Friday, September 20, 2013

Walking to Say Thank You


 Last Sunday, I joined my daughter, who is an employee of Children’s Hospital, and my two granddaughters in The 36th Annual Briggs & Al’s Run & Walk for Children’s Hospital.

It was a gorgeous morning and the city of Milwaukee was cleaned and polished for the event. I noticed Verde grey lamp posts lining the street, overstuffed flower baskets, clean historical buildings and beautiful Lake Michigan lying ahead of us. My nine-year-old granddaughter, Jazzy, was able to walk side-by-side with us while my eight-month-old granddaughter, Bella, rode in a stroller, a big smile on her face, unaware it was all about her.

            We joined more than 12,000 other people in the event and collectively raised more than $1 million. Wow! But our motive for participating in the walk was far more personal. Bella spent almost a month at Children’s earlier this year fighting salmonella poisoning. We nearly lost her but through God’s grace and the care she received at Children’s Hospital, she’s a healthy, robust toddler.

We walked together to say thank you, God bless you, and keep up the kind of care you offer to patients every single day of every year.

 How very blessed we are to have Children’s Hospital within our reach.



Sunday, September 1, 2013

Seattle, Washington


What a great finale!
Seattle.
I never expected to like it as much as I did. When I thought of Seattle, I mistakenly associated it with gray skies and rain. Our Amtrak excursion from Vancouver to Seattle certainly proved me wrong. 

The very first adventure we decided to take was a visit to the Boeing Space and Flight Center. After touring the facility, we signed up for the ninety-minute factory tour which turned out to be fantastic. I had no idea that more than 40,000 people worked at this facility. The tour detailed every step of the way in building the 747, 767, 777 and 787 jets. We saw it all!

Pike Place Market overlooks Elliott Bay waterfront in downtown Seattle and is most likely the top tourist attraction, but I just had to see it. I wasn’t disappointed. Even though it was late in the afternoon by the time we arrived, the market was full of people shopping for fresh fish, colorful, large flowers, and beautiful vegetables. It was everything I expected and more. We decided to share a thin crust pizza and a couple of mugs of cold beer and took in all the excitement around us. On our way home, we spotted the Space Needle and agreed that our vacation was one of the best we had ever had. We were fully satisfied.

Until next time, enjoy the life we are blessed to live,

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada


Okay, I’ll admit it….I love the double-decker bus tours. We arrived in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Friday morning. After disembarking the “Radiance,” we decided the best way to take in the sights of this coastal seaport city was to hop on a double-decker bus.



We toured the entire city and soon learned that more than two million people live in Vancouver and its origin was a tiny settlement called Gastown. The area caught our attention, and we decided to hop off the bus and catch some lunch at a small Italian café. If you have ever visited Greenwich Village in New York it may conjure up the same type of experience in Gastown. Cute little shops and cafes line the tree-lined streets welcoming lazy afternoons sipping cappuccino or espresso or a cold ale.

On Saturday, we decided to experience a walk across the Capilano Suspension Bridge. It measures 460 feet long and 230 feet above the Capilano River! Eight hundred thousand visitors visit the bridge annually! I was grateful to see its original construction of hemp ropes and cedar planks had been replaced with a steel cable system. Still, it moved with the wind and the traffic of those who braved to venture across. Once on the other side, we walked through Treetop Adventures, a series of seven mini-suspension bridges that allowed us to view the natural habitat of a rainforest.

We ended the day at Grouse Mountain, one of North Vancouver’s tourist attractions. We all packed into a large tram that held 150 passengers and made our way up into the clouds traveling four thousand feet to the top of the mountain. There, we

 

 
 
 
chose to skip the lumberjack show in order to watch a couple of grizzly bears. It was fascinating to get that close to the giant bear, watching them having a good time in the water.
Vancouver is definitely a city I would highly recommend visiting. Next to Alaska, it’s quite something to see.




Before departing Vancouver, we heard about Steveston. I seem to be drawn to small fishing villages and Steveston, now part of the city of Richmond, British Columbia, was no exception. If you can envision a fish and seafood farmer’s market set on Fisherman’s Wharf, you’re in Steveston. It was an absolute wonderful experience to watch the locals and the fishermen haggle out deals. We spent the day walking leisurely though the city gravitating to the water’s edge and enjoyed a lovely supper at twilight. I wish I could visit it again when I find myself in the mood for shrimp scampi or panko crusted halibut. What a find!

Until next time, enjoy the life we are blessed to live,

Ketchican





Wilderness kayaking around Tatoosh Islands sounds adventurous, doesn’t it? After coming ashore, we traveled 40 miles to the campsite where our two-man, colorful kayaks waited. We paddled along the inside passage in the Tongass National Forest and glided along spotting eagles and sea lions while watching for whale.

It was the first time we had ever kayaked in a boat with a rudder. Our guides explained that women are better at the rudder since they have a finer sense of touch. Now, you might think that working the rudder is pretty simple, and for the most part it is, but don’t forget you’re working your arms and using your sight and hearing all at the same time. I must admit, more than once I steered us off course, but I could hardly find fault with myself. I was busy cataloging and storing everything that surrounded me. All of my senses were in overdrive!

As you many of you know, I’m already in love with kayaking and when placed in what surely feels like God’s Country, it really lifts the experience into a whole new dimension.
Until next time, enjoy the life we are blessed to live,

Icy Straight Point





We arrived on Icy Straight on the island of Chichagof on Tuesday. Just a few miles from the town of Hoonah, this fishing village was a pleasant surprise. Although we followed the Spasski River to peer at the bear feasting on salmon, it seems you have to be at the right place at the right time for that to happen.
 
The most fascinating part of our tour of Icy Straight Point was the Hoonah Salmon Canning Factory. After devouring a bucket of King Crab legs on the cannery dock, we licked our fingers clean and set out for the factory. By happenstance, we ran into a local who had shared his fond memories of the ship maintenance operation in its glory days. A man of about our age, his hair was shoulder length, silver colored, tied back in a ponytail. He wore thick jeans, a flannel shirt, and sturdy boots. He spoke of the big ships that used the tide to come ashore. They were manhandled onto their sides so the needed repairs to the hulls could be made.
We peered through the iron fencing to the work stations as he continued to describe each area in vivid detail. “If they couldn’t get a part in time,” he said, “they made it right here.” It was a conversation filled with bittersweet nostalgia as he looked around to the tourists who breezed through his past. “It was a wonderful way to grow up,” he said. We stayed with him for as long as he was willing to share his stories and left thankful for the experience.

Until next time, enjoy the life we are blessed to live,

Juneau and Skagway





 

Juneau was absolutely stunning. A hike to Mendenhall Glacier was a great way to get oriented to the area. We spotted fireweed, bunchberry, white yarrow and mountain ash plants under Black Cottonwood, Shore Pine, and Western Hemlock trees, but when we came upon the Nugget Falls, the powerful roar of the waterfall actually drew our attention away from the glacier. It was so captivating. Of course, a quick visit to the Red Dog Saloon was a must!

You may not know that Skagway was part of the setting for author, Jack London’s book, “The Call of the Wild.” Once you step foot in the quaint city of Skagway, you will soon see why. It has the small village feel in the midst of the Alaskan wild.
The first experience we had was simply watching the salmon making their way up the river. I took countless photographs and was fascinated by their journey. Although I’ve seen this many times on television, seeing it in person is watching Mother Nature at work.

Skagway is noted for his gold mining history, so we booked passage on the White Pass & Yukon Train Route that took us over the border into British Columbia. As we departed from the train depot, we climbed from sea level to almost 3,000 feet at the Summit, traveling approximately 20 miles. Terribly steep grades followed by train tunnels and windy tracks seem to be frequent. Originally operated by steam in the late 1800s, the train has been converted to a diesel engine and is a tourist attraction. It was constructed by thirty-five thousand men who all shared in the dream of becoming rich by discovering gold and by doing so created the Klondike Gold Rush.

Until next time, enjoy the life we are meant to live,

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Our First Glacier


The first time you meet a glacier, it takes your breath away: the magnitude of surface area, the snow-capped peaks, the thunderous rumbling when a chunk of snowy ice falls into the sea.

It was a clear, sunny day when we feasted our eyes on Hubbard Glacier in eastern Alaska.  The captain slowly navigated our ship closer and closer to the glacier’s edge then proceeded to completely turn the ship around when we left, an impressive move from a seasoned captain.

We learned Hubbard was one of the few glaciers left in the world still gaining in size rather than losing its mass due to current weather conditions and that its ice is at least four hundred years old!  We thought about that fact....four hundred years old!

We spent a good amount of time in the glacier's company before traveling on to Skagway located on the Alaska Panhandle.

Until next time, enjoy the life we are blessed to live.




Friday, August 30, 2013

Our Ship: "Radiance of the Seas"





What a glorious ship!

I hope that says it all because that is probably the best description that comes to mind when I think of Royal Caribbean’s “Radiance of the Seas.” With floor-to-ceiling windows throughout the ship, it’s nearly impossible not to enjoy the every-changing view. Much of the attention was drawn to the nine-story atrium that featured an elevator facing the sea.

We quickly fell into a daily routine that began with a lovely breakfast in the main dining room showcasing nearly a 360 degree view of the port and the ocean. Each morning, we chose from Eggs Benedict, French toast, several omelets or a variety of other egg entrees. Lightly powdered donuts, scones, muffins and fruit pastries were presented right after coffee was poured and juice was offered. They were lined up in neat rows on generous silver platters and were meant as a distraction while we waited for our breakfast.

We chose to dine in the “Cascades,” the formal dining room, each evening. If you love to dress for dinner and enjoy each course along with pleasant conversation, cruising is definitely for you. We ate absolutely delectable meals including baked salmon, lobster with drawn butter, steak in mushroom sauce, seasoned prawns, lasagna Bolognese and even roast turkey.

We were lucky to find ourselves seated at a table with some fabulous personalities and fun-loving travelers. It wasn’t long when we found ourselves celebrating the end of each evening with a “nightly shooter.” The service we received exceeded our expectations. Before having to request a glass of water or a cup of tea, the wait staff remembered our preferences from the night prior. What a welcomed treat!

Excursions consumed most of the day hours and after-dinner hours were spent dining, dancing at least one dance, and enjoying artistic performances from comedians, jugglers, vocalists and dance troupes in the "Aurora Theater."

We would leisurely make our way back to our cabin strolling on the promenade deck, allowing the fresh Alaskan wind and sounds of the sea to soak into our skins and senses.

Until next time, enjoy the life we are blessed to live,

Welcome to Seward, Alaska!



Seward was probably the best introduction we could pick for our Alaskan vacation. We learned that it is considered the gateway to the Kenai Fjords National Park where sea lions are prominent and the glaciers drop into the sea. Seated at the shores of Resurrection Bay and encircled by the mountains, you can imagine the beauty that immediately surrounded us….everywhere we looked we saw God’s hand in nature.

We decided to hike the city, visit the SeaLife Center, and booked a day cruise to Fox Island where we spotted a playful Orca who decided to jump out of the water and lay on his side, flapping and playing. It was fantastic.

On board the train, we met Mary, and decided to share dinner together later that evening. It felt a little strange leaving the restaurant at 9 p.m. and still having it light outside, but that's life in Alaska!

Until next time, enjoy the life we are blessed to live,  

All Aboard!



Who doesn’t enjoy hearing a train whistle blow?

Like most of you, when we travel, we typically rent a car to get around. But this trip, we booked passenger service on the Coastal Classic route between Anchorage to Seward on board the Alaskan Railroad. Although, not terribly expensive, the experience was worth every penny.

Large picture windows, comfy, oversized seats, and GoldStar dome service that included a complimentary beverage and first seating in the dining car for breakfast. We enjoyed it all and the scenery was a wonderful introduction to Alaska.

The trip took a couple of hours, and honestly, I was sad to see it end.

Until next time, enjoy the life we are blessed to live,

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Anchorage



It was all my idea. After a six-hour flight, we arrived in Anchorage at 3:45 a.m. Thursday morning. So the decision to bike the Tony Knowles hike and bike trail, a 22-mile excursion around Cook Inlet, made sense. After we got some rest, of course.

We rented a couple of Cannondale bikes and stretched our legs and filled our lungs with fresh Alaskan air. The 40-minute bike rides we had been enjoying at home certainly would have prepared us for this first day’s adventure. Unfortunately, I couldn’t have been more wrong. By the 4.5 mile marker, I was certain it should have read 11 or 10 or even 9! My legs were burning from all the slow inclines and the small bottle of water I had sitting in the water bottle holder was already half gone. The weather was perfect for biking, mid 60s, cloudy but with spurts of sunshine. We were determined to see this ride through to the end and finished in just over three hours, exhausted! We had made it!

The trail was just as it was described: wide pathways with blue spruce, balsam pines, red-berried sumac with yellow and purple flowers. We did not have the opportunity to see any beluga whales but did watch two moose chomping on lunch leaves. They were probably just yards away from us. That was a thrill.

We slowly made our way back to the hotel but were fascinated with a few items that caught our attention in some of the gift shops: Alaskan Marmalade, Salmon Jerky, Merlot Moose Sauce and Salmon Berry Jelly. I must admit the few bites of an Alaskan Reindeer sandwich I had were pretty good, and I noticed later that it is offered in a variety of ways for breakfast in place of bacon, for lunch in a quesadilla, and for dinner alongside a helping of spicy potatoes.

Like most American cities, Anchorage is a blend of ethnicities with strong Russian influence and very friendly people. I relearned that Alaska was purchased from Russia in the late 1800s. If you are aware and have a bit of an investigative eye, you will notice a store here or a restaurant there solidifying the state’s heritage. I noticed the round, colorful nesting dolls. Did you know they represent a family with round healthy bodies? Also the dream catchers and mandellas that promise abundant, promising lives, good health and prosperity?

Until next time, enjoy the life we are blessed to live,



Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Departure Day: Ready, Set, Alaska . . . .


Our departure day has arrived, and it’s gorgeous weather for travel. We are expecting quite cooler temperatures in Alaska. I took a look at an extended forecast to discover highs in the beginning of our journey in the 60s and dropping to the 40s. The weather will immediately set the scene to what we hope is an “adventure vacation.”

With the exception of our trip to Italy and Austria, our vacations have usually focused on a great deal of relaxation in the sun. South Beach, the Caribbean, and the British Virgin Islands provided much of the same experience. But, this retreat, set along the southern coast of Alaska and ending up in British Columbia, holds new merit for us.

Since we have an extra day, my hope is to stow away for a couple of hours and conduct some early research for my next book which will be set in Anchorage. We took great care in choosing our excursions: an introduction to the area with the White Pass Scenic Railway, a waterfall hike and salmon bake, wilderness sea-kayaking, a bear seeking hike, zip lining, and a trek across the longest suspension bridge in the world. We chose the Alaskan Railroad to reach our port in Seward and trusty Amtrak to leave British Columbia returning to the States.

Our suitcases are packed and laptops tucked in our travel cases. Alongside our formal wear, lay our brand-new hiking boots and weatherproof outdoor wear. Peering at the contents, it hints at possibilities. The trip is beginning to bubble its potential.

We are off on day one of Alaska.

Until next time, be sure to enjoy the life we have been blessed to live.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Tee Time



Many years ago, my husband and I decided to take up golf. We joined our local country club and began learning the game with lessons, events, and private play. Living in Florida for eight years  allowed us to play twelve months of the year but the relentless summer heat curtailed our games to the cooler outings, similar to living in Wisconsin, only reverse months.

A wicked slice finally got the best of my husband's game. He told me the last time we played together at Bobby Jones Golf Club in Sarasota that he would never play the game again. He banged his driver into the sandy loam so I knew he meant it. He kept his word. Although, his clubs are still in the attic, he hasn’t touched them in more than ten years. So, following his lead, I packed up my clubs in my pretty red bag, slipped the red knit socks on the woods, snapped on the cover and laid my bag next to his. And that's where they have been until last year.
Last summer, my son asked me if I’d be interested in playing golf again. I've always considered him to be a natural athlete and his ability to drive over two hundred yards made the game a cinch for him. Meanwhile, I’m reading my notes for the correct grip, a swing plane, and chipping tips. Did I need to wear the worn golf glove that I found in my bag or not? Waggle or no waggle? Like so many things in life, if you’ve done it in the past, it comes back to you. And my game came back to me.

We continued to give it our all last summer and played as much as we could. I loved every minute of it because it was a sport I could actually do with my son. Coupling it with “loser buys lunch” only made our golf days together even better. Those days are gone now as he is now employed with two jobs. Our golf days together are rare and have been replaced with a ladies league. 

Yesterday, I invited my father to join me in the game hoping to learn some of his techniques. Although in his 70s, he still shoots in the mid 50s for nine holes. We golfed a little nine-hole course near the Holy Hill Basilica. I finished with a score of 66 – which is not bad for me while he came in with a 62. What a blessing for me. I get to spend time with my Dad outside among nature on a beautiful course playing a game that challenges me and thrills me at the same time. As a writer, I've grown used to critiques and actually look forward to them now. The game of golf is the same way. I listen to my Dad's advice and use it. I watch videos online to correct flaws, television programs to improve my strokes, and read books like the one I'm reading now, "The Women's Guide to Golf" by Kellie Stenzel. I'm bound and determined to improve and eventually I'm sure I will.
If you’ve haven't tried golf, I encourage you to give a go. It's an opportunity to spend time with those you love and who love you.
Until then, enjoy the life we have been blessed to live.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Picture Credit: Alaskan Railroad

 
An Alaska Adventure
It's In the Details
 
It's fast approaching.

Did you know that more than a million people visit Alaska every year?

Next month, my husband and I will embark on an Alaskan cruise. Wow! It's a trip we've always wanted to take but easily put aside for simpler, less expensive vacations or, believe or not, yard work and house projects.

This year is different. We are going. Our tickets are purchased, and they are nonrefundable (not that we ever second-guessed our decision to go).

We are reading tour books rented from the library, scanning articles off the Internet, and listening to word-of-mouth advice to compile a great trip.

Without hesitation, we decided to couple the cruise with a few extra days both before and after the sail to extend our time in this faraway land. We thought as long as we are there, let's enjoy it and soak up the culture.

We live in Wisconsin and today we are topping 90 degrees with high humidity.
A pattern I tend to dislike.
On the other hand, the average temperature in Alaska in August is 63 degrees. Big change number one. One could easily consider it refreshing, and believe me, we do!

We heard about the rain - we have been told it can rain on the turn of a dime. So, a few weeks ago, we went out and bought Columbia rain gear. We are ready for the unexpected and will not allow the rain to deter our experience. Or, so we think...

Have you traveled to Alaska...cruise or otherwise? If you have, please pass along your experiences and advice. We are adventure seeking baby boomers, enough said, you get the picture.

In the days ahead, we will decide on our excursions. We have already ruled out the float plane trip to Kodiak Island. It was an opportunity to view grizzly bear during a salmon run. It was a bit out of our price range - say a couple thousand dollars worth but included a brown bag lunch :).

We are not all-day shoppers, breezing in and out of a line of touristy stores for trinkets. Instead, we look for biking, kayaking, zip lining adventures.... Share your experiences with us if you have put your fears aside and said yes to any of these activities - or others -while visiting Alaska.
Your feedback will help us in the decisions we have yet to make.

We arrive in Anchorage and are told to visit the Anchorage Museum to get a flavor of the culture, history, and people. Personally, I'm attracted to the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. It's an eleven-mile bike/walking trail curling around Cook Inlet to Kincaid Park.We are told we might spot beluga whales offshore. Can you imagine!
Picture Credit: Earth Justice

Instead of renting a car or traveling by bus to the port city of Seward, we chose The Alaskan Railroad. We purchased two first-class 'Gold Star' tickets for the rail travel.
What attracted us were the double decked dome rail cars, the confirmed seats, and the priority seating in the lower level dining room showcasing original Alaska artwork along with a private outdoor viewing deck - the only one of its kind in the world.
Our intention was to start the trip off "right." Has anyone traveled by Alaskan Railroad or any railroad that left you with an impression you would like to share?


Picture Credit: Alaskan Travel

I hope you enjoy the Alaskan Adventure Posts that I will publish in the weeks to come.
Maybe I'll figure out how to upload a movie from my Galaxy smart phone.
You can count on pictures and a synopsis of the day's events for sure prefaced by our trip's preparations.
Next up, we must decide on our excursion choices; after all, the beauty and enjoyment of this trip will rest in the details.

Until then, enjoy the life we have been blessed to live.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Kayaking - now that's an interesting word and even more interesting to spell! It's a sport I fell in love with last year and with all the rain Wisconsin has been receiving this year, it's a great year for paddling. What is it about kayaking that draws me in? The quiet movement across the water. The brush with nature as you coast into the shore hoping not to disturb. The physical workout of moving your body in unison with the paddles, pushing yourself to make better time than the last time you were out. Observing others who are swifter, leaner, and more beautiful as they work their bodies. The sounds, smells, the visuals, and the workout - it's all wrapped up beautifully in a ride in this little boat. Try it, you just may fall in love like I did.
 
 
 
Pictured here with my sister Catherine Hilt paddling the Mississippi over the fourth of July.

Pie Baking Contest

I had the pleasure of entering my very first pie baking contest this July 4th holiday weekend. What a thrill that was. The judges lifted t...