Tuesday, March 31, 2009


We finally arrived in Victoria several hours later than expected, forcing us to miss most of the attractions for the day. However, we did have time to walk around the downtown district and see many of the nearby sights. Victoria celebrates much of its British history, while contrasting with its indigenous origins and the modern era.

A statue of Queen Victoria stands before the Parliament Building.

Totem poles contrast with the Empress Hotel in the background.

They also contrast with the glass high rise buildings in the background.

Street performers make music with improvised drums.


We were scheduled to take the Clipper to Victoria this morning, but high winds on the Puget Sound forced a last minute cancellation. To compensate for the unexpected change of plans, the company paid for us to take a bus to Vancouver, BC and then take the regular ferry across to the island.

Monday, March 30, 2009


Our little trip through Memory Lane ended by sharing a wonderful dinner with my childhood friend Anna Olivas, her husband, and her father. I can't begin to say how this visit affected me. For one, I was just happy to see Anna and her father after all these years, but it also brought back so many memories from my own home and family. This visit produced such a strange mix of happiness, nostalgia, and sadness.

Memory Lane

After leaving Alki Beach, we took a drive down Memory Lane, quite literally. I saw my old church, my school, and even my old house (pictured above).

My favorite memory, however, was the "Little Store," just down the street from our house. It looked exactly the same as I remember, even down to the same coat of paint. I bought my first pack of cigarettes at that store, when I was about nine years old. Actually, my parents sent me to the store with a note to buy their cigarettes. In those days, the store owner simply inspected the note, determined it authenticity, and gave me the cigarettes. Those were surely different times.

Green Grass and Flowers

After surviving the latest Ice Age in Spokane, we were all overwhelmed by the appearance of green grass and flowers in Seattle. Whitney was so moved that she sat on the grass and picked flowers for her mother. It was really quite sweet.


It's spring break, and we brought the kids to Seattle for a much needed vacation. We arrived at about 4:00 in the afternoon, and drove straight to Alki Beach. Mostly, I just wanted to walk along the beach and see the skyline. Of course, the city makes a wonderful backdrop for pictures.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Cast List

I'm pleased to announce that all three of my children were selected to perform roles in the upcoming CYT production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." Dakota will play the part of the butler and the girls will sing in the children's chorus.

Dakota was thrilled because his name appeared on the cast list surrounded by stars and he also gets to wear a microphone. I am happy for him, but when I heard the girls got a part, I cried. This is just so perfect for our children.

You can view the official cast list HERE.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Yesterday's audition inspired another random thought.

Dakota posed for this picture just before singing his audition song. When I saw the photograph in a larger format, I was struck by something I did not expect: his expression reminded me of my yaya. She died when I was a small child, so my memories of her are faint, but for one brief moment her face looked back at me through my son. It startled me and stirred up feelings of forgotten sadness.

She was a sad woman in many ways, but I loved her dearly. Her memory endures through me and now through my children.



Once again, the kids auditioned for a play sponsored by Christian Youth Theater: "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."

Before the auditions, all three looked nervous. It seems their anxiety increased more for this production than for previous shows. For one, more people tried out for Joseph, so the competition naturally intensified. With limited roles and increased tryouts, some folks are bound to face disappointment. The room setup also created a subtle shift in tension. This time they auditioned on a stage facing the four judges who separated the performers from the audience. It just looked more intimidating than usual.

Despite the obvious stress, this is their third audition, and I have to say, they each improved in substantial ways.

Dakota sang "Any Dream Will Do" from Joseph. His pitch was clear, and unlike previous attempts, he added more hand gestures and facial expressions.

McKenna sang "Match Maker" and greatly improved her timing. Last time she auditioned, she rushed the song somewhat. Today she started to rush again, but she caught it and corrected herself.

Whitney sang "Popular" from Wicked and added gestures to her performance. She began to experience her first sense of audience feedback.

Of course, like always, we uploaded all three auditions to our YouTube page. By the time they finish high school, we'll have quite a record to document their growth as performers.


CYT auditions took place at Millwood Presbyterian Church.

The location inspired a rather random thought about government and city planning. You see, Millwood is a tiny incorporated city in its own right, surrounded like an island by the suburban overflow of Spokane and the city of Spokane Valley. Without some kind of sign to indicate the city limit, one street would simply blend into the next.

And with fewer than 2000 inhabitants, I wonder why such a place bothered to incorporate at all. What benefit to they derive from becoming a city apart from others?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


The longer I live, the more a sense of mortality presses down upon me, sometimes crushing my breath and shaking me to the core. Once again, I received news that a dear friend from many years ago passed away. An unknown "friend of a friend" sent me a message via Facebook (of all places) and informed me that Arnoldo Castillo died last Saturday, and now my mind is a flood of confusing emotions.

Arnoldo entered the stage of my life through an unusual series of events. It's a rather long, circuitous story, but I'm feeling especially sentimental today so you'll have to just indulge me or stop reading.

During my mission in Guatemala, I served about six months in the small town of Colomba Costa Cuca, located on the green, jungle slopes halfway between the mountains and the sea. That place represents a conflicting, difficult, and occasionally wonderful time in my life.

Let's start with the difficult times.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I had actually argued with the mission president before going to Colomba. I loved my previous area and didn't want to leave.

My first month in Colomba was miserable. I felt homesick for my previous companions and friends, all the while we had no success finding potential converts. During that same time, torrential rains beat down as I trudged through miles and miles of mud and rejection. Then the president sent me a "green" missionary, Elder Wardle. I felt pressure to be a good example or a positive role model, but I could hardly see through my depression.

One week was especially difficult. Every day the rain and mud drenched through my clothes, my socks, and my shoes. We hung them out to dry at night, but the humidity was so thick that nothing ever dried. I got up every morning and put on my cold, mud-soaked socks and clothes. Just as the cold settled into my bones, we faced a level of rejection uncommon in those parts of the country. Most Guatemalans in the coastal region receive missionaries with a warm and open heart, even if they never join the church. That week almost every door slammed in our faces.

I felt dejected and alone, even though my young greeny followed me everywhere.

Finally we literally reached the last house in the town and the end of my wits. We arrived at a small yellow plank house at the end of the street, the last building before the cobblestones ended, leaving a dirt trail that continued into a banana field. A detached kitchen structure stood a few feet away from the main house where I saw a woman making tortillas through an open window. Without invitation, I opened the kitchen door and sat down at the table. My feelings of darkness abolished any sense of courtesy or social protocol.

"What's for lunch?" I blurted. "I'm hungry."

The woman smiled and answered my question as though I were not a stranger or an intruder into her kitchen, "We're having chicken and rice. I would love for you to have lunch with me." With all the grace of a saint, she served us both with the proverbial hot meal and a warm heart. She spoke kindly and laughed easily.

After my second or third helping, she finally asked, "What are you doing here today?" I explained that we were missionaries, but we were not having much success.

"No one wants to hear our message," I moaned.

"What is your message?" she asked through earnest eyes. I gave her the usual speech about Jesus and Joseph Smith, but without any pretense or pressure to believe. I finally remembered my manners and told her our names. I then handed her a hand written invitation to a video night we planned to host at the church later that week. As we left, I asked her name.

"I am Yanet de Castillo," she said and smiled.

Somehow I just forgot my missionary training and walked away without any commitment to return. In fact, I really didn't think of her until she arrived at our video night with her husband Arnoldo Castillo and their three children. That evening we began a friendship that would change everyone.

In the weeks that followed, Arnoldo and Yanet invited us into their home and offered us the abundance of their warmth and hospitality. We enjoyed many meals in that same little kitchen, but this time with their blessing and invitation. In return, we taught them all about faith in God and forgiveness for sins.

In that time, Elder Wardle received a transfer and Elder Matthew Cudney joined me in his place. The Castillo family treated us like sons.

After every lesson, we invited Arnoldo and his family to receive baptism into the church. He always accepted our invitation, but then he would refuse to set a firm date. "Not yet," he always said. We didn't understand how anyone could believe our message with such brilliant faith and attend church every Sunday and still reject baptism. For months we labored to convince him to set a date, but to no avail.

After four months of teaching, he invited us to his home and finally said the words we had hoped to hear, "I'm ready to set a date."

Within a week, or maybe two, we traveled by bus to the stake center in Coatepeque for the baptismal ceremony. I had the honor of performing the ordinance. The water was so cold that day, but the family stood there beaming like angels. Arnoldo was baptized first, followed by Yanet, and then the two older children. The smallest son was too young to receive baptism.

In Mormonism, most people experience the Holy Ghost in a solemn, reverent manner, but something happened that was completely out of character. After the last child emerged from the water, we all stood there shivering and drenched. For a moment we just looked at each other and then the Holy Spirit fell all at once and we burst into laughter. It felt like a joyful, exploding laughter from the deepest part of my heart. It was holy laughter, if such a thing exists.

At the close of sacrament meeting the Sunday after their baptism, Arnoldo and Yanet spoke with us outside. Yanet looked up at Elder Cudney and I with tears streaming down her face. She said, "Thank you, THANK you for giving me my husband back." By then Arnoldo was also sobbing. He proceeded to tell us all the sins that held him back. He said he could not accept baptism until he had ended his previous life of infidelity and sin. He held nothing back. He confessed everything.

I was stunned. We held each other and cried.

A week later his 13 year old daughter corned me behind the church and demanded to know what I had done to her father. "What do you mean?" I stammered, afraid I may have done something wrong.

"I want to know what you did to my father, she demanded again. "The other day I got into my dad's favorite orange tree and broke all the branches. Before you found him, he would have gotten furious. I was afraid and ran away, but he found me. Then he threw his arms around me and told me how much loved me. We cried together. He changed, and I want to know what you did to him." Once again, I just stood there and cried.

Arnoldo and Yanet are THE reason I went to Guatemala. For some reason known only to God, I became an unwilling instrument in the hands of the Divine Purpose to bring this family to restoration and healing. In their turn, they became witnesses of a Higher Power that guided me through even the darkest times. Even as I changed my religion, I never lost my reverence for this sacred event. Their story transcends denominational boundaries.

On the last day of my mission, Arnoldo and Yanet drove to Guatemala City to bid me and Elder Cudney goodbye. Something broke inside my heart; I gripped them in my arms and wept. Even as my father drove us away, I looked back and watched their crying faces disappear into the crowded city landscape. That was the last time I ever saw Arnoldo or Yanet.

Tonight I weep again for my old friend. I hope now he is safely arrived in Heaven with all his loved ones who went before. I also wish many sweet blessings on Yanet and her beautiful children.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


My family made deer skin hand drums this afternoon, creating something of a special event. My mom, my sister Kim, my son, and I each built our own drums. They say drums are the heartbeat of the people, so then we made today a sacred event.

I feel a sense of gratitude for the time our family spent together, along with the offering of the deer spirit. All my love and happiness were poured into these drums; now all we need is to make a dinner to thank the spirits and to initiate our drums into the songs of our people.

My sister Michelle painted a drum she already owned.

Dakota building his first drum.

Mom and Kim displaying their handiwork.

Michelle's drum painting.


After drum making today, my family treated me to a belated birthday dinner at Rancho Chico. It was a wonderful ending to a happy occasion; friends, family, cousins, laughter...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"The O'Bama Irish"

US President Barack Obama and Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen walk down the steps of the Capitol March 17, 2009 following a Saint Patrick’s Day lunch hosted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Washington DC.

Only rarely do I ever comment on current news items. In my way of thinking, just about everything has already been written about any given topic, either for or against. My two cents would simply add to the overwhelming chatter of the blogosphere, and besides, I never want to make public statements that might alienate my readers. You see, I still hold to the notion that on some level we created the internet to bring unity, not division.

Having said that, a rather curious reference caught my attention from within a larger news article. President Barack Obama met with Irish Primer Minister Brian Cowen on this Saint Patrick's Day, and made a press statement regarding his Irish heritage. I did a double take. After all the public flap about President Obama's ethnicity, I was surprised to see that he added Ireland to a long list of ethnic origins. A quick Google search confirmed that literally thousands of websites referenced Obama's Irish heritage as early as the presidential campaign, including a few that criticized his claim to Ireland as an attempt to create a false sense of connection to "mainstream" Americans. One website even posted a video of a faux Irish drinking song where the chorus line croons over and over again, "There's no one more Irish than Barack O'Bama."

Ethnicity is a tricky concept, much less concrete than people might assume.

I consider myself a prime example of the "O'Bama Irish." My father was a "full-blood" member of the Spokane Tribe, and I have rarely been considered anything but Native American. But like President Obama, my predominant skin color only tells half the story. My mother is American like the prevailing notion of Americans. Her ancestors arrived to these shores from places like England, Scotland, Denmark, Norway, and yes, Ireland. Like millions of Irish who fled the famines of their homeland, my Irish ancestors, the Lynches and the Tobins, settled near Minneapolis, Minnesota and unwittingly created a new concept of ethnic identity. On the day they first planted their feet on American soil, I suppose they never imagined they would one day produce a son born of the indigenous tribes of this continent.

As a man of mixed ethnic origins, I welcome the Obama presidency. Love him or hate him, his presence in the White House invites us to struggle with questions of identity more than ever before, whether we base that question on race, ethnicity, or political ideology.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

ARMS Benefit

Rhonda and Ophelia at tonight's banquet.

Rhonda and I hosted a table at a fundraising banquet to benefit Abuse Recovery Ministry and Services (ARMS). This organization provides Christian-based education and support to individuals affected by domestic violence and other forms of abuse. Ophelia Araujo-Islas is the ARMS director for Eastern Washington.

Their website can be accessed by clicking HERE.

We have supported ARMS over the years in large part because of our friendship and admiration for Ophelia. She embodies a spirit of compassionate service that transcends human differences.

We also support ARMS because we recognize the need to end abuse in all its many forms.


Derrick turns 18 today.

We welcome him back after a long separation. Of all the places he could have gone today, he chose to spend his birthday with us. At Derrick's request, we pulled out the old game of Risk; maybe he missed the old times.

Years ago we used to play Risk with Derrick and his older brother Anthony. Without fail, the fictional board game war always turned into a real family conflict, where each person played the same, predictable roles. Anthony would cheat, then pitch a fit when he got caught. I always felt compelled to play the part of the world police, so the primary argument always revolved around Anthony and me. Derrick would barricade himself in Australia with no real strategy for winning, and then cry when he finally lost the war. Anthony would make fun of Derrick for crying, and Rhonda would finally leave the table in disgust. Sounds like a horrible family memory, and yet both boys still talk about the nostalgia of playing Risk as a family.

This time, the dynamics of our game changed dramatically. Of course, Anthony wasn't here to cheat and Derrick finally abandoned the Australia strategy and quite nearly destroyed everyone. Dakota joined the competition in his own right and the girls formed a cooperative team. Instead of fighting, we actually laughed and joked the whole time. Maybe we finally mastered the art of creating happy, loving memories, even if it involves a quest for world domination.

At the end, I won the game, but both Derrick and Dakota gave me a run for my money. As Derrick left, I hugged him and said, "Happy birthday Derrick. I'm sorry I had to crush you on your birthday, of all days." A tiny laugh escaped his normally somber facade.

It was a happy birthday for all of us.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thank You God

The Hand of God overshadowed my wife and delivered her from a potentially deadly car accident.

As she reached the top of the hill at Five Mile Prairie, an oncoming car hit a patch of ice and smashed into Rhonda's door. A teenage boy was driving the other vehicle. Thankfully, they were both going slow enough to avoid serious damage; no one got hurt.

Despite the positive outcome, we were all shaken by Rhonda's close brush with disaster. Just the other day, Whitney and I witnessed the aftermath of an accident that killed a local woman. The other accident played out in such a similar fashion that it could have easily produced the same deadly result. Any number of factors could have changed our destinies: if either car had driven faster, or hit harder, or slid over the embankment.... so many possibilities could have been more tragic than what actually happened.

Rhonda called me at work, obviously shaken. As all the horrible possibilities crossed my mind, I felt a terrible urge to cry, and then to thank God for preserving Rhonda's life.

Once again, thank you God. Thank you.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

March Snow

The girls walked to school under a bright winter sun, quite the contrast from the near blizzard conditions yesterday.

The weather created unexpected chaos yesterday. Just as everyone anticipated the arrival of spring, a freak winter blast dumped at least a half a foot of snow over the region. Snow in March is not unusual for Spokane, but normally it turns immediately to slush.

The snow disrupted my world as well.

Shortly after 9:00 in the morning, I drove my daughter to a dentist appointment. We could not cross Division Street because the weather had reached nearly white out conditions and the highway was choked with cars. Instead we drove south on Division and saw the cause of all the congestion. Two cars collided on the hill and blocked at least one lane of traffic. Emergency vehicles were just arriving and re-directing the flow of cars. I remember saying to Whitney, “I hope no one was hurt.” Only later did we learn that a local woman was killed.

At least 135 other accidents were reported by the end of the day.

We drove the long way around and finally arrived at the dentist office where my daughter got several fillings. After more than an hour of drilling under the influence of Novocain and nitrous oxide, poor little Whitney staggered out of the office.

And then the car battery died and we found ourselves stranded without a phone. With no one to call for help, Whitney and I walked home through the snow. The dentist told us the “happy gas” would no longer create any effect, but she still seemed a little unstable as we trudged over the snow and ice.

When we got home, we borrowed jumper cables from a neighbor and succeeded in re-starting the car.

Then this morning, the battery died again, and I ended up walking to school with the girls. The sun blazed with deceptive clarity in the frozen sky, but I still keep hope that spring is just around the corner.

Monday, March 09, 2009


For my 38th birthday, Rhonda and I rented a cabin on the Pend Oreille River, north of Cusick, Washington. We invited couples from our previous retreat to spend the weekend with us for a follow-up session dedicated to personal growth, authenticity, and sharing.

Nature could not decide whether to send us winter or spring. One moment the sun would shine as bright as summer, and the next moment we could hardly see through the immense snowfall. In any case, the river, the mountains, and trees provided a beautiful backdrop to my birthday and our couple's retreat.

Thursday, March 05, 2009


This photograph was taken at Colegio Guasave. Notice our class uniforms. From left to right, the people in the back row are (as I remember): Leo, Letty, Chino, Arcelia, and Martha. In the front row: Barry, Toño, Guillermo, and Lalo? Of those in this picture, in the last few weeks, I have reestablished contact with Letty, Martha, and Guillermo.

When I was 16 years old, I was a foreign exchange student and spent my entire junior year in a place called Guasave, Sinaloa, Mexico. At the time, Guasave was a town with fewer than 100,000 people, located about 5 hours north of Mazatlan. I lived with the Rojas Escarrega family and attended a private school named Colegio Guasave.

My experience as an exchange student altered the course of my life on many levels. For one, I learned to love the culture and language of Latin America. I also gained many new friends and life experiences.

In the last few weeks, I've come into contact once again with several of my old friends. We've been apart for more than 20 years, but as our friendship re-kindles, I feel drawn to return to the city of Guasave and the place I truly became a Spanish speaker.

The Church of the Rosario was built in the 1500s.

Every Monday our school performed el Homenaje a la Bandera (Homage to the Flag). Several girls paraded with the Mexican flag while military style drums and bugles played.

The Return of Old Friends

The same day I met my high school friend of 20 years ago, I received a Myspace message from a friend I knew almost 30 years ago: Anna Olivas. Actually, she was my sister's age, but I was friends with her older sisters.

After making contact, I managed to find a couple pictures from that time in our lives. Judging by the five candles on my sister's birthday cake, this photograph was taken on about January 22, 1982. Kim is blowing out the candles, while Anna rests a gentle hand on her hair. What a sweet gesture! I'm not entirely certain, but I believe the other child in the photograph was our cousin Shawn Norby, who is now deceased.

The "Blast from the Past" just keeps getting better.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


Social network sites like Facebook and Myspace have created something of a social phenomenon by re-connecting long lost friends.

Within the last few weeks, I re-connected with Rob Welk, an old friend from Rogers High School. He found me on Facebook. After all this time, he still lives in Spokane, so we arranged to meet for lunch. Other than one or two brief encounters within last couple decades, we have not spoken since we graduated almost 20 years ago. 20 years.

After the warm, friendly meeting this afternoon, I wonder why we never spoke.

I came home from lunch and talked with my wife about meeting old friends. In that exact moment, I received a Myspace message from a friend I knew in grade school 30 years ago.

Less than a generation ago these kinds of reunions may have never happened, but now they are becoming common. Rob is just one of several dozen people who have found me over the last few months through Myspace or Facebook.


The blogosphere is creating a suprising network of interconnected people.

Yesterday afternoon, I met one of my fellow Spokane bloggers for lunch. Of course, I was excited to make a human connection with someone from the alternate reality of blogging, but we also met for practical reasons.

Bree writes a local blog titled Life After Expo 74. The title reflects something of my favorite city, but her connections to my world run much deeper. She teaches science for Wellpinit Public Schools and interacts daily with many of my friends and family from the Spokane Reservation. More importantly, she has a heart a teach science with respect for the cultural traditions of the Spokane Tribe. Just check out her recent blog post about building pit houses.

The main purpose of our meeting was to collaborate on creating a cultural exchange between the Ecuador youth coming to this area and the students at the Wellpinit school.

Needless to say, I am very excited to see how this project unfold.

February On Trial

My daughter Whitney performed in a delightful little school play called, "February On Trial."

The premise of the play was cute, in a fourth grade sort of way. The Month of February stands trial on charges of not performing his fair share of the yearly workload. After all, February only works 28, or occasionally 29 days a year, when the other months work a full 30 or 31 days.

The prosecution only calls two witnesses, January and March, who each work a full 31 days. My daughter played the role of January. She appeared on the witness stand wearing a heavy winter coat and a knitted cap. She testified of having to work a full extra day because February just wouldn't pick up the load. She then broke down and cried on the witness stand. She did such a wonderful job.

In turn, the defense calls a dozen witnesses or more; people like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Babe Ruth, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, and the Boy Scouts of America. Each witness made obvious contributions to the greater good and incidentally, each celebrates an important birthday during the month of February. The defense argued that February has actually done more than his fair share of the work.

In the end, February is acquitted and released from police custody. Of course, the courtroom (the parent audience) burst into cheers


I managed to get a picture of my daughter dressed up for her play, but just as I went to make a video of her performance, the batteries of my camera died. I was appalled with myself. Usually I carry and extra set of batteries, but I left the house in such a hurry that I forgot.

I'll see if I can get Whitney to re-enact her part for our youtube page.


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