friday at 4 pm. on one of their news shows. That tape may be replayed during the 700 Club as well. All this will help sell more books.
Veeka is coughing again so must go help her.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Another booksigning


This one was last Friday at the Tyson's Corner Barnes & Noble store where a lot of folks - about 30 - sat and listened to my lecture. Got some good questions too. Not bad for a Friday night I only sold 12 books, tho, which surprised me a bit considering how many people were listening in. A number of people were personal friends I managed to coax to come out (on what was a lovely moonlit night here) and some of them brought their friends which was gratifying. So that is my 3rd booksigning to date. The 2nd one in Seattle sold more books but that was a Christian bookstore with an evangelical constituency.
Today's photo is Oma with the little moppet sitting by the window in their Seattle-area living room. Yes, that is a lake in the background. Veeka talks about flying back to Oma and Opa all the time. Hmmmm. She is doing well. All the Christmas decorations are down and we are steeling ourselves for the Invasion of the Body Snatchers that will begin this weekend when the mobs pour into town for the inauguration. We who actually live here wondering just how we are going to get to work now that the Secret Service is closing down every road they can get their hands on.
Those of us in Maryland have it better than those poor Virginians who (this is not a joke) are being told they must WALK across one of the bridges if they even hope to get into town Jan. 19-20. Because all of the bridges over the Potomac - except for those underneath the Beltway - will be closed. Of course there is nowhere for most of these Virginians to park before they can walk and the metro that is supposed to transport everyone will probably completely break down from the weight of all the crowds. I really wanted to be out of town this weekend but was told by the folks at work that they really want me around as back-up.
Plus I am covering the prayer service the day after the inauguration but again, I cannot fathom as to how I will actually get to the National Cathedral that day as the closest metro stop is a half-hour walk away. And lugging a laptop along- WHY did I volunteer to cover this, I ask myself.
So currently I am doing about one article a day on some aspect of religion-and-the-inauguration which is not hard, really. Like today when a gay Episcopal bishop got invited to give one of invocations at a razzle-dazzle opening ceremony on Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial. Why do I have a funny feeling that Obama would love to re-stage the "I have a dream" speech atmosphere from what happened on those Memorial steps 45 years ago? Well, let's hope he's got great speech writers.
So anyway, watch my "belief blog" on the TWT web site and do a byline search daily to find my stuff (just type in "julia duin" in the search box and voila).