So, Alaska!

So, um, hi!

For our 10th Anniversary (10 years? REALLY?) we took a cruise on Princess Cruises up the Inside Passage from Vancouver, BC to Anchorage, AK.* Fascinating thing about being in the middle of nowhere: a distinct lack of the Internet. Not that we missed it. We were too busy on an adventure. We had some mild peril. We had some not-so-mild peril. We saw stuff! Some of it was huge! Most of it had mountains!

Places we have been:

Vancouver, BC, Canada
Ketchikan, AK
Juneau, AK
Skagway, AK
Haines, AK
Whittier, AK
Anchorage, AK

Things we have seen:

Whales
Bald Eagles
Mountains
Alaskan Primary Campaign Signs
Glaciers
More Glaciers
Even More Glaciers
Fjords
Ford Seward
Crazy Native American Anthropologists with Awesome Fishing Hats

Thing we had to go to the zoo to see:

Bears**

Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is the strangest airport I have seen. It was very clean, very neat, very tidy, and completely devoid of human life. I don’t know if we hit it in some sweet spot but people were few and far between. Canadian customs is like all things Canadian — polite. But the moment I hit YVR I no longer had phone service.

Now that we have seen Vancouver, we have decided to run off and move to Vancouver. Eventually. Someday. Or at least return for more than a few hours. We failed to see Scott Pilgrim in Vancouver but we did manage to see some of the city, and eat sushi there, and have a huge breakfast, and be asked by the cabbie why the Detroit Red Wings suck.  I had no real answer.

The ship itself (Diamond Princess) is a floating bar with bars inside of bars. The point of a cruise is to drink and spend money, and we drank and spent money. On a cruise ship, it is always booze o’clock. After a while the constant hovering service, especially in the dining room, got to us, but the ship was always nice, neat, and well designed to slice up the huge floating population into small groups so it did not feel crowded. For Glacier Bay it also boasted the US Forestry Service to give us a tour over the loudspeaker and, afterward, their own on-board crazy Naturalist. He was my favorite guy on the ship, that Naturalist. He was Very. Enthusiastic. About. Whales!

Ketchikan, AK is a disappointment but everyone who has taken this tour has said the same thing: Ketchikan, AK is a disappointment. It’s a tourist trap that exists only to fleece tourists on cruise ships. It’s full of horrible shops full of horrible, crappy things.*** It wasn’t even fun like, say, going to Ishpaming with its bizarre Yooper-based gift shops. We should have taken a tour to Saxman Island, as that’s the only thing of worth to do there, but live and learn. We did get a few nice pictures and luckily we only spent half a day there.

Juneau, AK is, on the other hand, neat even if it is unreachable by land.  Who puts the capital of a state where it can only be reached by sea or air? It’s an odd place.  Mendenhall Glacier! Top of Mount Roberts! I found the local knitting shop with my super tingly knitting senses! Juneau is very walkable as cities go. It’s neat and tidy — not the sparkling clean of Vancouver but a long way from dirty. We walked Juneau until I was convinced my knees were going to blow out and then we walked a bit more. Then it was drink o’clock.  My plan of living off the guide book worked well here.

Skagway, AK is like Henry Ford Village. It was a mining town in the gold rush but now it’s sort of a touristy trappy town preserved in time and tiny. But we were there only for an hour before we joined our tour and took a 45 minute ferry to Haines, AK. We took a bus to a mountain and then I drove a glorified 4×4 golf cart up a mountain on unpaved roads. Then came the more interesting part — driving the ATV back down the mountain. It was a complication I hadn’t though about. I thought about it very hard around the hairpin turns.  It was worth it, though — the view from the top of the mountain over the fjord was amazing. I absolutely recommend taking the insane Sub-Alpine ATV excursion in Haines, AK.

Glacier Bay is amazing but cold. Mountains! Glaciers! Mountains! Glaciers! Between the rain, the wind, and the air temperature, I was convinced I would never be warm again. They were selling hot spiced wine to go with the glacier and somehow I resisted until I caved to coffee.  We stared at the big glacier (Marjorie) for a while and went ooooooh but it only calved off some smaller bits of ice. On the way out, though, we saw 16 whales. 16! 6 in a pod! I had the binoculars so I didn’t get pictures but Eric did. 16 whales!

By time we got to College Fjord, though, I was tired of being cold so I don’t have any pictures of the Harvard Glacier. But that sucker absolutely did calve off great bit huge chunks of ice into the water with a huge thundering splash and because we’re all suicidal morons we sat in the bar that gave us a good view, drank, and applauded Mother Nature. Woo! Go Nature! Trying to kill us with ice! WOO! Do it again!

Only 250 crazy people live in Whittier**** but Anchorage wasn’t bad. The room was a bit dumpy but not somewhere one uses to dry out from their drug habit. We ended up renting a car in Anchorage. I wish I knew it was a “car is necessary if staying for more than 4 hours” sort of place because we would have a) gone straight to the airport and b) had a car waiting for us at some cheap rate. But I did not know. Now we know. Rent a car in Anchorage. The city is a grid. It’s simple to navigate.

We saw Scott Pilgrim at the local mall. We went to the Alaska Native Heritage Center. We went to the Alaska Zoo to see bears. We went to the Glacier Gardens. We drank the local beer. Mmmm beer. The local beer is fantastic.  Anchorage is like Grand Rapids with mountains. It’s very, very, very Northern Michigan with mountains. I could not shake the feeling of deja vu.

It was at the Heritage Center where, listening to a pat talk about Aleut Indians, we were invaded by above anthropologist who simply started talking to us. He was making a visor out of wood by planing the wood down to very thin and then planning to soak it in water. One of the people there was fascinated by the hat and would not accept that it was just a hat. But it was a hat. And a cool hat! It was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

We had fun. We spent a ton of money. We currently have 1800 pictures up for the brave — but I’ll post something weeded down in a few days. It was different. Different from going to the Caribbean. I think, yes, I would happily return to Alaska. It is much less psycho than it seems from the outside. People do not randomly claim they can see Russia from their house.*****  I would take a different trip. We’re more drinking and adventure people over drinking and shopping people. That’s something to consider on balance.

If I did another big cruise it would be with Princess as we were very pleased with the cruise overall but if I could afford it, I am tempted by the National Geographic offerings. I can recommend this trip. Except for Ketchikan, it was amazing.

The only sad thing was how obvious global climate change is up there. Go to Alaska and learn not to doubt.  A few of the glaciers are still growing but most are receding. They are growing apple trees on Kodiak Island.  See Alaska before it melts!


* I believe a few others have taken this trip this year. To which I say: we were past the mosquito season.
** I was informed I should be thankful about the lack of bears-in-the-wild.  Eric was damn well not leaving Alaska without a picture of a bear.
*** Later in Anchorage I would pick up a pamphlet that helped to identify real Native American arts from the stuff in the gift shops. I wish I had it when we started — not that I bought anything — but it would have helped. They have a special seal on the real things.
**** When the locals describe someone as “strange” it is time to run.
***** We were tempted to drive to Wassila. It’s only 40 miles outside of Anchorage. But it is way too far to see Russia from anywhere. That assertion is just dumb.

Diet Nattering

A quick note on diet —

After recording everything I eat for several days and trying to eat completely normal, I have learned that:

– I could go completely vegetarian and not miss anything in life. I hardly eat any meat — but plenty of fish* given the chance.
– I don’t eat much dairy.
– I eat about 1/2 the cheese I thought I was eating, and that’s not much.
– I scarf vegetables whenever I get the chance.
– Hummus is my personal bane. I love hummus and I can eat it with every meal given half a chance. I’d slather it on oatmeal if I could.
– I am struggling, really struggling, to eat over 1500 calories a day.
– Why I don’t weight 10lbs is an utter mystery.

I have a back appointment this week so I am going to ask them if they can recommend a dietitian to me. I bet the problem is not that I’m overeating but that I’m not eating enough, and we may need to start injecting smoothies into my diet.

That likely explains my rate of getting food poisoning. Ah well.

Extra Bonus Post!

1. I found a nice program called Calorie Tracker for the Droid (free) that backs to a massive database of restaurants and foods. It also has barcode search via the camera, tracking across all sorts of metrics (carbs, fat intake, etc), graphing, etc. My experience with trying to find out what is wrong with my diet is mostly one of data collection. Whatever it is, I’ll find it and stop eating it. Or at least find things I shouldn’t be eating in general and stop doing that.

2. I fell asleep watching this older documentary on the Dark Ages from the History Channel last night. Yay Netflix streaming to device that… I shouldn’t be in bed with but I was trying to stay up and failing. It occurs to me two interesting facts:

A. These documentaries are myopic. They completely leave out the existence of Constantinople and the Eastern Roman Empire. No mention is ever made that they tried to recover Rome through several invasions via southern Italy. All of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe simply disappears off the map. Leo the Great! The General Basiliscus! Zeno vs. the Ostragoths!

Oh… nevermind. No one gives luv to Constantinople.

B. If one wants to know what would happen in the case of a Zombie Invasion, study the Fall of Rome. Seriously! A decadent Empire is felled by invaders who take over the cities and force the few survivors to scrabble through the ruins to scratch out survival. Any moment a barbarian may appear and take people out with an axe (or a zombie virus). They never stop coming! To survive, the survivors collect next to the ruins of technological marvels they could never hope to replicate and strip them for parts. Aqueducts fail. Roads crumble. Bits of civilization holds out — the Roman Governor of Gaul held out for a breathtaking 70 years — before the barbarians (zombies) took out the last bit of existence.

I was so excited by the parallels last night I fell asleep. But don’t duplicate my example. Read a book! Or Wikipedia! The perfect blueprint for a Zombie Invasion — right from history!

Low Fat Diet

My cholesterol came back up a minuscule tick over normal and this sent my doctor into a tizzy of “lose weight/eat a low fat diet!” Here’s the problem, though — when I was losing all the weight after Katie was born, I retooled my diet and dropped a huge number of things out permanently so figuring out what new things to cut is challenging.

Going through the “bad” list I have:

Fast Food (McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, etc:) — I don’t even walk into those places.
Fried Foods — My two banes are fried tofu and french fries. Otherwise, no fried food.
Cakes, cupcakes, cookies, chips — I have to eat occasional whole wheat crackers to deal with the sugar crashies but otherwise, too much sugar in a sugary treat makes me ill.
Ice cream — Rare treat. Too much makes me ill.
Soda — Diet only, prefer hot tea on non-uber stressful days over diet coke. Although I do have a diet coke addiction.
Creamy dressings — Don’t eat.
Bacon — Don’t eat.
Eggs (like omelets, scrambled, etc.) — Don’t eat.
Mayo — Limited consumption. Sometimes I have mayo but it tends to be too greasy.
Red Meat — Have cut back some 80%.
Big Sugary Starbucks Drinks — Don’t drink.
Rolls on the table at dinner — Either don’t eat or limited consumption. “That’s how they GET YA.”
Booze — Way less than one would think.
Milk — I have refused to drink straight milk since I was 3; I don’t see that changing.

That sort of takes out all the low hanging diet-based fruit. When I surveyed what I ate and I could plausibly eliminate I came up with:

1. Any other processed white breads I can find. No more non-wheat buns or get burgers or sausages, when eating them, without buns.
2. Any cream-based sauces on any food especially Italian food.
3. French fries.
4. If eating pizza, only the thin crust pizza.

The last big one is cheese and, man, I have given up everything else. I can cut back on the cheese and yes, I know it is nothing but fat, but I am refusing to whole sale give up cheese. It’s simply not going to happen.

The other one is that salads at lunch don’t give me enough nutrients to make it through the afternoon so I end up crashing. And besides, salads can be just as bad as anything else.

I am well aware that French Fries are the Killer and I will have to Drop Them Entirely. Does anyone out there in Internet-Land have any good suggestions for other foods to cut/eliminate that I may be eating and leading to fatness?

Genius Lists on the iPod

I received a replacement iPod classic for my birthday for my stalwart and constant iPod companion. It had been my companion for 3 years but the hard drive was starting to make some suspicious clicking noises once in a while and it was having a hard time syncing for podcasts in the morning. With a heavy heart I put it in a box as a backup iPod* and replaced it with a cooler and thinner and younger model.

The new iPod classic has Genius lists. I have 60G of music for it to search, sort, and mess with. Being who I am, I was instantly curious and made it cough up a few playlists. What spit out of it is essentially my core playlist from 1995.

I’m a little disturbed and freaked out.

Let’s see… I tell it to give me a Genius List based on Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” and I get Pearl Jam, STP, Offspring, Alice in Chains, Led Zeppelin, Soundgarden, Metallica, a little bit of Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix and Black Sabbath. All excellent — how does one go wrong with Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused?” But I feel like this thing is reading the inside of my brainmeats.

I did get newer and stranger songs when I fed it Radiohead.

These genius list searches are weird and will keep me entertained for weeks but still, man. I feel old. Old old old.

* I have been asked why I did not replace it with an iPod Touch from several avenues.

A. The iPod Classic holds 160G of music (!), where I cannot get all my music on an iPod Touch.
B. The iPod Classic is basically the perfect gizmo for carrying music libraries. Anything else is over-engineering.
C. I have an iPad, the world’s most expensive dispenser of Puzzle Quest.

The Sporkful

HEY YOU GUYS!

If you happen to enjoy listening to podcasts* you need to go over and start listening to the Sporkful. It’s a food podcast, but it’s not about restaurants or cooking. It’s about ridiculous bits about food like “Apples vs Oranges (literally)” or “How to Eat a Cupcake” or “How to Stack Your Burger So Stuff Doesn’t Go Sliding Off.” Today it was about yogurt — what yogurt is best, why low-fat yogurt is an abomination, the controversy over fruit in the bottom of the cup, and the mooshiness of granola in yogurt.

Seriously. If you like podcasts, you totally have to listen to this one. It’s my recommendation of the day!

Also, as an aside, if you are following the FIFA World Cup, Slate’s Hang Up and Listen for this week is hilarious.

* I listen to many podcasts!

Quick Update

I live. I was at SANSFIRE Baltimore 2010 getting my brain pulled through my nose with a hook. It mostly was hard. I tried to stuff a term’s worth of information into my head in 6 days and I’m not sure how much will stick. I am still super tired/burned out from it.

Meanwhile, I had a birthday, and during this birthday I received an iPad named Chopin. I am still trying to work it into my workflow and it hasn’t found a happy balance quiet yet.

Yes! This is the blog equivalent of an alive ping.

Art Weekend 2010

I have returned victorious from the fourth in a grand series of many of Art Weekends. This year it was at the Shandaken Inn in the Catskills, NY. We were a little iffy because the place looked a bit dubious in the pictures and the owner was on the premises, but it turned out fine.

The building was, up until recently, a small bed and breakfast. It had that homey feeling of a place well lived in and well loved over the decades. The downstairs area is mostly a restaurant with a lounge area which may, at first glance, seem odd. On the one hand, the kitchen was cut off from the seating. On the other hand, it had an industrial kitchen that had more plates and glasses then we could dirty easily. Many tables meant easy and plentiful work spaces. Big windows by the seating areas meant lots of natural light.

I had a super relaxing time and spent the entire time knitting. Sure, making an ugly brown sock (of two! two ugly brown socks!) and working on the Critter Mitts kit from Knit Picks (I made the T-Rex! RAR!) isn’t exactly art, there was… plenty of art beer. And lots of silence/peace times to sort of clear the mental decks.

I also had my phone off and only used my netbook for youtube instructional knitting videos, of which I needed several. The Internet existed without my being there!

It was very comfy. It was like living in a warm blanket for several days. A great big warm, comfy blanket.

We’re definitely going back next year, although sadly since the Inn is up for sale to yet another place.

Oh! I finished my t-rex at midnight last night. He’s terrifying! In a goofy way. Terrifyingly goofy. I need my Very Special Model to pose with it and get some pictures online.

Landscapers

We were stood up by A&J Landscaping of Laurel, MD who did not bother to keep their appointment. I waited all day for them to show up and they just simply did not. If you need a landscaper, do not call them.

I am in dire need of a landscaper because we have dead trees from the storm that need to be taken out and a hole under the porch. This is the sixth local service I have tried to get out to our house. I’m am a little floored — contractors literally do not want my money.

Does anyone have any recommendations for someone to call? Someone who shows up? My bar is pretty low right now. All I need is someone to show.

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