Monday, July 31, 2006

If it's Tuesday, this must be Skagway.

The next morning, we hopped off the ship in Skagway, just up the Lynn Canal and Chilkoot Inlet from Juneau. Year round, only about 850 people live in Skagway, but in the summer, the cruise ships can bring in as many as another 10,000 people. And I thought Charleston’s tourists are pesky.

Kathie and I wandered around on the main drag for a short while, then joined a walking tour at the National Park Service office. Our tour guide, college student Jason Ibarra of San Antonio, had been a park service employee for all of three weeks – the same amount of time he’d been in Alaska. He did a great job of showing us the sights and explaining the history. Kathie and I were both impressed with his presentation, and of course by how cute he was.

In 1896, gold was discovered on the Klondike River, more than 500 miles north of Skagway. Most of the “stampeders” landed in Skagway, gathered their supplies, and headed north over the mountains to get to the Yukon River. From there, the 500 mile float to Dawson City must have been a piece of cake after the brutal trip over the mountains. I can just imagine Kathie hauling her ton of provisions over White Pass and staking a million dollar claim. Me? I would have stayed home.

After Jason showed us the Red Mascot Saloon, Soapy Smith’s Parlor, and William and Ben Moore’s homestead, we took a speed ferry back along the Taiya Inlet to get to Haines, a small town on the Chilkoot Inlet. Talk about Northern Exposure! Humanity doesn’t have a lot going on here, but the scenery is wildly beautiful.

In Haines, we were picked up by our driver, Pizza Bob, who regaled us (or so he thought) with about 30 minutes of ranting and tasteless commentary along the way to Chilkoot Lake. I was embarrassed to hear he had come to Alaska from Ohio. Why couldn’t he have come from New Jersey, or some other state more deserving of him? He did share one interesting factoid with us. He said when he arrived in Haines ten years ago, the average annual snowfall was thirty feet. Last winter, only three feet fell. Hmmm…

Finally, we arrived for our long awaited kayak ride! Our guides, Ozzie and Steve, helped us on with our spray skirts and loaded us into our three person kayak. Kathie and I were hoping for a third kayaker, but no such luck. After about five strokes (was it that many?), my sore shoulder warned me in no uncertain terms that I was not to lift that oar one more time. Thank goodness Kathie’s as strong as a small ox, because that girl locomoted us all over that big old lake. When I spotted two bald eagles in a tree about a quarter mile away, Kathie cut out of our line of kayakers paddling back to shore for lunch, and headed straight for those eagles! The woman is tireless! We had a great time enjoying the vistas, though, and as we landed, I was wishing we could stay another two weeks to see the annual salmon run. Kathie had other things on her mind, I think, like the wet clothes she was wearing (her spray skirt had a huge leak) and the sandwich fixings Pizza Bob had put out for us.

Back on ship that evening, we ate made-to-order pizzas and sundaes while we watched the mountains along Logan Canal pass by. Somehow we stayed up until 11:15 p.m. Exhausted and deciding the sky was not going to darken any further, we went to bed.

Tomorrow, we will wake up to Sitka.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


For whatever reason, my siblings and I live great distances from each other. Consequently, we don’t get to see each other very often; when we do see each other, our time together is very special. Just before James Patrick’s surgery, I visited with Kathie aboard the Celebrity Summit, which we boarded in Vancouver for a week-long cruise through the famous Inside Passage and along Alaska’s southeastern coast. As you can imagine, we had a fabulous time!

The 2001 vintage Summit is a huge ship. With a capacity for 1950 passengers, it is 965 feet long and 12 stories tall (above ocean level, that is!). So we were constantly lost. By the end of the week, I could find the elevators without too much difficulty, remember what was on each floor, and I could usually tell which way was fore and which was aft – but that’s about the best I could do. Of course, early on I could find the food pretty easily, but thanks to Kathie’s making me walk everywhere and climb the stairs instead of taking the elevator (she had me walking up 7 flights of stairs to get to the dining room!), we didn’t put on the average 8 pounds the cruise director said we would. I wonder who got our 16 pounds…?

After boarding on Saturday afternoon, we spent all that night and the next day at sea. The water was somewhat rough and for the first little bit my stomach felt a tad queasy, but I very quickly got my sea legs and we had a great time exploring our ship and watching the wooded mountains of the Inside Passage sail by.

The Summit docked early on Monday morning in Juneau and we took a shuttle over to the tourist drag for a quick visit at Caribou Crossing, where Kathie bought a lovely silver pendant made by Lisa Anderson of Kodiak. While waiting, I discovered a display of Holly Yashi jewelry – all crafted with Swarovski crystals (a special love of mine). I took some time looking over the collection to get some ideas and then we set off to do a little sightseeing.

With a population of over 30,000 people, Juneau is the capital of Alaska, home to the Mendenhall Glacier (part of the 1800-square mile Juneau Icefield), and can only be reached by air or sea. I was a little surprised by how small a town it is. As we walked up the hill beyond the tourist area, we entered a neighborhood of older houses that had lots of flowers in their yards (another surprise!). Nestled amongst the houses was a small octagonally shaped Russian Orthodox church, built of wood in the 1890s and painted white on the outside with bright blue trim. The inside of the church was filled with brightly colored icons. The historical significance of the church is that it was started by Tlingit (pronounced “Klingit”) chiefs - with permission of the Russian Orthodox bishop, of course - so that their people could worship in their own language.

Back on ship after our jaunt, we ate lunch and then headed out for our big adventure of the day, an experience I will never forget. After a short trip to the airport, we dressed in parkas and ski boots and climbed onboard a six-passenger helicopter for a ride to the Mendenhall Glacier. Kathie and I got to sit up front, so the view was fantastic!

This being my first time seeing a glacier, I was totally awed by its size and eerie blue color. But there was no time for standing around with my mouth hanging open. Our nice young guides, Riley and Scott, greeted us, put cramp-ons on our boots for us, and then gave us a short walking tour, pointing out moulins and bottling some glacier water for us. Boy, was that good! Then Scott scooped up some glacial silt in his hand for us to feel. It was silky to the touch and would be great for a facial mask, the women in the group thought. It was also Scott who (finally) explained that glaciers are blue because their ice is so tightly packed that no light waves other than the short-waved blue ones can escape. Thanks, Scott! And Riley, I’ve got a daughter back home who would think you’re a hottie!

Dinner on the ship that evening was formal, so Kathie and I dressed up in our black Chico’s outfits and elegant jewelry. (Some might say that we "clean up good".) I was “entertained” by Marilyn and Bob, the couple seated next to me. Marilyn is 86 years old and lives in Cape Cod. I didn’t catch Bob’s age, but he lives in California. I don’t think they get to see each other very often. Anyway, the food was tasty but there was way too much – I was stuffed by the end of the meal. So Kathie rolled me back to the room, where we changed back into comfortable clothing and headed out to see the movie “Crash”. It was weird but excellent, so I didn’t fall asleep on it although I was dog-tired.

Later however, in our room, I drifted right off…

Stay tuned for the next installment – Skagway!

Monday, July 10, 2006

The One With A Sick Heart

This is my 3-year old grandson, James Patrick. In May, we learned that he had been born with an atrial septal defect and it could only be fixed via open heart surgery. With the help of some special friends, my daughter, Jessie, eventually came to deal with the news with courage and faith, and painstakingly explained to Patrick and his older sister about the hole. Soon, Patrick was telling anyone who would listen that he had "a sick heart".

Luckily, we live close to MUSC's Children's Hospital and the physician who would be Patrick's surgeon, Fred Crawford, and his team are internationally known for their skill. The procedure would be just a walk in the park for them, and yet I couldn't help but tear up every time I thought of my little man being subjected to such a major operation.

Finally, the morning of the procedure arrived and we all met in the surgical registration room to wait for Patrick to be called. It wasn't even six o'clock yet, and there he was with his pretty blue eyes and ornery smile, clutching his raggedy old blue teddy bear, Bee, that his Aunt Jan had given him when he was born. He alternated between sucking his thumb on his mom's lap and looking around for something to get into. Then the dreaded moment arrived, and after we each gave him a big hug and kiss, he disappeared with Jessie and her husband, Michael, into the pre-op holding area.

Very soon Jessie and Michael came back out and nervously we all went to the PCICU (Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit) waiting room to, well, wait. Friends came to wait with us; their warmth and support (and Dunkin' Donuts Munchkins!) were such an enormous and welcome help. We chatted and even managed to chuckle a little. But when Dr. Crawford and his nurse practitioner, Kathy, came out to say that Patrick's heart was all fixed and he was being closed up, a collective sigh of relief arose from our little group.

It was tough to see Patrick asleep in the PCICU after surgery - he looked so tiny and helpless in that big bed. There were tubes coming out of everywhere on his little body, it seemed, and a ventilator was helping him breathe. I held his baby hand and whispered to him, all the while wanting to pick him up and hold him in my arms so I could kiss his sweet face. I hated leaving him that night.

I visited Patrick again the next afternoon after I got off work. When I first saw him, sitting up in the wagon his father was pulling about the atrium/playroom, he was pouting and looking like he was putting up a big fight against the urge to cry. It scared me a little because I thought he must be in a lot of pain, but then it occurred to me that he was only frightened by the noise coming from the other kids and overwhelmed by the sheer size of the atrium. So after I read him a couple of books with buttons he could push (he loves to push buttons!), he was ready for Michael to lift him out of the wagon. To my surprise, he stood up. Then he walked. He walked over to the toys and played with his mom and dad. If I hadn't known better, I would never have guessed that this child had had his chest cracked open, his heart stopped and fixed and restarted, only the day before.

The next afternoon, Patrick left the hospital and came home to play with his adoring older sister. This evening, a little more than a week later, Jessie and I walked in the neighborhood while Patrick and his Sissie rode their bikes alongside. As the kids threw sticks and pebbles into the pond where we stopped along the way, I couldn't help but marvel at the miracle standing right in front of me.

These days, that little miracle is known around here as - you guessed it - The One With The Special Heart.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Inaugural Blog

For quite some time now, I've seen the term "blog" in different contexts, but never paid much attention. Then one day at lunch, I picked up a news magazine and read a whole article about blogging - in adultspeak, mind you, and thought, "I'd better look into this...this...whatever it is."

Hopping on line and visiting Technorati, I was amazed to find so many blogs that were written by all kinds of people about most anything one could imagine. What a great way to express oneself, I thought - like writing in a journal (which I was never good about keeping up), only better.

My friends and daughters shook their heads and gave me a questioning look when I asked them if they blog. (OK, some of these are kids in their teens and twenties. They're supposed to be much more techno-savvy than I am!) Shortly, everyday life caused me to forget about blogging.

Recently, though, extraordinary events have occurred in my life, kindling a primal need for written expression and resurrecting thoughts in my head about blogging. Having read up a little on the subject in some books from Barnes & Noble, today I'm writing a blog post and thinking, "How cool is this?!?"

So, visit often, watch our evolution, and by all means - post comments!