Archives: Mark Funk

Hip Hip Hooray! To new body parts and moving forward

Running to the Seattle Mariners game in the 1980s.

Mark Funk # 63

For 45 years, my husband’s left hip did its job without complaint. It allowed him to play multiple sports in high school and survive four years as the smallest guard on the Oak Harbor football team. It helped him chase stories for three newspapers, play co-rec soccer into his thirties, run countless 10K races and complete one marathon. It even tried to swivel through a Latin dance class (my idea).

After we adopted the first of our two sons from Korea, that hip served as a baby bouncer and child seat. It was during a nature hike with two-year-old Casey riding on his shoulders that Mark felt the first twinge of what would become 17 years of pain.

He didn’t think much of it at the time, but the pain didn’t go away. It got worse, radiating down his left leg at predictable points that made us all suspect his back and a pinched sciatic nerve. He went to the doctor, who ordered an MRI of his lower spine. It showed nothing out of the ordinary.

Meanwhile, the pain bounced around from hip to knee to shin to ankle like a trickster. A cortisone shot in his knee brought only temporary relief. He tried physical therapy and acupuncture. I got him to try yoga. Nothing seemed to help, and some things made it worse.

Eventually the pain became chronic and debilitating, disrupting his sleep . . . and mine.  The man who used to love to run now balked at taking a walk. No wonder. When he did, his limp made me wince.

“How’s your leg?” I’d ask him.

“It hurts.”

“You’ve got to do something about this, force the doctors to get to the bottom of it,” I said. “This is a quality-of-life issue.”

I complained more about his pain than he did. I wanted some semblance of our active life back, but our needs kept getting swept aside by the more immediate needs of our children and our aging parents – the classic sandwich.

Then came not one, but two, big wake-up calls: Mark’s blood pressure was dangerously high, according to the machine at our local Bartell Drug Store. I urged him to go in for a physical, which confirmed the hypertension and revealed signs of something else: prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer is common in men of a certain age, and usually treatable. It also happens to run in Mark’s family, but his relatives beat it, so I was optimistic that his treatment would be similarly successful.

Still, I had an eerie feeling watching my husband’s skeleton appear on a monitor while he got a full-body scan to check for cancer outside the prostate. As the machine worked its way down to his groin, his left hip emerged as a cloudy white blob. I immediately thought, oh my God, the cancer has spread to his hip, but the technician set me straight: not cancer, inflammation.

Fast forward a year. With his blood-pressure under control and a so-far successful treatment for prostate cancer, we both agreed it was past time to revisit the leg-pain issue. X-rays and another MRI, this time of the inflamed left hip, showed bone-on-bone arthritis. On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the worst he’s ever scene, the orthopedic surgeon said Mark’s hip was a seven or eight.

A complete replacement was in order.

Mark had the surgery June 7. We spent a day in the hospital. A shout-out to the fabulous folks at Swedish Medical Center-Issaquah: Thank you for making our stay as pleasant as possible.  Former reporter that he is, Mark got to know each and every nurse, attendant and therapist and their family backgrounds. Our diverse crew of caregivers hailed from Korea, Kenya, the Ukraine and India.

Given that his new friends were kinder and gentler than our sons were likely to be, Mark wanted to stay in the hospital an extra day. But his physical therapist –a buff and jocular Korean man — told him insurance wouldn’t cover avoiding teenagers. Mark had already demonstrated the he could walk with the aid of a walker, go up and down a small set of mock stairs, and get in and out of a mock car. He was good to go.

In the week we’ve been home, he’s gotten progressively more mobile, graduating from walker to cane and striding less and less like Frankenstein’s monster. On Monday, we took the three-block walk to Roosevelt High school and back, no problem. He’s still on morphine, so we can’t be sure that the hip replacement completely fixed his leg pain, but we’re hopeful.

Getting back to a new normal will take time. We’ll never return to playing soccer and running 10ks. Those days are gone for both of us. But I definitely see some bike rides in our future.

Speaking of moving forward, I have my own news. I can’t spill the details yet because I don’t know them myself, but I think I’ve found a publisher for my novel. Stay tuned for updates.

In the meantime, if you have a hip- or knee-replacement story — and it seems that most everyone does — please feel free to share it below. I’d love to hear from you!

Race photo credit: W. McNeely
Football photo credit: Wallie Funk




Letting go is hard to do: Casey’s started college – Eek!

Preschool poster showcasing Casey

Preschool poster showcasing Casey’s life to that point

Note: This is the first in an occasional series of posts on the empty-nest process.


Mark and I got our eldest off to Western Washington University last Saturday. We assume Casey’s doing okay. He said as much when we tried to talk to him after the big move.

“Can’t talk right now,” he texted the first time I called. “But everything is going good.”

Casey – who we call Casel, Wasel, Case and Wase — is a young man of few words . . . unless he wants or needs something. We had just dropped him off in Bellingham and were on our way to Guemes Island for a night of R&R, when Mark’s cell phone started buzzing.

Casey: Clothes hangers??????

Me: They are in the box with the bed stuff.

C: And wtf did mom take the good towels out of what I packed? (He thought he was texting Mark.)

M: I gave you 3 ½ good towels.

C: New shoes are MIA.

M: Look again. Thought I saw them.

C: Also can’t find flip flops.

M: I know I packed those.

C: Not the other ones …….Check the back (of the van).

M: There are two pairs of slides in that box.

C: Nope.

M: If there’s anything important you need, we can come back tomorrow. . . We will check the back of the van when we can pull off.

C: Found them . . . in the backpack.

M: Good. What about the other stuff?

C: I think so. Disappointed about the towels.

M: Did you find new shoes?

C: Yes

M: And hangers?

C: Yes

M: Good. Call us tonight?

Can you hear the pleading in that last message? He didn’t call. Mark and I returned to Seattle the following day, fingers crossed that he would manage to survive the next two weeks with disappointing towels.

So passed a stressful milestone, possibly more stressful for me than for him. I just about lost it last Thursday, the day I had set aside to go shopping with him for the rest of his college supplies. No amount of nudging could get him out of the basement and away from his computer game, so I finally told him he was on his own.

To his credit, he got it done, using his own money to order from Amazon everything he needed (and some things he didn’t). Second-day delivery, of course. He now has enough No. 2 pencils to last through graduate school. Or maybe he could set up a little business at Delta, the residence hall he shares with 114 others. (And yes, that was the name of the fraternity in Animal House.)

I shouldn’t worry so much. For now, he seems to be surviving without us nagging him to get up and out the door. His first test was an actual test: a math-placement exam bright and early Monday morning. He didn’t sleep through it. He didn’t forget to register for classes the next day. He didn’t sign up for Basket Weaving 101 (I don’t think there is such a class at Western).

As I write this, he’s hopefully in his History 104 class, learning about America after the Civil War. He’s also taking Economic 101 (markets and society) and Math 112 (functions and algebraic methods). He had the good sense to register for classes starting no earlier than 10 a.m.

(Mark interjects: But Casey has not opened his financial account at Western, something that would allow us to transfer our state’s GET funds, his housing allowance and other fees to his chosen school.  Sigh . . . you can lead a child to debt-free education but you can’t make him . . .)

At some point, I just have to trust that his fledgling wings will carry him. He’s a smart kid who has, for the most part, steered clear of trouble. Knock on wood.

Still a little more communication would be nice, something beyond the one- and two-word answers he gave us when we finally did speak with him Wednesday night. What I’d give for an adjective or two, if only to be assured that he does, in fact, feel.

Okay. That’s not fair. I know he feels. He fawns over his dog, Ben, and has been known to say to us, “I love you, too.”

He has a secret sentimental side. I saw evidence of it cleaning out his bedroom. You can learn a lot about a person by the things they choose to keep.casey-box

I was careful to pack away in a box anything that wasn’t obvious trash. This included a stuffed bear he’s had since he arrived from Korea, a  fifth-grade book report he labored over, a framed photograph of Ken Griffey, Jr. (when he was still a Mariner), a preschool poster showcasing his life, and a note with distinctly female handwriting that says, “You are nice thanks for lending me a stats book one time.”

So, there is a human in there.

Casey, if you’re reading this, I’m having a little fun here. You know I love you to pieces and wish you all the best at Western. Please remember to brush your teeth.

Next up: Reclaiming the space.

Summertime, and Alaska is easy . . . to love


I finally got to visit the state where a good chunk of my YA novel is set.  Our trip was short, only six days, and I saw but a sliver of it in its fairest season, so I may not be qualified to say this, but ALASKA IS FREAKIN’ AWESOME!

I went there with my husband, Mark Funk, and younger son, Charlie, to collect our eldest, Casey, who had spent the last five weeks working on a political campaign. Democrat Steve Lindbeck, who my husband has known since their days at Stanford, is working to unseat Congressman-for-life Don Young.

Now I’m not one to discriminate based on age, but Young has been in office for 43 of his 83 years. Steve thinks, and I agree, it’s time for new leadership. Our family helped him celebrate his Aug. 16 primary win, and I’d love to come back for the general-election party in November, but I’ll be too busy with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Plus, Alaska is cold and dark by then. Guess I’m a fair-weather fan.

We had to take a road trip

Steve’s  home-base is Anchorage, which isn’t as pretty as the mountains and waters surrounding it. In fact, it looks like a flat suburban city, with one important difference. Anchorage’s extensive trail system encourages climate-friendly transportation. Casey never needed a car while he was there. He biked and walked to the office.

In winter, when it snows, the trails are lit and groomed for cross-country skiing. Imagine shushing or pedaling along through the trees and maybe seeing a moose or two on your way to work?

I really, really wanted to see a moose while I was in Alaska. (The taxidermied one at the airport doesn’t count.)ak-me in moose hat2

Casey saw no moose during his first five weeks. He barely saw Anchorage, spending most of his work and leisure time staring at computer screens.  So we took him with us on a last-hurrah sightseeing trip to Homer and back, with stops in Girdwood (The Bake Shop serves a terrific breakfast), Soldotna (a prime spot for fly fishing, and we slept well at A Cabin by the Pond) and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (well worth a visit).

Okay, I have to say more about the Center. Not only did I see my first real live moose there, but I also saw brown and black bears, elk, wood bison, musk ox, a raven and Snickers the Porcupine.  I tried to get a photo of Snickers, but he was face down in his food dish, and my family was threatening to leave for Homer without me. So I’m glad the Center posted this cute video of him eating corn on the cob.

Homer’s where the heart is . . . and the eagles

As we drove down the stunningly scenic Seward Highway, I wondered, where are all the eagles? I thought eagles in Alaska where as common as pigeons in New York City. But I hadn’t seen a one.

Turns out, they were all in Homer for an eagle convention. Kidding. They were probably with us all along, but I finally started spotting their telltale white heads in Homer. As we drove, I had to point out each and every one to my boys, who weren’t nearly as excited as I was.

“You’re like a five-year-old,” said Charlie, who is 16.

But he was as amazed as I when we went on a guided kayak trip (we used True North Adventures) around Yukon Island and Elephant Rock and were practically buzzed by nesting eagles. We also saw floating sea otters, including one pair that appeared to be embracing, and the far-off fins of killer whales. Actually, Charlie was the one to see the fins. I missed them, probably because I was marveling at a moon jellyfish.

There was no missing the spectacular panoramas of Kachemak Bay and the Kenai Mountains. Thanks to some very generous friends, Cindy Armstrong and MarBeth Johns, we got a free two-night stay in their rustic little cabin with a killer view of peaks and glaciers . . . and porcupines.  Yep.  They come out at night. Mark almost walked into one on his way to the outhouse.

Of course, I didn’t go to Alaska just to collect my son and ooh and aah over the wildlife. I had an ulterior motive. I had to see if I got the details right. You see, I wrote that Alaska section of my novel based mostly on online research and interviews with friends who had been up there.

What I got right

Were my assumptions correct? By and large, yes. I also made some rather lucky guesses.

It really does rain a lot, even in summer, which makes for some big mud puddles. And, yes, there really is a saloon called the Salty Dog, except “Dog” is spelled “Dawg,” and it’s in Homer, not Ketchikan, and the interior is lined with signed dollar bills not fishing memorabilia.

My protagonist’s coming of age hinges on her running away to Alaska. I learned from Casey that the “The Last Frontier” really is a place that matures a person. This was his first time working and living away from home. His hosts, while gracious, expected him to be independent and pull his own weight. Casey came away from the experience more confident and more willing to accept responsibility, qualities that will serve him well when he heads off to Western Washington University this fall.

So some big thank-yous are in order. First to Molly McCammon, a woman I met only in emails, who fed and housed my son the first week and a half. Then to Steve and his wife, Patty Ginsburg, took him in for the remainder of the time (as if a 24/7 political campaign isn’t stressful enough). And, of course, Cindy and MarBeth, who showed us endless hospitality and helped make our trip to Alaska an actual vacation.

I hope to see you all soon . . . Okay, maybe not this winter, but spring?

Can you say, “Baby moose?”


Photo credit of Steve Lindbeck winning the primary: Evan Brown

A love letter of sorts


Dear Mark,

This may be putting the cart before the horse as I don’t have a publishing deal or even an agent to represent me, but I’ve decided on my book dedication and, well, I’m afraid you’ll have to share it.

It’s true. There’s another love in my life, another wellspring of support that made my novel possible. I’m referring of course to Guemes.

Can you dedicate a book to an island? I say, why the hell not?

As you know, I got the idea for my novel during a trip to Guemes eight years ago. Like a good masseuse, it worked away my doubts and plot knots to release a flow of words and sentences and sometimes entire chapters. Guemes actually kept my dream alive.

Anything seems possible when you’re looking out on a waterfront view “that never changes and always changes,” as you like to say.

When I tell you I need a “Guemes fix,” you know I have a particularly thorny writing issue to work through, and you’re always generous enough to let me come out here for a few days. Alone.

You do it because you know I’ll come back happy and recharged. Guemes may be only a 90-minute drive and five-minute ferry ride from our home in Seattle, but it’s a world away from the multi-tasking, soul-sapping clamor of city life, a true throwback to a simpler time.

I know that sounds hackneyed and sentimental.  I’m not exactly roughing it in the Funk family’s Wi-Fi-equipped beach house. But it’s not a stretch to say that time seems to slow down the second you drive off that ferry onto the island.

You can’t help by sigh as you pass the Anderson store and cow pastures, a sign advertising “compost tea” and a little stand selling garden-grown produce on the honor system. There’s the community center where islanders gather for craft sales and the annual Woodchopper’s Ball. Young, old or in-between, it doesn’t matter. Everyone dances.

At the intersection of Guemes Island and Edens roads is the playground that used to be a school site. Now it’s where our youngest son, Charlie, likes to play basketball, and I like to channel my inner child on the swing set.

It’s also the start/finish of the annual Dog Island Run, a 10K loop we used to jog religiously when we still had good knees.

Remember the dogs we used to pick up along the way? There’d be our Terrier-mix, Tom, and Magic the Rottweiler; Thurber, who must have been a Great Dane-mix because he was HUGE, and Mr. B, a cheerful Golden Retriever, all ambling along like some touring kennel show. But only Magic and Tom went the whole 6-plus miles with us.

They’ve all gone now to Dog Heaven, which must look a lot like Guemes. No wonder they call this Dog Island.

Following the road to North Beach, I’m greeted by that first gust of salty air. If the tide’s out, I might see a dozen blue herons out past the tide flats fishing. We used to dig for butter clams at low tide. Now we just slip on our aqua shoes and slog through the eel grass, looking for crabs and bullheads on our way to the rocks to check for sea stars. They’re coming back!

An eagle flies over. We know where they nest in the tall trees. Someday someone’s going to discover the bones from all those turkey legs the neighbor fed them.

I’m a bit of a bird watcher as you know, and Guemes has so many. Remember how we used to be awakened by the cries of seagulls and the plunk plunk of the clams they dropped on the roof?

That was the roof that got ripped off in that winter storm. The new roof is stronger and covers a larger house. I like the remodel/addition, but I kind of miss that plunking of shells. Oddly enough, you can still hear the rain. There’s nothing like being lulled to sleep by the rain.

It wasn’t the rain but fresh island goat’s milk that helped your brother, Carl. A colicky baby, he slept through the night — for the first time – on Guemes. Your parents were renting a cabin down the way, and that blessedly peaceful stay convinced them to buy property here. The Guemes house was built in 1959, my birth year. Coincidence?

So I really have Wallie and Mary Ann Funk to thank. Did they foresee the how much their investment would be cherished by the extended family, including Carl’s wife, Mara, our boys, Casey and Charlie, and a continuous stream of friends?

We love this place rain or shine, but that windstorm last November was one for the books. The waves hit the windows and sloshed over the house. I feared we might get swept out to sea. Maybe someday, when global warming meets a storm roaring out of the Fraser River, we will.

For now, though, I think I’ll sit in front of this never/ever-changing view and try to get some writing done.

With love,


What about you? Do you have a special place that taps your creative juices? Please comment below.

10 things about me


1.  As a baby, I bore an uncanny resemblance to Bert Lahr, who played the Cowardly Lion in the 1939 The Wizard of Oz movie. Actually, I still look like him, but my mom assures me there’s no relation.

2.  Like the Cowardly Lion, I’m afraid of some things, including:

  • Public speaking
  • Wax museums
  • Global warming

3.  I’m NOT afraid of:

  • Spiders
  • Going to the dentist
  • Swimming in weedy lakes

4. I still live in the city where I was born: Seattle. In fact, I live three blocks from my high school. At my 20th reunion, I got the award for having come the least distance.

5. I had to repeat second grade because I hated the private school my mom sent me to. When we moved and I entered public school, I was so afraid of failing that I graduated with a 3.8 GPA. (My Bs were in gym and choir.)



6. I’m a dog person. I’ll do face plants on my dog, Ben, and breathe him in. I love that he not only tolerates this, but seems to enjoy it.

7. The man who would become my husband, Mark Funk, asked me out after I threw a paperback dictionary over the pod wall that separated our desks. We were both reporters at The (Daily) Herald, based in Everett, WA.

8. My lay knowledge of most sports comes from countless hours watching my boys play baseball, soccer, basketball and football. I’d much rather watch them than the pros.

9. While working as a volunteer hall monitor at my son’s middle school, one kid compared me to Albert Einstein. I think it was my wild hair NOT my knowledge of physics.

10. I love chocolate, but it has to be dark. I’m a chocolate snob.

11. My favorite movie is The African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn because the characters of Charlie and Rose are so well drawn. My favorite line, though, was delivered by the German boat captain: “By the authority vested in me by Kaiser William II, I pronounce you man and wife – Proceed with the execution.”

12. My favorite books from childhood: It’s a tie between Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Both have strong girl characters at their core.

I guess that’s really twelve things about me. Oh, well, I never could write short. Thirteen.


Bert Lahr photo credit: twm1340