Alaska Cruise Vacation: The Recap

So we're officially back from our cruise. I have about 50 loads of post vacation laundry to do, so if you're not already sick of hearing all about Alaska, feel free to enjoy this slide show of all the other pictures I took while there.

I'll warn you now though: there are a lot of mountains.

Edited to add: If Imageloop doesn't load in the first 15 seconds or so, hit the page reload. Sometimes it misbehaves.

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Alaska Cruise Vacation: Ketchikan

We're in Ketchikan today. It's the last of the three ports, and the first day that the weather hasn't been beautiful. (It drizzled rain on us all day today. Not enough to keep us from walking around the city, but enough to be a little annoying nonetheless). We didn't plan any official excursions for this port because I just wanted to walk around and see the city, and Tony wanted to do some hiking along the trails. (He hopes to see a grizzly bear. I keep telling him that we do not want to meet up with any bears up close). Still, bears notwithstanding, I think we reached an okay compromise.
Some neat things about Ketchikan:
  • It is known as "Alaska's first city" because it was the first town travelers reached when ferrying north. Being that most of those travelers were men, Ketchikan made sure to greet them with Creek Street, a boardwalk district built on pilings over the water of the Ketchikan Creek and Alaska's most notorious red light district. From 1902 to 1954, this district supported over 30 brothels and "sporting houses".
  • Tony's nature trail, leading from the Creek Street Brothels up a mountain to where the aerial tram stops today.
  • Ketchikan is also the merging point of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshan cultures, so it is only fair that the city showcases the largest collection of outdoor totem polls in Alaska (and the Totem Heritage Cultural Center). Totems tell stories about important places, people, or events in history. Each carving (or space) on the poll means something. They're like visual stories that represent the important things in these cultures. (For example, the bottom of this totem tells the story of the idiot tourists, standing in the rain, getting their pictures taken next to a totem poll).
There's a lot more to Ketchikan, and I know I'm not doing it justice, but I'm tired and I'm wet and dinner is going to be starting soon, so I'm going to leave it at that. But if you ever get the chance to visit, check it out.

Alaska Cruise Vacation: Sea Kayaking with Whales (aka "It's Unbelievable!")

OH. MY. GOODNESS Interpeeps! You are not going to believe the day we had today! It's another port day, so early this morning we pulled into the lovely city of Juneau, and Tony and I promptly disembarked for yet another wild Alaskan adventure, which in this case happened to be sea kayaking.
The view from my kayak.

Now, we've done sea kayaking before. We did it in Mexico and we did it in Jamaica. This time, our group was pretty small, which was nice (just us and Penny from California and Gabe the guide and a couple from Israel). The tour company (Above and Beyond- I highly recommend if you're ever up that way) outfitted us with everything we needed, from the bottom of our very stylish rain boots to keep our feet dry, to the tops of our very stylish life jackets to keep us afloat should we fall in. (Which we didn't, but still). Here's Tony modeling his new look:
The blue apron looking thing is the hooks onto the kayak to create a waterproof barrier between your top half and your bottom. Trust me, with all the splashing and sea spray, your bottom appreciates this.

The day was absolutely beautiful-sunny and mid-60's...perfect for kayaking. The kayaks were two person vessels, so I assigned my trusty first mate to the back and I took the front.
First mate Tony is ready to paddle.
A self-portrait (photo?) of Oh Captain, My Captain.

There were bald eagles EVERYWHERE as we started out, (seriously, as common as pigeons!) and I probably would have been merely thrilled with just being able to watch them fly around above us and fish (there were several doing swooping dives into the waters around us for fish) but then something happened which was totally distracting.

The whales came.

Yes. I said whales. Not fifteen minutes into our trip, we encountered the pod of 12 to 15 humpback whales, just playing in the water all around us.


In the water, right next to us.

I KNOW!!!!

They were maybe 100 yards from us, and they'd come up to the surface to play and swim and flip their tails around. And they are beautiful! Just amazing animals! And to be so close! It was like winning the lottery on Christmas, seeing them all out there with us. We spotted dozens! Big ones, baby ones, dark ones, spotty ones. They were everywhere! (You don't really get how big they are until you see them like that, in person, and without any aquarium glass between you. They stayed with us for about an hour and a half, keeping pace while just doing their thing, enjoying the day with us).

I'll give you a moment to try to control your insane jealousy because, c'mon! THEY'RE WHALES!

Oh, but that is not the best part, Interpeeps! The best part is that I, in a rare moment of technological insight, managed to paddle and gawk at whales and not fall out of the kayak and film a small video documentary ALL AT THE SAME TIME!

I warn you, it's not the best filming ever. I don't know how to zoom and the frame is bouncing around enough to make even Jacques Cousteau seasick (give me a break, I was in a kayak! On the ocean! You try holding a camera still while trying to paddle!) and my commentary is less than award winning. (On the plus side, you do get to hear me yell the word "unbelievable!" roughly 90 times in a two minute span. If you're looking for a good way to get plowed, I recommend making it a drinking game. You'll be on the floor by the time I spot the third whale).

Anyway, I present to you the uncut director's version of "Sea Kayaking With Whales in Alaska", my soon-to-be award winning nature documentary. It's only a couple of minutes long because 1), you'd be seriously seasick if you tried to watch anything longer, and 2) I sound like enough of a dork as it is. I think it also answers the question about why I don't do video podcasts, because...well, you'll see. It's unbelievable.

Alaska Cruise Vacation: Rock Climbing in Skagway

So it's our first day in port on our lovely Alaskan cruise, and today we're spending it in Haines and Skagway. (Technically, we docked in Haines, but other than Fort Seward and some really fine local microbreweries, there isn't really much else to see in Haines. Don't get me wrong-the town is lovely, and no disrespect to any Hainesians (Haineinites?) out there, but it's small. And mostly fishing and fort-related, which isn't really my bag. But luckily Skagway is only a quick hop on the local ferry, so we scrambled on board and off we went to wild Alaskan adventure).

By the way, today's adventure is rock climbing, which neither of us have ever tried, but Tony thought might be fun, so he signed us up.

(I hear you out there. You're all like, "Wait. Isn't this the guy who has a fear of heights? The one that won't even climb up on the roof to help with the Christmas lights? Isn't rock climbing kind of a weird hobby for a guy who won't ascend past the third rung of a step ladder? What gives?")

Valid questions, Interpeeps. Valid questions. And to that I say, I KNOW! He had me totally duped too! Either Tony is a mad phobia conquering champion (which he totally could be, because that is just how awesome he is) or dude was all, "How can I get out of detangling 500 strands of icicle lights and then spending three hours hanging them up outside in the cold?" (which I also wouldn't put past him).

It is a Christmas mystery.

Not to mention totally off topic.

Mystery aside, let me just say that rock climbing? AWESOME! We booked with a group that picked us up in Skagway, popped us into a van, gave us a guided tour through the city and up into the mountains, did a quick safety talk, and then tethered us to some unsuspecting rock cliffs and told us to go to town. At which point Tony unleashed his inner mountain goat and scampered right to the top, first try.
The boy has mad skillz, I tell you.
Of course, not to be outdone, I got up close and personal with some quality quartz too.

Do not let these pictures fool you. There is no leaning angle to that rock. That is straight up and down Cliffs of Insanity, baby. Luckily, the tour group provides special rock gripping rubber shoes, and when they say that you can stand on a ledge the thickness of the edge of a dime, they mean it. The hardest part was just trusting the shoes, cause it certainly didn't look like there was much there.Up, up and away!

After climbing to the top of the cliff face (note, not at all like the climbing wall in the gym, in case you were wondering), you gave a victory cry and then rappelled your way back down. Basically, you lean back in your harness and just bounce your way back down the cliff with your legs straight. Letting go of the rock face for the first time had my heart going roughly 80 bajillion beats per second, but once I did it, I couldn't wait to do it again. As a matter of fact, I went back up and down the cliff 4 times.

Does this harness make my butt look big?

After the thrill of scampering up and down the cliffs like Spiderman began to wear off, our happy guides took us higher up the trail to another rappelling spot- even higher, and sheerer, and 800-bajillion-beats-per-second-er. And this time they were like, "Instead of climbing, we want you to just hang out into space from this cliff face 75 feet above the ground and THEN bounce your way down".

So I did.

(You wouldn't think it would make a difference, climbing up and rappelling down versus not using your hands and just leaning out into space, but it does. For this one, you put your toes on the edge and just sit backwards into nothingness. Talk about your adrenaline rush. I'm smiling, but I tell you, if there had been anything in my bladder at the time this picture was taken, it would have been raining on the people below).

Look Mom! No hands! Or bladder control!

Still, two thumbs up for rock climbing. I'm not sure I'll come back home and immediately sign up for my local climbing chapter (yet), but it was definitely something I enjoyed. And kudos to Tony for manning up and showing his phobia who was boss. This definitely counts as Alaskan adventure.

Alaska Cruise Vacation: Glacier Bay

So today we're in Glacier Bay National Park to see the Glaciers. Glaciers. This whole trip is cool, but the glaciers? They're

And I'm just going to tell you now, the pictures don't do it justice. They can't. There's no way to accurately capture the sheer size...or the range in colors...or the sounds of these things.

They're like my mountain obsession on steroids.

Which, speaking of mountains...
Had to get my daily shots in. Are they not breathtaking? Seriously...2 million mountain pictures in my camera. Not exaggerating. You people are so lucky I'm restraining myself to just these (and only because it takes an eternity to upload them). I swear I've documented every mountain in Alaska already, and probably from multiple angles.

By the way, we saw a grizzly bear this morning. (Also known as the brown bear. We went to a talk given by some park rangers earlier today, and they mentioned that inland people call them grizzlies and coastal people call them brown bears. I guess since we were on the coast, he was a brown bear). Anyway, no pictures of Mr. Bear, because we were cruising down the middle of the bay, and he was on the shore (obviously), hanging out by the water. So probably about 5 miles away. Through our binocculars, he looked like a hamster walking on a rocky beach. Through the camera (even with maximum zoom), he looked like a flea. Maybe the freckle on a flea. So no photographic evidence. Still, it's our first bear sighting, and another space filled in our card of Alaskan Animal Bingo. (That's moose, eagles, Orcas, Humpback whales, sea otters, seals, sea lions, dolphins, and now a brown bear for those of you playing at home).

But back to the glaciers. Glacier Bay National Park includes 16 tidewater glaciers with 12 currently calving icebergs (breaking up and dropping chunks of iceberg) into the bay. My favorite (and the one in the pictures below) is Marjorie. She was also the one calving when we arrived, and the sight (and sound) is just incredible. You can hear the ice cracking and breaking sounds like gunshots, and then pieces of iceberg fall into the water without warning. The water is littered with chunks of ice...some small (called "bergie bits") and some not so small (which kind of makes you nervous when you're standing on a cruise ship, what with 90% of them being underwater and all. Found myself humming Celine Dion songs all of a sudden).

This is the tip of Marjorie from a distance:
She might not look all that impressive until you see the close up. See that sailboat in the picture there? Not a small sailboat. This thing is MASSIVE.

Here's a close up of some of the colors. You can see the different layers in the glacier. White means lots of trapped air bubbles. Blue means really thick dense ice. Greenish-black is from the dirt and rocks and debris picked up as the glacier moved (remember, these things travel...a lot).

Here's a close-up of one of the parts getting ready to fall. You can see some of the major cracks in the face of the glacier, and some parts were already leaning at pretty precarious angles. Marjorie had a lot to say today...there were rumbles (almost like distant thunder) and pops (like gunfire) and splashes from the ice hitting the water constantly. The hard part was just knowing where to look since the thing was so huge. (I tried taking some video, but of course nothing happened the whole time I was was just me panning back and forth with the camera, which got boring really fast). Of course, as soon as I put the camera away, a giant chunk fell off the end. It was just...BANG! ka-pow! sploosh! And then big waves from where the ice fell (well, not that big for us, since we're on a big bag cruise ship, but the sailboat cleared out pretty soon after that).
The really crazy thing to know that something this large is moving. Sometimes slow, like a foot a day, and sometimes fast (more than 50 feet a day), but always advancing and retreating, like a dance. That just totally floors me. This whole place floors me. You can't look at these things and not just be

I love this vacation.

Alaska Cruise Vacation: Seals, Orcas, and One Crazy Polar Bear

It was just a day at sea today (no stopping in any ports yet), but I still managed to find a couple of interesting things to share:

  • We were told that bald eagles were as common as pigeons up here, and I believe it. They're EVERYWHERE! Like this one, sitting on a water marker, watching us all go by.
  • We've managed to spot a couple of Humpback whales and what I think are some Orcas (not at the same time of course). They're either Orcas or regular dolphins (or porpoises), but Orca sounds the coolest, so that's what I'm going with. Unfortunately, those not-so-little buggers are crazy hard to catch on camera, so no pictures. :-( (My camera does this little auto-focusing delay thing from the time you push the button to the time the shutter clicks, and that is apparently the exact time needed for a whale to pop his head out of water, do a little dance with his tail, and duck back under. I do have, however, roughly 40 million pictures of the water where the whale used to be). I'll keep working on that, but at least now we know they're out there.

How Tony looks for whales

How I look for whales (note the book and the comfy lounge chair).

  • When the whales aren't around, the seals come out to play. We've also spotted otters (cute!) and sea lions (which look like giant pale sausages sitting on rocks).

  • Food update: Beef and vegetable soup, crab meat and grilled chicken salad (soooo good!), brownie ala mode for lunch. Dinner was sirloin steak, crab lump and artichoke pastry, more french onion soup, and another crab lump and artichoke pastry thing for dessert since I liked it so much. We're assigned a specific table at dinner, but at lunch you can just sit wherever, so we had lunch with an 84 year old man who saw Tony's hockey shirt and told us about going to watch hockey games in Vancouver in the 1930's. No helmets, no pads, no face guards or anything. And no TV. Back then they listened to the game on the radio. Crazy.
  • Speaking of crazy: The ship was doing a polar bear swim in one of its open deck pools, and about two minutes before it was supposed to start, Tony decided that he wanted to do it too. So he did. The air was frigid, we're surrounded by glaciers, they dumped a couple of buckets of ice in the pool to make it even colder, and that crazy freak just jumped right on in and swam the length of the pool like it was nothing. (And decided to do it the one time I didn't have my camera with me). He actually said it wasn't that bad, but I'm still cold just thinking about it. The cruise line gave him a certificate that officially states Tony "swam in Glacier Bay National Park and is now a member of the International Society of the Polar Bear". He never ceases to amaze me.
  • And now, a random shot of me standing in front of my favorite things- more mountains.

Alaska Cruise Vacation: Anchorage to Seward

It's officially day one of our Alaskan Cruise! We set sail about two hours ago, and I have to say that Alaska is just beautiful! It's both familiar and nothing I've ever seen before at the same time. And the mountains! (Warning: I can already tell that I'm developing a serious obsession with the mountains here. There will be lots and lots and lots of mountain photos. They're so majestic that I just can't stop looking at them. They're breathtaking. But I know they lose a little something when reduced to a picture on a computer screen, so I'll try to control myself with the picture posting).

Okay, maybe just one.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Our day actually started back in Anchorage, where we were supposed to meet a charter bus that would take us three hours south to the port city of Seward (you remember John Seward, as in Seward's Folly for buying Alaska in the first place? I bet he loved getting the last laugh on that one). The bus depot was only 1.25 miles from our hotel in Anchorage, and the weather was beautiful (sunny, blue skies, mid to upper 60s), so Tony suggested that we should just walk to it.

And off we went. The walk was easy, the scenery (read: mountains!) was engaging, and the air! Oh my gosh, people! The air! How can I describe the smell of the air in Alaska? I couldn't get over it. It smells like...lilacs and a crisp day in autumn and waterfalls. Sweet and floral and brisk and cold and moving water. And fresh. So very very fresh. I kept taking in big breaths of air through my nose trying to smell it all. So much so that I actually made myself a bit dizzy. It was intoxicating.

The bus was scheduled to leave at 2:30, but even with walking and me stopping to snap more pictures of the mountains and taking a tiny detour into a gas station to buy more batteries to put in the camera to support my previously mentioned mountain addiction and then getting a tiny bit lost (just a bit...thank goodness downtown Anchorage is laid out in a grid system), we still ended up at the bus depot 2 and a half hours early. The head guy was an old Russian fellow (lots of Russians in Alaska due to the fur trade routes) with a delightful "moose and squirrel" accent, who after checking us in, told us that we should head down the street to a local pizzeria called the Moose's Tooth to kill some time. (If you're ever there, I highly recommend it. Tony and I each had individual pizzas, and I swear they put 10 lbs of meat on mine. I couldn't even finish it all, and that's saying something).

Tony at the Moose's Tooth

After lunch, it was onto the bus for our ride down to Seward. We were one of maybe 5 couples on the bus, so lots of room to stretch out. We were about an hour into our trip and kinda getting sleepy from the motion of the bus and a tummy full of pizza when someone spotted the first moose. "Moose! Moose!", they yelled. "Moose! Moose!", we yelled. "Moose! Moose!", all the Lower 48 tourists yelled. The bus driver rolled his eyes. (I imagine it was the equivalent of someone coming here and yelling, "Look! A squirrel!" and everybody getting all excited about it). Sadly, the bus was going to fast for me to be able to get the camera out and get a good picture of it, so you'll just have to trust me on looked just like that moose on the opening credits of that old show, Northern Exposure. A celebrity moose sighting. There was no sleeping after that.

The tiny seaside village of Seward is known as "the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park" and is mostly known for for it's annual July 4th dash up the aptly named Mount Marathon in America's second oldest footrace. (Having seen this mountain, I think they've all got to be insane, but I'll pass the information on anyway in case any of you enjoy that kind of thing coughMelaniecough). The other 364 days of the year, it's a quaint fishing village of about 4,000 and the launching point of the ms Statendam, our Holland America Cruise ship and home away from home for the next 7 days.

Seward, home of Alaskan fishermen and crazy mountain marathoners

The lady Statendam (and me).

Tony and I have been cruising twice before, but never has check-in been so easy as what it was today. There were no lines, no endless forms, no waiting hours to get on the ship. We signed in, they took our picture, we were shown on board. Our bags arrived within minutes, and we were all set to go.

The room is actually pretty nice. This is just a standard room, (Tony's motto: why pay for more when you're just going to sleep there? Use the money for another excursion) but it's surprisingly spacious and well appointed. There's a king-sized bed (or two twins, depending on how you book it), a small couch, table, desk area with mirror, decent sized bathroom, 6 drawers and three closets. Plus the room stewards left us chocolates on the pillows, which is always a plus in my book.

Next we headed off for dinner in the main dining room, where every meal is a four course affair of heaven-sent deliciousness. It's my favorite part of cruising. And because it's all paid for already, try whatever you want. Ask for two of something. Or three. Try a bite of this and that and the other. It's all good. And seriously, it's all delicious. Tonight I started with a french onion soup (divine!), a mixed green salad, Alaskan King Crab legs (they really are better in Alaska...and probably pulled fresh from the ocean by one of the crabbing boats we passed on the way in this morning), and baked alaska for dessert. Oh the goodness. It's like my stomach has died and gone to heaven.

Tomorrow is a day at sea, so I'm not sure how much I'll post on here, if anything. If not, we'll definitely pick up again when we hit Glacier Bay. For now, we're heading up to the Promenade to keep an eye out for whales. Hope you'll join me.

Quirky out.

Thirty Candles

We interrupt this cruise update for another update: Mainly, it's my birthday. I'm 30 today. You may now commence with the birthday wishes.

Alaska Cruise Vacation: A Study in Mountains

So it's been a long day today. A reeeeeeeeally long day. Like, the sun's been up for 22 hours now, and I've been keeping it company for most of that.

We started out in good ol' K town, with our rolling hills and rounded green mountain tops. The flight took off around 12:30pm, and we waved goodbye to the Smokey Mountains as we passed over their peaks. We passed from Eastern time to Central time, and then into Mountain time as we landed in Phoenix. (From Tennessee to the Valley of the Sun to Alaska, you say? Those crazy kids over at Travelocity!) Phoenix is two hours behind eastern time, so a four hour flight got me there two hours after I left, which for some reason amuses me to death. (Give me a break. I've been sitting on a plane for 5 hours. I am easily amused by EVERYTHING). Anyway, there was a bit of a delay with the flight into Alaska (a flight being delayed? Shocking, I know!) so I got to watch the sun set in desert, which was cool.

Have ya'll ever been to Phoenix? It was my first time there, and it was absolutely amazing. First of all, it's all brown, with only a few palm trees and some scrubby brush scattered around. Secondly, it's flat. Knoxville is all green hills and valleys and whatnot, so the sheer flatness of this dirt-colored land was a bit alien. But my favorite were the mountains. The Appalachians are old. They're worn down and softened and green and kinda flow from one into another. Phoenix mountains aren't. They look like giant piles of dirt got randomly dumped in the desert. It's so weird to see them just rising out of the ground like that. Flat...flat...flat...boom! Mountain. All brown and cliff-y and...there.
After a couple hours in the Phoenix airport, it was back into our little flying tin can for another 5 hours to Anchorage. And this is pretty cool, because remember how I watched the sun set in the desert? Well, it came back up. I'm not sure when, but at some point I glanced outside the airplane window and it was light again. Not exactly noon bright, but like maybe 8pm bright. Which is doubly crazy when (even with losing another two hours), it's about 10pm Alaska time. With the airport delay and everything, we ended up landing at about 1:30am Anchorage time, (which was 5:30am Knoxville time- ouch!), and even then the light was only about dusk. Twilight-y, but not really dark. It's a good thing I'm a night owl.

Even if I was a bit tired from all the extra daylight, stepping off the plane certainly perked me right up. Because for the third time today, I saw the mountains. And not like any I had ever seen before. Mountains that may have shared the title with those in Phoenix and Tennessee, but differed in every other way imaginable. These weren't green or brown or sloped or giant piles of dirt. These were mountains with a capital M. They were black. They were jagged vertical cliffs of rocks. They were covered in snow. And they were HUGE. That's really what strikes me most about Anchorage. The mountains. And even now when we're in the hotel room, trying to figure out how to sleep when it's only dusk and adjust to the time changes and getting everything ready for the start of the cruise tomorrow, I can't stop thinking about the mountains.

(Pre) Alaska Cruise Vacation: Outsmarting the Airline Oompa-loompas

So here's a fun surprise! We're going to Alaska!

You know those last minute deals that you always see on the side of the email or the youtube or whatever you happen to be looking at? The ones that say "7 night Alaskan Cruise!" and "Insane last minute pricing!"? Well, Tony saw them. And he's always wanted to go to Alaska, and I'm all for cruising around the ocean in luxury and style and all the food I can dream of, so we were like, "What the hey, let's do it!"

So we are. Tomorrow.

Actually, this conversation took place a couple of weeks ago, so it wasn't as super last minute as it seems, but I'm only telling you about it now so that those of you out there who are lacking in scruples will not eagerly start planning to burgle my house while we're gone. (Haha! Outsmarted you again, Internet pilferers who have been faithfully reading this blog for years in hopes that I will slip up and mention that we are leaving the house unattended for a week!)

Anyway, for the rest of you, I'm still planning the same trip play-by-play (it'll be like you're there!), but slightly delayed. Think of it like "live" TV on the west coast. Okie dokie? Good.

So. Alaska.

Tony is stoked. Like, so excited that he's vibrating like a little kid on Christmas stoked. It's all he's been talking about for days now. He's always wanted to go, and we've looked into it the past couple of years, but you know how it is. The timing never quite worked out, or something came up in work schedules, or the Bahamas were cheaper, or something. But this year it all just clicked, like it was meant to be. And not being ones to argue with fate, Tony clicked "book it!" and I dug out our winter wet weather fleece from the back of the closet.

Also, in a freakishly un-Tonylike move, my beloved totally went rugged Grizzly-man when he picked out our excursions. We're doing a 6 hour sea kayak/whale watching trip in the first port, and 7 hours of rock climbing the next day in the second. (This is from the man who 1, dislikes kayaking on a lake for 2 hours, and 2, has a fear of heights. So why sea kayaking and rock climbing, I will never know. He also wanted to add a 7 hour glacier trek for the third day, but the description kept using words like "strenuous" and "10 miles" and "300 foot elevation climb with rocky terrain", so I convinced him to hold off on that one until we see if we will still be able to move by day three). I like to think I'm moderately fit and all, but this is vacation, not Navy Seal boot camp. He kept going, "But when else are we ever going to be able to do something like this?", which I get, but the answer is "Not even this time if we're too exhausted to move". So for now, kayaking/whale watching and rock climbing should be fun, and good exercise, and provide some nice picture opportunities (fingers crossed!), and we'll put a "we'll see" on glacier trekking.

Anyway, our story starts when we first join our quirky heroine today- that is, packing day for our great Alaskan adventure. And honestly, I'm having a little trouble with it. First of all, all the vacations we've done so far have been to one tropical locale or another, so packing for them went "swimsuit, sunscreen, towel, 50 gazillion books. Check". And we've done the whole cruise thing a couple of times before, so that list went "swimsuit, sunscreen, nice evening wear for dinner, 50 gazillion books. Check". But Alaska is different. Alaska, while not really cold this time of year, (a quick weather check reveals highs in the mid-60's for the week) is not exactly conducive to lounging by the pool. (Well, not for me anyway. Tony is impervious to cold, and can lounge anywhere in any temperature. But I take my lounging hot, thank you, so unless it's an indoor pool...wait, do the Alaska cruise ships have indoor pools? Mental note to check...I will not be lounging).

Also, I read somewhere that it rained 300 out of the 365 days in one of our ports of call, and someone else mentioned the constant mist/sea spray/drizzle that happens during Alaskan summers, so I'm going with the assumption that we're going to get somewhat damp. And if there's anything I tolerate less than cold, it's damp and cold. So I'm wracking my wardrobe, trying to figure out what will keep me warm, dry, and looking halfway presentable for the cruise ship wardrobe police. (I know cruise ships have relaxed the wardrobe requirements somewhat in recent years, but there's still an unwritten rule about in, they don't like it. They want everybody in their "resort wear". Which is fine with me if it's 90 degrees, but when it's 60? I'm going to be in jeans for any time except dinner. A nice top, but jeans. They'll just have to get over it).

At least my books are ready. It's a 7 night cruise, plus airport time (which means a book for each way), so that means between 9 and 16 books for the trip. (I have a two a day habit when it comes to books. One during the day, and one at night). Of course, I'll drop that to one a day for the days we're in a port and out on Tony's Alaskan death march adventures, and a couple of my books are e-books to cut down on travel weight, but that still has me stuffing roughly 10 paperbacks into my carry-on. (In vacations past, I've carried a bag dedicated solely to books).

I hear you out're wondering why I just don't go strictly e-book and avoid the extra bag o' books. And I do with a couple. But the problem with e-books is that 1) when you read entire books in one sitting, the devices tend to run out of juice before you're finished, 2) they make you turn them off for take-offs and landings on planes, and 3) you have to buy all the books. (I'd probably ignore one and two if I could find an e-library that let me "check them out" for free, but I read too much to be spending $10 a pop for books). That said, I do buy some of my favorites in e-form so that I can carry them with me wherever I go, but those are more of an emergency book stash than a dedicated reading supply. My mom has a Kindle and loves it, so once libraries figure out how to loan e-books, I'll probably jump on the bandwagon full time. Until then, the majority of my reading is with tree-books, not e-books.

I'm also-and this may be a little too optimistic but I'm going for it anyway- attempting to pack everything in carry-on bags only. That's right. 8 days of clothing, evening dinner wear, formal wear, excursion wear, books, toiletries, multiple shoe changes, and a partridge in a pear tree without checking any bags. It's ambitious, but I like to keep my bags within sight when I travel. I have this ridiculous theory that once your bags disappear on that little conveyor belt behind the ticket counter, dozens of travel gnomes and flying monkeys and oompa-loopmas converge on it and rifle through all your stuff. And if they like it, they try it on and parade around in it and post pictures of themselves wearing your best nylon stockings online, and meanwhile the airline baggage people (who cannot see travel gnomes and flying monkeys and oompa-loopmas because they're invisible) are frantically trying to locate your bag, which eventually and inexplicably turns up in Omaha.

So packing light. And smart. And in my carpet bag with the expanding bottom, ala Mary Poppins. Because tomorrow, we head out for the Last Frontier.

Edited to add: In case you were wondering, we did manage to get everything into one carry-on and one personal bag each, so no having to check anything. I am a packing virtuoso.

Windows and Walls

I just read something really interesting, so of course I thought I'd share with ya'll. The topic happens to be infidelity, and before you ask, no, there isn't any trouble in paradise. I'm not cheating on Tony, he's not cheating on me. Things are good here in the house of Quirk. We're disgustingly happy together. I just happen to enjoy reading a variety of behavioral studies, that's all.

Yes, I know that makes me a dork. But at least I'm an informed dork, so neh.

Anyway, this particular article was from a study done by Dr. Shirley Glass, who literally wrote the book on infidelity. Behavioral studies aside, I probably wouldn't have paid much attention to this one except that the question Dr. Glass was answering was, "How did this [infidelity] start?". (And just to be clear, she's not talking about the serial cheaters...she's talking about your regular couples who love their spouse and have no intention of cheating ever, right up until it happens one day). So the question is, why? How did this happen? And I was like, yeah! Why does that happen? What were they thinking? Because I'm pretty sure no one just wakes up one morning and goes, "You know what? I feel like having an affair today".

According to Glass, the road to most affairs starts when one person makes a new friend. The new co-worker, the gym buddy, the neighbor next door. Now, there's nothing wrong with making a friend of the opposite sex (or even same sex, if that's your thing). The point is, these guy friends are completely normal. (Which is good, because I'd have to say that most of my friends are guys. The people I hung out with in high school were guys, the people I worked with were guys, the people I went hiking with on weekends were guys. I relate to guys. Not only that, but Tony has female friends. He still gets invitations to "Girls night out" with the group of girls he used to work with at the zoo. A table full of girls and Tony, meeting up for margaritas. So when I first read that thing about the new friend being the problem, I was like, what!? That can't be right.)

But the friend is not the issue. Have your guy friends and feel fine. The problem, (and this is the really interesting part), happens when walls and windows start moving around. See, every healthy marriage has what Glass refers to as walls and windows. The windows are the parts of your marriage that are open to other people...friends and family and co-workers and such. Your birthday, what you had for dinner last night, hobbies you enjoy...that kind of stuff. The stuff you'd tell anyone, because they aren't secrets. By contrast, walls are barriers behind which you guard intimate secrets about yourself and your marriage. Your deep dark secrets, your insecurities, the personal parts of your relationship with your spouse. The secrets only they know. And the problem begins when you start moving windows and walls around.

It starts innocently enough. You're having coffee when the conversation accidentally drifts into personal areas. And you find yourself leaning forward to share one of these deep dark secrets about yourself with your new friend. And they totally get it, and they've got your back, and you feel absolutely wonderful! So close with your new friend! Now they know the "real" you, and who doesn't want someone to know the "real" them? Except you've just built a window where a wall used to be. It used to be only your spouse knew X, Y, Z about you or your relationship, and now your friend knows too. And there's a flip side too. Not wanting your spouse to feel jealous of how close you and your friend are, you keep these details of your friendship secret...and suddenly there's a wall with your spouse where a window used to be. You've changed the structure of your marriage without even knowing it.

I'm going to be honest here. I've totally done that before, completely by accident. (Well, not the wall part, but I was a little too honest with a co-worker once and ended up sharing more of my personal life than I meant to. He was telling me about his hopes and dreams, so I shared mine, and it wasn't until the end of the conversation when I was driving home that I realized that I just unloaded a whole bunch of personal stuff with someone I wasn't married to. So it happens. Easily).

The trick, according to Dr. Glass, is to immediately tell your spouse everything. You may have opened that window by accident, but you don't have to wall off your spouse. And yes, if you have a good hubby who cares about you, they're going to be a little worried. (Tony's not the jealous type at all, and he totally trusts me 110%, but when I related what I had accidentally told my co-worker, even he was like, "Not cool, little goose. I'm not liking where this is headed." And while it was completely unintentional on my part, and was nothing worse than us just talking in a parking lot, he was totally right). So I had to make a conscious effort to stop opening windows with my friend. Friends have different boundaries than spouses. There are things only your spouse should know about you. And those intimacies are important. That good feeling because someone knows the "real" you? That's a spouse thing.

The good news is that one accidental window probably won't hurt. You just have to be careful not to keep doing it. I guard my (and Tony's) privacy fiercely now, both in person and on the ol' blog here. I'll tell you about the silly things, the enduring things, the funny things, but there's a wall around the personal things. It may not be as interesting, but I won't weaken the structural integrity of my marriage by filling the walls with holes.

Anywho, something to think about. I read the article (which I think was an except from one of her books, although I forget which one) and went, huh. And I kept coming back to it, because it really resonated with me. So I thought I'd share. Maybe you can use it, maybe you can't. But interesting to know regardless.

Four Inverted Loops Later...

The Seester came in to town to visit for a week. We made the most of it by packing in as much fun as possible while she was here. I could recount all of our day-by-day fun-ness, but then you would be horribly jealous.


Besides, I think this picture of us on the roller coaster at Dollywood says it all.

(Heehee! As soon as my mother realizes that I've put this photo with her eyes all scrunched up on here, she's going to throw to a fit).

(Then the real screaming will start).

(Still worth it).

Edited to add: To be fair, my mother does not like roller coasters, and only went on this one because she is a champ. Mad props to her battling the nausea so that we could have this lovely commemorative photo and document Mom's dedication to family togetherness...even at 110 mph and through four inverted loops.

Edited again: Did anyone notice how my sister totally unhinged her jaw in this picture? She's like a snake getting ready to swallow a water buffalo. (Luv you, seester!)