Category Archives: montana

Icepocalypse 2010 – Our weather curse continues

I know I don’t have any direct effect on the weather. But you know how people often say, “Did you bring that rain (or snow or sun) with you?”

I will say that the last few moves we’ve made happened to coincide with very strange weather patterns, and I’ll give my conservative friends a break and not mention that-which-must-not-be-mentioned, but I’ll give you a hint, it starts with a global and ends with warming.

For the sake of peace and harmony and glorious ignorance, let’s just say that weather and rare-occurring phenomena seem to follow us from place to place.

I can’t really explain it other than to say we’re blessed?

We moved to Missoula in the summer of 2007. I moved over a few weeks before Cheryl and the kids joined me. All was fairly normal, or so it seemed. I ran into typical Montana summer weather in some big thunder boomers crossing over McDonald Pass to Helena. And back in Missoula I found the late-afternoon rain showers refreshing.

But then the mercury began to rise. By the time Cheryl and the kids showed up on the scene, the temperature hit 105, and it didn’t back down for 10 days. It was, in fact, the longest stretch of hot weather to hit the western part of the state in recorded history. If I’m not mistaken, I believe Montana reached its all-time high temperature that summer.

Needless to say, we sweltered in our welcome week in Montana.

There were other strange things before that. I once flew into Nadi Airport in Fiji a day before a powerful Typhoon brushed the northern part of the islands and devastated a few villages that we helped clean up after.

We ran into record-breaking rainfall in a move to Hawaii many years ago and watched streams rise over their banks and flood parts of town at the same time that the Pacific Northwest was inundated by what meteorologists started to call the Pineapple Express at the time.

Of course moving to Anchorage I assumed we might see some sort of blizzard for the ages, but no, our weather streak continues as the state is gripped in what people on Twitter are calling the icepocalypse, what in some places has been called an unprecedented weather event.

We’ve been here a little under a month now, and it snowed once in any concentration. I think it was about 7 inches, about half of which remains dank and dirty encased in layers of frozen rain.

I believe there is a collective cry for snow reverberating around the state, as outdoor enthusiasts and commuters alike, dislike the current state of the weather in the state.

I know it’s not us, it’s the unpredictable nature of weather and the effects of the thing-which-must-not-be-mentioned, but which clearly has an impact on our weather, whether or not we (humans) contribute to it or not.

Weather, like sports and Sarah Palin, gives us something to talk about around the Thanksgiving table. And on a day like today, with the sky dripping down over Anchorage, freezing in spots or splashing into slushy puddles, I’m grateful for neighbors who keep their apartments so hot that I don’t have to and hooded parkas and working indoors. And for probably the first time in my life, I’m actually praying for snow.

The hardest drive

I wrote this in my head as I drove today.

That will have to serve as an apology for what follows.

I sat in the cab of the big U-haul truck and wondered how many emotions had bounced around the interior during the course of its life.

We pulled out of a cold and rainy Missoula at noon. Carson rode shotgun with his leopard gecko Morris. Carson cried for the first twenty minutes or so, especially as we passed through the neighborhood.

My closest friends came by to see us off, and it was all I could do to hold it together to keep thinking about what needed to go in the truck next.

I don’t cry much. In fact, I shed tears so infrequently that my wife freaks out a little when it happens. All I wanted to do today was find some quiet place to be alone and think about all I was leaving behind. Instead I fought wind and rain behind the wheel of a big orange and white truck, stacking emotions like clothes in my suitcase.

The cab was a cathedral of sorts. A noisy, bumpy place to try and reflect on the events of the last two months. Carson and I tried to chat off and on, but we were both aware of how easy it would be to totally break down.

Missoula is apparently located in some state of mind people call the last best place. Sometimes I think certain situations are the last best…

Our goodbye get together on Friday served as a last chance to enjoy a beer with good friends. A last best party. Saturday evening was an impromptu last best dinner with a few close friends who had helped us move the detritus of our Missoula existence into that U-haul.

This morning when we were packing, I just wanted to be done and on the road. I knew that if I stopped long enough, all the emotions that have been building up would come pouring out, and that wouldn’t be a pretty sight.

And still, in spite of keeping my mind focused on my task like a brain surgeon must, when my friends showed up for one last best goodbye, I felt myself slipping into that familiar pre-cry moistness. I looked the other way instead of making eye contact, and when I’d catch my wife losing it after hugging our neighbors goodbye, I had to start talking to myself out loud to keep from going there.

I wanted to harden all the soft parts and numb anything that felt sharp and uncomfortable. I don’t have time to grieve right now. The hum in the cab of the U-haul was cathartic in a way. Like monks chanting. I started to try to match the tenor, but I found myself easing into memories too swiftly when I wasn’t focused on something other than everything cascading into whatever pit that is within me that collects whatever fuels those stormy emotions.

Eastern Washington is cathartic too. Something about the way it has been scoured out by the many Glacial Lake Missoula floods stirs up sediment in my soul that keeps me from feeling much. I think about ancient floods and how so much land owes so much to such powerful forces of change outside of its control. I thought about Lewis and Clark and the fact that I’ve spent much of my life along a big portion of the trail they carved across the country. I thought about adventure and overcoming adversity, but too much thought like that shrinks you next to the giants of the past.

 Somewhere along the way I tried to cap the bottle by making notes about the future. This is what needs to be done by tomorrow. I need to finish this task by Thursday.

Then I got a text message from a friend in Missoula, and my world tilted a little bit, loosening whatever fastener I had tried to seal in those emotions with.

The kids all cried their little hearts out in the morning, and by late afternoon, they just wanted to be somewhere familiar. By the time we rolled into the driveway at grandma and grandpa Akimoffs’ place, the kids were onto something new.

The sadness of leaving people you love is a very individual emotion. Everyone suffers something privately. There is no collective feeling that can be understood. For some it’s visible, like tear-stained cheeks. For others it’s a very personal piece of heart luggage with few visible signs of existence.

Long drives are good for sorting out thoughts and feelings. I’ve always felt collected after driving. Today was different. I should have let that U-haul-cab cathedral be my confessional, but I’m not quite ready to suffer. I know that will come. Like a good journalist, I like to put off the suffering until right before deadline. Somehow it sharpens the wit and creates beauty.

But my heart still hurts tonight. My longing for what used to be kept me from listening to certain songs I knew I would feel too much.

Ah, I miss you!


Hot Springs Eternal

My favorite getaway will always be to a hot springs somewhere. Something about soaking in hot mineral water is embedded deep within me. I almost always ask if there are hot springs whenever I travel somewhere.

Montana isn’t what I’d call a hot springs Mecca by any means, but I’ve found some of my favorite springs within an hour or two of Missoula.

“It’s a beautiful day in Paradise.” The typical greeting when you call Quinns Hot Spring’s Resort is one of my favorites. The web site asks you to check in and make sure the pools are not taken up by overnight guests, so I look forward to their fun greeting whenever we get ready to go.

Seemed appropriate to begin one of the busiest weeks of our lives with a trip to the springs. I find hydro therapy to cause the most relaxed state I believe I can achieve.

The drive to Quinns is one of my favorite Western Montana trips. My daughter and I looked for deer on the summer-baked hillsides and on the backside of the National Bison Range while Cheryl took a nap.

The rolling highway reminds me of driving through parts of Sonoma County, where I first fell in love with hot springs.

My great grandparents owned a small piece of property in the town of Calistoga, which was nothing more than a little hippie enclave at the time. My great grandfather made wine and spent summers at the cottage known as a dacha. My father and his brothers and sister spent summers at Pachita’s Hot Springs. And years later, that is where I first fell in love with soaking in hot water.

One of the lasting memories I have of spending some good time with my grandmother before she died was at Nance’s Hot Springs in Calistoga. After Pachita’s was renamed Indian Springs and transformed into a very high-end exlusive resort, we’d spend more and more time at the lower-end Nance’s, and my grandmother reveled in the healing hot waters she had learned to love after almost 50 years in America.

Quinns reminds me of the old Pachita’s Hot Springs. It’s rustic and unrefined. It’s woodsy decor has not yet been stuccofied and palm treed like the California resorts.

Gabbers and I enjoy a soak in the warmer pool at Quinns

The pools are quiet as we arrive. After changing into our swim wear, we heard a lyrical language coming from the far end of the cool pool. My wife smiled at me knowingly as she recognized the Russian words for “more people are coming.”

I laughed at her, because no matter what hot springs we visit, we’ll almost always find kindred Slavic spirits abounding. Slavs love hot water. Visit Lolo Hot Springs any time of year and you’ll hear a beautiful symphony of byelaruskaya spoken as you enter the pool. The same goes for Fairmont Hot Springs near Butte.

We settled into the warmer pool next to two couples wearing knit caps and conversing casually about coming to Montana from Canada. I can follow along with Russian to a point, but when native speakers are speaking to each other, the speed at which they communicate is often too much for me to catch more than a gist of their conversation.

At one point, one of the men moved over into the hottest pool and sank down to his neck, his knit cap looked like a black mushroom on the pool surface. After a few minutes, he stepped over the wall into the cold pool, which felt colder than the air temp, which was 36 degrees when we arrived. He sat in the cold pool up to his neck for about two minutes as his companions discussed how many minutes he should spend in the pool to reap the benefits of hydro therapy. Most Slavs believe that soaking in pools with different temperatures is really good for the circulation.

The method the man used is one of my favorite soaking techniques. I like to start out in the middle warm pool and spend about 5 minutes soaking before moving to the hottest pool for 3 or 4 minutes. When I’m ridiculously hot, I get hop over the wall into the cold pool.

The water is so cold it numbs you instantly, and if you do it quickly enough, you won’t feel a whole lot until you are completely submerged. If you’re completely still, the cold water won’t feel like anything, and your breathing becomes very deep and your oxygenated blood causes your body to rise to the surface.

I like to float in the ice cold water until my breathing normalizes. If I can make a full five minutes, I feel completely refreshed. Once you start to move around, you begin to feel the cold water. Panic sets in, and all you can think about is getting into the warm water again.

After soaking in the cold pool, I ease into the larger warm pool for a brief swim to increase the already beneficial circulation effects. My daughter starts to chase me, and I begin the cycle all over again.

Quinns is not always so quiet and peaceful, but as I sat back and craned my head up to watch the sun come over the jagged hills behind the resort, I couldn’t help but be grateful for one last quiet soak.

After a bison burger and a Bloody Mary for lunch, we cruised back to a completely empty set of pools for a few more rounds of hydro therapy. At times I relaxed to the point of falling asleep in the warm pools. A good shot in the cold pool revived me, and when new swimmers showed up, they remarked that I must not have any blood in my system to be able to completely submerse myself in the cold pool.

Knowing that the closest hot springs I can find to Anchorage are in Fairbanks is bit disconcerting. But my plan is find the first Slavic person I can find and ask where closer hot springs are hiding. Slavs always know where to find a good place to soak.


A sense of place

There will be a lot of lasts this week. This is in fact our last Monday in Missoula. Last kickball game tonight, last flag football game for Carson, final cross country practice for Cole. Next week at this time we’ll be in Salem, Oregon meeting up with our trailer that will ship our belongings to Alaska.

Today we are going to take a few hours and go to one of our favorite hot springs. We have a long week of packing our life up into boxes, so I want to spend one last day enjoying the good life of Western Montana.

There are few places like this, and after three years I understand why people carve out a life here despite a poor economic base. The amenities in this region of the Northern Rockies are like nowhere else. Mountains, lakes, rivers, hot springs, national parks and wildlife better than the best zoo are just a few of the reasons people move here.

The adventures we’ve had here as a family can only probably be rivaled by some time spent in the last frontier, but we won’t know that until we have lived it for awhile. Place is the great forgotten character in the story of life. Missoula is a place where people are in touch with that primordial notion of the home pond more than anywhere I’ve ever visited before.

A sense of place defines Missoula so much that people are willing to make less money in return for living in proximity to places like the Rattlesnake wilderness or the Bitterroot Mountains. People carve a life out of some very meager economic sediment. Many of our friends have multiple jobs or cram their families into tiny apartments in order to live somewhere many call the last best place.

I struggled to see this when I first moved here. In fact, for nearly three years I was frustrated at the idea that anyone should earn less because of some nature tax. I still think the idea is absurd, but I’m less inclined to blame those who choose to reside here in spite of the nature tax.

But I will gladly blame city officials and those leaders of the largest industries, including the university, for continuing to make Missoula Poverty With A View. A nature tax does nothing to improve this city, nor does it keep people away as you might hope. Californians continue to move to Montana every year.

Place is integral to our story. When my grandparents told their story, place was a character that shifted with them. It was a trail through mountain passes, a city in northern China, a refugee camp in the Philippines, a boat sailing across the Pacific Ocean. It was an apartment on Geary Street in San Francisco, and I caught up with their story when place was a lovely little house in Pacifica, California.

For others, place is a still point, like every 4th generation Montanan I’ve ever met. They are in tune with the fenced parcel of land back to their great grandfathers who homesteaded these parts. For Native Americans, place is a 10,000-year-old continent finally free of ice where they could roam and have their being.

I don’t have a strong connection to place. If I did, it would be a cedar-lined ocean shore with thundering surf and a salty nose. That’s as close as I can come to identifying with place. I love my parents’ wooded home in the Willamette Valley, but it’s a stop for me. My birthplace of Santa Rosa, California is one of my favorite places. My grandfathers plowed those grape-seeded hillsides and valleys. Richenau an der Rax is where I think I fell in love with mountains, hiking, skiing and life in a quiet woodland. Pasadena, California is where I learned to love big, ugly, sprawling cities teeming with humanity. Salem, Oregon is where I found my best friend. It is also that which is most familiar to me and therefore that from which I most readily flee. Honolulu, Hawaii is where I fell in love with the crossroads, those cities that blend life from many different pathways.

In Missoula, I fell in love with community. No other city exhibits community the way Missoula does. From weekly gatherings for lunch or dinner in Caras Park to First Friday art walks and community runs along the river, I’ve never seen a town so aware of its identity. That I could readily talk to the mayor, leading citizens, long timers and newcomers at any point of any day speaks volumes about how tight this city is.

I don’t have a sense for what Anchorage will be like. Four days there was not enough to get even a small feeling about it. But I can’t wait to find out what I think about it a year from now.

Maybe place moves with me, as it did for my family as they emigrated across the vast Eurasian Steppe. Maybe the cities I’ve lived in collectively add up to place for me. I don’t know. All I really know is that I’ve yet to find that stretch of cedar-lined coast with roaring waves and salty air.


The things you learn when you get laid off

I remember being called into the publisher’s office on that last day of August. That sinking feeling of knowing that somebody knows something you don’t. The looks on their faces. Sad, but not really sad, more sorry for themselves for having to ruin their day or maybe just the hour, probably.

But then a little ray of hope.

“We’re going to let you keep your blog.”

“Yeah, it represents all your hard work, your blood sweat and tears.”

It’s not much of a consolation prize when you’re getting laid off, but it’s a helluva lot better than a cold, escorted walk to the door.

I remember thinking about it after the clouds of dissolution parted. It wasn’t a huge gift, and in reality, no one would be able to pick up after I left it. It’s too much of a labor of love. It’s something you have to give birth to. You can’t adopt a blog very easily.

But after weeks of sending E-mails asking about when I could transfer the blog to my own account, I started to feel like the child who is told there is a surprise in the next room just to remove him from the current room.

I started hearing about the newspaper editor spreading the news that I had somehow relinquished interest in the blog as she recruited new writers for it.

If I have learned anything from my wife in all the long years I’ve known her, it’s that she will fight for justice far more than I will. She has a sense for it that I do not. Perhaps I’m jaded, but I don’t believe man’s justice is wise, nor do I believe it prevails even when somewhat close to a universal sense of justice.

But with her encouragement, I sent notes out to the far corners of the corporation that formerly employed me seeking justice in the form of an appeal based on something that wasn’t in writing, merely the word of two respected co workers.

My appeal was returned today with these words:

“Tim, I have looked into the matter of this blog and your separation from Lee Enterprises.
The Missoulian intends to keep the blog and maintain the content.
As far as receiving an understanding to give you this blog; besides any authority Stacey and Jim may or may not have had to allegedly agree to this; you surrendered any claim when you signed the release of rights and claims and received your severance payment.”

I’m not the dunce whose appearance I must often give off. I understood at the outset that giving away corporate property is a big no, no. In fact, I have seen numerous battles over intellectual property like this. I know lawyers who deal specifically in this realm.

I did, however, believe the publisher when she said she would draw up papers regarding the blog if I agreed to sign the release of rights. I generally take people at their word. In this case it might have helped to understand all the legalities, something I’m going to assume neither of us knew very well.

But no matter, this battle is over, and it’s time to move on beyond it. To the writers who’ve inherited my progeny, I wish you the best of luck. When I say it’s a labor of love, I mean that completely. You will not love this. You may, in fact, come to hate it.

Justice is better served cold. I do not feel a warmth for it as my wife does. Instead, I’d rather look beyond perceived personal injustices and out toward those places where injustice, if it’s a quantifiable thing, occurs to the point of matching those universal laws, those unalienable rights we like to chatter on about.

The rights of indigenous people. The rights of women and children in lawless places. The rights of the press. The rights of the people.

These are worth pursuing when it comes to justice. A silly little blog is hardly worth fighting for. Maybe it’s just the principle of the thing. Maybe it’s my arch nemesis, a characteristic conservatism that finds personification an an old editor I once worked for. Or in the uphill battles against the old mindset that I fight against on a daily basis. Principles are worked out in the individual. You live by yours, I’ll live by mine.

And so my appeal ends, and it’s time to move on to the next new thing.


Mon Ami

My final Mourning Would mens’ breakfast on Mount Sentinel

I have had a lot of close friends in my life. Some live far away, and yet we stay in constant contact, while others are on the periphery, and we connect when we can.

Finding a new set of friends at 34 is a tough business. You spend a lot of time at work and the rest of your time with family. There are few opportunities for guys’ nights or getting in some workout time with the guys.

But if there is one thing I take away from Missoula, it’s the amazing friendships I’ve made during my time here. These are not throwaway relationships. These are lifelong friends that I won’t get to see every day anymore.

I’d like to highlight a few of these.

The first two gentlemen I was privileged enough to get to know in Missoula are journalists, and therefore they hold a special place in my thoughts. The venerable Tristan Scott, reporter extraordinaire and the writer I’d most like to emulate. And Cory Walsh, whose fine news mind and analysis of life I have come to depend on completely. These two took me for a drink on my very first visit to Missoula, and we’ve had many a conversation over pints or drams of whiskey since.

Another gentlemen from the newspaper that I’d like to highlight is the one and only Michael Lee Moore. “The Other Micheal Moore,” as he has come to be known. This southern transplant to Missoula has all the charm and hospitality of his roots intact, and he’s become, aside from being a great personal friend to me, a friend of the entire family. My wife and kids adore him. It’s not just his willingness to teach us the proper techniques of rock climbing, it’s the way he earnestly engages with people.

A number of my Missoula homies have moved on, but we stay in touch. Graham Murtaugh, Bynum Boley, Adam Richards. You guys are not only the tallest friends I’ve ever had, you’re some of the classiest. I miss you guys.

Wylie Carr, I know you’re still here, and though we don’t connect nearly as often as we should, the adventures I’ve had with you all over this crazy place will go down in whatever annals these kinds of things go down in, not to mention my notebooks.

Nicky T, I don’t see you as often as I’d like to, but you came to represent the finest example of what I consider a Montanan to be. I’m glad I know you buddy. 

But every man has an inner circle. That group of guys that typify his character and in which he finds that rich combination of edification and criticism he needs to grow.

These are not easily found and rarely in one place. I was lucky to have stumbled into a perfect storm of friendships that were honed quickly in small but intense fires. Things like early morning hikes, backcountry camping, hunting, fishing and those refining conversations that are like reading the most illuminating chapter in an illuminating book.

From the first day Jon Lewis was a kindred spirit and yet the polar opposite of me. Quiet and contemplative where I’m loud and all too often obnoxious, he is the reflective nature I still need to develop. He’s the listener I would like to be. The richest of friends, he offers an unconditional view of life that one lucky enough to be his friend can sharpen the dullest of tools on. In this sense, I am blessed to be sharper because of him.

Beau McBryde is not the person I would naturally be drawn to. A rugged outdoorsman with a passion for living that I have seen in very few people, Beau extrapolates man knowledge from some well that the majority of men have lost touch with over the years. Beau won’t touch digital, his analog nature being more in touch with the natural things. Our friendship was forged over arguments related to his criticism of the industry I worked in. And I am fascinated by him. He knows how to smoke a wild turkey and skin and tan a hide. He has old knowledge that belies his age. He’s a man in the way my grandfather was a man, a way of life most have lost touch with. Beau has put me in touch with elements that are some of the rawest ingredients of men, of friendships of life.

The good doctor. Chris Caldwell is, for lack of a better word, a specimen. Physically fit and imposing with a squared off jaw like a movie actor, he’s the kind of guy that I couldn’t stand in high school. I’ve always been round and jovial when I longed for tall and lanky. I’m sure there was carry over when we first met, and I assumed his personality would match his looks. What I found was one of the most thoughtful and intelligent people I’ve ever been privileged to know. What’s more is he has that enduring quality, the heart of a child. That unequivocal view of life whereby everything is brighter and more beautiful than another person can imagine. Chris brings this view to friendship, which is sacred to him. I’ve learned more about myself from Chris than anyone else in my life up to this point.

Mike Lake is one of the nice guys. His reputation at work is that of someone who would bend over backwards to help someone else out. That is a rare quality these days. I came to rely on Mike at work on tough issues that needed a creative solution. But it was a simple lunchtime tradition of hiking to the M on Mount Sentinel that has meant more to me than anything else lately. With work becoming increasingly more stressful, Mike and I would venture up those 13 switchbacks every day talking through our problems, planning our futures, encouraging each other and burning off those work worries. Family, work, sports, it was all fair game on our hikes. We bounced ideas off each other and I’d give anything to be able to work with Mike again and restore that tradition. I don’t  know if I’m going to miss Mike as a colleague or neighbor more. But I know that I won’t have to miss him as a friend.

There are others of you who impacted me and continue to do so as my days in Missoula wind down. You should each get your own descriptions, but this is a blog, and I should follow the rules.

But these gentlemen have come to quantify friendship for me. These are not suburban friendships or casual in any way. These are guys who come in and out of my life on a daily basis, and if there is anything that terrifies me in this move, it is that I won’t have that daily interaction that I’ve come to rely on.

I’ve never been one for goodbyes, mostly because I’ve had to live through too many. Let this serve as a reminder of what we built here over these last years. A rock pile by which to find our way back some day.

Thank you all,


Thirty seven days in the unemployment line

It looks as though I’m going to have to change the name of this blog. I was originally inspired by the government extension of unemployment aid allowing laid off Americans to collect for up to 99 weeks.

My position at the Missoulian newspaper was cut on Monday, September 30. I applied for unemployment immediately, and to date I’ve received nothing but slips of paper saying my unemployment aid status is pending.

Last night I accepted a job at the new director of digital content at KTUU, the NBC affiliate in Anchorage, Alaska. Somehow Ninetynineweeks just doesn’t seem that appropriate any more. However, I don’t want to leave any interested readers hanging, so I’ll continue to chronicle the adventure as it progresses.

My wife and I spent a lot of time in Hawaii in the early part of our marriage. Having to move away after we had our first child, we vowed to find a way back some day. Since then, we returned to Oregon, spent time traveling and working in Eastern Europe and ended up in Missoula, Montana, which is not exactly a population center. And now Alaska, with an even lower population than Montana, is our our next destination. Things don’t always make sense, but I find that big picture stuff is often a little fuzzy and distal. Probably for a good reason.

I have always loved the ocean, but I have come to love the mountains. Anchorage seems to have both in abundance, which is something very satisfying to me.

Several months ago I was chatting with a friend in Alaska about our various moves since we met several years ago when I was researching a story for a University of Oregon publication. We would eventually end up working together at the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon, and we founded the craft beer blog – “Will blog for beer.”

On this evening, I was asking about life in Alaska, a place she moved after her husband graduated from law school in Oregon. To my surprise, one of the best print writers I’d ever worked with was now working at a broadcast station.

She took a few minutes to explain that the company was expanding beyond the traditional 5 and 6 p.m. broadcast news to a more web-centric model to provide news digitally in the way Alaskans are increasingly digesting their news.

She told me they were going to begin a search for a digital content director and asked if I was interested in having her forward my resume on to the station president.

I floated the idea past my wife the next day, and I got the reaction I thought I would get. She sort of frowned and cocked her head sideways with that look that says, “You’re crazy, and I hope I didn’t hear you right.”

I let it go and didn’t think much more about it until that fateful Monday.

After sort of processing the idea of being laid off and immediately formatting several plans, including grad school, self employment, international job possibilities and cobbling a bunch of local job offers together, I came back to the Alaska job and decided to E-mail my friend to find out if that search was on.

It was, and while figuring out how to navigate the unemployment aid system, I was corresponding with my future boss in Anchorage.

Finally we were invited to travel to Anchorage to meet with the team there and to check things out around town. I’ve usually done this part of the job interview process myself, but this time Cheryl came with me, as I knew she’d be the hardest sell.

Sunset from downtown Anchorage

Turns out we both loved Anchorage. The sun was just setting as we flew into the city over the tortured ice-bound world of southwest Alaska. I could see a monolithic shadow to the north, something so immense I had to scrunch down in my seat to see the entire mass. This was Denali. The snowless Chugach range framed in the twinkling lights of Anchorage as we landed.

Ocean and mountains. It’s like a complete world for me, though neither of us have any illusions about how difficult winters can be up there. We’re pretty big fans of the light.

A move to Anchorage is not taken lightly. Not by the prospective employer and not by those seeking a job in that state. So the drawn-out process has been a bit torturous as our funds have shrunk to uncomfortable levels.

To accept the offer last night was rewarding for many reasons, not just the physical need to know that our future is set. It’s rewarding to know I’ll be able to continue in the job that my journalism career has morphed into. Going from a traditional print reporter to mobile journalist and videographer to online reporter and finally a digital manager is something I didn’t expect when I walked across the graduation platform at the University of Oregon, but it’s twice the career I planned for and therefore twice as rewarding.

It’s nice to know I won’t have to wait around for unemployment checks that never come. And searching for jobs is a torturous activity in this day in age. I will not miss it.

Now begins the daunting task of getting ourselves to Alaska. You can drive, but it takes up to five or six days. Shipping items is expensive, as is flying. This blog will likely continue to explore the whimsical nature of family antics, the challenges of moving to America’s last frontier and the interesting details of settling in a place that might as well be a million miles away from family for the ease of getting their and back.


Bottling 55 gallons of Belgian brown ale.

How I spent my Sunday

Beer waits for no man. And when we brewed this dark, Belgian beauty it was months and months before I  was laid off. It sat for a long time in a French oak merlot barrel soaking up tannins and wine acids, while we went about our business. Well, today was our date with destiny, a long and arduous destiny with what seemed like a million brown and green bottles in the Lewis/McBryde Casa. Sometimes I like the continuous and traditional aspect of beer and the process of brewing and fermenting. It’s unshakable and never changes at all, and yet you end up with something amazing every time.



How Joseph Stalin changed my life

All people share a dream. For the desperate, that dream is freedom. But give a man a sense of peace, and the dream will shift toward security and shelter.

We all want to own a home. Some people call it the American Dream, but it’s the human dream, has been since we wandered the earth looking for a dry cave to inhabit.

When Joseph Stalin was in the process of killing 10 million Ukrainians through a planned starvation, my grandparents undoubtedly dreamt of freedom or perhaps even more basically, survival.

They fled their native land and walked halfway around the world to northwest China, where they set up shop. Work, shelter, life.

Until Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution caught up with them, and they were forced to flee once again in pursuit of some dream only attainable in a land far across the known universe, if it existed at all.

They found it under fog-laced blue skies sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge. No Ellis Island for this family, just California dreams on Geary Street and a lifetime away from the Soviet Empire’s antithetical sense of ownership.

My grandfather, like most immigrants, worked hard to buy the dream, because the dream is never free, no matter how much you want it to be. He worked several jobs and bought up San Francisco real estate as an inheritance for his children.

Immigrant families have an overdeveloped sense of needing security. And that is often satisfied in the purchasing of land or houses, even to subsequent settled generations.

Somehow this did not affect me.

In fact, I had a wanderlust in direct contrast to that urge to settle and seek security. I suppose this, above all else, is what led me into journalism. Always moving, artistic, something new every day.

I wasn’t a loner though, I wanted a partner, and my girlfriend of three years agreed to marry me and go with me. I still feel like I duped her a bit, but she’s still along for the ride.

We traveled and lived in trailers and slept on floors in third-world countries. We had a baby together in Hawaii, and I never really had sense of place or any one place.

But I wasn’t a loner, and my wife, as wives tend to do, developed a nesting instinct and began to clamor for something more permanent than hostels, low-income housing or rented apartments and houses.

At 36 each, we bought our first house in October 2009. A green, two-story Missoula Modern out by the airport. Our neighbors are only 12 feet away, and every fifth house repeats except for color and trim. But it’s home. And it’s ours.

I remember feeling sick to my stomach at the closing, but I smiled and celebrated as we popped a bottle of champagne a little later that afternoon.

The feeling of making the first mortgage payment was good, except I kept seeing that huge number that included all the interest we’d end up paying, and I’d go dry in the throat thinking about it.

It’s not the money though, it’s the feeling of being tied down. Always has been.

So getting laid off is much more about the baggage for me. Generally, the idea of moving on to something new is right up my alley. I’m into the next thing, in fact, friends will tell you that as soon as I’m doing something new, I’m already thinking about the next thing.

Now I feel tethered to this place by this house, even though in reality, it’s just an investment that can go whatever way I decide it should go. No matter, it is a cord around my ankle and the most difficult thing I think about when I think about being laid off.

Place is good, it can define you. You can spend your life seeking a place to call your own, and perhaps that’s all my wanderlust really is, an ongoing search.