Sunday, December 22, 2013

The story of Alex's birth....

NOTE: This is a story written by my daughter, Kristin. This story was read on Alex's birthday until the last couple of years. This first year of his not being with us on his birthday, reminded me of our traditions. And is Kristin's version of Alex's birth and entry into our certifiably insane family. We laugh and love with vigor.

As we sit around the fir tree, reading the traditional, “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” I look around at my family with wonder.  All of them bring to mind special feelings. My mother, who has been through several surgeries in the past few months, is smiling and sipping a small glass of white wine. My stepfather, Richard, still fairly new to the family after a mere 11 years of marriage to my mother, is oblivious to the goings on and is watching whatever sports program happens to be on at the moment. My sister, Heidi, her red hair flying, is chasing her two children around the room, trying to get them to listen to the story. And, my brother, Alex 10 years old, just a few days earlier, is listening intently as I finish the book that has been a staple for our Christmas Eves since I was a little girl. Alex has always held a special place in my heart and as I look at him this Christmas Eve night, I am in awe at the impact he has had on my life since even before he was born.


If I remember correctly, my Mom told us she was going to try and have another baby on a Thursday afternoon. I had come over to visit after work and Heidi had just gotten home from school. We were sitting in the kitchen drinking a pop and she blurted it out like she had been holding this decision inside for weeks.


“Girls, Richard and I have been thinking a lot about this and we have decided that we are going to pursue having another child.”


“You are kidding, right?” I said.


“No, I’m not. I’ve talked to a few doctors at the University of Michigan and it is possible to have my tubes untied so we can try and conceive a baby.”


                “I cannot believe this,” said Heidi. “I’m probably going to end up babysitting this kid all the time.” She was 16 at the time and not too sensitive about other people’s feelings.


                My Mom didn’t get upset about that comment, but just continued with her explanation of how the surgery was going to work. “The doctors have to do an ultrasound first. Then, they will determine whether or not they can even reconnect my tubes. If they do the surgery, there is only a 25% chance that it will work. So, don’t get upset about anything, yet, OK?”


I am the worry wart in the family, so I had to ask, “Are you sure this is safe? You are 38 years old.”

“Well, it is fairly safe. You know, there’s always a risk when it comes to surgery. But, I don’t think it is going to be a very big deal. I just won’t be able to do anything really strenuous for a couple of weeks.”

My mother did end up having the surgery. She was right. She didn’t move around much for a few weeks, but she did go right back to work. She did eventually start feeling better, though. In mid-April, which, if we didn’t live in Michigan, should be about the time the trees are budding and the flowers blooming, my mother asked me to go to with her to Meijer, a huge Walmart like store. I agreed. The day didn’t seem any different than any other, but that soon changed.


We were walking through the Health & Beauty Aid section when my mother said, “Maybe we should pick up a test.”


“What kind of....oh my God!!!!” I screamed and gave my mother a hug. “I thought you were supposed to wait a few more weeks before you started trying to conceive?”


“I was feeling pretty good, so we tried a couple of weeks ago. And, now I need a pregnancy test, OK?”

“I can’t believe it. I thought there was a really small chance that this would work,” I said.

“It’s not positive yet,” my Mom said.

We got to the checkout lane and my mother started acting strange. “What is wrong, Mom?” “Could you buy the test? No one will believe it is for me anyway?”


I bought the test and we went to my mother’s house in Laingsburg. She took the test and it was positive. I joked, “Fertile Myrtle can only get pregnant one month out of the entire year!!! And you did it three times!!” My sister and I were January babies and it was apparent,  by our calculations, this baby would be born in January also.


My mother’s pregnancy went fairly smooth until her fourth or fifth month. She did have some strange cravings, though. I don’t think I had ever seen my mother eat peanut butter in my entire 19 years, but when she was pregnant, she couldn’t get enough of the stuff. My stepfather started shopping at Sam’s Wholesale Club because he couldn’t keep enough peanut butter in the house. Upon reaching the beginning of her second trimester, she started having trouble. She had amniocentesis since she was over 35 and had a whole bunch of other tests to determine if the baby was healthy or not. I was at work when my mother called me into her office (she was my boss at The Lansing State Journal) to let me know the results of her testing. My mother was being very calm and it scared me.


“Mom? What’s wrong? Is something wrong with the baby?”


She said, “The doctors think the baby has ‘water on the brain.’”

“What does that mean?” I asked.


“That means the baby could have brain damage. Things started going wrong when I had the amnio. The puncture hole that the doctor made with the needle never closed up; so, amniotic fluid has been leaking for the past few weeks.”


“Is the baby going to die?” I asked as tears were flowing down my face.


“They don’t know yet. They are going to do more tests and we should know something by the end of the week. But, honey, there is something else you need to know.”

“Oh, no...what?”


“We are having a boy.”


At that point, we both burst into tears. No one in the family had ever wanted a baby boy. Girls are so much cuter and prettier and you can dress them up in frilly little dresses. We cried for about ten minutes and as we were holding each other, we started laughing. Little giggles at first. Followed by some tittering and, then, out loud laughs punctured by guffaws. We couldn’t stop. We went from one extreme of emotions to another in 30 seconds flat. At that moment, we both knew that everything would be OK, even if the baby did turn out to be a boy.


Everything did end up being OK. My mother was prescribed complete bed rest by her doctor for the remaining four months. This was unbelievably difficult for my mother because she is a workaholic and a perfectionist rolled into one mere mortal. She became more domestic than I had ever seen before. She baked, did crafts, prepared the baby’s room and did a multitude of other things that were not typical of her personality. Oh, she still went to work every day!!


I had just received a promotion at work and was starting my first day on my new job. As I was walking into the building from the extremely icy parking lot, my previous supervisor stopped me and told me that my mother had gone into labor. This was quite a shock considering that she was not due for another month yet. I felt like pending fatherhood was upon me. I became a babbling, klutzy, frantic person that neither I nor my co-workers recognized.


“What do you mean she is in labor?” I exclaimed.


“Calm down, Kristin. Your Mom called and all she said was that we needed to let you know that her water had broke and for you to go to work and she would call when anything more happened.” What mom hadn’t told anyone was that her water broke at work and her boss was crazy worried. 


“Krstin, I told you all that she told me, “said my colleague. “You know your mother. She will let you know what is going on when it suits her needs.”


Knowing exactly what my co-worker meant, I decided I had better go to work, considering it is not a good practice to call in sick on your first day. I told my boss that I may have to leave, depending on what was happening at home. They understood, which I was very grateful for, because my mother had been working at her current job for the past seven years and everyone knew her.


I called my sister, Heidi, at approximately noon to find out what the status on the baby’s arrival was currently. “Hi, Heidi. How is mom?”


“She is fine. She is at Meijer right now. Why?”


“Why?!  Because she is in labor, that is why!!”


Heidi then told me the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard. “That’s not even the worst of it, Kristin. This morning at 7 a.m. she called Richard and told him that her water had broken. Richard started freaking out and wanted to call the doctor. She told him she had some things to do because Christmas wasn’t going to not come just because she was having a kid.”


“What did she mean by that?” I asked.


“She meant that she needed to get some last minute Christmas gifts and then, she needed to finish the grocery shopping for Christmas dinner.”


“She IS nuts, isn’t she?”


“That’s not even the worst of it,” said Heidi. “I asked her how she thought she was going to get around with having contractions and all, and she said, “No problem, you’re going to help me.’ Kristin, Mom made me help her get ready and drive her to the mall.”


I started laughing hysterically. “You mean, Mom was walking around the mall having contractions?!”


“Stop laughing at me!! She was so embarrassing. We would walk about 20 feet and then, she would have to stop so she could ‘do her breathing.’ People kept coming up to us and asking if there was anything they could do to help. I was mortified!”


“I feel so bad for you, Heidi. How long were you at the mall?”


“Thank God, we were only there for about an hour and a half. Then, she wanted to go to Meijer, but I told her she better have Richard go with her. Richard came to the mall to pick her up and he found her sitting inside the doors, on the floor, breathing deeply.”


“Well, I have to go back to work, but let me know if anything happens.”


I ended up working a full day. No one ever called me to tell me how my mom was doing. At 5:30 p.m., as I was getting home, the phone began ringing. I grabbed the phone and it was my mother, acting very calm, almost too calm.


“Hi, honey. How was your first day at work?”


“Fine.  Why aren’t you at the hospital yet?” I yelled.


My mother very calmly said, “I’ve had two other kids and this one is not going to mess up my Christmas schedule any more than he already has. I had shopping to do and now, it is done. I was calling to let you know I am on my way to the hospital right now.”


My mother and stepfather arrived at the hospital around 6 p.m. My best friend, Amy and I arrived shortly thereafter. My mom acted as if she was there for some allergy shots. This was not a big deal to her…just another birth, kind of at an inconvenient time and day.


We waited, talked and visited with my mom for about three and a half hours. Then, Amy and I decided to go to the cafeteria to get some food. As we were walking down the starkly lit hallway in the basement, a wonderful location for a cafeteria, we were discussing the wonder of my mother at 39 giving birth. We were giggling about all the things I could buy for him and do with him, when all of a sudden, a huge figure jumped out in front of us. It was my stepfather, Richard, all out of breath and looking extremely frantic.


“Your to come...upstairs....right now.”


“Why? Is something wrong?”


“No. You know how we had decided that it would just be us in the delivery room? Well, your mother has decided just now that it would be a wonderful experience for you to see your brother’s birth.”


“Wow! OK, let’s go!”


Amy said she would wait in the waiting room, but Richard, who is not a very outgoing fellow, told her to come along also. He said one more person in the room at this point wasn’t going to make much of a difference and besides, Amy was planning to be a nurse.


We all followed Richard into the delivery room, where, just as we walked in, I saw my brother’s head emerging from my mother’s body. I gasped.


“Oh my God! Oh my God! OH!”


“Shut up, Kristin, I’m trying to concentrate,” came my mother’s response to my wonder and awe.


My mother pushed for about 10 minutes and at 10:08 p.m. my baby brother, weighing 4 lbs. 15 oz., was born on December 22, 1989. He was very little. In fact, he was too little to take home.


My mother came home on the 23rd in the late afternoon. It was kind of weird talking about Alex and not having him there to hold or coo over. We had a surprise on Christmas Eve, though. Mom had gone to the hospital to see Alex and the doctor said he had gained enough ground to go home. Imagine our surprise when my mom walked into the house carrying Alex in her arms. We all started crying and hugging and thanking God for letting us all be together on this special holiday.


So, as I sit here looking around at my whole family, I have to thank my brother. Before Alex, we were a family, but we didn’t have cohesion. My mom, sister and I were a family and Richard was an addition that Heidi and I could have done without.  After Alex, however, is a whole different story. He has allowed our family to become a unit. He is my half brother biologically, but emotionally, he is my whole brother: heart and soul.  Although he is only 10 as I write this and my little brother, he is also my friend, confidante and spiritual advisor. I don’t even think he knows how pivotal he has been to our family.  Maybe someone should tell him.







Saturday, October 12, 2013

A letter from one of my sons...a birthday present extraordinaire!

I am blessed with three adult children and six grandkids. In addition, I have several other "children" who call me, on the good days, either "mom or grandma." It has surprised me to no end how much I value and treasure these familial relationships. Blood is thicker than water.  The ties that bind strongest are those built out of love, compassion, helpfulness, shared bonds and shared successes. Possibly tied more tightly to our hearts are those failures/struggles/problems that we have encountered and then, end up sharing together. Hopefully, we grow stronger together and individually as a result of having weathered them with loved ones.

Today, I received the following birthday letter from a young man that I worked with very closely. He wasn't ready to work at my pace and with my fervor. I tried to counsel him, tried to train and retrain and then, one day, I terminated his employment. He was a special, bright young man and I struggled over severing our work relationship. I needed someone to pick up the slack and help us achieve our goals and so, I hired someone else.

When some are terminated, they blow the experience off as x's problem, not mine. I mentioned this person was bright. He talked with me about the termination. We discussed his plans, kept in touch and I assured him that I knew he had what it takes to be successful. He is doing very well...because he listened, he learned, he questioned and he grew. Not because of me, but because of him and his drive.

We have stayed in touch, and like several other people whose lives have touched mine in a special way...we have bridged the distances between us by communicating and caring.  Oh, and might I mention that like two other of my "sons" his first language is NOT English!

This son sent me the following on my 63rd birthday:

Dear Mom,

Almost seven years ago, a young man met one woman that gave him the opportunity to learn many lessons, during that process painful in some moments the bond, the respect and love allow us to grow up. Now the mother and the child are physically apart but joined with the joy and the hope to share more adventures and more lessons.

All that I want to say is that you are one of my favorites persons ever. A great mentor, an outstanding mom and a treasured friend.

Today many people celebrate your birthday. Today I am grateful with God for letting me know the marvelous person that you are.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Celtic Highlights

 These ruins dated back to the 12th Century and apparently, the movie Braveheart was filmed here. The name, Trim, came from the Gaelic, Baila Atha Traim, meaning "The place or crossing of the elder tree.

Amazing to walk around these ruins and we tried to imagine what life must have been like way back when.


The castle wasn't open when we arrived so we weren't able to get much history or detail. One could look into the ruins and imagine that x building or space was where storage occurred, or where the weapons were kept.
  This carved piece of oak is called, "A Hunger for Knowledge." Beautifully aged piece of art.

Irish Folk Museum

It was suggested that Judy and I hit the Folk Museum to see what it had been like to live in Ireland a hundred years ago. The facility reminded me of Greenfield Village but there weren't living exhibits throughout the several acre grounds. We saw this sow...the biggest pig I have ever seen and she had several piglets in the stall next to her. One of the workers said this species of pig is the largest...had to be over 400 pounds.
 You have seen my photo with the mummer's head dress on but this guy below was busily making baskets and a horse head. Very informative and interesting.    The young man hammering steel was making a pitchfork...he had an apprentice who must have been 12 years old. Kid didn't want his photo taken! Hmmm...not sure how these photos got stacked on top of each other, but they are NOT separating!
Enjoyed the crofter's cottages. They were small and heated by peat moss bricks that make the most delightful smell. Our new friend, Frances, burned these in her home the night we went over to share hors d'oeuvres and wine with her. Wish we had these bricks here.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Titanic Experience

Lots of controversy around the Titanic Experience, a huge several floor building that both celebrates and memorializes the Titanic. Hard to imagine celebrating such a disaster; yet, this ship was innovative. That over 1500 people died when it sank after hitting an iceberg means a huge disaster confronting the country and the shipyard, Harland and Wolff which built her. She launched in 1911 but wasn't completely outfitted until 1912. Days after her first occupied launch, she was on the bottom of the ocean. No one was near to help save the occupants. Many did survive but the disaster is still a source of commentary and revulsion.

Some say that one reason the Titanic went down is that when she was launched on May 31, 1911, no prayers were said. Those prayers were the norm and it is possible that the Gods were NOT amused. She was totally outfitted by March of 1912 and it was only days after she left the dock with passengers that she hit an iceberg. The distress SOS calls from the ship were horrible to see.

Many think that those who died were of the "lower classes." That isn't true...more men died than women and children. They were loaded onto boats first...a greater percentage of women and children survived. And several men are thought to be heroes for helping folks into boats...several giving up their slot so that those who were infirm could survive.

The museum is very advanced and one literally can see, feel and smell the work going on inside the ship as it works. We went into the bowels of the boat through several floors while riding in a cart.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Travelling with a relatively new friend means lots and lots of laughs....fortunately!

Judy and I are relatively new friends...met her when we "moved" to Caseville and we hit it off and somehow, we decided to come to Ireland, a place Judy had never visited. I came here 11 years ago with Heidi but we stayed south of Dublin. This trip, we decided that we would definitely hit the Dublin area but I wanted to go to Northern area that we were told was unsafe 11 years ago.
Travelling with someone you know, but not well, could be a bit risky. So far, we have had a ball. Both of us are comfy laughing at ourselves and each other....and we are doing a lot of both.
Each of us have assigned responsibilities...she is the navigator and I am the driver. She reminds me often to "keep left" so I don't pull into OUR driving lane by accident. I remind her that she has to put the key to our front door in, right side up. For some reason, she likes to put them in upside down. And, it just won't work for Judy to try to show me a map to indicate where next we might stop WHILE I am trying to focus on driving in the wrong side of the car and on the wrong side of the road.
I am not the best at backing cars up and one MUST be an expert here. I literally start every morning trying to back my car across two lanes of traffic to get to the side I must leave our B&B from. Judy is a trooper...she goes out into the road and waves me around and across the seriously narrow and busy road. She hasn't groused once at me...even when I get snarky with her like I did today at the Titanic Experience. She wanted me to back out in one direction and I chose to go another,...amazing how easily we center our cars. Try driving on another side of the car and another side of the road. When you get that under control, add roundabouts, high speed, small cars, rain, and blind spots that we just don't have in these places.
Judy is short and has a small stride....she is perpetually six paces behind me. I stop periodically to let her catch up. Kinda like travelling with a vertically challenged person. Then, there are issues with a lack of places to hit the bathroom. Public facilities in the guise of parks is wonderful. One might encounter picnic tables...but NO potty and NO garbage cans. Unusual. I am here to tell you that when one is laughing when walking briskly in the cool night, with no potty around....something happens!! Laughing loudly!

Bangor, Northern Ireland

Judy and I figure that the Bangor residents knew that we were arriving and set up this sign just down the road from our B&B!

After breakfast this morning, Judy and I were discussing that our stay has been enhanced so much by the people we have met here. The people have made this trip more wonderful than the experience of seeing the sights, which are each unspeakably historic and amazing. I mentioned earlier that we met Frances Burscough our first day here in Bangor. She went out of her way to let us follow her to our B&B. We had been unable to find our street. Later, she saw us on the street and stopped to chat a moment and that happened a couple more times. Last night, because we knew where Frances lived, but still didn't have her last name, I stopped and knocked on her door. I promised I was NOT a stalker but Judy and I discussed that we should find out if she was on Facebook. If so, we would like to keep in touch...she is our kind of people! Not only did we get her last name and contact info...we are going back to continue getting to know her...with wine in hand, of course!  Come to find out...she is a freelance journalist and works with the Belfast Telegraph.  A friendship has begun. Makes me smile!

Another interesting facet of this trip is the fact that we are in an English speaking country. Yet, we often have to ask for definitions. This morning, we were told, "The snib might be on the door because of the dogs.  A snib? That is a lock. And it could be a "wee" snib. We were told yesterday on a bus that the Irish use "wee" more than "oui" is used in Paris."  There is a wee minute, a wee bit, a wee piece, etc. One also might want to order some "champ" along with one's sausage. Champ? That would be potatoes.

This board sailor was out on the water as we exited Frances' home last night. Huge winds.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Generosity, helpfulness and willingness to brea the rules....found daily in Ireland.

When we arrived at the Best Western, Skylon in Dublin, we were several hours too early for our check in. Judy and I were greeted by a young lady named Aoife, pronounced, "E fa."  We allowed as how we were hours early but we wanted to either get an early check in OR store our suitcases until check in time. She quickly indicated she would check to see if we could get into a room early so we could take a nap. We had travelled all night and were exhausted. Aoife got us a quiet room and we were not charged one extra cent despite our being five hours early for check in.

Later that day, she helped us with bus information and helped us navigate the city through specific maps, directions and information about what to do, where and when. At check out this morning, Aoife was there and we were trying to get directions to our rental car company. She and the manager gave us the info and thought it made sense for us to leave our bags there because we would have to travel by the hotel on our way to Bangor. She was right...everything worked out well and when we arrived back she was tickled that we had made it and not got lost, nor had we had an accident. YUP, customer service is expected but how often do we not give or receive it?

We have stopped many a person on the street asking for directions to x,y and z and without exception have been given great directions, warmly and with a generous dollop of brogue, accent and flavor. Me: Do you know where the bus stop is going into the city center? Him: Hmmm....a wee bit over there, no? He was pointing up the street and waving us on in the opposite direction.

When we arrived in Bangor, we had to stop to ask where Donaghadee Street was. We couldn't Map Quest the address while in Dublin. At the grocery store, an elderly man, with no teeth began giving us detailed, incoherent directions. A 35ish woman said she was going in that direction if we wanted to follow her. We did that and she pulled over and waved us on. Later that day, she saw us walking along the beach and she pulled over to ask how long we were staying in her town and told us where she lives. We had been by there and knew her house due to the two barking dogs. She introduced herself as Frances. Later that day, she again pulled over and asked how we were doing? Told her we had been out exploring and we loved her town. Tomorrow, we are going to knock on her door with a bottle of wine...unless we run across her somewhere. She didn't have to pull over and chat with us...but she did. We are being welcomed over and over.

Bought two bottles of wine (yup, that kinda day) and the best chat with the clerks in the wine store. The young man has been to several states in the USA, including Ohio, NY, Texas and Colorado. We discussed with the older woman that we had never seen Weight Watchers wine. She said it wasn't bad but we indicated we would go with the "fat wine" for tonight. Left laughing.

Are we Americans that welcoming and generous? I sadly don't think so. I plan to go out of my way to welcome strangers when I can.

Thoughts from Northern Ireland

Hmmm...not sure why the font has hopped to larger size but hang in with me. We are in Bangor, Northern Ireland and while still Ireland, things are different here. For example, instead of kilometers per hour, which is used in the south of the country (Dublin areas), they use miles per hour. Now, the odometer only has kilometers per hour; so I have NO clue how fast I should be going. Also, in Dublin and the south they use Euros and here, we use pounds, or British Sterling. Both monetary systems are light on bills and heavy on coins....all sizes and all colors.

Parking is a serious issue for my driving. Everything is parallel parking and cars are squeezed in tightly everywhere. What makes the driving horrid is HOW drivers park. They can and do park outside of the marked areas along the if a car is halfway into your lane and parked, you must swerve into oncoming traffic to go around the parked vehicle. This means you are literally driving into oncoming traffic. And, of course, that driver is also swerving towards you because there are parked cars on his/her side also. There is one lane (in good places) for vehicles travelling in both directions. Navigation is scary.

Note the cars on the sidewalk. When cars are parked like this on both sides of narrow streets, it leaves a less than one lane space for two lanes of moving traffic to manage. Traffic parked the wrong way when you turn a sharp corner leaves you a bit disconcerted. There are very few street signs and many one way streets...with little signage indicating what direction one is going. An adventure.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Dublin, Ireland

Judy Valentine and I made the decision to come to Ireland...a place she wanted to visit and one that I had explored a bit with Heidi, the year she turned 30. We left Detroit yesterday around 3:00 p.m. and flew to Dublin. We weren't able to sleep on the plane but got to town around 8:30 a.m. We decided to go directly to the hotel and see if we could get an early check-in or at our bags til later in the afternoon. The young lady who waited on us indicated there would be no problem. 15 minutes after arriving at the Skylon Best Western, we had a room key and were getting ready to take a nap. Nap, we did. Got up at 11:00 a.m. and headed out to explore the city. We went to The Four Courts above, maneuvered through the throngs of people on the streets and navigated the car traffic going the wrong way down the streets. We look right for oncoming, one looks left.  

One of our first observations was that there is an awful lot of cigarette smoking going on here...not as much though as we saw in Canada.

The architecture here is wonderfully old and well persevered. Around every corner is a wonderful example of stonework. Apparently, when Heidi and I were here, we rented a car at the airport and went south. This city, I have never experienced and I am loving it. Lots of diversity and am hearing diverse languages being spoken. Many inter-racial couples around also.
Today was a day of walking and exploring...we walked down the River Liffey and across the bridges. Tomorrow, we plan to take the "hop on and hop off" bus to see many of the historical sites that we just walked by this afternoon.

Our room is small but very clean. When we arrived we noticed this closet in the bathroom and figured it was a laundry shoot or something. Come to find out, the handle on the door is how one flushes the toilet!

   Lunch was a granola bar and some water while walking around the city. We managed to take two buses and find our way back to the hotel. Decided to eat at the hotel restaurant and I wanted to hit a pub to hear some live music. However, live music begins around 9:30 or 10:00 p.m. and we are totally wiped out tonight. Maybe tomorrow. We both ate, "bangers and mash" for dinner. This is a traditional dish with sausage, mashed potatoes and caramelized onions. Really enjoyed this, although I didn't eat the mashed potatoes.

Went into a grocery store to see what different was on the shelves. Produce is very expensive...rather like in Alaska. They had a "red cheddar cheese" that I might buy to bring home.

Tomorrow, we are meeting the on-off bus at "half eight." How 8:30 is described here. Interesting trying to navigate the English language with words and phrases we just don't use.
As we walked around the city, we saw some interesting and some outrageously talented graffiti artists' work. Had to love this one, which stated, "This ain't NO normal advertising" pasted on a building beyond its prime.
Today was rather warm for this time of year here. We were wearing long pants and a light jacket but some of the women were wearing next to nothing. Sleeveless dresses that barely covered their butts seemed to be the norm. Saw one young lady whose chest was exposed down to the nipples. She was happily sprinting along with her man friend at a rapid rate. You can tell the local city folks from us tourists...they are speed walking and on a mission. We are ambling along...taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the city.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Juneau, the city

We were able to spend parts of several days in downtown Juneau and had lots of fun checking out the souvenir shops and local businesses. Ate at a crab shack one day and crab cakes. While I enjoy Richard's version of crab cakes, Tracy's, not much more than a cooking shack, had the best dipping sauce ever. Homemade and they don't sell it and wouldn't tell me the recipe. YUM! Ate at another restaurant with Annie and David and The Twisted Fish had great food. Halibut tacos for me.

Richard and I stopped at The Red Dog Saloon, above, one afternoon for a drink. It is quite the hotspot and has a long history. The place was filled mostly with cruise line folks. It has sawdust covered floors and this sign says quite a bit about their philosophy.
Our service was very good but many cruise ship patrons were cranky. The saloon had live music and the place was decorated with many a wild animal or animal part.

The "Danger, Watch for Falling Snow" sign was seen at various places, including the local Auck Bay post office. Means something come winter, but made me smile on a 75 degree sunny day.

One thing I didn't learn when I was cruising on my sister's cruises, when she was a nurse on Norwegian Cruise Lines, was that these companies buy up many of the local stores. Folks disembark from the cruise ships, buy "local" merchandise and the money goes back into the hands of the cruise lines and not into the local economy. Juneau had lots of signs in stores that were locally owned or run by the Native Arts Council. I will look for this when out and about in port cities.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Mt. Roberts

Yesterday was Alex's day off, so we ended up taking a tram up to the mid-point of Mt. Roberts. On our way up we saw these two huge bald eagles sitting and watching us pass by. Nature at its best! At the tram drop off point there is a nature center and the necessary bar/restaurant and trail heads. We hiked a bit...maybe a mile but that mile was straight up the side of the mountain and while the trail was dry (others have not been) it was grueling.

Saw this totem carved into a tree as we hiked the trail. A lovely surprise.
This raptor was caged and although he appears small, he easily could carry off small cats and dogs. Apparently, his relative, the bald eagle, often snags a small cat or dog. Annie and David have seen them in the eagle nests by their home. This guy could carry off Chica and she weighs 20+ pounds!

After we hiked straight up Mt. Roberts for awhile, we came to this cross placed in honor of a priest who was instrumental in Juneau's past. Never made it to the top of the mountain...turned around after this momentary rest and photo. A young lady, Carty, joined us for the tram and hike....she is a friend of Alex's and she also is a UAS student and employee. Enjoyed meeting several of his friends.

Below is a view from the tram looking down on Juneau. Cruise ship coming into port.

Hiking: Peterson Trail and Mt. Roberts

Despite my having back issues and a cranky knee these past couple of weeks, we have been able to do some trails and see some wonderfully different plants. Many of the trails here are along bluffs or straight up the mountains. The paths vary in the quality of their upkeep. Apparently, most of the trails are maintained through the use of volunteers.

David and Annie took us on a hike on Peterson's Trail, one of Alex's favorites. At the end of this trail is a cabin one can rent. We didn't to the whole trail...just a couple of miles of it because we had to go back into town to pick up Alex.
Here is a photo of Annie and Richard on the Peterson Trail.

While we were trekking along, we came across a whole field of these white fluffy plants...Alaskan cotton! Not like that grown down south but very pretty.
This is a typical strewn all around with devil's club, spiky plants which you do not want to trip or fall in. There is no way to look up while walking on these trails. Too much to slip upon, slide across or trip over. What is quite fun on these trails is that it is deep in the woods and fairly dark and cool. So, sunglasses come off and so do the jackets. Within 10-15 minutes you find yourself on a bluff and outside of the forest and you reverse the clothing process. Lots of on and off while hiking.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Tracy Arm trip

Yesterday was an interesting day…we walked around town waiting for the tour boat to leave for Tracy Arm Fjord,  did some Christmas shopping and had Pel Menis for lunch. These are some sort of a dumpling with a meat center, cooked in curry and boiled in a broth. To die for! After that, we went to the dock but Alex's boat was not there.  I sent a text indicating we were at the dock. Alex called me back and said, “We had to leave without you!” You were late! As we approached, Richard mentioned that they boat must have gone to get diesel before the tour. We had been told to be there at 1:00 p.m. and, of course, I was there at 12:45 p.m. EARLY!

Alex ranted about how much preparation had gone into our getting this trip at no cost to us. The inconvenience, the trouble, the planning…all for naught. I got ticked and upset…we followed directions to the letter and he was bitching me out. I started to give it back and he laughed and said, “Mom…gotcha!” The boat arrived and I gave him a punch. Had a beautiful trip and the best was hearing the comments from the passengers about the “Naturalist” and his presentation. They had NO clue this was our son. One lady said, “He is good.” Another young man, a recent college grad told his mother, “He is going to be so successful.” As the trip continued, people realized Alex was our son and they made the most incredible comments about his helpfulness, his charisma, his grasp of culture, lore, history and nature and he isn’t even a local. We had a great trip but enjoyed watching our son be so professional and passionate about what he is doing. I mentioned to him that he most likely could not give a three minute nature presentation about either Michigan or Florida, two states he lived in for years.

Bad photo...cut the kid's head off...but this is a hunk of glacier that the boat deckhand netted and passed around. This ultimately went into the cooler.
We travelled a fair distance via boat, but first had to load passengers on our boat from a cruise liner. The huge cruise liner just came into port, docked, opened a side door on the water side, opened another door and attached to our boat a hydraulic gang plank. 26 people were off loaded onto our boat and off we went. Reverse off loading happened with the cruise folks. In the meantime, we saw ice bergs, two glaciers, one of which was calving. Dinner was served on the trip and we had a “bag lunch” consisting of a turkey wrap sandwich that probably weighed a pound, an apple, chips, cookies. Drinks were also served by Alex and the deckhand, Kevin. Kevin later took a huge net and scooped up some iceberg chunks to put in the cooler to keep the soda and beer cool. I asked about that and Kevin, a young man from Boston, just working this summer here in Juneau, indicated, “Why not? It’s cold and free!” He had a point.

 Saw some harbor seals along the way and some incredible land formations. Glacial carving is so obvious and so pretty. Also saw some magnificent waterfalls as we cruised along.
What I am enjoying so much is the natural beauty here. I have visited before but I just don't remember being in awe of all I must have seen.
The glacial striations and rock carving and mountain effects of glacier movement over time causes incredible formations.
 Sawyer glacier. The color variation was amazing. The sun shining on the rocks and on the glacier glimmered at times. Some rock formations look like they are covered in rust or iron.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Hiking the Breadline

Near Annie and David's place was a sign to the Breadline trail. Because it supposedly crossed somewhere near their home, and because both Richard and Alex had done it we went. No one indicated how brutally tough this hike was going to be and about 3/4 of a mile into the trek, I was reminded of my sister, Lynn, who laughed at how much folks whined when just starting the Appalachian Trail which she has completely hiked. So...I tried to not whine!
 An intelligent person who read this posting might have chosen to not try the hike. Fortunately, we found this at the end of the trail! Apparently, this is only worth posting at one starting point!
I did ask why this was called, "The Breadline" and Alex indicated I should look down over the bluff...that is where peoples' "bread" or living came from! We looked right down into the Lynn Canal which was teaming with jumping fish.
Our trail was very narrow and we were fairly certain, most of the time, that we were on the "trail." There were a few instances when trees blocked everything and we had to crawl around looking for evidence of where the trail might resume. Alex was great at this...amazing skills he has picked up.

For those of us who are parents, we spent so many years leading our youngsters, holding their hands and protecting them. Then, one day, if we live long enough, we get to see our children guide us, taking our hand and helping us face whatever is confronting us.

 That was the experience I had with our son. Alex led; planned; assisted and he motivated us to keep going.
This was a very steep section and Alex was looking at the path, looking at the roots and then, looking up the hill at his momma to see how best to get me down without my hurting myself. I did not fall once and every time I thought I might need a guide, a hand, a shoulder to lean on...he was there.

 Saw a bunch of mushrooms, some of which are poisonous. Saw these brightly orange fungi of some sort. Very pretty and I must look them up to see what they are.
Most of the time, as I indicated, there was a path of sorts. This gooey, mucky mess morphed into our path for about a 1/4 of a mile towards the end. Surrounding the path, no matter what kind were the Devil's Club you see to the left...big and leafy and prickly. On the right, the huge green leaves are "skunk cabbage" which the bears apparently enjoy when they come out of hibernation. Steep, tough terrain...had a ball!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Alaskan wildlife

While we were out hopping over rocks to get to a primo fishing spot, we ran across this huge anemone. Really could see it "breathing." And, we have been on the look out for a bear to photograph and while we did see a small cinnamon bear, a black bear but brown, around a turn in the road, we couldn't get a shot at him because the car scared him off.
It is very common to spot bald eagles everywhere. Saw one yesterday with what Alex thought was about a five pound salmon in his beak. Very cool. There is a huge eagle building a nest near Annie's deck and Richard keeps seeing him carrying huge sticks and what looks like seaweed. Haven't viewed the nest yet, but we are trying to locate it.
We have seen quite a few stellar seals...huge, several hundred pounds a piece. Saw one on our breadline hike yesterday. This photo is of the stellar seals snuggled up in a buoy which we saw the other day when we were out. These guys somehow climb up into this buoy and settle in. Fascinating is the one that climbed up to the middle of the buoy. He was dead asleep.