Category Archives: Misc.

The cold is all in our head

Macro of frost on glass

It’s cold in Chicago for the second time this January. A stark contrast from last Juneuary, our first (mild) winter in the Windy City.

By cold, I mean all that air that normally oscillates around the North Pole and makes it particularly uninhabitable, has wobbled out of its usual orbit and is swinging, seemingly at random, into latitudes not quite used to these temperatures.

Meanwhile, our old comrades in Alaska are reporting green lawns, buds on trees and spring-like temperatures during a particularly balmy winter.

Continue reading The cold is all in our head

Brown Line

Brown Line
This is a brown line train to the Loop

Slow crawl through brackish
brick and mortar

North Side dissonance, so
poorly named

You should run to warmer

White train, brown line
better off with green

Salt-stained floors gray out
your browns & beiges

Even your graffiti is
too soft core

Glass-free parking

And pristine platforms, condos
winter boots

Bros & wool jackets
Merino scarves

This is a brown line train
to the Loop

where else? what else?
what more? what’s left?

Take me some place special
somewhere nice

Break the mold and tease
the status quo

I’m just standing here
waiting on the train

Take me across the river
toward my dreams

This is a brown line train
to the Loop

Back to blogging


Like the collection of notebooks that makeup the better part of my recorded life, I have left a trail of blogs across the digital age.

I started many years ago on MySpace before moving to WordPress and BlogSpot, among others. I have been using Tumblr to keep track of my life and the adventures for the last few years.

And like those old journals I’ve kept through the years, even digital platforms get lost over time.

I have now collected my writings from the last few years in this place. This covers our departure from Montana and our lives in Alaska and now in Illinois.

Here you will find essays about life, food, adventures, journalism and, once in a while, my kids.

As for the name, well, sometimes you have to kill your heroes off in order to find your own pathway in life. Maybe not literally but figuratively. So herein I’m working on killing Ernest. But along the way you’re going to be hearing an awful lot about him.

Bookmark me, and come back from time to time if you like.


A blog finds its way home – The End of NinetyNineWeeks and 64 North

Ah, good friends, the time has come to migrate this blog back over to my home at I’ve long written a blog called Killing Ernest, and I always planned on Ninetynineweeks being just what it was, temporary. So, from here on out, I will be posting to Killing Ernest, which can be found at

I’ve migrated all the old posts to Killing Ernest, and I promise to continue to blog our Alaska adventures as well as my take on the media and the big events of our times.

Thanks so much for following me at Ninetynineweeks and 64 North. I really enjoyed the interaction, and I hope we can continue that at



Things you do for love

It used to be that I considered ice skating the romantic equivalent or substitution of buying a dozen roses. Such is my wife’s love of the fairy tale sport.

For my wife, the Winter Olympics are nothing until the pretty girls and boys take the ice. There is no substitute for the thrill of watching the skaters strive for a clean program. No feeling more crushing than watching a hard fall on a quad attempt.

Anniversaries past were spent driving to Portland for an evening dining out and then a skate in new sweaters under the lights at whatever mall then held an ice rink.

In my mind, I had scored the ultimate romantic points. In reality I stumbled clumsily on the ice along the walls of the rink as figure skaters practiced salchows in the middle.

Had I been able to skate around the rink hand in hand with my wife, the false wind blowing through our hair, the classical music settling over the ice chill like lace, I might have achieved my goal.

I hate ice skating. I, being built not as a pear or even an apple but more like some unnameable fruit that is round in the middle and slender at the bottom and top, have not the ankles to support myself on skates.

Standing there laced midway up the calf in figure-skating boots, I wobble, unable to find balance on the thin blades beneath me. The ankle cracking that ensues is enough to cause people to wonder if I’m not slowly crumbling, bones crushed to dust as I teeter and totter.

But I grab the wall and ease along, one foot in front of the other attempting to slide. Soon it gets a little easier, and I step away for a moment. The next I’m turning circles on the ice flat on my back. The toe pick having done its job of instantly stalling my forward progress and dropping me to the hard ice below.

This is the same the nearly half-dozen times I’ve attempted to ice skate.

Somewhere in those years, my wife gave up on me. I would/will never be the strong partner for lifts or catches. Nor will I likely be sailing smoothly, romantically around the rink hand in hand.

On Sunday, we attempted to ice skate with our youngest kids. Carson would like to play hockey, and I told him he at least needs to learn how to skate before he tries hockey. Seems logical to me though not to him as he picks out sticks and pucks and padding.

I thought maybe Gabrielle could vicariously fulfill that long-ago wish that my wife had to sail through the air over smooth ice and land delicately on a knife’s edge before gliding away, arms outstretched.

So in the twilight of an early winter Alaska afternoon, we made our way to the oval at Cuddy Park. We laced up our battered used newly purchased hockey skates and gingerly stepped onto the snow-dusted ice.

I walked Gabrielle around the rink hand in hand while Carson flopped around on the ice in a hybrid of skating and ice running. As the sun sank west of the city and outlined the midtown towers, we increased our confidence away from the mall eyes at the formal rink.

Hobbling at first, I stayed near the edge where the invitingly soft snow piled up like safety bales. Then moving out onto the smooth ice, I stretched my legs and put my weight into the blades to glide. Two quick steps and glide, a step and glide. Arms like airplane wings or stabilizers, hips burning from new motions, I made a lap around in what constitutes record time for me.

It wasn’t like I ever pictured it, but we made a long, slow lap around the oval hand in little hand in big hand. Gabrielle in between Cheryl and I stepping and skating together, the real wind in our hair and smiles on our faces. Rediscovery and late-attempts at dreams are like the surprise blossoms in early February. They keep you going forward.

Talking Story

This whole journalism thing started out with a desire to be a storyteller. My dad is one of the best auditory storytellers anywhere, and I wanted to be just like him.

I remember writing poetry and short stories many years ago. I have numerous journals filled with my notes and stories from childhood. I never made a big deal about it, because it was a compulsion I didn’t really understand at the time.

But I remember my brother wrote a story about fighter planes and dog fights that really captured the interest of my parents. They lavished praise on him, and rightly so. He wrote an exciting story that had a beginning, middle and end with an exciting climax and lots of action.

I remember feeling really jealous of the attention he got for that story. I felt that I was the writer in the family and that he was good at so many other things.

Eventually I realized that he wrote that story from an interest in planes and dog fights rather than any interest in being a writer. My brother has a very scientific mind that relates to complex ideas in a way that breaks them down into usable chunks.

His story fascinated me because of the way he used his own words to relate what he understood about airplanes.

I wanted to tell stories like that.

Print journalism seemed a natural fit for me with its adherence to form and style. But early on I realized that print could only tell part of the story based on the audience.

I knew that many people glance at the newspaper and maybe read the headlines or view the photos. A smaller percentage actually read the front page of the newspaper from top to bottom, and an even smaller minority read beyond the front page.

And yet news still is disseminated. Some of it is word of mouth or water-cooler conversation. Sometimes articles are clipped out or forwarded via E-mail. Little bits of information get out into the wider population in spite of newspaper reading habits.

One of the reasons I gravitated toward online journalism is because of a desire to tell stories and reach people where they are at. I always felt a little useless writing stories about the county that were read by county workers and subscribers over 65 who still had the habit of reading every story in the paper.

Videos and podcasts and multimedia Web stories fascinated me in their ability to reach a wider audience, and I quickly realized that online storytelling could erase the boundaries and stretch the canvas of storytelling to infinity.

People often ask me about why I chose online journalism instead of sticking to writing stories.

Stories are pieces of life that when put together artistically form our collective history. More than that, good stories become part of the fabric of society upon which we build our empires.

Stories are pieces too, and most storytelling today puts the pieces together quickly and tries to distribute that story to as wide and audience as possible. But so many pieces are missing still.

A good story teller uses many tools. If an elder telling stories wants to capture his audience, he uses the inflection of his voice and hand movements. He makes himself small at times to emphasize the vastness of his tale. The visuals of his storytelling are as important as the words he uses to tell the story.

That has remained the same since the beginning of time. The printing press changed that somewhat as text dominated illustration.

Today a good storyteller has options well beyond a text-based story. In fact good storytelling includes many elements beyond text.

I think of how many stories were written during the recent election about the impossibility of winning a write-in campaign. Text-based stories sought to explain that certain sections of Alaska’s interior were united in their support for one candidate, while other enclaves in larger cities supported another candidate.

It was all very confusing to try and read between the lines to see where the state of Alaska actually cast its vote.

Good storytelling finds the best tools to tell each story.

So in yesterday’s news meeting, someone suggested making a visualization of how each part of the state of Alaska voted for the contentious U.S. Senate seat held by Lisa Murkowski.

I came back to the Web team and asked the designer, Jeff Rivet, if he could cannibalize another flash map he’d made of the state and show us how each section of the state voted in what could be a historical win for a write-in candidate.

It’s not the whole story, but it’s a piece that contains elements of the whole story, and it’s both visual and text based with moving parts.

I love thoughtful storytelling. I love when a visual can replace a bunch of text in explaining a complex idea.

Journalism is far from dead. And as storytelling has evolved from the beginning of time with small changes and history changing movements, we are in a transitional phase where the art and craft of story are moving beyond older technology on the shoulders of new technology.


"Fight Club" Refrigerator and watching the neighborhood go by

The question wasn’t necessarily out of the ordinary. “Dad, why is there no milk or yogurt in the fridge?” But when I opened up the door spilling light on the contents within, I realized we were like that character in the “Fight Club.” We had a fridge full of condiments and not much else. And strange condiments they are, considering my cooking habits. Fermented lemons, Costa Rican pepper sauce,

The truth is we’re thinning down the typical grocery budget, and twice in the last week things have looked pretty basic in the Akimoff refrigerator. We’re down to the last two weeks of severance money, and we’ve now received our fourth notice from the state of Montana stating our unemployment benefit status is still pending.

So it’s time to pack it up, which is kind of tough not knowing if there is a job out there or not. But we’ve got a bunch of family just a 10-hour drive away.

The most difficult part was putting the house up for rent just a few weeks shy of a year since we bought it and moved in. I didn’t think it would bother me, but after talking to my wife this afternoon, I realized the ridiculousness of it all, and we spent one last warm afternoon sunning on the deck watching the neighborhood go by.

It’s strange to have a hard target. A job would be a hard target, but it would be a good thing. I’d know we could make a living. But a hard target driven by a rapidly diminishing severance package is another entity. It’s filled with a sense of unknown and maybe a dash of foreboding.

Tonight I’m going to stock the cupboard with cereal and make sure I bring milk and yogurt in from the outside fridge. If for no other reason than to make the next two weeks a little less stressful on little minds.


Your job and your vocation…your money or your life

A friend of mine who was laid off from another newspaper in the last few months recently told me that after three or four weeks of downtime, he got rather bored and wished to return to work. Vacation, he said, was nice but not fulfilling.

Vocation is the centrifugal part of us all, so integral to who we are that it impacts every aspect of what we do.

“A society in which vocation and job are separated for most people gradually creates an economy that is often devoid of spirit, one that frequently fills our pocketbooks at the cost of emptying our souls.” ~ Sam Keen

A little time away from the rat race of work is nice. It is vacation. It is a chance to clear the mind and refresh the soul.

But anyone for whom their vocation is centrifugally tied into their being will shortly grow tired and restless at not being able to fulfill their purpose. 

This is where I find myself now. 

I love being able to spend entire days watching my daughter perfect her art work next to me at the dining room table and to make creative lunches to share with my wife. I love being able to pick the boys up from school and deliver them to their various sporting activities in the afternoons. Our conversations are alive and I feel more involved with their daily lives than I have in a long time. 

“The test of a vocation is the love of the drudgery it involves.” ~ Logan P. Smith

But they can sense something is wrong. They can sense the longing in me to return to my vocation. They ask me at dinner if I miss the ugliness of work, those instances where our most basic human issues rise to the surface and cloud our vocation with politicking, greed and envy.

No, I don’t miss those issues, but they are part of vocation if your vocation involves others. Mine certainly does. 

Somewhere along the way we choose what we want to do. Or sometimes we are chosen for what we can do. I have worked many jobs in my search for my true vocation. Each one points a finger toward your destination, but the complicated life sometimes interferes and clouds our ability to recognize it.

An unfulfilled vocation drains the color from a man’s entire existence.” ~ Honore de Balzac

I loved construction and being out of doors and working hard with my hands, developing a strong mind and body. But I always knew it wasn’t my vocation. It was something I did to pay bills and pass from one time period into another. 

I was never sorry when I walked away from that into another job. That initial rush of excitement at doing something new can be deceptive too. Sometimes, in a really fun situation, it can last a long, long time. The arrows pointing to your vocation become difficult to discern. 

But when you stumble upon it, as I did in my late twenties, you know you have found what you’ve been looking for. Work is no longer work, it’s the satisfaction of your soul.

More often than not, people have told me they expect me to land on my feet. They’ve said they always knew I would be all right. They’ve wished me well and explained that my skill sets would serve me well in my search for new work. 

These people have not found their true vocation. In fact, I suspect that a majority of Americans who have jobs have jobs. I know many of those with whom I most recently worked have jobs and not a vocation. I suspect that is why it was easy for them to cut my position.

And for those who think it’s easy to let go of one thing and move into another, it might be easy if it was just a job. But a vocation is deep within you, and severing even the most surface links like a paycheck and benefits is a painful injury to one’s soul. 


Forcing the Dream Part I

I always saw this ad in my head:

The New York Times seeks a smart, fast and ambitious reporter to cover the (pick your war) from our (pick your bureau). The reporter will join an energetic four-person team covering this and other conflicts in the region. This is a high-profile position, as the world is watching to see if this conflict spreads and involves other nations and regions. The reporter will be expected to consistently break wire-moving news and to write insightful features on important developments as well as to report on human rights violations and the lives of citizens caught up in the conflict.

By the time I graduated from journalism school the dream was dead.

The New York Times and Washington Post effectively disassembled their world-wide bureaus during my last two years as a student at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication.

I used to walk into the study room on the ground floor of Allen Hall in hopes of finding a note posted to the bulletin board announcing internships in places like Moscow, Mexico City or Madrid, but I never did.

By the end of my junior year, I was looking at spending the summer interning at a local weekly paper covering city council and the county fair. My wife was watching my dream die right in front of her eyes, and it was a conversation we had about how we loved to travel together so much that got me thinking about E-mailing some editors at English-language newspapers around the world.

I sent a dozen notes out to newspapers like the St. Petersburg Times, the Prague Post, the Kyiv Post and some papers in China and the Middle East. Within a few weeks I’d heard back from no less than half that dozen.

My favorite reply came from the Kyiv Post in Ukraine.

“You want to come work at this newspaper for free for the summer? I think you’re crazy, but I’d be crazy not to take you up on it. Come on over.”

My dad graciously gave me some of his air miles to purchase a ticket, and I left my wife and two young boys on their own to pursue this journalism dream that didn’t have a raft to float on.

Two days later I was sitting at a desk hastily cleared of old Kyiv Post publications and calling a government source about damages from a huge set of thunderstorms that pounded the region just after my arrival.

Within a week I was working on a story about the 2,000-strong Palestinian community settled right in the heart of the city. I spent time with them in their homes at their Mosques and the Christian services they attended with their Ukrainian wives on Sundays. I wrote my first front-page feature story on a part of Kyiv culture that not even the local dailies would touch.

By the end of the summer, the Orange Revolution was more than just an idea, it had fomented into a huge political wheel rolling toward a November showdown in Kyiv. I wrote about some of the earliest effects like student riots at the U.S. Embassy, even interviewing U.S. Sen. John McCain when he visited the city with a large contingent of U.S. politicians.

I spent many nights at the famous political hangout known as The Baraban (the drum) just off the city’s main thoroughfare. The politics were hot, and reporters recited poetry and defended their latest articles. Some talked of going into hiding after reporting on the country’s four ruling oligarchs, while I soaked it all up like a sponge.

I was as green as you could be in journalism. Not even worthy of being a cub reporter at the time. But the editor, a sharp New Yorker of Ukrainian background, liked my ambition and my sense for good feature stories about culture, people and places.

The closest war-like experience was the explosion of a pipe bomb in a market in the neighborhood I was staying in during my last week in city. And I survived a long hitch-hiking trip across the country on my last weekend there. 

It wasn’t war-time reporting, but it was electric, and I was absolutely sure of what I wanted to do the rest of my life.

With my wife’s encouragement, ideas and blessings, I had forced the dream, even if briefly, and I got a taste for it that is as strong and salty on my tongue today as it was the day I left Kyiv seven years ago.