Alaska

Our 30th wedding anniversary deserved a special celebration and what better way to celebrate than with a trip to Alaska? The combination land tour and cruise turned out to be one of the best trips we’ve ever taken. Nearly nine years and several trips to Europe and Australia later, we still think it was an adventure of a lifetime.

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We spent the first day exploring in and around Fairbanks. We took a riverboat cruise to Chena Village, had lunch at a gold mine where we panned for gold, stopped at the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and returned to Fairbanks for the Midnight Sun Festival. How special it was to be in Alaska for Summer Solstice! On the longest day of the year the sun never really set, even at midnight! Unlike the locals, we didn’t stay up all night. We had an early morning train to Denali.

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Night-time in Fairbanks during Summer Solstice

The McKinley Explorer was a thrilling way to get from Fairbanks to Denali. We had breakfast in the elegant dining car then sat back and watched the rivers, mountains and valleys go by. The closer we got to Denali, the more smoky it became. We learned there was a forest fire raging outside of Denali, so we were glad our excursion into the park was not until the next day. We spent the afternoon at Husky Homestead, home of Iditarod champion Jeff King and his 80 Alaskan huskies. We even got to hold some of the puppies!

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McKinley Explorer

By the next morning, the smoke had cleared and it was a great day to be in Denali National Park. Although it was cloudy, we were fortunate to see Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America. According to our tour guide, it is not often visible due to weather conditions so she was as excited to see it as we were! The scenery was beautiful, but most of the animals were in herds some distance away. The only creatures we saw up close were ground squirrels and the tail end of a couple of moose.

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Denali National Park

After a six-hour bus tour through Denali, we took a horse-drawn covered wagon ride to a remote campsite for dinner. The next day we traveled by coach along the George Parks Highway, through the Chugach Mountain Range and on toward Seward where we boarded our ship.

We embarked around 6:00pm for a 7-night cruise of the scenic Inside Passage and Glacier Bay.  We booked a veranda stateroom right next door to friends. It was breathtaking to see the snow-capped mountains and calving glaciers from our own private balcony. I’ll never forget the stunning view the morning after our first night at sea. We peeked through the drapes to an unspoiled white and icy world! We spent one full day cruising the Inside Passage: College Fjord, Prince William Sound, Cape Spencer, Icy Strait and Glacier Bay. It was just spectacular!

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Glacier Bay

The port of Haines, like so many Alaskan towns, began as a supply stop for miners headed for the Klondike gold fields. It is now a town of adventure, scenery and cruise ship tourists! Bald eagles fly over the peaceful bay and quaint shops are surrounded by colorful flowers during the summer months. Our shore excursion from Haines was to the Kroschel Wildlife Center for Orphaned Animals. While the setting was picturesque and the animals quite impressive, the place was thick with mosquitoes! The biggest mosquitoes I’ve ever seen!

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Howling Coyote!
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Gorgeous Lynx!

Another day, another port. Juneau! No roads will take you there; it is accessible only by air or sea. It seemed like the perfect place to take a whale-watching cruise and, of course see Juneau’s crown jewel: the Mendenhall Glacier. We topped it all off with some native Tlingit music and dancing at a salmon bake near an old, abandoned mine. Such a fun day!

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I credit my husband for this incredible Whale-tail shot!
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Nugget Falls at Mendenhall Glacier

Our last full day in Alaska found us in Ketchikan. From the busy waterfront, we boarded a seaplane to Misty Fjords, our final shore excursion!  The fjords were formed by retreating glaciers, leaving granite cliffs thousands of feet high and countless waterfalls plunging into crystal alpine lakes below. It is the nation’s second-largest wilderness area, encompassing more than two million acres. We returned to Ketchikan for a little retail therapy before returning to the ship for our final night at sea.

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Magnificent Misty Fjords

We didn’t want this vacation to end, but end it did in Vancouver, Canada. We went through customs, said good-bye to our friends and hopped on a plane bound for home. The trip couldn’t have been better – except maybe for those darn monster mosquitoes!

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Just one of many captured sunsets!

WHO WANTS TO PLAY?

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I’m all about letting kids simply be kids, so when I’m with my grandchildren, I let them chose how we play. The one-year-old currently plays with anything he can see, grab and put in his mouth! He is also attracted to sound. If it makes noise, wonderful! If it doesn’t, he bangs it against something until it does.

The four-year-old, on the other hand, prefers pretend play. Sounds easy, right? Well, pretend play is not all that simple! As the co-player, I am required to listen, follow instructions and role play. But for her, pretending is an excellent exercise in self-esteem. When she uses her imagination, she can be anyone or anything she wants to be – and that’s a valuable lesson!

When kids use their imagination instead of playing preconceived games, their communication skills and the wisdom of their choices are an immediate consequence. Believe me, if the direction of our play isn’t going well, my granddaughter is quick to “pretend” something else entirely!

Last summer she and I took a nice, long walk. We picked dandelions and blew them into the wind and we watched the sun peek in and out of the clouds. When we got back from our walk, she pretended to be a dandelion so I could “pick her”! Here is a poem I wrote for her after we played:

WHO WANTS TO PLAY

“Who wants to play with me today?”

said the wind to no one in particular.

A dandelion nearby held its’ head up high

and hollered, “I do!  Pick me!”

So the wind swept it lofty and ever so softly

they soared through the day together.

“Who wants to play with me today?”

said the rain to no one in particular.

A creek barely flowing said “Come, let’s get going!

We’ll build ourselves a river to the sea.”

So the rain joined the creek until it ran deep

and they rushed through the day together.

“Who wants to play with me today?”

said the cloud to no one in particular.

A ray of sun flickered by, “Let’s hide-and-seek in the sky!

It’s a game we can play forever!”

So they hid and they peeked; they teased and they sneaked,

and they skipped through the day together.

“Who wants to play with me tonight?”

said the moon to no one in particular.

A dream just forming wanted to sleep until morning

but the moon cried, “It’s now or it’s never!”

So the two became friends and each of them spends

their quiet nights playing together.

“It’s Who I Was”, he said…

Writing Life Journals

I am always intrigued when I meet a hospice patient for the first time because I realize I’m about to hear this persons’ entire life story, or at least the parts of it they are willing to share. I find that most people at the end of life have few regrets and don’t hold back. d90b197c2cf1cf734620e9055f30755fThey pretty much just lay it all out there! I usually ask them to tell me something about themselves their family doesn’t already know. It makes it much more interesting for the family to read their journal. Some patients struggle to come up with something new. But then there was the man I recently met whose entire life as a young adult will come as a surprise to his family! When I talked to him he told me he didn’t want anyone to read his life journal until after he was gone. His story was essentially a confession, so I wrote it in first-person. The following has no pictures, no names, no specifics; but his story goes something like this:

I was born on a southern farm in the 1930’s. It was a hard life for me as a kid. With no dad at home, I was the man of the house; and since my mother was always having babies, I was basically the woman of the house, too. As the oldest of four boys and five girls, I did the cooking, the cleaning and took care of the kids. I also worked on the farm for $3.00 a week.  My brothers and sisters all got to go to school, but I stayed home and worked. The only time I went to school was when it rained and I couldn’t work on the farm.

We were share croppers. That’s when a landowner allows tenants to use the land in return for a share of the crops. Our farm manager gave each family $20.00 a month and took half of what we produced. We raised all our food: chickens, hogs, beef, vegetables in the garden and grain in the fields. We ground corn into meal for cornbread. The only food we ever bought was flour and sugar. I remember needing coupons to buy sugar because it was rationed during the war.

By the time I was 13, I began to realize what life was all about. I was with my mother day and night in the three room shack we called home. It wasn’t much of a house. I remember lying in bed at night and looking up at the moon through holes in the roof. We would huddle under layers of hand-made quilts to keep warm.

I left home to seek a better life as soon as I turned 18. The next thing I knew, I had a wife and three kids! I found a job out-of-state driving trucks and tractors on a farm. My wife didn’t want to go, so I left her and the kids behind.

Soon after that my new life style began. I was a womanizer; a wine ‘em & dine ‘em – love ‘em & leave ‘em – ladies’ man! My life was nothing but women, whiskey and gambling. I’m not proud of that, it’s just who I was. It seemed like the smartest way to live at the time.

When I started driving a multi-state truck route, I had a woman in each city where I’d spend the night. I knew it was wrong, but they didn’t. They believed me when I told them I wasn’t married. I’m pretty sure I have 10 children, but there might be some “overnight kids” I don’t know about.

When I finally retired from my job, I retired from everything! I quit working, I quit drinking, I quit smoking and I changed my life. “I turned over a brand new leaf and asked the good Lord to forgive what I had done. I wised up. I never meant to do nobody no harm. I hope my family will forgive me.”

I found this man to be genuinely kindhearted and I am happy to say that, yes, his family DID forgive him!

Cemetery Tranquility

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Cemeteries! Do you enjoy visiting them? I don’t mean family cemeteries where your own loved ones are buried, but cemeteries that are unfamiliar to you; ones you may have stumbled upon unexpectedly. I find them fascinating! The older the better! I feel no fear or overwhelming sorrow in them. Instead, I sense a connection with those who have passed on and are buried there. Our custom of immortalizing the dead with markers that tell us a mere fragment of the life that lies beneath, only adds to the mystery of a time-worn graveyard. Visiting a quaint old cemetery is as tranquil to me as a glass of wine on a quiet evening at home. Granted – not quite as delightful, but certainly as tranquil!

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I’d like to tell you about one cemetery in particular. During a trip to England late last summer, we visited a family member who graciously chauffeured us around to several of the most popular sites, but she had a surprise up her sleeve on our way back from Windsor Castle.  Off the beaten path, she pulled her car to a stop along a tree-lined road. We walked a short distance then came upon the most stunning little chapel and cemetery I have ever seen! Nestled in the Surrey countryside, in the village of Compton, is Watts Cemetery and Chapel.

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The chapel was designed by artist Mary Watts, wife of Victorian era painter and sculptor George Frederic Watts. After Compton had created a new cemetery, Mary managed the construction of its chapel from 1896 to 1898 with the help of virtually every village resident. Although the beauty of the chapel is remarkable, it is the cemetery that lingers in my mind. It contains a modest number of graves, including those of both George and Mary. There, terracotta cherubs and stone crosses stand not quite erect, but none-the-less proud; while many a headstone is carved with elaborate verse. For me, the cemetery invoked an atmosphere of reverence and serenity – a peaceful resting place indeed.

The qualities of reverence, serenity and peace are hard to capture in a photo, but I took a few anyway. I don’t think it’s disrespectful to take pictures in a cemetery if you’re careful not to disturb the quiet reflection of other visitors. I took the photos with my camera set on “illustration” mode quite by accident, but I rather like the effect. It seems to have added a mystical quality to them. I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I do. They are as tranquil to me as a glass of wine on a quiet evening at home!

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