Monday, June 30, 2008

California -- Still Sunny

I am patchwork tanned. Since I arrived on Thursday, it's been meeting, meeting, orientation, work, nap, walk around. And I have different shoes -- I even have a pair of flip flops. As a result, the tops of my feet are criss-cross tan and my arms are already brown -- just from walking around.

Otherwise, things have been going smoothly. What a difference a year makes. Last time, I didn't know a soul here and though I was very busy, I was a little lonely. This year, I get a lot of "hey! I recognize you" and "it's good to see you" so I feel more welcome. Perhaps it's also because I'm more confident of what's expected of me.

First day of class and it's hard not to compare them to last year's kids. But everybody is different (and a few of my kids are back taking another class).

We watched cartoons today. It's a good life.

Friday, June 27, 2008

In La-La Land

Alaska will have to be on hold for a bit (I'm gearing up for the big "kayaking" drama to entertain you all). I've just arrived to my teaching gig in LA. It is with disappointment that we are not staying in our fabulous apartments that we had last year. In fact, these dwellings are, well, underwhelming but they will be serviceable. At least I was able to connect to the wireless (when will Kalamazoo do that??). I did walk over to the area we lived last year to look at birds. What did I find but the same mockingbird in the same tree, singing its little heart out. Makes me very happy though a little sad that I won't hear him outside my bedroom window on those full moon nights.

That reminds me that one of the interesting birds I saw in Anchorage was a Black-billed Magpie which is a beautiful bird with a very long tail and flashy white patches on its wings. Picture is from All About Birds website.
Impressive, yes? Although not as impressive as Chris spotting Scissor-tailed Flycatchers outside his new digs in Kansas.

Anyhoo, enough about the feathered creatures. Orientation starts tomorrow and I'll have to think about teaching. Nothing much else happened today. My flight was uneventful (which is always good).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Juneau, ya know?

I'm all packed for tomorrow and the house is reasonably clean. The cats were running around frantically as I took away the things they sit and sleep upon. I also left a three page instruction manual for my wonderful cat-sitter who will be here throughout. I think Pumpkin pissed him off last year by "christening some of his stuff." I have bought "cat grass" hoping that will help with her digestion. Sometimes I think she believes she's in a competition with someone -- like an Olympic event.

Can I also complain that it is wicked humid today?

Okay, back to non-humid, cool Alaska. After a half day in Ketchikan, we left port around 1:00 and headed for Juneau (which is the state capital for you geography buffs -- are all following me on the map?). Again, the next morning, I wake up to a beautiful sight:
You can see that other cruise ships have headed into town. Well, we split up for our tours (we can do more damage that way). My sister and niece went whale watching. Mom and I went on a tour of a rainforest. Surprised? Yes, it was a temperate rain forest and very beautiful.
We lucked out by going later in the day because we were a tour of four as opposed to the usual busload. Our partners for the day was a rather taciturn couple from Perth. Turns out our tour guide who took us in a golf cart up the side of a mountain was going to spend a semester in Perth, surfing. That's what I like about all the summer kids who come to Alaska to make some money. They are all a well-scrubbed, shiny-faced, let's go climb that sheer rock face lot. Makes me feel my age.

Our guide pointed out many amusing ways one can die in the wilderness which I greatly appreciated. Though my mother looks like peaches and sunshine, she has a dark streak. When we did the obligatory practice drill for if the boat hits an iceberg or something, we gathered at our meeting area with our life jackets. When told how to jump off the boat (don't jump, rather, step off), my mother commented that the water would kill you anyway so what's the point of doing all this anyway?

Back to the tour. I learned some interesting facts. Like, when bears wander into the town and get in trouble or keep coming back, they are sent to an island where all the bad bears live together (sorta like Battle Royale with the furry set). I also learned that when a bear comes out of hibernation, they eat a lot of skunk cabbage (they need something, as my guide put it, "to pull the trigger."). But don't try this at home, because it will kill you. See that weed -- it's called "Devil's Club" and it will make you wish you were dead if you get caught hiking in it.

I also learned from our lovely tourbus girl two stories. One was about a sea lion who had discovered a fish farm and gorged himself. He wandered off and took a nice snooze right in the middle of the road. Since these guys can weigh half a ton, they had to re-route traffic around him until he decided to wake up and waddle off.

I also learned why there is a statue of pelicans in front of it (and for those of you keeping score at home, there are no pelicans in Alaska). The Juneau folks had ordered the appropriate eagle statue for the capital -- and believe me you can't throw a ball without hitting a bald eagle there (and then go to jail because they are protected and a national symbol). At the same time, Florida put in their order for a statue of Pelicans from the same business. They switched them. Florida kept the eagles and Juneau had to settle for the Pelicans. Now, mind you, I did not see the state capital and the pelicans and on more than one occasion did I hear contradictory information from guides so take everything I write with a grain of salt.

And then after all this, we went shopping. Mom bought a bear.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Dropped the Ball, Again

Here I am busily preparing for my trip to Atlanta then LA and I realize that I have yet to finish my Alaska trip (which believe me, is more of a record for myself than necessarily written for all of you nice people). When I think about working on the blog, more interesting things happen to me. For instance, my friend, Ken, came over and we ate pizza and I made him watch weird anime as I am wont to do. Then we flip around cable channels because he doesn't have cable and he strangely enjoys the commercials. Anyway, on IFC, I notice that Dead Alive has just started and it's just about up to the custard scene. So, I said, "Ken, you have to see this because it's the most disgusting scene and when I first saw it, I was eating at the time." Why not share the delightful agony of stomach churning?

Well, we watched it and then he wanted to finish the movie, which is a fine, funny, gross film if you have not caught it (early Peter Jackson -- I wonder if the people who handed him all those millions to film Lord of the Rings caught this flick and said "that's our man!"). I am sincerely glad that we had finished the pizza beforehand (Ken even said that he didn't want to take his share of the leftovers home because the film was so gross and pulpy but I made him). I had completely forgotten about the zombie guts that chased after the hero. You get a sense that the make-up guys and Jackson laughed their butts off through the entire thing. Thanks, Kate for another gem (now if I could only get this film out of my memory, but I digress).

Okay, back to the boat and to the pictures. To answer Kate's question, "did we even feel that we are in a boat?" Yes, I could feel the motion. That first night we sped our way up the coast and I could feel myself slowly sliding in the bed. Thankfully the fam has strong stomachs (see above). Perhaps the coolest sensation of cruising is when one wakes up to the boat docked in a different world.
You will see a lot of pics off this back deck (and yes, they had a smoking area there). Since we opted for cheap accommodations (inside cabin), we were fortunate enough to be at the rear of the boat and one flight up was this wonderful deck. In the morning I woke up to green mountains to gaze at over coffee and smokes (and all the coffee you can drink. This deck was also home to the 24 hour buffet). You can see a pic of the back of the boat here. Look for the flag to see where I was standing.

It seems like all these Alaskan port cities are mostly accessible from air and sea. Not so much by car (how absolutely un-American). Our tour off boat was the cheapest and the most wheelchair friendly, the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. I know you are all amused by the picturing me in a place where I am actually witnessing outdoor sports like log rolling and various chainsaw events but you will get no such pics. Here's one of my sister, freezing her patootie off.
As the above link tells you, watch and marvel at "rugged professional timber athletes." Indeed.

Too bad I couldn't take one of them home for a souvenir. [insert obligatory sex joke here]

Sunday, June 15, 2008

We get on the ship and some more pics of Vancouver

On the day we boarded the ship, I wasn't able to get a good photo of it because we were herded and culled. First through customs and then our mouths and ears were checked. No, not really but it certainly seemed like that. I guess to get 2600+ people onto one ship through one door is a bit of a challenge. So we sat in the waiting room until we were finally called. Then we had to wait for the ship to set sail (only to wait an hour in the harbor while they worked on the magnetic compass or something like that).

Here is a pic that sums up the waiting:

Mom, sister, and niece all waiting on the deck. Note the excitement.

And here you can see my feet (that's the only pic you will get of moi!). We sailed on the Sapphire Princess (one of the many Luuuv Booooaaats).

The lovely city as seen from a very expensive and large boat. No, really, it does look better from there.

Sailing under the Capilano Suspension bridge. There were people waving to us from it and they didn't even spit on us nor did they jump. Canadians are very nice people.
Another nice view of the bridge.

Next up: Ketchican. Alaska's first city (named so because it is usually the first people visit when setting sail for Alaska. We visited there first in keeping with tradition).

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Some Pics of Vancouver

This was the view outside our hotel window. There's the harbor and lots of expensive boats.
Here you get a sense of how the window opens up and gets that deck feel. I suppose the railing is so that you don't get drunk and fall out of the building.
The Vancouver Art Gallery with the "KRAZY" exhibit. Did they have to pick such an ugly face???
A lovely view of the mountains at the top of the Lookout or whatever it is called. This was part of the tour we took the next day. Here you can see snow-capped mountains. Since Vancouver will be hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics, our guides proudly pointed out the conveniences of having snow pretty close to the city. Visiting in 2008 meant that a lot of the buildings were covered in plastic in order to be good and spruced for the games.
Some totem poles done by local artists for Stanley Park. They can only be found in the Pacific Northwest.
A closeup of a piece of art in the Park.

Now I wish I had taken more pictures but soon we will get to the boat I promise you. I was also able to take some short movies of a few things. Hopefully I'll be able to upload them too.

And, finally, a cute picture of the kitties who were so happy that I came home but are very unhappy that I am not sharing the canned salmon with them.

Gotta figure out a way of getting ride of spooky eye....

Friday, June 13, 2008

Vancouver: Too Lazy for PIcs

Well, my pictures of Vancouver are not that exciting and I don't feel like fooling with the dig cam right now. But don't worry, I'll provide some pretty pics soon enough.

The nice thing about paying a lot of money for a cruise is that they really do believe in service. No, really, they do. Nowadays everything is do-it-yourself and lots of mechanical voices asking if you absolutely must talk to a live person (as a side note, on some voice recognition systems, if you start cursing loudly, sometimes they will connect you to a living human being to whom you can curse in person. I never knew that robots could be so sensitive). But anyway, I step off the plane in Vancouver (uneventful flight. Watched 27 Dresses which was awful but took my mind off the hours of flying. I never spoke to my seatmate although we were squeezed in together because we are not small people. Then one small child, who was really good most of the flight, had to pull my hair when I was up getting something out of the overhead bin. The mother was very apologetic and she had been great about walking the child up and down the aisles. I said it was no problem. Who wouldn't want to pull my hair? The child must have thought a long-haired puppy had come on board all of sudden). But back to cruise service -- I step off the plane and there are three cruise representatives. I'm marked off their list. They wait while I smoke and then get my luggage. Then one puts me in a cab (and pays for it -- well, we had paid for it ahead of time) and then presto, I'm in a fancy hotel, just south of Stanley Park.

I wait hours and hours for my family to show up. I wish I had gone to the Vancouver Art Gallery so I could see the Krazy exhibit while I was waiting which I had to rush through the next morning.

Our hotel had a fabulous view of the harbor and I watched floatplanes take off and land. The really cool thing about the room was that you could slide open the windows on one wall so you got a kinda deck feeling. Plus there was a fainting couch where one could loll and watch the world out the window. There is not nearly enough lolling going on in one's life.

Fam finally showed up and I was happy to see them (hadn't seen them since Thanksgiving) and even though all four of us were going to be crammed in this one room, my mother thought it was funny that I said "I haven't slept well in six months. What's one more night?"). My mother has a twisted sense of humor.

Our first meal did not bode well for things to come. I took them to a place next door which I thought was "safe" but everything in the menu looked weird to them. "What's tarragon?" and "Can't I get shrimp instead of prawns?" My mother scared my niece by telling her the difference between shrimp and prawns was that prawns had their heads and the little eyes look at you from the plate, asking for mercy. I do have to admit that the food was rather bland and not up to snuff but I was already getting irritated with my American tourist family.

The next day, we decided to walk down the shopping district and at the end I would go to the museum which was only a mile away. The world, however, looks different when one is pushing a wheelchair and gentle slopes become death marches. Although the weather was cool, we were all sweating like proverbial pigs when we finally made it to the street we were looking for. The flaring tempers also did not bode well for our trip. But that's our style. Lots of angry words then food. Then the world is okay.

I finally abandoned them and went to the museum. And no, I did not just suddenly let go of my sister while going up the hill. I sped through the exhibit which I will save for a future post (or publication because I have some very strong opinions about it). Then we met for lunch and then took a guided tour of Vancouver.

My southern family was cheered by the fact that Canada had supported the South during the Civil War because they wanted all those nice raw goods picked by slaves. A little embarrassing for all involved during the tour. Okay, my family is not that bad. It was just an interesting fact and since none of them have blogs, I am free to paint them in much any light I want.

Finally that evening we went to a good and crowded fish restaurant and I had both a martini and a glass of wine. I felt good. Mom was supportive of this mood because I think she secretly thought that if she had liked alcohol, this would have been a much more pleasant trip for her.

Next blog: getting on the boat

PS: I cut my hair yesterday. Not extreme but pretty extreme. And there's no one to see it yet!!! (or those who have seen it have not commented which is distressing)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Back from the Wilds of Alaska

Hi everybody! I've returned and am slowly getting used to Eastern Standard Time. What was the most difficult, however, was stepping into 90 degree heat after more than a week of cool, sweater-wearing temperatures (not to mention the 11:00 sunset). My ride from the airport was commissioned to put in my AC toot sweet once I saw my melted cats in the apartment. Feels good in here.

So, I thought I would write down my impressions over several blogs. I have been saving up some goodies for you and I have pics since I bought a dig cam right before I left. I just need to figure out how to upload the pics but that shouldn't take too long once I decide to try it.

The few days before I left was a frenzy of activity. I had a to-do list that stretched two-columns down a legal pad. Making to-do lists is always a opportunity for hilarity. I like the fact that items can range from the minute (pack extra memory card) to the very broad (finish that revision before you leave and e-mail it!). I think I got nearly everything done. I suppose I did all right to let people know I would be in the middle of the water and without internet (or internet for muchos bucks). My e-mail was not inundated with screams of "where are you?"

I will also try to put this in some semblance of order though it will descend in chaos on whim and frustration. I was very fortunate that my neighbor agreed to take me to the airport at the god awful time of 3:45 am so I could catch my 6:00 am flight to Toronto. I even got a couple hours sleep which was a miracle. That's at least one good thing about having another person drive, there is a failsafe alarm system if for some reason I set my alarm for PM rather than AM. Good thing I got there when I did because fifteen minutes later, they would not have checked my bag. I think I would have thrown a world-class fit.

Now, for those of you who know that I travel a lot, I like to have a lot of control over what airplane I fly, what seat I select, what time I set off, etc. I know the tricks of the trade and can talk airlines into doing things for me that they don't do for anyone (I've gotten them to waive fees for ticket changes -- for a small fee, I will tell you how I did it and no, I did not have to debase myself in any way that your dirty minds are thinking). However, for this flight, I did not have control over anything. It was booked through my mother's travel agent. I flew Air Canada (see Miss Kate's numerous rants about this airline) on a tiny, microscopic, walk on the tarmac, I was sitting on the wheel hump airplane. It was so small (how small was it?) that if we needed anything, we had to ask the guys in the cockpit. I was tempted to pull aside the curtain and ask them if I could have a martini and to complain that the inflight entertainment of the harmonious snoring throughout the cabin was not what I was expecting. However, I restrained myself. For all I knew, the other ten passengers were Air Marshalls.

For all my complaining, the flight went smoothly. Even though I had expressed some trepidation over the fact I was on an Indiana Jones era plane with propellers (no curtains in the windows), the guy behind me assured me that it would be a good flight (though he didn't get my reference to Indy -- and I thought I was being clever). He was right that the hum and noise of the plane just knocked everybody out and we slept most of the two hour flight to Toronto.

In Toronto, I had an easy time through customs and to my plane. I even browsed a really good bookshop and picked up yet some more reading for the ship. I ended up reading Dickens' Little Dorrit most of the time I was there, finally finishing it when I returned to Connecticut. My family, however, had to run for their connection, especially since they had to pick up their bags and run to check them again -- and they had overpacked.

All right enough airport logging. I know that you are just so fascinated by it. Next blog -- Vancouver.