Monday, August 31, 2015

Privileges of Seniority

After a day filled with powerpoint presentations and a lot of butt time, I had one last meeting before I could actually go to my classroom at 3:40. This one was with my fellow sixth grade team leaders, and I welcomed the chance to organize my thoughts before leading the first team meeting of the year tomorrow morning. We went through a quick list of things to talk about and things to delegate, and the familiarity of the task warmed me in the air conditioned chill of the library. It wasn't long before the three of us felt prepared, and as the meeting broke up, the other two teachers expressed some gratitude to me. "Your memory is amazing," said one. "Thank goodness someone knows the details."

Although I appreciated their comments, I shrugged. "I've been doing this a long time."

"Me, too," said one of the others, and I knew she meant her 20 years of teaching.

I nodded. "But I've been doing this for a long time," I said, making a circular gesture with one upraised finger. "It's not that hard to remember!"

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Big One

The news today that Mt. McKinley will once again be officially called "Denali" was particularly timely, given our recent visit. On the heels of finishing Into the Wild, I am currently reading Denali's Howl about the history of mountaineering on the peak, particularly the ill-fated 1967 expedition.

In the early chapters of his book, Andy Hall, whose father was park superintendent from 1967 to 1970, makes the point that the native Athabaskan people never had any interest in climbing to the top of the mountain and thought it foolish when the first white men attempted the feat. For them, the mountain was primarily a landmark, called variously, 'the great one', 'the high one', and 'the tall mountain'. With nothing material to gain, such an endeavor would present an unacceptable risk in the already harsh conditions in which they lived.

What a sensible attitude! Dibs to them on naming the mountain.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

No Second Chances

When we were in Alaska, our travels took us within ten miles or so of Christopher McCandless's "magic bus" made famous by the book Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. Being so close to where McCandless died provided a whole new frame of reference on the story of young man who cut ties with his family and lived a vagabond life in the western U.S. before heading into the Alaskan wilderness on his own in April 1992.

When we returned home, I read Krakauer's book, and I also looked at many of Chris's photographs, letters, and journal entries that the McCandless family published in the 2010 book, Back to the Wild. This morning, we watched a documentary about McCandless and his family, and tonight we watched Sean Penn's 2008 film based on the Krakauer book.

A little wilded out by the end of the movie, I was reminded of an old joke. Two guys are at the movies when one leans over to the other and whispers,"I'll bet you five bucks the cowboys get ambushed when they leave camp."

"You're on!" His friend replies. Not two minutes later, the cowboys are attacked, just as the first guy predicted. 

When the movie is over, the second guy hands his friend a five dollar bill. "I have a confession," the first guy says. "I saw the movie before. I knew they were going to be ambushed."

"So did I," says his friend. "I just didn't think they would fall for it twice!"

That's how I felt about Chris McCandless every time I was confronted with his demise-- not that he was arrogant or stupid, I just wanted him to have the chance to learn from his mistakes.

Friday, August 28, 2015

New Reality

It wasn't that long ago that we were gently requested to leave electronics powered off at meetings and presentations. Then it seemed only courteous to give your full attention to the business at hand. Those days are long gone, though. Now silencing your device is the only thing you may be asked to do. A quick look around any meeting and you will see laptops open and a phone in every hand plus a few tablets to boot. Far from being offended, many presenters have embraced the connectivity, and we are encouraged to tweet and live chat questions and observations as the session unfolds. Oh, I have no doubt that such communications offer a way to keep people focused and engaged, and also give them a chance to interact with, and construct meaning from, the material on the agenda--

at least between emails and Words with Friends.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Get Set

"It's amazing how it almost feels as if we never left," a colleague noted to me as we worked to ready my classroom this afternoon.

It was our first day back from summer break, and I knew what she meant: placing the desks, hooking up the electronics, and organizing my bookshelves, pencils, markers, and highlighters didn't feel new in the least; it was rather like getting back to some familiar, important business.


Let's do this!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Glimmer of the End of the Tunnel

Twenty-two years ago, right around this time of year, my mom and I made a trip down to Ikea to buy a few things to furnish and decorate my very first classroom. Since then, I've only switched rooms once, right after that very first year, and so tomorrow marks the beginning of my 22nd year in Room 275.

Heidi has not had the same experience as I; in her almost equal years at the school, she is on her 5th classroom. So, this afternoon she and I headed down to Ikea to pick up a few things to make her newest space a little homier for her and her students. It's been years since our last visit, so we agreed to browse the whole shebang, starting with the showrooms and moving on down to all that fun stuff in the Marketplace.

One of the first items we saw in the home office section was a set of wooden magazine cases. They were both pleasing-- so smooth, so simple-- and reasonably priced, and I lingered over them for more than a moment. "Go ahead!" Heidi encouraged me, "Get 'em!"

But I declined: you see, I still have the colorful cardboard versions of them that I bought so long ago, and I think I can make them last those few more years they must.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Out of the Gate

This morning was the first meeting of the year for me; at 8:45 I took my place at a group of round tables hastily pushed into an un-nameable shape and quietly waited for the folder that would mark the official beginning of the SY 15-16. 

This was my 17th team leaders meeting, and as they go? It wasn't too bad. We talked mainly about big ideas: leadership, morale, motivation, collaboration, vision, and mission. There was pizza and salad for lunch. I spoke up a few times, and my contributions were noted. On my way out of the building the principal promised to get me the info I needed to register for a training I volunteered for. 

"Oh, I already did that," I told her.

She seemed impressed. "Well! Look at you-- registering, and coming up with slogans, and adding to the statements!"

"I know, right?" I answered. "I'm going home to take a nap!"

Monday, August 24, 2015


Four years separate the girls in age: Ally is 15, and Laney just turned 11. She's hardly the typical younger sister though. Instead of wanting to participate in everything the older kids do, Laney seems committed to being a kid as long as possible. She loves the childrens menu, for example, and refuses to even look at anything else. Her wardrobe is still pink and sparkly, and her first choice for movie night is always G-rated and always animated. Sure, she texts and snapchats, but that kind of stuff starts with kids much younger than she is now.

She also hates it when people cuss, which she calls "potty-mouth", and that's an area where I had to give her some gentle ribbing.

"What kind of cussing do the kids at your school do?" I asked. "Like what do they say?"

Her eyes widened. Here was a girl who won't even say, "crap."

"Oh c'mon," I continued. "I'm a teacher. I'm just curious about what middle schoolers in New Jersey do."

"Well," she took a deep breath. "There is this certain group of girls we call 'R's..." She looked at me meaningfully.

I frowned. "R? R for what?" I couldn't imagine what she meant.

"You know," she said, "R-A..." she trailed off again.

I thought long and hard. "No idea what you're trying to tell me," I finally shook my head.

She sighed, exasperated, and a little convinced that I was trying to trick her into spelling something inappropriate. "Fine! R-A-T-C-H-E-T!" She blushed.

"Did you just spell 'ratchet'?" I asked.

She nodded.

"What does that even mean?"

"It's ghetto," she told me.

"For what?"

She shrugged. "Mean people, I think. We just call them the Rats," she continued.

"Ah. That seems much better," I agreed.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Blame Game

We went out for burgers before getting on the road this evening to take the girls back to their folks. They're pretty good eaters-- both have big appetites, and although either girl will try anything that I cook, the older sister is much more adventurous when it comes to dining out. So burgers it was: Laney ordered a cheeseburger from the kids menu, and Ally ordered something huge with a fried egg and onion rings on top, and their plates were nearly clean when I paid the check and we headed north.

Traffic on I-95 is always dicey, and even on a Sunday evening I was on the brakes hard a couple of times. There were a few bumps and lane changes as well, and it wasn't long before Ally was complaining that my driving was making her sick.

"Sorry," I said. "I'll try to drive more gently, because I'm sure that's what the problem is, especially since it couldn't possibly be those 1500 calories you scarfed down at dinner."

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Last Frontier

We've been back from vacation since Tuesday, but my mind and my heart aren't quite home yet. Things that are usually a little aggravating about where we live, like crowds and traffic, are enormously so now, and things I generally share with my fellow inside-the-Beltway-ites, like a preoccupation with Congress, the economy, and all matter of international troubles, seem crushing in their mundane negativity.

Just today I looked at the clock and thought, Well, it's Saturday-- the tour will be in Talkeetna right about now, waiting for the train to Denali. How gold is the aspen and birch? How cottony is the fireweed? Is it clear enough to see the mountain?

Oh, it's just vacation envy; I harbor no illusions about actually living in Alaska. How can I be so sure? Well Alaska is enjoying some measure of celebrity in popular culture these days. In addition to many, many Facebook pages dedicated to the 49th state, there are lots of blogs, and tons of TV reality shows. So this morning when I was feeling a little wistful, I tuned into to Edge of Alaska, a Discovery Channel production about a little town on the Wrangell Range and its hardy denizens.

The one episode I saw featured a man in his 70s using his ATV to right his outhouse after a black bear knocked it over (In the winter I don't mind pooping on a paper plate and throwing it into the fire, he said, but summer's different.), a family attempting to plow a garden with their sled dogs, a couple of guys unsuccessfully flying into the bush and hiking six miles to get to the mouth of an abandoned mine, and a woman kayaking 10 miles down a rapid river to stake a claim for gold.

I'm just not sure that's for me.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Sister Time

The girls were bickering on the way home from the pool this afternoon about who would get the first shower and how long it would be. Ally has dermatitis and the chlorine drying on her skin makes it itchy and dry, but Laney didn't want to sit around in her wet bathing suit while her sister took the long, hot shower she wanted.

We suggested several possible solutions: rinse off and shower later, change out your suit into something dry while you wait, etc. but neither girl was happy with any of them. "Fine!" Ally finally said. "You can take your shower first!"

"You have to at least wash your face before!" her sister replied in a loud and testy voice as we crossed the parking lot toward home. The absurdity of the conversation made me laugh out loud.

Just across the way, a couple was carrying their infant daughter to the car. They chuckled at the argument, too. "Is this what we have to look forward to?" the young woman smiled.

"Not if you have a boy next!" Heidi told her.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Here it Comes

The God-daughters are here, and at ages 15 and 11? In just a few short hours they are helping to ease the transition back to school. All their concerns and interests are directly relevant to those of most of the kids we'll meet in less than three weeks. Peer issues, transition anxiety, music, and apps, I'm pretty sure everything we discussed on the 2 hour drive home will come in handy quite soon.

I thought I wasn't ready to go back, but I really must thank the girls for reminding me that I am. 

I really am. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

That's a Thing?

I felt lucky not to experience any sea sicknesses whatsoever aboard the cruise ship we spent 7 nights on last week. Sure, I felt the motion of the ship, but it seemed like a relatively calm passage. A day and a half into our journey, we disembarked at the first port of call, Icy Strait Point. It would be the worst weather of the trip, rainy and in the low 50s. We were only there for a few hours, and most of what there was to see was built on the pier where the tenders dropped us. As we made our way through the cannery-turned-museum-and-gift shops, I felt the floor swaying. This place must be a floating pier, I assumed, although it didn't really look like it.

In Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan, I felt a bit of dizziness, but soon I was on a cable car, train, and tour bus, respectively. I mentioned the feeling of vertigo in passing to my traveling companions, but it was mild and we let it drop. Last night? Heidi was complaining of bed spins, and I was still reeling. Google to the rescue: we seem to have mal de debarquement, also known as "land sickness," although thankfully ours seem to be mild cases.

According to Web MD:

Mal de debarquement syndrome (MdDS) is a rare and little understood disorder of the body's balance system (vestibular system) and refers to the rocking sensation and/or sense of imbalance that persists for an excessive length of time after an ocean cruise, plane flight or other motion experience. Most people after exposure to an ocean trip or long airplane ride will experience "motion" after the event is over and for a short period of time, with two days being the upper limit of normal. But for persons with MdDS, these sensations may last for 1 month or a year or even many years. Symptoms may diminish in time or periodically disappear and reappear after days, months, or years, sometimes after another motion experience or sometimes spontaneously. This syndrome is probably more common than the literature might lead us to believe, as the level of awareness in the general population as well as among health personnel is very low.

The disproportionate length of time over which the discomfort persists is normally unaccompanied by nausea, nor is it responsive to motion-sickness drugs.

For reasons that are not understood, middle aged women are overwhelmingly more likely to come down with MdDS than are men. However, most studies so far have disavowed hormones as a cause.

Coincidentally, Heidi ran into one of our neighbors this afternoon and as they discussed our trip the topic of this pesky rocking sensation came up, too. "Oh, you have mal de debarquement!" our neighbor, who is also a middle-aged woman, exclaimed. "Mine lasted 12 days-- I staggered around work for two whole weeks!"

Ours seem to be a mild cases and I have confidence they will be gone soon. If not? I guess it's just kind of a neurological souvenir of our great vacation. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


Yes, that was us last evening standing in the busy Vancouver Sea Bus terminal trying to figure out how to use the fare machines. Perhaps our confusion was further compounded by the unfamiliar currency; certainly I've seen tableaus like ours many times in our public transit stations. There we were, a five CAD bill in hand when a gaunt woman with filthy teeth, lank grayish-brown hair, and wild blue eyes approached us with a handful of coins. Adding to our confusion, she offered to trade us her money for ours. There was a moment of wondering whether that would make it easier to use the machine, and then it all went downhill so fast. She took the five and before she handed over the change she dropped some pennies on the ground. Everyone's attention was diverted-- "Get that one!" she pointed and then turned on her heel and took off for the door without ever handing over the coins. I felt foolish and angry, but I also felt pity-- all that trouble for what amounted to three US dollars and 85 cents? She obviously needs it more than we do.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Sorry Vancouver

Sure, you have ocean and mountains. You have several cute neighborhoods, an Olympic stadium, lots of coffee shops, breweries, markets, sea buses, and an awesome public park with gardens, beaches, and totem poles. After a week at sea, I also very much appreciate your city water and flushing toilets. You seem to be a really nice city, but you're just not... Alaska. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Dolphin Never Forgets

As our ship cruised through the narrows of Queen Charlotte Strait on the last leg of our journey, the 6 o'clock evening sun blazed full on the water behind us. Squinting off our balcony into the nearly blinding copper light I thought I saw sleek figures leaping and surfing our wake. Sure enough, at least a dozen dolphins were having a little fun cutting across the current our cruiser created.

For many years, we took our sixth graders to Lewes, Delaware for the end of the year trip. There we would spend the morning on the beach and take a dolphin-watching cruise on the bay in the afternoon. It was a great trip, especially because we were the Dolphin Team, and in general, we saw quite a few dolphins, although some years were better than others. Unfortunately, the year my nephew, Treat, was in my class, it was cool and rainy on the beach, and we may have spotted three Dolphins all told.

A few summers later we went kayaking in Maine, and Treat and I shared a tandem. Not five minutes in, we were surrounded by harbor porpoises. They swam alongside of us silently gliding in and out of eastern Bay. 

"Wow!" Treat said simply. 

"I know!" I answered. 

"I just saw more Dolphins in 5 minutes than I did on that whole sixth grade field trip!"

Saturday, August 15, 2015


We spent a little time shopping in Ketchikan before our tour to Saxman Village this afternoon. After two days in Anchorage, and stops in Denali, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, and Skagway, all the shops have started running together.  

"I can't look at another tshirt or sweatshirt," I told Heidi, "I just can't!" But of course I did. In each port the trick became to find the store that was different. 

One such place we saw today was a confectioners with all sorts of sweets made on the premises. It was called "Ketchi-candy" which I found kind of  ketchi, har har har. Right outside three little girls were fussing at their mom.

"How can you take a kid into a candy store and not buy anything?" one demanded. I looked at their mother; unfazed, she winked at me, and the two of us laughed. 

"You are just mean!" another of the girls pronounced, and then she flounced her hair over her shoulder and stalked away toward their, ahem, cruise ship. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Exciting and New

The first thing I do every morning on this cruise is step out onto the balcony to see what amazement lies beyond the railing. We made port in Skagway before I woke up today, so this morning I was greeted by the green waters of Taiya Inlet surrounded by incredible mountains. 

A seal poked its head up across the way, where another cruise ship was docked. The deep water port of Skagway makes it a popular stop on the Alaskan cruise circuit, and this restored gold stampede town of 750 was about to expand by a factor of 10 as the tourist stampede in the form of four ocean liners arrived for the day. 

Truth be told, we've seen quite a few other cruisers on this trip, but I did a double take when I saw the name of the ship off my deck this morning. Pacific Princess... Why wasn't that? Surely it couldn't be? The Love Boat! It didn't look quite as I remembered it, but it's been 20 years or more since I saw an episode. 

Luckily, there was good phone service there in Skagway, so a quick internet search turned up the sad fact that the original Pacific Princess had gone to a scrap yard in Turkey last year. This imposter was nothing more than her replacement. I sighed in disappointment. 

Fortunately, there was still Skagway and a trip up to the Yukon on the White Pass Railway to look forward to.

Come aboard, we're expecting you!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

So Lucky

This is one of the rainiest places on earth, but we have sailed under blue skies and puffy white clouds today, warm sun on our faces and cool breezes on our backs. After a whirlwind visit to Juneau this morning, they had a barbecue on the the outdoor deck for lunch, and so as the crew prepared the ship for departure we found ourselves lounging poolside, looking for bald eagles on Mt. Rogers, and watching the sea planes swoop over us to land on the Gastineau Channel.

A little while later, we spent over an hour hanging out on our balcony watching whales spout off in the distance and catching our breath at the dramatic glacier-carved scenery as we cruised the Tracey Arm on our way to view the Sawyer Glacier. Exquisite aquamarine ice bergs floated beneath 7,000 foot mountains laced with narrow waterfalls that plunged steeply into the narrow fjord on either side of us. Surrounded by wilderness as far as we could see, it was impossibly beautiful-- one of those rare moments in life when there's no doubt just how lucky you are. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Don't Call Me Ishmael

Curious how some of the most terrible dangers of the sea from past centuries have become today's tourist attractions. Yesterday we sailed through scores of ice bergs (small ones to be sure, but genuine ice bergs never the less) to reach a glacier, and this afternoon our cruise director (not Julie, but Richard) gleefully announced that we would soon enter "whale water." 


Tuesday, August 11, 2015


"A cruise?" many people remarked quizzically when I told them about my vacation plans. "That doesn't seem like you." I often nodded in agreement as they usually continued, "But Alaska? I'm sure that's different."

Is it? I wouldn't know, but I will say this about cruising so far. I have never been around another group of people so dedicated to me having a good time as the crew of this ship. This afternoon when we made our stop near Hubbard Glacier in a steady drizzle, we pulled on foul weather gear and headed to the upper decks for a panoramic view of the 350 foot blue ice cliffs. When we were cold and wet enough, we decided to go a few decks lower where it was covered to continue watching the massive ice chunks calving from the glacier iand thundering into Disenchantment Bay. The shortest route took us through one of the fine dining restaurants. In we banged with the icy wind and dripped our way across the bar to the exit where a waiter met us. "I hope it wasn't too cold out there," he said as he held the door for us.

Monday, August 10, 2015


So I'm relaxing with my feet up on the private deck off our aft cabin surrounded by mountains and setting sail for the Hubbard Glacier. Our day started 450 miles north of here in Denali. It was pouring rain when we got up at 5:30 this morning to finish packing and get on our bus by 7. "It's snowing in the park," the guy at the general store told us as we paid for our coffee. His words reminded me that the day before on our tour of the park our naturalist guide had told us that fall begins next week in this part of Alaska. We had laughed, but he wasn't joking. In two weeks, all the leaves in the area will have changed. I looked out the bus window as we rolled south through the rain. Sure enough, the tops of the mountains were dusted with new snow and there was a little more gold in the green on the side of the road. Fortunately the weather cleared as we neared Anchorage and it stayed fair on our trip down the Seward Highway so that our view of green velvet mountains studded with hanging glaciers, icy blueTurnagain Arm, and the boreal rainforest of the Kenai peninsula was unobstructed.

And now this.


Sunday, August 9, 2015


1. It's a fun state because it seems to be run entirely by people 18-27. They lend a laid back, anything goes, anything is possible vibe to everything.

2. There are a few older folks, but they are mostly docents and bus drivers. I think the young people encourage them to take those jobs because then those older people get most of their talking out on tourists. Don't get me wrong-- the guides I've met really know their material; it's just that they have a lot to say and they also do quite a bit of editorializing. I guess Alaska is such a big state that it just fosters expansiveness.

3. They run the tourist season here like a bit of a libertarian nanny state. We've been constantly reminded of our personal accountability where ever we go, but it's pretty clear they don't trust us. For example, our bus driver on the park tour today threatened to leave us at every rest stop if we were late getting back, but he stopped the bus in the wilderness to explain in great detail how we had to dispose of our trash and recycling. I suppose a guided tour is antithesis to a culture so ingrained with self-sufficiency.

4. The people who live here will tell you their Alaska origin story without being asked. Basically, they came and they knew they had to stay. They are also pretty proud of their pioneering spirit, and why not? It really does get down to 40 below, and there are a lot of long, dark days in the winter. I hear the Northern Lights make up for it, though, as does the cleanest air on the planet and the last of the true American wilderness.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Fearless Leader

Our tour guide for the ground portion of this trip is Erin, and she is young, energetic, and very ernest. "I have never loved anything so passionately as I love Alaska," she told us this morning as our motor coach rolled north from Anchorage, and it was clear she meant it. She reminds me of former students, all grown up and going for it, and I like her for that.

In fact, being around Erin makes me see the sixth grader in many of my fellow passengers. Here we are, on a big field trip riding our bus to an exciting place. Some people want to be first; others want most of Erin's attention, still others call out funny comments when she speaks to us on the microphone. "Did anyone call seatsies?" someone actually said as we waited in line to reboard after a stop. 

Erin mentioned she's an introvert, and I believe it. Her interactions with us are friendly, but there is just a faint awkwardness underneath that I recognize all too well. She wouldn't be making conversation if it wasn't her job. She's pretty good at it, though. She listens, makes connections, and shares personal information. 

On the train to Denali, she was talking to a couple behind us, answering their question as to how she came to be an Alaskan tour guide. It was a round-about route, starting in college in North Carolina, featuring a couple of summers as a deck hand on a halibut fishing boat, and then on to six months of solo backpacking through south Asia, including Indonesia and Vietnam.

"I spent a year backpacking through Vietnam," the guy laughed. He was a big guy with white hair, probably in his early 60s.

"Really?" Erin seemed impressed.

"Yeah, but he didn't do it voluntarily," his wife added.

"Ooooooh," Erin nodded. "Well, I did like South Vietnam a lot better."

Friday, August 7, 2015

Anchored Down in Anchorage

Of course I have discovered in the last two days that Alaska is nothing like an elevator. After a few hours of sleep, we headed out into the bright Anchorage sunshine. At 9 AM it was a breezy 67 degrees that knocked the drowsy right out of us.

100 years ago the Corps of Engineers laid this city out in a perfect grid that remains unchanged today, so navigating downtown is as easy as A B C, 1 2 3. This particular grid is bounded by Cook Inlet to the west, Ship Creek to the north, and Delaney Park to the south.

The park is a lovely green space 4 blocks long and 1 block wide. It was originally left undeveloped as a fire break, but it also served as the first landing strip in town once airplanes were introduced in the 1920s.

On the far side of the park we found a well-fortified chain-link paddock and were amazed to discover a reindeer named Star within it. A little research uncovered the tale of a typically eccentric pioneer couple who, after helping to settle Anchorage, decided in 1962 that they wanted a wild animal for a pet.

The little reindeer we saw is actually Star the VI, and while number one lived a long life, II through V were not so lucky, but that's a story for another day.

Down toward Cook Inlet we visited the Oscar Anderson home. Built in 1915, the little six room wood frame building was one of the very first houses constructed in Anchorage, and is pretty much in its original condition with many of the family's furnishings. In many ways, the story of the house tells the story of the town, and we learned a lot about both in our 45 minute tour.

Everywhere we went people told us how extraordinary the weather was. "I've lived here all my life and I love it," one young woman who chatted us up on a corner while waiting for the light to change said. She swept her arm from the park across the way, its beds brimming with amazing begonias, dahlias, snapdragons, and hollyhocks to the jagged peaks of the Chugach Mountains behind us. "It's beautiful here and with days like this, why would I ever leave?"

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Going Up

It's a long way from Virginia to Alaska, and a plane-change in Portland only lengthens the trip. It was pitch dark when we landed in Anchorage last night and although my weary nose was pressed to the plexiglass, I couldn't really make out a thing. The taxi ride to the hotel was a brief blur past darkened windows on deserted streets. It was the middle of the night here, but it was early morning back home, and we were tired. Fortunately, the clerk at the front desk checked us in quickly, and we were on our way to the eighth floor when it hit me that we were really in... Alaska. 

Years ago my sister took my oldest nephew to visit my mom. At three, he had been hearing all his life that Grandma "lived in MInnesota" and he was excited about the trip. Once there, though, he seemed a little disappointed. "Minnedota looks just like a house!" he observed. 

And that's kind of how I felt last night. "Heidi," I said, "Alaska looks just like an elevator!" 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Smell My Feet

We had only just found our seats and buckled in for our 5 hour flight to Portland, Or, when a horrible stale vomit-like stench filled the air. I wrinkled my nose and looked around. "What is that?!" I demanded of Heidi. She raised her eye brows and jerked her head back. I peered through the crack between the seats and immediately spied the problem. The eight-year-old boy behind us had taken off his shoes and you could practically see a greenish gas rising up from the floor. Just then the ventilation system went full blast, so I angled my overhead air back and down, and blew that kid's stinky foot odor right back to him. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

I Want to Guard Your Life!

In general, I have a lot of respect for the kids they get to lifeguard at our pool. Many of them are visiting the US for the summer: hired by contractors, given a bed in a group home and a bike to travel to and from work, they work 5 or 6 ten-hour shifts a week, and then sightsee and practice their English on the off days.

Even so, it seems like kind of a thankless job, at our pool, anyway, involving long hours spent all alone, except when you have to enforce the pool rules on a bunch of entitled residents most of whom are considerably older than you. Even the best and brightest of them can end up surly and slumped in the corner by August.

That is not the case this year, however. Our job is split by two young women, Carmen and Anna, who were as friendly and engaged this week as they were in June. Neither of them hesitates to confront patrons about rule infractions, but both of them are as sweet and helpful as can be, especially when it comes to the kids we have brought to the pool. Carmen gave Richard some pointers when he was trying to spin a "straight up 375" off the board, and Anna was more than happy to let Annabelle have a second chance at the swim test so she could go into the deep end.

So when some thunder rumbled this afternoon when we were at the pool, I wasn't surprised to see Carmen jump right up. "If that was Thunder," she said, "and we hear it again? You have to get out."

"You're the boss!" I agreed. "And if that was thunder and we hear it again? I don't want to stay in!"

She nodded. And smiled.

Monday, August 3, 2015


For some reason, the last few days there have been a number of bees and wasps floating in the pool when we visit. Nobody likes bumping into a drowned bug, and those particular insects are scary dead or alive, so it's usually my habit to splash them into the skimmer.

If, in the ride to the side of the pool, the poor soul weakly waves an antenna or leg, either in reality or my imagination, then my action plan is different: she is lifted up and out of the pool in a wee handful of water to sputter and dry and hopefully fly away. That's the best case scenario, anyhow, although these last two days at the pool have had a high insect mortality rate.

Until tonight, that is: tonight the large wasp that I found in the deep end literally shook her head once she hit dry land. After that her actions were more like a dog than a bug. First, she wagged her back end, presumably to get rid of any excess liquid. Then she buzzed her wings to try to fly, but she must have been too heavy, so she jiggled each leg dry, and then used them to squeegee the rest of her body.

In between each motion her wings rose up and vibrated, until at last enough of the pool water was gone so that she could lift her body into the air and fly back home to her sisters.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

That Guy

We have seen the preview for Meryl Streep's latest movie, Rikki and the Flash, a kazillion times this summer. Coming out this Friday, the story of an aging rocker who has prioritized her career over her family is directed by Jonathan Demme, and reunites Streep with her Sophie's Choice Nathan, Kevin Kline. Plus, her real daughter, Mamie Gummer, plays her daughter in the movie.

Oh, I'm in-- I will totally see it, but whenever the trailer is on the screen, I'm always drawn to the lead guitarist in the band, who is also Rikki's boyfriend. Who is that guy? I wonder every time. He looks so familiar! And then, of course, the thought is gone-- swept away by the concentrated drama of the next preview or whatever superpyrotechnics await in the feature we have paid to watch.

But, tonight, my question was answered as I thumbed through the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly-- the guy? Is Rick Springfield of the late 80's General Hospital and Jesse's Girl fame. By all accounts he is quite good in the film, holding his own with Streep and amusing the cast on set by playing any rock song ever in between takes.

Oh, yeah. That's him!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

At the Corner of Opportunity and Preparation

Success is where opportunity and preparation meet.
~Bobby Unser

I spent the morning deep in study.

First I poured over the map and guidebook in preparation for our Alaska cruise next week. I cross-referenced that information with our itinerary and a couple of websites and made notes on little hand-cut post-its about what to do and see on each day. I also added to and revised our packing list based on this newest information.

Next, I continued reading the guidebook for my new camera and completed the recommended exercises for chapter 3, because I want to be prepared to take the


while on the cruise.

This vacation stuff is hard work! (But I am up for it!)