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Monday, July 31, 2006

The Alaskan Adventure--Part III

This leg of our journey was the most awe-inspiring. Our ship slowly navigated the steep fjord called Tracy Arm. Tracy Arm is the product of glacial activity, and at its end still sits Sawyer Glacier. The waters inside this fjord are a beautiful turquoise because of the glacial silt suspended in them, which is many times finer than flour. The depth of these waters was over 1000 feet, and the walls were massive monoliths that were covered in pine forests that looked like moss, so large and looming were these rocky slopes. Our sense of perspective quickly became skewed, but that didn't matter. The views were spectacular. Here are some of them:
(as with all pictures, simply click on any of them to enlarge)


What looks like moss or lichen on the face of the rock is actually pine forest. That's how massive these formations are.

None of us could believe the brilliant blue of this glacial ice we passed in the water. And as we glided by it, we could hear it hiss and pop, reminding us that glaciers are really living things in their own way.

Shortly thereafter, we caught sight of this little harbor seal who had hauled out on a floe to relax. It barely paid attention as the ship cruised by.

It seemed as if everywhere we looked lay another breathtaking view.

Just to give you an idea of the mammoth size of Tracy Arm, here is a tour boat followed by a fishing boat sailing a bit closer to shore.

This day showed us what was probably some of the most impressive scenery of the trip. Rick took dozens more photos, but believe me, Blogger is giving me fits posting just these.

The more I saw of Alaska's beauty, the more urgently I felt the need to protect it somehow. And most people I talked to felt this as well. It's this overwhelming emotion to save it, preserve it, just as it is, forever.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Alaskan Adventure--Part II


(click on any photos to enlarge)
This was the view from our stateroom balcony as we approached Ketchikan, the city whose name in the Tlingit Indian language means "eagle with spread-out wings." Another gorgeous day awaited us in the Salmon Capital of the World.









Ketchikan is nestled between the water and the mountains. Everyone, it seems, has either a seaplane or a boat. The main street in town is tidy and colorful and lined with the inexplicable plethora of jewelry shops that seem to breed in the tiny towns of the Inside Passage. Alaska's nineteenth century gold rush history includes an emphasis on brothels and bordellos, and one of the most famous is here, Dolly's.
We didn't tour it for five dollars. To tell you the truth, we were kind of deflated at this point. This wasn't why we came to Alaska. We could shop in quaint little towns in Ohio. Where was the wildlife? Where was the breathtaking scenery like glaciers and towering fjords? We weren't in the market for semi-precious stones with odd names like ammolite and tanzanite. We decided to strike out on our own, off the beaten path of touristy attractions and commercialism. But Ketchikan isn't that big and we hadn't arranged a pricey offshore tour ahead of time. We did manage to find some funny things, though:

(can you tell that the "safety boat" is full of water?!)

We found a stream full of salmon, struggling to swim up to spawn, but the photo is bad. We also found a lovely view outside of the main street:
Now that's Alaska, we said. It was time to board ship and get dressed for dinner. Tonight was a celebratory night, the reason we took this cruise: it was our 25th wedding anniversary. We had a bottle of champagne with our lovely French meal in the Marquis dining room. After dinner, the ship's naturalist conducted a whale-watching seminar on the decks at the bow of the ship. We were able to spot several distant humpbacks. It was exciting. We learned a lot that came in handy when we went on our whale-watching expedition in Juneau the next day. And, as if in honor of our silver anniversary, we were able to witness this gorgeous sunset as well:
It had been a very big day, and tomorrow was an early wake-up. We entered Tracy Arm fjord at approximately 6 AM, and it was not to be missed. I would finally see glacial ice in the waters, and true Alaskan scenery all around me. I couldn't wait. And once we landed in Juneau shortly after, I'd finally get to go whale-watching. Our tour came with a guarantee that we'd see whales or get our money back, and that not once had a refund ever been issued. I was more than ready.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Alaskan Adventure--Part I

In order to begin our Alaskan Adventure, we had to endure something of a hostage crisis: a full day of air travel. No cruise ships board at the shores of Lake Erie, so we had to fly from Cleveland to Seattle, with a plane change in Chicago. We rose at the ungodly hour of 3 AM on Sunday 7/16 in order to get ready and arrive in plenty of time for our 6:30 AM flight, the admonitions of "arrive at least an hour and a half early for your flight" ringing in our ears. Well, no one managed to tell us that the American Airlines counters don't even open until 5:45. The line was long and full of irate Princess, Norwegian, and Holland America cruise passengers, all grumbling about getting up in the wee hours to stand in line when we could have gotten more sleep and fretting about the signs we had all seen telling us that Sunday mornings between 6 and 10 were the busiest getting through security. There was a palpable sense of doom among us.

Finally, the doors behind the counter opened and the inappropriately cheery agents stepped up. Things moved quickly, and we anxiously walked to the security area. No lines! Again, a quick process, and soon we were in our terminal, on our tiny plane, and headed to O' Hare.
I won't bore you with the details of each flight, except to say Why do they allow reclining seatbacks in coach? Is it to prod you and punish you into paying the exorbitant First Class ticket rate? The lack of legroom was difficult enough for my 6' 3" husband, but to then be further crippled by someone's seatback in his face and lap was excruciating. And we were on a Boeing 777 to Seattle; this is the plane that now offers luxury economy seats with increased legroom for a 68$ upgrade from regular coach. Please.

After our flights, we shlepped our luggage the length of the airport through some double doors, were met by Princess Cruise Line staff, whisked aboard a shuttle, and taken to the dock.

(click on any photos to enlarge)
(I tried to get a picture without all those people in the way, but they kept on coming!) That is the ship we sailed on. I almost threw up, it was so big. I was getting excited. And a bit scared.
Plus, we were both exhausted. And confused. We had lost like 3 hours somewhere, but we were so tired. It was about 2PM Seattle time, and we had started our day at 3 AM Cleveland time.

Here is the view of Seattle from aboard ship that day. Can you believe the weather?

After a passenger muster exercise drill, we cast lines and set sail for Alaska. Rick and I met our cabin steward, Artemio, who filled us in on the pampering we'd receive from him: turndown service, fresh fruit in our room, a selection of spa shampoos, lotions, and conditioners, and how to reach him if there was any little thing we needed from him. We poked around our stateroom a little, unpacked, and then got ready to explore the ship. Rick got out the camera, and...!!!! Oh no! Suddenly, our digital camera was not working. The lens wouldn't move and the shutter wouldn't open! It had been fine just hours ago and had taken the pictures you see above. Now it just kept clicking and jamming. This was a tragedy. We had two 1-gig memory cards, 6 days in Alaska, and no camera, and we were already at sea! Our first job in exploring would be to see if there was a photography shop with a digital camera that would use the cards we had. Luckily, they had one--and only one--model that took SD cards. It became ours.

The girl at the photo shop advised Rick to take a lot of photos to run down the little bit of charge on the new camera's battery, then charge it overnight. That way, he could also practice with the unfamilar camera. Here's my favorite of Rick's practice shots: I think that's a Coors Original, by the way...

Cruise ships are one big feeding trough. A 24-hour buffet, a hotdog and hamburger patio grill on the pool deck, an Italian trattoria, two dining rooms, a steakhouse, an ice cream bar, and 24-hour room service. It's always feeding time on a cruise ship. Rick was in heaven, and I knew the boys would have been had they been invited on this extravaganza. Everyone was either on their way to or from a meal, it seemed. Oof.

And cruise ships are very international. The staff are from Romania, Thailand, England, Australia, VietNam, Singapore, Philippines, Poland, India...and those were just our waiters or bar stewards or cruise directors. There were passengers from many parts of Asia and Europe as well. I heard many languages, but the one language I didn't hear--at least in English--was any profanity. Honestly. And I have a theory about this. Everyone on the ship was treated with incredible politeness and respect by all staff. Consequently, the passengers treated everyone, including each other, this way. I never heard anyone become rude, nasty, irate, snotty, or anything like that the entire cruise! I found that truly extraordinary. Customer service people in stores and businesses everywhere, and customers too, I suppose, could take a lesson.

I promise to get to the really good stuff--the Alaska stuff--starting tomorrow. We dock at Ketchikan, the Salmon Capital of the World.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Glaciers for Breakfast

The hiatus between this post and last was not caused by sloth on my part; I was in Alaska! (And yes, while they do have the Internet there--ha ha--our cruise ship filters Blogger, and alas! I was unable blog about my adventures.)

I just got home at the ungodly hour of 1:30 A.M. this morning after a long day of airports and waiting and airplanes and snacks and trying to sleep with someone's seatback in my lap. Hideous route: Seattle to Atlanta to Cleveland. And Atlanta lost my luggage, naturally. Still hasn't turned up as of this writing.

But, Alaska! Mountains, glaciers, fjords, air that is cool and dry, whales and little black and white porpoises that look like baby killer whales, bald eagles and seals, and the ubiquitous salmon. I cannot begin to tell you of its beauty. Or the thrill of going whale watching and having three huge humpbacks blow and then surface not thirty feet in front of you, then dive and lift their tails in that classic whale pose. Or the beauty of crystal blue glacial ice glittering like a jewel in the water as you glide past it, only then to see a baby harbor seal haul out on a bit of floe shortly after.

What gorgeous country.

I'll tell you more about my trip in later posts. And I'll post some of our pictures once we get them sorted out. Plus, I simply have to tell you about some of our experiences aboard the cruise ship. I've decided that the cruise ship lifestyle is the way I was truly meant to live on a daily basis. I've informed the boys...who promptly said, "Yeeeeaaaah...not gonna happen." Some people are just Parade Rainers, and you know who they are.

More later. Thanks for sticking around.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Everyone Needs a Hobby

These things have become my Summertime Obsessions. I can't seem to lay off them although, in a few cases, I'll admit I haven't even tried. They are:

1. My hair.
2. Bath & Body's "Breathe Comfort Vanilla Milk" lotion
3. Peanut M&Ms
4. Nutella
5. Potato Chips
6. James Blunt's CD "Back to Bedlam"
7. Reruns of "House"
8. Crossword Puzzles
9. Luring bluejays into my yard
10. Going braless

A few notes:

1. It is finally growing out into something I can live with, but I have to fuss with it anyway.
2. highly recommended if you want to smell like a creme brulee and have very moisturized skin
4. most excellent on graham crackers and palmiers
6. first 3 cuts are the best
7. Hugh Laurie is...well...I'm really crushing on him.
9. really, these are such handsome, interesting birds
10. Sadly, no one can tell either way.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Men...(2)


Being a family of four drivers but only three cars has become exceedingly tiresome this summer. Especially when one of those cars is the boys' car, also known as "The Funkwagon." This designation comes because of the youngest son's job in car audio at Best Buy, where he used his discount to buy monolithic speakers and a stereo system that now make the Ford Focus unable to stow even a small bag of groceries in its hatchback. This same system produces a bass line so profound that it is arryhtmia-inducing--although it does provide a deep-muscle massage at the same time. Consequently, if this is the only car available at home, I refuse to drive it unless one of the boys first alters the stereo, and moves the front seat back into the front, and removes the litter of Pepsi cans, beef jerky wrappers, CDs, and hair products. Only then can I commit the horrible sin of moving the mirrors (!!!) and be on my way. Not worth it, usually.

So, Thursday, when I discovered that I needed the dreaded FHP (Feminine Hygiene Product), I approached Sam, who was off work that day and home with the Funkwagon.

Me: Sam, when you go cash your check, will you stop at Walgreen's for me?

Sam: Yeah. What do you need?

Me: Tampons.

Sam: (looks at me, disgusted) No! I'm not getting those.

Me: Why not? It's not like they'll think they're for you!

Sam: Mom. No.

Me: (teasing) I'll give you a note. It will say "These are for my mommy."

Sam: No. Mom. Come on.

Me: Jared would go. He gets them for me all the time.

Sam: Then call him. I'm not getting them.

Me: Sam! I thought you were self-actualized.

Sam: I am! Just not about that.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Oh, the Agony

On yesterday's news there was a segment urging Clevelanders to patronize locally owned restaurants rather than chain franchise establishments. The camera zoomed in on one outdoor chalkboard menu. It read:

Independants Day Special's !

You do realize that I can never, ever, in good conscience, eat there. Ever.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

...And That's What's Known as Relativity

Yesterday I nagged my 21-year old son for the fortieth time to take his medicine. He had just brewed an alarmingly strong batch of coffee and I watched as he poured the cream into his cup. This coffee was so strong that the cream did not disperse into the usual clouds, but disappeared someplace under the black depths, not emerging until he plied the spoon. Horrified, I had to comment. "Oh my God is that strong!" I said. "How many scoops of coffee did you use? And take your pill!"

"Mom," he said patiently, "I will. And just because you have been reduced by advanced age to a coffee wimp these days is no reason for me not to enjoy my coffee. Now excuse me while I get ready to shower."

As I cleaned up after him, putting away the coffee, the Sweet-n-Low, the creamer, and his spoon, another Mom Thought occurred to me. I strode purposefully toward the bathroom where he was standing, clothed only in a towel around his waist, digging at his ear with a Q-Tip.
"Hey," I said. "You said this antibiotic makes you queasy, and here you are, drinking ridiculously strong coffee and about to step into a hot shower. You haven't eaten anything. You're just asking to make yourself sick. Turn the shower off and have some toast or something."

He looked at me and rolled his eyes.

"Jared, I mean it. Why won't you listen to me? Who is smarter here, me or you? How many times have I proven it?" I said, exasperated.

"Mom!" he said, face earnest, one hand holding closed the towel at his waist and the other gesticulating meaningfully, "You are the smarter one. That's indisputable at this point. But whereas you are pretty much plateauing where that's concerned, I, on the other hand, am gaining in smartness as I age. You, eventually, will inevitably decline. So, there will come a time in the not-so-distant future when I will be the smarter one of the two of us. Right now, though, I'm letting you have that. So why can't you just accept it and leave it at that?" He turned his palm upward and shrugged, eyebrows uplifted questioningly.

I still can't remember what happened after that.
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