Thursday, July 30, 2009

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

We interrupt the previously scheduled Random Thoughts Thursday for a more pressing post. Random Thoughts Thursday will return at its regularly scheduled time next week. On Thursday, even.

Here it is: The Alaska Cruise Post. I know you’ve all been waiting with bated breath. Prepare yourselves. You’ve probably noticed by now that I can be a bit wordy, and the more strongly I feel about something, the worse it is. Between the two of us, Chris and I took over 1100 pictures. Even though close to 500 of them are some variation of this:

that’s still a lot of pictures to choose from. And, like my sis-in-law Emily said, God definitely spent a little more time on Alaska. It is gorgeous.

So bear with me, there's a lot to see here. And sorry, it is kind of a travelogue, but that's just how it turned out. Anyway, this introduction will only make the post longer, so let’s just get on with it (you can click on any of the pictures to enlarge them.)

the last sun we'd see for a week

We departed from Seattle on Friday, July 17 and headed for Juneau. The first day (Saturday) was spent entirely at sea, giving a few of us justification for buying those dorky looking Sea-bands. Now that I’m blogging this, there are a lot of things I wish I had pictures of, and 6 pairs of wrists sporting those stylish bands is one of them. Alas.

Moving right along...

We arrived in Juneau Sunday afternoon, and after a quick half-hour tour of downtown (with a population of around 30,000 people, Juneau is Alaska’s 2nd largest city, making the Portland metro area look like Mexico City) we boarded our boat for our whale watching expedition. Whale sightings were guaranteed, or we got a significant refund on the cost of the tour, so I figured we’d see a whale or two surface and I’d be perfectly happy.

Instead we began the trip by watching a mother and baby humpback whale swim side-by-side for half an hour and ended it in a spectacular sighting of three separate pods of 8-12 whales each taking part in what’s known as bubblenet feeding. It was possibly the most amazing thing I have ever seen, and they just kept doing it over and over. The pictures, of course, don’t do justice to the experience. But it was incredible.

mama and baby

whale breath

I think there are at least six different whales in this shot

bubblenet feeding

more bubblenet (see the open mouth on the left?)

feeding frenzy!

On our way back to the ship our bus driver pulled into a parking lot where we got a great view of Mendenhall Glacier, with a gorgeous field of fireweed in the foreground.

the light blue field almost dead center is Mendenhall Glacier

After a day of amazing wildlife sightings, we were next treated to a day of beautiful scenery in Glacier Bay National Park. My little camera doesn’t take anywhere near the pictures my camera-nerd brothers-in-law captured, but I did get a few fairly decent shots. Once again, though, the pictures really don’t do it justice.

Marjorie Glacier

a bit of perspective (the yellow lines near the bottom are kayaks - that's one BIG glacier!)

Check out all the chunks of ice floating in the water - we saw some like that fall off the glacier while we were there. They were a lot bigger than they look here. Titanic, anyone?

another glacier (can't remember this one's name)

but it has a river flowing underneath it, pouring into the sea

This was also the day that we saw a bear. I didn’t get any pictures, though, because you could only tell it was a bear through the binoculars, and even that was after a lot of eye strain. But at least I can say I went to Alaska and saw a bear!

The next day we stopped in Sitka, which is a cute little town with a harbor too small for cruise ships, so we anchored in the bay and were tendered to the dock using the ship’s larger lifeboats.

Look! It's our ship!

St. Michael's Cathedral

Chris and I opted to simply enjoy the town that day (read: we had no money for excursions in this port), so we walked through town (it took 5 minutes) and shopped for souvenirs for the girls and my mom. In the afternoon we met up with everyone else and walked over to the Sitka National Historic Park, which contains a bunch of Tlingit (roughly pronounced “klin kit”) totem poles.


We discovered that in addition to totem poles, the park is a great place to spot bald eagles. We probably saw at least 15 in the couple of hours we were there. Most of them were too far away for my little point-and-shoot to really get any decent pictures, but this guy was camped out right over a path, and he kindly obliged to turn his head just right while I was shooting.

After Sitka we sailed on to Ketchikan, where Chris and I went separate ways for the morning. He headed off with his dad, Blaine, and Mel to experience fly fishing the Alaskan way. Between the four of them they claim to have caught at least 30 fish, but you know how fishermen are ;)

While they lived the angler’s dream, the rest of us boarded a little yellow floatplane for a tour of the Misty Fjords in Tongass National Park. Absolutely breathtaking. We flew over little lakes and streams accessible only by plane, saw majestic waterfalls and steep basalt cliffs. And then we landed, for “pondering and reflection”, by a tiny island in a mountain lake, from which we could view snow-covered cliffs, waterfalls and even a small (though only compared to what we’d seen before) glacier.

the stylin' headphones totally match my jacket!

I know this probably isn’t as exciting to any one else as it is to me, but bear with me; we’re almost to the end of the trip. And if you haven’t started booking your own Alaskan cruise yet, based on these pictures, well, what are you waiting for? (I highly recommend Holland America Line, by the way.)

Thursday we spent most of the day cruising (and *sob* packing), but that evening we docked in Victoria, British Columbia, where we managed to finagle stamps in our passports from a grouchy customs official and gave ourselves a whirlwind self-guided tour of the city (or at least a very small part of it.) This tour involved various street performers, including my personal favorite (points awarded for creativity):

"See? The Dark Side has good music, too!"

As well as beautiful architecture and a gorgeous sunset:

Then, alas, it was back aboard the ship and time to bid farewell to our home away from home.

ms Zaandam, Holland America Line

Life on a cruise ship is definitely something I could get used to. Apart from the 24-hour-a-day food, which is to die for (and the reason I will be eating next to nothing for the next few weeks), and the variety of activities – lounges, games, pools, entertainers (some fabulously entertaining, like the comic magician and Dale the piano man, and some cheesily sparkly and way, WAY over the top – picture “On My Own” from Les Mis sung by a girl in a glittery gown with a chorus of back up dancers {on my own, huh?}, also in glittery garb. And waving arms. And feathers. Yeah, it was that bad), gym, and spa (which I unfortunately could not afford to visit) – the crew really know how to make you feel at home. Or not at home, because at my house there is certainly no one else who makes the bed each morning, tidies up my room, seats me at the table each evening and places the napkin on my lap for me, anticipates what beverage I would most enjoy, leaves chocolate on my bed, memorizes the faces and names of my entire party, and, last, but by far not least, leaves these entertaining little guys for me each evening:

my personal favorite

We were blessed with a stateroom steward named Anom, who made our day each time he smiled at one of us, called us by name, and asked how we were doing, and two fabulous servers in the dining room named Shandy and Ariana, who really knew how to make us feel special each and every night. Plus the other fabulous crew members, even including Cruise Director Michael, who we lovingly nicknamed “Guy Smiley”, and whose announcements of “today’s fabulous entertainment aboard the ms Zaandam” always ended with “see you out...and about!”

And did you know cruising is not only a relaxing experience, but also an educational one? For instance, you learn that your loved ones look fabulous in orange:

Also, that you can, in fact, see Russia from your house (or cruise ship):

Okay, not really. We just couldn’t resist. But we did learn that while totem poles may tell a story, some stories might just be better left untold:

Unfortunately, like all good things, the cruise came to an end, and since there was no hope of stowing away unnoticed anywhere aboard the ship, Friday morning we disembarked back in Seattle. After bidding farewell to Chris’s family the two of us took a cab to our hotel near downtown. During our two days in Seattle we must have walked at least 10 miles: through the fascinating SAM Sculpture Garden, across the Seattle Center two or three times, all over Pike Place Market and the surrounding areas, into the heart of downtown and back out, and around the a single block several times in search of a restaurant that appealed to us after walking all that way (note for future reference: the big yellow building with huge letters spelling “Mediterranean” running down the side is not a place to eat, but, in fact, an apartment building. Bummer.) We settled on a yummy Indian restaurant called Roti where we enjoyed a pomegranate chicken curry. Just in case anyone wondered.

"Eagle" and the Space Needle

By the time we were in Seattle, we were tired of taking pictures, so this is pretty much it. And we were ready to see our girls again.

Check out the homecoming they gave us:

do the Hula!

Apparently they had been planning a luau all week long, with decorations, dancing, and a Hawaiian-themed meal. I do have to say, I think their entertainment was far superior to the “Zaandam Singers & Dancers” and all their sparkly smiles.

It’s good to be home.

Only 49 days until our next vacation!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Under Construction

I'm sick of polka dots. So we're going with simplicity for a while until something else catches my fancy. I may change the colors around a bit, but not today.

Okay, to be honest, while I am getting tired of the polka dots, the real reason I'm making changes now, before I actually have anything to change to, is that I'm in the process of writing up a post on our cruise, and it's three full pages in Word. And that's before the pictures.

Yeah, I know.

I figured it wouldn't look quite so long if I had a wider text space to work with. Then maybe I won't scare as many readers away. And I'm trying not to make it too much of a travelogue, and more of just a list (with pictures) of why everyone should visit Alaska at least once in their lives.

So...yeah...stay tuned. Same bat time, same bat channel.

Or something like that :)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Back to life

Back to reality.

After a week of being waited on hand and foot (quite literally - I think I could really get used to cruise life) we have returned home to our girls and the muggy heat of a Portland summer. And boy do I have excellent blog material.

  • the techinque of "bubble-net feeding" and a whale watching experience sent directly from Heaven
  • glaciers the size of Rhode Island
  • a bear (or, if you're Erica, five or six)
  • amazing towel creations
  • more food that any normal person should even look at
  • pondering (and pining for) the Misty Fjords
  • over 5000 pictures taken by only 10 people
  • and much, much more!

Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Random Thoughts Thursday

It is stinkin' HOT here today.

I have decided that I'm not a luxury-vacation-type person. It's driving me nuts that I have to pack so many outfits and pairs of shoes. Normally I just pack two pairs of jeans and a week's worth of t-shirts and I'm happy, but no, I have to plan for "formal night" and "dress casual night" and "daytime casual" and if it rains or if it doesn't, and if we go hiking or just sightseeing, and it's making me crazy.

Not that I don't really, really, REALLY appreciate the vacation and everything. My in-laws are being incredibly generous in taking us all on this cruise (and extremely selfless in insisting that we leave the munchkins behind), and I'm grateful and will happily pack whatever I need. But it's still making me crazy.

My mom flew in this morning and Ellie said, "Mom, you and Daddy didn't go yet. Why haven't you goed?" They can't get rid of us fast enough.

It is sooooo hot.

But by Sunday I'll be in Juneau, where it will most definitely not be this hot, so I can bear it.

Okay, back to packing. You probably won't hear from me for over a week. After the cruise, Chris and I are doing a little late anniversary celebrating in Seattle for a couple of days. Hooray for hotel club points and frequent flier miles!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tooting my horn part 2: the recipe

Since a couple of people actually asked, and I'm being bold and assuming that everyone else wants it (because, really, who wouldn't?) here's my top secret, world-famous, totally awesome, so-simple-you'll-never-buy-Ragu again spaghetti sauce recipe.

Allison's Awesome Spaghetti Sauce
It's mine, I can call it what I want

1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes (I use petite diced)
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
1 clove minced garlic
Handful diced zucchini or other seasonal vegetable (optional)
About 1-2 tsp. Italian herb seasoning
About 1-2 Tbsp. heavy cream
2-4 Tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Throw everything into a medium saucepan and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Serve over spaghetti, topped with freshly grated Parmesan.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Another tooth

Lexi's been working on this tooth for a long time now. It was loose before school got out, and the grown up tooth has been pushing up behind it and is almost fully out. I was starting to worry that the baby tooth was going to have a little extra help to leave her mouth. They have a dentist appointment in a couple of weeks, and I half expected that we'd be bringing the tooth home in a container instead of in her mouth. But thankfully a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup provided the intervention we needed and the tooth came out in the car on the way home from gymnastics. After a little drama, because blood requires drama in this house, she was proud to display the tooth for a picture (in fact, she demanded a picture) and then put it under her pillow for the tooth fairy. The tooth fairy, true to her nature, left two quarters and no doubt in Lexi's mind (unlike some people) that she's real.

Allow me to toot my own horn

But only for a minute, I promise.

On Friday I threw together a meal for the missionaries, having forgotten that I’d signed up over a month ago to have them over for dinner that night. We had made other plans, which didn’t involve me cooking anything that night.

But we love the missionaries and want to support the work they do, plus, and this is the kicker for my kids, they’re girl missionaries AND they know sign language (one of them is even deaf.)

So I cooked up a big pot of spaghetti and literally threw a bunch of stuff together in a saucepan and hoped it would turn into a decent sauce for the pasta.

Guess what? They asked for the recipe! It’s one thing to make something so well following someone else’s recipe that other people want to duplicate it at home, but it’s something else entirely to invent a dish yourself and have people want to duplicate it. I used to be a horrible cook. Ask Chris – it’s completely true. I was awful. But on Friday I felt like I had finally arrived in the culinary world. I’m teetering on the edge of the culinary world, no doubt, but hey, someone liked something I invented, and that’s good enough for me.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Sometimes the imaginary friend is an idiot

The last couple of days, Ellie has been a slave to Dora the Explorer. Not in the sense that she watches the show nonstop - thankfully the TV hasn't even been on for the last two days. No, Ellie has decided that Dora is her best friend, and she does whatever Dora tells her to. If Dora says that her birthday party is tonight, well then Mom and Dad sure as heck better not try to enforce bedtime, because "Dora said I HAVE to go to her party!!!" And if Dora says that the pink and purple argyle socks are a good match for the yellow pajama shirt (never mind that it's 80 degrees out), then Ellie will wear those socks with pride. You get the idea. Whatever Dora says, goes.

When Ellie got up this morning she came to hang out with me in the bathroom while I was getting ready. Our master shower and toilet are in a separate room from the sinks (a feature I will never be able to live without again.) I was at the sink and Ellie went in to go potty. I reminded her to throw away her pull-up when she was finished. Then I stopped paying attention. After a couple of minutes I realized that she'd flushed but was still standing over the toilet, staring into it. When I asked her what she was doing, she said, "It's not flushing."

Our toilets are notorious for backing up at inconvenient times, and little kids and their penchant for excesses of toilet paper don't help the situation. I told her I would take care of it and she went back to her room for underwear while I promptly forgot about the toilet. When I walked through to the closet I noticed the lid up. I went to close it, and this is what I found:

Can you guess what Ellie said when I asked her why she'd tried to flush something she'd thrown away every other morning for a year?

"Dora said I have to."

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Random Thoughts Thursday

Why is it that tomatoes and zucchini take months to grow, but weeds can reach two feet high in three days?

And why will my children dig happily in the dirt for hours on end, but if I so much as suggest that they dig a few weeds while they're at it, suddenly they remember that they have to go play on the playground right now?

I've decided that Thursdays are just hard days. I've been pondering this for a few weeks now. I think it's because it's almost Friday and I'm burned out after a busy week (and they all seem busy these days), but it's not actually Friday, so I know there's one more day before I get to enjoy the weekend. It's just harder to get out of bed on Thursdays.

I should be doing laundry.

Did you know if a kid throws up a lot in the pool they have to evacuate it for two hours? But if a kid throws up in the pool just a little bit, they just clear the general area and keep things going. You probably don't want to know how I learned this.

The new Harry Potter movie comes out in less than a week! And it's rated PG, which Vicki has informed me means that Chris and I don't have to see it first to make sure it's okay for her to watch. She has a point. I'm contemplating taking her and a few friends to see it opening day. We'll see.

Whoever decided it was a good idea for the Little People toys to sing stupid songs should be locked in a dark room with the castle, the bus, the playground and a 3-year-old for 24 hours. Think it's a good idea now, buddy?

A word of advice: if you find the sippy cup full of milk that's been missing for, oh, a month or so, don't open it. Really, really, don't open it. Just trust me on this one.

A week from tomorrow I leave on vacation, with my hubby and without my children. I love my children dearly, but I absolutely cannot wait to go on vacation without them. They are also excited for us to go, because it means that they'll be spending a week with Grandma, and everyone knows that grandmas are WAY more fun than Mom.

Now I will leave you with a bit of irony from Merriam-Webster's word of the day (how do you pronounce that word, anyway?):

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