Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cruising Alaska!!

Here is the story of my Alaskan cruise. This was my first cruising experience and I’m going to admit I was a little nervous at the outset. I wasn’t really sure what to expect and I was worried about gaining 15 pounds during the week since I do have a serious problem saying no to food that is placed in front of me. Also, since it was just Stacey and I, I was a bit anxious about my ability to entertain her and make sure she had a good time as well.

Luckily most of my worries were unnecessary. I did eat a lot, but exercised almost every day and I’d like to think that kept the weight gain to a minimum. And Stacey was great about not needing to be entertained, plus we met some really great people throughout the cruise, which helped break up the monotony my constant presence can create.

So, here we go:

Day 1 – Disembarkation

I am a horrible packer and I can never seem to motivate myself to pack the night before a trip. (I blame this on my sister Cynthia because I remember her first trip to Girls Camp…..She packed 4 months early and when she got back she had miraculously found her journal, her scriptures and some other things she had been unable to locate for 4 months.) We left at 9:00, which meant I got up at 5:00(ish) to pack everything (and by everything I mean practically everything I own…because you never know what you will need on a trip!)

We loaded everything into the car and lovely Mary Ann took us to the airport. At check-in I found that my suitcase was overweight (shocking…I know) but we shuffled some books and stuff around and only annoyed a handful of people with our delays. Stacey tried to sneak a bottle of water onto the airplane and got detained by airport security. But we eventually boarded our plane and were off to Seattle.

My amazing friend Michelle came to pick us up (thanks Dixon for watching the kids). We went for a quick lunch and then headed for Pier 91 and Holland America’s ship The Zaandam. During our loading process there was a brief moment of passport trauma (Stacey had renewed hers but the security person didn’t like how it was done….and I had forgotten to sign mine). Then we were invited to board the good ship and find our stateroom.

We had picked a room with a window…which I was very grateful for. We went on a quick tour of the place. Found the dining areas, gym, lounges, and casino…all very important (except maybe the casino). We decided to not go to the formal dinner that first night and in stead went to the Lido buffet. The food was good and plentiful.

When we returned to our room, we started watching “Lost in Austen”. Stacey made it about 20 minutes and was out cold. (It was 7:00 at night….so you can understand her exhaustion.) I was reading the new Sookie Stackhouse novel (it was only okay…but it had some great Erik parts).

This is about the time that I discovered that despite my careful packing, there was one thing I did forget….a watch. So pretty much the most common sentence heard the entire week was “what time is it?” and most of the time we had to ask someone else.

Anyway, Stacey never really regained consciousness. She would wake up every once in a while and say something slightly rude. Once I had gotten up to look out the window and she rolled over and told me to stop looking at her. Oh…and then I ordered some room service since we had talked about doing that…ordering some cheese and crackers and chocolate chip cookies. So, I’m ordering that and decide to get a sandwich as well, Stacey makes no movement until I hang up and she says “What if I had wanted something?” and rolled over. Later when she woke up to get ready for bed, she didn’t remember any of it. Evidently she talks in her sleep ☺.

Day 2 – At Sea

Saturday I got up early and went to the gym. This was the first morning Stacey and I realized we should never share a room. I can’t sleep in after 7:00 (at the latest) and she can’t sleep through me getting up regardless of how quiet I tried to be. I spent some time on the treadmill and had flashes back a few years to falling off one….the rocking of the boat makes running a little treacherous, so I had to hold on to the rails the whole time….but I didn’t fall!

We had a nice breakfast, which we had ordered from room service and then headed to a lounge to relax and read. While we were in the lounge we notice a gentleman and his son sitting and talking to our right. After a while, Stacey said she thought she heard them talking about Utah and said the word “ward”, so we thought they were probably members of the Church and we had been thinking about finding someone to go to church with us in Juneau.

Stacey was super brave and went to ask them and sure enough they were from Salt Lake City. It was a little family cruising together, the mom and the dad, a married son and his wife, and another son who was attending school at the University of Washington. We talked for a while and they were super nice.

We attended the formal dinner that night. We had requested to sit at a table of 8 and when we arrived we met a couple of our tablemates. They were two Indian sisters, one was a doctor who lived in LA and the other was a math professor who lived in India. They were so cute and even though it was a little hard to understand them with their accents, it was really fun to talk to them. We also had a crewmember join us that night. She was the acupuncturist aboard and that led to some interesting conversations as well. She bought a bottle of wine for the whole table (all 5 of us), and I felt a little bad telling her we didn’t drink but appreciated the gesture.

After dinner we met up with our SL friends. The parents had gone to bed, but the rest of us played some Dice and Canasta. I lost big time both games…which of course made it all a little less enjoyable.

Day 3 – Juneau (& my birthday)

I got up Sunday and quietly, though not quietly enough…still woke Stacey up…darn it all…headed to one of the lounges and did Sunday appropriate studying while watching for whales. I saw the tail of a whale from pretty far off, but it was neat….and almost as much fun as saying “I saw the tail of a whale” which is REALLy fun...try it!!

When I returned to the room, Stacey had some presents for me. She and Melissa and Jenni and Tracy had all sent birthday gifts for me and Stacey gave me one or two each day. They are so sweet. They gave me a bunch of jewelry to help me in my attempts to accessorize a little more.
Up to this point we had had some pretty rough water. Stacey and I both loved the rocking and drunken walking…the way you trudge up the stairs and then float up them as the boat sinks and rises with the swells. However, a good portion of the passengers weren’t enjoying the trip quite as much…patches behind ears could be seen everywhere. Anyway, the captain rerouted the boat during the night and we found we would be arriving in Juneau an hour or more late.

This change in itinerary made it impossible to attend the ward in Juneau at 1:00 we had hoped to catch. So, we had a little Relief Society and Sunday School in our cabin. Stacey was in charge of Relief Society, so it was a lot better than Sunday School. We had a little good news minute and we were both excited to announce that we were on vacation cruising Alaska…it was my birthday…and we were surrounded by good food. Then Stacey gave a lesson she had presented in her ward a few weeks ago on light, how to recognize it and feel it’s influence in our lives. I gave a for Sunday School on a little quote I had heard from President Monson. Good times…until I got a small migraine which I was mostly able to ignore most of the day.

We finally docked at 2:00 and got off the boat a little before 3:00. Because it was my birthday, Stacey was a saint and let us take a special tour bus instead of public transportation which was a lot cheaper. But we jumped on the bus and headed to the Mendenhall Glacier. Our bus driver had the most unique cadence to the tour information he gave while we made the 20 minute drive.

At the Glacier we took a 3.5 mile hike up above the hillside. It was so pretty. Here are some pictures. There was so much greenery and lots of little waterfalls. It was just fantastic!

Toward the end of the hike there were just a whole bunch of stairs and we were very glad we were hiking down them, instead of up them. There was also the cutest couple hiking behind us. We would smile and say hi each time we’d pass while going to an outlook. At one point I told them we were so glad they were behind us in case some bears snuck up behind us. They responded that they were glad we were in front of them for the same reason. So we are going along, up the switchbacks and I hear this total bear growl…..ya, it was our hiking friend trying to scare us and for a second he really did. I think he felt bad afterward.

After a nap we went to dinner. No one else at our table showed up, but Stacey, being a great friend and ignoring my sincere desire to not have the waiters sing to me….totally told our waiter (Sunny…best guy in the dining room!) it was my birthday. So, sure enough, after our meal all the waiters came and sang to me with a chocolate mousse cake and a little candle. They not only gave us a cake, but a dessert sampler also, which began a little tradition where Sonny would bring us an extra dessert pretty much every night. Unfortunately, it was usually coffee flavored…so we would just pick around it and make it look like we ate it.

Day 4 – Glacier Bay

So, I slept in my exercise clothes and tiptoed to the bathroom and then out to the gym…all for no reason because I STILL woke poor Stacey up. When I got to the gym no one was there! I was all alone with the wide ocean, a treadmill, and a good book on CD (Countess Below Stairs…very good!!).

For breakfast we decided to try the dining room and we were seated next to a lovely couple from Oregon. We ran into them several times over the next few days. I think that was the best part of the cruise, the time we spent getting to know other people. It was really fun!

Glacier bay was fun but super cold. Actually, I’m not really sure how cold it was because we never actually went out on the deck like we were advised to do. It just looked to cold and the people who returned from the decks looked frozen solid. So, we stayed in the forward deck and saw the glaciers and their calving. It was pretty neat to watch. My favorite part though were the waiters roaming the lounge offering “Pea Soup!?” and all I could think of was that little cockroach in “The Rescuers” calling out “Pea soup!” Anyway, it made me laugh.
We took a quick lunch between glaciers and had dinner at the buffet. We ate by the cutest old couple. This was their 18th cruise! They had almost been married 60 years and met on a blind date. They told us to totally give blind dates a chance, because you never know…. They told us how to get much better deals on cruises…though the guy said that whatever they saved on their booking fees he made up for in losses in the casino…and every time we passed the poker tables…there he was ☺.

After we left Glacier Bay we found our friends from Salt Lake City. Pete and Robin, the parents, said they had played pinochle years ago, so Stacey and I convinced them to play a game with us. Again I lost, but it was still fun.
At dinner we were joined by a new lady, she had been really seasick over the past few days, but was finally feeling well enough to join us. She was crazy! Honest, very nice…but very chatty and a bit of an exaggerator. It was her birthday that night, so we got more chocolate mousse cake.

That night we went to the crew show. The crew consists of people from Indonesia. We loved the crew! They were so nice and would greet us with a “Hello, Miss Stacey! Hello, Miss Carla!” and they were just fantastic and friendly all the time! Even though they work 11 hours a day for weeks on end and months away from their families. Anyway, they did a show that night with some songs and dances from Indonesia. Our dinner waiter, Sunny, was the MC and he was so funny! He has been working on Holland America ships for 15 years!

Day 5 – Sitka

So I guess I should admit that after most of our breakfasts in the dining room….we might have headed to the buffet for a second breakfast (yes, we temporarily became hobbits…but sometimes we needed a little more of something in the morning).

This was our day in Sitka. Here we walked to a beautiful hike up into the hills behind the town. The ground was so wet that almost the whole trail was a wooden boardwalk and stairs. 
I hadn’t really anticipated a serious hike….so I was sweating like a…well…like a Zollinger the whole time but it was just so great. They warned us, again, of bears, so we felt a little bit of pressure to keep talking the whole time. We ran out of actual things to say to each other about 10 minutes in…but we kept chatting and it must have worked because we didn’t see any bears at all. Though we did run into a purple haired hiker and several locals….which was when I realized why I cannot live in Alaska…everyone ownes a DOG!! Honest!!

We took a nap that afternoon and I did some laundry since by this time I had sweat soaked both pairs of jeans I had brought….needed some clean clothes in a desperate way. I also discovered that I HATE Laundromats…so not fun!

Day 6 – Ketchikan

We docked in Ketchikan early Wednesday morning. Since we couldn’t go on a hike we just walked around town. We almost went on a tour of a Salmon farm and Eagle refuge….but there weren’t any Salmon running yet, so we decided it wasn’t really worth it. 
Instead we went to a little museum that was connected to the local public library. It was interesting to learn a little more of the Salmon industry. We also saw a few totem poles, check out this one…I’m sure it’s really serious, but it just really cracked me up. 

The other thing that cracked me up was that we sat for a while outside the library while they were opening and I swear this is what they said “We need more signs. No cell phones. No sleeping. No eating. Why is it so hard? I feel like I run around all day saying ‘Wake up and read the sign!’” It’s just really nice to know that my library frustrations are universal!

Ketchikan was really pretty though.  Here are a couple of pictures.  The greens were so vibrant and we did see a few salmon in river.

Then we did the only shopping we did the whole trip and headed back to the boat. At lunch we met two great couples. The older couple were serious travelers and said the most amazing place to visit was India. The other couple were so fun to talk to. The guy, during college, had decided to travel Europe despite his entire fortune amassing to about $50. So he sold subscriptions to his travel memoirs. He would send articles home every month. Because of that, he felt a need to do crazy things...he made me feel like a real coward.

But better than all those stories was the one about how he and his wife had met. She was from Spain and they wrote letters for 3 years…she wrote them in Spanish and he replied in English…each one needing them interpreted by a third party. He went to visit her once and they couldn’t even talk because of the language barrier. Then she came to the US and stayed with his family and finally learned English…she pointed out that she learned English but he never did learn Spanish. Anyway, they were a riot.

Dinner on Wednesday was a “Dinner Show” where the wait staff had to do little musical numbers between courses. Stacey and I just kept feeling so bad for them because they looked so ridiculous and adorable at the same time. That night they also had a Dessert Extravaganza and surprisingly…it was a disappointment…which was probably a blessing because I didn’t eat much that night.

Day 7 – Victoria, B.C.

We weren’t going to dock in Victoria until 6:30 PM, so we had the day to hang around. We exercised during our mandatory debarkation meeting (which they were telecasting all day long, so we couldn’t figure out why it was mandatory). Then we met our Salt Lake friends for one last lunch in the dining room and then played some Yatzee and Hearts. My luck finally started to turn and I won the Yatzee game!
We had decided to go to dinner in the dining room and then walk around some parks near the pier in Victoria. Just as we were sitting down to dinner….the captain got on the PA system and informed us that the winds were too high and the ship would be unable to dock in Victoria. Below is a picture of the closest I got to leaving the country …that is Victoria in the distance.

When he made the announcement we just laughed because at the end of the cruise…I still would not have used my passport or left the country!! I am honestly never meant to leave US soil!

The crazy lady at our table showed up for dessert and asked us to stay until she finished…which she did really slowly. Tom, one of our SL friends, stopped by to invite us to play games and she kept trying to get us to invite her to play also….we are really mean because we never did invite her. I think we did her a favor because I don’t really think she would have enjoyed the games of Bang! we played.

Well, that’s about it. We had to pack up everything before we went to bed.

Day 8 – Trip Home

We had our final meal and headed off the boat. It was so strange to be in Seattle and not see any of my friends or stay for even a couple of days. We took a bus to the airport and luckily the scale at the check-in counter was broken…so my luggage wasn’t overweight!

The flight home was pretty uneventful and I was super happy to see cute Jenni come to pick us up. I had a really hard time snapping out of vacation mode. I may have taken a nap for most of the afternoon/evening. Then I got hungry and didn’t know quite what to do since no one showed up with a menu….I had to settle for granola and yogurt. That is when I realized I was home and forced myself to unpack and put things away.

Thus ends my vacation. This turned into a serious narrative! Congrats to those who persevered through it!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Those Little Things I Never Buy

Ever notice that there are a bunch of things you always mean to buy, but never quite get around to it? I have a bunch of things like that….I don’t know why I don’t buy them…I just don’t…things like:

A paper shredder
A pizza stone
A cutting board for sewing (you know…like the big green ones)
A hand mixer
A George Foreman Grill (or anything similar)
And a bunch of sewing tools I don't have but will need to get eventually because I plan to do more sewing in the next few years.

Well….that’s all I can think of just now. 

(This might sound like a shopping list....but it isn't.  I promise not to buy any of these things until at least July 15th.) 

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sarah's Key

Sarah’s Key
By Tatiana de Rosnay
St. Martin’s Press, 2007. 294 pgs. Fiction.

Ten year old Sarah lives in Paris as the German occupation during World War II begins. One night she is awaken by the Parisian Police and forced to leave with her parents. Before they are sent out into the night and fates unknown, she locks her little brother into a hidden cupboard telling him to wait for her to return, thinking she is keeping him safe from dangers she doesn’t understand. She is sent, along with thousands of other French Jews, to a large sports arena where they are held for days during a period of French history often ignored.

Sarah’s story is told through the discoveries of a journalist in present day Paris. She is struggling with her own trials and develops a deep connection to Sarah’s plight to save her brother and her later efforts to move past the pain and loss the Holocaust forced upon her family.

This book was suggested to me as a read-a-like for “These is My Words”, and while I did enjoy it, I definitely would not class it with Nancy Turner’s work. Rosnay tells a fascinating story with characters I especially enjoyed, particularly Sarah. I was disappointed when, towards the end of the book, the narration leaves Sarah’s point of view. I would have enjoyed learning more of her personal development after the war. A good book and an excellent choice for any book discussion group.

Ladies of Missalonghi

The Ladies of Missalonghi
By Colleen McCullough
Harper & Row, 1987. 189 pgs. Fiction.

Missy is a thirty-two year old spinster living a sheltered, drab life of genteel poverty with her mother and aunt. They reside in a small town filled with their relations in Australia’s beautiful Blue Mountains. Along with breathtaking scenery, the town enjoys the small minded nosiness that accompanies such communities. A recent acquaintance, along with some troubling pains in her heart, begin to bring Missy out of her shell, much to the amazement of her relations. Her adventures bring her independence, confidence, and, of course, romance.

If you have ever read “The Blue Castle”, this plot may sound extremely familiar. It does seem to be a bit of a repeat though I found it much less enjoyable than L.M. Montgomery’s version, which stands out as one of my all time favorite books. “Missalonghi”’s characters are a little less endearing, the story a little more awkward, and the romance a little more explicit. A light, enjoyable read (but, read “The Blue Castle” instead if given the choice).