Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sad News Upon My Return .....

I got word in Alaska that the blue bird eggs had hatched and that Little Boy Blue and Blue Velvet were busily feeding their five young.

Then upon my return home I got the news no one wanted to give me while I was on vacation - about five days after hatching, all five little ones were dead in their nest.

Jess, who had moved from her office into mine so that she could better keep an eye on the bird house, noticed one day that the constant back and forth activity of mom and dad had not occurred that day.  Being concerned, she went to check the next and that's when she discovered the sad fact.

Obviously, something happened to Blue Velvet.  Dad will not continue to feed without Mom ... so if something happened to her, then that's what did the littlies in.

So sad ................ it was one of the few things that made coming home okay, to be able to watch them as they came out of the nest and began their lives on the wing.  Oh, well ----- nature sucks!  We're going to try again - even though I'm not sure I want to go through this again.

Alaska Cruise - 2nd Installment - June 15 thru 25, 2011

June 15, 2011 – around 5am
It's 5am and the sun seems to be fighting to overwhelm the clouds - there are actually some windows of blue sky.

It would be great if today is at least somewhat clear - my expedition, "Whales, Wildlife and Bear Search," leaves at 8:30.  FINGERS CROSSED.

Yesterday continued at its stupor-producing level of relaxation.

Had lunch - came back to the cabin - ordered a large pot of coffee - called for a dvd - turned up the heat and propped open the verandah door (not environmentally sound, I know) and --- well, and nothing!

Fell asleep half way thru dinner.  Watched Country Strong on tv.  Skipped dinner.  My self-imposed Casino ban held.  Going to try the same tonight.  Will be harder because we sail at 4:30 so it will open at 5.  But tomorrow is a sea day and it will be open all day, so keeping my distance tonight would be a good thing.  We'll see

Gotta shower, have bkfst and get ready for bears, whales (orcas, PLEASE!), and more.

June 16, 2011 – around 2am
2am - gonna crawl into bed and curl up in a fetal position.  (Ask JEG why blackberry is all of a sudden 3 hours ahead of local time?  It's been fine until tonight.)

Another night - another bust.

Oh well, tomorrow is an $85,000 bingo jackpot - and I'm still No. 1 to be in the blackjack tournament final.

So there's still hope .....

Great excursion today - anywhere from 15 to 20 humpbacks - all around us.  Plus one little one, judged to be about 3 or 4 months - very energetic and playful.  Lots of sea lions, too.  AND ....................................................................................... one grizzly on the shore, just ambling along. 

Could only see him with binoculars - pretty far away, but still a grizzly.

Not much else to report.  Got back to ship at 12:30, changed, had lunch, played some trivia, wandered around taking some pics, went to cabin, watched some tv, showered, had dinner and went to the casino.  I NEED TO GET OFF THIS SHIP!!!!!!!!!

June 17, 2011 – around 8am
It may sound terrible, but I'm thinking two weeks is too long. I'm starting to get antsy......

Surrounded by the most glorious scenery, with some 600 employees whose only job is to pamper me - and I find myself missing my little house, kitties, friends and bluebirds,

Could I get any more pathetic? 

I think part of the problem is that it's taken so long for my highlight spots --- Homer, tomorrow - then Kodiak and then Sitka,

Then a sea day (also known as a "how long can you make your money last in the casino" day),

Then to Victoria where I'm told Orca are pretty much guaranteed (if I haven't seen then by then) and then to Seattle - at which point I'll probably start romanticizing things and wishing the cruise could have gone on forever.

No wonder I'm addicted to anything that shuts my mind down - I'm borderline psychotic.

We just docked at Anchorage - my excursion isn't until 1:30 so I'll get off and wander around,  Perhaps I can alter my current mind set.

June 18, 2011 – about 10am
Things got better today

Anchorage - new port city for me (all remaining, except Sitka which I loved, are new).

Interesting city.  Biggest in Alaska with 350,000 population.

Back in the day when Anchorage was a rough and tumble town, the “good” folk made a law that for every bar in Anchorage there had to be a church.  The result is that today there are some 22 churches.

A one-hour bus ride through amazing country to Alaska's Wildlife Conservation Center.

Wood Bison, once native to Alaska had been wiped.  The Center got 30 from Canada.  Now have a 400-head herd, planned to be released into the wild by August.

3-month old moose - orphaned - will be released next spring.

The bears sadly cannot be released - all orphaned and once they get any familiarity with humans they are too dangerous.

2 Kodiak Bear cubs (hopefully I'll see them on Kodiak without a wire fence) but these two (14 months) were spectacular - and played and scuffled right in front of us before disappearing somewhere in the 10 square miles they have for themselves.

3 grizzlies - only a quick glance at No. 3, but 2 quite happy near us.  They have about 15 square acres to roam in.

Finally, 2 black bears - one very happy high up in a tree.

All in all, while I would rather have seen everyone totally free in the wild, as orphans they would not have survived.  Center takes injured animals and releases ASAP - but not injured bears.  They will only take bears that can be "certified" as orphans.

Then back on bus to a small (50 foot) boat for an amazing ride to the Portage Glacier .... 50 feet of ice on top of the water, 400 feet under!  We spent about half an hour 300 yards away. Spectacular.

Then bus back to hip.  Must have seen at least 10 golden eagles, dozens of Arctic Terns and a group of about 6 mountain goats.

Dinner and then lying in deck chair on my verandah from 8:30 to 9:30 pm, IN THE SUN (warm sun).

Tomorrow Homer --- Puffin promised, otters pretty sure, seals and sea lions probably, humpbacks no doubt, Orca, can't promise, Beluga, can't promise.

Tom Bodett of NPR, OK, also of Motel 6 (we'll leave the lights on for you), lives in Homer - year-round population: humans about 600, brown bears around 4,000!  My kinda town.............


June 19, 2011 – about 8pm
Other than the fact that it was so cold that even a hot shower didn't thaw me out, it was a good day.

10am off ship into Homer and on to another, albeit much smaller, one.

First to Gull Island - home of anywhere from 15,000 to 25,000 migratory birds.  Mostly various gulls (one a Common Muir (or something like that) and another a Black Oystercatcher (again need to confirm name) - need to be able to add both to my life list,  Also many Cormorants (different than the Cormorants I know) and some already-known birds.

AND .... PUFFIN.  Many, many fantastic Puffin.  Have to confirm if Tufted or Horned --- but right now I don't care.  Felt my mother nearby as we sat surrounded by them.  Hopefully, more tomorrow.

Many otters - lots of females with tiny pups on their bellies as they floated along.  Sweet critters.

Then continued on to the island village of Seldovia - $16.50 for a ham sandwich!

Charming place.

Wandered around and spoke with numerous local folk.  House like mine would be between 300,000 and 400,000 depending on proximity to the water.

No whales - perhaps tomorrow.

Tomorrow is Kodiak and I really want bears.

For the first tonight I left the casino with more than I started, helped greatly by a 600 win on a penny slot.

Exhausted - more tomorrow.

June 21, 2011 – around 8am
Blackberry was "out of order" for the past two days - and I'm somewhat out of order myself.  Exhausted, a little sick and a bit terrified to get my on-board bill in three days ........ And tomorrow's a sea day and we all know what that means!

The blackjack tournament was last night.  I held my spot and was in the tournament – not for long, however.  I was the first one to go bust.

When the casino shuts down tomorrow night, it's shut for good.....thank you God.

Woke up at 7 - we docked at Sitka at 8 - the place I wanted to be in most - put up Privacy Please notice on door and went back to bed at 8:15.

Woke at 12:30 - ordered bkfst and told myself I'd be fine if I stayed in my room all day (at least until the casino opened around 7).

Around 1:30 I panicked, threw some clothes on and want down to catch a tender to shore.

Really happy when I got into Sitka - such a sweet, lovely little town.

When I got to the store where I bought the tiles I found out they don't carry them any more!!!  Bummer.

So, I over-compensated in another store - purchase should arrive at work Mon or Tues.

So glad I didn't blow off Sitka - it would have been a big mistake I would have beat myself up about.

One thing will pull me out of the Casino tomorrow (at least for a little while) is Mariner Society Brunch by invitation from Captain Fred Eversen.  (I think it's for everyone who has been on more than one HAL cruise, which I guess is about 80 percent of the 900 passengers.)

That's it for now.........

June 23, 2011 – around 8pm
Victoria, BC - an absolutely glorious city.  Hard to describe.  Part European-city elegant, part Venice, CA, part Boston and, I guess, part unique Victoria.

Glorious day, as well.  Sunny, windy and in the high 60s.

After getting off whale-watching vessel I didn't want to get right onto the bus back to the ship, so I just roamed.

Had delicious famous Canadian french fries with gravy at beyond-charming waterside "park."  Then just walked until I realized I had no idea where the ship was.  Asked a bus driver to point me in the right direction, which she did, adding that it was about 2 miles away.  She ended up giving me a free ride back.

Went through the re-boarding process for the last time.

OK - excursion news.  Extremely wild seas below vast expanses of brilliant blue skies.  Did the trip with the Casino hostess (who else would I have become BFF with?).

After about an hour of being flung around the small boat (about 20 of us) the captain cut the engine and advised "all eyes on the water."

15 minutes later I saw the first blow but the animal was too far away to be able to be deemed "my first Orca."

Shortly thereafter, however, I still couldn't call anything "my first Orca," but I could claim Orca #1, Orca #2 and Orca #3!!!!!

Up and down, up and down - no way to get a pic with my camera (which is worthless for capturing wildlife, except perhaps a very sluggish snail), so I just stood in the bow taking it all in.  Tail slapping and one half-hearted breech.


Now back on ship facing the chore of packing - bags must be outside our staterooms no later than midnight (unless we want to carry them off ourselves).

The excellent catering to passengers continues when it comes to luggage - my bag will be tagged "Seattle Airport Hilton" and will find itself on the bus I'll be taking to the hotel.

Disembarkation begins at 7am, different times for different groups, giving priority to those catching flights.  My time is 9:15 to 9:30 - I should be at the hotel by Noon.  Wish I was going straight to a flight.  Not thrilled this trip has come to an end, but now that it has I just want to be home.

One plus - I'll get to have a great steak dinner at the hotel restaurant (Spencer's) which I missed on the way out due to a much-delayed arrival.

Last night on board and 5 of us who met each day at some point at the 3-card poker table are meeting in the Crow's Nest for farewell drinks.

Now to packing - got to leave something out for tonight, something to sleep in and something to wear tomorrow.  Hmmmmm, wonder if I can make one outfit do for all three?

I think what I'll miss most is the water - the vast expanses of it - being totally surrounded by it as far as the eye can see............and the constant gentle rocking (especially at night).  Except for one evening and night when the rocking was anything but gentle.

Farewell to the ms Amsterdam --- it's been a great home for 14 days.  Now it's back to a home that doesn't go anywhere or do anything ...... Just sits there (but in which you don't need to take an elevator or walk three flights up to dinner........but no one will be doing the cooking, the serving and the cleaning up.  ::::::::::::sigh::::::::::::::

June 24, 2011 – around 5am
Clearly we're not in Alaska any more - it's almost 5am and there's no sign of the sun.  Probably won't be able to bask in the sun at 11pm tonight, either.

Just announced on CNN:  "Tsunami warning cancelled after quake in Alaska.". (Note to self --- find out where quake hit.)

There's still water out there but probably no whales, otters, seals, sea lions, Puffin or Pelagic Cormorants .....

Awful thought -- today is my last work-day vacation day!  I get home around 7pm Saturday, Sunday to sleep, unpack, do laundry, check work emails and, BANG, then it's Monday.  No gentle, slow re-entry.

Well, that did it!  Not even off ship yet and depression is rolling in with the morning fog.

Just got light enough outside for me to see lower-48 land coming into view.

Comfort memory:  knowing there are some 30 Orca trolling for food along a coastline I can see in my mind.

Welcome home, MC.

June 24, 2011 – about 8am
13 days, about 20 showers, wishing during each one that the water could be hotter.  Final shower 10 minutes ago and I discover the cold "tap" needed to be turned two notches down.  Oh well, just had a great, really hot shower.

Just latched onto a plus about almost being home - no more half an hour Blackberry emails that would take 5/10 minutes on my laptop.

Will continue to try to discover additional plusses.

Off to Lido Deck for last bkfst.

June 25, 2011 – around 7am
I'm on board American flight 268 due to leave at 7:35 (I hope I hope I hope).

Note to Holland America:  It would be a good idea to, around day 12 or 13, require passengers to start doing some (simple) things for themselves.  Perhaps emptying their wastepaper baskets or getting their own coffee in the morning.

Last morning --- perhaps carrying "pretend" suitcase (not weighing more than 8 to 10 pounds) 25 feet or so.

By doing this, the absolute trauma of suddenly having to do EVERYTHING by yourself (like peasants) might be somewhat alleviated.

Up at 5am, with no open seas right outside my window (although I am still experiencing rocking motions).  Had to actually dig up some real money to buy coffee ....  Up till now, room key 6125 got me anything I wanted.

When I arrived at Hotel yesterday a group was getting ready to head for the ms Amsterdam, just as I did some 14/15 days ago.  Extremely jealous.

I understand how people get hooked on cruises -life on board is slow, easy and friendly, coupled with a sense of adventure.  A 5-star cocoon going where you want to go.

Alaska Cruise - First Installment - June 10 thru 14, 2011

June 10, 2011 – around Noon
On bus

40 minutes to pier

Ship sails at 4

Suitcase picked up at 10 am from hotel room

Relaxation will begin when suitcase is delivered to stateroom

June 10, 2011 – around 5pm
Boarded ship two hours ago.

No bag yet

Casino not open till 9pm

Relaxation still elusive

June 10, 2011 – around 6:30pm
Suitcase has arrived

Relaxation is filtering in - should spread through entire body in about 15 minutes ----- the mind will take a bit longer but probably not much more than casino-opening time + quarter of an hour!


June 11, 2010 – about 2am
If I were any more relaxed, I'd need to be resuscitated.

Dropped 500 on tables and slots last night - on the way out I dropped 100 into a slot - hit for 720 - went to bed 120 ahead .....

Room svc bkfst at 9 - showered, dried my hair on my terrace

11:30 trivia competition in the Crow's Nest - my team "The 3 Generations" won one last night and came in 3rd in another

Slot Tournament at 3

BBQ on Lido Deck at 8

Then I imagine it will be Casino time!

First port tomorrow - Ketchikan - doing the Saxman Native Village and Lumberjack Show excursion

Will continue this tomorrow (better than keeping a journal)

June 12, 2011 – around 9am
For starters - who in their right mind could have ever thought that me one deck away from a casino was a good thing?

Day 3 of a 14 day cruise and I'm about half way through my budget - had a bad run last night.

Docked at Ketchikan at 7 - have to be on shore be 11:20 for my tour.

Sitting in casino now (it’s closed, thank god - but its one of about 3 places I can smoke

Remembering taking a look on the internet last week at my cabin - what was the first thing I noticed?  Didn't think I'd be able to see the tv from my bed!  Pathetic.

Wherever you go, there you are.  And your self always goes there with you.

Others would make so much more of this adventure --- spa. Workout rooms, dancing, shows, fine dining......

But I'm not unhappy - actually quite content.  It's just that I often wish it took a bit more to make me content.

Off to Ketchican ..................

June 12, 2011 – around 10:30am
Got off ship at 10 - tour not till 11:30

Drizzly rain which is good for Ketchikan where they measure rain by feet instead of inches

About 55 degrees, and where are all my cozy sweatshirts?  Home in my closet!

Found a bar which serves coffee (and ashtrays) to wait in.  Not even 10:30 on a sunday morning and the beer and shots are flowing!

This is the part of traveling I like best - talking to locals in their environment.

Bartender-owner mustered out of the Navy in Seattle, 1969, headed north and never looked back

Guy downing beer at fast pace just got back from two week fishing trip. Going out again tomorrow.

Gotta finish coffee and find my tour group>

June 13, 2011 – around 4am
4am - exhausted and too late to put out a bkfst order

Too late to recap day - it was a good one

The casino curse has gone (at least for now) - 3-card poker, got a straight flush with 15 up - 40 to 1=600!

My bed beckons - sea a bit rough tonight - will be rocked to sleep

June 14, 2011 – around 9am
Today is a "sea day" (no port) - dangerous days.....the casino is open all day when we're not docked.

BUT today is really the first truly Alaska day - (also a bit dangerous).  About Noon we enter Tracy Arms, a narrow fjord toward Sawyer Glacier.  From today's issue of the ship's paper:  "The distance at which we can proceed depends entirely on the density of glacier ice within Tracy Arm as we must take great care not to damage our Azipods or Thrusters."

Don't know what those are, but sure don't want to damage them!

There is "resident" wildlife on the glacier and floating ice -- birds, seals and, possibly, bears.

Bkfst at the door - taking a journaling break................

OK - that was good.  Back to reportage.

Logistical challenge - room only has one outlet and I have three things that must always be ready to go: Kindle, Blackberry and camera.   Constantly need to determine which I'll need when and which is in jeopardy.  Keeps me on my toes.  Right now, camera is No. 1.

OK, yesterday.....

The native village was interesting - lots of totem poles, each telling a story.  Most are reproductions, about 40 yrs old - all cut, carved, painted and raised in 1000 year ways.

So many lovely things made of wood, including clothing!  Cedar hats!  Soft, pliable, elegant looking.  Went to buy one -----$1200!  Woulda cut WAY too much into my casino funds.

Then the Lumberjack show.  Kinda hokey but lots of burly men ....... !

Then it was back to the ship - nap - shower - some tv - dinner - and then to the casino till 4am

Think that brings things up to date - now shower and then to crow's nest for a trivia game and a $50,000 bingo game.

We've gone 953 nautical miles so far ....... We're traveling NE at 16.5 knots per hour ..... 51 nautical miles to Tracy Arm ..... Sunrise this morning at 3:58, sunset tonight at 9:52.

From the ms Amsterdam, signing off for now

June 14, 2011 – around 10am
Sitting in a strangely quiet casino.

My friend, Alang (from Bali) is busy shining up all the slots - but he saw me coming and had an ashtray waiting for me on the Roulette table.

My "expedition" today is taking a tram up Mt Edwards (some 4,000 ft) - the tram leaves every 15 minutes or so, and we don't sail until 9;30 tonight, so no rush.

Right now it's raining and visibility is about 40 ft, so - wouldn't see much at this point.  Haven't seen the sun yet at all.  Hopefully today will clear up a bit at some point.  If I end up not doing Mt Edwards I'll wander around the city.

Yesterday the highlight was going, oh so slowly, through the fjord, heading for the glacier (the Hubbard glacier, I think -- will have to check).

The closer we got, the slower we went, and the ice there was floating around us. 

It was wet and cold, so rather than go out on deck to watch the amazing scenery, those of us with gambling addictions watched from the casino, moving from the tables in the middle of the room to the slots next to the solid wall of windows.  (Somewhere between ice bergs, seals, eagles and the glacier I managed to turn 100 dollars into 350 in a quarter machine.)

There were many good sized "chunks" of ice but one which brought everyone to their feet - even staff who have done this often were pretty impressed, saying it was the biggest they'd ever seen.

Due to the amount of ice we didn't get as close to the glacier.  Last year we got pretty up close and personal and saw it "calving."  Not to be this time.

Ice sights (some caught on film and some missed) were

An eagle

A lone seal

A mother and a pup - momma apparently did not like the ship as she pushed the little off and slid into the water after it

Once we turned around headed back to Juneau, most of us headed back to the tables.

I am currently in the lead to be one of 7 who will play in the Blackjack tournament.  But people can continue to qualify so I won't know if I'm actually in the top 7 till tomorrow night (500 dollars to final winner).

It's interesting - you pay 20 to enter.  You then get 1,500 in chips (fake chips!) --- and then you play 7 hands.  It's all about betting strategy.  I got lucky because I was trying to bet high but keep enough to double down if the right opportunity came along - it did and it worked and after the 7 hands I had 4,600.

That's about it for now - I've banned myself from the casino tonight (not TOO hard as we sail at 9:30 and it can only open half an our after leaving a port)

For now ---- all ashore that's going ashore!

June 14, 2011 – around 2pm
It is pouring - the fog is dense - and there's even been thunder.

A perfect day to be warm, cozy and dry, with my Kindle and an Irish Coffee in the Crow's Nest, a huge lounge with a bar, and nothing but floor to ceiling windows all the way around.

Curled up in the "designated smoking area" life is good.

Nothing much I wanted to see or do in Juneau anyway - except perhaps burn Sara in effigy.

The good stuff is still to come - Homer, Kodiak, Sitka ..... Bears, whales, otters, Puffin (and more tiles).

The absolute very best thing about a two-week vacation is that there's plenty of time to allow for a "wasted" day (or two).

Thinking it might be really nice to go back to my cabin after lunch and order a movie (or two).  There are over 300 to choose from.

Having a lovely morning (my second Irish Coffee, with a scone, just got brought to me --- no reason not to have a lovely afternoon, as well.

Can you spell relaxation?

M-S  A-M-S-T-E-R-D-A-M !!!

Friday, June 3, 2011

News from Little Blue Boy and Blue Velvet's nest .....

Yes, I'm afraid that I've named them.  My friend Jessica, the other half of the bluebird project, gets to name all 5 little ones.

That's right - I said five.


But, now I think it's time for family planning to step in and take control.

I'm concerned about how crowded that nest is going to be with five squaling, wriggling little bodies.  It's not that big a nest.

Actually, the nest is big.  It's about 6 inches high.  And she did all that in about 2 1/2 days.  But at the very top where the eggs are and where the fledglings will be is what's called the "bowl" and that's what's not very big.

I'll keep you posted.  It looks like the eggs will hatch while I'm in Alasks, but I will definitely be back before the babes fly the nest.