Snow to Sun

I went to bed too late and woke up too early. After getting into SFO at 5pm, BARTing home to Alameda, sorting through 3 months of mail, we decided to head to Park street to grab a bite to eat. There was nothing in our fridge so it was either that or order in. In hindsight, we should have ordered in. We have a months worth of packing to do before bed and travel days are hard enough. Travel nights are worse. After some way too spicy Mexican food, we padded back to the house to begin our effort.

I was too tired to be smart and efficient about it, so I am sure I overpacked. Well, I threw stuff in a pile for Michael to Tetris in our big pink hard sided luggage. The luggage that United baggage handlers manhandled, cracking the sides and losing several feet off them. The handle will never be the same either. I normally would never bother complaining, since my experience with airline customer service agents has never been a positive one. But we trudged over to ask, just to see. To my surprise they were very receptive. They also said that had it been domestic, there is nothing they could do. But when your stuff is damaged on an international flight, they have options, such as fixing the broken pieces. They made a report and now we will wait until they email us. Most of all, it was just nice being acknowledged and heard.

So when we thought we had it all done, we both fell into bed for the short 5 hour nap before we caught a Flywheel to the airport. I was groggy and too exhausted to fight, so when I saw that the driver’s meter was already past $4.30 as we got in the car, I didn’t say anything. He was pleasant enough and chattered on about his upcoming trip to the mountains. At the end of the ride, he seemed to forgot to turn off the ride charge so it kept charging us. When I was standing in the security line, I finally called the guy and he said he was having trouble with his phone. In the end, the fare was double what it should have been. He told me to contact Flywheel to rectify the problem. Ugh. Not a great day to start the day.

I waited at the boarding area while Michael went to fetch some coffees. He was hungry so I caved and let him get the overpriced $10 subpar breakfast burrito. He purposely went out of his way to get Peet’s which is more local than the Starbucks looming in front of our gate. We were proud of ourselves for not getting on that wagon until our first sip of Peet’s. No joke, it was so bad I almost spit it out. Three minutes later, I barely made it to the restroom. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Dizzy and 10 lbs lighter, I made it back to Michael just as he handed the boarding pass to the staff for scanning. We both left our barely touched coffees by the trash before getting on the plane. It was a rough morning to say the least.

Southwest doesn’t assign seats so we were lucky to get to sit together. I really needed to be able to sprawl all over Michael. A couple hours later, we landed in San Diego. It was sunny and warm, which lifted my mood instantly. We opted to try Flywheel again on this end, especially since they had a $10 off your ride promotion running this weekend. Well, the first attempt failed when the airport traffic police aggressively accosted our would-be driver, threatening him and us with tickets and fines if we went through with the ride. Apparently Flywheel is not allowed at the San Diego airport. Uber is. I guess they have paid the 2 million dollar fee to be allowed. We walked down the terminal where the traffic police were not, and tried again. This time it worked. Kinda.

Our Flywheel driver decided to take us on the very scenic tour, despite our protests, and ended up charging us more than $15 more than the ride should have been. Then he tried to convince us to pay him in cash because his app wouldn’t charge us as it was broken. I could see he was lying because it was still charging us as he spoke! It was heartbreaking to realize as we were being ripped off, that there was nothing we could do about it. Since these companies already have your credit card in the system, and you get automatically charged, you can’t argue the fare. Not without hours of emails, tweets and Facebook complaints. Which is how I spent my morning in San Diego. I wasn’t going to hold my breath though, but I had to try. I absolutely hate being taken advantage of by smarmy tact drivers. And twice in one day? I was seething.

As we rocked up to our Airbnb house, we were both overwhelmed with how close the plane was that flew over us. The house is directly under the flight path and you can see right up into the bottom of the plane. I could see a rock stuck in the planes tires, it was that close. It reminded me of Airport beach on St. Maarten. Michael and I were excited, as we are both nerds for this kind of thing. As we were walking up the steps, the next plane plowed by practically scraping our heads. It was awesome.

Our Airbnb host, Michael, was so very friendly and kind. He showed us around and let us store our stuff since we were there hours before checkin time. He gave us the house tour and we were in awe of the love and care he has put into the property. It truly is a labour of love and we were in one of the best rooms. Our second floor Blue Room had a view of the city, the harbor and the planes were now even closer as they flew down. We had a fireplace and our own private balcony. Life was looking up!

We made our way down to the waterfront and walked along absorbing the sun. My whole demeanor changed and suddenly, it was easier to breathe. The atmosphere in San Diego is very relaxed and I could actually feel the stress melting away. We found our way to the famous Fish Market, where we had our lunch. The place is gorgeous in dark wood decorated very tastefully. We slurped up some fresh salty oysters, had a delicious plate of sashimi and shared a light flakey fish entree. The sushi master, Teiji, came over and gifted us with a sample of his favorite fish. It was a very sweet gesture and we were impressed with his generosity and deep knowledge about all things fishy.

We walked along the waterfront and then had a coffee break at Lion Cafe. My feet were very sore by this point, as it has been a while since I have worn sandals. We decided to hit the mall that was close by to hunt for an alternate summer shoe. We tried on a lot of different styles in several different stores, even getting a digital foot analysis done. In the end, we both ended up with a new pair of Reef sandals. And I found some funky new knee high socks in every color of the neon rainbow. Their bright vivid hues matched my mood.

Next, we hit CVS to pick up some sunscreen which is not my normal way. But 30 days in the South Pacific, I don’t want to take a chance. After much deliberation and smelling of all the different offerings, we settled on a bottle of sport spray 30 SPF. We also picked up a travel size jar of Noxema, just in case the burn does happen. Noxema is my favorite after burn care and works wonders at healing sore skin. I was getting tired so we made our way back in the direction of home, when we stumbled upon a place called Spike Africa’s. They had really good happy hour specials so we decided to dive in for a snack. Michael seems to always be hungry and if he doesn’t get some food, he had the tendency to become hangry. After chowing down on some more fresh oysters, fish taco, calamari and delectable mussels, we gambled on the free Yelp dessert. When you check in here, you get a free dessert but I don’t put a lot of hope in a butterscotch pudding. Really? Who has pudding for dessert in a restaurant? Well, I was so very wrong. My one bite turned into a lovefest with the creamy sweet pudding topped with thick warm caramel balanced with just the right amount of sea salt flecks. I was high off the yumminess of it. We thanked our server Bryan who was ever so gracious, and continued our trek home.

After some more walking, Michael started complaining about how heavy the bags were. I decided to give up my old sandals that were no longer needed to a homeless girl sitting on the curb. She was really thankful especially since she was pregnant, she informed me. It felt nice to be able to give someone a break. We stumbled up on a local mexican dive where Michael picked up his supper from. It was super cheap and quite busy, so I guessed it was going to be yummy. Even though, I decided not to get my own, and only have a few bites of his giant chimichanga. I wish I had gotten my own. When we tucked into it back at home, it was clear I had made a big mistake. Taco Rey is some of the best mexican I have had in a long time, maybe ever. I vowed to head there in the AM for breakfast burritos. We ended the night lounging in the big jazuzzi tub and watching the Imitation Game. I felt asleep exhausted but happy.

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A Life of Adventure

I am sitting on the floor in the San Francisco airport next to the outlet so I can charge my electronics before getting on this 13 hour flight forward in time. I will be getting into Auckland in 2011. Its an odd concept to get my head around. One: Changing years up in the air over the international date line. Two: Losing a whole day. Poof! Just gone. Three: No matter how many times I do it, I always get a thrill out of doing from one hemisphere to another.

I am just STARTING to get excited. Its been a bit trying to get here mentally. The last few months have been cold. I know, I was in Canada and Lake Tahoe and what was I expecting? I guess I just didn’t realize how averse I have become it. I HATE cold! So to sum up the past month or so:

I went on a cruise down to the Caribbean after a short visit home to Canada. It was a nice trip but I had been to most of the ports already. I did however get to visit Honduras which was new to me. I tried to go scuba diving but ended up going fishing instead and catching a barracuda. That was fun. I also went snorkeling and got stung by lots of little jellyfish. That wasn’t so fun but not nearly as deadly as my mom thought it should be. She had been watching some documentary about how the oceans are overrun with the deadly jellyfish and they are killing everyone. Good thing she has me to dispel such rumors.

I was pretty happy to get off the ship even though it was beautiful and brand new, just launched this year. My favorite part was the 4 story live Banyan tree suspended in the middle of the atrium. I never got sick of looking at that. The service on the Celebrity Eclipse was a step up from the lines I had frequented in the past and I am pretty sure I would sail them again. I loved having a balcony and the best show I have ever seen on the seas. It was a cirque type show and was absolutely mesmerizing. I don’t even know how many times I  gasped out loud in wonderment.

After debarking, I flew from Miami to San Francisco again where I was whisked straight to a thanksgiving type dinner party with Joe, Alessandra and friends. It was too yummy and I left stuffed full of turkey and good conversation. Anyone who knows me knows that turkey dinner is my absolute favorite meal and this spread was that and then some. Wow. All I can say is that after the week of gorging on the cruise ship and that epic dinner, I was ready for a diet.

But first I went to a Hannakha brunch with Matt, Nilu and friends where I had to eat yet again. It would have been rude to show up and NOT have the yummy time that was presented there before me. We drank champagne and nibbled homemade applesauce smothered latkes and tender brisket till we could nibble no more. Then we lit some candles while our Jewish peeps sang a song. It was a cool experience and I was happy to be able to share in a traditional ceremony.

After that I finally sped off to Lake Tahoe where I promptly joined a gym and began my health routine. I spent a good couple weeks just getting my body back into some sort of balance. In the process I made several friends in the area. I discovered the DVD vending machine at the Safeway and watched a bunch of movies. I perfected Black Bean Brownies and rediscovered the joy of Jello that we all seem to lose somewhere between childhood and teen age. I found my tolerance for snow was just the length of time it took me to walk from my front door to the gym with a short pitstop at the Safeway. All these things were open 24 hours and I most definitely took advantage of that fact. Its fun going shopping at 3am. And its surreal to walk in the snow covered streets in the dead of night and winter. I assure you, the peaceful feeling inside my soul was far from dead.

I loved watching the full moon/lunar eclipse/solstice. It was quite the powerful transition and I was really glad I was able to witness it. Christmas was joyous with Linda and her family who live just up the hill from me. The dinner was delicious and the dancing afterwards was a blast. I finally got to MonteBleu casino where the nightclub was situated. I danced my pants off giving myself quite a memorable little Xmas present night.

Lastly I had a few friends come up to Lake Tahoe to visit and enjoy the snow with me. We had a homemade pizza party, modeled jewelry for a photo shoot, had fires, steamed in the sauna and played games. I believe a  much needed snow break good ol’ time was had by all (thanks Pat, the host with the most!). Luckily my coastal buddies got what they were looking for (not seeing snow for 8 years?!) and we got quite the dump. Infact, two days later when we were trying to drive back to San Fran, it took us more than double the time it should have. Chains on tires were mandatory and still we were amazed to see dozens of stranded stuck vehicles along the mountainside. Slowly and carefully Matt and Nilu navigated through the near white out blizzard safely delivering us all to our respective homes on the coast. I got a short visit with Joe and Alessandra today before coming to the airport. I sure do feel blessed to have a network of such gracious friends.

The last day or so I have been slightly nervous. I am not positive why. Perhaps is the very small light backpack I have to live out of for the next 6 weeks. I wonder if I have under packed? The thing is only half full! Have I become that streamlined over the past few years? It has been a while since I have backpacked around with no real plan. A lot has changed since my first big trip. How will it affect me and how I travel? Will I still be so brave? Will I still have the energy? Will I get bored or lonely? All these silly thoughts flutter through my head but none really stay long enough to become a worry. I think I am just excited. No matter what, I am going to have an adventure. Oh we are boarding now! Gotta go! The summer of 2011 awaits!

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” – Helen Keller

Grateful for the will to adventure.

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Moving Moments

Tonight I am bundled up in front of the fireplace wrapped up with a huge duvet with the making of Lord of the Ring playing in the background. I have been a tad sick over the past few days so I am doing my best to heal without completely losing my sense of routine. I have been in Tahoe for a couple weeks now and the weather has gone from bad to worse. There has been a storm warning in effect for almost a week now and I guess I didn’t take it too seriously at the start. I didn’t realize that the heavy snow mixed with the rain would create a giant slush puddle which would leave my feet soaked through. I think that the cold feet is where my illness began. It was so odd when I would try to find some solid snow to walk on but every time, no matter how sturdy it looked, it was just a thin cover for an ice water which has the consistency of cement. My feet just fell through like butter into the mess of watery snow. But as determined as I am, I trod on so as not to miss out on my daily gym routine. Silly me.

So now I am fully outfitted with winterwear thanks to my local friends but I am fighting a pretty uncomfortable cold. At least now I can walk down to the store and get supplies instead of stranding my car which doesn’t want to make it up the icy hill to my house. Today some of the neighbors helped me push it up the last few feet into the carport where it will stay put. I hate winter. What the heck am I doing here? Good question. I had planned to come here to write, relax, and plan my next move. And I have succeeded on all three counts. I am leaving in just over a week to my favorite place in the world, so far. New Zealand.

The deal was too good to pass up so I took it as a sign. I leave on Dec 30 and arrive into Auckland Jan 1. I will miss New Years Eve altogether. Because of the time change and crossing the international date line, Dec 31 just won’t even exist for me. So don’t expect a phone call from me on your birthday Sis…good thing we celebrated it together before I left Canada.

I am kind of excited to bring in the New Year in this very unique way. Generally I find the whole NYE party thing over hyped and I usually end up feeling slightly ripped off. I can honestly say I don’t think this experience is very common so I will be sure to enjoy it, however it pans out. It has been suggested that I make a party on the plane which I imagine will happen nonetheless as it’s a direct 13 hour international flight. Read: free alcohol and food. Anyway, I am looking forward to the journey as well as the fact that it is now summer in the southern hemisphere. Yay for warm!

Tonight there is a rare astronomical occurrence which I was lucky enough to catch. As I walked to the gym, I felt the energy in the air slightly different and found myself noticing the strangest of things. The moon is full and shone down like a flood light catching certain trees and objects in such a way. I took a break from my treadmill hike to catch the different phases of the full lunar eclipse as it took place. Finally the last few minutes I was absolutely mesmerized as the slivery crescent glow was slurped up by the shadow. It was like an optical illusion as my eyes tried to adjust. I could honestly imagine that this was a actual ball suspended in the sky not 50 feet away. It was bizarre how suddenly the moon was not a flat dot in the sky but sphere which I could practically reach out and wrap my hand around it like a knob waiting to be turned.

I marveled at the completely blacked out moon which kind of glowed a faint brownish red and thanked my lucky stars that the clouds had dissipated long enough for me to witness this historical event. How magnificent that the week long storm let up just in time. The full moon being eclipsed on the solstice doesn’t happen very often…only every 500 years or so. I am super glad I made the effort to participate in the experience. They say the longest night of the year is the darkest and this night just gave that phrase a whole new meaning. The beginning of winter has officially started here in the North which means its high time for me to split. I can already feel myself getting lighter.

I just checked out the window and the saw the eclipse just ending. The moon is back in her full splendor shining just about as bright as the sun. Its so wonderful the powerful moments nature provides us. I was just talking to a friend today who teased me for not knowing what day it is, blaming my carefree lifestyle for my absentmindedness. I agreed that I find it less important to know times and dates (except when I have to catch a flight, that is) so I can more fully focus on moments which are cheapened by a start and end. I don’t think my meaningful moments can be defined in such rigid measurements and to do so would be futile. When I have tried, I’ve only managed to clumsily rob them of their magic, insulting mystery. The exquisite nature of miracles are such that we cannot predict them. Perhaps the importance is not so much the event, but what surrounds it and what results. One thing is for sure: living in the present sure is a gift.

Grateful for exquisite moments.

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Up in the Air

After finally packing it all up, I got just a few hours of sleep before Dad sped me off to the airport at 5am. I was feeling quite settled and sorted as I waited to board my first of three flights that would finally end me in Miami. There was a young woman in her late twenties who was having a major freakout in the gate next to mine. I wasn’t sure what her problem was but it was quite disconcerting. She was visibly distressed and had worked herself into quite a tizzy. I was just about to offer some help but some other good Samaritans beat me to it escorting her away. I found out later that she had never flown before and was very very scared. I tried to imagine and empathize. But the first time I went on a plane I was twelve. And I was alone. And I was going across the country to see an aunt I didn’t know. And I didn’t cry. But then, I guess kids are more durable.

On the flight from Edmonton to Houston I was sat next to a charismatic Saskatchewan native called Ashley. He helped the time zoom by keeping me engaged in lively conversation between my cat naps. On the next leg of my journey, I met Cory who is a Irish/Norweigon paramedic. We talked the whole way to Orlando which helped distract from the plane full of youngsters on their way to Disney. They even had their own line to board which was four time longer than the adult line. For once, we unfamilied types got a break.

I waited for my friend Jon’s flight to land then we both made our way to our last leg to our final destination. We were giddy with excitement or exhaustion, I don’t know which. We were two of only five passengers on a tiny little prop jet. I have never been on such a small commercial plane and it was really neat. Just two rows of seats behind the pilots who sat up front completely in plain view. I marveled at all the lights, knobs, dials, and buttons they managed with effortless panache. It all looked so complicated to me but they just barely hovered their able hands over the controls and we were airborne. Airplane pilots are so cool.

The lights were off in the cabin which made it easy to see out the windows. I was enthralled by the whirr of the giant propeller for a while before finally getting interest in the lights down below. I marveled at the sensation of the tiny plane swiftly cutting through the airspace like a hot knife through butter all the while pretending this was my own private jet and the pilots were my friends. It was a decadent fantasy indeed.

After some time, Jon and I migrated to the back of the tin can and sprawled out over the empty seats lulled to sleep by the hum of the engine. Next thing we knew we had completed our decent and made a hard landing in Miami. It was completely bizarre but it felt like these two young pilots were driving some rad sports car as they sped down the strip. They all but squealed the tires and we neatly slid into our parking space with precision and expertise. It was clear they were having fun.

After grabbing our luggage, J and I caught our shuttle to the Catalina, an art deco boutique hotel in South Beach. After hearing my excitement to get to Joe’s Stone Crabs, our driver Alexandro generously offered to take us there. He was ever so helpful to arrange for our luggage to be checked before making a special trip to deliver us to my very favorite restaurant, just in time for one of the last seatings.

After a delicious meal where I ate far too much (it was the Key Lime Pie that did it), we hobbled down the street to walk along the beach. The air was warm and the sand was soft. Save for a few other late night revelers, it was more or less empty. Finally checking into the hotel at 2am, I barely remember my head hitting the pillow.

Grateful for pilots.

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End of Asia to Home to Liftoff once again…

It’s been a long time since I have written. For you, that is. I guess I have been doing some writing on and off in my own private books but to you, I am still in Asia. I guess after my birthday things just picked up and I stopped making time to share. I guess it was also the fact that I was winding down from that trip and I knew it. So I will attempt to give an overview of what has happened between then and now. I warn you, it will be in no way complete or even in order. I am just in a free flow place and will go with that. I may go back into these pockets and elaborate later on what may be brief points. The idea of going back almost a year has been overwhelming and has kept me from starting several times. A lot has happened. Hence my trepidation to catch you all up. Oh well, I gotta start somewhere. Here goes nothing.

So after Laos which I ended having a memorable day on the elephants with my soul sister Julienne, I took the slow boat down back to Thailand. In line to get on the boat, I met a lovely young lady from California who was about to join the peace corps. I ended up getting sick on the boat after a toxic meal at the overnight stop. I am talking like deadly sick and I spent half the time laying on the floor of the boat trying to keep myself together. My new friend Shannon was kind and did her best to take care of me but truly, there was nothing to be done. I just had to let it pass. To anyone who wants to enjoy the wonderful boat ride (I recommend going Northbound rather than the more crowded Southbound trip), don’t eat at the Indian restaurant in Pakbeng, no matter WHAT he offers you.

We ended up traveling together for the next few weeks. We went to Chang Rai and then spent some time in a hill tribe village. It was a stunning environment and the experience was one I would highly recommend. Next we made our way down to Chang Mai where I parted ways with Shannon and decided to chill out before heading back to Bangkok. I had originally planned just to take it easy and get massages everyday but then in the hair salon, everything changed. A very bling bling egotistical soccer player from Africa convinced me I should jump on the bus with him the next morning and go to Pai. I had heard great things about Pai but didn’t think I was going to make it there this trip. I guess fate had something else in mind.

Though I gave him a ton of objections, this charismatic but pushy dude dissolved them all and next thing I knew I was on the way to the darling little hippy town in Northern Thailand. I am so glad I went because this turned out to be one of my favorite stops. Almost as soon as we got off the bus, I realized that the way we traveled differed too much to stick together so I bid my friend adieu. I spent a night in the town before discovering a Piranha Fishing Pond where I proceeded to spend the last of my days in Asia. I absolutely loved it there. I fished and played with the two baby kittens who just “happened” to wander onto the property a couple days before. I was in heaven, seriously. I went into town a couple times to enjoy the nutritious and delicious fare. The night market was charming and there were enticing deals galore of local crafts, foods, and spa treatments. I could have stayed here forever.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. I was able to tear myself away from Pai and get myself back to Chang Mai where I jumped on the night train to Bangkok. I enjoyed the night train immensely but admit that I wasn’t really looking forward to the hustle and bustle that is Bangkok after finding such peace in the North.

My last 24 hours in Asia were a whirlwind of craziness. I heard that song One Night in Bangkok whirring through my brain all the while. I hired a cab for the day and shopped my heart out, went to the Floating Markets, and sampled all my favorite foods that I had discovered over the past few months. I ended up on Koh San Road (backpackers mecca) getting last minute beauty treatments, nibbling 50 cent Pad Thai, sipping fresh fruit smoothies and buying yet more souvenirs. If there was any chance of empty space in my luggage (which I had bought specifically for the last week of purchases which I crammed full of goodies to give to my peeps at home), it was squashed in that last few hours in Bangkok. My feet were so sore from all the craziness so collapsed into one of the chairs and paid a man for a 30 min foot massage while waiting for my cab to fetch me. It was the wee hours of the morning when I boarded my plane and I felt completely spent. I sighed loudly in relief. I felt a strong sense of accomplishment but I was ready to go. Even though it was mid winter and I would be entering into the deep freeze, I just wanted my home.

I spent the rest of February reacclimatizing to being back in North America…I guess that continued well into March and April too. In that time I really didn’t do a lot except my taxes and meditate every day. I made it a real priority to sit in silence for up to an hour a day. I though that with that much meditation I would surely become enlightened or something. I didn’t. I didn’t really notice a lot changing in me but now, looking back, I realize that sitting quietly for long periods of time by my window was pretty much all I could do at this point. Points for me on becoming more proactive in my reentry to Western culture. It’s getting easier for me to adjust after trips as long as I give myself that buffer zone.

In April, I started going to the gym and reconnecting with my friends again. I started dating a bit but that was a bit of a gong show. I suppose its par for the course but seriously, some of these guys were certified wackadoodles. I spent a lot of my days at the coffee shop across the street and found that I fit in well with the regulars. We had many a interesting debate about this that and the other. Infact, it was my Sugarbowl gang who gave me the last little push to jump on the iPhone bandwagon. I have to admit after resisting this “fad” for years, I now know I will never go back. I love (and I mean LOVE) my new toy and spent a good part of the spring playing with it and the wonderful world of apps.

The closer summer got, the happier I felt. I was feeling really sad that some of my favorite friends were moving away though. I maintained my health and commitment to remaining clear through the summer months despite a few temptations. I went to and worked at Astral Harvest, a music festival up in Northern Alberta in July. It was oodles of fun and I was really proud of myself for finally conquering that old demon. Since I was able to enjoy that, I gave myself the go ahead to attend Burning Man again.

After rehabilitating myself after the string of unfortunate incidents which broke me in the summer of 2007, I finally felt ready to go back to the scene of the crime, so to speak. I decided for sure that I would pack up my lil’ Trillium trailer and roadtrip around the States after attending Burning Man. I spent the rest of the summer keeping busy as a bee. I beautified my home a bit and surprised myself at how handy I was by re-doing my balcony/deck into something of an oasis. I went camping with my mom alot, reunited with my sister after having been estranged for the last year (man did I miss her!), and even unexpectedly got a job managing a hip new coffee shop on Whyte Ave. I got to spend time with my niece and nephews going to movies and Cirque de Soleil. I also spent time picking berries and apples at my parents.

Right before it was time to leave for the States on my road trip to Burning Man and Beyond, I went on a train trip with my Mom from Edmonton to Vancouver. I got to visit with my extended family before buying my cousins car and driving back to Edmonton. The last week in Alberta was crazy with all sorts of prep for the trip and I almost lost my head. I really packed my days and nights with stuff I had to do (not to mention a last minute trip to Calgary for a Bon Voyage Burners party) and get done. But in the end, it all worked out. I got my Trillium hitched up to my trailer and on August 26, I was off.

Grateful for memory.

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Becoming More Social – Sea Day

I woke up way too early today just before 6am and decided to go back to sleep. When I finally did rise, it was just past 9am. I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of what is slowly becoming my usual. I layer oatmeal, ship museli (a concoction of soaked oats, milk, yogurt, raisins, almonds and random chopped fruits), cottage cheese, and sliced apples sprinkled with cinnamon. Its really tasty and seems to give me boundless energy which lasts all the way until lunch.

Next I had a superb cardio session then sweated it out during my upper body work. There was a health lecture on detoxification going on in the aerobics room while I was doing my crunches. It was pretty much word for word what I had learned from Shaun on the Royal Caribbean cruise I went on in May. I guess they are all trained by the same company. Something about the verbatim spiel turned me off. Even though some of the content made sense, I watched as the generally overweight audience sucked it up. Desperate to look like the trainer who was selling the “miracle pills”, I bet they would have bought maneure if he said it’d work.

I had no real rapport with the head fitness instructor at all. When I asked him a question to suss him out, his negativity and lack of sincerity really turned me off. Personally, I have to question anyone who discourages exercise and a healthy diet in favor of magical capsules filled with seaweed.

I felt great with an extra spring in my step knowing I had just gifted my body with a genuine effort in the gym. I ran into Doug and Darren (hereby referred to as DnD), in the stairwell who informed me with glum faces that they had lost the poker tournament. I was surprised to hear it as Doug is a professional who is a well known regular in Vegas. I wondered who had whooped him and I heard it was a woman. Go Ladies!

I had just finished my shower and was about ready to head out for lunch when Marshan came back to the room. We set out together for the International dining room on the 6th floor. It’s a bit of a maze to find this elusive area as the only way to get there is by going to 7 first. Lucky for Marshan, I had gotten lost enough for both of us in the first week so by now, I knew the lay of the land.

Although there was only two of us, we were seated at a table for eight. I guess we were so close to the end of lunch that they were not seating any more people after us so we had the entire table to ourselves. That’s one neat thing about cruiseships. You can be as social or private as you please and they will honor your request matching you with tablemates or respecting your solitude by seating you alone.

I love that I am getting to replay the same menus again because this time, I know what is good. I had the steamed veggies, veggie burger and pan-fried sole with mushroom au gratin. It was tasty and although I finished it all, I didn’t feel overstuffed. I even had room for honeydew frozen yogurt and fresh fruit.

Speaking of fruit, that our stateroom seems to be morphing into a produce market of sorts. Last week, I was delighted by the fact the we could order a bowl of apples, oranges, bananas, pears and kiwis. I checked the boxes and being cheeky, I wrote mango and nectarines as well. I didn’t think they would comply with the more exotic ones but lo and behold, the next day, there they were. I guess they were pleased with my reaction because now there are four bowls heaped full of fruit waiting to be eaten. I have begun filling up the fridge now so it doesn’t spoil. Note to self: tell Chris (our room steward) to lay off the fruit for a while.

Now I also want to find out if Chris is his real name. This is the first cruise I have been on that has had so many anglosaxon names matched to staff who were clearly from Asian descent. Perhaps now they are making up aliases that typical English folk can not only pronounce but remember.

I just asked my tea server if his name “Mark” was common in the Philippines where he was supposedly from. He admitted after some gentle prodding that infact, it was a variation of his real name. After asking my name, he went on to tell me “Carmella” was a common name in his country. I have heard that one before in Italy, Isreal, South Africa, Spain…

After lunch, Marshan went off to study for her CPA exam while I moseyed down the promenade deck. I happened upon some fellow passengers singing karaoke in the Explorer lounge. I ordered a coffee and settled in to take a listen. There were a lot of older Asian men with decent impersonations of American accents. They performed renditions of Memory, Unchained Melody, and one Italian gent belted out a spectacular “That’s Amore”.

I was nervous but sucked it up and signed up to sing Over the Rainbow. I had support from one of the older Asian gentlemen but we both slaughtered it. I thought a duet would be easier but I think, in actuality, it made it more difficult. Oh well. It couldn’t have gotten any worse so next time I attempt to sing, they will be impressed with whatever I croak out. And I will be sure to go solo.

Next I played a round of Princess Pyramids which is a modified version of charades. It was loads of fun but we got stuck on a couple of phrases like Pacific Ocean, Girl Friend, and Celine Dion. Honestly, how does one act out the famous Canadian songstress without belting out a tune?

Now I have made myself at home in the coffee bar down near the atrium. Soothing classical music being played by the Magical Strings of the Seven Seas is wafting over while I sip my tea. I am absolutely thrilled to have discovered this ritual which I plan to practice every day. To be honest, I have been a little concerned about my coffee consumption of late. I have begun drinking it black in hopes that I would drink less if it didn’t taste as good.

Today I decided to try some tea and was presented with a selection of charming little boxes to choose from. Revolution T-Box is single service box with one gourmet infuser bag tucked inside. They boast that each is a unique tea gift and it truly is just like opening a little present. With flavors such as Lavender Earl Grey and Sweet Ginger Peach, I resolved to find my favorite by the end of the cruise. I may accomplish my goal by the end of the day as I am already on pot number three. Fortunately my coffee card also works for unlimited specialty tea.

Outside the large window beside me, the 15 foot waves tumble over in a white frothy spray. The ship stablizers are doing a great job as I am sure that with this kind of swell we should be rocking and rolling more than we are. Our captain Dino has adjusted our course due to the typhoon near Japan. We will still hit some rocky seas but hopefully we should be able to avoid the worst of it.

Grateful for tea time.

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Breathing Easier – Whittier

This morning I finally slept in. I barely saw Darren over the past couple days and to be honest, things between us were a tad uncomfortable. I suppose I should have seen this coming when our friendship had begun dissolving last month due to a breakdown in communication. This trip merely accelerated the process and I am grateful to have learned that clearly, we are not travel compatible. We didn’t even say a proper goodbye but I guess that is indicative of how bad things had gotten.

I felt my spirit lighten quite noticeably after he left as I bounced up to my breakfast and to the gym. I had a lot of energy and I plowed through a good 2 hours before letting up at all. After some relaxing floor work, I found my way out of the gym not completely satisfied with my output but promising myself that I would come back for more later.

I made my way down across to the back of the ship to the formal dining room. I was looking forward to a quick lunch so I could get off the ship and find some cheap (if not free) wi-fi in our current port, Whittier. As the maître’d kept seating people at my table, I realized a quiet lunch was not what he had planned for me. I decided to make the best of it and chatted with my lively tablemates.

After my meal, I padded down the hallways and stairs to the waiting gangway. It was surprisingly warm and sunny out making me overdressed in my several layers and cap. I wandered around with my laptop open looking for a signal but wasn’t having any luck. I decided to go further into the tiny little town to see if there was something there.

Next to where we were docked, there was a quaint hotel which lo and behold offered free wi-fi. I thanked the kind ladies behind the desk and perched myself in the big chair by the fireplace. The place felt new but I could tell they were trying for cozy.

After getting a bunch of emails answered and banking stuff done, I was able to relax a bit. I am at sea for the next week and wanted to make sure that I had tied up any major loose ends.

I found my way back to the ship and discovered my new roommate, Marshan, had arrived. We hugged and gave each other the coles notes version of our past week. Somehow, I don’t know how we did it, we inadvertently missed the muster drill. Opps!

After we were all caught up, I went back to the gym for round two. I had a great run and caught up on some CNN news. Nothing really interesting going on in the world so I changed the channel to watch the ship cam as we pulled out. It was quite picturesque with all the mountains around us and the sun glimmering off the water.

After my shower, Marshan and I met up with Doug and his friend Darren (different than last weeks Darren) for dinner. We exchanged niceties and then shared stories while we ate. After the yummy flourless chocolate cake that I had recommended from past experience, we all headed for a walk. Doug wanted to see the casino as it is one of his favorite pastimes, but we didn’t stay there for long. It was rather smoky for my taste and even though he had guided us to the non-smoking section, the stench still hung in the air.

We explored a little further and discovered the Theatre where an almost packed audience were listening to the band in anticipation of the Welcome Aboard Show. We glided into the nearby set of seats and took in the performance as well.

After a brief intro of the entertainment staff, a comedian came out. It was quite funny to me and I actually had to tone down my chuckles because I was clearly enjoying it more than the others. I wondered if everyone was asleep or I just had a very odd sense of humor. In the end, I didn’t really care. I got my belly exercise for the day and this was just icing on the cake. I felt a little bad for the guy on the stage though. Tough crowd!

Now I am just about to hit the hay and wonder what time I will wake tomorrow. The seas are a little more rough than they have been and I can definitely feel the motion of the ocean. All in all, today was markedly better than all of the rest on this trip so far.

Grateful for release.

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Cruising College Fjord

I was up rather early but took my time getting to the gym. At breakfast, I met quite an interesting character who captivated me with his storytelling. I realized that there are different levels of connection and that I should never judge a book by its cover. I could meet someone for just a few minutes and receive the gift of sharing a true moment. On the other hand, someone I had known for a decade has turned out to be a major flake and I spent some of the day sad about that. But I guess sometimes people outgrown each other. It is what it is.

I discovered a new machine in the gym today called an Arctrainer. It’s like an elliptical and replicates the smooth motion of cross country skiing. I spent a good few hours in the gym working off some steam. Then I met up with Greg and Janet from Australia to share some photos from the fishing trip. I took a gander at their view off their balcony and thought how nice it would be to have had the view of Alaskan mountains upon waking. Extravagant, at least.

We went for lunch and met a bunch of other people who were also good conversationalists. I was lucky today with meeting people to fill the void. I guess that is how a vacuum works. With our tummies full, we headed to the Princess theatre to watch a show on the big screen. It was called “Sunshine Cleaning” and was a nice change from the typical Hollywood blockbuster.

We were nearing College Fjord so I made my way down to my cabin to suit up for the cold. I thought I could multi-task a bit and walk around the promenade deck while viewing the nature. Every 2.5 laps = 1 mile and so I did just under 3 miles before my camera battery went dead. I decided to grab my charger and continue my work out in the gym so I could plug in. I was able to listen to the commentary on the TV while watching as the ship approached Harvard Glacier.

I took it all in while I finished my workout then made my way outside into the cold for some photo ops. I went a little snaphappy like the rest of the passengers who were gazing at the collection of glaciers in the Fjord named after famous schools. We were lucky enough to have sunshine which took the bite out of the air for a little while until the wind kicked up.

Dinner was fantastic as they were serving my favorite, Turkey dinner. I gobbled it up and thanked the staff for the special care. I was dining alone tonight so they were extra attentive to ensure I was comfortable and happy. I gazed out at the mammoth hunks of ice burg floating just outside my window. As I let my eyes drift up I watched the last bits of sun lighting up the very tips of the snow capped mountain tops. Then seconds later the shadow enveloped even that.

I completed a bit of the communal jigsaw puzzle in the library before heading back to the room. After tidying up the room a bit to make sure it was ready for my new cabin mate who arrives tomorrow, I am now comfy snuggled up in my duvet. The TV is on in the background and I noticed they have a fitness channel which demonstrates exercises one can do in their stateroom. That was something new I haven’t seen onboard a cruise before. With each passing day, I am feeling happier and more content, discovering new things to be grateful for.

Grateful for raising my standards.

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Ice Berg Straight Ahead – Glacier Bay

I wasn’t able to sleep in so I decided to wander up to the top deck incase there were any whales to watch. Apparently, between 4 and 6am we were passing through the Icy Strait that had prime wildlife watching opportunities. What they forgot is that at that time it is still dark so even if there were things to see, it would have been impossible unless you had night vision.

I grabbed up some breakfast and settled into a quiet corner near the front of the ship. I was surrounded by giant windows from floor to ceiling so I decided this would be a good place to set up shop. I began to feel a little cold so I took a stroll down to the blanket guy on the Lido deck. He cheerfully gave me three of the red tartan patterned woolen blankets. I tucked them around myself back at my table and waited.

Several hours went by as I watched people come and go out of the dining room. The sky brightened and now I could make out the edges of the mountains through the rain. Yes, it was raining so now I was extra glad that I had secured a spot inside. I watched the little speed boat with the National Park Rangers pull up beside our slowing ship. Not long after that the Ranger commentary began through the loud speakers throughout the public areas of the ship. It was quite informative and most certainly enriched my experience of Glacier Bay.

When it finally came time to start seeing the good stuff, I called Darren who was still sleeping down in the room. I had missed this the first time I went to Alaska and didn’t want him to have that same misfortune. Also, I needed him to bring me my coat. The rangers kept encouraging us to head outside to get a real taste of this magical place. I resisted for a while but when we came upon Margerie Glacier, I decided to brave the elements.

Ofcourse I had seen glaciers before, heck, I even climbed one in New Zealand. But there was something different about this place. I guess the fact that it is so protected and untouched by humans. Its really quite a natural spectacle. There was a feeling of utter beauty that overtook me as I surveyed the huge mountains of ice. The light shade of blue from the crevaces of the giant shards almost seemed to glow. It was a sight to behold.

We were lucky enough to witness the calving of the glacier which means ice falls off the face into the water below. To add to the immensity of the moment is a loud crack also known as “white thunder”. I was mesmerized sitting patiently waiting to experience the great glaciers move. It was a feeling not unlike staring up at the night sky waiting to see a shooting star.

Though the weather was cold and rainy, we did get a few minutes of sun. There were lots of little ice “bergs” floating around in the turquoise water, some with seals lounging on top. I was also quite impressed at the magnificent wispy clouds tumbling over and draping themselves around the mountains. How could something make me feel so small and insignificant yet so honored to be connected to this level of grandeur? It was neat.

In all the excitement, I ate myself up a storm. Ug. I know what this means. To the gym. But not before I retired back to my cabin to have myself a nap. All this fresh glacial air was exhausting! I cuddled into my bed and was out for the next couple hours.

When I woke, I hit the gym for a solid 2.5 hours all the while keeping my eyes trained on the water. I was able to see several seals, whales, and many kinds of birds through the windows in front of my treadmill. It wasn’t too hard to locate them as the dedicated nature photographers out on deck would all run over to a spot and point their cameras when there was something to be seen.

I worked myself out so hard that I developed a blister on my toe. Ouch. I really need to get to the bottom of this weight situation. I feel like no matter what I do, I am not losing but gaining. I met a passenger onboard with medical background who said it may be a hormonal thing. I hope its just something that I can handle myself because I won’t be anywhere near my doctor for some time.

I dressed up for dinner which happened to be the second of the formal nights for this portion of the cruise. At supper I inquired from Tim, one of my favorite servers, just what was in my favorite red cabbage dish I had been eating religiously every night. He went away for a while then returned with some good news. I could eat till my hearts content because there was no fat in it, just some red wine vinegar and sugar.

After dinner, I met up with a younger party crowd but only lasted about an hour. I am exhausted and have to get some real sleep. Most of these people are nearing the end of their trip so can afford to party hard. I, on the other hand, have a long way to go yet.

Grateful for the surreal color of glacier water.

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Making Progress – Skagway

This morning I was up and at’er at 7am. After a small snack to kick start my metabolism, I did some work on the treadmill. Then I hit the stretching class which is light and airy but I like the group energy. Next I threw some weights around and pushed some more cardio before having a protein filled omelette. I was sweaty and red faced as I had run from the gym to get to the breakfast station before it closed. The egg dude seemed amused and I was touched when he took the initiative to design me a special dish according to what he thought I needed.

I was in great spirits as I headed into the small (and I mean tiny) town of Skagway. I am pretty positive I have been here before and remembered the train and old fashioned buildings. It reminded me a lot of Fort Edmonton except is nestled into the mountains. Even though it was overcast and rainy, I took lots of photos as there were so many pretty scenes.

I kind of purposely set out on my own today so as to get my missions accomplished. Not like yesterday. First thing, I found several stores with headphones. In fact, the Radio Shack had a real selection and carried my favorite brands. After much deliberation, I settled on a new type of SkullCandy ear buds. These ones kind of wrap around the ear which will be perfect while I am working out. The Skagway RadioShack seems to have a sort of flaw in their pricing system as there were lots of different levels and extra options that all cost the same. Needless to say, I got a stylin’ red set with a mic and volume adjust for the same price as their most basic plain jane model. Score.

Next I hit the local grocery store where I found my bottle of detergent. I was tempted to buy these strange new 3-in-1 washer/dryer sheets but I passed. They would be perfect for traveling because of their lightweight and size but I don’t need fabric softener or cling-free. I got a bottle with 30 loads which I know is excessive for a 5 week trip but my fishing buddy Greg and wife are taking half.

Though it had started to drizzle, I couldn’t stop smiling. I was grinning stupidly to everyone who crossed my path. I was feeling happy and excited to get back to the ship and wash some clothes. I don’t know why but it really is the simple things that do it for me. There is really nothing like having freshly cleaned laundry.

After a nice lunch in the dining room where I chose potato pancakes and trout, I went back to the gym. I sweated it out a little, then threw a load in the washer. I donned my swimsuit and headed to the pool for some laps. Still in my robe, I picked up my damp sweet smelling clothes and carted them down the hall to my room.

Darren and I took some cards from the Taboo game I had borrowed from the library to play at dinner. We took turns trying to make the other guess the subject without saying the obvious clues. It was fun and by the end, I figured we were getting pretty good at it. I was happy to have my red cabbage again and it tasted even better with the Alaskan King crab legs that was on offer.

I tried to order the honey-vanilla frozen yogurt that had delighted me at lunch but apparently they were out. The head kitchen dude came to my table to assure me they would make sure they would have it for me tomorrow and every day after that. I wondered if this was such a good thing considering I am trying to lose weight, not gain. It is proving quite difficult to drop pounds when there are so many tasty treats being shoved in your face every five minutes. Darren and I agreed that the “dessert pushers” were relentless and wondered if they got some kind of commission based on the sugar consumption of the passengers.

I am pretty exhausted now and think I should turn in early. Tomorrow we are finally cruising Glacier Bay which is the highlight of this trip. I missed it last time I did this itinerary back in Sept 2001. They cancelled all the good stuff due to 9/11 occurring on Day 2 of our trip. Suffice to say, this cruise has been quite an improvement on my last somber experience with Alaska.

Grateful for being responsible for my own happiness. And clean clothes.

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