Life in Bellingham
it's been a while since I posted my last update -- nearly eight months, in fact. That's because I only write when I have something to say instead of
tripe like, "Today I got up and ate a bowl of
Cheerios..." which you really don't want to hear about. However, several readers were wondering what I've been up to, so I decided to post a page
describing what it's like to live here in Bellingham. I've also posted several
family video clips here which I thought you'd get a kick out of, things like bears-a-fishing,
whales-a-diving and my very first road trip (when I was only six months old), so please read on.
Oh by the way, today I got up and ate a bowl of Cheerios...
for Viewer Mail
I'll start this page with a few comments about e-mails that I've
gotten recently. A few days ago, my old friend Mark in Minneapolis (see
News, August 14, 2001)
wrote to say that he and his family went camping in
Wisconsin last week. The highlight of their camping trip, in the
gospel according to Mark, was when he rode a JetSki for the first time and had a
blast. I wrote back to Mark and warned him to watch out for
flying ducks. Yes, ducks. I said that because about five years ago, a guy zipping around on a JetSki down
near L.A. hit a flying duck, was knocked unconscious and drowned.
serious. What a
miserable way to go, huh -- getting killed by a duck? Not that ducks are miserable creatures, though. In fact, some of my
best friends are ducks.
I also enjoy
getting e-mail from folks who stumble across my website. One thing I’ve
learned about posting a website, however, is that no matter what you say,
someone out there will disagree with it and take offense. If you write,
"Ducks are miserable creatures," you'll get a nasty note from some quack.
And if you write “Santa Claus is a jolly old soul,” you’ll get an angry e-mail
from someone in Montana saying that Santa Claus is actually a Commie (you know,
wearing that red suit of his).
I get about 15 to
20 e-mails a week regarding my website, almost all of which are pleasant. I really enjoy getting them and it's nice to know that
people out there appreciate my efforts, or as Sally Field once said, "You like
me. You really like me!" However, last week I got two nasty e-mails from folks who
were extremely ticked off at me, to put it mildly. One was written by
an excitable fellow in rural North Carolina who, during one of his more polite lapses, called
my website "absolute rubbish.” That’s because I'd written about my
unpleasant visit to the sweltering and jam-packed Smoky Mountains National Park in
North Carolina during July of 2001, a park filled with, as I wrote, "porky parents sipping MegaGulps
with the requisite hyper kids in tow." That
apparently cost me the Smoky Mountains crowd (not to mention the porky parent
The other e-mail was from
a fellow Michigander. As I've noted previously in my website, I've driven
through each of the 50 states several times (see
My Previous Roadtrips) and
I've ranked my Best
and Worst of the 50 States. This guy was irate
because I claimed on my "Best and Worst" page that my home state of Michigan
is the second-most boring state in the U.S., surpassed only by Indiana. He wasn’t nearly as ticked off, though, as the Hoosier who wrote me two
blistering pages last year telling me what an absolute idiot I was for calling
his state “boring.” Man, that guy was really dangerous and I'm glad he's
2,000 miles away. I never said that Indianans were boring -- Bobby Knight
is a case in point. Heck, I love the Midwest, but I think Indiana is
perhaps the most
uninteresting state in the U.S. because it's flat and filled with trees, so you can't
see much when you drive across it.
I try not to take vicious e-mails personally. When I
get a nasty e-mail, I just shrug my shoulders and hit the “Delete” key after
reading the first sentence or two. In my defense, I call things like
I see ‘em and my travel experiences are what they are. Free speech is one
thing that makes this country great, and now that I’ve alienated Indianans,
Montanans, porky parents -- and a large percentage of the duck population -- I’ll push on.
I don't have any pictures of Mark on a JetSki, but here he
is in 2001 wearing his Ross Perot ears. No ducks in sight, fortunately.
It was 96 degrees with 120% humidity when I visited the Great Smoky Mountains in
July 2001. Add in a gazillion people and a thousand tacky tourist traps and,
gee, what's not to like?
Above right: On Interstate
94 heading through Indiana in 2001. Note that I'm in the fast lane, trying
to leave the state as quickly as possible.
An Old Friend Called Bellingham
I've been living at my Dad’s
house in Bellingham for nearly two years now, which is about two years longer
than I originally planned. Bellingham, with a
population of 75,000, is about the farthest northwest that you can travel in the
U.S., so if you're running away from something, it's a great place to
go. And once you get here, you can live in a tacky trailer park, just
like that down-to-earth “Million Dollar Baby”
actress Hilary Swank, who used to live in a Bellingham trailer park before she hit the big time.
Now, before the Bellingham Chamber of Commerce sends me a nasty
e-mail, let me say that
Bellingham is a lot more than just tacky trailer parks. Actually, it's a pretty nice city.
My grandparents briefly lived in Bellingham about 100 years ago when it was a small town,
and my parents were Bellinghamsters for a while back in 1940s when they went
to college here. When I was a young lad back in the 1970s, my family visited
Bellingham often during the summer and I have lots of fond memories of eating
piles of Dungeness crab out on Chuckanut Point, just south of town. Then around 1990,
and after living in all parts of the country, my
parents decided to retire here. Ever since then, Bellingham has been like my second home.
You could say that no matter where my family heads off to, they always come
back to Bellingham, and this city has been like an old friend.
Bellingham's economy has changed a lot during the past few decades. It has
definite blue-collar roots with once-vibrant logging and fishing industries,
reflected by its funky and somewhat-gritty downtown. In more recent years,
as those industries declined, the city has appealed to retirees
reflected by its rating in several
publications like Money Magazine as the best place to retire in the U.S.
That's led to a large in-migration by folks from other parts of the country, a
lot of whom, unfortunately, have brought with them materialistic and decidedly
non-Bellingham attitudes. But despite the recent influx of sometimes-snobbish retirees
and its “end-of-the-road” location, Bellingham
is still a pretty nice place. It's
also home to one of most beautiful campuses in the
country, Western Washington University, which gives the otherwise blue-collar
city a healthy dose of liberalism, making the city an interesting blend of
retirees, college students and
Thanks partly to all those college students,
Bellingham is also one of the
most outdoors-oriented cities in the U.S. An hour to the east, there's
skiing at the perpetually snow-covered 10,700-foot Mt. Baker, which set the
world's annual snowfall record a few years ago. If you like canoeing or
windsurfing, you're only a few minutes from Lake Whatcom, one of the largest and
most beautiful lakes in Washington. If you're into sea kayaking or
sailing, Bellingham is a gateway to the 172 San Juan Islands in the Puget Sound.
Or if a cruise to Alaska is more your style, the city is the southern terminus
of the Alaska Ferry system. In that sense, then, Bellingham's a lot like Boulder, Colorado (but
thankfully without all the yuppies) and it seems that just about everyone here
has a bike, boat or ski rack on their car. Everyone except for those
loggers, of course, because they drive pickups -- besides, they wouldn't be
caught dead on skis or paddling around in a "stupid kayak."
Culturally-speaking, though, Bellingham really isn't that
exciting, partly because of its end-of-the-road location. To give you an
the most exciting thing to happen here last month was when Tom Jones performed
one night. Younger readers are probably asking, "Tom who?" and that's exactly my
point. Also, there aren't many good-paying jobs here. So as much I like Bellingham, I think living here for two years
is enough and I'm gearing up for a move back to Portland. Still,
someday I might return to live again, because the folks are friendly, the
scenery can’t be beat, and I just might bump into Hilary Swank at the Fred Meyer
Old Main, the oldest building at Western Washington University, was one of
Western's few buildings when my Dad went to school here in the 1940s.
Above center: Doti, my Dad and I
went to a lot of Western volleyball matches. Volleyball's my favorite
sport and Western has one of the best Division II teams in the country. Go
Above right: Lake Whatcom
during a snowfall last January. This one snowed us in for a week.
Bellingham (Part 1): Making Movies
After my father passed away in 2002, I wasn't quite ready to go back to work, so
I did some things that I've been wanting to do for a
while, like work on family history projects and fix up the house.
I've always loved making movies, perhaps because I went to the same high school
as Steven Spielberg, and I decided to spend some time here in Bellingham
re-mastering a couple of family movies that I made back in the 1990s.
Remember those silent 8-millimeter films that were so popular before video came
along? Well, about ten years ago, I discovered a whole bunch of them,
films that my parents had shot back in the 1950s and '60s, so in 1995, I
transferred them all to VHS video and had my folks narrate it. It was a
fun project but, being on VHS, it didn't look that great. After my Dad passed away, I decided to re-master it, but this time using my computer. After transferring all the 8-mm
films to my computer, I added music and
titles (but kept my parents narration), then burned it onto DVDs, which my siblings have greatly enjoyed.
They especially enjoyed the scene where baby food dribbled down my chin when I
was six months old. In fact, I think they enjoyed that scene a little too
biggest project that I've worked on in Bellingham, though, was creating a DVD
movie of a sailing trip that I took to Alaska with my father in 1989. Back
then, I was a restless lad who hadn’t yet settled into a career groove -- or
wanted to, for that matter, because three years out of grad school, I still
yearned to travel. My Dad sailed his 40-foot sailboat alone to Alaska that
summer, but before leaving Washington, he asked me if I’d like to fly up to
Juneau and join him there, then sail for six weeks around southeastern Alaska
and back to Washington. After giving it serious thought – for about a
half-second – I said “yes!” Actually, my exact words were something
like, "Whattya, nuts? Yes!!!" (with three exclamation points).
I brought my camcorder with me
to Alaska on that trip back in '89 and documented our entire 1,500-mile sailing journey. I'm sure I
looked like a dork toting my camcorder and tripod around a different village every afternoon, but it was worth it
-- besides, I'm used to looking like a dork. We both
had a great time and when I got back to Oregon
that fall, I created an 80-minute VHS movie of our trip, adding music and
narration and giving it the corny title of “The Alaskan Adventure.”
The best parts of the movie were all of my Dad's screw-ups that I was fortunate
enough to capture on videotape, like when he accidentally poured four gallons of
water into the fuel tank.
Of course, since I did most of the photography, no one ever captured MY
screw-ups and for that I'm deeply grateful.
I was never thrilled with the
VHS quality of the 1989 movie, though, and decided to remake it some day when I had better equipment. That day
finally arrived 13 years
later. Shortly after my father passed away, I decided to re-create
the movie as a tribute to his adventurous life, so I dug up the original
8-millimeter videotapes and hunkered down at my computer for the next six
months. Using Adobe Premiere and a stack of honkin' huge hard drives, I digitally
recreated the entire movie, scene by scene, and burned it onto DVDs. My Dad
had enjoyed the
original VHS “Alaskan Adventure,” but I think he would’ve liked the DVD version
a whole lot more. Was it worth spending six months of my life doing it?
I've included some clips of both
the 8-millimeter family films and the Alaskan Adventure below, which will give
you a sense of what it was like to live in our nomadic and adventurous clan.
Yep, I was happy kid -- and I was lucky to have grown up in a great family.
Transferring our old 8-millimeter silent family films to
video in Bellingham.
My older siblings are waving in the back of our car as we head out for my first
summer-long road trip. I was six months old and sitting in the front seat.
This is how my wanderlust all started.
Later that day, here's Yours Truly with baby food
dribbling down his chin. I still look like this sometimes when I eat.
Gee, no wonder I can't get any dates...
Above left: A scene from
the recently re-mastered "Alaskan Adventure." This is my Dad sailing his 40-foot
sailboat, the Ilikai II in 1989.
Above center: A humpback whale
surfaced and swam with us for quite a while near Sitka.
Above right: One of a
dozen bears I saw catching salmon at Anan Creek, north of Ketchikan.
|I've included movie clips
1). Our family's 8-millimeter silent
films, narrated by my parents, sister, and myself in 1995, which I
2). The Alaskan Adventure, a movie about the sailing trip I took to
Alaska in 1989 with my father, which I also recently re-mastered.
broadband connection and a
RealPlayer. If problems, see
Here's my very first road trip.
Got a napkin?
This is the introduction to "The
The humpback whale that swam with us
And the bears
fishing at Anan
(2 minutes, 41 seconds)
Bellingham (Part 2): Home Improvement
Other than making movies and smearing food over my face, one of
my major tasks here in Bellingham
has been working on my Dad’s house, which my sister Doti and I are now living
in. I want
to fix it up for her as best I can before I go back to work, so I've spent a
lot of time doing various jobs around the house, alongside the house, and
under the house. I've learned a lot of useful things during these handyman
projects, like the fact that there are big, scary spiders in the basement.
As a result, I don't go down into the basement much anymore.
I also finished a task that my
Dad started several years ago. My father was an educator for 50
years before retiring to a
community of about 4,000 called Sudden Valley, located a few miles outside of
Bellingham. Sudden Valley doesn’t have an elementary school and all the
students here must ride a bus six miles into Bellingham each day, so my Dad’s
last mission in life was trying to get Sudden Valley to set aside land for a future
school. Sudden Valley has been growing fast and
only one suitable parcel for a school remained, and my Dad was determined to
make sure that it was reserved for a future school.
I’d helped him on this project
for many years, and after he passed away, I picked up the torch and met with
Sudden Valley officials and the local school district several times, pushing
them to set aside the land. I even appeared in the Bellingham paper a
couple of times. Our efforts were successful, because it looks like the school district and the community of Sudden Valley will eventually build a school here.
I was a pain in the butt to the local officials sometimes, but I was
glad to help my father realize his final dream.
last of all, I've finally started the job hunt. After three years of
traveling, I looked at my checking account last month and uttered a very
loud, "ACK!!!" (again, with three exclamation points), then figured that it
was time to go back to work. I'll let you know how that goes in my next
update. Until then, watch out for those ducks.
Above left: Fixing the
parking pad, one of my many do-it-yourself projects.
Those railroad ties are heavy, especially when they land on your finger.
My truck was trapped for a month by a huge pile of dirt. Fortunately, dirt storms like this
are fairly rare in Bellingham.
Above center: And here's where it's
The "after" shot (or is this the "before" shot?) My arms are still sore.
Dana (my cousin's daughter), my sister Doti, and my 86-year old Aunt Dorothy
during Christmas of 2003.
Above center: Aunt Lois nervously
eyes her Christmas present, a Singing Christmas Mouse. When it comes to
Christmas gifts for my relatives, I spare no expense.
Aunt Dorothy celebrates another birthday!
Above left: Golfing with my
brothers and nephew this summer at Sudden Valley.
I recently attended the three-day reunion of my Dad's
World War II Navy unit, which was conveniently held in Seattle (see my page on
The Leu family reunion is a summer time tradition. So is the game of
Pitch. We all look so serious, don't we?
August 7, 2005: Back To
Work (Redmond, Washington)
December 7, 2003: The Greatest Generation (Bellingham, Washington)
March 28, 2003: My Father (Bellingham, Washington)
October 30, 2002 (Bellingham, Washington)
July 24, 2002 (Princess Louisa Inlet, British Columbia)
July 12, 2002 (Lake City, Colorado)
July 4, 2002: Life as a Ranger, Part 2 (Lake City, Colorado)
July 4, 2002: Life as a Ranger, Part 1 (Lake City, Colorado)
July 1, 2002 (Looking Glass Rock, Utah)
June 25, 2002
(Lassen Volcanic National Park, California)
June 18, 2002: Part 2 (Port Orford, Oregon)
June 18, 2002: Part 1 (Port Orford, Oregon)
May 22, 2002 (Bellingham, Washington)
April 7, 2002 (Sydney, Australia)
April 4, 2002 (Coffs Harbour, Australia)
April 1, 2002 (Hervey Bay, Australia)
March 28, 2002 (Airlie Beach, Australia)
March 25, 2002 (Port Douglas, Australia)
March 16, 2002 (Winton, Australia)
March 13, 2002 (Alice Springs, Australia)
March 11, 2002 (Ayers Rock, Australia)
March 8, 2002 (Coober Pedy, Australia)
March 5, 2002 (Port Augusta, Australia)
March 1, 2002: Part 2 (Robe, Australia)
March 1, 2002: Part 1 (Robe, Australia)
February 18, 2002 (Bega, Australia)
February 7, 2002 (Auckland, New Zealand)
February 2, 2002: Part 2 (Taupo, New Zealand)
February 2, 2002: Part 1 (Taupo, New Zealand)
January 25, 2002 (Hokitika, New Zealand)
January 20, 2002 (Geraldine, New Zealand)
January 16, 2002 (Te Anau, New Zealand)
January 12, 2002: Part 2 (Dunedin, New Zealand)
January 12, 2002: Part 1 (Dunedin, New Zealand)
January 1, 2002: Part 2 (Christchurch, New Zealand)
January 1, 2002: Part 1 (Christchurch, New Zealand)
December 24, 2001 (Wellington, New Zealand)
December 20, 2001 (Auckland, New Zealand)
December 16, 2001 (Auckland, New Zealand)
December 14, 2001 (Aitutaki, Cook Islands)
December 10, 2001 (Rarotonga, Cook Islands)
December 3, 2001: Part 2 (Bellingham, Washington)
December 3, 2001: Part 1 (Bellingham, Washington)
October 18, 2001: Part 3 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
October 18, 2001: Part 2 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
October 18, 2001: Part 1 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
October 6, 2001 (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)
September 30, 2001: Part 2 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
September 30, 2001: Part 1 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
September 15, 2001 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
August 30, 2001 (Webster, South Dakota)
August 18, 2001 (Watertown, South Dakota)
August 17, 2001 (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)
August 14, 2001 (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
August 10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)
August 8, 2001 (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)
August 8, 2001 (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)
August 6, 2001 (Manlius, New York)
July 23, 2001 (Middleton, Massachusetts)
July 22, 2001 (Boston, Massachusetts)
July 20, 2001 (Pomfret, Connecticut)
July 18, 2001 (Denton, Maryland)
July 16, 2001 (Cumberland, Virginia)
July 14, 2001 (Roanoke, Virginia)
July 9, 2001 (Sevierville, Tennessee)
July 8, 2001 (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)
July 5, 2001 (Manchester, Tennessee)
June 30, 2001 (Hohenwald, Tennessee)
June 29, 2001 (Corinth, Mississippi)
June 27, 2001 (Natchez, Mississippi)
June 24, 2001 (Austin, Texas)
June 20, 2001 (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)
June 18, 2001 (Clay Canyon, Utah)
June 15, 2001: Part 2 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
June 15, 2001: Part 1 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
June 14, 2001 (San Diego, California)
June 11, 2001 (San Jose, California)
June 2, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
May 19, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
April 30, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
April 19, 2001 (Bellingham,
April 5, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)