Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Baby R Us Registry - Check

Now that we are back from our relaxing cruise, our daunting baby to-do list is staring us down. Sunday, with the help of our friends Chris and Rachel, we were able to cross off one item from the list: registering at Babys R Us (see link to the right, under "DJ's wish list). Many of you already know what an overwhelming task it is to figure out what to get, let alone what's the best or right kind of something!

A few of our favorite finds:

and our favorite...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

My Worst Nightmare

Niels and I have greatly enjoying watching the Olympics this week. (Hup Holland!) However, scrolling through the channels today, I discovered my worst nightmare of a competition: USA Memory Championship. I think I have a better chance at medaling in the Olympics than succeeding in the memory championship!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Big Milestone!

Today marks the first day of my 24th week of pregnancy. This is an important milestone because it is the generally accepted time when a baby born pre-mature can survive. Of course, we're more than happy to have our little boy stay where he is for a little while longer, but after the miscarriages and complications with this guy, it feels great to make it to this point!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Our 1st anniversary picture

Those of you who have been to our house have seen our stairway tradition. We have photo frames with pictures from our engagement and wedding, and more frames hanging in anticipation of our future anniversaries. We had a formal photo taken on our cruise so this picture will become our first anniversary picture. DJ is really making an appearance!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Alaska Cruise - The day to travel home

Quick little blog post from ... Phoenix!!

Still have to do the last few days of blogging, but here is a little bit about our trip home. We got up at 3.30am PDT to be at the airport at 4.30am to catch our 6.05am flight to Salt Lake City. Well, it was thundering and plenty of lighting strikes. It was 92F in Seattle yesterday so all that hot air was bound to cause some issues. And it did... When we got to the airport none of the belts were working, including the baggage belts. So we got on the plane at about 6.55am, but our luggage didn't get loaded until about 7.45am so we left at about 8.05am. We were still one of the first planes out since the lighting strike affected the whole airport. Ah well, we figured we missed the connecting flight to Cleveland before we left Seattle. Once in Salt Lake City Delta had already rebooked us hence me typing this little entry in Phoenix. We got here about 30 minutes ago and are at the gate for Cleveland which should get us into Cleveland at about 11pm barring any further delays. Then we get to pick up the car (hope the parking place is still open...) and hope to be home today, but it will probably be tomorrow-morning. We'll see.

BTW: Here's a link to the pictures !!

The team of Trek America

Alaska Cruise - Day 8 (Seattle, WA)

Saturday August 16

Disembarkation. Yesterday we packed-up our suitcases before we went ashore in Victoria and put them outside our stateroom for the stewards to pick them up. We have been issued a color and number combination (Yellow 5) in our case and a disembarkation time (8.15am – 8.30am). We had set our alarm for 7.00am so we would be awake for it otherwise there is a very high probability we’d sleep through our disembarkation window.

So, 7am came and we woke up. We grumpily turned around a few times and finally got up to get showered. When we had packed-up everything left in our stateroom into our daypacks it was nearing 8am. We took the elevator up to the Lido deck one last time and got some breakfast. There we got to talk a bit about the disembarkation and figured out that the window we were given was the earliest you’d find your luggage in the terminal. If we’d go a little later we’d know for sure our luggage would be ahead of us, plus most of the other luggage assigned in the same window would already be picked-up so we decided to take it easy and finish breakfast at a leisurely pace.

At about 8.45am we were done and made one final elevator trip down to the Main deck to disembark our now very familiar and very comfy ship. No more all-you-can-eat-all-the-time-free-food, but back to paying for every meal. How bourgeois… 

The walk back to the terminal was easy and customs was a breeze as always since we were able to take the international line which was a very short one on this cruise. It took less than 5 minutes to get to our luggage and another 5 minutes later we were in-line waiting for a cab back to our Red Lion hotel at SeaTac. This time we had a regular cab and the fare was $28 plus the now obligatory fuel surcharge ($2). All displayed in nice clear and big letters inside and outside the cab. So image a little surprise if our cabbie (who we had planned to give a $5 tip) wrote $32 on the credit card slip. I missed it initially, but Jen caught it so we asked why and he mumbled something about the fuel surcharge. I said it is displayed clearly on the outside of the cab that there is a flat-fee to the airport of $28 and that there is a $2 surcharge. Not $30 and another $2. So, needless to say he now did not receive our intended tip and instead of walking away with $35, he now only had $30… I was more than a little ticked-off. It’s not the amount, but when you make an agreement, you don’t unilaterally change it on a dime. It’s the principle…

OK, since it was only 9.30am we fully expected our room not to be ready, but when the receptionist was looking in the system they had our room already cleaned and available, so we went to our room with our luggage and turned on the TV to watch some real-life images of the Olympics rather than the ESPN still-shots of Michael Phelps which was the only thing ESPN was allowed to show under the NBC contract with the IOC. Stupid system, don’t you think? At least allow other networks to carry some highlight footage.

We had a relatively short night, especially for Jen so I watched some more of the Olympics when Jen watched some more of the inside of her eyelids. Since our flight wouldn’t leave until 6.05am on Sunday we had the whole Saturday in Seattle so we had planned ahead and decided to go see the Space Needle, Pike’s Place Market, the Seattle Underground Tour and the Seattle library building since it was designed by a Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.

Jen ending up sleeping until about noon, so we decided to start with the Needle and work our way back, time permitting. From the hotel we took the airport shuttle to the airport to take the bus to Downtown. We looked up the schedule and the line number and armed with all the required knowledge and goodies we waited for the right bus. Right… that bus came fairly quickly, but it was the slow one so we opted for the express which would come 7 minutes later. Bad choice. That one was already packed and they only let 2 people on and passed-over us--as the pregnant couple. Ah well, we’ll wait. And wait and wait and wait… So after about 75 minutes of waiting outside for the bus that is supposed to come every 30 minutes the airport terminal with a good number of people in clear and utter defiance of the no-smoking signs, we took the first bus that would get to Downtown, Express or not.

Long story short, we got to Downtown Seattle around 2.30pm so we went straight to the Monorail to take us to the Space Needle. The entrance is in the Westfield Southcenter-mall on the third floor, so, since we are traveling with Niels, who was now clearly hungry and displaying some food-addiction-withdrawal signs, we decided to stop at the food court first but when we saw a Motherhood Maternity store we actually went in and bought a few things for Jen since DJ decided to ‘build’ an addition to his current ‘crib’. A good 30 minutes later we were eating lunch. How sweet it is to have some food… even if you have to pay for it!

Next stop, the Monorail. Build in the 60’s for the Worlds’ Fair (as was our first destination, the Space Needle). A quick ride later we got out and the first thing we saw was a carousel. Those who know about our Paris engagement trip know that immediately following me putting the engagement ring around Jen’s finger we went on a carousel and had some plain old fun. Image our surprise when we saw a VERY recently married couple taking some of their wedding pictures on this one. How cool. It also made us realize we have been married forever now (well, in Jen’s mind at least) and we gave each other a nice kiss and walked over to the Needle to get in line.

For a structure being 40-some years old it still looks very cool, albeit a bit dated, but the elevator-ride up to the top was done in under a minute and with a very cool view. Talking about cool… with us coming from Alaska we thought that spending a day in Seattle was a good step in between 60F degrees in Alaska and 90F-some in Ohio, but imagine our surprise that we happened to visit Seattle on the hottest day of the year. It was a balmy 92F (32C) degrees so the breeze at 600 feet was a nice one. So was the view, albeit a bit hazy. We saw the house boats featured in the movie ‘Sleepless in Seattle’, the Downtown area, our ship (in the distance) and some of the mountains in the Olympic range. It was unfortunately too hazy to see either Mount Hood or Mount Rainier. When walking outside we caught a little bit of the guide’s speech, but we only got the tail-end of it and with the next tour not starting for another 30 minutes we decided to find bathroom for Jen. We did, but they all had a big line so we went back to the elevator, being released into the obligatory gift-shop. Wow, what a rip-off. $30 for a t-shirt that would otherwise cost $5, just because it has a picture of the Space Needle on it? Not us, but plenty of others did. We did buy a few things with Alaska on them while on the cruise, but not $30 t-shirts. After Jen found her bathroom we walked back to the Monorail (which doesn’t yet have Air, they were testing the upgrades on another train) towards our next destination, Pike’s Place Market.

Seattle is a very hilly town and if you’ve ever seen the streets in San Francisco you’ll recognize the pattern very quickly. Pretty much the same steepness on the streets facing the Puget Sound and fairly level on the cross-streets. Just before getting to the market, we saw a little alley that had a baby and kids store. They had all kinds of fun political onesies, like ‘baby got barack’ and ‘barack-a-bye-baby’ (we ARE in Seattle...) and even mini-Norwegian sweaters. Very cool, but probably just as much fun taking a picture of than buying, so we did just that.

We walked out of the alley to the Market, but since it was already around 4.45pm most of the vendors were closing down for the day. What stuck with us the most about the market was the incredible deal on the most beautiful flower bouquets. Very cool! I wish we had that selection for that price back home in Ohio. We were half-tempted to buy some of the fruit, but decided not to and instead opted to find a bus stop that would be serviced by our bus back to the hotel.

Fortunately we didn’t have to wait nearly as long for this bus as for the one up and about 15 minutes later we had a seat. Good, that would mean Niels would get some dinner within the hour… Nope, not this Saturday. There happened to be an NFL pre-season game (Bears vs Seahawks) and the traffic was bad enough to cause a mile-long gridlock in downtown Seattle. Great! We were half-tempted to see the game, but I don’t think we would have been able to face our friend Gabe it we told him we went on an Alaskan cruise AND see his beloved Chicago Bears.

Next stop, Denny’s for some dinner. Niels actually had a breakfast slam, but since it was about 7pm we’ll just call it dinner. Walking back to the hotel we quickly realized it was nearing the end of summer since some of the leaves on the trees were already starting to turn brown. It was beautiful to see the range of color, but a bit sad that the summer is already coming to an end. Hey, we haven’t even finished our summer trip yet (not until tomorrow at least…).

Back at the hotel we turned on the TV and were very pleasantly surprised that the Rick Warren Interview of both Barack Obama and John McCain was on tonight. Cool. We watched both of the interviews and came away with a very favorable opinion on the format (Rick asking the same questions to both candidates, given to him by the attendees of Saddleback Church). We saw a clear difference in answering-styles, with Obama taking the time to really formulate and articulate a real response where McCain appeared to be more pulling lines from his campaign that kind of matched with Rick Warren’s answers. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Rick in these style setting. Maybe not for this election, but I can see this being a format that will be repeated.

After the interview we each took a shower and fell asleep for our short night in order to catch our 6.05am flight home tomorrow.

Sleeping in Seattle

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Alaska Cruise - Day 7 (VIctoria, British Columbia, CANADA)

Friday August 15

Our last day at sea… sigh… but it’s not over yet. We choose to sleep-in a little bit with the early rise yesterday. When we got dressed and stepped outside our cabin, our neighbors just stepped out as well and asked if we were going to the Mariners Club (HAL’s frequent sailors program) brunch today. We didn’t even know about it since it is our first cruise with Holland America. They were nice enough to invite us so we enjoyed a very nice breakfast despite sleeping through the official one.

We sat opposite the middle couple from the Marriage game. Niels had the pepper crusted steak. Not a bad breakfast I’d say. The very nice thing was that one of the things that we saw as a possible improvement was that there wasn’t a lot of ‘Holland’ on the ‘Holland America Line’. No stroopwaffel! (Although we did get both the Dutch and American news summaries on a couple of days). However, at the end of the brunch we got a nice Old-Dutch style delft tile. Nice!

The rest of morning and early afternoon were filled with a very low-key playing of some Gin 13 and 2 rounds of Catan. Speaking of those two games… On land it is a pretty clear-cut pecking order. Niels wins Gin 13 and Jen wins Catan. Not so much on the ship. Jen won most of the Gin 13 games and in Catan the winner also wasn’t as clear cut as usual. Game 1 Jen got stuck with the same 3 numbers for both her Settlement and her City and guess what… those 3 numbers kept being rolled over and over and over again… Very frustrating--to Niels. Obviously, Jen won that game, but the next game was to be different.

Niels finally got some good placings and after some frustrating moments where Niels had a TON of cards but couldn’t do anything. Jen did point two things out to him and after listening to his wife’s advice (not a bad thing to do…) he was able to put the game away leading to the complete role-reversal in the gaming world.

Next on the list for today was the event with the most mixed feelings; packing up. The Holland America disembarkation calls for having your checked luggage ready outside your stateroom by 1am and with the Oosterdam Superstar coming up at 4pm and the last port of call Victoria at 6.30pm we decided to get it done early so we didn’t have to worry about it afterwards.

By playing the games and packing we kind of missed a few things we kind of wanted to do during the morning and afternoon, but the one thing we really wanted to see was the final of the Oosterdam Superstar. This time it would be a little different from the previous rounds since it was a different song and a different venue, being the main show lounge the Vista Lounge, the same lounge as were the major shows were performed. The race was very interesting with a visually impaired performer (makes it extra difficult to do Karaoke if you can’t see the words), a country star (who should have won), a regular guy with a regular voice, a Neil Daimond impersonator with a very goofy personality and… ‘Al from Juneau’ which was actually Christian contemporary artist Wayne Watson signed up by one of other artists on the Spirit West tour.

The change in venue was nice, but for some (like the regular guy with the regular voice) the change in songs wasn’t all that great. However, when ‘Al from Juneau’ did ‘You can call me Al’ the crowd was fully engaged again. In the end the Neil Diamond impersonator won, but most of the crowd thought it should have been Mallory from Missouri (the country artist).

After the Superstar competition we were sailing into Victoria, BC. Niels has been there before in 2003 as part of his ‘Tour Vancouver Island 2003’ vacation with the Vriend family, Zuidhof family and some other friends added in for good measure. Niels has a bit of a soft spot for Canada, so today was a bit special. Around 6.30pm the hallway and adjacent places leading to the gangways where clogging up fast and the line reached way past our stateroom into the hall.

At about 6.20pm Niels was crazy enough to wiggle his way through the crowd to pick up the Cruise DVD, but found that we were misinformed about the time it would be ready (7pm instead of the 6pm we were told) so slightly disappointed he wiggled his way back through the crowds.

When the ship was cleared by Canadian customs we were informed they opened another exit so about 5 minutes later we were off the ship on Canadian soil. It was a gorgeous day with temperatures in the mid 70s, a nice change from the low 60s we had most of the time in Alaska.

The walk through Customs was a breeze since the ship had been pre-cleared, so they waived everybody through. On the other side of customs outside on the parking lot of the cruise terminal there was the regular frenzy of getting the right tourists to their right booked excursion operators. We had booked a horse-drawn carriage tour, kind of thinking it was a more romantic tour for just the two of us, but turned out to be a regular tour, with 2 Belgian horses pulling a carriage with about 20 of us. That was a bit of a disappointment, but we had a good time anyway.

We started our tour in the James Bay neighborhood with a large number of heritage homes which are all designated as historical buildings. It is the oldest residential neighborhood on the west coast of North America that is north of San Francisco. Pretty interesting sight to see after the some of the more run-down neighborhoods in Ketchikan. We followed Douglas Street north to downtown Victoria and got to see the Parliament building, the Empress Hotel, the Royal BC Museum and the Inner Harbor.

We turned onto Government Street heading south to the Emily Carr house. Emily Carr (December 13, 1871 – March 2, 1945) was a Canadian artist and writer heavily inspired by the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast. The Canadian Encyclopedia describes her as a "Canadian icon". For most of the people on the tour (read: non-Canadians) she is more often described as “Who?”… ;-)

Our tour continued on to Beacon Hill Park where we got to see a very rare completely white peacock, palm trees and the world’s tallest totem pole. We also had a very good look at the Juan De Fuca Strait which separates Vancouver Island from the Olympic Peninsula in the USA. The condos looking out over the Strait are a bit pricy. The retirement home charges $5000 per month… Better save up, I guess.

For the remainder of the tour we looked out on the Olympic Peninsula heading back to the cruise terminal. We debated going back to downtown, but with a 1 hour wait to get a shuttle and DJ getting on Mommy’s nerves again (literally), we opted to stay at the terminal. We walked to end of the pier and took some beautiful sunset pictures and some of us in front of the MS Oosterdam and our stalker ship during the cruise the MS Golden Princess. The pictures look doctored, but we promise we didn't use a green screen! Around 8.30pm we went back onto the ship and toured the ship one last time taking some more evening pictures, stopped at the Lido deck for some dinner before retiring to our stateroom.

Just outside our stateroom we had a perfect look at some of the games they organized for the Indonesian crew in honor of the Indonesian independence from the Netherlands in 1948. They had a tug-of-war (touwtrekken) competition and a potato-sack (zaklopen) competition. Right outside our window. Perfect.

It was coming up on 10pm and with our disembarkation time set to 8.15am the next morning we went to bed for one final night at sea. Good night.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Alaska Cruise - Day 6

Wednesday August 13, 2008

Today was the day we actually looked forward to the most because of the historic significance. Today’s destination is Sitka, AK. The former capital of Russian Alaska and the first capital of the US Territory of Alaska before it was moved to Juneau in the early 20th century. In 1799 the Russian trader Alexander Baranof founded New Archangel close to present day Sitka. After a raid by the local Tlingit tribes the Russians rebuild the city on its present spot in the 1830s leading to the present day town of almost 9000, making it the 5th largest city in Alaska after Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Ketchikan (our destination for Thursday). After the Alaska purchase in 1867 by Seward it was here on Castle Hill that the Russian flag was lowered and the American flag first flew in the newly acquired Territory of Alaska.

Sitka is also different because it’s not on the Inside Passage, but it sits right on a bay off the Pacific Ocean. That position led to some very rough sea conditions on our way over from the Hubbard Glacier and after our departure on our way to Ketchikan.

Since we had an early start for our tour we set our alarm for 6.00am. We actually arrived in Sitka a little early and were greeted by the view of one of the Tender ships (which are the actual lifeboats, so they are regularly tested this way) right outside our stateroom. We checked the Vista restaurant for breakfast, but since it didn’t open until 7.30am (not the best time coordination from HAL today) and our meeting time was 7.50am we decided to have breakfast on the Lido deck.

Around 7.45am we gathered our gear for the day and headed to the Vista lounge to get our Tender assignment (Green 8) to Sitka, since Sitka harbor isn’t large enough for any cruise ship. Not having the big cruise docks has the distinct advantage of preserving the ‘quaint little town’ aspect of Sitka which is one of its major charms.

On the dock we were greeted by our Sitka Tour guide Justin who – as revealed later in the tour – had a few more qualities than you’d expect. We started with a bus stroll around downtown Sitka (Castle Hill and Lincoln Street) followed by our first stop at St Michaels Cathedral. This cathedral is regarded as the mother church of Orthodox religion in the United States. It was built by Bishop Innocenti who was not only a clergyman, but also an architect (he designed the cathedral) and a linguist. His vision of evangelism was to reach out to the locals in their own language, not unlike the approach of the Jesus Film in modern times. Since the local Tlingit did not have a written component to their language he not only had to translate the gospels, he also had to invent a written language, which he based on the Russian Cyrillic alphabet.

The original church was largely destroyed in a fire in 1966, but upon learning of the fire locals (both members and non-members) formed a human conveyor belt and in a 15 minute span saved almost 95% of the artifacts of the building. They lovingly rebuilt the cathedral and since its rechristening in 1976 has again been in continuous use both as a tourist destination and as an active church. One fun fact is the on the outside you’ll find much more windows than on the inside. This was deliberately done by the Russians since glass was a very expensive commodity in the 19th century so by faking having lots of windows they were able to fool their trading partners in thinking their settlement was a very rich settlement.

The next stop was further down on Lincoln street along the harbor; the Sheldon Jackson museum. Dr Sheldon Jackson was a Presbyterian missionary who started a vocational school for the local Tlingits in 1878. The museum was Alaska’s first concrete structure and is still being housed in that same structure today. On display are artifacts from all Native groups. Not only the Tlingits, but also the Haida, the Tshimsan, the Athabascan, the Aleuts , the Yua’pik and the Inupiats. Amazing to see just how many parts of the local flora and fauna they are/were able to use. Very impressive.

The last stop of the tour was at the Centennial Hall for a date with the Russian dance group ‘the New Archangel dancers’. This all-women group consists of locals who as a hobby perform authentic Russian folk dances. In the middle of the performance our tour guide came on stage to tell a little about the creation of the Alaska flag and the flag song. The flag was designed by an 13 year old Aleut orphan as part of a competition. The big dipper represents the bear, which is a sign of strength against a blue background which represents the sea and the air. In the upper right hand corner it displays the Northern Star which represents the bright north and gold color of the stars represents the gold.

The words of the flag song were written by someone as a poem and a woman moving out of Alaska, but on her trip down to the lower 49, put them to music. The song was then performed by our tour guide who – as it turns out – is very capable vocal performer as well as being an excellent tour guide.

On our way back to the bus we were greeted by one of the dancers and we asked our multi-talented guide where we could find a good internet connection where after the tour ended we could upload some of our stories from the previous days. He told us that after the tour of the non-downtown area of Sitka (including Swan Lake) we should sign up for some time at the local library.

But back to the tour and Swan Lake. When Alaska was bought from the Russians because the proceeds of the fur trade were diminishing and the Russians needed money for the Crimean War the sale price negotiated was 2 cents per acre, coming out to about $7 million dollars. This included all of Alaska, including the before mentioned Swan Lake. This man-made fresh water lake was used of all sorts of purposes, but one of them was to carve out ice blocks to ship to San Francisco to keep the drinks of the rich cool since refrigerators weren’t invented yet.

So in 1867 when Alaska was purchased there was still 2 years left on the lease of the lake so they added a special clause to the purchase agreement in the amount of $200,000 just for Swan Lake, making the purchase both the cheapest (the whole territory for 2 cents an acre) and the most expensive ($200,000) for the small lake. Still, $7.2 million dollars for all of Alaska was the steal of the century although it took until the discovery of gold for the rest the United States to come to that same conclusion.

Our tour guide Justin also pointed out that the Real Estate prices in Sitka have sky rocketed in the last couple years to a level of almost $400,000 for a 3 bedroom house leaving local children unable to buy a house on ‘the Rock’. This has lead to a major shift in the population with a majority being of retirement age. He also showed us the only 2 traffic lights on Baranof Island (now there is something to brag about back on the ship…).

The tour ended underneath the O’Connell bridge linking downtown Sitka with Japonski Island where the local Airport and High School are now located. This cable-stayed bridge was the first of its kind in the USA at the time of its completion and today serves well over 4000 cars a day. From the end of the tour we walked up Castle Hill to experience being in the same location as where Russia handed over control of Alaska in 1867 and where in 1959 Alaska became the 49th state.

We didn’t buy a lot of t-shirts or much of anything else on this trip, but knew we wanted something from Sitka. Jen found this amazing black dress and I found a really nice t-shirt. We also found an adorable onesie for DJ and got some playing cards. Oh, and Jen finally found her hat like the one that she tried on at the Keukenhof in Holland and regretted she didn’t buy.

Shopping done it was time for some Internet access to upload our stories from the previous days. We walked in and signed up for 2 PCs for 15 minutes each. We put all the stories on a USB stick and this time (after the fiasco in Juneau) we also stored them as text files so a simple copy-paste action was all that was needed for each of the days of the trip so far. We got it all done in our 15 minutes. Amazing how quick they go by.

Well, the rest of the day was a lot more relaxed and uneventful. After the library we went back to the dock to board our tender back to the Oosterdam for some much needed lunch. Okay, Niels needed lunch. Having devoured 3 plates of food and having finished our card game Jen had a surprise planned for Niels so we headed to the ships gym to the… scale!! Well, Niels is now 65kg, which is almost 10kg more than his weight over the last 15 years. Jen is pretty proud of that fact and Niels is also quite happy with the additional weight since it will greatly help in the ability of buying pants for his tall, slim European physique.

With the rather short night and the early rise the next couple hours were spent at the De Jong Stateroom followed by the Master Chefs dinner. A combination of show, flair and very nice dining. The selection wasn’t all that appealing to Jen, but with her steak she got a good dinner and Niels had some nice Tenderloin with all sorts of garnish and mushroom-flavored sauce. One thing that was odd was with the rough seas Jen had the opportunity to kind of feel DJ floating around in her stomach. Poor DJ is getting seasick already… l-) Our table guests this night were a couple and one of their daughters from Oakland, CA and after some nice exchanges of stories it was time to go write this story, which is now done so Daddy can go night, night!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Alaska Cruise - Day 5

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Today is a day on the ship as we sail to our northern-most point on the trip, the Hubbard Glacier on Yakutat Bay. With the full day we had yesterday we slept in until about 8.30am and decided to take it easy.

With the Hubbard Glacier being one of the most active glaciers in Alaska (and one of the few that is actually advancing) we knew everyone would be going to the observation desks to get a good look at the glacier. So to prepare, we packed our laptop bag with books, binoculars (thanks Lipford family for letting us borrow them), camera and books and headed over to the Vista restaurant for a nice sit-down breakfast.

With the visit to a glacier in a beautiful bay you just know it is another day where Niels will be in his ‘happy place’. So again, Jen had to remind him that we are an expanding family and asked him to slow down. We went outside on deck 10 and looked around for a bit and with the glacier still an hour or two away we went into the Crows Nest (indoor bar/lounge with a 180 degree forward facing view. We set in the chairs for a while, but Jen couldn’t get comfortable, so we went back outside and found some deck-chairs to sit in. Niels was constantly running from one side to the other taking pictures, looking at mini-ice bergs and looking at Yakutat Bay.

Finally at around noon we arrived and sailed into the Bay. We had a couple of National Park Rangers on-board narrating the Bay and the glacier. Boy, was this ever a sight. Niels ran down to the room to get the second battery for the camera so he wouldn’t miss anything and was within arms-length of the room on deck 1 in the middle of the ship when he realized Jen had the room key on forward part of deck 10, so he went back up, back down, forgot Jen’s candy and back up again. In the meantime Jen was nice enough to get Niels some split pea soup and since Niels forgot Jen’s candy in the room, Jen actually went back. Not too efficient, but hey, we’re on vacation. We’ve got time. When Jen went down to the room she ran into Bebo Norman and crew (plus their wifes) and they all recognized her instantly. Jen was very pleasantly surprised.

Back on deck the views of the bay and the glacier were magnificent. There was surprising little drift ice so we were able to creep up to within 1 mile of the Hubbard Glacier and really get an up-close look of this giant. It’s between 50 and 250ft high and a couple of miles wide and almost 80 miles long from the base of Mount Logan (Canada’s highest peak) down to the Yakutat Bay (or Disenchantment Bay as the early explorers called it) since they thought it looked very promising at the mouth for the famed North-West Passage. Well, the name stuck, but is one of the most misnamed placed on the earth (after – among others - the whole Iceland/Greenland mix-up) since its breathtakingly beautiful.

The glacier is also one of the more active ones, so we got to see a number of calving exercises (where pieces of the glaciers fall into the bay) and actually captured a number of them on camera. The sound alone is magnificent since it resembles a thunder-clap. That was the first time I heard that, since I didn’t hear that all on the Columbia Icefields. After having taken a good number of pictures and even some short video we retreated back to the deck chairs and talked to a couple from Maryland. A little while later the Chief Environment Officer walked by and Niels greeted him in Dutch so we started talking and we probably talked for a good half hour. Very interesting to hear how the cruise line industry works, especially on labor relations (length of sailing for the crew, where the crew stays, etc…). We also got some good info on cruises from North America to Europe. Very interesting.

Before we left the Bay the ship actually did a full rotation around its own axle before sailing out of the Bay and at that time we headed back indoors to get some lunch before we went back to our room for a nap. Well, Niels took a nap and Jen watched the movie ‘The Final Cut’ with Robin Williams, Mira Sorvino and Jim Caveziel. A very interesting premise and not too bad at the execution of it either.

After the movie Niels started working on the journaling and Jen took a nap. Once we realized it was close to 8pm we headed over to the Vista restaurant where we were seated with a New England couple, currently living in Virginia. This was the first time we got seated with a couple that was actually younger than us and that was a nice change and had some good conversations.
Dinner time went by very fast and before we knew it is was almost 10pm and we quickly headed over to the Queens lounge to catch round 2 of Oosterdam Superstar (Oosterdam Idol) where one of the contestants is actually contemporary Christian artist Wayne Watson, but entered into the competition as ‘Al from Juneau’. We are unsure to the extent of the audience that knows he actually is a veteran in the (Christian) music industry and that he is faking missing some notes, but it is absolutely hilarious to watch since he is acting and his facial expressions are perfect. Today he imitated David Archuleta by singing the song with his eyes pretty much closed. The wife of Gabe Scott (one of Bebo Normans musicians) actually recorded the set with the purpose to put it up on YouTube (ADD LINK) so the rest of the world can enjoy it too. Obviously he was voted through to the next round, so there might be more to come. Can’t wait!

The Superstar show moved the time ahead to about 11pm so the next thing we did was…… (zzzzzzz)

Alaska Cruise - Day 4

Monday, August 11 2008

Today we had a very early rise. We both woke up around 6am and were wondering what to do before we’d dock in Juneau, AK. We decided an early morning swim was in order so we changed into our bathing suites and went up to the Lido deck first for some breakfast until 7am, the time the pool would open. We found some good deck chairs and around 7am we indeed went into the pool. There were not a lot of people in the pool so we had some room to do some laps. But we didn’t. We got talking to two kids that turned out to be the Joel kids from Phil and Heather Joel. (Phil used to be the bassist for the Newsboys, and now is a solo artist and speaker. He and his wife have started an organization called Deliberate People (ADD LINK) to encourage people to spend devotional time with God each day). After a while Heather joined us on the side of the pool and we got talking about kids and cruising. Niels went off for a short stint in the Hot tub while Jen kept talking with Heather.

Around 8am the Joels left to get dressed and to get ready for their talk as part of the Spirit West package and we left to get our regular breakfast in the Vista restaurant. The food in there is so much better than in the Lido Buffet restaurant. Hard to believe it’s the same price on the same ship. One of the things Phil and Heather were saying is that the security at the Spirit West events isn’t enforced to the extent of having body guards at the door so they ‘encouraged’ us to walk into the event with a group of people to see if we could get in that way. Well, that worked. We got to see Phil speak about his walk with the Lord all the way from New Zealand to his current life in Nashville. Heather also participated and talked from a parenting angle.

It was getting closer to docking time in Juneau (ADD STORY ABOUT the CELEBRITY) so we headed back to our room to change and get ready. We packed our backpack with our jackets and goodies and when we got outside our room we were welcomed by the line to get to shore. The procedure is fairly simple. The ship docks, the passenger manifest is exchanged with the local border patrol officers before the ship is ‘cleared’. The gangplank gets connected to the ship and we are ready to go on shore. You need your room key to get off and on the ship as upon scanning it displays your picture on the security monitor to make your room key your on-board photo ID. So after all those formalities we ‘walked the plank’ and we were in Alaska!

Since it’s Jen’s first trip to Alaska she gets to add another state and a good chunk of United States territory to her world tour list. Since it’s my 2nd time to Alaska I must say it felt good to be back. I love the outdoors and Alaska is about as outdoors as it gets.

We pre-booked a number of excursions and two of them were in Juneau, AK. The first one was a tour of the city, a visit to a local salmon hatchery and a trip to the Mendenhall Glacier in the valley north of Juneau. The tour took us through Franklin Street past the Red Door Saloon, the Baranof Hotel and some of the other interesting little shops on the same street. Next point was the Alaska State Capitol building on 4th Street. An interesting thing is that when they built the State building they also decided to put the Post Office in the same building. The put it on the 3rd floor, but only later found out that it had to be on either the ground floor or the 2nd floor. So, in a typical Alaskan simplicity move, they…renumbered the floors! Funny. We passed a local gas station and saw the gas was about $1 more ($4.75) per gallon than it is in Ohio. Good thing all the roads in the Juneau area only amount to 150 miles. A little further is the Alaska State Museum. In front of it was a monument commissioned by the Federal Government to be placed in front of the Capitol building, but it was so ugly state legislators had it removed. It actually got lost for a couple of years and they found it at a local scrap yard and when they build the Museum they fixed it up and put it up for display in front of the Museum. I must say this is one item where I have to agree with the state legislators, it’s ugly… ;-)

We turned onto Egan Drive and headed north to the valley alongside the Gastineau Channel until we reached the salmon hatchery. Before we left on the tour that was not one of the things particularly high on my list, but it was really interesting to see what a hatchery does. It basically acts as an artificial insemination station and birth place of salmon. With salmon ‘recording’ the chemical balance of the water they always return to their birthplace to spawn and die, so by releasing the salmon at birth they simply come back to the hatchery for spawning giving the hatchery easy access to eggs, semen and the salmon. Since they release millions of them, they have a good steady supply of salmon. After the tour we were ‘released’ into the gift shop where they had a very interesting aquarium of local marine life and after we took some pictures and video of said marine life we headed back to the bus for the highlight of our first excursion in Juneau, being the Mendenhall Glacier, part of the Tongas National Forest which covers a large part of the ‘South East’ or the ‘Panhandle’ as Alaskans call this part of Alaska.

This glacier is one of the easiest accessible glaciers in North America (after the Columbia Icefields in the Canadian Rockies). It is a magnificent sight to see and Niels was definitely in his ‘happy place’. Jen repeatedly had to call for him to wait up ;-) Jen was surprised to see that the glacier looked very blue. This blue color comes from the fact that glacier ice is very dense. Due to the pressure of the ice it squeezes out all air and becomes so dense that it absorbs pretty much all light colors, except blue, which is reflected. Hence the blue color. The more blue you see, the more dense the ice of a glacier is.

We went into the visitors center for some background on the glacier and a video about its origin and the current state (video was about 10 years old, but hey, that’s fairly current for a glacier). The main difference is that the average retreat of the Mendenhall Glacier was about 60ft a year, but that has since increased to about 200ft, with last year being a record retreat, almost 600ft.
Even though the glacier has been retreating since 1765 (earliest recorded discovery), the retreat is accelerating and the current debate among scientists is to what extend humans are responsible for it. Climate change is a given, that’s been a fact of life since God created it, but the speed of the change and the direction it is going in is where the debate is all about. For me, it’s just an awesome sight to see. The amount of ice present is large enough to create its own little weather pattern. It is (upon average) about 10 degrees cooler and nearby valley residents have been clearing almost twice as much snow from their driveways as the residents of the Downtown / Douglas and Thane communities.

The tour concluded with a drive back to Downtown Juneau and that suited us fine since we wanted to stop at the local library to post some blog items about our trip. We had the Word documents on a USB stick, but forgot to put them into a txt-format or at least Word 2003 format, so with no computers available in the library to read Word 2007 everybody has to hold their breath a little longer before they can read this account of our travels (update: it's now Wednesday and we're in Sitka and uploading the reports of the first few days). There are worse things in life…

The weather for the entire morning was perfect. Nice and dry, overcast, and a nice 60 or so degrees. At the conclusion of the tour it started to rain a bit, not much, enough to make things appear wet. This is a very common weather pattern in Juneau, being in the middle of a temperate rainforest. We packed our raingear but decided we didn’t need it at this point. Just a light rain and since we’re not made out of sugar, we didn’t think anything else of it.
We looked at some of the shops, most of which are very much tourist traps so we headed away from the direct vicinity of the cruise terminals and went into a local bookstore (Jen’s happy place) and into a store called ‘Ben Franklin’. It had all kinds of things, but it had some baby gear (we ARE pregnant) and some Christmas ornaments with ‘Alaska 2008’ on it, so we bought one. We started a tradition to buy at least one ornament per year that represents something we did in that year. On our way back to the Shuttle to the ship we stopped at the Alaska T-Shirt Factory. That sounds as much as the tourist trip is actually is, but since T-shirts are fairly cheap and at least a little useful we indulged the local tourist industry a bit. When we got out the weather had cleared-up a bit. The rain took care of the low cloud cover of the early afternoon so we decided to use the tickets we had for the second excursion of the day; The Mount Roberts Tramway.

This tramway was build in 1996 by the local Tlingit and gives you a quick ride up Mount Roberts. The tram cars (built in France) take up to 60 people so there was no wait. A quick 5 minutes later we arrived at the top station and had some awesome views on Juneau and the 4 cruise ships that were docked in Juneau. It even had the 8.30pm time listed for the last tram to depart for our ship, the MS Oosterdam, more about that and Dutch punctuality later… On the way up we saw an observation deck a little out from the station so we decided to literally take a hike. We put on our raingear and I moved the backpack to front so I could fit my jacket over it to keep it dry. For a change I looked more pregnant than Jen…

With me in my trail shoes, my trail pants and a waterproof Tenson jacket I was ready to go. Jen, however was wearing fake Crocks… with holes in them, with socks, white socks. Well, the traction of said footwear left something to be desired (ahum) but we set off anyway. We had some hairy moments due to the earlier mentioned footwear, but we made it further up the mountain to Father Brown’s cross, a local priest in the early 1900s who was partly responsible for creating some of the very trails we were hiking today. The trails are in perfect condition and with proper footwear very easy to hike. Having the Crocks as footwear on a pregnant, head injured, balance-challenged wife made the descent on the wet mud and shale covered trails a pretty hairy expedition. I gave Jen a walking stick on the way up (free to use on the trails) so with that stick in her right hand and holding on to me with her left hand we slowly and carefully made our way back down the mountain back to the tram station. We had some slipping moments, but kept everything and everybody nicely vertical.

One other thing they had at the tram station was an injured bald eagle. He had only 1 eye and some flying issues and was located in a large cage outside the tram station. People were allowed to take pictures, but you can only do so without flash (for obvious reasons).

We were getting a bit tired and hungry so started to make our way back to the ship. The trip down the mountain gave us more breathtaking views of the Juneau area and 5 minutes later we were back at ground level where the Shuttle bus to the ship was already waiting for us. Boy, did we love to just sit back and enjoy this little bus ride.

Back on the ship we quickly jumped in the shower and went over to the Vista restaurant. Niels seems to be enjoying his ability to eat seafood on the ship and had salmon for dinner and another salmon for dinner and a little later in the evening he had a 3rd dinner by ways of some elbow pasta with Bolognese sauce. Jen is still eating small bits, but eating more and more each day.
After the 3rd dinner we decided to go back to the pool to swim a bit and to view our departure from Juneau. As mentioned before, the departure time was listed as 8.30pm and indeed the plank was withdrawn at 8.40pm and we were sailing at 8.45pm, so let this be a note for all future departures: BE ON-TIME or have your cameras ready to capture the beauty of seeing your ship sail without you.

While watching the ship leave Juneau we got talking with Olga and Josh from California and played Uno Spin. A very interesting ‘spin’ on the game of Uno with Catan development card like additions. I think we might actually get that game. It is truly a lot of fun to play, especially with more than 2 people.

Since we were up since 6am and it was now coming up on 10.30pm we decided to call it a day, but what a day it was and it was only day 3… C U tomorrow!!!

P.S.: We caught the medal count at the Olympics: USA: 27, China: 22

Alaska Cruise - Day 3

Sunday, August 10

Our first full day at sea started nice and easy. Waking up to calm seas, no land in sight and pretty well rested partly due to very nice beds, partly because our body clocks are still on Eastern Time (slowly getting there…). We realized it was Sunday and on the Holland America ships that means the Interdenominational Service at 8am. With it being about 7.35am we had to hustle a bit, but we made it with some time to spare… the leader did not, so it became a self-led service with singing from the Hymn book and some inspirational stories from one of the attendees. It was a good sign to see that we actually had to gather some additional seating since we had more people than seats. The actual leader did eventually arrive, but he graciously just attended the service already in progress. We found out later that this shy guy was actually the very outgoing lead singer of the ship’s entertainment crew. Maybe he did just oversleep!

After feeding the soul we went to feed our body at the Vista Lounge on the 2nd deck on the aft-end of the ship. We got seated at a table with 6 others and had a good breakfast. Niels had a All-American breakfast of eggs, sausage, bacon and bread. And a raisin bun, and tea, and orange juice. Jen was the adventurous one and tried the special mango pancakes. Mmmm! Of course, one breakfast wasn’t enough to fill Niels’ bottomless stomach, so we took the elevator to the 9nd deck to have a 2nd breakfast at the buffet-style Lido restaurant, where Niels had two more raisin buns, yogurt, two more glasses of OJ and teas and we saw our first whale. Unfortunately we couldn’t take a picture of the whale (didn’t have the camera with us…) but hopefully there are more to come. With Niels on his 2nd breakfast we though second trimester was supposed to give JEN the big appetite. Of course, we’re happy she’s eating anything and the cruise is saving Niels from runs to the grocery store to satisfy any craving she does have. We played two rounds of Gin 13 and that, combined with the human digestive forces was enough for Jen to take a nap and Niels decided to do the same. We watched a bit of TV, fell asleep, watched some more TV and slept some more.

At about 1.30pm we got up and got ready for our 2pm reception organized by a few members of the message board CruiseCritics.com. On our way we quickly stopped at the observation deck to view the Queen Charlotte Islands. We met 4 other couples, mostly older, but all with a similar mind set. We exchanged some tips and suggestions for this and future cruise (destinations) and Holland America was nice enough to provide some refreshments and visits by both the cruise director and Hotel manager.

Our next agenda item was a team trivia contest of 20 questions. You were allowed a team of 6 so with 2 people (one of them with a brain injury) we came in tied for second place… Not too shabby, eh?

In addition to our every handy cards for Gin 13, we also brought along our other gaming indulgence—Catan!,--we decided it was time to whip out our Island of Catan and took upon the role of Settlers for about 2 hours. I was 1 roll way from winning, but Jen JUST beat me 13-12, so better luck next time.

Today was also the first of the formal dining nights so we went back to our room, showered, and got dressed up. Niels wore his European 3-piece pinstripe suit and Jen wore her old faithful black expandable dress to show off her best feature, baby DJ! It’s very nice to see most people all dressed-up. Photographers were everywhere and we hope our pictures turned out! We got seated with 2 other couples from California (which seems to be the state of most people on board this cruise). Much to our surprise we saw Dutch Dad… well, from his profile it could have been. Between dinner (a nice juicy steak) and dessert, Niels walked over to an elderly couple close to us since they had a very confused look on their face when some of the crew was singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to them--not the version most Americans sing, but a Dutch version which consists of different words and a different melody. The crew actually sang it with Indonesian words since that is the major country of origin of the crew on Holland America. After explaining the song they sang it lifted some of the confusion, but since it was neither the man nor woman’s birthday nobody had any idea why they sang Happy Birthday to them. I talked a bit more with them since they visited Holland and Belgium a few years ago and talked about traffic management (the job of the elderly gentleman) before returning to the table for our lovely dessert.

Dessert was finished quickly and we walked over to the shops where we found a good gift for our housesitter and found lots of “dam” clothes, which we may indulge in before we disembark. There were also several jewelry shops, which we like to browse, if only to ensure Jen that she likes her ring best. (Niels lucked out that Jen isn’t a big jewelry person. One rock is enough for her!)

A note about the timing of our cruise. Earlier this year, after the second miscarriage, Jen was a little down. The due date for our second angel was August 11 and Jen said to Niels, “I don’t care where we go, but I want to be away from home on August 11.” So our vacation discussion began. Originally, we had wanted to go to China for the Olympics, but since getting pregnant wasn’t the problem, and Jen’s OB laughed at the idea of her high-risk, advanced maternal age, recurrent miscarrying patient going out of the country while pregnant, we looked for more exotic local destinations. We think we can up with a pretty good solution. Niels has talked a LOT about his previous travel to Alaska and wanted to share that with Jen. Jen has talked a LOT about her previous cruise and wanted to share that experience with Niels. So an Alaskan cruise it was! When it came to cruise line, Holland American seemed the logical choice to reflect our international family. Some good friends told us about the site vacationstogo.com, which offers greatly reduced fares, so all we had to do was look up the week we wanted. Voila! An Alaskan diversion cruise for August 9-16 on Holland America.

Jen remembered a website she found before we cruised with her dad, http://www.cruisecritics.com/. On the message board, she found a site that allowed you to see what groups might be on your particular cruise. Jen discovered that there was a Christian music group on their cruise with one of her favorite artists: Bebo Norman. Other artists include Matthew West (another songwriter featured at our wedding), Aaron Shust, Wayne Watson and Phil Joel.

Unfortunately, Jen’s strings in the music industry don’t pull as hard as they did back in the day, so we weren’t able to join the group. But since we paid about one-third of what the group paid, we can’t really complain. And between the pregnancy and head injury, we weren’t sure exactly how much activity Jen would be up for so we made peace with the missed concerts.
All that background to say that as we were browsing the shops, we ran into Phil Joel and his lovely wife, Heather, and their two kids. They struck up a conversation with Jen as she was lamenting to Niels that there were no maternity clothes on board (shocking, we know!). So we talked about due dates and Jen reminded Phil that he had interviewed him several years ago when his first solo album came out. They were surprised we weren’t part of their group and actually invited us to sneak in to their performances. We’ll see how that works out!
As we were slowly adjusting to “ship time,” we didn’t feel the overwhelming pull of the bed quite yet, so we headed to the Vista Lounge for the Captain’s Welcome Toast & Showtime: Rockin’ Road. The Captain, as Dutch as come, is Arjen van der Loo, which doesn’t mean he comes from the toilet, but rather, from the Royal Domains. He did a great job introducing his senior staff and Niels’ family has given Jen great practice understanding his heavy Dutch accent. Two other crew members were Dutch, the engineer and the environmental officer, from Berrgen and Groningen, respectively.

After the introductions and toast, we enjoyed a montage of rock and country songs performed by the Oosterdam singers and dancers. That’s when we recognized our quiet would-be worship leader from the morning service. The female lead was especially impressive and a good time was had by all.

We were feeling like quite the party animals, still awake at 9:30, so we headed to the Queen’s Lounge to watch the “Oosterdam Idol” karaoke competition. Talent spanned from embarrassing to quite entertaining. The highlight was “Al from Juneau.” When the host interviewed him, he said he was going to do some laundry on our port day tomorrow. Actually, “Al” was Wayne Watson, one of the artists in the Christian music group. Many of the group recognized him and gave him rousing support as he sang Foreigner’s “I Wanna Know What Love Is,” trying in vain to mask his real vocal talent and appear as schleppy tourist. Wouldn’t you know, he made the finals?! Jen has also interviewed Wayne and was able to introduce him to Niels and share with the songwriter of “Somewhere in the World” (PUT IN LINK TO LYRICS) that we are expecting a little boy.

At this point, Jen was tired, Niels was hungry and DJ was on his own repositioning cruise to Jen’s sciatic nerve so off to our cabin we went. We tried out the room service, where Niels had a hamburger and chips, and Jen had an appel taart that would make Dutch mom proud.
We watched a little bit of ESPN and CNN to see the current Olympic medal count—USA:11, China: 9, before quickly dozing to another night at sea. Next up: Juneau and our first port day!

Alaska Cruise - Day 2

Saturday August 9, 2008

We tried so hard last night to stay up for the Opening Ceremonies, but we just couldn’t make it. It felt like well after midnight for us having our body clocks still set to Eastern Time. The advantage is that in the morning we are up before most and we can make it feel like we have a nice long day.

This morning we debated what to do for breakfast since it wasn’t included with the hotel stay. We looked at the hotel’s breakfast prices, but with NOTHING under $10 we decided to check-out some of the local establishments along International Boulevard. We saw a sports bar (not really a breakfast place), an IHOP and a Denny’s. We opted for the latter since it was a little closer. When we left the hotel we grabbed some flyers we could look at while enjoying breakfast since after the cruise we have a whole day in Seattle. We decided that we will go see the Space Needle (you kind of have to), Pikes Place Market and the Seattle Underground Tour (thanks Tony for the suggestion!). We’ll stop by the library as well as it was designed by [Dutch architect name]. But that’s all for later.

With our bellies full we went back to the Hotel and while walking back we found a tree with some those little nature’s Velcro-balls (those balls were actually the start of Velcro) but we never saw them in anything other than brushes, Can someone put the name of them in the comments? We don’t have a lot of Internet available for use. Well, not at a reasonable price at least ($0.40 to $0.75 p/m) so we’ll just write our stories on the Puter and upload them on a shore day or otherwise when we get back to Seattle next Saturday.

Back at the hotel we took a shower and packed-up our belongings to,.. go to the ship!! Yes, the embarkation day is finally here. While checking out the front desk called us a cab to Terminal / Pier 30. While waiting we got to talk to an (East-) Indian couple and both agreed that Delta Airlines was NOT on both of our favorites list. Funny… The driver showed up in about 10 minutes and kindly helped us with the luggage. He was a very talkative Eastern European transplant who came to the States 25 years ago with $25 and makes a good living owning a limo-service. We talked about all sorts of things and before we know it we were at the terminal. It was about 11.15am. That was pretty much the time we wanted with the ships (pre-) boarding starting at 11.30am. We got our luggage checked and got issued our Stateroom (1078). The next stop was checking us in at the International Desk, which funny enough had the smallest wait, precisely 0 people ahead of us… Maybe this country does like its immigrants… Well, maybe not always but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

At precisely 11.30am all was done so we walked straight onto the ship, the MS Oosterdam. It’s one of the big ships (lower 2000 passengers), but not quite the mega ships (3000+ passengers) so a nice balance of size, class and comfortness. Since the rooms weren’t ready yet we had the opportunity to use the Vista lounge restaurant. We got a spot with a view and had a nice (free) lunch. Love the cruises! During lunch there was an announcement made that a National Parks Ranger would talk about some of the wildlife and National Parks we would visit. The whole talk was about the Klondike Gold Rush and comparing that our slightly more luxurious accommodations towards the same region. Interestingly enough we don’t even go as far north as Skagway (we turn around at the Hubbard Glacier) but it was a fun history lesson and with me already been to the Klondike (in 2003) it also a nice remembrance for me thinking back on that memorable trip.

One other good thing was that after the talk our rooms were ready so we made our way to the lowest deck (yup, still Dutch, getting one of the cheapest ocean view cabins) to find our ‘quarters’. It is actually in the middle of the ship. Nice and stable and quiet. Pretty much no engine noise, nice! With the earplugs not needed we dropped off some of our carry-on luggage and went about exploring the ship. Our checked luggage would arrive a little later. Jen actually took the lead on the tour of the ship and deck by deck we checked out the nooks and crannies of the ship, reading rooms, hang-outs, the library, the restaurants, the observation desk and the obligatory Lido deck with the pools and sports accommodations.

All that walking made Niels hungry again and after the Vista lounge we sampled the Lido decks Buffet restaurant. While enjoying a game of Gin 13 and my spaghetti with pesto sauce the captain announced the mandatory lifeboat drill. We finished our meal, tabled our game of Gin 13 and went back to our stateroom to get our life jackets and to check to which assembly station we were to report.

We got there nicely in time and with our life jackets on the proper way. We met our neighbors from room 1080, a nice Canadian couple now living in Phoenix, AZ. While the drill was going on (well, mostly just standing on deck doing just about nothing) we got talking to the couple since we noticed she had some difficulty walking. Turns out she has some neurological issue affecting the use of her legs. She can’t walk long distances and multiple tests since May haven’t yet resulted in a diagnosis. But, they went to Belgium a little while ago so we talked a bit about that and after showing them the library we went our separate ways. We went up to see the ship push off and decided to enjoy the Seattle scenery as it will be the last city views for a while.

In the meantime our luggage arrived at our room and we moved everything from the suitcases into the closets. There is an amazing amount of closet space for the size of the room and in about 30 minutes we turn the stateroom into our room for this week. Of course Niels got hungry again so we went back up to the Lido deck and found a nice stop overlooking the west side of Puget sound looking at the Olympic mountain range. We thought that to be fitting with the 2008 Olympics going on in Beijing at the moment.

With our body clocks still on Eastern Time (we didn’t really work hard at adjusting) we watched a movie on the TV (with DVD!) while looking out the window from time to time not miss where we are. We said our prayers thanking God for His creation as we (okay, Niels is the naturalist, Jen likes the comfortable bed) marveled at the mountains on the other side of the sound. Talking about sound… the sound I’m hearing now is Jen snoring cutely in that comfortable bed. Night, night!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Alaska Cruise - Day 1

Friday, 8/8/08...

A big day in Chinese modern history with the official start of the Beijing Olympics. It's also a very nice day in the De Jong family history with Jen's first trip to Alaska, (but her 2nd cruise) Niels' first cruise (but 2nd trip to Alaska) and ... DJ's first plane trip! It's also is our last trip with just the two of us. Well, not completely - just ask Jen about her comfort-level on the plane to Seattle, but that's how we see it... ;-)

In the morning at home I finished the last mundane home task (mowing wet grass with a little 6,5HP mower is a bit challenging) and the last bit of packing (the toiletries) before we traumatized our little shiz-tzu Bailey a little further by leaving her at home for 9 days. After we made sure Bailey has enough food and water until our house and Bailey-sitter Ashley comes over we loaded our suitcases into Miles and left for the Cleveland Airport. After a quick stop at Target we had a nice an uneventful drive with Jen reading me some of C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters. We parked the car at the Airport Fast Park and headed over to check-in. Again no issues and we headed towards the gate, but opted for some lunch at Max and Erma's. We enjoyed some nice Chicken Fingers and a Burger and played some Gin 13 until our plane arrived.

No real issues on the flight to Cincy, but this was about to change when we were waiting for our flight to Seattle. 5 minutes - yes, 5 minutes - before the flight they announced that Delta was not offering complementary food on this 5 hour flight. So, instead of telling us ahead of time so we could prepare, now we had to scramble to get something from the surrounding concessions since with the 5 minute heads-up that was all we could do.

Now armed with 2 pretzels, some trail-mix and a roll of Starburst we boarded the plane. Well, normally you’d expect a bit of warmth while at the gate, but the air conditioning never worked as it should. Neither was one of the toilets, the Dish TV signal nor the survey on the little LCD screen in each seatback. The survey only allowed an "excellent" rating in each category--not quite what we had in mind! In the in-flight magazine it showed that Kungfu Panda was shown. Yes, it was but for $6 (each!!) so we opted for some of the Trivia games that were free and played some more Gin 13. With the AC stuck on ‘hot’ we resorted to use the ice-cubes provided by a very friendly stewardess. That extra ziplock bag really helped when they filled it with ice. We also sat over the wings, so no views of the mountains (we actually were in cloud-cover for most of them so we didn’t miss anything). We did get a good view of downtown Seattle when we landed so it made up for something.

We arrived in Seattle a few minutes ahead of time and when walking off the plane, the cool and very welcome Pacific North West breeze was felt in the jetway… Nice!! That’s what we expected on the plane, but after a 5 hour plane-ride with the beforementioned AC setting it was very, very welcome. We walked to the Baggage Claim and got our bags and caught the shuttle to the Hotel. The outside was unimpressive, but the rooms are very nice and the beds are very comfy. We got some dinner at the adjacent restaurant and got to talk to a South African while watching the Opening Ceremonies on TV. They were ABSOLUTELY amazing. As NBC’s Matt Lauer was saying ‘when it comes to Opening Ceremonies, lock-up the trophy’.

We tried to stay awake during the Parade of Nations to cheer the Dutch and American athletes, but with the time difference it was already past midnight and we just couldn't make. So we watched most of that the next morning.

Next stop: The ship: HAL’s MS OOSTERDAM !!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Baby DJ from the Outside

For those wondering how the baby bump is coming, here are a few pictures of me trying on my "old faithful formal." We think DJ is really excited for his first big trip. Every day he seems to be popping out a bit more. The last picture is really impressive.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Update on Baby DJ

So, funny thing happened today. I'm realizing that head injuries and pregnancy brain are not a good mix! Yesterday, I had a ton of emails from fine folks like yourselves inquiring as to the results of our ultrasound. Which made sense, given that yesterday was our scheduled ultrasound. However, I got that date mixed up with the proposed closing date of our condo (which is still in the air). So, when Niels and I went to the doctor today, imagine our dismay when we were told we were a day late. I promptly broke down in tears and they had empathy on me, their most loyal and frequent patient, and re-scheduled the ultrasound for today at 1:15.

So...my sweet husband got an unexpected extra day off work today to spend with his traumatized wife (= assuring me that I'm not the world's worst mom to forget my child's ultrasound) and we passed the time by getting my hair cut, looking at baby things at Target and getting some lunch.

So...all that to say, our sonographer was very nice, explained all the things she was seeing. The baby is measuring 1 pound, 1 ounce, which is right on schedule, actually a week or 2 ahead. The heart beat was 138. Baby has 10 fingers, 10 toes, 4 chambers in the heart, a spine, a brain (obviously got that from Daddy!) and ........................... a [definitive boy-part]!

Yep, We're having a boy! We're keeping the name to ourselves. Yes, we've got DJ's name, but we're not telling!!! That shouldn't keep you from trying to change our minds with your baby name suggestions in the comments... ;-) So far Barack Abbas de Jong and Denali de Jong (in honor of next week's cruise) are our favorite suggestions!

More pix: click here