Thursday, May 31, 2007

Juneau, part deux

So then we have the tour we'd actually signed up for in Juneau.

Brief aside to 'splain the tours.  We booked our shore excursions in advance sorta by accident.  We booked them back in April.  This was because my dad's birthday is in April and I thought I'd get him a shore excursion for his birthday.  That was when we learned that you can (and should) book them in advance.  So, I bought my dad the kayaking in Sitka for his birthday.  My folks decided, in return to buy me the Juneau the shore excursion for my birthday. 

For this shore excursion, we went back across the street to the docks to pick up a float plane.

I'd never been on a float plane before, either. 

So, we board this thing (10 seats, all by the windows!) and head out ... to the same ice fields.  (That's ok, you can't really get tired of looking at this stuff.  Many, many glacier photographs from above.)  This time, y'know, what with being in a float plane and all, we landed in a river fairly near the foot of a glacier.

(Now, I say "fairly near."  In what is surely an optical illusion, you can be, like, two miles away from a glacier and it looks like it's just a hundred yards away from you.  It's only when they tell you how many miles wide the damn thing is that you realize it's gotta be much farther away then you think it is in order to fit in your field of vision.)  We're actually at the foot of the "Hole in the Wall" glacier.  It's something like 1800 feet high.  (Well, I can't remember the number, but they said it was taller than any city skyline.)  And it's glorious.  Not pure, smooth, white snow and ice, but big pointy white and blue bits.  (Glaciers appear blue because they are packed so tight they absorb all other colors of light, reflecting back only the blue.)  Awesome glacier.  I had my mom take a picture of me "in front of" it. 

Our destination is a place called Taku Glacier Lodge.  (We're also near the Taku Glacier and on the Taku river.)  We're here for dinner -- they do a (really fresh) salmon bake for all the guests. 

We have time to walk the grounds a bit before dinner and I'm just about to head on over to the little shop when someone mentions there's a bear.

Now, I took some pictures of bears on the cruise.  (No, silly, the bears weren't on the cruise.)  We were cruising around Glacier Bay and we saw bears on that island way over there and I cranked up the optical zoom on camera and aimed at the brown dot and, sure enough, when I zoomed in enough on the result, there was a furry, bear-shaped quadruped at the center of my picture.

This was a momma bear and her cub standing near a tree maybe forty feet away.  Two employees of the lodge were standing in front of us, armed with sticks should the bears get too close (at which point, we were told, they'd bonk the bears on the nose) and we all gathered in a line in the general vicinity of stick-guys and snapped bear photos like there's no tomorrow. 

After the bears scampered (well, the cub scampered; the momma lumbered) off, we went inside the lodge (strict rules about no food outdoors) and sat down to our salmon feast.  We looked out the picture window to the area where they'd grilled our food -- and saw the bear climbing into the grill to slurp up the drippings.  The cub didn't know where she'd gone and cried for a her a bit -- we just stayed out of its way -- eventually it found its mother and she then introduced him to the joys of salmon-flavored grill drippings.

After supper, we went for a short hike in the forest out to a nearby waterfall.  (Remember that bug spray I said I shouldn't have brought?  I should have brought it.)  The Lodge dude who was our guide brought two dogs with him and kept throwing a stick for the dogs to fetch.  He even threw it up into the waterfall, and they jumped after it, found it on the rocks, and eagerly brought it back.

We got back and I had a little time to sit by the fire and relax.  I spoke with a woman who was off a Celebrity Cruise ship with 2000 passengers.  Made me feel great that I was on a ship with only 92, although both of us were really pleased to have a moment away from the crowds and just sit quietly, in a wooden lodge, with glaciers outside, and a roaring fire inside.

The float plane picked us up and we all went back to Juneau.  The nice woman went back to her Celebrity ship, and we walked down the main shopping street in Juneau.  We stopped for ice cream cones for dessert -- just because -- and came back to the hotel.

(And the icing on this particular cake is the free wireless internet at our Juneau hotel.) 

When we were riding the dogsleds -- well, more precisely, when I was standing up "driving" the rear sled with my mom in the seat -- I was commenting on how amazing the scenery was.  Mom said she has to keep reminding herself that we (meaning: the United States) own this stuff.  I understand what she means -- but, standing out there, riding a dogsled across a glacier, surrounded by snow-covered mountains -- I had to disagree.  Nobody can own this.  We might be its temporary caretakers, but nobody can own anything this vast and timeless.

Juneau the capitol of Alaska?

Let's just say this was an amazing day.


Disembarked and went to our Juneau hotel (where the cruise line had booked us all) right across the street. 

At 10:00, we were picked up by a van to take us to the dog-sled thing, which they were able to reschedule us for. 

Van takes us to a helicopter place.  We're outfitted with safety jackets (not "under our seats" like on most planes, but actually on our persons) and given rubber snow booties to wear over our shoes.  Then (after publicly telling them exactly how much we weigh) seated in a helicopter.

I've never been in a helicopter.  There were six of us wedged into this thing, all wearing our life jackets and listening to the pilot through them headset things.  Five different helicopters alight and, in more or less of a line, just head on out over the Juneau ice fields.  Glaciers all over the place.  Impressive.  I was seated in the center of the back, though, so didn't get many pictures.  (We were to be rotated into the front seat on the way back, so I'd get the pics then.) 

We eventually circle around -- and land at -- a dog sled camp.  There will, of course, be photos.  In words, this is what a dog sled camp looks like:  a few tents, and maybe sixty little dog-sized plastic shelters, all in rows.  And, of course, some dog sleds.

Our group of six (from the 'copter) is further broken down into groups of three -- which is convenient as me and my parents are, y'know, three people. 

The three of us our handed over to Alex.  Alex has a team of dogs all lined up and attached to a dog sled.  The sled has one seat (like, a piece of tarp slung in a seat like a beach chair) and a place for the driver to stand (on the sled runners) in back.  Said sled is attached by a rope to another, similarly constructed, sled.  Alex plants himself on the runners (i.e. the driver's position) on the first sled.  The three of us will rotate in the other three positions.  I start with the best view -- seated in Alex's sled.  My mom is driving the back sled (the driver back there has to just hold on) and step on a brake when Alex gives the sign.  Alex starts up the dogs (saying "All right," rather than "mush!") and the dogs are off.  We're driving through pristine snow on a freakin' glacier.  With actual professional huskies pulling the sled.  (Many of them have already run the Iditarod; others are in training.  We're told that during the winter the dogs do "endurance training."  During the summer, they pull four passengers for short distances as "strength training.")  It's a pretty awesome experience.  Many photographs to come.  (Dogs, glaciers, views from the seat...)

We swapped positions twice, so I was able to drive the rear sled once, and then sit in the seat of the second sled.  I've gotta admit, the very first segment (where I was riding in the front sled) was the bestest.  Largely because none of the dogs had taken "comfort breaks" in the snow yet, so I was riding through clean white snow, rather than, uh, yellow or brown snow.  (We're told that the dudes at the camp will actually clean this up later, as they don't leave any waste on the glacier.  It is taken off by helicopter, but not in the helicopter.  If you ever see a helicopter flying around Juneau carrying a large bag beneath it, give it a wide berth.)

After the helicopter ride back (pictures this time) and a very quick snack, we were off again.  Day not over yet.  Not hardly.

So Much For Haines

Haines was a no-show.  Or, more precisely, we were a no-show for Haines.  Haines is only, like, 15 miles away from Skagway.  The plan was that we'd all get back on the ship, have lunch, and be in Haines by the time we were finished. 

Good plan.

Somewhere during lunch, we noticed it was getting awfully windy out there.  Somewhere around 40 knots.  That's, y'know, a lot of wind.  Eventually, the captain got on the mic and explained that he'd elected, for our safety, not to go to Haines.  Apparently, it's a wooden dock and he didn't think we'd be safe docking on that thing in the high winds.  We all totally understood -- I mean, safety is paramount and it's his job to make that call.  Still, we were a bit disappointed missing out on Haines.  (And the five of us who'd missed out on our Skagway excursion were particularly disappointed.)  Cruise West dealt with the situation in the time-honored way of ships dealing with disappointed people aboard -- free drinks.  With the bartender pouring everyone a drink on the house, good cheer quickly came back on board.

As an alternative, the Captain took us into a nearby waterway with some pretty scenery.  And, as it turned out, an amazing whale. 

A seriously amazing whale.  This whale stayed on our starboard bow for, like, 20 minutes -- paddling on his back, waving his flippers, and leaping out of the water.  When he got bored with that, he swam over to the port side for a repeat performance.  Everyone got pictures of this whale.  Even me.  Well, I got some lovely shots of his flipper in the air.  It's something.  :)

And that was pretty much how the cruise ended.  We had our last dinner and dessert, and I went back to my cabin for the final packing as a group of 12 Australian passengers took over the mic and gave us a very off-key yet enthusiastic rendition of "Waltzing Matilda" -- including the bits where none of them remembered the words and just hummed the tune. 

And this morning, we disembarked in Juneau.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Town That Tourism Built

The dogsled thing got cancelled. We were s'posed to take a helicopter up to a glacier and then go to some sort of dog sled camp where we get introduced to dogs (and sleds) and then drive a dogsled ourselves for something like 20 minutes. This sounded way cool. I bundled myself up like the Michelin Man (found a use for the heavyweight fleece long underwear -- underneath the heavyweight fleece pants and the rain pants; the aforementioned big honkin' sweater was one of my three upper-body layers). All of the other tours left early -- between 7:30 and 8:30. The helicopter/dogsled thingie didn't go until 9:15.

By 9:00, the five of us who were scheduled for the tour were the only ones left on the ship (besides crew). We got an announcement that our van was here to pick us up. We started on down towards the gangplank. Another announcement followed saying the van wasn't here. Third (and last) our Exploration Leader tells us the tour has been cancelled. He said none of the helicopters made it up the dog sled camp and they've all turned back. We didn't even get in the van.

As all the other tours had already left, we were pretty much left with wandering aimlessly around the town at which we were docked: Skagway. My folks headed out immediately. I hung back to take some time to change from "dogsledding" clothes into "wandering aimlessly around the town" clothes (a good trick, seeing as I'd packed up most everything last night -- but I am nothing if not adaptable) -- and ultimately headed out to the town.

Skagway is, for all intents and purposes, one shopping street and a dock. The dock being the key part of this sentence. Our small ship (96 passengers) had sidled up to the "ferry dock." On one side of us are two huge NCL ships; on the other, two large Princess ships. All are unloading passengers into Skagway. Skagway, for its part, is prepared. The shopping street houses about ten jewelry stores; ten "crap that says 'Alaska' on it" stores; a few tour agents; and a coupla cafes. Now, the fact that there are multiple jewelry stores and multiple crap stores doesn't mean there's any point in comparison shopping. Not only were the prices pretty much the same up and down the street (all caps "regularly $6; sale price $4!!!") but I noticed some of the very same pre-printed signs in different shops, and our Exploration Leader later confirmed that some of them are even owned by the same people. All the owners don't need to get together to price-fix; they're the same guy. (And the jewelry stores relocate to the Caribbean during the winter -- to sell the same jewelry to the same cruise ship tourists.)

The very first shop you approach (when coming from the docks -- which is where everyone comes from) is one of those "crap that says 'Alaska' on it" stores. I stroll in and here get my first look at the prices I will see all morning. (I speculated that, being the first store you hit on the way in, and the last you hit on the way out, they were in a position to charge slightly more. This turned out to be untrue.) What amazed me, though, was how much business it was doing. The cash registers were ringing like Vegas slot machines. Tourists were pouring off of the boats, into this store, and stocking up on crap to take home.

I walked to the end of the street and back. I was happy to get a little exercise and figuring out the town's pricing scheme was keeping me amused. At every intersection, I poked my head down the side streets and looked for something different. I was rewarded by a little yarn and needlework shop, where I picked up some locally-made yarn for a friend who knits (and does not read my journal) back home.

Back to the ship in time for lunch. We're heading off to Haines, about 15 miles away. My mom and I are scheduled to do a "float trip" down a river in a bald eagle preserve. (Barring cancellation.) This is our last night on the ship. We disembark in Juneau the next morning. Our Juneau plans are a bit up in the air (ha) as we're trying to make up for the lost helicopter/dogsled thingie there (weather, time, and tour operators permitting) but we're already prebooked for a float plane thingie (also weather-dependent). The next day, we fly to Anchorage, then travel up to Denali. No idea what internet access will be like in any of these places, but I'll try to post when I can.

Nice Peeps

Clearly, I must amend the entry about the other folks on this trip.

When my dad and I did the zip line thingie, there were four other people -- two had just completed our cruise in the opposite direction, and two were going to go on the same cruise as we were. The latter were Kathleen and Wilbur. Wilbur took to zip-lining like a duck to water. He was actually graceful on it, while the rest of us damn near barrelled into the guide at the other side. Kathleen initially had some problems, but she had a "never give up; never surrender" sort of attitude, which got her through it just fine. Kathleen later shared that she wanted to zip line ever since she first saw it on Amazing Race. Of course, Amazing Race just shows you everyone zipping across the line and saying how cool it is. They don't show you the teams strapping on their gear, doing a practice zip, overshooting the distance and plowing into the guide at the other side, or undershooting and having to drag themselves hand-over-hand across the rest of the line. That's TV for you -- all the glory, none of the guts.

I liked Kathleen and Wilbur. I think they kinda reminded me of the "Kentucky" team on Amazing Race -- in that they were friendly, excited about seeing the world, just generally optimistic about things, and had an accent I could not talk to them without unintentionally copying. (Texas, in this case.) We had dinner with Kathleen and Wilbur one night, and it happened to come up in conversation that this is about one year, to the day, from when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Kathleen herself was an 18-year breast cancer survivor. (Go Kathleen!)

Now, every night at dinner on the ship, it seemed that somebody was celebrating something -- a birthday or an anniversary. Celebrations were accompanied by singing and a small cake for your table. (In fact, just last night, we happened to be sharing a table with an anniversary couple, so we got in on their chocolate cake. Nummy.) So Kathleen, all secret-like, gets the crew to do up a cake celebrating my mom's one-year breast cancer survival anniversary, and her own 18th. The chef goes all out and rather than supplying the usual holiday chocolate cake, he does up a yellow cake with white frosting and puts a pink ribbon on it in frosting. They brought it to our table at dinner tonight with a little announcement.

I know my mom is shy about stuff like this -- not wanting to tempt fate by saying she's a breast cancer survivor or anything. Which I can understand. But I think it's cool to celebrate having, y'know, gotten this far. And awfully nice of Kathleen to have it acknowledged -- especially since she's someone who has gone down the same road.

After the cake came out, Kathleen told us her whole story. The bestest part of which (besides the, y'know, surviving part) was that, when she was diagnosed, she'd been dating Wilbur, and they'd talked about getting engaged but hadn't gone out and done it. And she got home from the doctor and saw Wilbur and told him about the cancer and asked him if he'd be there for her through all of it. And he left and came right back with an engagement ring. (All that and a natural capacity for zip-lining. Kathleen got herself one of the good ones.)

Too Much Stuff

I overpacked.

Obviously, I overpacked.

Tammy watched me just doing the very, very last bits of the packing and she thought, "Dude, you overpacked." Which I did.

What is interesting, though, is the way in which I overpacked. In that I never would have considered that I overpacked in this particular manner.

See, this is the second-to-last night of the cruise. And we've got some land bits coming up, so the trip isn't exactly over yet. But I am packing up my previously unpacked clothes so I'll be ready to disembark at whatever unholy hour of the morning they want to dump us in Juneau. And, in the repacking process, I've come to a few conclusions. A few conclusions like: way too many bras; not enough socks. This is odd, as one generally uses the same quantity of bras as pairs of socks (one per day usually covers it) and, although I did pack the same quantity of each, I find I've got way more bras on my hands than days left, while the sock situation may require recycling. Not sure how that happened exactly -- well, no, that's not true. It happened because it's cold here and my cotton socks have been completely worthless. So have my wool socks that only go ankle-high. The small exposed area between the bottom of my long underwear and the top of my shoes is quite insistent that I have something nice, warm and woolen to cover it -- so I am in dangerously short supply of high wool socks.

Also found out that I packed too many ... wait for it ... sweaters. Meaning that I've packed two and haven't worn either of them yet. Now, I will be wearing one tomorrow, since that's when I've got a shore excursion involving a dog sled and I will be pulling out all the stops winter-wear wise: big wool sweater, heavy-weight long underwear, the works. But, up until now, it's all been about layering -- generally with a fleece vest or jacket (under another jacket) -- and the big honkin' Icelandic wool sweater (or even the mid-size tooting wool ski sweater) have been unnecessary. You heard it here first, people: you apparently don't need a wool sweater on an Alaska cruise.

Oh, and the sunscreen, bug repellant, and sunglasses? I'm not even sure where they are, as it has never even crossed my mind to use them. Ditto on my sun hat. Come to think of it, I wonder where I left the sun hat. I think I put it in my carry-on bag when I stashed it under the bed in my cabin. I'll have to check on that. Conveniently, my cabin is small. It couldn't have gotten far.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Greetings from Glacier Bay

I'm actually journalling from within Glacier Bay. That we actually have the technology, in this more or less unspoilt place -- where we can't even approach a glacier for fear of disturbing the seal pup birthing ground in front of it, where we whisper just for the majesty of it all -- that we've rigged up a satellite for internet access in these here parts seems almost sacrilege. Doesn't mean I'm not going to use it, though.

We hit Glacier Bay itself fairly early this morning. We've been joined by a National Park Ranger to tell us what's going on, and also a Tlingit dude as a "Cultural Interpreter." I dig the presence of the Tlingit dude. I think it's right that we have a native here who can give us a different perspective on the history of the place, as his peeps were here long before we were. On the other hand, we have not only been joined by a Tlingit dude, but also the Tlingit dude's supervisor, who is silently marking down every mistake Tlingit dude makes. I have a fairly good reason to believe a significant percentage of what Tlingit dude is telling us is whale poop, but I can't actually confirm it. I am told, however, that Tlingit dude's supervisor is scribbling away in the corner, inconspicuously marking down (but not correcting) every mistake made by Tlingit dude.

I've snapped a bunch of photos, but there's some level of photographic (and sensory) overload going on here. Big beautiful snowy mountain followed by big beautiful snowy mountain -- with an occasional distant shot of a glacier thrown in. We had some excitement a few minutes ago, as a whale unexpectedly made an appearance when we were stopped at the latest glacier. ("What kind of whale?" "A damn cold one.") The whale had the annoying habit of surfacing only when I'd put my camera down. I finally shut the damn thing off so that everyone else would get to see the whale.

I've not yet blogged about the people on this cruise. I don't know why -- I guess I'm afraid somebody will read something I've said about them before the cruise is over, which would be very uncomfortable-making. Let's just put it this way -- on the first day of the cruise, the captain made a point of telling everyone his age, so the passengers wouldn't be concerned that he was too young to actually have a license to pilot this thing. He's my age.

He is, near as I can tell, the only one of this ship who is my age. The bulk of the visible crew -- the "Guest Services Representatives" (read: folks who clean your cabins and serve your food) all appear to be in their 20s, as do our "Exploration Leaders." Of the passengers, I would not say I'm single-handedly bringing down the average age -- there are about 8 to 10 "young people" who are likely also in their 20s, while most of the rest are either retired, or actively planning their first trips to the Social Security Office.

I haven't really gotten to know many of the rest of the passengers. I have all my meals with my folks (which I'd expected) but since we're taking all the same shore excursions, we've generally kept to ourselves rather than reaching out to chat with the others. Sure, there's a few couples who we've eaten with once or twice, but I'm hard pressed to remember their names or anything of significance about them. It isn't solely due to me and my folks forming our own little social circle -- it's more of this crowd being a less outgoing bunch.

I digress a moment to explain this: A few years back, I was interested in maybe cruising to Alaska with a company called Glacier Bay. I ultimately cruised the Columbia River with them, as a sort of trial run -- and was ready to book the Alaska trip with them when they inconveniently went bankrupt. We booked this cruise with Cruise West as they were, now, the sole small ship line that did this sort of trip. But, back when Glacier Bay and Cruise West were in competition, the big difference between the two was that Glacier Bay had kayaks on the back of the ship, which it would drop off at any convenient opportunity fot kayaking. Cruise West does not.

The result is that Glacier Bay attracted a class of passengers who all wanted to get out and kayak around, well, Glacier Bay. They were adventuresome. Outgoing. And had that sort of friendliness that comes from shared outdoor experiences.

Now, Cruise West offers active shore excursions. But very few people here want to do them. When we did the zip line thingie, there were only six of us, and that was six out of two ships worth of passengers (one cruise was leaving while another was departing). There were only five of us who went kayaking it Sitka. Indeed, seems like the most popular shore excursion here is some train trip someplace. 'Cause, yeah, first thing I want to do after I've been cooped up on a ship for 48 hours is to lock myself in a train compartment with the same people and stare out the windows.

Putting it another way, the Park Ranger dude announces when we're coming up on a good nature viewing place about three minutes in advance, because he knows it's going to take this group that long to stand up, bundle up in their warm clothes, and make their way outside.

I don't mean to mock anyone's age or physical condition -- but I think the sedentary nature of this bunch is also manifested in a lack of outward friendliness. If someone drops in and starts a conversation they won't turn it down, but they won't go out of their way to meet the rest of the passengers either.

(And, well, we're just going to overlook the time we had dinner with another couple, and said couple made a comment about "Colored people." I felt the tension over the table while my parents wondered whether I was going to just let that one go in the interest of not causing a scene in the middle of the cruise ship -- and the seconds seemed to stretch out to me while I weighed the pros and cons of politely indicating that I really don't go in for that sort of racism. I did let it go -- and my fatherly expertly changed the topic -- but I couldn't look that dude in the eye for the rest of the meal.)

Back to snowy mountains, glaciers, and the occasional bear.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Bird Watching

Ah, the refreshing power of a chocolate chip cookie.

I very nearly missed the cookies. I'd grabbed a book (one of the ones I'd bought in London) and come up to the Lounge for a read. Our Exploration Leader invited us out on deck to see a rare bird on an upcoming island. Now, the Lounge has windows, so you can get a decent look at any wildlife from the comfort of the indoors, but I'd thought some bracing fresh air might do my some good in terms of, y'know, waking the heck up, so I grabbed some binoculars (they're everywhere on the ship) and headed out to the bow.

We approached the island in question and trained our binoculars to look at the rare red birds in the trees on the North side of the island. At first, I was distracted from this search by the sight of a lovely bald eagle perched majestically at the very top of a tree -- but as the eagle went out of sight I could hear the other passengers spotting the red birds, so I followed their gaze and aimed my binoculars ....

.... just as Exploration Leader Jen was identifying the rare birds as the species "Pinkus Flamingus Plasticus." I dropped the binocs and gave her a glare; she nodded, smiling, and waited for the rest of the passengers to get the joke.

I stayed out in the air for a little while longer -- as long as we were out there, Jen started talking about all the different trees we were looking it. It was only after a few minutes that I realized, "Oh no! It's 3:10!" and made a beeline for the Lounge and the small tray of chocolate chip cookies. Thank goodness there were a few cookies not yet taken. If I'd missed out on cookie time for a plastic pink flamingo, I would have been really ticked.

Whales & Kayaking (not at the same time)

Yesterday, we were at sea all day. We went up Endicott Arm and approached Dawes Glacier. This was relatively similar to what we'd done on the jet boat the day before -- what with the occasional itty bitty piece of ice soon becoming icebergs all around. There was a difference in scale, though. And, luckily, a huge difference in payout. This time, we got close enough to actually see the glacier, which was impressive in its big honkin' hunk of ice sort of way. (As usual, photos to come.)

After, there was more whale watching. Cruise West has a "we'll see whales" guarantee on a bunch of its cruises, and it has never had to pay out. I can see why. After the whole afternoon of whale watching the day before, there was another whole afternoon of whale watching, and there were an awful lot of whales to watch. We even saw some out the dining room windows during dinner. (We heard a commotion a few tables over, then realized they were looking at a whale popping up just outside the window.) I mean, it isn't Whale Central or anything, but if you have your binoculars out and a reasonable amount of patience, you'll be rewarded with whaleness.

This morning -- emphasis on morning -- we arrived at Sitka. Didn't get to see much of Sitka as today was the scheduled sea kayaking trip with dad. Dad had never been kayaking. Thinking back on it, this was something like my sixth time. Still, I sorta held back on telling the guide this. There was an odd number of us going, and she was looking for volunteers to man the single-person kayak. (Nobody was up to the challenge, so she put as all in doubles and had an extra guide take the spare slot in the other kayak.)

We kayaked out a bit -- saw some nature (sea lions, starfish, eagles) and were out on the water for two to three hours. My dad got tired and asked me to paddle slower, which I did as all this paddling was totally tiring me out. I didn't exactly share the fact, though. I was sorta hoping I'd leave him the impression that I was indefatigable. Or, at least, not getting out-paddled by my 71-year-old father. :)

Came back to the ship where -- at least until we left port -- I had cell phone service, so I was able to check my messages, (Aside to random real estate agents who keep calling me: I already have an agent. Stop calling me.)

Am dog tired. Do not know why. Got about 8 hours sleep and that's good, but my eyelids are dragging and I'm not sure why. Could just be that my body is so not used the physical exercise, such that 2 hours of slow steady paddling makes we want to curl up and nap.

'course if I did that, I'd miss the 3:00 cookies.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Here's a Tip

If anyone out there stumbled upon this journal entry by googling "Cruise West" looking for real user reviews, here's a tip: Book your shore excursions in advance. Then confirm them a few times.

Today we went to Petersburg. There were many shore excursions for the city -- one was a jet boat ride to Le Conte glacier. My parents and I had pre-booked that one. Cruise West had space for 18 people on the jet boat. They set out sign-up sheets for the shore excursions -- and the jet boat one already had 16 names on it from the people who had prebooked. Our Exploration Leader explained that if more people signed up than there were spaces, the folks who prebooked would be guaranteed on, and there'd be a lottery for any extra spaces.

About 30 people signed up for the jet boat ride. Last night we were told that they'd hired someone to pilot a second jet boat out to the glacier, so everyone who signed up would be able to go.

This morning, shortly before we disembarked for our shore excursions, an announcement was made -- there was trouble with one of the jet boats and they could only take 18. And what made this more exciting was that, in actuality, 20 people had pre-booked. Somehow, the reservations of 4 people never got into the magic shore excursion book. Never mind that the last 2 of them shouldn't have been booked at all since they were already at capacity.

So, our Exploration Leaders decided to do a lottery among the 20 of us for the 18 jet boat spots. One of them writes all our names on scraps of paper and throws them in a cup, and the other Exploration Leader pulls 18 names out. (By the time he got to the fourth or fifth name, I whispered to my parents, "You know, there's an easier way to do this.") Luckily, all three of our names were picked, so we were on the jet boat. Meantime, the other 2 who had reservations (and the other then who, as of last night, thought they'd be on the jet boat) scrambled to find something else to do in Petersburg.

I didn't see much of Petersburg as the jet boat picked us up a "forty-five second bus ride" away from where the ship had docked. The lucky 18 of us piled into his jet boat and we were off to Le Conte glacier.

OK, here's the thing. I've seen a glacier before. (The Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand.) But that glacier was on land. I'd never seen one hanging out in the water, so I didn't quite know what to expect.

Here's what to expect: Jet boat cruises along, and then: small piece of ice (think baby iceberg) in the water. Then, a couple more pieces of ice. Then more. Then even more. Soon, the water in front of the jet boat looks to be half water and half ice. The jet boat keeps moving ahead (busting small pieces of ice as it goes) until it is very nearly landlocked in an ocean virtually covered with icebergs.

If you're very lucky, the jet boat will actually get within viewing (or even spitting) range of the glacier by the time this happens. We weren't so lucky -- the glacier face was beyond a bend and we couldn't get far enough into the ice field to get around to see it. Still, the field of ice -- particularly how amazingly blue it looked -- was darned impressive.

There will be photographs. I had actually planned on there being photographs -- but when I got back to the ship, I discovered that I hadn't packed the cable to connect my camera to my laptop to transfer the photos. So they've all got to stay in the camera for now. Instead, I took an hour or so to review the photos on my camera so I could delete a few dozen unimpressive photos of ice -- leaving room for more pics from the rest of the trip (and just a few of the more impressive photos of ice).

Thereafter, we cruised around and looked for whales. I've been whale-watching before and never really saw anything -- but I totally saw whales here. My whale-watching got a lot better when I returned to my cabin for (a) a wardrobe change (grabbed the blue hat -- my ears were freezing) and (b) a change of equipment (swapped out my camera and swapped in the binoculars). I regret that I didn't take any pictures of the whales -- but given the choice between memorializing the event with a crappy photo from too far away (even with the camera's zoom) and fully experiencing it via 10 multiplication binoculars, there was no real choice. I just had to admire the grace with which a 40 ton animal can launch itself into the air and be content with memories.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

First Full Day of Cruising

Today was our first full day on the ship. We spent the morning cruising through Misty Fjords (which was misty and fjord-like). We were joined by a National Forest Service naturalist who kayaked out to our boat and came onboard to supply a running commentary. Much popping out of the lounge for picture breaks.

It was cold and rainy today. Yesterday was clear and not all that cold -- I wore a simple long sleeve shirt and was fine. Today it was just nasty -- I wore a fleece pull-over and a two-layer jacket (down zip-in liner and a waterproof outer layer) as well as two layers of pants (jeans and rain pants) and I was freezing my buns off. So, yeah, sat in the lounge chatting with my parents, peering out the windows, and occasionally popping out on deck to snap a few shots.

(Dudes. Right now, we're in some really choppy water and the boat is really rocking. At least, it was. Seems to have stopped for a moment, yet I'm still rocking. I need me some lemon drops.)

The afternoon was spent at Metlakatla, home of the Tsimshian tribe. Metlakatla is unique, in that it is the only remaining reservation in Alaska. (All other native communities voted instead to incorporate under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.) We were shown around the town (tour bus) by members of the community (as opposed to professional guides). In fact, our guide was leading his first tour -- a fact that was noticeable when he kept confusing "left" and "right" when pointing stuff out, because he kept thinking of things from his point of view rather than ours. We were then invited into the "long house" where we were treated to various songs and traditional dances by a group of non-professional locals.

I sometimes feel uncomfortable when I, as a tourist, am being shown something from another culture in a performance made for my tour group. This is especially so when the community in question is poor, and the whole thing sorta seems like they're selling their culture -- a very depressing arrangement to which I don't really want to be a part.

Metlakatla was different. Seems that -- despite living in a reservation -- the Tsimshian people had started to allow many of their traditions and cultural practices to very nearly die out. This has changed in recent years as young people are trying to relearn the old language and traditions, in order to keep their culture alive. There was a real sense of pride to their performace. Thiswasn't going through the steps to impress the tourists -- this was a bunch of young people who were finding value in their shared history who were proud to show it off to anyone who would listen. We saw, for example, a "bent-wood drum" that a woman had carved -- and she said it was the first bent-wood drum made in something like 90 years. The Tsmshian people had allowed that tradition to become dormant, and fairly nearly extinct, but they were proudly, touchingly, reclaiming it.

... and now, the rocking has slowed and a great rush of massive tiredness has come over me, so I'm going to go to sleep before I lose the ability to keep my eyes open.

But would we ever leave Ketchikan?

First, some housekeeping. You may wonder why my posts are 12 or more hours behind. This is because two things must co-exist in order for me to post to my journal. First, my computer has to be someplace where it picks up the ship's wireless network. The wireless access point is at the bow of the boat, while my cabin is at the stern. So I need to bring my laptop to the lounge -- and I need to do that when the lounge isn't otherwise being used for a formal presentation or something. Second, the ship has to be someplace where it picks up the satellite connection that provides internet access. This morning, for instance, my computer and I were hanging out in the lounge -- but the ship was in a very narrow passageway between two mountains, so there was no internet access.

I've taken to writing journal entries from my cabin at night, with the hopes of posting them sometime the next day when circumstances permit. (I've only purchased 65 minutes of internet access, so I've got to make each minute count. It's mostly running "automatic AOL" sessions, then logging in again to post to the journal.)

So. After the zip-line experience in Ketchikan, we piled in the van to return to the hotel and then board the ship. The "return to the hotel" part turned out to be the problem. We're tooling along the main road (a.k.a the only road) when we reach a line of about 7 cars stopped by some construction up ahead. (A worker is standing there holding up a stop sign.) No problem -- construction stops traffic all the time; we'll be moving along in a few minutes.

Except we aren't.

A few minutes pass. And a few more. And a lot more than that. Our guide finally gets out to investigate and discovers that some genius had decided to set off some explosives to excavate something for the construction -- and ended up blowing rock all over the road. And taking out a nearby power line. They were working to remove the rubble (and power line) so the road could be back in business. Right now, traffic was backed up in both directions. They expected the delay to last another half hour.

And the piece de resistance: One of the stopped cars ahead of us contained a woman who was bringing her passenger to the hospital (on the other side of the construction) and the passenger was getting sicker by the minute. They were working out how to bring an ambulance up to the other side of the mess and somehow carrying her over to it.

In contrast to construction workers where I come from, these folks were actually accurate with their time estimate. A half hour later, the sick lady had been taken to the hospital and the road had been cleared enough to let traffic through. As we drove through, we caught a peek at the destruction. While a path had been cleared through the rubble wide enough for a car, we could see mounds of rubble on one side -- and that it had crashed through (and taken out) the guard rail on the other. Serious mess.

We got back to the hotel in time for a local speaker (a Native American dude who told us about the Tlinget culture -- very interesting) and finally got on board the ship. A few cabins were randomly selected for luggage screening, and to our great surprise, our family was not among them. (The way things had been going, we pretty much bet on it.) Got oriented on the boat, unpacked, had dinner, and got some sleep.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Made it!

Since I last updated, things went more or less according to plan. That being the whole fly-to-Seattle-late-then-fly-to-Juneau-then-overnight-in-Juneau-then-go-to-Ketchikan plan put together by the largely incompetent Alaska Air desk guy (who eventually confided in me that he'd only been working there for four months and really didn't have a clue). OK, sure, the Juneau Travelodge was, by far, the crappiest place I've ever spent $150 to stay in. (Seriously. I pulled down the bedspread to get in bed and found a big brown stain on the sheet. Ewww.) And, yeah, the guy next to me on the L.A.-to-Seattle flight was a big guy who hogged the armrest and left me sitting sideways for the whole flight. And did I mention that Alaska Airlines probably shouldn't have put anyone in that seat at all as the seat cushion had lost all support and reminded of one of those old-fashioned toilet-chair things with a great big hole in the middle? And, ok, the Seattle-to-Juneau flight was an hour late taking off.

But, setting aside all of that, things were actually pretty good. I got me a solid 5 hours of sleep in Juneau, made the connection to Ketchikan, and -- most importantly -- got checked in with the cruise people in time to do my very first shore excursion: the Canopy Adventure.

The guy from the cruise line picked me up at the airport and brought me to the hotel where everyone else was staying (and where I should have been staying, too). My dad met me outside with the bad news that my mother was feeling too bad (bad back) to go on the canopy adventure with me. The good news was that he was going in her place.

I was impressed. The Canopy Adventure was one of only two shore excursions on the whole trip that the three of us hadn't signed up for together. Dad had zero interest in riding zip lines through the rainforest. (Yes, rainforest. Ketchikan gets 13 feet of rain every year. Lots of rain makes a very green rainforest -- but not a tropical one, a temperate one. Spiffy.) With Mom on the injured list, Dad stepped in to pinch hit.

There were only six of us from the cruise on the Canopy. They dropped us off at the bottom of a hill where we were met by two guides with an open-backed four-wheel drive vehicle, and a box of helmets. (We were also pointed to 2 porta-potties in a "last can for hours" stop. It was suggested that we use it. Y'know, in case we got all nervous about the zip lines and ... well they didn't want any accidents on their equipment.) After answering nature's call, we strapped on our brain buckets, piled in the 4WD, told to "hold on" and were driven way uphill at a steep grade. Dad and I looked at each other, thought about mom's back, and figured she never would have made it this far.

Up at the top of the hill, they had a cabin set up with a bunch of equipment. We were all harnassed up (there will be photos of this later) -- both a harness on our legs (when they were describing how to put it on, they said to imagine it as a "really skimpy pair of shorts") and one over our chests (in case we did something really stupid and decided to flip over while zipping). Once suitably attired, we were taken outside to the first zipline. It was actually a practice line -- just a few feet off the ground, and with a path to walk back if you needed a little more practice.

We had two guides with us at all times. One would zip over to the far end (well, not so far on the practice line) and then "receive" us after the other one, who hung back, hooked us up and zipped us over. We didn't have to handle the equipment at all -- in fact, we were instructed not to. Pretty much all we had to do was (1) get in proper zipping position ("seated" with legs out in front); (2) steer (i.e., hold the contraption on the zip line and turn it a bit if we felt our bodies twisting sideways); and, when directed (3) brake (hold a gloved hand against the line to slow the heck down).

Our guide selected one of us to "volunteer" to be first across the practice line, and selected my Dad. I thought this was not the best choice as he was the one person who hadn't actually wanted to be there, but he was a good sport about it and zipped on over. I followed, then the rest of the group. Only one of us had to go back and try the practice line a second time. Conveniently, it was not me.

Once we more or less had the hang of it -- remember the first time you went skiing? (I do; it wasn't all that long ago) You know how they make sure you can sorta kinda do a snowplow stop, then they decide you're ready for the basic run? It's pretty much that way here. Once you show that you can sorta get in the right position and have some vague idea how to slow yourself, it's good enough for them. So, we were off. Dad was first again. :)

I gotta say, it probably took the first five zip lines -- which kept getting longer and faster. (I think one was over 300 feet, but I was trying not to pay attention whenever they told us these facts. We also started something like 95 feet off the ground.) ANYWAY, it probably took the first five of them for me to REALLY get the hang of it. First time, I tried to brake too hard. (The guide asked if my shoulder was ok because I took "quite a jolt." With all the adrenaline, I didn't feel a thing. Now, twelve hours later, I'm feeling it.) Another time, I had the braking down, but didn't have enough momentum to carry myself to the end of the line, so I had to turn myself around and pull myself in hand-over-hand. (The guide, bless her heart, said that this was because I was too small, and that nobody under 140 pounds can make it all the way across that particular line unless they're balled up in a "cannonball" position.) Another time, I twisted hard to one side, and, although I recovered, I never should have let myself get that far turned. Several times, I hit my helmet against the line.

After the first 5 zips, there was a series of three suspension bridges between the trees (a mid-zip palette-cleansing sorbet, as it were). I am not good on suspension bridges. Clip my harness to a zip line and send me across and I'm fine -- but have me walk across a wobbly bridge and I'm shaking like a leaf. Weird. Guide kept informing me how sturdy the bridges were and how much more weight they could take than just us. Said they were built to even stricter specifications than the zip lines -- which really was comforting because this operation's zip lines were really the sort of thing with so many built-in redudancies you didn't question their safety.

At the end of the bridges we had two more zips, which I really rocked on as, by now, I'd figured out how to sit so I wasn't using my helmet as a brake. I even had my Dad snap some pics of me, and I snapped some of him, too. (Which will be posted in due course.) Even the woman who had started out so wobbly she had to run the practice line again finished happily, and we were all pretty impressed with ourselves, and the lovely scenery we'd just sailed through.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Adventure Begins

Emphasis, it turns out, on the word Adventure.

I'm to go Ketchikan today.  The cruise leaves tomorrow.  I have a 10:30 a.m. flight out of LAX to Seattle, where I catch a connection to Ketchikan around 3.

I plan to wake up at 7:00, leave for the airport at 8:00, get to the airport at 9:00.

I oversleep.  I hit the snooze once at 7:00, and the next thing I know, it's 7:49.  Not good.  I shift myself into top speed -- fast shower, fast brush teeth, fast get dressed,  fast feed cat, fast grab luggage.  By the time my car is loaded up, it's 8:30.

I fly down the freeway, until I hit traffic.  I curse mightily.  Rush hour.  I am not going to make it.

I finally reach the point where I can get off the freeway and get around the worst of the traffic on surface roads.  I do this.  Except there's some bizarre street fair thing slowing traffic on the road I've chosen.  I curse more.  I get back to the freeway and traffic is flowing freely.

Yay!  I'm going to make it!

I just have to switch to this other freeway where there's never traffi-

Damn.  Traffic on the other freeway.  I'm not going to make it.

I curse more.  Traffic loosens up and I get off the freeway at about 9:20.  I still have to park and take the shuttle to the airport.  The shuttle waits for another couple.  It's now 9:30.  Conveniently, the other couple is going to the same airline I am, so the shuttle can make a single stop.

We get to the Alaska Airlines terminal at abou 9:45. 

I am flying First Class -- I'm using all sortsa miles to do this.

The line for First Class check-in is not long, but there's only one dude working it and it doesn't look to be moving.  There are those self check-in kiosks.  I get out of the First Class line to try a kiosk.  It is now 9:47.

The kiosk has a sign on it saying that check-in for domestic flights closes 40 minutes before departure.  My flight to Seattle leaves at 10:30.  I have three minutes.  I frantically type my name and flight number into the machine as the clock turns to 9:48. 

It does not recognize me.  Says I need to speak to an agent. 

I try it again with my confirmation number.  It's 9:49.  I'm freaking out.  Clicks to 9:50.  Again says I need to speak to an agent.

That's it.  I'm screwed.  My bag won't get on this flight and I won't either.  Expletive.  Expletive.  Expletive.  I look for the "Customer Service" line.  It's about a hundred passengers long.  I return to the First Class line.  The passengers who were at the front of the line when I first arrived are still there -- but now the line has gotten longer so I'm behind about six more people.  Lovely.

I am so screwed.

An agent comes by looking for people on the flight to Cabo, trying to check them in before the cut-off.  I say "what about the 10:30 to Seattle?"  She looks at my itinerary print-out and says....

Wait for it....

"That flight's been cancelled.  You'll have to talk to an agent and see what flight you've been rebooked on."

Ooookay.  I get back in the line.  Time passes.  Lots more time passes.  The line still does not move.

Another agent comes by the line.  I tell her my story and she tries to log me in via the kiosk again.  This time, when the kiosk says, "Do you know your flight number?" she types "no" -- hoping that the machine will now TELL US my new flight number.  The machine still does not recognize me.  But it does point out the existence of an 11:30 flight to Seattle.  I can make that and still make the connection to Ketchikan.  No problem.  I breathe again.

The line moves.  It moves more.  Then it stops.  I am the next person in line, and there's a group of six people at the desk.  The desk agent has run away.  Everyone waits.

I stare at my watch.  By now, I'm about 10 minutes away from missing the check-in cut-off for the 11:30 flght..

It seems like hours pass, but the agent finally returns with the boarding cards for the group of 6 in front of me.  I'm next.  I tell the agent that my flight was cancelled and I need to get on the next flight to Seattle.  Agent takes my passport, types me in and says, "You were going to miss your flight anyway."

I tell him that, no, I've been standing in this line since 9:45 and the machine wouldn't recognize me.  And then he says....

Wait for it....

"You were rerouted on the 10:20 out of Long Beach."

That would be a different airport.  Nobody informed me of this rerouting.  Let me be perfectly clear on this.  No phone call, no email, no nothing.  A few months back, when my departure time had changed from 11:00 to 10:30, I got two phone calls and an email.  But when my airport changed -- nada.

I say, surprisingly calmly.  "OK.  How can I get to Ketchikan from here today."

He types something.  He types something again.  He walks away with my passport.

Eons pass.  Civilizations are born and die out.  The agent at the next desk pretty much takes everyone else in line while I'm still waiting there with no agent.  If he hadn't just done this same disappearing thing with the previous customers, I would've thought he ran off to sell my passport on the black market.

He returns and says...

Wait for it....

"I can't get you to Ketchikan until Saturday."

This I was not expecting.  He said he's asked all of his supervisors and managers and there's no way to do it.  He can get me to Seattle, but all the Seattle to Ketchikan flights are way overbooked.  "But what about the one I'm already on?" I asked.  That's fine, but he can't get me to Seattle in time to meet it.  The 11:30 is way oversold and his supervisors won't let him put me on it.  I ask about other airlines.  He claims he's checked there too.  Apparently, the cancellation of the 10:30 flight made the 11:30 a pretty hot property.

I mentally switch gears into the "I am not leaving this spot until you get me booked to Ketchikan today" mentality.  I politely point out that I'm on a cruise that leaves Ketchikan tomorrow and I have to be on it.  Agent goes back to the clicking away at the keyboard.

He can get me to Ketchikan via Anchorage -- that'll get me in at 12:20 tomorrow afternoon.  I am not happy with that but I'm about to book it when I point out -- just in case he missed it -- that, y'know, just because this ticket is First Class doesn't mean I won't fly coach.  Just get me to Ketchikan sooner.

He clicks more. 

A lot more.

Much time passes.

Then:  "I can get you to Ketchikan at 8:00 in the morning, through Juneau."  But, he goes on to say, it'll cost me a lot of money.  I have to pay the $50 change fee plus the full fare price for a First Class ticket from Seattle to Juneau.

That's gotta be, like, thousands of dollars.  I say, "That's gotta be, like, thousands of dollars." 

He says it's not that bad.  I say why can't I just fly coach.  He says coach is sold out.  He says I can just pay the full-fare upgrade fee because I've already got a ticket.  I ask why can't I just use my current First Class ticket?:  He says, "Oh.  Your current ticket is First Class?"  Yes.  Yes it is.  (You didn't notice that?)  He decides I can just use that.  More typing.  He says I'll have to pay the change fee and pay for a hotel in Juneau.  "Do it," I says.

He types more.  Glaciers melt.  Continents move.  Finally, I am handed a coach ticket from LAX to Seattle at 4:00; a first class Seattle to Juneau at 8:00, and a coach Juneau to Ketchikan at 7:00 tomorrow morning.  He exercises his almighty desk agent powers and waives the change fee.

I leave a cell phone message for my folks -- who had been expecting to meet me in Seattle for the connection to Ketchkian.  I call the cruise company and inform them of my change in plans.  I am assured that they'll pick me up at Ketchikan airport at 8:00.  I am also assured I'll totally make the cruise.  As for whether I'll make my pre-cruise Zip Line Adventure in Ketchikan, cruise guy says "It'll be close.  Really close.  I can't say for sure."

So, that's about it.  I cleared security, found me a vaguely quiet wireless hotspot, and Travelocity'd my way into a reservation at an airport hotel in Juneau.

The adventure began and I haven't even left LAX yet.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

National Be Short With People Day

I've decided that today is National Be Short With People Day.  There's just a whole lot of short tempers flying around, and people snapping at each other for no good reason.  When the woman at Subway asked if I wanted my sandwich for here or to go, I said "to go."  She asked me the same question a second time, and I let way too much rudeness get into my voice when answering her.  I mean, obviously she didn't hear me the first time, but that didn't stop me from being just so put-upon by having to answer her twice.

But it isn't just me and the chick at Subway.  I've seen it all around the office, too.  I even commented on it to the secretary (after both of us were overly snippy at each other).

I can't figure what's up with everyone.  Unless it's one of those "pay it forward" things where one person in a bad mood spreads the joy to everyone whose path they cross, and it just keeps spreading.

In which case, I hope it doesn't pass via blog.

The Best Laid Plans...

This is so not the way today was supposed to go.

And I'm not even talking about the part where I woke up this morning with an itchy red rash covering my stomach and back, wordlessly proclaiming that, hey, guess what, I'm allergic to that antibiotic the doctor just prescribed.

It was actually tonight that got all fubar'd.

OK, here is how tonight was supposed to go.  First of all, Dancing with the Stars was supposed to be an hour and a half long.  Seriously.  It was.

See, I was going to come home from work and have a nice, healthy dinner.  Around 7:30, I would head off to my friend Debra's house (Debra actually lives in the same building as I do, but she's temporarily moved out during the renovations).  Debra would make cookies (low fat chocolate chip cookies!) and we would enjoy said cookies from 8:00 - 9:30 while mocking the contestants on Dancing with the Stars.  I'd stay and chat for another half-hour, then head home.

Once home, I'd put in a load of laundry (my last before the trip -- washing those very last few "delicates"), and pay my bills.  I'd watch the 24 finale, and wait for my friends Marty and Linda to drop by.  They were supposed to come by around 10:30, on their way home from the Dodger game, and pick up a key so they could do their part in taking care of Jasmine  (largely:  playing with her) while I'm away.  I'd pack up a few more items, and be all ready for bed by around 11:30.  12:00 at the latest.

OK, here's what actually happened.

Dancing with the Stars was only an hour, but Debra and I failed to notice this.  Debra was a little late in getting home from dinner, so I didn't go over there until 8:15.  At the time, we discovered that there was only 45 minutes of Dancing with the Stars left, so we watched it, and didn't commence with the cookie-making until the show was over, at 9:00.

At 9:15, Linda called, saying she and Marty left the Dodger game early, and could I be at my place in ten minutes to give them the key.

I drove home just as Debra was putting the first batch of cookies in the oven, promising to hand off the key to Martyand Linda, throw the laundry in the washer, and be back before the cookies came out.

Drove home.  Marty & Linda were waiting for me.  I invited them up, gave them their key, showed them Jasmine's toys and favorite hiding places, and sent them off.  I was about to leave when I noticed it.

In the middle of my bed.

The cat barf.

OK, slight change in plans.  I strip the cover off my comforter, apply generous amounts of Shout, and shove the cover in my washer.  The comforter itself will not fit in my washer -- but Debra has a large capacity washer in her condo.  I call her and get permission to break into her unit to wash and dry the comforter (I have a key for emergencies, but I didn't know if cat barf in the middle of my bed constitutes an emergency.  Well, it's not an emergency for anyone who doesn't have to sleep in my bed.)  I load the comforter into her washer and set it on the "sanitary" cycle.  The washer cheerfully displays that this cycle will take one hour and forty-three minutes.  I leave.  I come back to my unit and think I should probably wash my sheet too, just to be safe.  I turn off the washer, strip the bed, and add my sheet to the wash with the comforter cover. 

I drive back to Debra's house.  By now, I've missed the first batch of cookies and the second batch is about to come out of the oven.  It's about 10:15 and, with morbid curiosity, we tune in to see who The Bachelor is going to dump even though we haven't watched the show this season. 

I toss back a bunch of cookies, hot out of the oven.  We mock Lt. Andy for awhile.  The Bachelor ends, and I stay over Debra's house a bit more.  By 11:20, I head out.  It may be time to put my comforter in the dryer.

I come back to the condo.  Debra's washer needs another 11 minutes on the comforter, so I go upstairs to my unit to at least get the comforter cover and sheet going in my dryer. 

Except I can't do that. 

Because I never turned the machine back on when I'd turned it off to add the sheet.

At present:  12:27 a.m.  Comforter cover and sheet in dryer; may actually be dry within the next half hour.  Comforter spinning away downstairs in large capacity dryer.  Should take hours.  Must visit it every half hour to pull it out of the dryer and rearrange it so it dries evenly.  No bills paid, no 24 watched, no delicates washed, no packing done.


Rash still itches.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Law School Graduation

I went to a friend's Law School graduation today.  I have not been to a Law School graduation since my own, more than 15 years ago.

It was a rather different affair from my graduation.  I graduated from (she says as she polishes her fingernails on her lapel) what is arguably the top rated Law School in the country.  Everyone in the graduating class had a good job already lined up.  And we were assured that, with this degree on the top line of our resumes, it would always open doors for us.  We were a relatively small graduating class from a very reputable school.  Even though the job market for new lawyers had taken a bit of a downturn, we all knew we had achieved something that would be a huge asset to us for the rest of our lives. 

Today's graduation -- very different.  A good school with a solid reputation in the area, but nationally, not considered a first-tier school.  The Dean's remarks to the graduating class talked about how the students had an obligation to go out there and pass the Bar exam in order to advance the school's reputation.  Instead of the "you have arrived" message of the speakers at my own graduation, the theme was more of a "you done good, now keep fighting" message.

Several graduating students walked across the stage accompanied by their young children.  I started wondering about their stories.  How did these people juggle family responsibilities while learning the Law -- something to which I was lucky enough to be able to devote my full attention.  Were these part-time students, who held down jobs while studying?  Did they have spouses at home carrying the financial (and parenting) burdens while they were working toward legal careers?  Or were they single parents, who somehow managed to do it all themselves, in the pursuit of a professional degree that would enable them to better support their families?  Whatever the answer, it had to have been impressive.

I had some vague idea of the academic pressures they'd undergone.  It ain't easy.  I was damn near bursting with pride for my graduating friend -- and she did Law School, as I did, with the financial support of her parents and no work or familial obligations to stand in the way of studying.  But when I thought about what these students with small children had accomplished -- as loud cheering sections of friends and relatives hooted and hollered for them -- I damn near wept. 

A few years ago, I got my SCUBA certification.  I almost didn't get it as I kind of suck at most things physical, and it was only the lucky fact that our final dive got postponed to later in the day -- enabling me to practice for a few hours in the hotel swimming pool -- that enabled me to pass the damn thing.  It was a three-day course and, in a lot of ways, passing that was a hell of a lot harder than graduating Law School -- after all, there'd never been a time when I'd doubted my ability to finish Law School.  When my Dive Instructor signed off on all our cards, the other students were suitably pleased about it -- they could now check "get SCUBA certified" off their "things to do" lists.  And when he signed off on my card, he congratulated me and said it was "hard fought."  I don't think I'd ever heard the term before, but it came back to me today, watching those graduates cross the stage holding little kids by the hand.  A "hard fought" victory, to be sure.  I joined their friends and families and applauded loudly for each of them.  I have no doubt they'd earned it.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Free Warm Fuzzies!

Some time ago, I gave a plug for -- a nifty website that enables you to make small-scale charitable donations to individual school programs.  I've donated to them a few times -- basically, a teacher writes up a proposal for what they need for their classroom, folks (like, say, me) fund it, and then, in addition to sending the classroom stuff to the teachers, the website also sends cardboard cameras for the teacher and students to memorialize their use of whatever stuff you paid for.  Then Donorschoose sends all the donors a package full of warm fuzzies -- usually a thank you letter from the teacher, and sometimes notes from the students, too, and copies of the pictures.  I have three little Warm Fuzzies packages from Donors Choose -- and they really make me feel like my small charitable contribution actually made a tangible difference in some students' lives.

At work the other day, a friend directed me another organization.  It's even better than getting warm fuzzies for making a donation -- it gives you warm fuzzies for making a loan.  The folks over at (I looked 'em up on Guidestar -- they seem legit) have found a way for anyone with a PayPal account, $25, and an internet connection to get on the Microfinance bandwagon.  Much in the same way Donorschoose lists projects from teachers, Kiva lists individual loan requests from struggling entrepreneurs in poor and developing countries.  Kiva (working through various middle men) will pool your money with the money from other lenders and get the cash to the people who need it to help expand their businesses.  And then you get emailed progress reports on how the business is doing (and the loan is being repaid).  Warm fuzzies AND you get your money back at the end of the loan!  OK, yeah, it's a no-interest loan and there's no guarantee you're definitely going to get paid back.  But microfinance traditionally has very high repayment rates -- and when it's such a small amount, you can risk $25 on a chicken farmer in Cambodia or a woman who sells charcoal in Ghana, and help give 'em a shot, you know?

(DonorsChoose includes a voluntary 15-25% "Fulfillment fee" to cover their overhead.  Kiva loans100% of your cash to the business in need, and then asks for an additional voluntary 10% to help fund Kiva itself.)

I adore charities like these -- and they both demonstrate the really cool element of the internet that manages to bring people together where transaction costs used to prohibit it.  I mean, really, when I first heard about Microfinance, I thought, "Hey, if it only takes a $50 loan to help make some baker in an undeveloped country self-sufficient, I could do that."  And now, I can.


I did some bra shopping at Victoria's Secret last Sunday.  You can tell 'cause I posted about it then.

And when I was buying my outrageously expensive bras (that were in the wrong damn color, too, because that's all they stocked in my size), I did something I never ever do.  I asked the nice lady behind the register when these things would go on sale.

And she said, "Our semi-annual sale.  In July."

So, imagine my surprise when I read online that Victoria's Secret's semi-annual sale is now.  Less than a week away from when I'd asked.  The bras are now half of what I paid for them.

(Do you think the salesperson knew about it?  That maybe the store had already received all its "Semi-Annual Sale!!!!" advertising to stick in the windows and semi-annual sale price book?)

So.  Amazingly.  Annoyed.

(Of course, I registered my annoyance by, y'know, buying another half-dozen bras from them, seeing as the bras I like were on clearance and actually available in the right color.  But still.)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Let me rephrase...

I'm sitting on the couch, minding my own business.  Jasmine comes by and brushes me with her tail.  I exclaim -- in that baby talk voice pet-owners sometimes use when addressing their felines -- "Tail!  I got me some tail!"


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Tammy Will Be So Proud of Me

Or not.

Tammy, my good friend who inconveniently lives all the way in Indiana, is coming to LA to visit her family and -- as often seems to happen with her visits -- our paths will cross when I'm just about heading out of town.  So we'll be getting together Tuesday night, at which time she will watch me pack.  (I know.  So exciting.)

And I thought, hey, since this is sunny Southern California and I'm going to cold and wet Alaska, I could probably do some of my packing, y'know, now.  Cause it isn't like the wardrobes are going to overlap much.

So, I spent a few hours making a list, and then shoving everything vaguely fleece or down or wool into those packing bags you press the air out of, and then into my suitcase.

I am so not going to have room for everything I want to bring.  I mean, I've filled up maybe a quarter of the bag, and I still haven't put in the shoes.  Or any pants for that matter.  It's mostly sweaters and socks and coats.  I may have to rethink this.  Like, I packed two sweaters on the theory that people might sick of looking at me in the same sweater every day -- not to mention, twelve days in the same sweater could get a little ... well, you'll be wanting to sit upwind.

So, the good news is:  I've done quite a bit of packing already.

The bad news is:  I might have to undo it and start all over again.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The easiest and hardest thing about my diet

I seem to be holding steady at roughly 25 pounds of weight loss.  (She says, before going on a cruise.)  I'm pretty pleased with this, as it was all accomplished by changing my eating plan.  I figure once I get around to exercising, I may lose more.  But I'm pretty satisfied with my current weight.  Hell, I don't have to special order jeans any more.

There have been some odd things about the weight gain/weight loss experience (largely that I didn't take off the weight in the same places that I put it on -- this was unexpected), but, knock wood, the weight loss part wasn't all that difficult once I sat down with a Nutritionist who put together a Food Plan Especially For Me.

The bestest thing about the food plan are my 300 discretionary calories.  Which I can waste on anything.  Generally pretzels, popcorn and ice cream.  It's very easy to keep this number at or under 300 -- thanks to those "100 Calorie bags" of various snacks.  Or, I can just use a whole day's worth of discretionary calories on a full-sized ice cream bar.  (Haagen-Dazs just put out a pomegranate ice cream bar in dark chocolate.  Slurp.  280 calories.  I'm sure I'll be reporting back on that in a few days.)  Anyway:  limiting my snacks and desserts to 300 calories per day -- pretty easy.


If you've only got 300 calories for fun stuff for the day, choices gotta be made.  Like, if I'm gonna have that pomegranate ice cream bar, it pretty much means no pretzels while I'm watching "Lost" tonight.  So, would I rather have the pretzels and, say, a 100 calorie ice cream cup tonight?  Or is it a night to forgo the pretzels and dive into the ice cream bar? 

What I try to do in these situations is never go for the discretionary calories first.  So if I'm sitting there watching TV and thinking I'd like a 100 calorie bag of popcorn, I say to myself, "Self, you can have the popcorn if you want, but try a bag of carrots or apples first."

Don't get me wrong -- this isn't a "finish your vegetables before you can have dessert" sort of thing.  These are vegetables and fruits that I actually enjoy.  And sometimes, after I eat the carrots, I'll still want the popcorn.  And sometimes I won't.

But the hardest thing about the diet is retraining myself to think that way.  I've been doing this since last August and my brain still says, "You're hungry; go for the pretzels."  And I have to stop myself and force my brain to look at the healthier alternative.  It's nine months down the line and I still don't think, "I need a snack, where's the carrots?"

I had thought that, after this much repetition, eating healthier would have become second nature to me.  And in some ways, it has.  I always go for my container of yogurt for breakfast (in lieu of my former plan of not eating breakfast at all) and my usual meals at my usual restaurants are all pretty much standard.  And I haven't missed the Cokes.  But when it comes to snacking, I still want to go to the "discretionary calories" first, and I'm starting to think that part will never change.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


My shoulder hurts.

Ow ow ow ow ow.

I don't entirely know what I did to hurt it.  OK, sure, I carried a messenger bag (a very cool Family Guy messenger bag) on my left shoulder for the firstest time yesterday.  But it wasn't like it was really heavy or anything and my shoulder didn't hurt at all yesterday.  Or last night.  Or even this morning when I got up.  But somewhere around getting out of the shower it started hurting big time.

I do this sometimes.  It's one of those cute little quirks of being me.  I pull something in my left shoulder from time to time.  When this happens, I'm fine as long as I, y'know, don't move or anything.  But the seatbelt hurts it.  Turning my head to check my blind spot before changing lanes hurts it.  Even (and I'll admit, this was a new one) leaning back in the soft gushy conference room chairs hurts it. 

Right now, I'm sitting with one of those hot herbal packs on it.  (You know the ones, right?  That they're always selling from those little carts in the malls?)  It's actually a pretty good neck hot pack -- it sorta wraps around your neck and sits on your shoulders.  But, still, total ow.  Might have to find time in my packed pre-vacation week to get me a neck massage.


That's not a bad idea.  Oh geez.  Online booking system wants me to remember my user name and password.  Like I know this.

Hey!  I know this!  First try!  (That rarely happens.  Must be fate.)

Monday, May 14, 2007

And now ... a television moment

Is it just me or have the judges on Dancing With the Stars been, like, totally inflating Laila's scores?  For, like, ever?

Look, she's good.  She's way better than all the people who were eliminated up to now and she totally deserves to be in the Final 4.  But her dancing has never been in the same league as the three men left in the competition.  She's just not as crisp; her movements aren't defined.  Len was right -- her arms are just all limp and wavy -- but she didn't improve them and they gave her perfect scores anyway.  And, yeah, I totally understand the whole bad knees/flat shoes thing, but it's way easier to dance in flats than heels, so I expected her to be, y'know, way amazing to get "10"s given that she was giving herself a major edge on the equipment.

I assume they're trying to keep her in the competition what 'cause she's the best woman in there (and all the emotional stuff 'cause of her dad and all) -- but, really, the judges' attempts to make it look like things are really close between her and the rest of the pack are getting kinda blatant.

Just my opinion, of course.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

OK, I'm Not Invisible

I continue to rage against the machine that is Retail.

I want to be clear here that I'm not directing my anger at the salespeople.  The salespeople are, by and large, nice folks doing hard work.  I rage against the stupid corporate directives that instruct the employees (on pain of monetary sanction, I'm sure) to say stupid things to me.

I enter Victoria's Secret.  I'm looking to buy some bras.  An employee asks me if she can help me.  Yes, she can.  She can tell me where to find the Body By Victoria bras, please.  After pinning down exactly which type of bra I have in mind, she then says, "What size?"  I tell her.  She then aims me toward the room where the bras are so I can find the bra I need.

I walk away, puzzled.  Why did I have to tell this woman my bra size?  I think, actually, what she meant to ask is if I knew my size or if I'd be needing her assistance (as she had a measuring tape around her neck).  But now some stranger in Victoria's Secret knows my bra size for no good reason.  Sweet.  She also asked if I would be putting the purchase on my "Angel Card."  So did the woman in the back room, when I asked for her help in finding more bras.  So did the woman in the dressing room.  So did the woman at the cash register.  Clearly, they either get a commission on new sign-ups for Angel Cards or they all just came from a meeting where they were ordered to harass all customers about the damn thing.  But, really, having to turn it down four times seems a bit excessive.

I continue to walk through the mall.  Someone at one of the little carts (selling some random beauty product) walks up next to me and says, "Ma'am, can I ask you a question?"  ("You just did," I think.)  I don't want what she's selling so I have to (fairly rudely, I think) say, "No, you can't," and walk off.  (When I come back the other way, her counterpart on the other side of the cart gives me the same "Ma'am, can I ask you a question?" pitch.)

I'm headed to Bath & Body Works.  I want to buy a gift for a very close friend who has, unfortunately, recently been diagnosed with cancer and starts chemotherapy tomorrow.  When I enter the store, the employee does not say, "Can I help you?" or "Can I help you find something?"  Instead he comes up with, "Are you buying a gift for yourself or your mother today?"  I, actually, briefly consider, "No, I'm buying a gift for a friend starting chemotheraphy, thanks for asking, you moron" just to see what sort of effect I'd get -- but I instead wave him off with a curt, "I know what I'm looking for, thanks."

It wasn't just that it was none of his damn business who I was shopping for.  It was the particularly patronizing way he asked, "Are you buying a gift for yourself?"  I often buy stuff at Bath & Body Works, and, frankly, I don't really consider the bottle of Anti-Bacterial Hand Gel that I carry in my purse to be a "gift for myself."  Don't get me wrong -- being able to clean one's hands after using a port-a-john is a pretty valuable thing.  I just don't think of it as, y'know, a treat.

I wondered if people in other cultures are usually harassed in the marketplace by overeager sellers -- or if this is just peculiar to American shopping malls.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

It Happened AGAIN

Twice in a freakin' row.  I can't believe this.

Went to Souplantation with a friend.  You pay at the end of the salad bar.  There are two cash registers -- one on each side.  The line on the other side was empty, so the cashier at the other register came over to help on my side.

She asked my friend if we were paying separately or together.  Separately, says my friend.  Cashier takes my friend's drink order, rings her up, gets her money.  Cashier then goes back to her side of the line.

Our cashier then turns to the people after me and asks them what they want to drink.  I'm standing there, drinkless tray, waiting to pay for my food and she totally ignores me.

"Um, can I pay for my food, please?"

She apologizes, saying she thought the other cashier got me 'cause she heard her take my drink order.  (And the fact that there's no drink in front of me tells you ... ?)

"No," I say, "Just my friend's."

That's it.  Next time I'm walking away without paying.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I Am Invisible

Lunch time.  I'm sick of my two regular lunch haunts so I go to Primo's, a tiny little cafe across the street.  There are three employees there, myself, and another customer.  Me and the other customer pretty much hit the door at the same time.  Being the polite individual I am, I stood back a minute looking at the menu, trying decide what I wanted to eat before stepping up to the register.  Other customer was not so polite.  She went right up to the register and then took, like, FIVE MINUTES to order, 'cause she didn't know what she wanted.  By this time, of course, I knew what I wanted.  I could've bought it, paid for it, brought it back up to my office and started chowing down by the time she finished ordering.

Partway through her ordering process, the cashier said, "Hello," to me.  I asked, "Are you ready for me yet?"  She replied, "No," and rolled her eyes, while the other customer was trying to decide between the brownie and the lemon bar. 

I mentioned two other employees.  Neither one was interested in helping me.  One was standing a bit behind the counter, attempting to make the sandwich the customer had just ordered.  "Attempting" is the key word in this sentence, as you'll see in a minute.  The third employee was also standing around back there.  At one point, she offered me and the other customer frozen yogurt samples.  Seriously.  Time's a-wasting, people.

So.  Customer finally finishes her order and I'm about to place my order (which, by the way, is for some pre-made food, which any one of these dolts could've just handed me) and the cashier says, "I'll be with you in a second."  This because she has to go back and help employee number two make Customer's sandwich.  I kid you not.  Girlfriend does not know how to make a sandwich.  I apparently arrived on training day, and I have to stand there while it takes two people to spread mustard on bread and place the lettuce leaves just so.

Where is employee number three during all this? you ask.  A good question.  Employee number three is just standing around in the general vicinity of the cash register.  Now, I'm standing in front of the register and I've been waiting to order for ten minutes.  Everyone knows this.  Hell, employee number one just said she'd be with me in a second (that was a sandwich ago).  But employee number three makes no effort to assist me.  So we stand there staring at each other.

Until a man walks in, and she asks him what she can get him.  And before I get a word in edgewise, she's taken his order and starts filling it.  Employee number one had to have heard this -- it's a one-room cafe and she was only a couple feet back from the register.  But she was deep in sandwich-instruction and apparently missed it.

I'm about to place my order with employee number three when another customer walks in, and number three asks her what she wants.  At this point, I've lost all politeness and say, "Could I possibly get some food here?"

Three things happen.  The customer who had just walked in immediately walks out.  I don't know if she thought I was going to pull a gun or something, but she wanted none of it.  Employee number three, rather than apologizing and taking my order, is too confused to do anything and instead turns toward Employee number one (clearly the brains of the unit) and looks for guidance.

Employee number one, who has, by now, still not completed instructing employee number two in the fine art of sandwich building, tells Employee number three the fairly obvious fact that, "yes, she's been waiting here."  Employee number three is still confused by ... what?  my sudden apparition in front of her?  ... and is clearly incapable of handing me "that box of fruit and one of them hard-boiled eggs."  Employee number one finally finishes demonstrating for employee number two how to make the first customer's sandwich, and takes my order.

I'm going back to my regular lunch places.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

A Fashion Emergency?

My cell phone sometimes doesn't ring when there's a call.  It will, however, give me the "missed call" tone after I (not surprisingly) failed to answer a call when it didn't ring.

This happened this morning.  Sitting at my desk, minding my own business.  My cell phone gave me the "missed call" tone.  I look at the number.  Do not recognize it.  I figure that if it was important, they'll leave a message.  In fact, they're probably leaving one now.

Sure enough, a few seconds later I got the voice mail tone.  And my screen told me IN RED LETTERS that I had a voice mail.  Odd.

I dialed in for my messages and the computer told me this message was URGENT!

OK, then, let me at it.

It's my hairstylist.  He's noticed I haven't been in to see him for a few months and thinks I must be needing a haircut.  You know, what with summer coming up. 


Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Life's Little Annoyances

I don't have a Tivo.  I have a DVR that's part of my cable box.

Every once in awhile, my cable company uploads new and exciting features to my DVR.  They never tell me about it in advance.  All of a sudden, I'll just discover a new menu option that wasn't there before.  Like, just a little while ago, they finally allowed me to start watching a program I was recording at the beginning of the program -- rather than joining the recording in progress and having to rewind to the start.  That was a great little upgrade.

A week or so ago, they added another speed to Fast Forward and Rewind.  Previously, each function had three speeds.  I generally used the third speed only when rewinding to the beginning of a program.  For normal fast-forwarding over commercials, I'd use Speed Number 2.  I'd grown accustomed to it, and had gotten pretty good at knowing when to stop fast-forwarding because the commercial was over and the show was back on.

Well.  Speed four just messed all of this up.  In addition to adding the fourth (and faster) speed, they recalibrated the first three.  Fast forwarding on speed 2 feels like I'm wading through molasses.  But fast forwarding on speed 3 is too fast, and I end up stopping it too late and having to rewind.

I cannot believe how much trouble this little upgrade in speeds is causing me.  I guess I'd just taken for granted how well speed 2 and I got along.

I'll miss it.  (sniff)

Who Didn't See This One Coming?

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Quest For The Blue Hat

I have a blue wool hat.  I have worn it exactly one time in my life -- when I went skiing in Park City.  It's warm.  Covers my ears.  Has little braids that hang down. 

I want to take it to Alaska.

It is, however, in my storage cage.  In the back of the storage cage.  In a wardrobe box that I packed up in September (when I thought I'd surely sell my place by the end of the year), with "Note to self:  Don't go skiing" written on the outside.

Today, I went to the storage facility, to free my blue hat.  I brought with me the necessary tools:  An exacto knife (for opening the box) and a roll of packaging tape (for sealing it back up).  I also brought my ice skates and a bag of clothes (jeans that are too big! yay!) to store in the cage.

My cage is narrow -- about 4 feet wide by maybe 12 feet long.  The wardrobe box was at the far end of the cage.  I could not remove the boxes between myself and the wardrobe box.  There were many of them and they were very heavy.  I'd had help stacking them, and knew I couldn't restack them if I'd moved them all.  So I planned a path over to the box.  Grabbed the knife, sidled between a couple boxes, around the coffee table (standing up on its side) and reached the wardrobe box.  Removed the random pieces of cat tree from the top of the box, and applied the knife.

Now, wardrobe boxes have one side that opens really low -- so you can easily put stuff in the box.  That was not the side facing me.  It was facing the wall.  No room in which to turn the box.  I open the box, and peek in.

I had thrown all my hats, scarves and gloves in the bottom of the box.  I needed to move the hanging clothes out of the way to get to them.

Hey!  I remember some of these clothes!  Some of them are summer clothes -- skirts and short sleeve shirts.  They were too small when I was filling the box, but I bet they'll fit now!  I take out a few pieces and set them aside.  One of the shirts is like an old friend -- I'm so happy to see it again.  I empty out the bag of too-big clothes I'd brought to store, and fill it up with clothes from the wardrobe box.  I set the good plastic hangers on top. The cheapo wire ones, I put in a pile to throw away.

Now that some clothes are out, I can see to the bottom of the box, where hats and scarves are swimming.  No way I can reach down there.  I contemplate moving the coffee table or finding something to stand on -- but getting higher off the ground still isn't going to get me to the bottom of a box that's over four feet tall.

I look around the cage for something that can extend my reach.  Hangers.  I grab a sturdy plastic one and reach toward the bottom of the bin.  Still not long enough.  I grab a metal one, loop it onto the edge of the plastic one, and reach again.  Not sturdy enough to catch anything on the bottom.  I set the plastic hanger aside and untwist the wire one.  I'm goin' fishing! 

Armed with my long metal strip (with the hook at the end) I reach far into the box and catch ... the bottom of my robe that's hanging in the box.  I move the robe and try again.  Eventually, I catch a scarf.  I also catch my big, warm ski gloves.  I do not catch the blue hat.  I keep trying to move stuff around down there with the hook of the hanger, but some of the hats are too heavy, and the slim metal gives.  I need to somehow get my hand in the lower part of the box to move this stuff around.  Hmmm.


Idiot.  You have a knife. 

I pick a spot about 18 inches from the bottom of the box and apply the exacto knife, cutting out three sides of a hand-sized hole.  I fold the cardboard back from my makeshift window, and reach into the box.  Success! 

I can now reach everything on the bottom of the box.  Cheap white scarf.  Good white scarf.  Cheap grey scarf.  Blue wool scarf.  Mickey Mouse scarf.  Soft plaid scarf.  (Did I ever mention how I always forget to pack scarves and generally end up buying one in every damn cold city I'm ever in?)  Brown gloves.  Tambourine hat.  (Don't ask.)  Civil War hat.  (Don't ask again.)  Black cap.  Red earmuffs.  Black earmuffs.  (Yay!  I'll take those!)  But no blue wool hat.  I've found some scarves and gloves to take home, but I still haven't found the hat. 

I stand up again -- I go through every piece of clothing hanging there, to see if the hat is between them or (just my luck) on the far side of the box.  Nothing.  I am fairly certain that I've covered the whole box -- and the blue wool hat is just not there.


I tape up the little hole in the side of the box, and retape the top of the box.  I replace the cat tree part.  I go home, carrying the bag of clothes.

I get home, and stick the bag of clothes in my closet.

... where I find my blue wool hat.