Red Cake Day

I have learned Red Velvet Cake is a tradition in many families.  My mother was an exceptional home cook and her red cake was something I looked forward to, it was always  my birthday cake.  I loved its moist layers and incredible icing.  She only made it a few times a year and I think that made it even more special.  My mom’s actual recipe card says Waldorf-Astoria Cake.  Even though the hotel in New York helped make the dessert famous it is actually widely considered a southern recipe.

When I met and later married my sweet husband I became a part of another family.  My husband’s Aunt Carol was also an excellent cook, she had lots of specialties and I am so grateful she taught me how to prepare what became some of my family’s favorite meals.  I never liked macaroni and cheese until I ate hers and her spaghetti sauce is legendary in our family.  Red cake was another of her delectable treats and one she always made for Christmas.  We usually gathered at my mother in-laws (another extraordinary cook) on Christmas Eve and sometimes Aunt Carol would arrive with her red cake still warm, oh my, delicious.

Food can gather people together, offer comfort and even strengthen memories.   Thinking back over the years  I really can’t tell you what birthday or Christmas gifts I received but I can close my eyes and see, smell and taste the red cakes my mom and Aunt Carol baked with love.

Carol’s daughters, Janell and Christi,dsc_1542-1_edited-1  and her sister, Luetta (Jane) have worked to keep the red cake tradition alive.  These three special ladies organized a December gathering.  It began as a small group and grows every year.  Lots of delicious food is involved with a beautiful buffet. dsc_1515-1_edited-1 Charity and her daughter Grace are making their choices.

Kara’s two adorable little girls were being assisted by their Aunt Katedsc_1514-1_edited-2   dsc_1514-1_edited-1.

Aunt Courtney helped Gabriel fill his plate and get him settled at a tabledsc_1517-1_edited-1.  Grace and Kinsey  dsc_1537-1_edited-1 (sweet cousins) ate their lunch together.

Kate’s daughter, Carson, brought her friend Hope  dsc_1513-1_edited-1, both beautiful girls.

The guys gathered in the living room near the television dsc_1510-1_edited-1   dsc_1511-1_edited-1.

I should mention we all enjoyed Christi and Jane’s new home.  It is really beautiful and has a gorgeous very large kitchen, perfect for gathering.  An added bonus was the Christmas décor, Christi had worked hard to fill the house with holiday cheer.

The new house had plenty of space for families to enjoy their meal, dsc_1527-1_edited-1 Glen, Kate’s husband, Jackson, Kate’s son and Carson.     dsc_1522-1_edited-1 Charity and her oldest bonus son, Tyler.dsc_1524-1_edited-1 Courtney and her husband Roy.  dsc_1526-1_edited-1 Janell and her husband Don.dsc_1525-1_edited-1 Charity and her husband, Mike.   Kara and her husband, Joe   dsc_1528-1_edited-1.

Jake and his Aunt Jane dsc_1519-1_edited-1.

I regret I didn’t get a photo of Kate and Glen together.   I was snapping these pics and forgot to ask someone to take one of Mike and I.  No matter how many images you capture there is always something or someone you miss.  I fully intended to take photos of the beautiful red cakes, one made by Christi and Jane and another baked by Janell, they were both delicious and I apologize for my ineptness as a photographer.

Gabriel loved getting to know his big cousin (his words), Carson.  She was patient with a five-year old little cousin and helped him with a game dsc_1530-1_edited-1   dsc_1529-1_edited-1

Grace is always willing to have her photo taken with her big brother, Tylerdsc_1516-1_edited-1 .

 

My dearest husband, Mike, had a great time entertaining and being entertained by little Avery, Kara and Joe’s youngest daughter.dsc_1538-1_edited-1.  I couldn’t stop snapping these two sweet sisters, Avery and Reese, both are incredibly photogenicdsc_1535-1_edited-3      dsc_1535-1_edited-2 .

Avery was such a happy girl, just can’t get over this facedsc_1540-1_edited-1    dsc_1539-1_edited-1 .

I loved this photo of Kara and Avery.  Their very natural pose so reminded me of thirty plus years ago when I would hold my son, Jake.  He always sucked his left thumb and twirled my hair with his right hand.  dsc_1543-1_edited-1

Grabbed one picture of Mike with granddaughter, Kinseydsc_1520-1_edited-1 .

Kate and her Aunt Christi paused briefly for this photodsc_1521-1_edited-1 .

I also took a few staged photos, beginning with Aunt Jane and a few of her great great nephews and niecesdsc_1534-1_edited-1 .

Then Aunt Jane and some of her great nieces and nephews.dsc_1531-1_edited-1 .

The last photo taken was to prove I was actually presentdsc_1544-1_edited-1 .

I think Aunt Carol would be proud of the group that gathered and happy that we continue to make memories together.  Red cake is a perfect combination of cocoa, sugar, flour, buttermilk, oil, eggs, vinegar, baking soda, salt, vanilla and red food coloring but Red Cake Day is a mix of families and hearts intent on keeping traditions alive.

 

 

 

 

 

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Summer Retreat with the Grands

On a hot August morning Mike and I loaded our four youngest grandchildren for a brief getaway, we were missing our oldest grandson, Tyler, but he is a working man.  Our plans were to go “camping”, not the cot in a tent kind of camping but the nice bed in a 5th wheel kind.  I mention that not to boast but to explain we are pretty spoiled, I really like electricity, air-conditioning, hot showers, and all the normal comforts, my grands enjoy those things too.

We had a two-hour drive to reach our destination, Fin and Feather Lodge on Tenkiller Lake.  The kids were good travelers, they were armed with Ipads and headphones.   I was quick to decide whoever invented headphones was brilliant and most certainly should have received a Nobel peace prize.

Upon arriving at the Fin our first stop was Soda Steve’s, the fun restaurant with delicious burgers and more.  We found a big table and savored and assortment of choices, the homemade onion rings were a big hit.  After lunch the little ones delighted in washing their hands, Soda Steve’s made that a fun experience.IMG_2215_edited-1 A great big bath tub instead of a sink is so much better.

Fin and Feather offers many choices for entertainment.  The three youngest, Kinsey, Grace and Gabriel chose the Fin’s swimming pool for their first activity.  They have a nice pool, a wading pool and a bubbly hot tub.

IMG_2219_edited-1     IMG_2224_edited-1       IMG_2221_edited-1  All three love the water, I am not quite ready to let little Gabe loose in a deep pool without a life jacket, although he wants to be free.

Colton had packed his fishing pole and a tackle box filled with all things “fishing”.  He was eager to throw a line in the pond so he chose to be a fisherman before swimming.DSC_0674_edited-1  Since Colton is now a teenager we give him more freedom, he is a great kid growing into a fine young man.

The Fin has a building set up as an arcade. DSC_0642_edited-2 The perimeter of the room has games of all kinds and the center of the room is a miniature golf course.  The games were probably not the most current but the kids all enjoyed them.  There were simple games that you just put a quarter in and out popped a ball, others you droveDSC_0606_edited-1   DSC_0601_edited-1

and some that required two great minds.DSC_0610_edited-1 .  Colton and Grandad played air hockey  DSC_0597_edited-1 All four tried the miniature golf course.  DSC_0617_edited-1    DSC_0616_edited-1  DSC_0631_edited-1   DSC_0639_edited-1   DSC_0629_edited-1

The ping-pong table was also a favorite.   An amazing August rainstorm trapped us in the arcade for a while but none of us really cared.  Mike and I loved watching a Oklahoma August rain  and were beyond grateful for the 20 degree drop in temperature that came with it.

The Fin has a very nice gift shop with a large selection, making it hard for 5, 6 and 9 year olds to choose.  Hard but not impossible,  they were up to the task.  They eventually made time to climb and slide on the playground, although we had to towel dry the equipment. This trip was not the kids first time to be monkeys on the Fin playground but the first to have it all to themselves.

As evening drew nearer the plan was group fishing.  going fishing  This was definitely more Mike’s department, which was totally ok.  I got to just watch and enjoy with the camera at the ready. I was amazed at the girl’s interest and their willingness to touch a worm. DSC_0667_edited-1          DSC_0679_edited-1

Both girls were patient, a necessary trait for fishing, but one I think my sweet girls are still learning.  One trait they share is a special cousin bond, makes my heart smile.DSC_0672_edited-1  Gabriel had a little trouble staying interested in the fishing but found a kitty to play with.  DSC_0678_edited-1 Little boys always find something to make them smile.  Colton took his fishing pretty seriously, he chose a spot with some quiet solitude to throw his fishing line.  Sadly, no fish were actually caught, only some moss.

I planned for us to watch a family friendly movie, Disney’s Parent Trap.  We rented it at the local video store because our copy is an outdated VHS, but unfortunately the DVD was so scratched it was unwatchable.  We eventually settled for another movie we had with us, I had grabbed and oldie but a goodie, Secondhand Lions.  The trailer was cozy with all six of us but when you are with people you love cozy can be nice.  The girls had matching nightgowns, this was little Grace’s idea.  She and I had purchased them a few days before our Fin trip, she wanted to surprise Kinsey with “twinsey” pjs.DSC_0689_edited-1  The new gowns came with matching outfits for their American dolls.  Luckily their new stuffed animals, purchased in the Fin Gift Shop, were happy to join in the “twinsey” fun.

Eventually everyone fell asleep, it was late enough that all four slept in the next morning. After muffins for breakfast we spent our second morning  in the pool.  We were suppose to be home in early afternoon so lunch was a little fast and crazy.  Before we reloaded for our return drive we snapped a group shot DSC_0694_edited-1

As we drove home I asked each grandchild what was their favorite thing on our short retreat.  Colton was very quick to say, “fishing”, Kinsey said “arcade”, Gabriel answered  “I need to think about it” and Grace said “spending time with Nana and Grandad”.  Mike and I are very blessed grandparents and we know it.  Time spent with our grands is special, I love making memories with them.

 

 

 

 

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Blue Hawaii, Kauai and Maui

 

On May 30, 2016, Memorial Day, Mike and I began our first vacation in Hawaii.  This was a trip I had wished for my entire life.  I grew up watching Elvis movies, Blue Hawaii being my favorite.  I love the ocean and beautiful foliage and flowers and have always imagined Hawaii to be one of the most picturesque places on earth.  My sweet husband didn’t really share my desire to see our 50th state but he loves me and tries to please me most of the time, a commitment I am eternally grateful for.
Mike retired from his teaching career 5 years ago but agreed to return (something he had said he would NEVER do) to the classroom to teach the last 10 weeks of this past school year.  His compassion for his teacher friends who were working hard to fill a vacancy and his desire to help struggling students motivated his decision.   His first week back at school he asked me to plan our 43rd wedding anniversary trip to Hawaii.
  I thought the photographer in Mike would totally love the photo opportunities Hawaii offers.   I was hopeful that would offset his big dread, the LONG flight.  Oklahoma is about a 3 hour flight to Los Angeles then 5 1/2 hours to Hawaii.  I completely agreed that was a lot of hours strapped in a chair beside total strangers with only pretzels and Diet Coke for nourishment.   I prayed the experience would be worth it.
We watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean for more than an hour before we arrived at Lihue  (pronounced LeHooey), Kauai.  The beauty had already begun.
Mike is an early riser, always has been and always will be.  One big advantage to that is you get to see the sunrise.  In Hawaii that is a spectacular event, these are some of his mornings. DSC_1168_edited-1DSC_1049_edited-1DSC_1176_edited-1  He took lots of shots of our resort, The Sheraton Kauai Resort, we stayed at Poipo, Beach, pronounced Poy-Pooh, wanted to share a few  DSC_1034_edited-1DSC_1189_edited-1         DSC_1191_edited-1
Having arrived after dark our sightseeing didn’t start until Tuesday morning, May 31.  After being advised of some not to be missed sights from a young resident of Lihue we drove to the old Lihue pier, near the airport.  Mike loved the ancient concrete and wood pier.DSC_1087_edited-1  Our next recommended destination was Alekoko (Menehune) Fishpond.  The first photo is the mountain beside the Fishpond DSC_1079_edited-1These next two are of the actual Fishpond.  DSC_1071_edited-1DSC_1080_edited-1   We enjoyed that view before heading to Wailua Falls  DSC_1097_edited-1DSC_1110_edited-1   This was our first Hawaiian waterfall and it did not disappoint.  Opaekaa’s Falls was another short drive awayDSC_1130_edited-1  Just can’t see too many beautiful waterfalls.  Across the street from this falls was a lookout for the Wailua River. DSC_1123_edited-1  Another beautiful site was one we saw every time we left or returned to our resort.   To enter or exit our resort we drove through The Tunnel of Trees,  DSC_1279_edited-1  built in 1911.   They were swamp mahogany eucalyptus trees, the tree tunnel is a mile long.  They make for a beautiful,  shady and fragrant drive.  I loved the drive every time we made it.  As you entered the tree tunnel there were Tarzan like vines and I grabbed this photo of Mike playing DSC_1286_edited-1
We attended our first luau, entitled Luau Kalamaku.  It was described as a mesmerizing dinner theatre with a dash of Cirque du Soleil.  There were hula dancers and fire poi ball twirlers and a show stopping Samoan fire knife dancer.  We enjoyed a lavish buffet of local delicacies, the main course was unearthed from an underground oven.   The theatrical performance depicted the voyage of the first families to leave Tahiti and journey to Kauai told with dance, story and song.  Being my first luau I had nothing to compare the experience to but I thoroughly enjoyed it and was moved by their story.  We didn’t take photos but Mike caught this one shot as I received my first Hawaiian lei, made from beautiful orchid blooms.DSC_1133_edited-1
June 1 was our wedding anniversary and we booked an air tour with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. DSC_1228_edited-1 When you have been married 43 years it is hard to give a unique and special gift.   Mike thought touring Kauai from the air would give us a forever memory of this anniversary, he was so right.
The journey began with a flight to Hanapepe Valley above the Hoolahee River where Harrison Ford took off in a small plane in the movie Indiana Jones.  We continued to what is commonly referred to as Jurassic Park Falls,  vlcsnap-error110_edited-1  as we experienced a milder version of the Jurassic waterfall drop the Jurassic music was piped into our headphones. Amazing!  Another highlight was the Waimea Canyon, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”,  DSC_1218_edited-1DSC_1212_edited-1  The canyon is 3 miles wide, 10 miles long and 3500 feet deep. The canyon has incredible color changes and beautiful waterfalls.
Brodie, our guide, told us The Hawaiian Islands is the most isolated piece of land mass on earth.  It is 2,400 miles away from the nearest continent, North America.  The islands consist of 132 islands, reefs, shoals, and atolls, stretching 1,600 miles.  If you took a map of the Hawaiian Islands and laid it on top of a map of the United States it would stretch from Texas to Alaska.
 Our pilot was also our guide, he gave us more facts than were possible to remember but the story he shared of the Valley of the Kings    I will never forget.  In ancient times when a Hawaiian king died a young warrior was chosen to be lowered into the cliff by a rope where he was to bury the king’s remains.  The rope was then cut and the young man would fall to his death, taking the secret of the burial location with him.  It was considered the highest of honors to be the warrior chosen for this task.
One of my favorite things we saw was the NaPali Coast.  I was and always will be in awe of that coastal landscape.  The color of the water was gorgeous, this is not the best photo because it had started to rain and this was taken through the helicopter window.  DSC_1222_edited-1   This might be a little better shot, I could not get over the color of the water.  vlcsnap-error448_edited-1 Brodie told us many of his own family members who have lived in Kauai their entire lives have never seen the Na Pali coastline or even a fraction of what we viewed.   Nearly 70% of Kauai is not even accessible except by air.  Another of my favorites was The Cathedrals, they stood above the NaPali coast, incredible cliffs.vlcsnap-error701_edited-1 I just have to share one more which includes the coastline vlcsnap-error375_edited-1
The tour continued to the pristine blue waters of Hanalei Bay  vlcsnap-error853   Our guide told us this was his favorite bay because of the mountain view behind the crescent shape Hanalei Bay vlcsnap-error817_edited-1  You can see the interweaving falls in this picture.
 Then it was on to the elusive Mt. Waialeale, the second wettest spot on earth, with an average rainfall of 450-500 inches annually.  The top of the mountain is only visible around 30 days per year, the pictures we took were foggy and from a rain covered window.  Flying into the center of the crater with its 5000 foot walls towering above and its 3000 foot waterfalls surrounding you was awe-inspiring.  The womb of Kauai was our last destination and our pilot said the weather would determine our ability to enter the area. We were able to fly into the crater and the views were “amazing on steroids” but the photos were not clear because of the rain.
 We were given microphones and headsets to be able to hear and speak with the pilot.  He encouraged us to ask questions but Mike and I and the four others we shared this experience with remained mute for most of the tour.  We all seemed at a loss for words, unable to communicate as we were processing such visuals.
We spent the evening enjoying a beautiful shopping area called “The Shops at Kukui-uli” just blocks from our resort. One day a week (we just happened to be lucky) the local farmers and craftsman set up an outdoor market.  There were dozens of beautiful permanent shops and there was live music with many restaurant choices offering outside tables.  One booth sold locally grown Sugarloaf pineapples, the most delicious I have ever tasted.  It was like a rich dessert that melted in your mouth.  After a relaxing dinner with live music we returned to the resort.  We wanted photos of the two of us on this special anniversary so we played “photographer” using Mike’s tripod and the timer on the camera.           DSC_1255_edited-1  We knew we would probably never have a more beautiful backdrop.DSC_1251_edited-1  The perfect end to our evening was the sunset over the Pacific.  We found a comfortable bench and watched the sky’s dramatic changes and listened as the ocean sang.  No pictures, no camera, just the two of us and a view only God’s majesty could paint.
We had saved our next day to enjoy our beach, we walked in the sand with the waves splashing us and just absorbed our surroundings.  DSC_1261_edited-1   IMG_2104_edited-1 I wonder if I was a beach bum in a former life, although I don’t believe in former lives and the word bum has always made me think “lazy”, I don’t think I could ever be labeled that.  I truly know my love for the ocean comes from happy childhood memories.  My Aunt Do took me to Santa Cruz every summer my family made the long drive to California to be with my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.  Precious family memories.
Later that same day we had an afternoon flight to our next island experience.  We flew to Kahului, pronounced “Ka-who-lee”, Maui.  We rented our second vehicle and began the 50 minute drive to our resort, Kaanapali, pronounced “Ka-nah-paw-lee”, Beach Hotel.  The drive was such a contrast, the passenger side of the car was barren mountains  IMG_2166_edited-1 often draped in a chain fence like covering    IMG_2170_edited-1  to prevent rock slides with little to no vegetation but the driver’s side was the gorgeous Pacific Ocean. IMG_2175_edited-1  The terrain was so different from the island we just left.
We stopped at the very tourist friendly city of  Lahaina, pronounced “Luh-high-nuh”, and ate at The Hard Rock of Maui,   IMG_2117_edited-1 .  We sat at a window with no glass to hinder our view of the ocean.  We have dined at many Hard Rocks from New York City to Rome,  even Las Vegas but none with a view like Maui’s.  Lahaina is known as Maui’s historic jewel, an old whaling town.  Lahaina’s Front Street is filled with shops and restaurants.
“The journey is the destination” is the way most people describe The Road to Hana.  We had been advised by many to plan a day for this and it was certainly on our “to do” list.  It is a 42 mile road from the historic old plantation town of Paia to Hana, but the drive is an all day excursion.  We didn’t totally understand how that was possible since in Oklahoma that same number of miles could be traveled in around 30 to 35 minutes.  We learned quickly, 30 miles of the drive is a winding adventure with more than 56 one lane bridges and 617 hairpin curves.  One way took us a little more than 3 hours, stopping at the only 2 restroom stops on the drive, and a few brief photo stops .  The road had breathtaking and panoramic ocean views of the Pacific  DSC_1300_edited-1, there were jungle enclosed swimming holes  DSC_1310_edited-1, tropical flowers  DSC_0003_edited-1DSC_1274_edited-1    DSC_0113_edited-1phenomenal overlooks   DSC_1306_edited-1 and majestic waterfalls    DSC_1311_edited-1    At the end of the journey the small town of Hana was not very impressive but the Waianapanapa State Park with its lava caves, blow-hole and black sand beaches was incredible. DSC_1320_edited-1   DSC_1318_edited-1    DSC_1317_edited-1   DSC_1325_edited-1   DSC_1331_edited-1   When Mike noticed a sign in Hana that boasted “Airport” he said, “how much do you think it would cost to fly back?”  We both laughed but I think his question might help one understand the nail-biting very intense driving required to reach Hana.
That evening we dined at Leilani’s on The Beach.  It was part of The Whaler Village which was our neighbor resort.  The village was a group of shops, multiple floors, with two outdoor anchor restaurants.  We were there for sunset, I think this photo speaks volumes  IMG_2126_edited-1
Mike took a few photos of our Maui hotel.  It was not as private as the hotel in Kauai but it was beautiful too.  This was the view from the balcony of our room.DSC_0031_edited-1 From the beach in front of our hotel there was a view of a cliff  where people lined up to dive. DSC_0123_edited-1
The next morning we had reserved for our beach time.  As luck would have it the Maui Jim Oceanfest 2016 was being sponsored by our hotel and was taking place on our beach.  To get the audience involved they were taking people for outrigger sailing canoe rides.  Mike was quick to sign up.  IMG_2146_edited-1      Mike thought it was a smooth relaxing ride and the crew friendly and informative.  We spent the morning on the beach   DSC_0016_edited-1   DSC_0014_edited-1 IMG_2150_edited-1   watching men and women compete in water sports, many I had never heard of.  The announcer explained we were watching some of the best water athletes in the world compete.
At the end of our beach/rest day we treated ourselves to the chef’s tasting menu at the upstairs dining room at Leilani’s.  DSC_0033_edited-1 .    It was a delicious 3 course meal, one I would highly recommend if you visit the Kaanapali area of Maui.
We were a little sad that it was the last Hawaiian sunset of the trip.  Mike used his tripod again and tried to capture the sky and water one last time. DSC_0052_edited-1   DSC_0047_edited-1.  Here is that beautiful view without us DSC_0039_edited-1 We flew home the next evening and even though we had many hours of Sunday to explore we knew we would be Oklahoma bound before the sun set.
  The captain of the outrigger sailing canoe that Mike was fortunate enough to ride with had told Mike about a special Hawaiian send off that would take place Sunday morning and invited us to attend.  We gathered on the beach where all 10 vessels were lined up ready to depart.  DSC_0079_edited-1  There was a Hawaiian woman, she was the Director of Culture for Kannapoli, she asked all of us to form a circle around the 10 captains.  She spoke to the group and  sang a beautiful prayer then offered a blessing as she poured water on each captain’s head.  It was a touching ceremony and so spiritual I was truly moved.  DSC_0088_edited-1 .   Another couple told us they had been coming to Maui every summer for 26 years and had never experienced such a ceremony.
 After the send off we drove a short ways to another beach.  We walked in the sand at the shore’s edge searching for shells and found many pieces of coral.  DSC_0107_edited-1 .   I had received a very nice hat from Courtney and Roy and the kids on my birthday and it was perfect for the beach.DSC_0098_edited-1
The islands have such beautiful flowers and trees that bloom as well.  The plumeria DSC_0108_edited-1   DSC_0114_edited-1 tree blooms in many colors and their blooms are often used to make leis.  The hibiscus is gorgeous as well DSC_1263_edited-1  IMG_2147_edited-1, the yellow being the state flower of Hawaii.  Hawaiians grow plumbago as shrubs, their lantana and geraniums grow at least 3 times the size of Oklahoma’s.
As we headed back to the airport we stopped in Lahaina for a late lunch.  We became fans of Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Restaurant on a trip several years ago to New York City.  Earlier this year we visited the Destin, Florida Bubba Gump’s.  It seemed only fitting we add the Maui version to our list.  It is a fun restaurant but also serves delicious seafood.  The wait staff is trained to entertain you and your Forrest Gump trivia knowledge will be tested.  Every table has a sign that you turn according to your needs, “Run Forrest Run” or “Stop Forrest Stop”. IMG_2158_edited-1
Mike and I did not turn a television set on for the 7 days we were gone.  I never crushed one candy.  We used our electronics to catch up on emails and post a few photos for our kids to see.  I was guilty of occasionally checking Facebook and played my Word Streak games with some down time but for the most part both of us tried to always be in the moment.
I have often heard Hawaii referred to as “paradise” and I now understand why.  I loved seeing the 2 islands we were fortunate enough to visit and certainly treasure the memories we made, BUT my real “paradise” is home.  Home means so much more than walls and furniture, it means roots, family and love.   Being away makes you incredibly grateful for all the loved ones God has blessed you with.  Mahalo (thank you) Hawaii for the wonderful vacation spot, but as beautiful as you are you will never be home.
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Oklahoma Waves

When you live in a land locked state and you love the water  you have to find your beach somewhere.  Since our grand children may have been fish in another life Mike had the idea to take a relatively short road trip to the Water Zoo in Clinton, Oklahoma. IMG_1312_edited-1 We planned it as a surprise for Colton and Kinsey.  Their parents were on a big trip celebrating their wedding anniversary and this was our conciliatory offering since they had to stay home. We arrived after dark, our first glimpse made us anxious for the fun ahead  IMG_1356_edited-1 .

The surprise part of the trip drove them both a little crazy.  They simply aren’t good at being surprised.  Even as we drove west they seemed tortured by the unknown.  I told them to think of the story they could someday tell, “our Nana and Grandad picked us up, mom had packed our bag, and we headed west for an adventure.  They wouldn’t tell us where but when we got there it was Sooooo Much Fun!”

You may have seen a television commercial advertising the Water Zoo and wondered what it would be like.  I think it is a hidden gem in our great state.  We had a great weekend, three totally different 5 story slides, a great lazy river   IMG_1305_edited-1, a large wave pool  IMG_1320_edited-1, a pool with a basketball net in the center, an amazing play area for toddlers and wonderful round rafts provided for our enjoyment.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express just a short sidewalk away from the water park.   The rooms were nice and Kinsey loved their breakfast buffet. Shortly after our arrival Friday evening Colton and Kinsey enjoyed the hotel’s Oklahoma shaped swimming pool.  Saturday evening we asked the hotel to recommend a restaurant and the four of us had very tasty Mexican food. IMG_1326_edited-1   IMG_1327_edited-1   We found Clinton to be a welcoming city and appreciated their small town charm and Oklahoma friendliness.

We were there in early December and surprised to find it not too busy, maybe being huge Disney fans has made us too accustomed to lines and crowds.  I loved the safe feeling the park provided, there were life guards every where.

Kinsey and Colton climbed the stairs more times than I could count always eager for the thrill awaiting them.  Mike and I joined them a few timesIMG_1289_edited-1 but the stairs were a challenge for us requiring short breaks. On two of the slides you could swirl down on a double raft, a treat for grandparents and grandchildren.     IMG_1311_edited-1

The wave pool was my favorite spot, there was a long line of lounge chairsIMG_1349_edited-1   with the feel and sound of a shoreline. IMG_1323_edited-1 Approximately  every 30 minutes a horn would sound and the waves would begin, you could close your eyes and imagine you were listening to the ocean.   I loved sitting there with a good book and my Ipad.

There was an area much like the Splash Pads we have close to home, one in Seminole and  Shawnee.  There was a large elephant container that was being continually filled with water   IMG_1303_edited-1, when it reached its capacity it would tip and pour gallons of water crashing. IMG_1308_edited-1 There was a tamer slide under the elephant splash.  This was a great area for children a little older than toddlers, kind of a “between” zone.

Near the “Welcome to the Zoo” sign there was a waterfall Colton and Kinsey loved to play under   IMG_1316_edited-1 . It was in a channel of the lazy river, a place all four of us found a great place to relax.  By late afternoon on Saturday Colton was using the river as a resting place    IMG_1334_edited-1, the stairs taking their toll on even him.

What I loved most was hearing my Kinsey say “this is the best zoo I have ever been to”  IMG_1295_edited-1 and my Colton say “I had a great time Nana” IMG_1296_edited-1 .

I don’t like swimsuits and cameras to be in the same room if I am involved but can’t not post this happy photo with my two oldest grandchildren and my sweet husband.  Life is about building memories with the ones you love and I treasure our shared experience at the water zoo.IMG_1331_edited-1

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Kinsey at Rose Hill, a Step Back in Time

My granddaughter Kinsey, 8 years of age, recently asked me to join her on a school field trip.  It was to Rose Hill School, located in the Cherokee Strip Museum in Perry, Oklahoma.  In all honesty I wasn’t looking forward to the trip, September is a crazy busy month for me and Perry is 100 miles away.  But I know my grandchildren will only be young for a short while and invites like this will not always be offered.  My years on this earth have given me the wisdom to accept “grand” invitations, the priceless memories are a bonus.

Most of Kinsey’s third grade class dressed in period times. DSC_0187_edited-1 The girls wore calico print dresses with bonnets and the boys plaid shirts and jeans, some with suspenders and cute hats.  The entire class seemed excited and eager to experience what a school day was like in 1910, more than a century ago.  Their smiling faces showed no dread of the long bus ride. DSC_0168_edited-1 I love a child’s ability to happily anticipate the unknown.

Shortly after our arrival we were given a guided tour of the museum, I snapped several shots. DSC_0167_edited-1   DSC_0165_edited-1 The kids were well-behaved but curious about many strange and unfamiliar things.DSC_0166_edited-1  Our tour ended with a trip to the gift shop, always a favorite with 8 year olds.  Ten minutes later my wallet was $20 lighter and Kinsey had a sack full of treasures. DSC_0163_edited-1

It was finally time for the children’s real reason for their trip.  After being directed to a long tree covered sidewalk we caught a glimpse of the wooden “time bridge”.  The children were informed when they crossed the bridge they would be going back in time and for the next several hours they would be living in 1910.  The school bell began ringing and the children followed the sound, eager for their first glimpse of the white one room schoolhouse. DSC_0170_edited-1     DSC_0174_edited-1

They were greeted by their school marm,  Miss Rupp.  She was exactly as one might picture a school teacher from 1910.  Dressed appropriately she was a stern, no-nonsense woman.  Initially her demeanor seemed intimidating, even foreboding but we quickly learned she was also caring, personable and even humorous.  Miss Rupp expected and required all of her “scholars” to use their best manners. DSC_0178_edited-1    Raise your hand, stand when you speak, yes ma’am, no ma’am, ladies first, be polite and always follow the golden rule.  Good manners in 1910 were much like they should be in 2015.

The scholar’s first lesson was penmanship with quill pens and glass bottles of ink. DSC_0173_edited-1  They wrote on handmade paper tablets, and practiced the correct curves and slants required for cursive writing.  They were introduced to the word “orthography “, defined (I googled it) as a set of conventions for how to write a language, including rules of spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, word breaks, emphasis and punctuation.  They ended penmanship with a lesson on the importance of listening.  The scholars wrote the sentence, “Silence is golden”.

The next lesson was spelling.  Their words were pantry, washstand, flatiron, parlor, waistcoat, bonnet, sash, drawers and breeches.  Many of these words had to be explained to the third grade scholars.  The marm referred to the parents and grandparents sitting in the back of the class as the older 8th graders.

Next the teacher asked all of the children to take their slates and chalk out of their desks and they began American Arithmetic. DSC_0181_edited-1 She walked around the room clearly enunciating story problems instructing the scholars to work the problems on their slates.  The third graders wore name tags and Miss Rupp referred to each one using Mister or Miss with their surnames, another lesson for the class.

The last lesson before lunch break was recitation.  Miss Rupp asked the group to get their McGuffey readers from their desks.  They were going to read from a poem in the back of the book. DSC_0184_edited-1 The boys set two by two on one side of the room, the girls on the opposite side, this arrangement had been designed by the school marm.  The recitation was divided just like the seating, the girls had lines to read then the boys followed with theirs.

After systematically washing their hands from a bowl,DSC_0185_edited-1 a bar of lye soap and a bucket of water lunch recess was an enjoyable break.  The children’s lunch was in a metal can, a smaller metal can served as a cup.  They had been given prior instructions on what food was allowed at Rose Hill.  Kinsey’s teacher had prepared their lunch, consisting of a biscuit,DSC_0194_edited-1 a slice of cheese, an appleDSC_0193_edited-1 and a cookie.  One of the young boy scholars carried a bucket of drinking  water to an old tree stump, the children took turns using a ladle to put water in their cans.DSC_0191_edited-1  After their meal the children were entertained by a variety of 1910 toys.  There was an old metal merry-go-round, DSC_0195_edited-1   swings, wooden rings, jacks, and I think Kinsey’s favorite, the handmade wooden stilts. DSC_0204_edited-1     DSC_0201_edited-1 I never heard the words, “I’m bored”, the children seemed happy and content with their shady 1910 school yard.

When Miss Rupp rang the school bell the children quickly formed a line to enter the school.  Their afternoon began with Oklahoma history. She expected them to know our statehood day of Nov. 16, 1907, making Oklahoma the 46th state.  The children must certainly know who was governor of our state, Charles Haskell and the president of the United States William Howard Taft.

The scholars final lesson was a spelling bee.  The school marm arranged the children to stand in the front of the classroom. DSC_0205_edited-1   Miss Kinsey’s words were barn, belt, pennies, parlor, sewing, churn and maple.  After these words there were only 2 children left standing, Kinsey was one of the two. DSC_0208_edited-2 Her final word was kitchen, she repeated the word and then said “c”, immediately shook her head and then correctly spelled kitchen.  The rules had been clearly explained, they were not allowed to change or correct themselves.  Kinsey finished in second place much to her disappointment.  Something in her DNA makes her competitive, a family trait she and I share.  Bless her heart!

The school day was coming to an end, it was time for the young scholars to cross the “time bridge” and return to 2015.  I think they carried good memories with them as they walked.  I am happy to say they are memories Kinsey and I share.DSC_0188_edited-1

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Fun Family Photography

We recently scheduled a photo session with Daphne’s Photography LLC.   Less than a year ago I saw this picture on Facebook  10800_855963241101912_1211518559571369667_n  and fell in love with it.   I knew there was an artist’s eye behind the camera that snapped this.  I also knew I wanted my grandchildren’s images to be captured by that artist.  My family and friends know that my own sweet husband, Mike,  has a passion for  photography and I love and appreciate his talent.  My desire to enlist Daphne’s services in no way diminishes my respect for his expertise.

We have the added benefit of Daphne also being family.  She is actually Mike’s “first cousin once removed”.  Isn’t google wonderful?  I never really understood second, third and once removed cousin terms but the magic of google explains it quite clearly.  Daphne’s grandparents allow her the use of their 160 acre farm as her backdrop.  Her grandparents are special people and have enjoyed nine decades of life, 70 of those years married to one another, that might be more amazing than google.   Thank you J.R. and Freda.

When we arrived at what has been fondly named “the farm” I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit I was a little concerned.  I hadn’t been there since Daphne’s grandparent’s health had prevented them from maintaining the incredible amount of upkeep required for a farm of this size.  The grass was mowed but the close trimming and the shrub and tree pruning was somewhat lacking.  I know the children and grandchildren are doing everything they can (Daphne included) but they all have their own jobs and homes and a place this size can be more work than 20 people could sustain.  Daphne quickly calmed my uncertainty,  she was professional and completely at ease with her job and the surroundings.  She arrived with the appropriate “props” and even “rewards” for cooperating children.  She is a mom also and understands the importance of candy.

The primary reason for this photo shoot was our grandchildren.  Our youngest, Gabriel,  is only 4, Grace is 5 (almost 6), Kinsey is 8 and Colton, the oldest, is 12.   Mike and I are lucky enough to have all four live near us, 2 or 3 miles is very close when you live in the country. Daphne was quick to understand the “cousins” bond our four share and made swift work of snapping great pictures. DSC_9320 For the next photo Daphne asked the cousins to make any silly face they wanted. DSC_9325 This was the resulting shot.  You can see Colton has that “really, seriously, silly?” look.   He is, after all,  12 years old and almost a teenager, the look on his face speaks volumes.  Still a cute picture.

The next shots were of the pairs of siblings.  Colton and Kinsey DSC_9308    and Grace and Gabriel    DSC_9307.

Charity and her husband, Mike, had come with the hope of a family shot.  Daphne chose this setting DSC_9312 and had asked the kids to take their socks and shoes off.  I love this “barefoot” pose, it seems so personal and very natural.   Daphne’s next idea was this pose DSC_9316, I love the old milk can that is so casually leaning on the tree in the background. Great picture of a sweet couple.

Courtney’s husband, Roy, wasn’t able to be with us.  We were also missing our son, Jake, and our adult bonus grandson, Tyler.  Since this was really a grand kids session I hadn’t arranged for our  “busy-hard-to-get” ones to be on location, that will be our next session.  Daphne took this photo of Courtney and the two who belong to her, Colton and KinseyDSC_9328 copy.  I love black and white photos and am pleased that Daphne’s editing eye chose this.

We always love to be in photos with our grands and hope someday they will look back and say “I love the picture of Nana and Grandad with me”.  This first shot Daphne posed us and then asked Mike to kiss me and told the kids to respond naturallyDSC_9343 then the “Ewwwwws and yucky’s”  began.  The laughter in this next pic was genuine     DSC_9346 .

Gabriel and Grandad are special buddies.  Mike is a wonderful grandfather to all of them but Gabriel has always been Mike’s boy.  The other three are a little bit of Nana’s kids.  These next two pictures are our youngest/oldest family membersDSC_9347    DSC_9352 .

The boards with peeling white paint make a great backdrop for these next photosDSC_9354 Kinsey and big brother, ColtonDSC_9362 . I was so glad Daphne helped Colton find his real smile.

These next two pictures were taken on a weathered and moss covered bench, Gracie was certain she saw a bug and had a little trouble getting comfortable DSC_9358 but bugs don’t bother Gabe  DSC_9359.

I hope I have not made this photo session seem systematical and structured.   It was not!  These four were running in different directions, exploring and searching for the next climbing toy, and often squealing with delight.  They love to be outside and a farm this size offered much to investigate.   Daphne seemed to know when to let them run and how to make them calm when she was ready.

One of the “props” available for this group shot was a hand crafted train engineDSC_9381 .  If you are four or almost a teenager you still like train engines.  Kinsey and I agreed this was our favorite group photoDSC_9304 . I was amazed that a rusty old blue school bus could made such great pictures DSC_9391.   If you change that blue bus to black and white this is the result  DSC_9392 copy. Gabriel and Colton are eight years apart in age but have a great bond.  Gabriel totally looks up to Colton and Colton is a caring, loving “big” cousin to Gabe.

A mother/daughter picture is always special, so glad Daphne captured thisDSC_9400 followed by mother/son DSC_9403.

Kinsey and Grace had stepped up on this old tram, the bus is in the background.  Blue paint must have been on special when these two received their last coating.DSC_9408.   Colton found the end seat of the same blue tram, guess they ran out of blue paint   DSC_9410 .  I am not poking fun at the unique items on the farm, I am actually grateful for each one and love the charm they gave to all of our photos.

We had found this cute blue hat when searching for the girl’s dresses.  There was only one so they took turns wearing it for pics.  Kinsey seemed to have a natural talent for posing, she has told me more than once that Daphne told her she night need to take her along for photo sessions.   DSC_9417, DSC_9421 .  As we were walking around Gracie held my hand and shared with me “Nana, I love our new photographer”, a direct quote.  You can tell, not her first rodeo.  She has been on this side of a camera lens many times.  I agreed with Gracie, Daphne was doing a great job, love this one   DSC_9430 .

Gabriel is very photogenic  DSC_9432, maybe he was saying, “Nana, I love you this much”.  After seeing this photo I asked Grace what instructions was she offering Gabriel   DSC_9435 . She told me she was telling him not to run away and stay right beside her.   She mothers him and he is lucky to have her for his big sister  DSC_9439 .

The last shots were more mother/son and mother/daughter ones, this time with Charity.DSC_9442    DSC_9448DSC_9449   DSC_9450

Thank you Daphne, for making it a fun afternoon and a great memory.

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 Cruising North to Alaska

As I was shivering in a very large metal flying machine I couldn’t help but contemplate what makes us wander from home.  I love home and all its familiarities, its comforts and its mundane routines.  But I suppose I must have a little adventurous spirit and a desire to see other parts of our world.  I know for this trip I was influenced by the opportunity to spend time with two great friends, Chuck and Debbie, friends that geographical distance sometimes makes our closeness difficult.  We met in Seattle, having arrived on separate flights from different states but began our cruise together in search of the beauty of Alaska and certain we would collect memories to forever cherish.

We had the opportunity to spend a little time in Seattle DSC_0049_edited-1 before we boarded  the Ruby Princess.   We knew visiting the Pike’s Place Market DSC_0048_edited-1   DSC_0047_edited-1 was at the top of our list, and it did not disappoint.  If you have never been it is actually a farmer’s market but not like the ones we have in Oklahoma or Kansas.  Of course seafood was the primary commodity for sale. IMG_0810_edited-1  We took photos outside the first Starbucks, DSC_0041_edited-1 watched them throw fish (after much searching), shopped through hundreds of small booths, DSC_0017_edited-1 purchased beautiful bouquets of fresh flowers DSC_0025_edited-1 and thoroughly enjoyed our morning.  The temperature was perfect, upper 60’s, and thank you Seattle for not raining on us.  Chuck had purchased a selfie stick for our vacation and we used it many times, this was our first01318a5c34127f53861c0e0b3fa3e933e25ef69ff9 attempt, good job Chuck!

This was taken as we went through security to board the ship. IMG_0823_edited-1Debbie set the alarms off and was pulled aside for an individual scan, she made the cut, thank goodness.  This was our very first on board photo princess 6 4x6, we had our beautiful Seattle bouquets.  Please notice Chuck’s smile, Debbie had Chuck practice smiling after this.  I have to say thank you Chuck and Debbie, you made me smile a million times on our trip.  Our first night on the ship we had a wonderful dinner in a beautiful dining room.  Great food, great friends and great fellowship, what more could you ask for?   We were all ready to return to our staterooms early.  The travel day, change of time zones and anxious anticipation had left us needing rest.  I think all four of us slept great, the ship seemed to just rock us to sleep.

Our first full day at sea was nice but we needed to get our sea legs.  Mike made use of the prescription patches for motion sickness, so happy we made that investment.  At lunch time the four of us gathered  at a window table on the 15th deck, we were entertained by dolphins and even some distant whales, lunch was pleasant and very relaxing.

On our ship, the Ruby Princess,  the full days at sea were formal nights for evening dining. DSC_0085_edited-1 I think Debbie and I both enjoyed getting to “dress up”, Chuck seemed ok with it  (or pretended to),  Mike not so much.  He was a good sport but he much prefers his jeans and boots.  We all had a good laugh when he had forgotten to pack black socks, yes, picture black dress pants, nice long sleeve shirt, tie, dress shoes and WHITE socks, still makes me smile.  This was my first cruise and I learned photography sales were part of the experience.   We are a photo family and I believe the photo opportunity you miss will haunt you far longer than the captured  “bad hair day or ugly smile”.  These were some of our purchased pics.     princess 5 4x5    princess 4 4x5 Chuck and Debbie had really wonderful photos made   0185ebfb0694138ee9046bfbf90f429a7f0f364835_00001  Debbie had visited with one of the photographers (a young woman from South Africa) and she had recommended to us her favorite setting.  We loved the pretty red back light.

The meal was incredible, we took lots of pictures of the food,  knowing we could never remember the names of our five course meals.  Our waiter insisted we try a special drink after dinner, not knowing it was alcoholic until we had to use our ship cards for it and it arrived in shot glasses.  I thought it tasted like cough syrup, but Chuck drank his quickly.  I don’t know if he liked it or was just swallowing it to get it over with, but he was so funny we couldn’t quit laughing, he teased reefers might be next.  I admit I had to be told what a reefer was, causing another round of laughs. Fun times!

We changed back to comfy clothes and headed to our first show, called Stardust.  It was singing and dancing and nice entertainment.  Knowing Ketchikan was an early port (6:30 a.m.) we called it a night.

Our first port was Ketchikan, yea for land again.  The first thing Debbie and I did upon stepping foot on U.S. soil was reconnect with the electronic world. DSC_0111_edited-1 Ketchikan gave us great cell phone service, we received all our texts, emails and phone calls, I even glanced at Facebook.  I called all three of my children, I know it had only been a few days but I needed to hear their voices and know all were fine.

Ketchikan was a fun port, easily within walking distance of our ship.DSC_0127_edited-1   DSC_0125_edited-1  We explored on our own for quite a while, the shop owners were friendly and eager to help us.  We happened upon some little cars, they were similar to a golf cart and available to rent.DSC_0136_edited-1  I suggested we make use of one and in moments we were off.  Mike was our driver, Chuck our navigator, (Debbie assisted). IMG_0838_edited-1   IMG_0839_edited-1  I was designated as the liaison with our “guide” who had remained at the rental store, he could never have fit in our little car. DSC_0140_edited-1 My actual job was to call the “guide” when we were lost, this happened multiple times.  We had a fun adventure, we saw a beautiful city, complete with totem poles, DSC_0144_edited-1 the original historic downtown Ketchikan,DSC_0172_edited-1 and I think our favorite, the salmon. Their task of swimming upstream seemed impossible but yet they succeed.  They were king salmon, unbelievable numbers of them and they seemed extremely large, and I am not telling a fish story.  Debbie took a great salmon video I tried to share but I am simply not tech savvy enough to make it happen.  All the salmon swimming photos are blurry because the salmon are always moving, you would think they would be exhausted.0181fc5c20212050e98d8dbbe97cf196b7724bbd5d Mike took lots of Ketchikan pictures, here are a few.DSC_0150_edited-1 DSC_0158_edited-1

Having been informed that Ketchikan has rain 365 days a year and that they measure rainfall in feet, not inches, we felt so blessed that a few sprinkles are all we had on our excursion.

After a day on land we returned to the ship for another enjoyable evening.  Debbie and I attended a scrapbook journaling class, turned out we knew more than the instructor.  Her advice after handing us a cruise themed scrapbook package was, and I quote, “there are samples in the package or be creative”.  End of instruction.  We were grateful for the fun kit, having already purchased the Alaska scrapbook and accessory package when we bought our first cruise photo.  What can I say, we are both crafters at heart.

Dinner was great, we had grown fond of our waiters, they were friendly and trying to get to know us.  We took in a show called Once Upon a Dream, another fun production.  This day had started very early but another time change had worked to our advantage.

Our next day was to begin even earlier, we were to travel through the Tracy Arm Fjord, beginning at 5:00 a.m., an incredibly majestic passageway.  Mike, Debbie and Chuck knew they didn’t want to miss anything so they planned on an early morning, they would breakfast on the 15th deck with a spectacular window table, and take advantage of every photo opportunity.  I joined them eventually, I felt reasonably sure our stateroom’s balcony offered quite a nice view.  Mike was the earliest to arrive to the photo-fest and was the first to learn an iceberg had blocked the entrance to Tracy Arm.  Our capable crew had received special permission to enter Endicott Arm, another beautiful fjord.  In this passageway we had an incredible view of Dawes Glacier, check out this photo.DSC_0266_edited-1  After experiencing the Endicott Arm I feel the need for new adjectives, beautiful and majestic are not adequate.  I see and feel God in my life everyday but witnessing His Alaskan canvas was beyond inspiring. these are a few examples, DSC_0253_edited-1     DSC_0300_edited-1DSC_0281_edited-1.

That same morning after leaving the Fjord we set sail for Juneau, Alaska’s capital.  An announcement from one of the bridge officers informed everyone to look port side, a large pod of humpback whales had been sighted.  Our stateroom was port side and we were thankful for the millionth time for our balcony.  It was difficult to catch a photo of one of the whales but incredible to watch, (I know I have greatly overused the “incredible ” word, please forgive me).

We had booked an afternoon excursion entitled the Whale Watching and Wildlife Quest.   Shortly after docking in Juneau we caught a bus to board another much smaller vessel, actually a catamaran.

Our bus driver was a fun young woman filled with Juneau facts and trivia and eager to share.  I want to share what I thought were the most interesting.  Yearly,  Juneau gets 100″ of snow and 90″ of rain, of the 700,000 total  population of Alaska 33,000 live in Juneau.  Mendenhall Glacier is home to Juneau, we did not get to do the excursion there but just the view of it from our bus made me add it to my list for next time.  She explained the top 3 jobs in Alaska, 1) Government, 2) Tourism (no surprise), and 3) Fishing.  She shared that the U.S. purchased Alaska in 1867 from Russia for less than 2 cents an acre at a total price of 7.2 million dollars.  Only 13 years later gold was discovered in Alaska.  She explained the average income in Juneau was $80,000 and the average home costs $350,000 to $400,000.  Lastly there is only one fast food restaurant in Juneau, and I bet everyone can guess which one, burgers and fries under the Golden Arches is right.

Debbie and I were both nervous about our Juneau excursion, I feared the smaller boat would be cold, wet, uncomfortable and a recipe for sea sickness.  Nothing could have been farther from the truth.  The bus ride was in continuous rain but upon arriving to board our excursion boat we found it very nice.  The seats were soft and comfy, there were super clean restrooms and a well stocked refreshment bar complete with snacks and diet Dr. Pepper and ice, it was warm and the crew was friendly and informative.

Our captain took us many miles into the sea and had what seemed like a magic whale locator.DSC_0344_edited-1  We enjoyed multiple sightings of  Humpback whales, even a calf and mother.  The calf seemed to want to entertain us and waved again and again with his tail.DSC_0352_edited-1  The calf seemed huge until the mother showed herself and then we found out what huge really was.  Our excursion came with a guarantee, if you did not see a whale they would give you $100.00 as you exited the boat.  We learned they had never had to refund a single penny.

After the whale show the captain headed to a small island and to our amazement we photographed, watched and listened to hundreds of sea lions.DSC_0401_edited-1       DSC_0402_edited-1  I grabbed a couple of pics of Mike and Debbie in action IMG_0870_edited-1    IMG_0873_edited-1  Whale watching was such an awesome experience, and one I would highly recommend.

We finished our day in Juneau with a little shopping, this was our first port to truly rain most of the day but it did not dampen our spirits. Later back on ship we tried a different dining room and although still delicious we missed our familiar wait staff.  Mike and I finished our night with a movie, “Cinderella” was playing and we totally loved it.

I was a little sad as we began to disembark for Skagway knowing it was our last Alaskan port.  We were well over half way through our 7 day cruise and I wasn’t ready for it to end.  These were the cruise photos as we disembarked for Skagway,  01e513bf8bee549d0349270d696b00993ddc2f9c5e_00001  princess 9

In Skagway our excursion was a train ride called White Pass Scenic  Journey, DSC_0473_edited-1 it was in the largest national rain forest in North America.   It was almost a 3,000 foot climb in just 20 miles.  Shortly after you boarded the train you learned the railway was constructed in 1898 and in just a few more minutes you understood the steep grades and tight curves you were about to experience.DSC_0511_edited-1  I was nervous as the ride began and glad I was sitting on the interior mountain hugging side.   Our guide was quick to inform us that when we reached the very top all passengers would switch sides and then we would get the “good” seats, oh happy day.  I eventually relaxed, or maybe just made peace with the situation. Maybe it was Debbie’s words of encouragement, she said,  “if something happens it will be so fast we won’t know it and then we will all wake up in a better place”.   The photo opportunities were endless, here are a few.DSC_0487_edited-1      DSC_0459_edited-1

There were pretty pink flowers all over the mountain, their name was fireweed.  They earned their name by always being the first thing to bloom after a fire had ravaged the land.  Fireweed DSC_0599_edited-1 bloomed from the ground up then finally turned to a dandelion like cotton.  In Skagway the saying is, “when the fireweed turns to cotton, summer is soon forgotten”  and snow is only six weeks away.

Of course we shopped the quaint little city of Skagway,DSC_0610_edited-1     DSC_0596_edited-1  and I do mean little, it is home to only 986 year-round residents.  That population grows to 2,500 for the summer and as many as 10,000 tourists daily from early May to late September.  We all loved the view of Harding Glacier Skagway offered, it was like a beautiful blue flat mountain of ice, Mike tried to capture a picture.DSC_0622_edited-1

After our day at Skagway we had a few hours to explore the ship and grabbed a few shots with amazing backgrounds  DSC_0643_edited-1   DSC_0640_edited-1. Our balcony view that same afternoon was of a rainbow on the mountainside DSC_0648_edited-1, I am still amazed by the beauty.

Our evening meal was grand as always, with king crab on the menu.  Chuck had been looking forward to the crab and it was delicious. IMG_0888_edited-1 After dinner we were entertained by Ben Seidman, a comedic magician.   All four of us agreed he was very talented.

It was time for the Ruby Princess to head toward Victoria, Canada.  The voyage was more than 48 hours, of course sleeping two nights helped pass .  There were always many activities the days we were at sea.  After lunch the four of us went to a movie.  The Longest Ride was showing and Debbie and I are both Nicholas Sparks fans.  The guys actually enjoyed it too but were quick to tell us real men can’t live up to the “romance” Nicholas Sparks writes about.  It’s ok, we love our real men.

Sea day meant formal dining so we all tried to look our best.  The main entrée was lobster, IMG_0894_edited-1the dessert baked Alaska,IMG_0896_edited-1 and always many courses in between.  We were surprised by a parade of baked Alaskas with the wait and kitchen staff joining in.  We waved our napkins as was customary and applauded the hard-working staff that had made all our meals not only delicious but beautiful as well.  We had some photos with our waiter and junior waiter, both fun and helpful guys.DSC_0693_edited-1 Formal pics after dinner princess 1 4x6                     01e997ca941b5fb0d51a1a523408c03005ef0c341c_00001We thought a group pic with the Ruby Princess background would be a great keepsake   princess 2 4x6.

That evening’s entertainment was titled The Colors of the World, it was a musical extravaganza with song and dance from around the world.  It seemed fitting because for 7 days we were taken care of in one way or another by men and women from many different countries.  We visited with a young man in one of the gift shops who was from Ukraine and I asked him why there were so few Americans working onboard.   He smiled and thought for a while and with a thick accent finally answered, “I want to be politically correct with my answer, I think Americans have so many options for employment they don’t need this”.  He explained he worked for 6 months, off 2 months, then 6 months and off 3 months, he worked 7 days a week, no holidays.

Our last full day aboard started a little slower, a leisurely breakfast and a late morning tour of the galley (kitchen).IMG_0900_edited-1   IMG_0903_edited-1  On the tour there were beautiful food carvings IMG_0905_edited-1   IMG_0902_edited-1Our Executive Chef and Maître D began the tour with a food preparation demonstration.  They were both Italian and gave a humorous and interesting presentation.  They explained that 500+ of the crew of 1,150 were involved in food in some way.  They said feeding 3,300 passengers was a huge task but they took great pride in the cleanliness of the galleys and dining rooms and wanted our dining experience to be the best we had ever had.  I think it was a job well done.   The tour ended with them announcing there would be a Mexican feast for lunch.  We were anxious to see the Italian version of Mexican food.  I can testify it was different but delicious.

The ship was beautiful and I wanted to share a few pictures of it DSC_0666_edited-1    DSC_0663_edited-1    DSC_0660_edited-1      DSC_0696_edited-1DSC_0700_edited-1 There was a grand spiral staircase and multiple pools for those brave enough to swim.

At lunch our evening dinner waiter was working on the 15th deck, this deck had 3 different buffets everyday for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  His name was Nomer, he was from the Philippines, a family man with 2 children and a wife he was supporting.  Most of the crew worked multiple shifts with breaks during the day, Nomer had worked for Princess for 15 years.   The four of us were seated at a wonderful ocean view table and as I enjoyed the calm ocean waters I asked him if he had ever been frightened on one of the cruises.  He said only once, many years ago on this same Alaskan cruise but in late October.  He said the waves got as high as the 15th deck, there were huge pieces of glaciers in the ocean and the ship was rocking so violently no one could walk without holding on to something and most of the passengers were ill from the motion.  Nomer told us he thought he might be in the bottom of the ocean that day but now cruise ships no longer travel to Alaska after the end of September.

Chuck, Debbie, Mike and I spent many hours on the 15th deck at one of our many favorite ocean view tables.  Often we would just share sodas and conversation or snap photos, but some of my fondest cruise memories happened there. On the last evening, as the Ruby Princess cruised toward Victoria,  I think we were all reflecting on the week’s experiences.  Debbie, always the clever one, commented, “if a whale would just do a big belly flop this moment would be perfect”.  I laughed again just typing her words.

We arrived in Victoria, Canada in the evening, we were only at that port from 7:00 to 11:15, our shortest port of call.  We had booked the excursion to Butchart Gardens.DSC_0722_edited-1  A bus took us to the gardens and our driver was very informative.  We learned the gardens began from an idea Jennie Butchart had to beautify the worked-out limestone quarry which had supplied her husband’s cement plant.  The park is still owned and operated by the same family and nearly 1 million people visit it every year.  Being a gardener myself the description of this excursion had me at hello.

Shortly after we arrived I was in absolute awe of my surroundings.  There were so many beautiful gardens you didn’t  know where to look first.  You felt the need to photograph as much as possible then your mind said slow down, just drink it all in.  At one point we entered  a pathwayDSC_0728_edited-1 with enormous redwoods offering shade then you came to a spot that overlooked the sunken gardens, breathtakingly beautiful.DSC_0729_edited-1 I know pictures can never do it justice but here are our feeble attempts. DSC_0726_edited-1    DSC_0734_edited-1I  told Mike,  “this is what I want my heaven to look like”.  There was a dancing fountain that was in a spectacular setting DSC_0738_edited-1. I loved this long path of rose-covered archways  IMG_0924_edited-1.   I have never used so many photos in a blog before but I just have to share a few more from this incredible garden IMG_0921_edited-1   DSC_0767_edited-1

DSC_0719_edited-1    DSC_0746_edited-1.

I visited with a young man who worked at the gardens and asked him when did the actual gardening take place.  Every gardener knows there is weeding, planting, trimming, fertilizing, mulching and more.  He said the gardens were open 365 days a year, even Christmas Day, one of their busiest.  He explained when the gardens closed at night the first workers cleaned the park and then about 3 or 4 in the morning the gardeners came in and worked until the park opened.  He said then the gardeners would head back to their greenhouses and no one ever saw them, all gardening was nocturnal.

I know Victoria is a city I would like to visit again.  The bus ride gave us enough of a glimpse of so many sights I know there is much more to explore.  Another cruise another time.

I think this may be the longest blog I have ever written and I want to thank my sweet husband for so many beautiful photos, Chuck and Debbie shared great ones too.   I have in no way covered everything we did and our little group may be the only four people who read and enjoy my words but that is ok.  I would love for Mike, Chuck and Debbie to add any and everything I didn’t mention or I simply forgot.   It was a vacation of a lifetime and I think we did what I mentioned in my very first paragraph, we fell in love with the beauty and wild frontier of Alaska and did indeed carry home memories we will always treasure.

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