Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The mystery of the water

I love a mystery, a puzzle; finding a lost item, discovering the root. I sure had a challenge on my hands here in my new home. It began with some water damage in the 3rd bedroom. When I first discovered it, it was shortly after a day and a half of very heavy rain. There is one good-sized window in this room, and the cill is only about a foot from the floor. I had placed a desk in front of the window, and it was nearly 2 weeks after moving in that I was sitting at the desk and realized my foot was tapping a soggy carpet. My first thought was that the rain water had come in through the open window. I shut the window, sopped the moisture up with a towel, turned the ceiling fan on and didn't give it much further thought.
About a week or so later, after having had the window closed and the fan on, I decided to check on the dampness of the carpet. I was aghast to discover that the carpet was even wetter than it had been before. I called in sick to work (although I did have a physical ailment: I must've scratched my eye in my sleep and it was swollen!) and then hauled out the shop-vac. I vacuumed up in excess of 6 gallons of water. I called brother Ken and asked him to help me trouble shoot.
It was 9 AM on a Friday morn, and I'm sure Kenny had his hands full of a dozen or so other projects. He was kind and patient and walked me through the steps: was it the exterior wall, was the ceiling wet, drywall, etc. The first thing to look at was a gap in the outside wall where the air conditioning pipes entered the house. " A little water goes a long way with carpet and drywall" Kenny had said. I bought a tube of silicone and a gun ( later to find a half-dozen of same here in the garage) and Lauren's boyfriend, Kevin, helped me caulk the gap. I was feelin' good.
To Be Continued......

Sunday, December 20, 2009

One of those days

What a fast week! This time of year does go so quickly, however it seems time as we know it accelerates with each year of life as we know it. The tree is up and decorated, all the gifts are all shining in their wraps with flows of bows of red and gold. Friday was our office holiday party. It was pleasant. We had it at Town Hall and during working hours, so there was no alcohol and anyone not wishing to participate could continue working. Every year it's different, because every year we have a new town manager, it seems. As long as I get a paycheck.....

This morning was one of those mornings in which I don't know what to do first. A cold front came through earlier this week, and forecasts are for tomorrow to be in the 40s. I started the day by closing all of the windows in the house, putting on long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, sox and slippers. I was craving hot chocolate or hot cider. Instead, I ran several large golden delicious apples through the juicer and downed 12 onces of fresh apple juice. It was delicious. I baked some spiced pecans, wanting the oven to warm the house a bit, and the scent of cinnamon and nutmeg to fill the air. I don't know how folks in the great white north can stand it. Gracie has the right idea: she's outside laying in the sun.

Speaking of Gracie, she saw Dr. Patterson yesterday for her booster shots. He said she was AWESOME! Sleek, lean with well developed muscles, built for speed. He asked if I ever take her to any of the dog parks, and ventured a guess that other dogs'd have a hard time keeping up with her. That's true. She's like a bullet. Her weight is just under 50 lbs., which is small for the breed, but I'm OK with that. The vet's office carried on a bit about getting her spayed and chipped. Their angle is the cost the county imposes on unspayed, un-chipped dogs; it's exhorbinant. I guess I'll have to figure that into my plans in the course of the next several months. It'll require both time and money; time at home with her after the surgery and several hundred dollars. Cha-ching.

I still don't know whether to go grocery shopping, attack the clutter of partially unpacked boxes, put some trees in the ground, give the dog a bath or take a walk around the lake. It's one of those days when I just don't know where to begin.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

There's No Place Like Home

Well yes indeed, it's been quite some time since my last writing. To say I've been busier'n a one-armed paper hanger would be an understatement. But it's been a good busy. I love my new home, and I love the neighborhood. I'm quite far from settled in, as I still have boxes galore; unfortunately, the majority of those unpacked boxes are stacked in my bedroom. It may have to stay this way for awhile, yet, as the next task on my list is buying and setting up a christmas tree, decorating for christmas, and baking cookies - lots of cookies!
Yesterday was the first day I took Gracie for a walk around the lake since the Invisble Fence was installed on 11/17. The invisible fence folks advise to develop a routine of placing a small rug, towel, or some other symbolic "path" to exit the property, so that the dog isn't confused about why it's OK to leave the yard sometimes and not others. So I took a small area rug, placed it along the driveway by the mailbox, put her harness on (and cleverly removed the "correction" collar) and walked her toward the rug. NO WAY she said with her very strong body language. She wanted nothing to do with going off the yard - rug or not! So I had to pick her up and place her on the rug to exit. Once out of the yard, she was fine - had a ball sniffing all the new scents. This really is a very beautiful community, with lots of mature trees. All the lawns are meticulously landscaped, many very beautiful holiday decorations. When we returned, again Gracie wanted nothing to do with coming back over the "fence", even though her collar was not on. Once again I had to pick her up and carry her into the yard. Perhaps we need to go for more walks, so she gets used to the idea. As an aside, if you or anyone you know is considering getting the Invisible Fence, I say go for it. It's marvelous! I am quite an advocate!
Just as I returned from my walk, a car pulled up with an elderly woman at the wheel. I had seen her out in her driveway as I walked past. She came by to introduce herself and welcome me to the neighborhood. I have to add, here, that this community was built in the early 1980's - my house was one of the first built in 1981. It's deed restricted, but it's not gated. There is very little turn over here; the homes are very upscale (mine is one of the few exceptions!) and there is very little, to no crime. Everyone knows everyone. Earlier this week, I was out in the front yard trying to figure out what kind of trees are growing there, when a white cadillac SUV pulled up, and a nice gentleman introduced himself and welcomed me to the neighborhood. The woman I met yesterday caused me to have a song in my head ever since: Eleanor Rigby. She told me that her husband passed away 2 years ago, that she's from Buffalo NY, goes there from May to October, and wanted to know was I "by myself." She even told me that she'd asked other neighbors whether "the woman that moved into Jack's house, was she by herself? Find out if she's by herself!" She told me of a holiday gathering at the community center this Friday evening. Everyone brings a dish to share, and if you want a drink, bring your beverage. Her face seemed to drop when I mentioned that I work full time (was it during the day?), as I think she is looking for someone to spend time with (since her husband passed away two years ago). All the lonely people - where do they all belong?
After my walk, I decided I needed to do something with the front yard landscaping (geeze - all the Joneses have great yards!) so I went and took a picture of the front of the house.

There's Gracie, standing in the driveway. Those white flags are the "fence" - it gives Gracie a visual of her boundaries, and will be coming down this week. Here's from another angle:

The backyard is full of all the potted plants I moved here from the beach; you can see the areca palm in the terra cotta pot. I am considering putting that in the ground just about where it is. The soil is rock and clay, quite a surprise to me from the sandy beach I'm used to. So every day off I toss up whether to do stuff inside or outside. There's just so much.....
but I love it!

Saturday, October 24, 2009


I have almost made it through the month of October without any major calamities. The closing on the house is set for "Nov 4th or sooner". I'm hoping for sooner. It's been 35 days since I signed the contract, and it's been 35 days of anticipation. Most everything is boxed up - the kitchen cabinets and my clothes in the bedroom are about all that's left. Today the flapper broke on the toilet here, and it just goes to figure! So I went to Ace Hardware and bought a new one, as well as a new globe for the light over the sink which broke last year and I never replaced it. I'm a little nervous about being a homeowner and having to repair and replace such things. A four dollar flapper is no big deal, but I'm going to have major appliances, A/C and roof and screens, etc. to care for. I stopped by my new house two days ago to bring in the trash cans, and so I popped my head inside the atrium. It had just rained so it was good to see how wet it gets and where. I noticed a small tree frog in the atrium, and pondered how he could have gotten inside. I thought perhaps he was born there. Then I looked up and noticed a rip in one of the screens in the skylights. Darn. That'll need to be fixed pronto, as I plan on opening the doors and windows to the fresh air outside. I'm getting a little nervous about monthly expenses. My monthly mortgage payments will actually be less than my rent, here, but I have taxes and insurance to figure in, and a homeowners' association fee. I'll also have a larger area to cool, so my electric bill will be higher. I'll have to start driving my car to and from work - as opposed to my bicycle - so there's gas expenses. I won't be coming home for lunch as frequently - especially once season starts - so I'll need to plan ahead and pack a lunch, or suffer the cost of eating out. And once I have my great new home, I'll have guests over far more frequently, and entertaining is an added expense. Not to mention the invisible fencing for Gracie, the removal of the rooms-full of hideous wallpaper, replacing the old carpeting, all the cosmetic stuff to make it homey. I hope Sarah and Lauren aren't expecting big Christmas presents this year!! Days like today are making me crazy: I don't have to go in to the office, but feel as though I shouldn't be "recreating" when I have to move - soon. It's almost as if I'm going through the motions...
The anticipation is killing me!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

closer to the move

I turned the A/C off yesterday - first time since spring. I opened up the windows before going to bed. When I opened my eyes at 7:00 this morning, it was sixty degrees in the house! Our first cold front of the season. Since I have been out of touch with the local news, etc., I have no idea if this will be a brief front, or if we're in for the cooler weather for awhile. It's nice when it's cool around Halloween; it makes dressing up in costumes and carving pumpkins all the more enjoyable.
Gracie is in heat. She turned a year in mid August, so I've been anticipating this. I took her to a dog park last weekend and she was certainly of interest to many of the male canines there. It will be good for her to go through the majority of this cycle before moving to our new home. Everything happens for a [good] reason, so the postponment of the closing on the house has been fortuitous for Gracie.
Packing is reasonably well underway. Everything that I don't absolutely need has been boxed, labeled and stacked up in the front room. All photos/ artwork are off the walls, save two large mirrors that are hanging in the living room. They're quite heavy and are just as easily kept where they are until time to move them. I won't be taking my everyday dishes with me - I have more than enough sets of dishes - Sarah has expressed an interest in having the everyday stuff, so that makes it easy. I'll have to sort through the miscellaneous plastic storage containers, and some pots and pans that are missing handles or such - no need to move the junk. It has all served my purpose quite well for the past four years, but now it's time for a whole new chapter in my life.
It is a whole new chapter in my life. This will be the first time in 27 years that I will not be living on the beach. Some folks ask me how do I think I will adjust. I love Fort Myers Beach but the past year or so it has become increasingly difficult to live where I work. Politics in a small town. I am looking forward to making new friends in the wonderful new neighborhood to which I am moving. I am looking forward to having my own home - to being able to give Gracie a yard, to putting my plants in the dirt, establishing a new garden. I'll have a dishwasher - HURRAY! I will have ample dining areas to once again entertain my friends, and have dinner parties. I will have a garage! (I have never had a garage! how novel!!) and my garage will have an automatic door opener that I will keep in my car. Darn - if I'm not moving up in the world! (lol!) ...and the master suite ....ahhhh.... the's a dream come true. I dream of how I'll decorate - color schemes, applying feng shui. This house was made for me - according to feng shui, I am a 'west' person, so the front door of my home should face west. It does. The decor in this house has a tremendous asian influence. I don't know if the former occupants were of asian decent or if it was just their taste, but much of the house conforms with the feng shui philosophy. And it all seems just made for me.
I have arranged for the transfer of utilities. I have a plan for moving, but until I have a firm closing date, I can't put that plan in motion. ONe element that I have not confirmed is what to do about TV-PHONE-INTERNET. Presently, I have Embarq for phone and DSL for internet. I have comcast cable for TV, but someone besides me is paying for it (it was in place when I moved in). I haven't figured out what I want to do. I also need to buy a new computer, as I am down to using my work laptop (shhh...don't tell). so I thought it'd be best to incorporate a new IT system in my new home complete with a new computer and new provider. Problem is, I'm not up on the latest technologies, and am at a loss as to where to begin. Techno-geeks out there, I welcome your input.
It is all so very exciting. I can't get out of this place quickly enough. Maybe because I know I have a fresh new place to live, I notice the run down-ness of my surroundings. This move really feels right. There was a time I considered moving out of the county, even out of the state. That could be a possibility in the future, but for now, this move is right. It's meant to be.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Stress has got the drop on me....

I just returned from Lake Buena Vista after 3 days of 'clerk school'. I rode with Dianne from Bonita. What a delightfully charming lady. I truly enjoy her company. This was the first time I've attended 'the academy' for the 3 days. Until now, my attendance was for a full week, but now I'm running with the big kids. ;) My name badge now has a sticker that says ADVANCED as opposed to FIRST YEAR or SECOND YEAR or THIRD YEAR . Woohooo!
I was anxious to get home, though, as the house buying thing is ever on my mind. Let me say right now, that if you are in the market to purchase a home, do not - i repeat DO NOT - use Wells Fargo. I assume that they are not interested in making conventional loans: They will do government loans, i.e., FHA OR VA, because they are secured. Maybe Wells Fargo is in such deep doo-doo with the housing market that this is the only way they can hope to survive. They wasted over three weeks of my time going through the motions of writing a loan. I pushed for some numbers and gave them a deadline. Two weeks before closing, I called and asked for some final numbers. "Don't worry, you're approved - it's just a matter of how much you need to bring to the table. " Then there was chatter about my income to debt ratio: I have co-signed for loans for both of my daughters: auto loan and education loans. I explained things, sent documents, made phone calls. This was Tuesday, two weeks before closing. I informed them that I would be out of town the better part of the next week (clerk school) and that I needed some numbers by Friday. They assured me that there was no problem, and that they would have the final numbers for me by Friday.

Friday noon I got an e-mail from the Wells Fargo mortgage consultant and the subject was requesting I call him when I got the e-mail. I called him and he said that I needed to bring $98,000. to the table. Yes, you read correctly: NINETY-EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS.

I chose to apply for my mortgage loan with Wells Fargo because they are the recent parent company of Wachovia, which is the bank that has had my business for sometime. The local branch is a very good group of people with whom I have a great history and rapore. When I told them of my experience, they were genuinely mortified. They are retrieving some of my expense for the appraisal and application fee.

I'm now with a mortgage broker, a woman I have known for nearly ten years and whose office is here on the island. The closing is set for Nov 4 or before, the appraisal is set for Monday morning, the underwriters have given their conditions which can easily be met. The survey is done, there's clear title. An interesting piece in this is that the CD I have with Wachovia is sent to mature on 10/24/09, so I am not subject to the penalty that would have resulted with the 10/20/09 closing date. It's all GOOD! We're good to go!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

It's been a fast and furious fall

I was doing quite well, there, for awhile, chronicling my excellent Alaskan vacation. Then one friday afternoon, I took a drive through a neighborhood that was of interest to me for shopping to buy a home. I saw a few homes with for sale signs and I jotted down the addresses and the realtors' names and numbers. Saturday morning I called one of the realtors, and she was very un-friendly to me, almost rude. She told me the asking price, and I said, "That's high ..." and she didn't say anything. So I said, "That's high for this neighborhood." and the realtor told me about another house in another neighborhood that was a short sale. I clearly sensed this realtor didn't want my business. She said the house I'd called on was vacant, so why didn't I go look around, and if I wanted to see inside to call her back. I hung up and called Deborah, a friend and realtor who has been successful even in this market. "Would you be willing to help me with this?" I met her in her office and she called the realtor and we drove up to the house and looked inside. It was a dream home. On a lake, landscaped with beautiful gardens, even a doggie door from the garage to a fenced area. Nicely tiled throughout, great porches and updated kitchen and baths. The asking price was $220,000. Appraisals for this neighborhood were coming in around $165,000-$185,000. We wrote up and offer of $170,000., I got a pre-approval letter from the bank and we submitted the offer. The seller never even countered - just flat out refused the offer. We were dumbfounded. But Deborah was determined to get me a house, and signed me up with I looked at hundreds of houses online, and dozens on foot. I looked at short sales, forclosures, and good old fashioned homes for sale. Some had pools, some had yards, some needed alot of work. The short sales were sad: clearly folks just walked away - leaving belongings, even dirty dishes and food. I looked at what I would call McMansions - brand new homes - never lived in - tiled throughout, granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, simply gorgeous. But they were built right to the set-backs, and in new - or newer - developments. I wanted mature vegetation, and a yard.
Then I noticed on listingbook a house in a neighborhood called Heritage Farms, which had mature vegetation and nice sprawling homes in a quiet area. I placed it in my favorites, and drove by to see it. We had been having a lot of rain, and this neighborhood backs up to the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve, so it was a good time to see how wet it gets back in there. The lot was half an acre with mature live oak trees. I didn't get out of the car, just drove by and checked out the neighborhood. It needed some work, it appeared, but otherwise it was very charming. Deborah called me the next day: "I see in your favorites a house in Heritage Farms - do you want to go look at it?" We drove up after work. Deborah learned that the house had been empty for two years. The occupant was an elderly woman who suffered from alzheimers. She had a dog, that messed throughout, and the master bath needed work. It was 4 bed/ 3 bath. We walked in the front door, and it was a goofy layout - it had two living rooms and two dining rooms, with a kitchen smack in the middle. There was obvious signs of a leaking roof, and the master bath didn't need work, it needed to be completely redone. A friend of mine who makes his living as a building inspector offered to give me a free look, so I took him up on the offer. He pointed out signs of copper piping that were damaged, signs that the floors had water damage, obvious roof damage, and so on. There was a large oak near the rear corner that was uprooting the foundation, and low hanging limbs that were beating the roof. Money Pit. The seller should raze the building. It was disappointing.
I returned home and adjusted the search criteria in listing book. As I browsed through dozens of homes, I told myself that I'd just wait - obviously the time wasn't right.
The next morning, Deborah called me and asked if I'd considered McGregor Woods. "No," I said, "I don't want to live in a gated community with Homeowners Associations that tell you how to live your life" "McGregor Woods is different" she said. "I'll send you the listing." That was Friday morning and I was busy at work and didn't give it another thought. At 4:30, Deborah called. She was going to go look at the house in McGregor Woods, did I want to meet her there? I reluctantly said yes - reluctant because I'd become discouraged. She and her husband were already there when Gracie and I pulled up. The house was darling. The neighborhood is beautiful, lovely landscaping, peaceful and well maintained. The house was perfect. The back yard backed up to a drainage swale and a wooded area, the side yard was adjacent to a large common area of lawns. 3 bed/ 2 bath, very well maintained. Sunken living room with cathedral ceilings, formal dining room as well as breakfast nook, screened porch and patio outside. But the best part was the master bedroom suite. Large room, walk in closet, master bath with large walk-in shower beautifully tiled. Both the bedroom and the bath had sliding glass doors that opened into an atrium!!! This is truly a dream home. "Do you love it?" Deborah asked. "Yes!" "Do you love it enough to make an offer?" YES! The asking price was $220,000. We went back to her office and wrote up an offer of $180,000. The next morning came a counteroffer of $195,000. which we accepted. That was September 19th, and closing is set for October 20.
I have been busy packing. It couldn't come at a better time, because of difficulties here where I'm renting. I can't get out soon enough. I'm going to love my new home!
so I probably won't finish my alaskan vacation chronicle - we are now in home ownership mode!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Michelle's Excellent Alaskan Vacation Day 10

August 6, 2009

The ship came in to port in Juneau. Far more a bustling port than Haines. I was early, so I strolled along the pier until I saw the sign for the Mendenhall Glacier & Salmon Bake. I boarded the motorcoach with the twelve other passengers & listened to a young, precocious driver as she pointed out various sights. She mostly talked about herself, which didn’t interest me, but one comment she made was note worthy. She was talking about the ratio of men to women, I think she said Juneau was 8:1, other Alaskan cities can be as much as 14:1. “The odds are good, but the goods are odd

We spent an hour at Mendenhall Glacier. After touring Denali, then Glacier Bay, Mendenhall was “just another glacier”. The fact that it exists smack in the heart of the city, however, is the draw.

We got back on the bus and traveled a short distance to an outside barbecue and the salmon bake. I bought an Alaskan amber and got a cup of chowder. I joined a couple at one table aaa7 ate the soup which was totally delicious. The couple was from North California, retired from a CA state university. I was on appetizer (soup) and they were on the main course. This served to my advantage, as they were commenting on the sauce that was over the salmon – so when I got my plate, I asked for the sauce on the side. Good thing, as it would have ruined the fish = it tasted like liquid brown sugar – heavy, gritty & way too sweet. Everything else was quite delicious – rice, beans, cornbread – they also offered chicken & pasta and various salads - bean, cole slaw, romaine – but I can eat greens anytime!

My dinner mates sampled the desert which looked like a type of blueberry buckle – they said it was the best blueberry cake they’d ever had. Blueberries are in season. This was quite a clever set up with covered tables and chairs, enough for nearly 200 diners. A woman played acoustic guitar & sang folksie tunes. There was a gift shop, restrooms, & a trail that led along a stream to a beautiful waterfall and an old gold mine.

(can you notice my beautiful salmon pendant!?)

Big yellow school buses stood ready to take folks back to town. I got off at the pier & chose to visit the various shops. Much of the wares are the same at all the shops - same ole stuff. I did happen on one shop with unique jewelry. I bought a pendant for Sarah – a mammoth ivory carved wolf head in a sterling silver setting. I hope she likes it. I bought a pair of sterling & ivory earrings that I thought maybe I’d give to one of my daughters, but when I got back to the ship, I liked them so much, I decided to keep them.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Michelle's Excellent Alaskan Vacation Day 9

August 5, 2009

Today was our first port of call, Haines, AK. The captain announced dockage & the gangplank deck for disembarkation. I had selected the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve Float Adventure, & were to meet ashore pierside at 8:50 AM. Haines was small, quaint, quiet. The tide was extremely low, & I heard a local guide mention it was 25 feet. Tour guides stood about, holding signs identifying the different excursions. I signed up the waiver, & joined others on the bus.

“Tom” was our guide, although he never did tell us anything about himself. He was lively & gregarious & pointed out local points of interest. Across the aisle from me sat a young woman who wore a HAL name badge with photo: she identified herself as a travel guide. “Tom” chatted it up with her, & IMO, it became an unspoken contest between them of who knew more about local history.
As we approached the “put in point” inside the preserve, Tom explained to us what to expect. We’d split up into groups in 5 or 6 different rafts, we’d be given rubber boots & life jackets, & leave behind anything we don’t need. I offered to fill in wherever they may need one person, & Tom directed me to the raft being paddled by Brodie. Also in this raft was a 4-some form Colorado Springs, Paul & Joyce and daughters Judy & Makella. Kimberly, travel guide, was also in our group & she, Paul & I took the front of the raft.

It turns out Paul was (is?) a professor chemistry at some state university in CO, as well as an experienced mountain search & rescuer. I was certainly in good company.
The Chilkat River was quite turbid – a deep blue grey silt in motion. There were frequent sections that were quite shallow, & the bottom of the raft scraped as we crossed gravel bars. Brodie pointed out infrequent sightings of immature eagles, & frequent sightings of large, jet-black ravens.

Travel guide Kimberly continued her chat-contest, this time with raft-guide Brodie. Brodie was compassionate & tolerant; I grazed the random information, sifting through the ego. Chemist Paul had a good bit to add about the composition of the waters & the mineral deposits & their interaction.

The float trip was calm – no misrepresentation about the skill level for this. I did expect more Eagle activity. We passed a mature eagle perched on a point along the delta – the familiar white head is present on the mature birds, but the distinction between male & female is not obvious on mere observation. I did manage to get a great shot of a mature eagle perched adjacent to its nest. Brodie said these nests can weigh as much as a ton & achieve a depth of 8 feet. I don’t doubt these statistics, but they do seem extreme. I probably will research their veracity.

We reached the take out point & were met with the tub of shoes we’d exchanged for the rubber boots.
Tour guides set up tables & benches, & coolers of ice water, lemonade, coffee, tea & hot chocolate. They opened up trays of sandwiches & bags of sun chips. The sandwiches appeared to be turkey & cheese with lettuce on various choices of breads. There was also a large tray of chocolate chip cookies

We applauded our river guides – some were tipped, we returned to the bus & headed back to the ship. While on the bus, Tom promoted his books & sold T-shirts of the Preserve. I bought one at $20 – believing that a portion of the proceeds would go to the preserve.
Back at the pier, other ship’s passengers were waiting for their next scheduled excursion. I wonder how it’s decided how long the ship moors in each port. Haines seems to be our longest stay. I had only booked the one excursion, & so chose to venture up the hill to some of the shops.
Walking up the hill, I saw tour guide Tom. I sought – and received – his recommendation about a local shop selling smoked salmon. They had free samples of smoked salmon, halibut, various relishes & mustards. I purchased a couple of packs of halibut, one salmon, a few packs of chews for Ruca and Gracie, a whale bottle opener (novel!) and a salmon cookbook. They’ll ship.
Across the street was a gift shop with a lush floral garden at the entrance. The garden was what attracted me. The wares were rich – exclusive. The shop was small; the shopkeeper was sharp. “Where’r’ya’ from?” he asked, as did most. When I responded, “Southwest Florida” as I usually did, I was dumb-founded to hear his reply – “Fort Myers Beach?” No one said, fort myers BEACH. He had beautiful jewelry. I slowly, carefully inspected each piece, and he casually assisted my viewing pleasure by bringing various cases from the displays to the counter tops. I was mostly looking for gifts for Sarah & Lauren, but I saw a piece that was “PERFECT” ! for me!! It was a “have to have” It was a pin that would double as a pendant – sterling silver with ivory inlay. It was about 2” long – it was – a salmon. It was beautiful. I had to have it.
I stopped in another shop along the way, that advertised “local art.” The work was unique, & quite beautiful. I looked it all over – at least twice. I was about to leave & offered my thanks to the shopkeeper. She commented that I’d certainly given it quite the look over but hadn’t found anything. I told her I was looking for a gift for my daughter, that last year I visited Mt. Rainier in WA & brought back some dream-catcher earrings. She’d since lost them, and I was looking for a replacement, but it seems that noone makes dream-catcher earrings anymore, as the intricate details are too much for most bead-artists’ hands. Did I see the lavender pair in the front showcase, she asked. No, I hadn’t, so looked again, and WOW! They were absolutely beautiful! Lauren will love them!

I returned to the ship. It was “unseasonably warm” I dropped my backpack, my binoculars, camera, raincoat & hat, changed my boots to sandals and my long-sleeved shirt to a sleeveless Tee. I went up to the Lido Deck where others were sunbathing. The ship’s party planner / entertainment director “Bekka” was in the elevator when I entered. She called me the Paula Deen look-a-like. I’ll have to google “Paula Deen” to see if she was complimenting me – or not - .
At about the time we were set to sail, I went up on the fore deck to see how they undid the ships’ lines. I ran in to Dick – the male half of the couple I’d met in the lounge of the Hilton in Anchorage. He was doing the same thing – checking out how the ships’ lines were drawn. We chatted about cruising – this was his first experience on a major cruise line as well.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Michelle's Excellent Alaskan Vacation Day 8

August 4, 2009
Glacier Bay National Park was impressive. Probably the benefit of a smaller ship like the Veendam is its ability to get “up close and personal” in small passages like those of Glacier Bay.
A ranger from Glacier Bay NP gave a presentation in the showroom, which highlighted the park’s wildlife & ecosystem.
The ranger’s presentation was followed by a presentation from a woman identified only as “Alice.” As she spoke, it became apparent that she is native Tlinglit. She taught us how to say “hello’ in native tongue, which is something like:
“Wasa I ya té”
She referred to the people as “Hunnah” which reminded me of the Hawaiian “Huna” culture. I remembered a conversation with a man from Fairbanks in which he said that Hawaii is the vacation destination of choice for many Alaskans, as it is only about 600 miles away. Perhaps Hawaiians and Alaskans are descendants of Mü [Lemuria] – the Pacific Ocean’s lost continent.

Alice explained that water is the way of life for these people, that there are two houses: Eagle or Raven. The two intermarry (Eagles marry Ravens, Ravens marry Eagles), that the people follow their mother’s heritage. Totem poles serve to identify the people and to function as a sort of history book. The harbor seal is their main staple – making full use of all the parts – the pelts, intestines and sinew. They respect the need to preserve the natural resources, and gave the example: If there are 3 bird eggs, take 2 and leave 1; If there are 2, take only 1. Alice ended her talk by singing a song her mother taught her – it was beautifully delivered in a tone that resembled what I have understood to be native American – Alaskan, Hawaiian.

The ship stalled some time in front of Marjorie Glacier. Photo ops abounded. We witnessed the glacier calving – the initial ‘crack’ sounding like a shotgun firing.
As we turned around and headed back out of the channel/ canal, I made my way down to Explorations Café. I decided to set up a ship account and pay the 75ȼ per minute for internet. I didn’t intent any extensive searching, only check my AOL mail. As it turned out, connections were painfully slow and I was probably online close to an hour, I did manage to jot a quick e-mail to family and to the blog.
At one point I noticed the time on the computer tool-bar said 11:165 am. My plan was to have lunch in the Rotterdam dining room, and lunch was served only 12 noon to 1:00 pm. I finished my e-mail and logged off, (which took about $5.00 in itself) and headed to deck 7 for the dining room. In the stairwell I noticed the clock read 1:00 pm and realized the online clock was wrong – had to be – as the tlinglet presentations was at 11:00. I got to the dining room and was told they were no longer serving.

I enjoyed an aimless stroll around the promenade deck and then returned to my cabin. I saw an envelope being slid under the stateroom door. It was from the guest relations manager – a polite note of acknowledgement for my letter sent the night before. Within minutes, my phone rang and it was she. Did I get her note, yes, she was sorry I had the experience, etc. We chatted briefly and politely. I understood” and thanked her for taking the time to follow up.

I dressed and went to dinner which was delicious. I picked up a tip from observing veteran diners/cruisers: I don’t have to order ‘one appetizer’ ‘one soup or salad” etc. The appetizers were more appealing – shrimp, scallops, crabmeat and son on. I ordered two appetizers & skipped the salad. I’m usually not a desert eater, but decided to try some of the chef’s special treats..
After dinner I enjoyed the comic Jeff Nease in the Showroom He was very, very good. A chocolate martini at the Martini Bar made a great night cap

Friday, September 11, 2009

Michelle's Excellent Alaskan Vacation Day 7

August 3, 2009

We toured College Fjord starting at 6:00 AM. On less than 5 hours’ sleep, I jumped into some clothes, grabbed camera & binoculars & headed up on deck. It was FREEZING! But the weather was surprisingly clear and the views were STUNNING.

After a couple of hours the mist or fire smoke rolled in and views became null.

It was about 10 AM – I crawled back in bed & set the alarm for a 3 hour snooze.
After 2 hours of laying awake, I got up. I took a leisure shower, watched a movie while I dried my hair, and fiddled with my stuff.; Dinner was “Formal” so I took my time getting dressed. My plan was “open seating” as opposed to “fixed seating” and the front office told me reservations were not necessary. However, when I got to the dining room at 6:00 PM, I was given a pager and told it would be a 45 minute wait.
I sat on a divan behind the hosts’ station and watched all the cruisers in their finery. Some folks were in little more than ‘smart casual,’ while others were truly in their finest. I love the look of the gentlemen in their black tie formal wear. I hope some day before I die I will have a date with a man in a tuxedo.
As I sat there, I saw Kellanne and Dick – Kellanne asked me something that I didn’t quite understand until I played it back in my mind. It was a compliment, but in the fashion of “did you get sprayed with a fire hose, or what? You look great.” … I saw Donald, the acquaintance from the train, as well as Janet and William from GA. Next to me on the divan was a family of 4 that switched off between them for the seat.
The restaurant was sorely ill-equipped for the open seating patrons. The host was yelled at, threatened & the diners grew indignant. I sat - & waited - & waited. (I was wearing a great blue and green dress with a halter-style top, so I sat erect, like a board was in my back.) Over two hours passed. Every single patron – reservations & not – had been seated.
I’m not sure how, but finally the host saw me, although I had been in the same seat less than 10 feet from his podium. “I tried to call you!” he said, referring to the beeper. “Just find me somewhere to get something to eat” I told him, hungry and irritable, and surprised at how close I felt to tears.
I had shrimp cocktail and Alaskan King Crab legs, cappucino and baked Alaska for desert. Quite frankly, I don’t even know if it was any good.
When I returned to my cabin, there was some literature about tomorrow’s activities, including a map of Glacier Bay National Park, a letter from the guest relations manager about the gastro-intestinal illness some had reported, and the ship’s measures to combat it. There was also a note from the guest relations manager as “how are we doing?” Y’ gotta know, I put pen to paper and let her have it. I placed it in an envelope with her name on it and and delivered it to the front desk.
I watched some stupid TV for a bit until I put out the lights and went to sleep.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Michelle's Excellent Vacation Day 6

Eight hours’ sleep felt good. I dressed & re-arranged my luggage in preparation for the train to Seward & the cruise ship. I had a couple of hours before the courtesy van to the rail. I walked over to the Ulu Factory, shopped & bought a few souveneirs – including an Ulu. The sun was warm, the skies clear & I strolled over to Ship Creek to watch the folks fishing.

The courtesy van pulled up & the driver didn’t agree that I could take the train to Seward – seems he heard all the recent rains caused a landslide that blocked the tracks. “Well let’s just get to the depot and we’ll see” I said with a pseudo-air of confidence.
The depot doors were open, but there wasn’t a soul in sight. I wheeled my suitcase across the concourse following the arrows upstairs that said, “TO TRAINS” At the far end of the room, at one of a dozen tables, sat two women with piles of papers spread about. “Can I help you?” she called out. “Well, I hope so – “ I said, & gave my story from the courtesy van driver’s point of view. The tracks had been cleared, the rail would run. I was in the right place.
Gradually, other folks began filtering in. I struck up a conversation with a couple who had just returned from a remote fishing camp in western AK. Dennis grew up in that area and brought his wife, Sandra to see it. We boarded the train & instead of customary lounger-style chairs, this train had booths with tables. My assigned seat was across from a couple from GA – Janet & William. Just as I was thinking I’d have some room to move about, our car filled up and an elderly gentleman sat next to me. His name was Donald.

The train served food, but nothing appealed to me… I opted for Alaskan amber beer. We traveled through some pretty country – especially Turnagain Arm – which got its name when Cook went looking for the NW passage & became frustrated at having to turn around, or, “turn again” They tell of tides coming in so quickly & silt beds being like quick sand … dangerous stuff.


Eventually we pulled in to port, boarded the ship & located my stateroom - #500 – forward port. The captain announced a mandatory life jacket/ life boat drill – of course I participated, although that stuff bores me & I find it silly. Embarkation was without fanfare, contrary to what I had heard about throwing out the lines, etc

Not knowing any better, I found the Lido Restaurant just mere minutes before closing. Since I hadn’t eaten in 24 hours, I had a plate of less-than-exciting pasta. I found the self-serve laundry, got change at the front office & laundered my clothes form Denali. I finally unwound, and turned in well past midnight.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Michelle's Excellent Alaskan Vacation Day 5

August 1, 2009

This morning’s wake up call was in the form of a quick knock on the door at 5:15 AM. We were asked to respond & have our baggage outside the cabin door by 5:00 AM. I was so cold that I shivered & huddled as I stumbled into my clothes.
I was in the breakfast hall by 5:45 AM & had scrambled eggs & a piece of wheat toast. I barely had three bites when the announcement came to load the bus for the return trip out.
Mark was our driver & he was very good. Wiley had chatted with him & learned he was a math teacher & drama coach when he wasn’t doing Denali Backcountry tours. Because it was very early in the morning, we saw lots of caribou – herds of caribou. Since most of us had other connections to make, we didn’t stop for photo ops.

We made it back to Denali Rail Depot in 5 hours compared to the 7 ½ hours it took on the way in. We exchanged contact information with invitations to visit, etc. Pam & Wiley in WA & Tucson, Sue & Joe in CT. They were not taking the train – they had private cars – so we said goodbye at the depot. Bill kept to himself & didn’t exchange contact info, & quietly slipped away at the depot. I enjoyed a strong embrace with Sue & Joe – Great, Great folks that I would like very much to see again.
Marian & Al were taking the train to Anchorage, as was Glad-Anne. We sort of worked off of each other trying to figure out what the system was. We checked in & were pleased to know that we were in the same rail car with seats very near each other. We boarded the Holland America Gold Star & were found it to be a top-of-the-line, first class dome car. Marian & Al were two seats in front of me, & Glad-Anne was one seat behind. This was a first class ride.

Shortly after we were underway, I had a shot of Dewars (neat) which put me into a light yet enjoyable nap. The four of us dined together in the dining car – Marian & Al having prime rib, Glad & I ordering salmon.
I was feeling grumpy – even before dinner – probably due to sleep deprivation, which was exacerbated by the too-cold A/C, the geriatric tour guide who was barely audible at best & especially two, 2-4 year old toe-headed girls who couldn’t stop their high-pitched, incessant vocals for one minute.
Glad-Anne was one of those personalities that seemed to create for herself a very negative existence – everything was a “situation” – a hurdle, an issue. I practiced patience & offered suggestions of how she could cast a brighter picture. She didn’t know how she’d do on the train, she gets motion sickness, etc. She needed to use the bathroom but can’t walk when the train is moving; she would surely spill her glass of wine; and so on. She attempted conversation but backed off when my responses didn’t include inquiries that continued to engage.
We pulled into the depot in Anchorage. Apparently, the depot is under construction – I’m not sure what the situation was, as we weren’t at the actual depot, but just before it. All the cruise line motorcoaches were lined up; the rail porters unloaded the luggage & it looked like a swarm as passengers scurried to claim their bags.
The bags were being unloaded in two locations about 40 feet apart – hneither location showed signs of my luggage. This was one time I was glad to have silver luggage instead of the ever-so-common black. Marian & Al were just as aggressive as I in trying to locate our bags. As the train hatches were closed, we questioned several porters only to be told our luggage was going to our hotel. “No! It’s not!” Marian retorted. “We are not with the cruise! We are independent!” Oh, in that case, we were told – your bags are at the big white building about 50 yards up. Marian & I nearly galloped to the “big white building” wanting to claim our bags before trains & buses pulled away. Al, a 6’4” probably 250 lb man in his 60’s lumbered behind. The “big white building” was the actual rail depot, & sure enough – there was our luggage.
My hotel was in sight, even from the train, & it was an easy walk across the street & down a block. I checked in to the Comfort Inn & discarded the boots and socks and long sleeved shirt I’d worn all day. I washed & brushed and checked a local map for nearby points of interest. It was already 9:30 at night, although the sun was just as bright as ever.
At the front desk I signed up for the shuttle to the airport where I would (once again!) hop a train that will take me to the pier in Seward. I then asked the desk clerk if there was somewhere I could walk to & get a cocktail. She pulled out an Anchorage activities map & circled the Comfort Inn and drew a line down a street circling a local brewery. “They have their own microbrewery” she said. I was told to be sure to sample Alaskan beer, as its said to be outstanding. I’m not a big beer drinker, & after my 7 hour train ride of constant irritants, I wanted a martini.
I walked out of the Inn, past the Ulu Factory & window shopped, making a note of the store’s hours to be sure to visit tomorrow. I strolled along the river & watched local fishermen. I assumed their catch was salmon. I headed in the direction of the microbrewery the desk clerk recommended, but spotted the familiar logo of the Hilton Hotel.
I entered the lobby, strolled into the lounge and took a seat at the bar. A couple sitting next to me was talking about their day up in Barrow. I was interested in what the ‘far north” was like, and they were a lively couple – her name was Kellanne, his was Dick, and we chatted about Barrow, Alaska in general and martinis.
I walked back to the Comfort Inn in the Alaska midnight twilight.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Choices we make

I am enjoying compiling my journal notes and photos from my excellent alaskan vacation; I hope you are enjoying it as well.
I wanted to take a few moments in the now. Over the course of the past month, I have a new boss with a completely different management style - so far it's been positive for me. Gracie turned a year old and is not so much of a baby anymore. The days of "accidents" are over. My younger daughter has returned to Tampa for fall semester, and it's nice to have my house back. I ran into a former co-worker today and I think he was surprised at my response when he asked how things were going for me. I sort of surprised myself, because I very honestly and without hesitation said that things were very good. Things are very good.
There are times when we know things in our head, but not in our heart. We can know them in our heart but not know it to be. Such it was with me about the choices we make. Life is all about the choices we make. It is a plain and simple exercise of our free will. Somehow it took the exercise of my free will, my choice to take the vacation I'd always dreamed of, to not only know it in my head and in my heart, but to know it to be. I was watching "Dr. G Medical Examiner" and an autopsy showed a man died from an infection in his jaw that went untreated. In the end she said, "It's all about the choices we make. If you choose now not to go to a doctor for a sore throat, then I'll see you later" (or something equally profound).
I happened on the below excerpt in a book I'm reading, "Children of the Law of One"

Every moment we come upon another
Fork in the Road
Every moment we choose
Our Way Our Destiny
Every Action creates Reactions
Choosing not to act, is an action with a reaction
No Choice Have You
But to Choose
Choose you WILL
Where you are
Where you have been
Where You will be
Is affected by Your Choice
Our Consciousness is the result
of our own Choosing
Where you are is
Where you have come
Where you WILL go
Is decided by how you are
With Free WILL we choose our Destiny
We were destined to Choose
The destiny we have Freely Chosen

Monday, August 31, 2009

Michelle's Excellent Alaskan Vacation Day 4

July 31, 2009

I leave Denali Backcountry Lodge tomorrow AM. It’s been a tremendous experience. After lunch yesterday, I put a fire in the gazebo & sat reading & writing. Joe & Susan sat out in the sun along the creek. Bill returned form the Fannie Quigley hike & joined me in the gazebo. We talked quite awhile – or should I say HE talked. When the time came to move on, he said, “ I hope I didn’t talk your ear off..” I still have both.
Since I had a sedentary afternoon, I wasn’t real hungry come dinnertime, but I went to the dining room anyway. I had a glass of wine and hors d’ouvres upstairs and chatted with Pam & Wiley from WA. When dinnertime came I sat with the couple I’d met at the train station who are recently retired, form Ann Arbor MI – never did get their names. Dinner was shrimp & scallops, but I wasn’t very hungry – ate politely, & excused myself before dessert.
I took a walk out to the end of the road (literally) & back around Fannie Quigley’s. It was a path I knew and I’d forgotten to sign out at the desk as they ask us to do when venturing out without a camp guide. I wanted to go back out into/onto the tundra. I thrill at the wide open expanse, the spongy floor the abundant berries, & especially the intoxicating fragrance of labrador tea.
I strolled back toward camp, but detoured up a path toward the ridge where remnants of Fannie’s garden remained. It was a steep incline, the path was rugged, & I found my heart rate racing. I stood on a bluff & could see for miles. I breathed in deeply the fresh, clear air and listened to nothingness. “I’m on the top of the world, looking down on creation” I thought to myself.

I returned to camp and went to the building they call the cultural center. There I popped in a video about Denali: the taiga, the tundra & the arctic. As the video ended, other guest filed into the room for a scheduled video presentation. I put my boots back on, straightened up my chair and quietly departed. I went to the library and borrowed a couple of books on wildflowers & one on berries of Alaska, returned to my cabin & read until I could no longer keep my eyes open.
This morning, - Friday – started with a 9:00 AM guided hike along an old mining road, along Moose Creek & into the valley where intricate beaver dams & lodges had been erected. Shannon was our guide, a tiny, soft-spoken twenty-something girl from Homer, AK. The group was Pam & Wiley, Joe & Susan, Bill, myself and a newcomer, Martine, from Paris, France. We hiked an elevation of about 2,000 feet & probably three miles

We found a pair of cast-off moose antlers & had fun with them before returning back to camp, just in time for lunch. The skies began to cloud over, the air cooled, the humidity rose and the threat of rain was imminent.

A gold panning demonstration was beginning & I watched as guests tried their hand. I walked back to the main lodge, got a fresh cup of coffee, went upstairs and picked up a book on the history of the Alaskan RR. I eased into a rocker on the upstairs porch & was quickly engaged in conversation with a man & woman who were “day visitors’ - had come in on a bus from the park entrance, they were from Vero Beach, FL. I had only begun reading about the start of the railroad & how the government restricted private ownership of the coal being mined, forcing bankruptcy with only 70 miles completed. Joe came out on the porch & joined me & it was pretty good timing as he is a bankruptcy attorney & he answered some of my questions that rose about government intervention in private enterprise. We talked awhile until it began to drizzle – I mentioned that I thought I would stir up a fire in the gazebo if he & Susan were up to joining me. I returned to my cabin to grab this journal intending to write by the fire, as well as get my thermos to fill with hot apple cider. When I got to the gazebo, Joe was already building the fire, Susan came along shortly and we talked about two books they had that their older son had authored. The books were on Shin Buddhism.
Another couple joined us- Al & Marian – recently retired educators from CA. We conversed, stoked the fire, read a bit until it was “happy hour”. We bought beer & wine & enjoyed it in the gazebo next to the alder wood fire, as the rain fell steadily.


Wiley, Pam, Moi, Bill, Joe & Sue

After dinner, we returned to the gazebo, & built a very substantial fire. Bill, Joe & I chipped in on a bottle of Reisling. We took an old tinder bucket to use to chill the wine. It had a hole in the bottom apparently from an ember. Joe chewed a piece of gum and plugged the hole, then we dipped it into the creek & 40-50 degree water served to chill the wine perfectly. Al & Marian joined us, Bill talked & talked, thrilled to have a fresh audience. Wake up call is 5 AM, so, at 10:30 PM we wrapped it up. Tomorrow is the long ride back out.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Michelle's Excellent Alaskan Vacation Day 3

July 30, 2009

My bed was very clean and comfortable (I was also very, very tired!) The air was cool – almost too cool,- as at one point I shut the window above the bed. I enjoyed the sound of Moose Creek tripping over the rocks & stones, and the smell of alder wood fire from the gazebo. The sky never did darken, just remained that dusky haze.
Morning started with a breakfast of hot oatmeal with raisins & brown sugar. Other choices included French toast, sausage, cold cereals & toast, bagels & pastries.

At 9:00 A, I joined others in a casual hike with our naturalist guide, Erick. We headed along the botanical trail, being introduced to local flora & fauna. One plant, labrador tea, was a pleasantly pungent sage aroma. We stopped at some structures erected to measure snowfall – 4 feet is not unusual. We were introduced to Widow’s tea (Monks’ hood) – named so I suppose due to its toxicity & legend of sourdough women serving it to their abusive spouses. I said earlier that Labrador tea had a sage fragrance – I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate – it’s a distinct, lovely fragrance & our guide indicated that’s the fragrance of the tundra. I wish there was a way to record that wonderful feeling it provides the senses.

I witnessed “lichen” (spelling mine, pronounced ‘liken’) and heard about “Freddie Fungus and Annie Algae” who took a liken (lichen) to each other, and now their marriage is on the rocks… must be a biologists’ inside joke. Horsetail grass which has a course texture (can be used as a scouring pad). Balsam & poplar trees – of course Alder wood, which is prolific. Bluebell/Oyster leaf which tastes like green beans to most, has a fish, “oyster” taste to some; Siberian yarrow which looks to me like Queen Anne’s Lace (only smaller – has a medicinal quality).
We visited Fannie Quigley’s cabin & heard of rugged survivalism & how she cooked & sold meals to the prospectors, how she managed to develop a gardening system by which boxes were elevated so as to achieve a soil depth above the frozen tundra floor. (perma frost).
We checked out a stretch of Moose Creek which housed a huge beaver lodge … or at least did earlier – seems the beaver ran out of a viable food source & abandoned his lodge. The lodge and dam stretched beyond the eye’s visibility.

We then headed out into the tundra. The ground covering under our feet was spongy moss. Imagine walking on a giant inclining sponge Erick pointed out blueberries & the difference between them & similar looking “crow berries”.

He challenged us to identify a plant known to eat mosquitos – calling it a round-leaf sun-dew. One member of our party correctly spotted & identified it, and so was rewarded with home-made chocolate chip cookies which she shared with the group. Erick then pointed out “cloud berries” (also known as salmon berries, for their color) which flourished along the floor. We sampled them with enthusiasm.

Walking back, he pointed out signs of visiting moose; prints along the trail which he thought to be relatively fresh. He pointed out a pile of moose skat, which he said was “winter skat” Of course I wanted to know what made it “winter’. As opposed to any other skat. In summer, moose diet is wetter – lots of foliage, so their skat looks more like a cow paddy. But in wither, when the snow covers the ground, their diet consists of sticks & bark. I now know more than I’ll ever need to know about moose skat .
We returned to camp just minutes before lunch, which was a great buffet of two delicious soups ( I had cream of seafood soup that was FULL of salmon!); ample breads, meats & cheeses for sandwiches; several fresh salads, chips, desserts and assorted beverages. A most fulfilling morning.