Friday, July 1, 2016

Our Alaska Adventure

Day 3

The third day of our vacation was a sea day with no port of call. The highlight of the day was a sail by of the Hubbard Glacier. This was the only day of the whole trip that was not sunny and warm at least part of the day. The day was drizzly and cold. This was the view from our stateroom as we approached the glacier. The clouds hung low over the mountains and the water was littered with ice.

One of the reasons we chose Celebrity for our cruise was that it offers an educational component with a naturalist on board to provide information and answer questions. The evening before we visited Hubbard, we attended a one-hour presentation about glaciers by Celebrity's resident naturalist, Milos Radakovich. He also provided loud-speaker narration as we sailed into Disenchantment Bay past the Hubbard Glacier.

Hubbard is the largest tidewater glacier in North America. It flows 76 miles from its source in the Yukon into Disenchantment Bay and is 1,200 feet deep. We sailed quite close to the glacier and then the captain cut the engines to allow us to hear the glacier. I had no idea that a glacier makes noise, but it does. It creeks and crackles and groans as it moves and calves. The naturalist told us that it's not unusual for it to be rainy or drizzly in this locale because, in his words "the glacier makes its own weather."

Just a reminder that, at this point in our trip, our photography was limited to our cell phones and Kindle Fire cameras. Some of it is not too bad considering.

I was very surprised by the amount of color visible in the glacier. I had read some tips for photographing them and trying to capture the beautiful blue that is the dominant color, but it was more beautiful than I expected. We were lucky that it was an overcast day which made the blue easier to capture with a cell phone camera.

One of the most interesting things to me was the line in the water where the glacial melt meets with salt water. It's very delineated and interesting to see.

Here we are on our balcony sailing past the glacier and the icebergs.

 One of the concerns I had in booking our trip was that I wanted to be sure we got a cabin with a balcony where we could be sure we had a good view. It turned out not to matter at all. The passages that we sailed from Seward to Vancouver were narrow enough that there were beautiful views on both sides of the ship. And, at the glacier, the captain made a turn and sailed in both directions so it was visible from both sides of the ship.

The rest of the day was spent having fun on the ship. Every afternoon between 3 and 5 o'clock, if we were on the ship, they brought hors d'oeuvres to our cabin. It was always something very light and savory. We really enjoyed it. In the evenings we had dinner at 7 o'clock in Blu the ship's Aqua Class restaurant. The top picture is our stateroom on deck 7 of the Celebrity Millennium.

Both the food and the service were amazing. I could get used to this kind of life.


Saturday, June 25, 2016

North to Alaska and Home Again

Days 1 & 2

We've been home for a little more than a week from our amazing adventure to Alaska. It turned out to be one of our best trips ever. It truly was great.

We started out early on Wednesday morning with a drive from Corpus Christi to Burleson where we spent the night with Danny and Jeanne. We left home for the five and a half hour drive as Texas was in the midst of one of its worst rain and flood events ever. We were very lucky to make it all the way without encountering any bad weather.

We got on the road early and stopped in San Marcos for a little shopping and lunch at Centerpoint Station. We love their hamburgers. We shared one of their cheeseburgers and an order of onion rings. They were delicious and sharing a burger left us room for kolaches later.

This was probably the most leisurely drive we've ever taken to the DFW area. Traffic was light and we were trying not to arrive before Danny and Jeanne got home from work so we took our time.

If you drive through this part of Texas, you probably know that stopping for kolaches in West, Texas is almost obligatory. We usually stop at the Czech Stop. This time we decided to try a place we have not stopped before, Slovacek's. Oh my goodness! Their kolaches are outstanding. My favorite was peaches and cream. We picked up a dozen to share with Danny and Jeanne. I will also note that Slovacek's has very nice facilities and very clean bathrooms. That's a big plus for me. We liked it so much that we stopped again on the way home.

We got to Burleson shortly after Danny and Jeanne got home from work and we all went out for Mexican food. We enjoyed a nice visit with them that evening.

On Thursday, Danny drove us to DFW around lunch time and dropped us off for our 3:15 flight to Anchorage. This is where our trip took a turn.

We were pleasantly surprised not to encounter long lines at the TSA checkpoint. The TSA Pre-check turned out to be a very good investment. But at DFW, even the regular checkpoints were not too bad that day. The boards were showing that our flight would depart on time. So we went upstairs and had a nice lunch before heading to the gate. As I mentioned before, Texas was in the middle of a weather "event." Shortly after we boarded, there was an announcement that the flight was holding for passengers whose connecting flights were weather delayed. We waited about an hour on the plane. The other passengers arrived, boarded, and we were all ready for take off. But not really!

The next announcement was that we were now delayed because the plane had mechanical problems. They were working on it and expected to be underway in a short time. The next announcement informed us that they had tried to locate another plane but none were available. The problem was with the plane's water pump. The plane would operate fine, but there was no water for drinking or washing hands. After another wait, we saw them bringing cases of water and boxes of hand sanitizer on board. In total, we sat on the plane for about three and a half hours before we finally took off.

We finally arrived in Anchorage at 1 a.m. Thursday. Taking into account the time zone changes, our bodies felt like it was 4 a.m. We got a taxi to the Hilton, checked in, took showers, went to bed for what was basically a nap. We had to board the train at 6 a.m. So we were up at 5 a.m., dressed and out the door by 5:30 for a three-block walk to the train station.

Our travel books said that it is an easy walk, which is true. We weren't too worried about the walk because all our luggage rolls.  What the travel books left out is that the last part of the walk is a large staircase down the side of a hill.  We made it, luggage and all, with time enough to grab some coffee in the station, snap a couple of pictures, and board the train. We were happy that our luggage was checked from this station all the way to the cruise ship. That meant we could spend the afternoon in Seward without having to keep up with our luggage.

The train ride was gorgeous! We took the Coastal Classic and booked Adventure Class tickets. That gave us access to a domed viewing car. This stretch of railroad is considered the most beautiful in Alaska. It runs along the Turnagain Arm into the Kenai Mountains from Anchorage to Seward. The train provided a "tour guide" who provided narration along the way.

We saw dall sheep and our first bald eagles from the train. We saw many more eagles during our week in Alaska.

One of the most interesting things we saw from the train were stands of dead trees that were the result of the Great Alaskan Earthquake (also known as the Good Friday Earthquake) in 1964. The earthquake registered 9.2 on the Richter Scale and caused the ground around the Turnagain Arm to drop as much as 8 feet. The salt water that covered the ground around the trees both killed them and preserved them. In other places the ground was thrust upward more than 30 feet.

I had never heard of this earthquake, but was kind of fascinated by the small bit of information they provided. I have since done a little research and learned that it was the second strongest earthquake ever recorded. It caused tsunami waves is more than twenty countries. More than 139 deaths were attributed to the quake and tsunamis in Oregon and California as well as Alaska. It wiped out several native villages and caused a large number of landslides. If you want to read more about it check out the Wikipedia listing for the 1964 Alaska earthquake.

About this time is where the second (and thankfully last) problem of our vacation occurred. About two hours into the train ride, my two-year-old Nikon 1 J1 DSLR camera stopped working.  Every time I turned it on I got a lens error and it would not take any more pictures. So we were reduced to using the cameras on our phones, potentially for the rest of the trip. Needless to say, I was extremely disappointed.

When we arrived in Seward, we got our first glimpse of the Celebrity Millennium. We were happy to see that the cruise line provided buses from the train to the ship. The travel books had indicated that we would have to take a local shuttle which runs on a 30 minute schedule. We were also pleasantly surprised to be invited to board the ship early and have lunch aboard before venturing into Seward. It was only about noon and our staterooms would not be ready until 3 o'clock, but the main dining room was open, which was nice. We ate lunch and hopped on a shuttle into downtown Seward in search of a camera shop or electronics store. No luck. You could buy jewelry, gems, t-shirts, and souvenirs, but there was no place to buy a camera or to have one repaired.

Seward is "the mural capital of Alaska" with somewhere around 35 murals located in the city. They paint a new mural each year during their annual mural festival. You can see all of them at the Seward Mural Society's web site. They were really interesting and beautiful.

Seward is a small town of only about 2,500 people. There is approximately one coffee shop for every resident. I exaggerate, but seriously, I counted more than twelve on the main drag alone. We found this to be true pretty much everywhere in Alaska. There is always coffee. It was also here that we first encountered Alaska's amazing vegetation. It doesn't really get dark this time of year, so the plants just absorb all that sunlight and produce really big flowers, fruit, and vegetables. The poppy in the photo below was roughly the size of a dinner plate and, no, that is not an exaggeration. It took me a day or two to figure out that I needed something else in the photos to give some idea of the size.

After looking around a bit and enjoying some of that local coffee, we caught the shuttle and returned to the ship where we checked in to our room for our first evening on the ship. As we boarded, we were greeted with champagne and welcomed aboard.

I was quite impressed with Celebrity's security. They took security photographs on that first day which were loaded into their security system. They used a scan card system any time we got on or off of the ship and we had to remove hats and sunglasses so they could look at the picture on their monitor and confirm our identity. Anything we brought on board had to go through an airport-type security every time. My bionic husband with his artificial knee, metal plates in his leg, and titanium heart valve, set off the metal detector every single time both on the ship and in the airport. It's no big deal, he's used to it now.

Celebrity was also quite serious about cleanliness. Free-standing hand sanitizer dispensers were located all over the ship in every lobby and outside every elevator and dining area. Upon returning to the ship each day we were greeted by crew members holding large sanitizer dispensers. They used it on every single person, always saying "Happy, happy, washy, washy!"

The flight delay from DFW to Anchorage and my camera failure were the only things that went wrong on a trip that totaled about ten days. I can't really complain about that. I'll tell you more in the next few days. And, yes, there are lots more photos coming.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Our Bags Are Packed

I'm sitting in my living room with my feet propped up. My laundry is done and my house is clean. I spent most of the past two days getting ready for vacation. I don't ever remember actually being ready to go this far in advance.

We depart Corpus Christi tomorrow morning. Our first destination is Burleson where we will spend the night with Danny and Jeanne. On Thursday afternoon, we fly out of DFW to Anchorage, Alaska where we will spend the night. Very early on Friday morning we will board the Coastal Classic Railroad for a scenic trip to Seward. In Seward we will board the Celebrity Millennium for a seven night cruise.

Ports of call are Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan and Vancouver. Our cruise route will include Icy Strait Point and the Hubbard Glacier. We have also booked an excursion on the White Mountain Pass and Yukon Railroad.

As long as I can remember I've dreamed of going to Alaska. This is a bucket-list trip for us. We'll be gone a total of 12 days. By the time we return we will have traveled in cars, planes, taxis, buses, trains, cable cars, an inclinator, and a cruise ship.

I will take my computer along so I can keep a daily travel journal, but I won't be publishing a blog while we are gone. While the cruise line does offer an internet package, it is expensive, and other travelers report that it is spotty at best. So, other than an occasional picture from my phone when we're on shore, I will be unplugged for the next two weeks.

Friday, May 27, 2016

We Blinked

Wasn't this just yesterday?

All of a sudden this happened.

Lookout world, here comes June! She's definitely ready for kindergarten. Is kindergarten ready for her? She does everything with gusto and enthusiasm. There is no doubt that she thinks she can do anything her big sister can do. Most of the time she can. I'm pretty sure she's going to be running the world some day.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Hello Again

I know it's been months since I posted. So let's start with a little bit of catch up.

Since I was here last Ezra turned 7 years old in February. This was the first year we didn't go for her birthday party. She had a roller skating party. We did, however, go for her actual birthday. That day was just a family celebration. She has now lost several teeth and is finishing up first grade. She is the spitting image of her mother in looks and temperment.

June turned 5 in April and had a cowgirl-themed birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. She's about to graduate from Pre-K at her private school to kindergarten at the same public school that Ezra attends. She is a firecracker. She thinks she can do everything her big sister can do ... and she usually can.

We did go to San Antonio for June's birthday party which was followed by their school's spring carnival. The weather was perfect and we spent the entire afternoon on the playground.

Ezra and June, along with their friend, Arabella, made their karaoke debut. They actually did very well. I really thought they might have stage fright, but they didn't. They stood in front of the crowd and sang the entire song.

Last weekend both girls learned to ride their bicycles without training wheels. Katy reports that they used a "balance bike" and it took less than 24 hours for both of them learn.

The twins are four months old. They now weigh in at more than 15 pounds each. They are hitting the usual milestones, sleeping well, and laughing a lot. I have finally learned how to tell them apart, most of the time. But I have to see both of them.

No matter where they start out, they end up sleeping close together.

Marie has returned to work in the past two weeks. The twins are cared for at home by a nanny. Nick gets about an hour of Daddy time with them in the afternoons before Marie arrives home. We face-time with them a couple of times a week and we try to see them in real life at least once every 4-6 weeks. We want them to know us and be comfortable with us.

Last weekend we celebrated with family when our niece Camey graduated from Texas A&M University Corpus Christi with a BS in Environmental Science. She has worked hard for this accomplishment and we are all so proud of her. Graduation was held at our local convention center which, for security reasons, doesn't allow bags inside. Therefore, I arrived without my glasses and without my camera. This is the best picture I could get with my phone. We were seated in the top tier of the arena.

TAMUCC is known as "The Island University." Their team mascot is Islanders. The leis worn at graduation  are part of that Islander tradition. Camey graduated Cum Laude and has now moved on to job hunting. We are confident that she'll find a great job and her future will be bright.

Patrick and I are still doing great. This weekend we will meet Danny and Jeanne and some of the Valenta cousins in central Texas to visit a couple of wineries and enjoy some down time. Nick and Marie will come over to Moulton on Saturday afternoon to join us for dinner and bring the twins for a visit. We're looking forward to that.

I'm seven working days from the end of another school year. We'll finish up at noon next Friday. On June 1, Patrick and I will leave Corpus Christi for a vacation trip to Alaska. It's a long way, about 4,500 miles each direction. We'll be gone twelve days. The trip will include planes, trains, cruise ships, cable cars, and automobiles. This is the trip we gave each other in celebration of our 40th wedding anniversary last November. We are so excited. Don't worry, you'll be getting a day-by-day recap at some point. This is one of my "bucket-list" items.

I am committing to resurrecting this blog as much as possible. So look for more entries soon.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

That Was Fast

Last Thursday, I was enjoying my January vacation, known in our neck of the woods as "the stock show break." My next-door neighbor and I were having a girls day out. We had been to lunch and were browsing some of our favorite artsy-crafty type places when at 1:52 p.m. I got a text message from Nick that said "Prolly having boys today!"

I texted back "WHAT?!" And he replied, "Liam didn't grow too much this past week so we are prolly having them today we see the doctor shortly."

Mary Lou and I immediately headed home, about a 30 minute drive. I called Patrick and told him to let his boss know that he was leaving. There was some discussion between us of whether he should work until five o'clock and then take the rest of the week off. I'm sure you can guess that my reply was something like I'm packing when I get home and we're leaving. Make arrangements now and meet me at home.

By the time he got home I was packed. He only had to add his things and we were on the way. We were on the highway by the time Nick messaged that the c-section was scheduled for 7 p.m. Without traffic, it's approximately a four hour trip from our house to Nick's house. The hospital is a little bit closer. We were traveling northbound with no problems until we got to the Richmond-Rosenburg area where traffic came to a screeching halt. We sat on the highway without moving for about 30 minutes. I seriously considered getting out of the car and yelling at somebody, but I decided it wouldn't help.

We were pulling into the hospital parking lot when Nick texted that they were taking her back to delivery. We made it to the hospital five minutes ahead of Liam and Logan. Here is their first family picture. We got to see them in their bassinets as they rolled them out of the delivery room and up to the NICU where they spent their first few hours.

Both Mom and babies are doing well. I am so proud of Nick. He was there with her all the way. I really thought he might be one of those dads who just couldn't hang in there for a c-section birth, but he did. He documented every moment with photos.

Here are the vital statistics. Liam (on the left) was born first at 7:34 p.m and weighed 5 pounds 8 ounces. Logan was born at 7:35 and weighed 6 pounds 1 ounce.  I have a whole lot of trouble telling them apart. But I'm beginning to be able to see the differences.

They all came home from the hospital on Monday and life is settling into as much of a routine as you can have with two new babies. The Aggie Engineers are both needing sleep. I've been encouraging them to nap whenever they can. We're all working together to get everything done. I'll be here through next Wednesday. Katy is coming in on Thursday and will stay until Saturday to help out and meet her new nephews. When I go home next week, Marie's family will take over. I think, once Marie is able to recover from the c-section, they'll do fine. They seem better prepared than anyone I've ever seen. It wasn't quite as organized as they would have liked, because the babies came earlier than they expected. But it's definitely getting there.

We couldn't be more delighted.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Now We Wait!

You may remember, when I last posted I told you that our Aggie Engineers are expecting twins.  I know, it was a long time ago. I'm sorry. Time just gets away from me these days.

I thought you might like an update. The pregnancy has been progressing well. There have been little or no complications. Wow! A review of my last post reminded me that I haven't even told you that they're expecting twin boys.

The due date is the around the first week of February, so we are down to the wire here. Nick reported yesterday that the boys are now more than five pounds each. I was surprised at how well Marie is still getting around. She's walking around with around eleven pounds of babies. I have been where she is. Nick weighed in at 10 pounds 5 ounces. In my mind it's a miracle she's able to stay upright.

Due to her advanced pregnancy, a road trip for her was out of the question, so we all celebrated Christmas at their house. We had a great time. But, it was the first time ever that we haven't spent the holiday with our own parents. Patrick's Mom is the last surviving parent we have. It was just different to not be with the rest of the family. But, we realize that the time has come for changes. At some point family traditions have to pass to the next generation. Time will tell what we do in the future.

Nick and Marie have done an amazing job of preparing. When we arrived on December 23rd, Marie was washing dozens of little bitty baby clothes and blankets. It really brought back memories of when I did the same thing. I took advantage of the time there to snap some photos of the nursery. It's all prepared for the arrival of Our Little Princes.

I thought you might like to see the nursery. There is a feature wall done in stained wood and the other three walls are a soft green. They did all the installation themselves. They chose a wild animal theme with soft neutral colors. Marie and I collaborated to make the curtains and the bedskirts. She sewed the sheets and quilts.  The fabric is animal prints, arrows, and chevron. There is a rocking chair all ready for late nights and an MP3 player for lullabies.

Since you've seen it in the photos, I may as well go ahead and tell you, the twins will be named Liam and Logan. They will carry their grandfathers' names as well. They will be Liam Patrick and Logan Arthur.

On the subject of grandfathers, Marie's dad, Art, lost his long battle with cancer the week before Christmas. He died knowing that one of the boys would carry his name. Our hearts broke for the Rojas family as they went through the loss of their beloved father at the holiday season. He really was a person who sparkled with love and personality. His family is a wonderful legacy. Nick and Marie were able to get special permission from her OB/GYN to fly to El Paso for the funeral.

I promise to write more soon.