September 2013

I’ve started off September early, because it’s difficult to keep track of the time zone differences, and besides, it’s 2am local time, Sunday morning, as I write this.

We had a huge Saturday, with Mike taking me along to play golf with a few of his buddies. It was a great way to start the weekend and I averaged 5 per hole, except for one which I hit long, then bounced off trees a few times and took 9 shots to finally get the stupid ball in the hole. We got back from that, to dash off to Duncan’s birthday celebrations at a Kids Paradise kind of place, with all the arcade activities imaginable, all in one venue. And to cap it off, I joined the kids at a Silvertips hockey pre-season match.

In the photos, the Moose Drool packet is included for its quirky label (and one of my favourite beers),

the view is from the street just outside Mike & April’s house

and the birthday cake for Duncan is the masterpiece made by one of April’s friends.

I just happened to be awake when Julie’s phone rang a short time ago, with Steve on the line to say that the old Great Dane on the property at home had broken out of his paddock, chased Kelly into our back yard and killed him. Wow, what a way to start a bucket list cruise! We’re certainly going to miss the little bugger, as he was the most loyal dog I have ever had the pleasure to own. Poor Steve is devastated. He’d only gone out for a while to buy some groceries. And so much for Julie quitting smoking! Upon reflection, it’s possible that Kelly was out in the driveway after Steve left, and with the 2 resident dogs barking, he may have joined in, causing the big dog to break out and go after him, perhaps thinking he was just a noisy fox. Apparently, the owners came out on hearing the kafuffle and saw the big dog coming out of the back yard with Kelly in his mouth. Kara, who is a vet’s theatre nurse, has offered to arrange to have him cremated for us. In retrospect, we could have ensured that our dogs were always securely locked in to the yard when we were not at home, but then hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Needless to say, we didn’t get a whole lot of sleep after that and had to scramble to get packed and on the road to the cruise terminal. We had paid for the kids to have the 4-course lunch and a tour of the ship, but the vital piece of information that was missing from our pre-trip documentation was that we really needed to be at the terminal about an hour earlier than our check-in time.

So we missed the lunch and the guided tour of the ship, but we made our own way through the buffet for lunch and then mapped out the parts of the ships that interested us the most. In due course, they left us to go off and do other things and we started finding our way around the ship.

I must admit that the emergency exercise to get all passengers to their muster stations was pretty impressive. We opted for dinner at the buffet, because it was so much easier, and I have selected which cocktail I will have each evening, or I might just work my way through the menu.

 

It’s now just after 8pm Sunday and we are comfortably tucked up in our stateroom for the night.

Monday. It took me quite a while to get to sleep, and I finally did after a lap around the front of the top deck in my jammies. We both slept in until nearly 8:30, when breakfast arrived. I got to eat my usual yoghurt and cereal, but Julie’s chocolate Danish was pretty dry, so after a shower, we went in search of food. By then it was after 9:30 and the breakfast bar had just closed and there was a line at the buffet, so she went off to the shopping session on an empty stomach, but with her anti motion sickness pill in place. I must admit, compared to the P&O cruises I went on with Doris from Sydney to the tropical islands of the Western Pacific, this ship is wonderfully stable, possibly because the ship itself is bigger, but also because we’re in much shallower water, being just off the coast. And as we proved mathematically way back in first year Uni, the deeper the water, the bigger the swell, so that actually makes sense. As expected, it’s a long slow swell from aft on the port side as we make our way past Vancouver Island.

As this is one of the last cruises to Alaska for this ship this year, the Alaskan merchandise is on sale at deeply discounted prices and we have done most of our gift shopping already.

As we are on “anywhere, anytime” dining, rather than being at the same table with the same people at the same time for the whole cruise, we booked dinner in one of the restaurants for the formal night tonight, and ended up with a couple from Seattle (Danny from Kansas and Lee from Seattle) and a couple from Florida (Rich from a Spanish background and Hazel from England). We hit it off so much that we partied on for a while and are dining together again on the next formal night. Meanwhile, a very heavy fog has set in, with visibility of about 50 metres, and as I write this from our cabin, I can hear the ship’s fog horn sounding every few minutes.

Tuesday. We woke up just before 6am to see lights outside, only just visible through the fog. We didn’t actually see the ship berth, because we had to get showered and breakfasted in time to get off by about 7am and find our tour. We soon found out that our ship was at dock 4 and where we needed to be was dock 2, looking for someone in a red jacket. Yesterday, while I was shopping, I bought myself the red and black reversible jacket that you can see a few pictures up, and today I just happened to be wearing it with the red side out, so I had people approaching me asking if I was the tour guide. By that time, we had already figured out that we were indeed in the right place and with some of the people on the same tour, so I was able to tell them that no, it was not me they were looking for, but yes, they were in the right place.

It turned out that Linda, our guide and driver, had her jacket still wet from yesterday and hadn’t had the chance to wash it yet.

Linda is part Tlingit (pronounced Kling-git) and naturally was a fount of knowledge on the totems at Saxman village.

If all of our tours are as good as hers, we’re in for a great week. She dropped us off at Creek Street and we made our way from there.

We went up the hill on a funicular railway car to a lodge where we had a proper breakfast and mapped out our day.

Much shopping later, including about a 2 mile walk to the Safeway store,

we got back to the ship and collapsed.

I am now sitting on our balcony, sipping on my Dirty Banana cocktail and watching the scenery slide past. THIS is what I expected it would be like!

Wednesday. As we woke, we were already in the Tracy Arm Fiord, with scenery sliding past even closer. This of course is where the camera and zoom lens got a heavy workout, with lots of waterfalls, pieces of ice, rock formations and finally the glacier mouth to see.

As we stopped to turn, a fast boat came up from behind, tucked in alongside,  took on passengers from the ship and took off towards the glacier.

At that point, I went to have a shower and assume that it took its passengers much closer to it, although I did hear comments later that they didn’t get very close.

We are now lining up to dock at Juneau, being shadowed by a tug boat. And continuing later … We came in with a following wind AND current, then turned to starboard about 210 degrees and then the tug started pushing at the front, together with the forward thrusters of the ship. When I looked, I was pretty sure that we were actually moving AWAY from the dock. Then the tug went aft and started pushing from there.

At that point we headed down to be ready for disembarking, as we needed to get the shore tour, and I checked on the windward side and could see that we were STILL about 50 feet from the dock. We then waited for about an hour before the ship was finally positioned AND tied up securely enough that it wouldn’t blow away, and passengers could disembark.

By then, it was blowing and raining. And we needed to find our tour. We eventually got there. There were only 6 of us on the tour which included a whale watching tour, a visit to the Mendenhall Glacier and dinner at the Salmon Bake. The whale watching turned out to be the highlight of the day, not just for us, but for the captain and his naturalist partner. And my camera turned out to be the star of the trip as I managed to catch a pair of Orcas surfacing, as well as an entire sequence of a mother, accompanied by her calf, coming straight for us and doing the entire sequence of diving and showing us her tail. The pictures really do tell the story!

On the way back to the ship, in the dark and rain, I stopped off at the Juneau Public Library. Noted that it closed at 8pm and it was right on that time, but climbed up the 4 flights of stairs anyway, weighed down by heavy jackets (yes, jackets, plural) and with my backpack carrying everything for the day plus the laptop. Saw the staff lock up and suddenly there is a shrieking alarm going off, so loud that if I took my fingers out of my ears, it was genuinely painful. Figuring that it might be me setting the thing off, I retreated down a floor, out of the line of sight from the sensor. Then just to check, I went back up again and set it off again. Bugger that, I thought, I’ll just walk back to the ship.

Thursday. We were already docked in Skagway by the time we woke up at almost 7am, needing to be on a tour at 8am. Scramble! We made it, after a walk of what seemed like at least a mile (probably wasn’t, just felt like it). Ours was a small group doing the train up the mountain(s) (with several hundred others) and riding bicycles down.

Poor Julie, she couldn’t quite get the concept of the gears, and spent most of the ride pedaling either too fast or not fast enough.

For me, another truly awesome tour, again made better by the small group number.

After we had lunch at a very popular seafood place, where Julie polished off a whole set of Alaskan Crab legs, we caught the shuttle bus back to the ship, where I collected the laptop and came out again. This entry was made while sitting in the Skagway Public Library, uploading all the pictures. I also have some pictures on the phone, which will be uploaded later, so check back next week, after I have Internet access in Seattle.

We spent some time sitting in the Piazza, listening to the band playing, and my dear wife decided to go out in front of the assembled crowd and ask me to marry her all over again. Again I said yes, so I guess we’re in it for another 10 years or so.

Friday.

Some reflections. The first 2 days were hard on Julie because of Kelly’s demise. Then it was 3 days of full on, needing to be somewhere at a specific time for a tour. Today being the first real relaxation day, Kelly finally hit me and I have gone back over my photo collection and assembled some 400 pictures as my tribute to him. They of course will also be uploaded next week. As arranged on Monday night, our “formal” table got together for dinner again tonight, and had an even better time, so much so that we are meeting again for lunch tomorrow.

Which we did. We elected not to leave the ship in Victoria and so woke up in Seattle on Sunday morning. It’s good to be back online again.

On Tuesday, Mike’s bike had a flat tyre and he came back to get April to take him to work on her way out. Unfortunately, he was so flustered that he left the keys in it and it was stolen from right there in the driveway, up past the truck and against the garage, so we have been collecting him from work in the truck for 2 days. At least he now has the truck for getting to and from work, but it will take him longer because he can’t use the HOV lane. So all in all, it’s been a pretty strange trip. The last couple of days we have felt like we were in limbo, waiting for something to happen. It’s now Thursday (already Friday morning in Canberra) and have just spent the last 2 hours packing and repacking, eventually deciding to make use of the smaller suitcase, which came over inside one of the larger ones. We’re now sitting here trying to keep cool, waiting for April to finish work and take us to the airport. It’s been hot here in Seattle, but while I write this, it’s nearly 6am in Canberra and -1 degree. And I have just reinserted the Australian SIM card back into my phone, to see a message from Dorothy that Pete is due for more surgery early next week.

Sunday, Canberra time. It took us a total of 30 hours to get home. We had a 2-hour wait in Seattle airport, as April needed to deliver us early and then try to get herself home before the peak traffic really set in. LAX wasn’t too bad, as we discovered that where we landed was just one terminal away from where we were leaving. The head winds across the Pacific gave us a 14-hour flight, compared to 13 on the way over. We cleared Immigration and Customs quickly, but were unable to transfer onto the 8:15 bus because it was full, so we simply waited for the 9:15 service on which we were booked. It was then delayed for a total of 40 minutes because the toilet in the coach wasn’t working and they had to get another delivered to the airport from their depot. Steve brought Angel with him in the car to collect us from Civic, which was a nice touch, and a bit of reassurance that she is OK. He left a few hours later, heading for the fireworks display in Gunning and expecting to overnight in Goulburn, then on to Newcastle in time for a Monday morning meeting.

Now, after a deep sleep overnight, it’s good to be home, even if it is a little quieter than it should be. Angel has proved to be quite the escape artist, until I discovered a gaping hole under the fence right down at the far end of the back yard where it adjoins the rear driveway. Obviously Kelly had taught her where it is and with him gone, she could escape quite easily. Now that we’ve plugged that one, she’s asleep in the grass down that end and we feel much more comfortable with leaving her in the yard while we are at work.

Next week. On the trip home, I picked up a cough which morphed into a chest infection, so on Saturday I started on the remaining probiotics in the fridge, then on Sunday I went into town and got antibiotics and started on those. I missed work on Monday while Julie went in. We drove in together on Tuesday and she succumbed to a raging sore throat by lunch time, and will be off work for 2 days at least, so we took the time to go out to Terry’s place (almost to Gundaroo) to collect the Sierra. Turns out that the carby I had ordered didn’t turn up (I suspect the card bounced) and it was right where I left it. Given that one of Terry’s jobs would have been dropping the fuel tank out, and knowing how low the fuel tank was, we headed for the shortest way home home, via Shingle Hill Way. Nope, road closed, water over the Yass River crossing. While Julie then headed for home, I doubled back to Eaglehawk to fill it with petrol. Meanwhile the news from Dorothy is that Pete is recovering well and should be going home at the end of the week. Whew!

Angel has been quite entertaining. When she decides to play, she dances somewhat like a cat. You just have to move and say “What!” and she dances around some more. Wednesday morning, I was almost ready to leave for work and my eyes went all gritty. No idea what it was, but it certainly stopped me in my tracks. I suspect there’s still a bit of jet lag in there somewhere, so today I’m back to the process of do a bit, sit for a bit. When I contacted Simon for his birthday, I found out that he & Kat are leaving for Europe next weekend. And I managed to break the aging handle of the axe used to split firewood. Combined a trip for lunch with buying a new handle, then how to get the old handle stub out of the head. Hmm, the fire is going, let’s see if we can burn it out. And we did! Knowing how hot the head would be, I carefully transferred it onto a brick and carried it outside. Gave the stub a poke with a screw driver and it popped out. Carefully lined up the new handle, bashed it on, then equally carefully (making sure not to touch the head, even with gloves on), lined up the wedge and hammered it home. Good as new!

Our major weekend activity was to bomb the cottage and the bus. Using spider eradication bombs, that is. If we haven’t seen a spider since then, does that mean they worked? We also had a “vigorous discussion” about Kelly. This is now the second time that Julie has lost a small dog to a bigger one, and her accusation was that I had not taken her concerns seriously. Which, I must admit, is true. It’s now very early Monday morning and I’m still awake, thinking about him. We have taken Kara’s warning of snakes seriously and I installed the 4 snake repellers in the back yard, so that at least we can offer Angel some protection. I’ve just been out there in the moonlight, checking on them, to find that two are working OK, one has a faulty base and one is not working at all. The last time 2 of the bases failed, the supplier replaced them for free, so I guess I’ll be doing some swapping some tops and bases, and then contacting him again. The base is the bit that is pushed into the ground and it emits the vibrations through the ground that sound like larger animals walking around.

Meanwhile, I’ve realised that while Kelly took on the responsibility of protecting us, I also had the responsibility to keep him safe, and failed. In retrospect, he should have been confined to the back yard area, whereas the gate near the cottage was open and covered by a flimsy fence which he could pull down and walk over. Had we checked the gates properly and plugged any holes there, we would then have looked further and found the hole under the fence. Sorry, little Mate.

Angel has settled into her routine of being let out in the mornings and coming in at night to sleep in the bed with us. Although today she was not around the cottage, probably right down the back in the sun, but when she did come in, she was very clingy and ended up nestling into a blanket in the spare room. Strange cat, I mean, dog.

And we have discovered that we have a magpie family, not just in the vicinity, as we did in the paddock, but right up in the tree, visible from our front door. I’m working on getting the light right so that I can get a decent picture.

Saturday of the first long weekend. It could only happen in the ACT: Family and Community Day on the last Monday in September, followed by Labour Day on the first Monday in October. Anyway, I took Angel to the vet in Gundaroo, who assured me that yes, she is probably grieving, supported by the evidence that Julie had been home (sick) with her yesterday, and today she was clearly feeling better. He also tested her legs. When you move a dog’s leg back far enough, it will automatically push the leg forward again, so that the leg has its weight on the paw. Not so with Angel. She did not recover either of her left legs, showing that the signal from the right side of her brain is not getting through. We knew that anyway, but it was good to have it demonstrated. If we didn’t know what we know, I would said that she had suffered a stroke.

Meanwhile it’s blowing a gale (again) here today and I managed to get a few more pictures of the babies in the nest. Then there was a thump on the window. I went outside to find baby bird sitting on the chair, while parent bird was out in the garden, feigning disinterest. Well, what could I do? Grab the camera and start shooting, of course.