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June 25, 2004  (Bellingham, Washington)

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Life in Bellingham

Yep, 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 writing useless 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...


It's Time 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.  Yes, I'm 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 crowd). 


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.


Ross Perot ears    Smoky Mountains sign    Interstate 94

Above left:  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.

Above center:  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 pickup-driving loggers. 


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 example, 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 grocery store.


Old Main at Western    WWU Volleyball     Lake Whatcom

Above left:  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 Vikes!

Above right:  Lake Whatcom during a snowfall last January.  This one snowed us in for a week.


Life in 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 much.


The 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?  You bet. 


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.


8mm film projector    8mm film    8mm film

Above left:  Transferring our old 8-millimeter silent family films to video in Bellingham.

Above center:  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.

Above right:  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...


Panda 40    Video of humpback    Bears fishing

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.



Video Clips

I've included movie clips here from:

1).  Our family's 8-millimeter silent films, narrated by my parents, sister, and myself in 1995, which I recently re-mastered.

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.

Requires a broadband connection and a RealPlayerIf problems, see Help.



Here's my very first road trip.  Got a napkin?

(54 seconds)




The intro to "The Alaskan Adventure."

(94 seconds)




The humpback whale that swam with us near Sitka.

(49 seconds)




And the bears fishing at Anan Creek.

(2 minutes, 41 seconds)



Life in 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.


And 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. 


 Sudden Valley    Sudden Valley

Above left:  Fixing the parking pad, one of my many do-it-yourself projects. 

Above right:  Those railroad ties are heavy, especially when they land on your finger.  Ouch!


Sudden Valley    Sudden Valley    Construction in Sudden Valley

Above left:  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 going. 

Above right:  The "after" shot (or is this the "before" shot?)  My arms are still sore.  


Christmas in Edmonds    Christmas mouse    Aunt Dorothy

Above left:  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.

Above right:  Aunt Dorothy celebrates another birthday!


Golfing in Sudden Valley    SACO Reunion    Leu Family Reunion

Above left:  Golfing with my brothers and nephew this summer at Sudden Valley.

Above center:  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 SACO).

Above right:  The Leu family reunion is a summer time tradition.  So is the game of Pitch.  We all look so serious, don't we?



Next News

August 7, 2005:  Back To Work  (Redmond, Washington)


Previous News

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, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)