One thing about Alaska is that you have some different offerings in your food selections. Not on the cruise ship, really, but on land. Taking the railway from Whittier to Denali, one of our choices was reindeer nachos. Now I really have no interest in eating reindeer. But it was a long, ten-hour trip, the food choices were limited, my blood sugar was dropping and I was getting woozy. It was the best option for protein at the time. Not bad. Not great. A tad rich, but it did the job.
When we arrived at Denali we ate at the local restaurant across the street from the Princess Lodge. Terry’s choice was elk sliders. She offered me a bite. I declined.
Now none of this would make any sense unless I had become a vegetarian, which I hadn’t. After all, I eat beef, chicken, and pork, too, in the form of bacon. I have guilt feelings about the first and the third, but that doesn’t keep me from having the occasional hamburger or the frequent strip of bacon at breakfast.
At the same time I refuse to eat lamb, veal, and venison. Lamb I won’t eat…just because. You probably understand about veal, though I’m told that veal today is for the most part not the veal of the traditional definition. As for venison, I refuse to eat Bambi’s mother or father, and hate the gamy taste anyway. Besides, I really dislike mint jelly with meat.
As I said, none of this makes any rational sense. But then for most of us, how many of our eating habits do make rational sense?
In my attempt to lighten my camera load I bought a pocket Canon SX210IS, as I've written about here. I took it to Alaska and got some great pictures. But it wasn't quite what I wanted. My focus these days is more on writing and less on photography, so I don't intend to go back to the full DSLR with multiple lenses. But I needed something more than a pocket camera.
I had checked with my friend Lynn, who had bought the SX210IS and taken it to Alaska. (Yes, I was following her guidance.) She had previously had a "compact" digital – something with the look and feel of a DSLR, but smaller and with a single, non-interchangeable lens. After getting back from Alaska I asked her about this, and she said she was perfectly happy with that, but she just wanted something something smaller for Alaska. Her compact was a Canon, but I am a Nikon fan and so researched that.
The newest is the P500, which I checked out online. I decided it was exactly what I wanted, and so ordered it. My experience so far is wonderful. It feels like a DSLR in my hand, but smaller. I am familiar with the controls from my Nikon D70. It takes great pictures.
I think I have found the right camera for me. It will let me take pictures when I feel so inclined, while leaving me the space to focus on writing.
I've been seeing my spiritual director, Linda, for several years now. One of the topics we've discussed with some regularity is prayer, and what works for me. I've tried a number of different things, and nothing has quite stuck. It hit me right before our Alaska trip that I needed something tactile. Something tactile. Prayer beads, right? Right! And where could I find prayer beads? Hmmm… I could check Amazon, I guess. But wait. I know where I can find prayer beads. St. John the Divine has a guild called Simply Divine that makes soaps, salt scrubs, and, yes, prayer beads. Duh.
I told this to Linda in our meeting right after the Alaska trip. She called it a "Holy Spirit moment," because she was thinking about how I might re-experience my Icy Point moment. She was thinking it needed to be something tactile. Prayer beads.
My first Sunday back at St. John's I found a set that I liked.
I know that there are prescribed techniques for using prayer beads, but I see prayer beads in the same way I see cooking: I do what works for me.
What works for me is to work through the beads reading something from the Book of Common Prayer. It doesn't matter what. Sunday morning Rite II, Morning Prayer, the Individual Prayers section, whatever. I've used other sources as well.
I've found something that works, and I am delighted.
Yes, my wife is doing one of the Susan G. Komen 3-day walks. Her sister, Miss Jill Jock, aka Julie, laid down the gauntlet and Terry accepted the challenge. She will be walking in San Diego in November. She is committed to this and has already started training. When Terry sets her mind to something I don't get in the way. I know better.
Her Web page is here.
I have to tell you that, yes, this is a shameless promotion asking for your support. Terry has committed to raising $2,300. If you are able and so inclined, your financial support is greatly appreciated. If it's moral support you're offering, leave your comments here and I'll see that Terry sees them.
Breast cancer is one of those things that we would prefer to sweep under the carpet, but it is real. My mother died of breast cancer. My Aunt Dorothy, my dad's sister, did as well.
We have all been affected one way or the other. Terry and I greatly appreciate your support, whether it's financial, moral, or both.
On the cruise the vast majority of the crew is from another country. On land most everyone providing services is a U.S. citizen. In the towns of Southeast Alaska, such as Ketchikan and Skagway, many in the shops and on the tours are locals.
Then there are the true bohemians. I overheard the restaurant manager at Denali lodge talking to the couple next to us. He said that he had spent the last several years in Las Vegas, and that this was his first summer in Alaska. He wasn't sure where he was going to go in the autumn, but that Princess had a job fair in August, and he was sure he'd find something in the warmer climes.
Our superb waiter at the Mountain View restaurant at Princess McKinley Lodge told us that this was his fifth summer in Alaska, but that each winter he had spent someplace different.
You've got to admire people who choose to live that way. For me, I'm too old and too settled for that. But I still am delighted to lift my glass and toast those who choose to live la vie boheme.
One thing Terry and I learned from this cruise: we have no clue how to pack. I spoke with one Australian who said he and his wife "travel light." We had dinner with a cruise veteran couple who had spent part of the day doing laundry. Terry and I packed more than we needed. Her suitcase was overweight by Alaska Airlines standards. I bought two packages of undershirts neither of which I opened.
I know there's tips out there for how to pack for a cruise. Guess we need to pay attention. We sent two boxes home from McKinley Lodge to keep Alaska Airlines from being grumpy with us on our return trip.
Etiquette: It's like this. The first night at dinner we were seated with a guy who was on his fourth cruise and styled himself as a cruise expert. We both agreed that we couldn't put up with him for another six nights and switched to Anytime Dining. After that we met some marvelous cruise veterans who were much more modest and unassuming and happy to share their experience.
You do meet some fascinating and enjoyable people.
Cruising and the local economy is a mixed bag. Ketchikan's economy was once dominated by logging and salmon fishing, but both industries collapsed there. The cruise business was a good boost to the local economy during the summer months, but along with that there came foreign-owned jewelery stores which pushed the locals out of business and boarded up their stores in the off-season.
Certainly locally-owned businesses still exist, and many locals work the cruise ship business during the summer, along side those who come north to work the season.
Along with Ketchikan, Skagway is much in the same position, as is to some extent Juneau even though it is the state capital.
One can only hope for a more balanced economy for these areas, that while the cruise industry continues to be part of it, there is not a total dependency.
The crew on most cruise ships (the exception being American-flagged ships that cruise Hawaii, which don't much exist anymore) is a virtual United Nations at sea. The terms are tough. Generally a six-month contract with few days off. But often it beats life back home, and allows one to send money to ones family.
We had young crew members from the Philippines who were no doubt sending money home.We had crew members from Mexico, where the tourist trade has dried up because of the drug wars and threats of violence. We had long-time veterans from Italy for whom the cruise business was their way of life and the way of providing for their family. One woman from Ukraine was married to a cruise veteran. This was her first contract, as they swapped roles, while she took her turn at working and he took time off to take care of their child.
It appeared to me that Princess treated the crew well. They were generally happy, and I could see a sense of camaraderie among the dining room staff, at least. One evening we were seated with a couple from South Africa, and the crew made sure that the South African member of the dining room staff was introduced to them, at which time we heard several minutes of conversation in Afrikaans.
To those of us in settled, middle class lives, this might not seem like the best way to make a living. To a large segment of the world's population, it may be one of the best options.
The passenger perspective of a cruise is the easiest and most fun, not to mention the perspective with which I am most familiar.
From the standpoint of the vacationer, a cruise is a marvelous way to travel. Your luggage is delivered to your stateroom, and you don't have to deal with it until you put it out the night before the end of the cruise. All of your meals are paid for (unless you choose to enjoy a premium restaurant, for which you pay a cover charge), and you can choose to stay as busy as you like or do as little as you like. Each port of call is different, and there are plenty of shore excursions to choose from. The crew is pleasant and accommodating, and there is really nothing you have to worry about.
From the perspective of a vacation where you toss aside all of your day-to-day concerns and simply enjoy yourself, there is nothing better than a cruise.
Upcoming: the crew perspective and the local economy
We are told that Mt. McKinley, or Denali, as Alaskans and Native Americans believe the proper name to be, is visible only about a third of the time. Of the four days on which we were in sight of the mountain it was cloudless on two. How about that?