Thursday, August 9, 2018

A Picture Perfect Trip

Booking a trip online with a company not previously experienced is a scary enterprise. We embarked on our Alaska and Canada adventure hoping for the best but with the realization the possibilities for far less than perfect were high.

We were wondrously surprised. The things we could control went well, if not better than expected - reservations, excursions, food quality, accommodations. And things we could not control also turned out superb - the weather could not have been better. Not one day of rain. Or cold. No flight delays and seamless passage through airport security and customs.

Wifi service along the way proved precarious, none existent to minimal to troublesome. As a result I could not post pictures. Here is the journey in brief through my sub-par photographic skills via my iPhone lens.

What would a trip to the Last Frontier be without observing animals?
We saw moose - the proof above - and bears, wolves, eagles and hawks,
dogs (huskies trained for the Iditarod and similar races), caribou.
Alaska and the Yukon were surprisingly green and alive with flowers and flourishing vegetable gardens.
These are poppies.
We saw a play  - a seriocomedy best describes it - on the history of Dawson City, Yukon.
Travel offers opportunities to experience a variety of rest room facilities,
some rather rustic.  
The comforts of modern civilization can be found in the most remote parts of the world,
or at least in the Yukon territory of Canada, today.
We can't go long without our ice cream or gelato or frozen yogurt fix!
And while on the subject of food, I was impressed with the fare on our Holland America cruise ship.
And in-room dining service was available AT NO EXTRA CHARGE!
We enjoyed breakfast on our deck - that's salmon benedict, with sides of potatoes and fruit.
We ate a lot of salmon as well as other fish. 
Glaciers melt during the summer. In this picture chunks of ice recently
broken from a glacier float down the fjord.
 Most glaciers appear far away on the mountains.
This glacier is literally in the water in Glacier Bay, Alaska.
We spent a couple of days in Vancouver at the end of our trip
and took a bike tour around the city. Here we are almost at the end of the tour
in gardens in Vancouver's Chinatown.
Do we look tired!?

The expansive Alaskan landscape seems to go on forever.
Deep blue lakes and rivers, forests of spruce trees, high jagged mountains,
and not a lot of people - except in a few tourist towns.
Whatever changes occur in the future - and changes are happening everyday,
some by nature and much man-driven,
I want to remember the land as it is today and as most of it was for thousands of years before
we - humans - decided to exploit its resources.
My grandson witnessed the land as it is today.
I hope it is not drastically changed when decades in the future his grandson visits the Last Frontier.




Thursday, August 2, 2018

Notes from the Last Frontier

Travel usually comes with an occasional headache or two or three, glitches large and small. Have you ever travelled for any length of time without issues?


Me neither.


Until our Alaska trip.


A few highlights of our almost-glitchless trip…

One of the stops on our trek through the Yukon.

An envelope with room keys and the next day’s agenda appeared magically. No phone calls to make, planning to do, luggage to lug. 


We are being spoiled.


Our 28-member tour group enjoyed a one-hour chartered plane ride from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Dawson City, located in the middle of nowhere. Also known as Canada’s Yukon Territory. Check-in was seamless and quick, the plane departed on time and had comfortable seats, plenty of leg room, and cordial hostesses serving non-alcoholic beverages (no charge!). 


The Dawson City airport comprises one landing strip. We walked off the plane and down a stairway onto the tarmac, then strode a few additional paces to stairs leading to a door which, upon opening, brought us face to face with Canadian customs agents. Passports drawn, the agent carefully perused Hayden’s.


“Do you have letters from his mother and father permitting him to travel with you?” The agent directed the inquiry to hub and me.


Well, no.


“We are not supposed to let minors into the country without proper authorization,” she paused and we held our breath, “next time bring letters with you,” and she handed me Hayden’s passport.


Potential problem averted.


Dawson City - population 800 year-round swelling to 2,000 during the summer tourist season - looks like it’s right out of a B-rated American Western, the town’s sidewalks raised boardwalks, businesses and homes replicas of Bonanza’s Virginia City, wide streets unpaved. 


There is a good reason for the hard-packed but un-asphalted road surface. Under a thin layer of soil lies permafrost. The asphalt would absorb summer’s heat and eventually melt the permafrost, unsettle the ground and the foundations of buildings. Not a desirable scenario.






The weather throughout the trip was picture perfect - cloudless deep blue skies with temperatures hovering in the 70s, creeping into the 80s by late afternoon. Hours of daylight. We did not see a dark evening until the ship cruised south towards Vancouver.


We visited the site of the gold discovery that launched the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush. We panned for gold (twice). We visited the Moosehide gathering, a biennial event of First Nations featuring (free) food, arts and crafts (not free) and music (listening is free). The only way to access the place was via motorboat on the Yukon River. 


What we did during long travel times...
How we passed the time on long bus and train trips.

The other thing we did during long travel days - stop at scenic spots for picture taking
And country stores for a snack - like this giant-sized cinnamon bun.

We travelled via train, comfortable coach bus, plane, more comfy buses, the land portion of our trip ending with a spectacular narrow-gauge single track train ride from Fraser, Canada over and through mountains to Skagway, Alaska, where we boarded our ship, the MS Volendam.


The cruise is the relaxing part of the trip.


I don’t know how budget-minded, budget-oriented travelers that we are managed it, but we were upgraded to a suite, a word and type of room and travel alien up to this point in our Iives. 


Opening the door to our stateroom…


The space was huge, especially compared to standard cruise ship cubicles. King-size bed and a couch that opened into a bed. A bathroom with jacuzzi tub. Dressing room with three closets (small but usable), sink, long counter, a wall of mirrors. Dressers with plenty of storage space. An espresso machine (fully loaded), fresh fruit bowl, plate of chocolates, a balcony (wrong word) - verandah - equipped with table, four chairs, two lounge chairs and an end table. And plenty of walking around space.


In-room dining service. No extra charge.


Hayden and I decided to play bingo one afternoon. Fill an entire card (called blackout) and the prize - a free 7-day cruise to the Caribbean or Mexico.


Hayden won. I signed the papers for my minor family member.


We look forward to our next (free!) cruise…


Thursday, July 26, 2018

On Track to Denali

I was concerned that visiting a major tourist destination mid-summer the place would be packed with people. Alaska included. It seems everyone has been, is going, or wants to visit the 49th state. 


As it turns out the vastness of the land spreads crowds. Restaurants may be crowded, but that is expected in any resort area. And we plan accordingly. Eat dinner early, find places off the beaten path, try odd hours.


Our Holland America tour, eight days on land followed by a 4-day cruise, counts 28 folks. We do not feel pushed around or on a too-tight schedule. 


Hub and I usually plan our own trips. But I admit it is nice to have someone else do all the planning, hand us a sheet of paper everyday with what's happening, where to be when, meal suggestions, room keys…we are definitely getting spoiled.


The train to Denali is outfitted for tourists - comfortable plush seats, plenty of leg room, domed car with second-level seating, slow speed. The lower level dining car is outfitted with tablecloths, cloth napkins, silverware, table service, an interesting menu and good food.


We pass through few towns. Spruce trees, wide flowing streams and rivers, blue lakes, and an occasional home dominate the landscape. 


North of Anchorage the train rumbled through Wasilla, known as the home (past tense) of Vice-Presidential candidate, ex-governor of Alaska, Tina Fey-look alike - Sarah Palin. No Sarah sightings in Wasilla. Rumor places her nowadays somewhere in the Arizona desert.

 

We did not see Russia. Trees, mountains, and curvature of the earth prevented clear viewing. Sarah must have climbed a high tower to see Siberia.


We were informed there was a 30% chance we would see Denali, previously Mt. McKinley, the highest point in North America. Clouds usually hamper clear sightings. We were lucky. Via the train the snow-capped mountains appeared clear and spectacular, and the following day the view from Denali park was also picture perfect. The weather was warm and sunny, few clouds blocking views of surrounding mountains.


We packed for cool weather, the 50s usual this time of year for Denali, and our weather-appropriate clothes remain stuffed in the bottom of suitcases taking up space. The temperature hit the high 70s and low 80s. 


We went rafting one evening (it is light past midnight) and although the air was warm the water was cold - very cold - 17 hours earlier river waters were glaciers - packed ice - on nearby mountains. We donned dry suits over our clothes, necessary as we got drenched.  The rapids were rated one and two, but we hit three’s (according to our 20-year-old guide and paddler). There was not a calm portion of river the entire ride.


We saw a moose and her two calves walking along the river. In Denali we viewed caribou, bear, eagles, ravens, moose, and humans of all sizes, shapes and ages, most with cellphones and real cameras angling for pictures of the spectacle surrounding them.


Food is always an important part of our trips, and Alaska does not disappoint. We sampled local cuisine - various renditions of reindeer, caribou, halibut, salmon, cod.


Our tour bus, train, plane rolls on. On to the Yukon, Canada.    


No pictures because wifi connection poor. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Hurry Up and Wait…Air Travel Summarized

Why is air travel exhausting, time-consuming, tiring, unfun, bone-wearying?


Or is it just me?


The Philadelphia Airport terminal traversed this afternoon is brightly lit, spacious, not teeming with crowds, yet still the experience can be summed up in a word, OK two words: a hassle.


Enter the terminal and signs direct travelers to a kiosk to check in and print boarding passes and luggage tags. If traveling with no luggage, check in can be done easily at home on the comfort of your couch. With luggage or facing other obstacles - overseas travel, for instance - airport check-in is a must.


Kiosk check-in proceeds smoothly. A customer service agent (big, strong with huge arm muscles) wanders over to assist with our bags. He must have noted our senior citizenship and, although we could wheel our bags to the drop off zone, took pity on our slightly bent bodies. 


Onward to security.


Hurry up and wait…We qualify for TSA pre-check allowing us to get on a special - short - security line, but sometimes we don’t. Like today. For some unknown reason our status never made it onto our boarding passes, so the TSA pre-check armed guard rejected us. We could have returned to the Alaska Air counter and corrected the oversight, but it was a long walk. The security line for others - non-TSA pre-check folks - did not look bad, so we got on the back of the line. And it did move along.


Until it didn’t.


My grandson joins hub and I on this latest adventure. His backpack went through the security machine twice before being pulled aside. He and I watched as an agent rooted around inside and took out a couple of items including a water bottle. With water in it.


A really, really major no-no.


So the two of us were escorted out of the security area into the great abyss of the not-yet-secured. We emptied the bottle in a potted plant. The TSA agent was nice enough to let us back into the security area without waiting on line - which had grown substantially since our initial wait.


Once again we took off shoes and walked through the people-monitor. And I was patted down a second time. No belts, no metal, but my body sparks something in the machine that says - hey, pat down the old lady! This is going to be good


Retrieving our bags we follow signs to our gate. Now hungry and past lunchtime, there is still time for a meal before boarding. 


Walking at a rapid pace to get somewhere - the security line, the gate, the restroom, waiting in all these places, standing in lines, walking again, a bit slower each time, waiting on lines that never recede, our Alaska adventure begins.


Almost.


We board the plane and settle into seats more comfortable than our usual Spirit Air accommodations. The plane backs out of the gate and begins taxiing.


And stops.


The captain announces there are a lot of planes ahead of us. Get comfortable, relax, we will be leaving soon he says. 


The plane finally takes off. 


We sat on the plane about an hour as it loaded passengers, taxied, then waited for take-off.


Our Alaska adventure begins. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

69,000 and Counting

Computers are awesome. Not so much to younger generations; kids nowadays use devices almost from infancy, and as part of their environment do not consider electronic gadgets extraordinary. Older folks were introduced to computers when returning to school as adults, or at work, or eventually at home.

And so it is with Mom, 93-years-young and a laptop user. When troubled by a computer issue she calls my sister the computer geek, or hub, almost a computer geek, or when desperate me. Or more wisely her go-to computer nerd who makes house calls. He, however, charges $.
 
Mom’s latest computer issue involves emails.

Hub and I visited Mom a couple of weeks ago. Mom mentioned emails were slow to load on her computer. A quick review of her AOL account discovered the problem.

Mom rarely deletes emails. She assumes that someday she will have the time to carefully review messages she does not have time to read when initially viewed. Mom receives lots of emails. Over the years she got on multitudes of lists, and as a result receives all sorts of solicitations and ads daily. And there are ‘real’ emails from friends and family, volunteer organizations, temple...

Mom had over SIXTY NINE THOUSAND - 69,000 - emails in her inbox.  

That must be some kind of record.

I had no idea how far back the emails dated because all of them would not download at once. Emails needed to be deleted before older ones appeared onscreen.

So we started deleting. However Mom wanted to review almost every email before removing. No mass deletions allowed. One by one we deleted...After working for hours exhaustion forced a halt to the process. The project was going to take days. Maybe weeks. At what point would Mom allow anyone to delete all old emails? Perhaps never. I surrendered and went to bed, bleary-eyed from staring at the screen. 

The following week my sister continued the ordeal and began making progress. Emails surfaced from April 2017. How far back would emails go?


Checking and then deleting emails in a separate saved folder (Mom had no idea how they landed in a different folder) the answer emerged: 2009. Store ads and coupons dating back years would no longer be useable. Stores went out of business. Coupons long past expiration dates would not be accepted. But I am sure political organizations would appreciate her donation. Retrieving messages from now-departed individuals was unexpected and sad. 

The task continues. I doubt Mom’s inbox will ever read less than 1,000. Maybe she can slash the quantity to under 10,000. But I don’t believe she is spending much time on the project.

Meanwhile her computer nerd stopped by – on a Sunday! – and improved the efficiency of her machine. 

I have a feeling her inbox is once again growing exponentially. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Celebrating Our Diversity

The Fourth of July is a uniquely American holiday, a celebration of the bravery, the boldness, the vision of our country’s founding leaders. Most were affluent yet dissatisfied with conditions defined by the King. Many did not realize their defiance would lead to a permanent shift from colony to independent country.

We celebrate the occasion with a day at favorite summer haunts – parks, beaches, campgrounds, our own back yards.

Hub and I attended a concert of patriotic songs and old favorites performed by the local symphony orchestra. Scanning the program I wondered about the origins of the songs’ writers and composers; at least one was an immigrant. Currently the Administration works hard to bestow negative traits on folks seeking to enter the country. My foreparents came ashore penniless yet succeeded in providing a life for themselves and their families that did not incorporate crime, drugs, or any of the litany of evils the President showers upon immigrants and people hoping to come here. 

What wonderful music would we have missed if the following individuals – or their parents’ - were banned from the country?

The orchestra performed a medley from Aaron Copland’s 1942 ballet Rodeo. Copland’s parents emigrated from the Polish/Lithuanian regions of Russia. A bit of worthless trivia: the music was used as background in the 1990s Beef, It’s What for Dinner advertising campaign.

Rousing renditions of John Philip Sousa’s Liberty Bell March and Stars and Stripes Forever followed. Sousa’s father was born in Spain of Portuguese parents. His mother was born in Bavaria (Germany).

The musicians played a medley of official Armed Forces songs - the Army’s The Caissons Go Rolling Along, Navy’s Anchors Aweigh, the Coast Guard’s Semper ParatusThe U.S. Air Force, also known as Wild Blue Yonder

The U.S. Army Air Corps (now the Air Force) needed an official song but could not pay the commission for an original song. Budgets were tight in the Depression year 1938. Liberty Magazine stepped in and sponsored a contest for an official song. Composer Robert MacArthur Crawford – born in the Yukon, Canada – won. 

Francesco Maria Scala, born in Naples, Italy around 1819, embarked on a naval career as a musician. However, prone to seasickness, he resigned. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps Band and eventually became the band’s director. Under his direction the band played what became the official marine song, commonly known as From the Halls of Montezuma

The program ended with an audience sing-along of God Bless America, by Irving Berlin. Born in Russia in 1888, Berlin arrived in the U.S. at the age of five.

My folks came to the U.S. as immigrants, aliens, and became citizens.
I was born in Boston, a citizen, went to Hollywood and became an alien.
-      Leonard Nimoy
-       
In America anyone can do or become anything!

There are today and always have been voices declaring the open door should be tightly shut. Sometimes the negative calls win. One example - the 1924 Immigration Act set quotas based on 1890s census data, effectively eliminating immigration from most areas of the world, except certain European countries.

Echoes of the past haunt us today, but we are a resilient nation. Calmer, more tolerant views will prevail. Eventually...

It is never too late to give up your prejudices.
-       Henry David Thoreau

I end with Neil Sedaka’s 1975 song The Immigrant, and a picture. 



An assortment of disorganized, vibrant flowers from my garden. 
A lot of different flowers make a bouquet.— Muslim Origin
The Immigrant
Neil Sedaka
Harbours open their arms to the young searching foreigner
Come to live in the light of the beacon of liberty
Plains and open skies billboards would advertise
Was it anything like that when you arrived
Dream boats carried the future to the heart of America
People were waiting in line for a place by the river

It was a time when strangers were welcome here
Music would play they tell me the days were sweet and clear
It was a sweeter tune and there was so much room
That people could come from everywhere

Now he arrives with his hopes and his heart set on miracles
Come to marry his fortune with a hand full of promises
To find they've closed the door they don't want him anymore
There isn't any more to go around
Turning away he remembers he once heard a legend
That spoke of a mystical magical land called America

There was a time when strangers were welcome here
Music would play they tell me the days were sweet and clear
It was a sweeter tune and there was so much room
That people could come from everywhere

There was a time when strangers were welcome here
Music would play they tell me the days were sweet and clear
It was a sweeter tune and there was so much room
That people could come from everywhere

Friday, June 29, 2018

CHARMS FOR PRIVATE PLACES

My knowledge of fashion and the latest fashion trends is very limited. I do not read fashion updates or eagerly await the arrival of new fashions at local women’s boutiques. My fashion expertise (or lack thereof) is tested in doctors’ offices where I peruse popular tabloids like People, lingering on the Who wears it better? page. I don’t always agree with the majority and sometimes don’t think either celebrity wore the outfit well.

But once in a while a fashion-related news story gets my attention, most recently an article about a jewelry fad – crotch charms. The account sparked my curiosity and led me to investigate additional jewelry produced for parts of the body women of the recent past (within my experience) never considered sporting, except perhaps for entertainers. 

Back to those crotch charms, called Beachtails by one company. Worn through the crotch of bikini bottoms, an ad announced, they can also be worn with panties, thongs/tangas and shorts.

The charms hang down on either side of the bikini bottoms between the thighs…How many women have slim enough, trim enough thighs that the charms are easily spotted? Sometimes they jangle when walking. How many women want attention drawn to that particular part of their body by the sound generated? A nice sound as opposed to an embarrassing one, but still… 

My research uncovered a sister item to Beachtails - the Ladies Clip - jewelry that goes inside the body. The crotch area. As opposed to Beachtails which remain outside the body. Should you want additional information on the Ladies Clip – I am woefully ignorant on details - check out Amazon. Yup, they are on sale at the one place you can find anything. The items ship from Japan. But you needn’t worry about the mail carrier, neighbors, friends or family finding out about your latest fashion craving. According to the ad, Shipping as "Fashion Straps" on customs declaration label. Brand name and logo…are invisible on envelope.

Another attention-grabbing piece of jewelry my investigation discovered are nipple nooses - matched pairs of jewelry for nipples. No piercing required. View examples hereDon’t want to attach the jewelry directly to your breasts? Then try a nipple ring bra! 

I am way past the age when I would consider this nonsense. However I never would have considered buying, trying, or adorning myself with any of these items. But reading about them and viewing charms for sale offered a diversion from real and fake news and household work, and provided lots of amusement. 

Our region is in the midst of a heat wave. I think I will walk down to the beach tomorrow, set up my beach chair and gaze at the scenery. You never know what I might see…

Do you think I have too much idle time on my hands?…

Saturday, June 23, 2018

An Age Appropriate Adventure

My birthday loomed and I contemplated what might be a good way to celebrate. Not a milestone this year, just a higher number checked off the calendar. Still, a celebration, muted as it might be, a way to mark the passing years, rejoice that I made it this far and hopefully have quite a few years left.

It is summer, the season for outdoor activities. Gardening comes to mind, but that sounds more like work than fun. Spending the day on a lounge chair in the back yard or the beach is a cop-out, enjoyable but not memorable. 
The view from my kayak.

Correspondence from Pinelands Adventures, a kayak/canoe tour company, got my attention. The arrival of the email was karma. Kayaking down tranquil waters on a sunlit day. An age appropriate adventure.

I booked a trip for two.

Mentioning our upcoming adventure to friends, they jumped on the idea and immediately made reservations.

Four of us met at Pinelands Adventures headquarters 9:00 a.m., eager to set out on the river. Handed lifejackets and a laminated sheet outlining the river route, we boarded a rickety, reincarnated school bus to our launch site. No loading and unloading hefty equipment for us seniors! We carried snacks from home (cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers and carrots), water bottles, sunscreen and bug spray (not needed), and a cell phone (for pictures and to text when ready to be picked up).

The bumpy ride tracked a dirt road known in the 1700s as the Tuckerton Stage Route, a highway for goods unloaded at Tuckerton on the Jersey shore and transported by wagons to Camden and Philadelphia. No trace of stagecoach stops, inns and taverns remain, only a couple of abandoned wood buildings dating from the 1800s. 

We arrived at our starting point, a small clearing on the Batsto River in the Wharton State Forest (south Jersey. I know, who would think of pristine land in the midst of Jersey, but it exists!). 

Our kayaks ready to go!
Wiggling into kayaks we paddled calm waters, the river narrow, widening miles later as it entered a lake. Stumps and fallen trees created obstacles smoothly (usually) maneuvered around. The path was rarely straight, rather a series of S-twists. Low-hanging branches kept us bowing low to avoid being hit. Mostly cloudy in the 70s, a perfect day for low-impact water activity.

Taking a water break, checking the map.
Surrounded by trees that prevented the sun (when peeking out between clouds) from baking us, we meandered gently down river, silence broken only by birds chirping and an occasional, “Did you see that large turtle? And the babies?..I see the mile marker!” The entire 4+ hours on the water only two other kayakers passed by. The dark waters prevented viewing fish, but bubbles and ripples demonstrated their presence.

There were not many places to beach the kayaks for a break but we came across two clearings. The first stopover the guys peed. At the second rest stop we unpacked snacks and refueled our bodies.
The river widens, the kayakers tire, clouds darken
and threaten rain. 
The last mile clouds darkened and raindrops plopped into the water and onto our bodies. But it never became a torrent, and by the time we arrived at the end of our journey the rain ceased.

The ride back to company headquarters travelled paved roads through forest, the town of Hammonton, and the pine barrens– the blueberry capital of the world, passing fields covered with ripening blueberry bushes. Migrant laborers worked the fields, harvesting berries by hand. A stark contrast – Haitian workers toiling the fields, American retirees returning from a recreational outing on the river.

 I am fortunate, but sometimes forget how blessed my life is.

Sometimes we must look outside our own backyards 
to realize how big the world is and how blessed we are.
-       Eugene Nathaniel Butler