Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Blog has a new home

Hello all, my blog has a new home at:

http://www.juliaduin.com/blog

Please join me there!

Friday, September 2, 2011

School begins- sort of




Veeka's new school began the third week of August, although one might not have known it as she missed two days of school the first week due to our earthquake and one day the following week because of Hurricane Irene. Not that her school sustained damage either day; the problems were all in the eastern part of the county but the school system automatically shuts down all the schools, making the problem-free ones pay dearly. And thus we've run through 3 of our snow days - in August! Not only that, but Veeka's school has 91 kids squeezed into three kindergarten classes but, due to a technicality, the school system is refusing to free up a fourth teacher. The photo is of Veeka at her desk the first day of school.
Thus it was with little reluctance that I took Veeka out of school yesterday and today (Sept. 2) for a lengthy assignment I have in far, faraway West Virginia covering .... snake handlers! Yes, it's an annual homecoming gathering of pentecostals who practice not only snake handling but they also have a Mason jar up front of strychnine for people - who have enough faith - to drink. All this is based on a passage in Mark 16 about snakes nor poison hurting believers. Now how did I get this assignment?
Well....two months ago, I was with Lauren Pond, the young photographer who shot the PAPA festival for my story which, by the way, is out here this weekend. (This is my fifth story for WaPo's Sunday magazine and I have three more on deck). Lauren had been traveling to Jolo, W.V., which is the southernmost tip of the most out-of-the-way county in West Virginia; you can't get any further south than there. To get there, I had to drive 400 miles way into western Virginia to Grundy (near the Tennessee state line) and then drive north 22 miles up Rt. 83. Which was OK except for the 5-mile backup we got stuck on near Roanoke on I-81.
We stayed in Bluefield, then spent part of the day (on the way to Grundy) at an old volcanic caldera-turned-pretty/scenic valley called Burke's Garden. One has to charge up a steep slope to get there but we had fun wandering about. It was named after one James Burke discovered it in 1748. Not wishing for the local Indians to know his whereabouts, he buried some potatoes he'd been eating. Apparently they sprouted the following year, hence Burke's "garden." The Appalachian Trail goes right by there and we had fun looking at the alpacas (the other photo) and driving past all the farms.
Then it was onto Grundy, where we met Lauren at the Comfort Inn, then drove 22 miles to to Jolo, where we met up with some pastors at the Church of the Lord Jesus which is on a tiny country road. And yes, in the middle of the service, out came the rattle snake, which was apparently in a good mood, as it didn't bite anyone and instead curled itself about peoples' arms as various pastors gingerly passed it around. One of the pastors told me that his dad died of a snake bite -took him 10 hours to die. Photos on the left wall of the church show various homecomings and people handling - you guessed it - serpents.
Stay tuned for more.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Yes, we had an earthquake today


Not that I really felt it. I was walking to Veeka's school to pick her up and had just crossed the street. It was about 1:55 p.m. A bunch of parents were leaning against a brick wall adjoining the school playground. Suddenly I saw all of them dash about 20 feet onto the blacktop of the playground, then turn around to look at the school. (They told me later that the wall started swaying above them). Then they began grabbing for their cell phones.
As for our 5.9 magnitude visitor, I didn't feel the earth shake; heard nothing. Maybe if I'd been inside a building, I'd have felt it more but I was on a sidewalk. I reached the ramp to Veeka's classroom and I saw a group of teachers and kids pouring out of the building, all of them looking perturbed for some reason. A few were crying. The door to Veeka's classroom had opened by this time (all of 2 minutes had passed since the shaking) and kids were gingerly walking out the door there. Again, some looked quite unhappy. As for Veeka - no - all she wanted was to get home and have chocolate chip cookies. By this time I was asking about and one of the parents told me there'd been an earthquake. Really? Couldn't believe I'd missed it.However, several picture frames were hanging from the walls of my home at weird angles and a few things on high shelves cascaded to the floor.
I called up Twitter and found the funniest posts, a few of which I've included here:
eorlins Eliza Orlins
To all those in CA making fun of our reaction to the quake, let's see you handle rationally 2 feet of snow, then we can talk. #earthquake

5 minutes ago Favorite Retweet Reply

bronk Benjy Bronk
F!, its only been like a half hour & I've already finished my 15 day supply of emergency food :( #earthquake
6 minutes ago


RennaW Renna
DARN IT!!!! I was this close to finishing my Etch-a-Sketch masterpiece. #earthquake


mikebarish Mike Barish
#NYC hospitals reporting dramatic spike in dart game-related injuries. #earthquake


KarlFrisch Karl Frisch
Confirmed: #dcquake was in fact an #earthquake. Was hoping it was the rapture so Congress could actually do its job.


sweetshine143 sunshine
oh summer 2011 , just when i thought yu was washed up & over #POW , an #earthquake . && we're back in !!


markos Markos Moulitsas
RT @lizzwinstead: Wall street Looters have taken to the streets. #Earthquake


JazzShaw Jazz Shaw
Breaking: Perry blames Obama for #earthquake. Huntsman blames the rest of the GOP field.


mikebarish Mike Barish
So, where's the good looting happening?


rob_sheridan Rob Sheridan
The collective eye-rolling of everyone in California is probably moving the earth more than the east coast #earthquake.


fbihop Matthew Reichbach
Clearly, Obama could have prevented this #earthquake if he wasn't on vacation.


Photo is of Veeka at a lovely beach in New Brunswick

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Three farewells


Today is Veeka's last day at St. Matthew's, the pre-K and kindergarten school that has been her home since we moved here three years ago this month. It has been one of the bright spots in our sojourn in Maryland, especially after Veeka left last fall to try another school that did not work out. She and I returned to St. Matthew's in late January to reculer pour mieux sauter, as the French would say. Which means to pull back so one can advance again. Today is the good-bye pizza party. What she's doing in the photo is painting a paper mache globe that's currently hanging from our porch. She will very much miss all her teachers, who have really stuck with her through lots of ups and downs. She will also miss the little brown bunny in the hallway cage who is always hungry to be petted.
The second farewell is to Rob Andrea, 27, an awfully nice guy I met while staying with his parents in Blacketts Lake at the eastern end of Nova Scotia. Rob had endured two bouts of cancer but he'd beaten it all. However, he'd found it necessary to adopt a super-organic diet so much of our conversation was about all the cool vegan recipes we were trying. When a mutual friend asked about us staying there, apparently it was Rob who urged his family to host us, as he wanted to meet a live author whose books he'd read. And we got some good conversations in while there although he was tired much of the time, from just having come off chemo, I thought.
Maybe it was something else. About a week after we left, his health took a dramatic turn for the worse when his heart gave out. He died Aug. 1. His dad wrote me to say 1,500 people attended his funeral at which six pastors presided. He left behind a wife and two small sons, one of which Veeka got to play with. The other was almost a newborn. They were so happy, after all that chemo, to even conceive a second child who unfortunately will never remember his dad. Man knows not his time. What a heartbreaker for the folks he left behind.
The third farewell (I am adding this a few days later) is to Mary Smith, a sweet woman living in St. Stephen's, New Brunswick. We stayed with her and her husband Bob the night of July 22. She was not well then. She died last night (Aug. 22), exactly one month later. I am sure glad we got to Canada when we did, for who would have dreamed....

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Connecticut nostalgia





During the three-day drive back from Canada, I made a stop in Waterford, a suburb of New London, Connecticut where I spent ages 6-10. Connecticut, by the way, is a most unfriendly state to travelers. There was no welcome center at the state line; the rest areas were horrible and it was clear that tourist amenities must have been high on the state's list of budget cuts.
We arrived in late afternoon and first pulled up our old house (see Veeka in blue standing in front) at 10 Leary Drive where we accidentally met the current residents who invited us in to see the house. Since our stay there from 1962-1966, a new wing had been added to the back of the house and everything had been remodeled. It was amazing to see the old den, the old fireplace, my old room (where a little boy now lives) that had so many memories to it. The dining room, which is where my mother did all her homework for her master's thesis (we had no home office). The stone wall to one side of the property where I must have sat as a kid. The trees I climbed up so I could find a perch to read. Yes, I literally read up in trees.
I dropped by some old neighbors who, amazingly, still lived across the street and updated myself a bit on who still lived where as I had not seen the place since my family came back for a quick visit in 1970. The man who had owned the blueberry bushes and who had paid us a quarter for each basket of berries we picked on cool early summer mornings had long since died. But the bushes were still there. The house where the mentally ill boy had lived was there but abandoned. The house where a nasty girl had lived who tormented me from first grade through third grade was still there. A lot of the woods where I once wandered alone to watch for birds (remember the days when kids could wander about alone and no one thought anything of it?) had been built up partly but there was still quite a few patches of trees, some of which I swung on as a kid. Veeka and I were amazed to see tons of deer walking about and even a fox.
We drove past my old elementary school which had recently been totally rebuilt and down Nichols Lane to Pleasure Beach where we used to swim. Just for fun, Veeka and I put on our suits and jumped in the water, as we were both pretty sweaty and it was sheer fun sitting in the sand under a summer July sky and remembering back to when I was her age. We moved to Connecticut from Maryland when I was 6. We drove up and down Quarry Road and Great Neck Road, down Shore Road past old haunts like Magonk Point and finally to Harkness Memorial State Park where the trees I'd sat under as a 10-year-old were still there. Unfortunately the restrooms were putrid - more state budget cuts? - and the sun was setting, so we drove to Lisa's Landing on Niantic Bay for the last seafood dinner of the trip.
Our time back here has been more prosaic. Unfortunately I broke my toe the next day as I was unloading the car upon arriving home so it's been a painful few weeks since then while I've been limping about. My little fashion plate daughter in her new red sunglasses given by her cousin Christina is enjoying being back with her little friends. And we've had lots of rain this weekend, which gives some hope to my parched yard and half-dead plants.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Canada reminisces


We're now into our second week of steaming hot weather and our times running about much cooler eastern Canada seem like a distant memory. It was the hottest July on record here and mercifully, we missed much of it. I drove 4,362 miles in 24 days. Although it was much more expensive than I thought it'd be, I am so glad we did this trip.
No huge news here although today another piece of mine appeared here in the Washington Post Sunday magazine.
Posted here is one of Cape Breton's bilingual English/Gaelic signs plus a few things - good and bad - that made our trip stand out:

1. $4.65/gallon gas
2. Magnetic Hill, a bizarre tourist attraction in Moncton, New Brunswick
3. Tons of peonies everywhere. Never seen so many. They obviously do well up there.
4. Tim Hortons, the omnipresent coffee/doughnut shop
5. St. Hubert's chicken sauce
6. the Canadian 'eh'?
7. how nearly everything in Atlantic Canada is named after a saint
8. rainbow roads: red asphalt in Nova Scotia and green in New Brunswick
9. red-winged blackbirds everywhere. They used to be down here years ago
10. Moose warning signs on the freeways
11. how the annual seal slaughter in the far north is referred to as 'Canada's cultural heritage'
12. 'dinner' there is 'lunch' down here.
13. bright, multi-colored rocking chairs on porches. That trend is making its way down here but the Canadians make theirs own of decent wood; ours are made of plastic or PVC-ugh

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Berwick - the last leg



As our Canada trip wound down, we spent the last few days at a Christian "ashram" in Berwick, one of the small towns in the Annapolis Valley (which is the northern half of Nova Scotia). It's also the apple-growing capital of Canada. The choice of lingering here for a few days was the suggestion of the Anglican priest friend who planned my itinerary and I am so glad I took his advice. After tons of driving, I needed a few days to just relax before the three-day drive home through New England. The second photo shows the camp, where people stayed in cabins much like this. And the first photo is of Miss Veeka in a presentation put on by the youth the last day of the camp. She danced like a pro. Her time at the camp was mainly spent with other kids - instead of me - which was a relief for both of us in that we were not constantly in each other's hair. During one of the afternoon breaks, she and I did repair to a local mountain spot - Aylesford Lake - for a swim, as the hot temps that were cooking the US east coast at the time were bringing weather in the upper 80s to Nova Scotia.
But we stayed 10 miles away in a neighboring town where the Alexas, our host and hostess cooked us lovely breakfasts and treated us like royalty. All too soon we had to push off to catch the ferry from Digby back to St. John, New Brunswick. On the way, we briefly stopped in some lovely gardens in Annapolis Royal (one of many small historic towns along the way), then had a very agreeable 3 hours on this ferry. It cost us a mint ($130) for the ride, but they had a movie, some structured time for kids and decent cafeteria food. Arriving at St. John, it was quite foggy and nasty. St. John is reputed to have the worse weather in the Maritimes - always cold and damp - so we took off for that night's stay in St. Stephen, right on the US border.
The next morning, our hosts, Bob and Mary Smith, took us out to breakfast with friends and then we zoomed back across the border at Calais with only a 15-minute wait; not bad for a Friday morning. It took us all morning to get to Bangor, then the better part of the afternoon to cut across Maine through the Sebago Lake region to get to our destination for the night; a ski area in New Hampshire. Why there? Because the hotel fees up and down the Maine coast were horrible. Nothing was under $175/night. The Best Western in Waterville Valley was only charging $109/night which was cheap, believe it or not. Which is how I got my first glimpse of the White Mountains.
The route we chose to get there was the Kancamagus Highway, a 34-mile route that led us past rivers with nice swimming spots (Veeka and I tried one at Rocky Gorge), lovely views and plenty of national forest. Waterville turned out to be a tiny community in a vale totally enclosed by mountains and we spent all the following morning exploring there before heading south to my childhood haunts in Connecticut.
More of that in another post, but, yes, we are home now and this past Thursday, I appeared with several other authors at a multi-author event at the new Busboys & Poets in Hyattsville, which is part cafe, part concert venue and part art gallery. All of us in Hyattsville are delighted to have something this sophisticated within walking distance. See the link here for a short clip of our readings.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Cape Breton





A week ago, I was on one of the prettiest parts of our continent; the portion of Nova Scotia that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. Known as Cape Breton, it feels like part of the Scottish highlands and indeed, as I learned from visiting the Highland Village in Iona one day, a ton of Scots migrated to Canada when things got kind of bad in the old country. Not that Canada was all that much to their liking; the snow and the mosquitoes were quite a downer but the land is so reminiscent of Scotland. As I drove to my host's place just south of Sydney, I felt like I was driving along a firth. Everything was foggy, misty and green. I was quite taken by all the place signs having English/Gaelic translations.
We had scheduled two days there but that turned into 3 because the weather was awful and there was so much to see. Our second day there, we went to Louisbourg, a huge fort on the southern coast of the cape that was built by the French but taken over by the British in the mid-18th century. The place is larger than Williamsburg and frozen in time in 1744 which is how all the people are dressed there. One is confronted by soldiers asking if you speak French or English; given carding and spinning lessons and shown the dances of the day. One of the photos shows Veeka being very taken by a young man dressed in colonial garb in one of the homes who showed her how to play cards. She and I also found ourselves eating lunch at a restaurant where the only utensil was a spoon.
I bundled Veeka up quite a bit, as the weather was windy and about 50 degrees - and this was mid-July. Louisbourg has horrific weather all the time and one wonders why the French built a fort in such a nasty locale. It's true the harbor was quite handy but friendly ships as well as unfriendly ones crashed on the rocks just outside the harbor.
On our third day on the cape, the bad weather finally broke and the sun poured down. We bade good-bye to our kind hosts and started on a 400-mile trek (yes in one day) around the famed Cabot Trail, that goes around the northern-most part of Cape Breton. This isolated peninsula is mostly a national park; it's also the Big Sur of the Far North with similar views, crashing waves against cliffs, etc. So on a bright, sunny Sunday morning, we headed up St. Ann's Bay past numerous stores selling Gaelic books and music, past some gorgeous coves, then braved 12 percent inclines (US highways have 9 percent inclines at the most) up the Cape Smokey mount for even better views. Throngs of motorcyclists were out that day as well. We then descended to Ingonish, a resort town with a tiny ski area that is the major lodging place for summer visitors. It's situated around a pretty harbor and again, I would have stopped there in a minute had I two, instead of one, days, to explore the region.
Then we entered the national park portion of the cape, stopped at Green Cove, where Veeka adored clambering around all the rocks, then ended up at Neil's Harbour, a fishing port, for lunch at the Chowder House, a place with killer views of the ocean. A local fisherman showed me the piles of lobster and crab traps they use (bottom photo) and said there's so much crab, a fisherman can catch a whole year's allotment in the first two days of the season. I met a bunch of people throughout my trip who make a living fishing and my host in PEI even got up at 4 a.m. daily to fish for oysters. That kind of lifestyle is becoming quite rare in the US but it's not hard to find folks who live off of it in Atlantic Canada. As my hosts near Sydney told me, there are very few jobs in their region, so many of the young people have left Cape Breton to move to the States or to western Canada where there's plenty of work mining oil sands.
I would have liked to have headed further north towards Meat Cove or at least driven by White Point, just north of Neil's Harbour where the views are said to be the best, but we had to push inland through two huge valleys where I was constantly putting my Subaru in second gear to get up and down the grades. Atop one of the mountains, everyone (including about 100 motorcyclists) were stopped, ogling a large moose in a nearby field. (There are lots of highway signs in Canada telling you to beware of moose who wander onto the roads). It was at this point we were the furthest east of our trip and the slant of the sunlight and the pine trees and rocks and birches and sparse vegetation was almost boreal - very northern woods at high altitudes. Purple and yellow flowers everywhere.
Finally we popped out on the western side of the trail at Pleasant Bay and the views from there and for the next 40 or so miles going south were truly spectacular. Soaring vistas of blue sea and green mountains; many gulls. There were so many pleasant towns such as Inverness and Mabou that I wanted to linger in. Near Cap le Moine there was the funniest road-side display of dozens of scarecrows. Apparently Joe's Scarecrow is quite famous and we were asked to leave a donation for the upkeep of this display. Veeka liked wandering around giving hugs to the 'crows. We spent the afternoon coasting down the route leading back to the Corso Causeway - got there at 6 pm as I'd wished but then I had a 3-hour trip to Halifax to get to where we were supposed to spend the night. Got there at 9 pm and collapsed. Thank God for lingering light during long summer evenings.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Prince Edward Island


Just before we drove over the LONG causeway to Prince Edward Island (PEI for short), the royals (William and Kate) had visited the place because Kate, I heard, had read Anne of Green Gables and wanted to see the place. I found it a little weird that a whole island could make an industry out of a fictional character but sure enough, on the north side, there are blocks and blocks of real estate connected to Anne, including a sort of village where characters from the book mill about. We did not go there as the story meant nothing to Veeka and I wasn't going to drop a ton of money visiting such a spot.
We were also dogged by bad weather. We stayed with David and Dianne - a lovely couple who lived just outside of Charlottetown, the major city in the area. Our second day there, I took Veeka to see the annual Anne of Green Gables musical downtown which she liked a lot. The pace is geared toward young children as the scenes move very quickly. Our first day there, the weather was likewise awful and so I just started driving about, trying to find pretty sights. Then quite late in the afternoon, the sun came out and we headed for some of the beaches on the island's northern coast. I finally began to see why people like this island. We walked through long grasses on the sand dunes to get to the Dalway beach, which had red sand and blue-white seashells. I snapped a photo of Veeka posing at Cavendish, another of the beaches, next to some kind of Stonehenge set-up someone had made in the sand. Veeka is such a beach bum; it's such a shame we didn't get more time at them.
On Thursday the 14th, we took a ferry from PEI to Nova Scotia, then set out for Cape Breton, the most isolated part of the Maritimes. Will say more about this in a future post but we ended up spending 3 nights - instead of 2 - there as there was so much to see and do, despite the awful weather. One of the first things I noticed were road signs in English and Gaelic. Now that was a switch from English/French. I left Veeka for the day with some kids who were at the host's house and went to the Highland Village in Iona, a reconstruction of what a typical Scottish/Gaelic settlement looked like in the 19th century, which is when the Scots were leaving the Old World to move here. The folks at the village told me that the much colder weather and the bugs really put off the Scots but like the folks in the Emigrants books, they had little choice but to move to the New World as conditions back home were impossible.
And Cape Breton is so like Scotland. As I was driving to where our hosts lived - in the mist and rain - I felt like I was driving down a firth. The landscape looked so similar.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Celebrating the Bay of Fundy



When we left the Bay of Fundy on Monday, I could hardly tear myself away. There was that last drive along the pretty coast through the Fundy National Park, up to the gorgeous Cape Enrage (360-degree view of the bay), then down to a winery, then dropped by an art gallery specializing in the work of Lars Larsen, then over to a coffee place for one last cup of java which allowed me to stay awake for a long drive to our next port of call. And then there's Tim Hortens, Canada's answer to Starbucks. Must say the coffee at TH is not nearly as decent as S'bucks and the food choices are mainly doughnuts. Which Veeka likes but then she goes on a sugar high.
After leaving the Gaspe, we took a leisurely drive south through New Brunswick, stopping at a beach at Kouchibouguac National Park before arriving at the rectory of Eric Phinney, who pastors St. James the Less Anglican Church in St. John. I spoke there last Sunday, sold some books and met lots of nice people. Spent the afternoon at Irving Nature Park which was donated by the local resident oil company. It was lovely, breezy weather although the beach was kind of rocky and too dangerous for me to let Veeka wander far.
I was with 2 friends at that point and Veeka was getting a bit cross at getting no attention so we drove to a MacDonalds where she played to her heart's content in the playground while we ate lobster sandwiches, which they serve up there!
Photos here are of Cape Hopewell and the cool "flower pot" rocks on the ocean floor which we walked around. And of a lovely trail (Veeka is in the background) in the Fundy national park.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Gaspe - Les Oiseaux



Les oiseaux means "the birds" of course and that's what we saw a few days ago when we visited Bonaventure island, a little strip of land off Perce, which is the eastern tip of the Gaspe peninsula. Veeka and I jumped on the 11 a.m. boat out to this place, which was criss-crossed by trails. My little hiker took the lead and actually set the pace for her slower (and loaded down with heavy purse) mommy as she jogged about 3 kilometers to the other end of the island where we saw the most amazing sight: 60,000 pairs of nesting birds all perched on dirt mounds (nests) and making a huge racket. Their poop emitted enough methane to supply Jupiter for a year and, most fascinating to Veeka, many of their eggs had hatched so if you looked closely enough underneath the sitting bird, you could see a baby chick. It was like something right out of the penguin movie "Happy Feet."
And Veeka, who has watched "Happy Feet" 9.2 million times, quickly understood what these birds were doing in terms of protecting their young from predators. I think this rookery is one of the world's largest such places and the whole northern half of this island was covered with white gannets and their nests. The photo shows a boat with people looking up at the hillside of nests where we were standing.
The next day we took off for the southern half of the island, which was less spectacular by far than the northern coast. Did notice some Anglican churches appearing here and there - aren't any on the northern coast. We stopped mid-way at a very nice zoo here which we liked immensely as the habitats were very natural and there was everything from cougars to seals to moose - a Canadian specialty. V especially took to the two baby moose. Then we zoomed west along the Bay of Chaleurs in the late afternoon driving INTO the sun which was actually the best way to see the area. The light illumined the surrounding foothills and capes surrounding this large bay making the scenery look quite beautiful. Unfortunately late afternoon has become the time my body wants a nap so we've taken to turning on whatever local rock station we can find and blasting the music so the chauffeur can stay awake! Veeka adores anything with a beat, so she bounces around in her car seat.
We have encountered some very nice B&Bs which are cheaper than most hotels. La Maison Verte, pictured here, was where we stayed Thursday night. Really liked the hosts who were helpful to us and I'd definitely come back here again. Would love to try their cool cabin down by the river. This was the first lodging place in several days where I spoke English as we were moving towards English-speaking areas. Had dinner in Campbellton at a Vietnamese restaurant that was closed when we got there but I managed to talk the management into serving us anyway as we were starving. Would have loved to have known how any Vietnamese got to that part of the world.
The Campbellton area was very rural and heavily wooded - lots of salmon fishing and hiking locally - and I left there with some reluctance but I had more than 250 miles to drive to the southern coast of New Brunswick for a stay here right by the Bay of Fundy. We arrived quite late and the hosts had rhubarb and apple crisp waiting for us. Which was lovely after having to fight industrial-strength gnats to get in the door there.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

La Gaspesie





Supposedly the National Geographic Society has designated Quebec's Gaspe peninsula as the world's third most beautiful destination (after the Norwegian fjords and the Kootenay and Yoho national parks in British Columbia). And so here we are, one step ahead of the trend-setters, having spent the past four days driving about this huge place.
We pushed off from Montreal on July 4, crossed the bridge over to the southern bank of the St. Lawrence and began heading north, only to encounter crisis #1 when my engine light went on. Great. Stopped at one of those information touriste places and got the helpful clerk to phone ahead to a Subaru dealer just south of Quebec city who agreed to take us late in the afternoon. Nothing beats spending one's vacation in a Subaru showroom. Fortunately they ran the car through the diagnostic machine tres vite and came up with some pretty minor stuff that they fixed within the hour.
We sped out of there, as we had another 200 miles to go before getting to where we were spending the night. Not knowing the area, I chose a B&B in Sainte Luce, a coastal town just east of Rimouski, which is a major city on the peninsula. I was already noticing how steep the highways were in contrast to a typical US freeway and how each small town along the way had tons of free parking and picnic tables along its beaches. We pulled up at Maison Gallant at around 8:30 pm and then I dragged a sleepy Veeka to a restaurant where the service was slow at best. The town was a dream; a half-moon beach filled with cottages with a large Catholic church at the head. Nearly every town we went through had these churches, along with a cemetery and light house. The B&B turned out well; was situated on the ocean, so I strolled out to the beach early the next morning and sat down to think and pray, only to jump up again when I got attacked by bugs. Yes, we're definitely in the north here. The place we stayed at was lovely although the owners weren't too crazy about Veeka continually letting their kitty out the door.
First thing that morning, we stopped at the Jardins de Metis, an incredible series of gardens set in a micro-climate on the Gaspe peninsula that somehow manage to weather the cold winters there. Veeka and I had a fabulous 2 hours there looking at all the blue-tinted poppies, Japanese gardens, wild meadows filled with lupin and cool contraptions for Veeka to clamber on. There was an exhibit there of radical 'secret' gardens; one was a forest of blue-tinted sticks; another was a mountain of sea salt. Veeka loved climbing on that. Another was a series of circles leading to the sea.
Finally we jumped back in the Subaru as I had 7 hours to drive on Tuesday. Every scene was lovely; gorgeous blue sea, tiny towns like Matane, where we ate lunch at the Cafe du Monde, a creperie on Rue St. Jerome; or Grande Vallee with its exquisite church and homes; or Mont-St. Pierre, a town that's the hang glider capital of eastern Canada because of the perfectly sculpted mountains surrounding it; the lighthouse at Sainte Madeleine (have enclosed photo of Veeka at the lighthouse playground) or the enormous collection of 76 windmills at Cap Chat - am wondering if it's one of the world's largest wind farms. It's got to be. Also makes me wonder how cold and windy this place gets in the winter.
We really were fortunate as to weather which was in the low 70s tor upper 60s all day. The following day, it rained (I heard from some tourists who followed us) so we lucked out as to timing. By the end of Tuesday, I had driven 1,300 miles in four days and needed a rest. Which we did at the Auberge les Trois Soeurs, which has views to die for. Hope to include a photo showing the incredible view of rocks at Perce, the coastal town where we spent two nights.
The area is filled with rivers stocked with salmon, camping spots and places with a view. Will say that during this trek, it really helped to know French as many folks were not conversant - or barely so - in English. There are NO signs in English, either, which I find galling in that the Quebecois were pretty insistent that the rest of Canada include English on their signs. Am not sure how they get away with French-only signs here but that attitude works against them. There were many things I would have stopped and seen but I wasn't sure what they were or the terms were not familiar to me, so I just drove by. Like "casse-croute" means "snack bar" here. Had an enterprising owner just THOUGHT to have posted an English subtitle explaining what a casse-croute was, we might have stopped by one for lunch. After having been here for a few days, I still wonder if Quebec wants the rest of the world to come visit.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

O Canada



Veeka and I are on a journey - one to the north and the first time I've taken her out of the country. Why now and why here? Well...it's so hard to get three weeks away when one is working at a regular job and something told me to take this time now. And so on Friday, she and I set off for Canada. I can only drive about 350 miles per day - after 7 hours at the wheel I turn into a pumpkin. So the first day, we stopped by a friend's place on Cayuga Lake, one of the finger lakes in New York. We pulled up early in the evening (after getting caught in rush hours in Scranton and Harrisburg) to find Anto and Roberta Parseghian and their extended family having a picnic. I'd met Anto years ago through his prophetic art that took on topics ranging from abortion to daycare. It was wildly interesting stuff but no one was buying it, so he's since gone into furniture-making. Samples of his gorgeous workmanship are here. So I got a tour of his studio and saw the incredible things he does with birch and other northern woods. Later that evening next to a campfire, we had such fun discussing theology; Anto is very Reformed and I am not so we had some great talks. The lights on the lake glittered in the distance. It was a beautiful night.
The next day we drove another 7 hours into Canada, ending up in Montreal by late afternoon and greeted by my friends Laurie and Grace Vuoto. They live in the Laval area north of town. All the signs here are in French with no translations. Which is fine for someone like me who has lived in France but it does give off the impression that the locals wish English-speakers would stay away. Today we attended Mass at St. Patrick's downtown, then drove atop Mont Royal (in French Mont Real which the city is named after). One of my photos shows Veeka with Grace (in jeans) and Laurie all squinting at me. The temps are in the 90s at this point. We repaired to Laurier Street to grab a bite at Juliette & Chocolate, then headed to another large church: St. Joseph's Oratory which is the resting place of Andre, a newly minted Catholic saint. I'm not into relics, so the display of the deceased's actual heart turned my stomach. Better was the excellent view over the city from one of the balconies. Veeka really got into saying a prayer, then lighting all the votive candles.
We tried dropping by Notre Dame's downtown but there was a service going on, so we ended up at the Vieux Port, which is all old Montreal and new shops that have sprung up on the city docks. By this time we were quite droopy and hot while Veeka was still dashing about, spritely as ever. So we picked up some chicken at St. Hubert's (the secret sauce is some kind of Quebecois specialty), then went home and collapsed. I dove into the family pool.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wild Goose festival



As if Veeka and I hadn't endured enough camping in the rough at the Papa festival, last weekend we headed south to North Carolina to cover yet another Christian music festival (although the term 'Christian' applies quite loosely here); the Wild Goose Festival in Shakori Hills about 30 miles from Chapel Hill, NC.
I had talked the Economist into letting me cover this gathering of 1,500 people because it was a copy of the UK’s longstanding and successful Greenbelt Festival in Cheltenham, which premiered in 1974. Some 20,000 attendees show up at Greenbelt and the American organizers seeking to copy Greenbelt hope the numbers will get that large here too.
I dunno. It was America’s first-ever such gathering for theological liberals from June 23-26, on 72 wooded acres in Bible Belt eastern North Carolina. To get more to attend, the conference was open to all manner of post-Christians, non-Christians, disaffected evangelicals, the usual musician-and-artist cohort, gays and lesbians and a liberal evangelical subset known as the “emergent” church. I had thought the emergent folk faded out about five years ago but no, they were in full flower here. A lot of older liberals: Jim Wallis, Richard Rohr and Phyllis Tickle, the high priestess of the emergent movement, were quite present at this conference and most were pushing their books. I did find Tickle's assertion - that the present emergent movement is up there with the Reformation and the Great Schism of 1054 in terms of importance to Christianity - to be quite a reach. Then again, she calls John Wimber emergent so her boundaries include basically anything that's occurred in the world of religion in the past 30 years.
Others, such as gay San Francisco Episcopal rector Paul Fromberg, were on several panels and I'll say this up front; I was quite unprepared as to how homosexual rights ended up as such an obsession at Wild Goose. Panels on sexuality and justice compared America's fight against racism to the current struggle for gay marriage et al to be legal. Interestingly, there weren't any panels on racism that I knew about. Ditto for abortion. For all the talk on justice, etc., the crowd was overwhelmingly white which goes to show that liberal religion doesn't necessarily play well in the minds of black Christians.
My favorite speaker was Nadia Bolz-Weber, an ELCA cleric out of Denver who pastors House for All Sinners and Saints there. See the tatooed person in the photo of people celebrating Holy Communion? Yep, that is a Lutheran minister. She had some fresh insights and she didn't speak in cliches as did folks like Frank Schaeffer (who makes a living dumping on his dead and famous father) and Jay Bakker. Bakker, son of Jim and Tammy Faye, appeared as a fashion plate with a black vest over a white T-shirt (the temps were in the 90s), a chain draped over one hip, a scarf artfully arranged out of a front pocket and another coming out of a back pocket topped by a beret - it was a bit much. His rambling speech was so disorganized and self-centered, I snuck out after a half-hour.
Big regret is I didn't get to hear the musicians more but Wild Goose erred in putting the Psalters up on Thursday night, before many of us had gotten there. And then there was the Ethiopian-born singer who was leading folks in singing "Hallelujah Hare Krishna." Double take when I heard that one. Was wondering if I was going to even see a Bible at this conference; finally saw someone sporting one but things like Bible studies and praise/worship music did not happen there. There was a beer garden, however.
I was told conference organizers had wanted to invite Chuck Colson in to talk about prison reform so I'm not saying they aimed to have an unbalanced conference but most of the panels were clearly stacked towards a liberal point of view. The kids ministry portion was very well done and Veeka was very happy to be making all manner of knitted stuff out of yarn. Note the purple cat painted on one of her cheeks in our photo here. And the little blue thing on her head that she knit. Also notice how hot we both look. I pinned up my hair the entire weekend.
The last night of the festival, people were so noisy, I was up til well past 2:30 a.m. I walked outside the tent and saw the loveliest sky with a sliver of bright moon hanging amongst the stars. The night was warm and the crickets were chirping loudly. The volunteers who kept the conference running were a most gracious group of people and I didn't meet one grouchy one, which is amazing considering how steamy and buggy it was. The site had been used for bluegrass festivals so it wasn't totally virgin land like we had at Papa. Thus ends Veeka's and my camping experiments for this summer. We are done with tents, bumpy grass, critters that crawl about the tent and poison ivy.
Here is the link to my piece in the Economist.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

PAPA fest



I had one of my more unusual journalistic experiences last week when I accepted an assignment from the Washington Post Sunday magazine to cover a Christian music festival about 90 miles away NE of Baltimore. In a soybean field in SE Pennsylvania, as a matter of fact.
The venue was the PAPA (People Against Poverty and Apathy) Festival, “a convergence of communities and movements,” it called itself. It was a zoo of causes and off-beat personalities. It featured the stars of the "new monastic" movement of under-35 Christians. These were the spiritual descendants of the 1970s Jesus movement hippies who lived in communes and shared everything in common. Their kids seek to live in quasi-communes, are non-violent, eat organic and are fixated on social justice issues. Among them are groups with names like 'Young Anabaptist Radicals;' the Psalters, an indie experimental Christian band out of Philly. I really liked the Psalters, by the way. They are kind of like a klezmer band ran amok.
Veeka loved running about and dancing to all the drums while I did things like standing in this sweltering tent minding a book table where I got into this discussion with a Christian anarchist. His name was Andy Lewis, he was part of Theillalogicalspoon, a band from Jackson, Mich., he lives with like-minded friends in a “decrepit old farm house” and he was typical of the young Christian I was encountering at this event. He was trying to explain to me that the book of Genesis is a political text.
“It’s political in that Genesis is remembering the fall into civilization,” he said. Paradise, he added was mankind’s original status as hunter-gatherers; the advent of agriculture, symbolized by Cain, the grower of fruits and vegetables, is what drove mankind toward technology, division of labor and hierarchy, which is anathema to anarchists.
Finally I’d had enough.
“Do you use city water?” I asked, starting on my list of technology’s benefits. “Public roads? Sewage disposal?” He nodded, but it was clear these were temporary necessary evils. He pointed me towards his blog, Land of the Living, powered, unfortunately for him, by unrighteous electricity.
Over the next few days, I met so many upper 20-somethings like him; generic Christians often of the Mennonite or Anabaptist variety with some Pentecostals, Episcopalians and Catholics thrown in, who were reluctantly in the world but seeking not to be of it and who spent the weekend agitating, planning, singing and talking about a better world.
Even though this gathering was 99 percent Christian, one could often not discern that. It was as if they worked hard not to emphasize the Jesus part of their spirituality except at high points like the photo I have here of the Sunday morning Communion service. Workshops had descriptions like “How can the church in the ‘first world’ shed its fear of indigenous traditions and join in the sounds of liberation (that) the elder cultures are singing without committing cultural theft or reinforcing false stereotypes”? Which is really different from Christian music festivals of yesteryear where one could not walk five steps without encountering an open Bible or a “One Way: Jesus” T-shirt.
I saw a grand total of one Bible at PAPA.
I was part reporter, part speaker, as I was leading a workshop on what can go wrong in community and all camper, as Veeka, myself and about 400-500 other souls subsisted for 2+ days in some hot and rainy weather in a borrowed tent. The highlight was a thunderstorm that nearly flooded the tent.
Camped nearby was Maria Kenney, who helped organize workshops for the event and drove 11 miles to get there from Kentucky. She lives in Communality, a 13-year-old community of about 50 souls in inner-city Lexington. While our two daughters played together, I took refuge from the sun under a tarp Maria thoughtfully put up. We chatted about living common purse; the most intense form of community whereby one contributes all one’s earnings to the community pot. I’d lived common purse during two years I spent in an intentional community in Portland, Ore., 30 years ago. Communality doesn’t go that far “but we have lots of idealists per square inch in Lexington,” she tells me.
A few tent spaces away was Joshua Swartwood, a black-bearded fellow with black earrings. He had driven down from Ithaca, N.Y., and has “Moses,” “Joshua” and a menorah tattooed on his arms. His mother was 31 when she had him, he told me, and she’d been told he had died in the womb. Then an ultra-sound showed he was alive and well; thus he was named Joshua, meaning ‘God saves.’
“It’s a reminder of God’s interactions with people in a supernatural kind of crazy way,” he said of the tattoos. Not only was his birth miraculous, each one of the births of his six children was connected to a dream or prophecy, he said.
I think you get the idea of how eclectic this event was. Now I have to write it up next week as THIS weekend (June 25-26), am heading to North Carolina to cover a similar festival - called the Wild Goose - for the Economist.
Don't want to turn those freelance assignments down.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Myself as brand


June is certainly 'bustin out all over' with steamy hot days, which mean we've had the air on for several days straight. It has to be pretty hot for me to resort to AC all day but even the kids in Veeka's day school are kept in during the afternoons because of the temps.
These days I'm going through boxes of old files from work, realizing that I'll not be doing stories again on most of these items. It's kind of bittersweet to go through years of documents over the Episcopal/Anglican breakup, which I chronicled as much - if not more - than any other US religion reporter for the secular media. Then there are the files on sexually abusive priests; also gay priests, gay bishops who hid the activities of their gay priests and sooo much material on church officials whom I - and many other reporters - knew were corrupt but we didn't quite have enough to go on for a story. Re-reading some of those files made me sad that so many bad people got away with ruining the careers of good priests who dared to speak out against them.
It's so sad to see the evisceration of the religion beat. So many friends have fled to academia to teach or get doctorates or take refuge in fellowships that allow them to travel the globe. So few hires are happening these days and the stories are as important as ever. Many of these same bishops and cardinals remain in power. The Episcopalians and the Anglicans are still fighting it out in court.
I've been working around the house a bit, painting the stone border around the crape myrtle in the back yard. Pictured is Veeka posing atop the stones which took forever to get done. The week I applied the primer was when there was a thunderstorm every afternoon mean that my paint job would get wiped out. Am working on other stuff; just started a "social media boot camp" where you learn how to analyze traffic and demographics on various web sites. Today was my first day and it was sure interesting hearing the lecturers say you can't just have a presence on the web; you need to stand out. More sobering for my occupation; social media such as Twitter and Facebook have leveled the information-sharing play field that journalists once owned. Now everyone can and does provide information. Whether or not it's accurate is another thing altogether but the presence of so many citizen-journalists has decimated the ranks of the professionals.
I tried measuring how many people read this site and the number was so low, the counting mechanism showed nothing. Hmmm - I have signed onto a different web site host so hopefully within a new months I'll have a refurbished site that I'll have a hand in designing. Guess I'll recreate myself as a brand, right?

Friday, June 3, 2011

More parties


If I ever get morose over the job situation out there, I can always meditate on one thing: how everyone likes my daughter! I have lost count as to how many birthday parties Miss Veeka had this spring. Am including a video from one of many held at an Italian restaurant last month. The woman holding Veeka is Grace Vuoto and the rest of us are caroling away the familiar birthday song.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Well, it's been a year



June 1 will long be a day of infamy for me as that was when, a year ago, when I walked into my office with one foot in a cast and one hand holding onto a sickly Veeka. I had planned to be at work merely an hour to gather up some papers and work out of my home so as to be with my little girl. I found myself getting hauled into the editor's office and informed I was being laid off. Being that it was five months after everyone else got laid off, I knew this was a hostile action directed at me. Still, I had to pack up 14+ years worth of effects in about four hours while Veeka languished about the office. Fortunately, a WaPo photographer caught the whole mess on film as I was packing my car and a few days later, news of my leavetaking appeared atop the Style section.
So much has happened since then, including the fact that the yoyo who executed this decision himself got tossed out the door by the Washington Times a few months later. I decided that I'd spend enough years working at 3600 New York Avenue and it was time to turn my energies elsewhere and so I have, with my best work appearing in the Economist and in various places around the Washington Post.
Naturally all this happened simultaneously with an epic downgrading of the religion beat nationwide meaning that those of us who have reams of experience, clips, awards and contacts in denominational offices and religious groups everywhere are having a tough time selling our wares. Nearly everyone is hiring political reporters faster than they can say "2012" even though the average American is already sick of the thought of Obama running against Mitt, Newt, or Sarah. But bring on someone who explain what kind of theology made Osama bin Laden tick or why the Arab Spring has turned into a winter of discontent for religious minorities? Not on your life. One hears all the excuses from news organizations: the budget, the economy, hiring freezes. And yes, the economy has been horrible to my occupation. But doggone it if they don't go and hire another political writer.
In all this, I must give thanks to my parents who have supported me throughout all this and without whom I'd be on my way to losing my home. You really learn who your friends are when you're down and I certainly have made some surprising discoveries. People who I thought would stand with me have disappeared into the ether. Others have cone in out of the fog. Being unemployed or rather underemployed is not glamorous and let's just say the phone is not ringing off the hook with offers to bankroll my next book. Which is why I really appreciate folks (and you know who you are) who have tossed freelance assignments my way because that is truly putting food on the table for me and my 6-year-old.
Speaking of her, these photos are from her kindergarten graduation ceremony last week and a pizza dinner she had beforehand with Raffie, her little boyfriend. After that, we went to Pittsburgh for the weekend, she to spend time with some old family friends who have a little girl her age. As for me, I got to go on a retreat for the first time in four years. It was only two nights but at least it was something. And now we're gasping through multi days of 95-degree weather. And now I am back to sending out job application after job application....

Thursday, May 26, 2011

New York, New York



Mika Brzezinski




Wafa Sultan


I spent a few days in the Big Apple last weekend taking a course in HTML and web site management plus - yes - doing a bit of jobhunting. Summer is approaching and with it, opportunities to speak in various places. In fact, I'll be talking about intentional community and my book at 7 p.m. this coming Monday (Memorial Day) in Pittsburgh; specifically in Squirrel Hill at the Upper Room at 5828 Forward Ave. at Murray St.
New York, as it turns out, was freezing (while it was in the 80s in DC) but I sure enjoyed the consignment shops and incredibly rich culinary offerings in the East Village, which is where my friend, Betsy Pisik, was lodging me. We ate everything from Korean to western Chinese to Ukrainian fare - in 2 days!
While riding up (and back) on the majestic-but-cheap Boltbus, I got some really interesting reading done. One was "A God Who Hates: The Courageous Woman Who Inflamed the Muslim World Speaks Out Against the Evils of Islam," by Wafa Sultan, a Syrian psychiatrist who says Islam's problems are due to Islam's God. Read about it here and here. A lot of people find fault with Wafa but she brings up the hard questions that I've not seen Muslims answer very well. Questions about Mohammed's treatment and acquisition of his 13 or so wives, especially Aisha, with whom he had sex when she was a 9-year-old. Just the very thought of that - as he was 50 years old at the time - makes me want to lose my lunch.
I whipped through that book fast enough that I ended up at the Fifth Avenue Barnes & Noble buying Mika Brzezinski's "Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You're Worth" which *really* got me going! She talked about being lowballed at MSNBC in terms of her salary being grossly disproportionate with that of her male co-host. Read about it here. IMHO, MSNBC does not come out well in her book, being that they were only too happy to offer her peanuts compared with men in the same positions who were raking in far more. One wonders: What *is* it about work places that see offering women less money than a man as second nature? What is it about work places that make the woman have to fight like crazy to get something close to parity? And any woman trying to get equal pay is labeled as 'difficult' and other words I will not use here.
Obviously the book struck a nerve with me, who has been underpaid all my career. Many of us in the Washington Times newsroom were beyond disgusted when we found out how top execs were making over $150,000 and, as far as we could tell, they were doing less work than we were. One top editor, who was rarely ever there, was raking in $225K. All this while we were upbraided by our bosses for asking for an extra $1,000 a year. I'd better not get started except to advise women who care about what they'd like to be paid for the rest of their lives to read this book. I would love to write something similar for the Christian market but I can just imagine the battles I'd fight getting that published.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

David Wilkerson and the reporter



Today is my birthday. Today is - or was - also David Wilkerson's birthday, he being the world-famous author of "The Cross and the Switchblade," founder of Times Square Church, Teen Challenge, you-name-it. He would have been 80 years old today had he not died in a car accident in east Texas three weeks ago.
I was born 25 years after Wilkerson, so do the math. I had two fateful encounters with this man, one in 1989 when I was interviewing him for The Houston Chronicle. Here is a snipped from the chapter "Annunciation" about our meeting:
That same month I was back in New York, on my way to catch the flight to Israel that landed me in that meadow overlooking the Sea of Galilee. I snagged an interview with David Wilkerson in his 2-year-old Times Square Church in the former Mark Hellinger Theater at 51st and Broadway. He was definitely not the showbiz type. He did not like being interviewed, he was uncomfortable posing for photos and low on media savvy. This artlessness made him easier to talk with, especially about his warnings to Jimmy Swaggart before the evangelist’s well-publicized fall in 1988.
"I don't think sex brings any man down," he mused. "I think it's pride." I asked him what had kept him out of sexual sin. Suffering, he replied. He looked a bit gaunt and obviously tired from having been up since early that morning leading Sunday services. I tried to pry something out of him about Redeemer and Graham. I had heard rumors that he was most unhappy with the turn that events had taken, especially since he was so publicly linked with Graham's spiritual baptism. Wilkerson was very vague, as if he had long since lost touch with both. As I was packing away my notes, he looked at me,.
"Graham came to me with a problem, you know,” he said. “He didn't only come for power." And as far as he knew, Wilkerson added, Graham had had victory over it.
"The only way to stay righteous," he then said, "is to expose your heart to God every day."
What is he hinting at? I wondered. It's either money or sex.

The next time I met Wilkerson was in December 1998 when everyone was worrying about Y2K and I was in New York doing a story for The Washington Times. By then, the news about Graham had long since come out. I went to lunch with David and his wife, Gwen and it was there that David told me more about his fateful - that word again - meeting with Graham in 1963 when he prayed over Graham to be baptized in the Spirit. Graham, David told me, was so tortured by homosexual longings that he was stopping in every rest area between North Carolina (where he was on vacation) and New York. As a former police reporter, I knew exactly what he was talking about; before the Internet, rest areas were where gay men solicited sex. In fact, there was a certain rest area just inside the Texas state line along Interstate 10 where, it was said, one dared not hang out after dark.
I sent a copy of "Days of Fire and Glory" to David's office a long time ago but never got any indication that he had received it, much less read it. A shame, because he played a crucial role in my narrative. I am on the mailing list for David's once-every-3-weeks pulpit series and I just got the latest one, penned by him no doubt several months in advance, encouraging Christians not to despair during hard times. He was one of the few well-known preachers out there who got it in terms of how crazed many of us feel. I, for instance, have been out of work almost one year.
His last words to people were to tell them to persevere during these dark nights of the soul, even when you physically don't feel you have the strength to do so. I can understand that; I often don't have the heart to sing the hymns I used to but I am still able to play worship music on the harp. That is the best I can do at this point. Discouragement does deaden things. Hope deferred - and deferred and deferred - makes the heart sick, as Scripture says.
At the end of my days whenever they may be, if I have even a portion of the good influence that this great man had on this troubled world, I shall be glad.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Oma turns 83



Happy Birthday Oma! I wish we could have a cake at the ready but the best I could do was send her a spiffy new version of "The Red Shoes" on DVD. Included here is a photo of Oma singing Veeka to sleep with her famous "There is a boarding house" lullaby.
Also shown here is Veeka looking cute as usual. Other stuff; my travel piece finally ran here on Friday in the WPost. Am casting about now for assignments to do in June.
Yours truly has a birthday coming up on Thursday but I've little planned other than a trip to New York this coming weekend to take a class on web site construction and maintenance. So many - almost all - of the jobs out there in the PR field want people to maintain a site.
As for jobs in the media - those are disappearing by the day. I've not given up on those but it'll take a major angelic visitation to bring one about. Speaking of angelic visitations, isn't the Rapture or Second Coming supposed to happen May 21? Just wondered...
I took Veeka to see "Coppelia" yesterday as that's one of the easier story lines to follow in the ballet world. Trying to explain the Odette/Odile duplicity in "Swan Lake" or the whole thing about ghosts and spirits of women disappointed in love ("Giselle") is a lot. Veeka was entranced by all the dancing and by the girl playing the lead role, who was all of 16 years old. When I asked her if she wanted to dance like that, "But I can't sing," she said. I explained that one had to mime actions instead of speak them but she thought that was pretty boring.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A pleasant Mother's Day


Believe it or not, I was at a gathering yesterday with several friends and I was the only mother in the whole bunch! Two of the women there had been trying to get pregnant or adopt for some time; the other folks there were singles who'd like to marry and *then* have a child. Yours truly did this backward. Miss Veeka keeps on telling me she wants a daddy so who knows what I'll end up pulling off someday.
It's almost a year since I left the Washington Times and there have been benefits to it all. I have enjoyed doing things like sitting in the back yard today and dreamily eating my lunch while the birds flitted about and the sunny weather was in the 70s. This working-out-of-one's-home thing is very addictive. Veeka and I visited the Amish market last Saturday and bought our customary pile of cheap plants (the prices are the best anywhere) and flowers plus odd jellies. I really like some of the flavors like elderberry and zucchini/orange that the Plain Folk come up with.
Jobwise...sigh. So many false alarms. For instance, I've had officials at two major web sites call me up about working for them but the moment I asked them what they were thinking of in terms of pay, they got unhappy that I'd bring up the question. Like, I'm not supposed to eat? The low-balling out there is unreal. I continue to sell articles and my newest travel piece will be out this coming weekend in the Washington Post. Am about to shoot another piece off to the Economist tomorrow morning. Just this afternoon I got a phone call saying I made the first cut for yet another job possibility. The audacity of hope, as one famous person puts it.
The photo is of Veeka standing in a Holland America tulip field that we discovered in Woodland, Wash. a few weeks ago. It was just that time of year when the blossoms were out and I was so hoping for one of those vision-like fields with rows of beautiful colors. And voila, not far off the interstate, we found one.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Two weddings





We all know, of course, about the royal wedding that occurred last Friday for which some of us rose at 5 a.m. for a lovely few hours of watching TV fairyland where the prince and the princess marry each other in Westminster Abbey and take a carriage to Buckingham Palace.
A week before, we had our own little wedding; my brother Rob, who got remarried the night of April 23. He'd been dating Jan Conner - who he knew from his days at Severna Park High School 40 years ago - only since last October and by late November, he'd proposed. And so Steve flew in for the affair and we all drove there together. It was on the Eastern Shore just across Chesapeake Bay from Annapolis. The hotel was on an inlet off the bay and the wedding was in a large glass gazebo behind the hotel.
What started as a cool, misty day burst into sunshine, so it was a lovely evening. About a dozen of us were on hand for the wedding itself, which was at 7 pm and fairly short. The minister, a Baptist, knew Jan's family. I told him later he must be one of the few clergymen in the DC area who is not committed the night before Easter.
Then the reception started at 7:30. There were little cupcakes in the wedding colors of electric blue and white and the bride and groom wore outfits that pretty much matched the colors. We all drank champagne and munched off a huge pile of shrimp and hors d'oeuvres such as mushrooms and crab cakes. But the big surprise was Miss Veeka, who did some great dancing on the dance floor. Once the music started, she just danced and danced and danced. And so there are photos of her with Mr. and Mrs. Robert Duin Jr. and with a champagne glass looking like a vamp. Hmmmm.
The next day, Easter, was very warm and lovely. The bright point of our day as a huge Easter party hosted by a friend which involved an egg hunt for dozens of children. I hardly saw Veeka for several hours as all she did was play with the other kiddos. She's shown here with a bow in her hair with another little girl (Gloria Bowman), both showing off their eggs.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday and our lovely trip




First, a news flash from the present: Today is Good Friday and so at noon, Veeka and I repaired to a local Hispanic Catholic parish that each year stages a Via Crucis procession. That is, the church has actors acting out each station of the cross along a mile-long route through the neighborhood. We missed it last year and it was gorgeous weather then so I was anxious to do it this year. Well....it was 46 degrees and raining. Veeka lasted all of 20 minutes before she begged to return to the car. And so the photo of her in the purple jacket is of her gamely holding the gladiolas that are handed out out to members of the crowd.
OK, now about this past week. It was so nice to get back to the Pacific NW again even though we got rained on most days. Figures. It was April, right? Of course I didn't get to see everyone I wanted to but I did get to see more folks than I'd planned on. We first flew to Seattle where Veeka had her usual rapturous airport reunion with Oma and Opa (who was hobbling about with sciatica - ouch) and then the next day we headed for Portland. In the rain, of course. Arriving early afternoon, we rendezvoused with Mary Jensen, an L&C friend and we would have chatted longer in Albina Press (the name of the cafe in SE Portland) but Veeka decided it was time to shriek and carry on. So off we went to the home of another good friend, Karen Jackson, who fortuitously had her 2 young grand-daughters visiting so Miss Veeka cheered up considerably. Then off to my brother Steve's and sister-in-law Nancy's digs in Lake Oswego where we got to eat Italian and admire all the remodeling.
The next morning, we dropped by the SE Portland home of Laura Paul, another friend from college years, who loaded Veeka down with all sorts of crafty cool things, like black and purple paper to write on and enough stickers to fill a small suitcase. Veeka adored all the new art ideas she picked up there and I was left wishing I was a lot more clever with my hands than I am.
Lunch was at a downtown brewery with my cousin Geoff and wife Yuko and we spent time wandering about the nearby massive Powell's bookstore which is a true Portland institution. Then off to my friend Gail Dall's, where we picked up sleeping bags and other things we needed for a weekend retreat at Good Samaritan Ministries spring family gathering at the Christian Renewal Center about 50 miles to the SE near Silverton. Gail, unfortunately, was too sick to go, but we picked up Christine Forsyth and the four of us headed past Silverton to the center, which is near the massive Silver Falls State Park.
It was a real pleasure of a weekend, not the least remarkable in that Veeka turned 6 while we were there and so we celebrated with a lovely chocolate cake (provided by Gail). The rain never stopped, so we were all sequestered inside but it was so interesting meeting many of the families there. Most of them were getting some sort of family therapy with GSM (which does a lot of counseling state-side and in the Third World). Everyone was required to do skits on how their families deal with the weekend's theme: "Never give up." A very apt theme for these times, I think. Sunday morning, Bettie Mitchell, the foundress of GSM, showed up to say hi and afterwards Veeka and I dashed off to see some of the state park (see Veeka with the South Falls in the background) before I headed into NE Portland to give a talk on my book.
The group that hosted me was very friendly and we enjoyed the visit at Metanoia Peace Community, which is an 8,000-square-foot mansion with numerous people living there. Dinner was Iranian food and then I was the evening's entertainment. The good part: seeing some old friends from Bethlehem and community days. The bad part: I dragged 12 books along with me in a suitcase on this trip. Number of books sold? Two. Not long ago, someone told me there was a rumor among the Redeemer diaspora that I had made tons of money off "Fire and Glory." Soooo wish that were the truth!
More on the trip later...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Veeka is turning 6


The cupcakes are baked, the birthday crown is ready because Our Princessa is going to be 6 this Saturday. I was in Safeway today shopping for cupcakes for her classroom but was so disgusted to see the same old Dora-the-Explorer ones I got her last year that I bought some batter and icing and baked them myself. She now has pink cupcakes with white and green icing with white marshmallows atop these confections that spell out a V for you-know-who.
When I asked her the other day what she likes, she listed in this order: Ice cream, raisin bread, soup, marshmallows, crackers, cheese, Cheerios, oatmeal, butter, French fries, apples, juice, milk, tomatoes, red bell peppers, cucumbers and grape fruit.
So I will drop off everything later on today for her classmates to eat while I head downtown to be on NPR very briefly to tout my latest WaPo story about how classical education got started in a local Catholic school. Read all about it here. It came out this past Sunday, the 10th. The folks at St. Jerome's were happy to say the least. And so that is story #3 for the Sunday mag and I've already started work on story #4. And this will be my first appearance on NPR. Maybe not my last. (Later note: the NPR link is here. Then click on 'Old Traditions Not Outdated in Modern Education').
Monday evening, Veeka and I went to the hairdresser to get some badly-needed trims because we are flying to Seattle on Wednesday. Yes, I needed a break, so a few weeks ago decided to spend my last frequent flier miles on Delta and wing it home to Oma and Opa. However, after only a day there, we're heading down to Portland for a few days to see friends and more family and to relax at a Christian family camp over Palm Sunday weekend. Am hoping the weather is not Portland drab as it has been in the lovely 80s here. And so Veeka - seen here posing by my weeping cherry tree out back - will get another party at the retreat center on Saturday and yet another party back in Seattle when we drive back up there. Yes, one must celebrate turning 6.
In case you have wondered, yes, I have already started reading her the Pooh books although they are better read silently than outloud; most kids these days can't sit through the interior conversations the characters have so I have to skip portions of the narrative to keep Veeka interested.
While in Portland, I will have one public appearance speaking about my book. An old friend, John Schwiebert, is having me at his church/private home on a Sunday evening. Specifically:

Sunday, April 17 at:

Metanoia Peace CommunityMetanoia Peace Community

2116 Northeast 18th Avenue
Portland, OR 97212-4609
(503) 281-3697. Time: 6:45 p.m.

It's open to the public so y'all come.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Eternal March


Really, this month has dragged on and on and on. The cherry blossoms are out but few people are walking about looking at them because the weather has been so impossibly awful and cold. This is the coldest end-of-March in my memory and I've been here 15 years.
Just got something pleasant in the mail today; a copy of Iceland Review with one of my articles in it! Unfortunately the magazine does not allow one to link to articles therein, but you can get a feel for the publication here. One may be able to purchase the publication on the streets of Reykjavik but here it is subscription only. Iceland is one of my favorite countries and I am always wishing to go back there.
During my second visit exactly 10 years ago this April, a friend of mine who works for the local morning newspaper took me to this amazing Good Friday service where actors were reading from an amazing group of "passion hymns" by one 17th century poet named Hallgrimur Petursson. The 50 poems, which Icelanders usually read one per day during Lent, dwell on the passion of Christ, starting with the Garden of Gethsemane. The poems are like meditations but they are in verse. The church service I attended was packed with people who sat for hours listening to these poems. Iceland is a very secular nation but here is one instance where people actually were rapt in worship. For one day out of the year, they go back to their Lutheran roots.
I was so fascinated with this man - and fortunately someone in Iceland gave me a copy of his poems before I flew back here - that I wrote 2 columns about Petursson for the Washington Times way back when (they are here and here). A few months ago, I began asking the Iceland Review folks why they never carried anything about religion and one thing led to another and I got this assignment to write about this amazing poet. I ended up interviewing 2 scholars in Iceland (by email) and one who lives in Pennsylvania. And so here we are. It's not often I get stuff in foreign publications.
Life is uneventful in a fashion; wish I had good news to share but at least there is no bad news. Today - which I was supposed to spend in preparing my taxes - was spent in taking my kitty to the vet. And the little vixen in the photo is Miss Veeka at her ballet/tap dance lesson.