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A Soggy Cereal Saga

It's been a while since I posted my last update – nearly eight months, in fact.  That's because I write only when I have something (hopefully) interesting to say, instead of writing useless tripe like, "Today I got up and ate a bowl of Cheerios," which I'm sure you don't want to hear about. 


Several readers, though, were wondering what I've been up to lately.  And so, always wanting to please my website's fans – both of them – I decided to post this page describing what my life is like here in beautiful Bellingham, Washington, in the extreme northwestern corner of the United States. 


Not only have I posted lots of photos about some recent DIY projects I've undertaken here at my dad's house in Bellingham, but you can also read about all kinds of interesting trivial trivia.  That includes topics like why you should never go jet skiing near a flock of ducks, how the actress Hilary Swank got her start here in a Bellingham trailer park, and why you should never, ever criticize porky parents in North Carolina.  I bet you can't wait, huh? 


Above:  Enjoying a bowl of soggy cereal. 

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 received 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 Jet Ski 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 Jet Ski 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.  Gosh, some of my best friends are ducks.  But seriously, dude, my condolences to your family.



I get almost as excited as The Carpenters whenever I receive mail.  This is Please Mr. Postman.


I also enjoy getting e-mail from folks who stumble across my website.  Some days when I check my email, in fact, I'm more excited than Karen Carpenter singing, "Please Mr. Postman."  Other days, I'm not.  But regarding email, one thing I’ve learned about posting a website is that no matter WHAT you say, someone out there will disagree with it and take offense.  If you write, "Ducks will kill you," 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.  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.


Above:  It was 96 degrees with 96% humidity when I visited the Great Smoky Mountains in July 2001.  Add in  a thousand tacky tourist traps and a gazillion people and, gee, what's not to like?

One email 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 Great 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 insensitive comment apparently cost me the Great 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, though.  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 of many things 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.



Above left:  I don't have any pictures of Mark on a Jet Ski, but here he is with his wife Jayne in 2001 wearing his Ross Perot ears.  No ducks in sight, fortunately.

Above right:  On Interstate 94 heading through Indiana in 2001.  Note that I'm in the fast lane, trying to leave the state as fast 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 place.


Above:  Working on my website at my dad's house in Bellingham after a pleasant snowfall.

My grandparents briefly lived in Bellingham in the early 1900s 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 fond memories of eating piles of Dungeness crabs at a friend's house 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 to me.


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, which is 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. 


Above:  Old Main, the oldest building at Western Washington University (hence the "Old" part) in Bellingham, was one of Western's few buildings when my dad went to college here in the 1940s.

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 is something like outdoorsy 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 that happened 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.



Above left:  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.

Home Improvement

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.


Above:  My truck was trapped for a month by a huge pile of dirt.  Fortunately, dirt storms like this are fairly rare in Bellingham.


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 folks 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 in 2002, 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!!!" (with three exclamation marks), then I figured 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 killer ducks. 



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!



Above left:  Here's where all that dirt on the driveway is going. 

Above right:  The "after" shot.  Or is this the "before" shot?  Either way, my arms are still sore.



Above left:  Dana (my cousin's daughter), my sister Doti, and my 86-year old Aunt Dorothy during Christmas of 2003.

Above right:  Aunt Lois nervously eyes her Christmas present, a Singing Christmas Mouse.  I spare no expense when it comes to buying Christmas gifts for my relatives.



Above left:  Aunt Dorothy celebrates her 87th birthday!

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



Above left:  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 annual summer reunion is a Leu family tradition.  So is the game of Pitch.  Leus are much more relaxed and friendly when we're not playing Pitch.



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