Thursday, June 28, 2007

The last of the Alaska pics

Finally ... the last of my Alaska trip photos.

OK, so.  First, I'd mentioned that the Princess Denali Lodge is a phony wilderness lodge the same way Disney would do it -- excepting the wilderness is real.  Here's the actual view outside the door of my hotel room.

Not bad, huh?

Come to think of it, I think that's the river we ultimately rafted down -- although we were rafting down one of its rather less calm parts.  Here's the official photo they made my folks pay a ton of money for -- but when else am I going to get a picture of me and my folks whitewater rafting?

Check it out -- that's the three of us on the far side of the raft.  Dad, having just received his first "glacial facial," still manages to look up at the camera -- while me and mom behind him are waving.  (Other couple, paddles in the water, still facing down -- clearly did not plan on purchasing the photo.)

When Dad and I took the bus trip through Denali, we saw lots of animals, but they were all from really far away, and my photos came out so blurry, I'm all, "Is that a sheep?  It might be a sheep.  It's kinda sheep-shaped."  I therefore spare you the photos, remind you that if you ever go on the bus trip through Denali to take some damn good binoculars, and show you a couple of landscapey shots from Denali instead.

(I particularly like this next one, 'cause I was doing all that "composing the photo" stuff by getting that little bush in the foreground.)

Oh, and there's also this one, from the rest stop, where they had some discarded caribou antlers and encouraged you to hold them up and take the "Hey, I'm a caribou" picture ...

And... that's about it for Denali.  We end the photo essay with a segment of the Trans-Alaska pipeline from Fairbanks ...

And, given my penchant for collecting photos of unusual warning signs ...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Flightseeing in Alaska Pics

But first, Patchcat asks, of the picture wearing my friend's dress, "was that a stripper pole I saw?"

Sorry, no.  That was just the edge of my mirrored closet door you were seeing.  (You can see a bit of the other edge of the door on the edge of the picture.)  My parent read my journal.  I have to hide the stripper pole.

Onward to the photos.  As you may recall, mom and I went "flightseeing" in Denali.  (The highlights of said journal entry are:  we were supposed to fly around the summit of Denali but weather came in and prevented that; I very nearly got air sick; and I took a zillion photos.)

OK, here's mom, before take-off, when they had us practice with the oxygen masks.  Now, mom always, um, ... how to put this?  Mom and hats don't mix.  I'm not saying anything here that will hurt her feelings -- she already knows she's not the sort of person who goes well with hats.  In fact, on occasion, if I'm feeling a little down in the dumps, she will try on hats for my amusement.  So, y'know, big plane headset and oxygen mask are something that I had to document:

Unfortunately, I think she has a similar picture of me in her camera.  Fortunately, mom doesn't journal.  :)

Now, like I said, I took a lot of photos of the Alaska Range.  At the time, I thought one particular mountain looked suspiciously like chocolate cake with a light dusting of powdered sugar.  Looking back on the photos, quite a few of them look dessert-like.  Seriously, doesn't this look like fudgey frosting to you?

I think this one was the original "mountain that looks like chocolate cake" photo:

And then there's some mountains that look like mountains. 

Or chocolate.  Maybe I should go eat dessert if I think all these mountains look like food.


Monday, June 25, 2007

OK, new dress

After the rousing chorus of support for my friend's dress (thanks for the tip, Lisa, but I'd be afraid to take a needle to a friend's dress -- especially since it has that thin gauze layer over the blue fabric), I spent four hours at the mall on Sunday trying on every dress I could find.

In the end, after a small capital outlay, I came away with this job.  The length is better (ironic, as it wasn't a petite dress -- it's just naturally cut a bit higher), the neckline is much better and the waist sits in the general vicinity of my own waist, so it's good to be in agreement there.

It isn't the short cocktail dress Wil was hoping for, but a cocktail dress is really fudging the whole "black tie optional" thing.  I think tea-length is a better call there.  As for how much leg I am (or am not) showing, I reckon the cut of the dress tends to, er, divert the viewer's eye in a more northward direction anyway.

A little jewelry and the right wrap, and I'm good to go.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Does this dress make me look ... ?

... short?

See, one of my cousins is getting married in a coupla weeks.  And the wedding is Black Tie Optional, which translates into "dress nice, ya bozo."  And, y'know, after I've (e-hem) lost all this weight, my old dresses are too big.  And I've tossed my really old dresses that might have had a chance of fitting.

So I've been looking for a new dress.  It isn't easy.  I've found lots of dresses that are too young (stupid prom season), lots of dresses that are too expensive, and a few dresses that make me look too desperate (honestly, some of these things are so low cut they should be labelled "prostitutes only").  A friend of mine let me raid her closet, and we came up with the following, which pretty much fits the bill -- what with being nice, pretty, free, and not carrying much risk I'd be mistaken for a High School Senior or a hooker.  The only problem is that it isn't a "petite" dress while I am, y'know, short.  If I'd bought it for myself, I'd probably have it taken up a few inches, but what with it being a loaner, that's not an option.

So.  "Good enough" or "keep looking"?

(Pay no attention to the adorable feline trying to upstage me.)

And, yes, I'm already wearing heels.  (About two inches, although they're sinking into the carpet a bit.)  And, no, I won't wear anything higher.  I don't want to be back in the damn aircast again.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Taku Glacier Lodge (in pix)

OK, these are the pics of the other thing we did from Juneau -- taking a float plane out to Taku Glacier Lodge.

So, we took a float plane over the ice field.  Amazing views.

Check out the detail on this glacier.  Especially how amazingly jagged it is.  And blue, inside the crevices.


Ok, ok ... just one more.

All right.  So, we land at this lodge.  There is an outdoor grill where a guy is cooking salmon.

Just makes your mouth water, right?  Well, it does if you're these two:

(Now, that, my friends, is what a picture of some bears should look like.  None of this bear-shaped blob stuff I got in Glacier Bay.)

Although, I admit, my favorite shot of these bears is this one.  Don't they look like Yogi and Boo-boo peeking around the tree sneaking a look at a pic-a-nic basket?

And, finally, here's me "in front of" the glacier.  OK, yeah, I'm a little small in comparison to its glacial ... glacialness, but I think that's part of what I totally dug about the Taku Glacier Lodge. 

Years ago, I went to London, and took a small day trip out to Stonehenge.  And what people always ask about Stonehenge is how itfelt -- y'know, like you're supposed to feel some mystical connection to the Earth just by standing in its presence.  But the thing about a day trip to Stonehenge is that you're there with a busload of people.  Which is one of about twenty busloads there at that particular time.  And you walk around the ropes that cordon off Stonehenge, and crank up the music on your Walkman (yes, Walkman -- it was in the late 80s) and try to feel alone in the middle of the crowd so that you can have your moment of spiritual connection ... and then some kid flies by on roller blades.

But here ... here there are about 50 people at the Lodge ... and there's plenty of places for those people to be (in the lodge, watching the guy cook salmon, taking bear pictures, checking out the gift shop...) and you can stand where I was standing and be absolutely alone with something as majestic and old as a glacier.  I felt humbled by the Earth.

Does anyone know ... ?

Can you Scotchgard a down comforter?

(Just asking.  No reason at all.  Na-ah.  Nothing to see here.)



Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Dog Sled Photos!

OK, Wil asks what I'd do differently if I did the trip again and stuff like that.  I've been thinking a lot about it, and, although I'm very glad I took this cruise and went through the Inside Passage and saw Glacier Bay and all that other stuff -- if I was to do it again, I'd just fly to Juneau.  Because we did really cool stuff in Juneau.  And most of the really cool things we did in other cities could also be done in Juneau.  (Frinstance, we kayaked in Sitka.  We didn't really see anything of Sitka beyond the little lighthouse behind us in the picture.  Might as well kayak in Juneau.)  And Juneau has some awesome scenery going for it in the Juneau Ice Field.

Which brings us to the dog sledding.

OK, first, they pile you in a helicopter and fly you out over some glaciers.

Look at that.  Seriously.  I'm not knocking sailing around in Glacier Bay, but flying over the Juneau Ice Field is pretty jaw-droppingly impressive.

OK, so then they fly you up to the dog sled camp.

Each dog has its own little hut.  Also, this shot shows the dual-type dog sleds we were using.  It's basically one dog sled attached to another dog sled attached to a bunch of dogs.

When we started off, I was sitting in the front of the first sled.  You know what they say about the view never changing if you're not the lead dog?  It's sorta true if you're sitting in the front sled, too.

I kid. 

My folks were right behind me.  (Photo taken looking back from the front sled.)

And there were other sleds out there with us too.

But what was so amazing was that you could look off to one side and see all the untouched snow around you, and it really felt like you were alone exploring the top of the world with nobody else but your dogs.

t The Not-So-Good Photos

There's going to be a really impressive photo essay in my next entry (which I'll get to right away), but, first, I need to post three not-so-hot pictures.

First:  My mom and Kathleen shaking hands over the pink-ribbon cake  This is a lousy photo because all the light was coming in behind us.  I kicked up the brightness and contrast to lighten it up, but it remains a fairly crappy photo.

I also have two photos of whale parts.  I never managed to take a photo of an actual whale in its entirety, but the really playful whale waved its flippers at us...

.... and, at one point, I came dangerously close to actually getting a picture of it breaching the water.

Now that that's out of the way, move on to the next entry where I'll recap the dog sledding adventure.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Kayaking and Glacier Bay Photos

In honor of Fathers' Day (sorry, Dad, you would've gotten a call if I'd had a functioning cell phone or been home at a decent hour), I give you:  me and my Dad in a kayak, in Sitka.

I also supply Glacier Bay photos.  Now, we did see wildlife in Glacier Bay.  I'm showing you the bear we saw, so you will be able to contrast it with the bear we later saw at the Taku Glacier Lodge.  For now, take a look at this bear which I photographed with my zoom lens at its zoomiest.  The bear would be that dark spot in the middle of the picture.

I increase the resolution and crop as I go in.  This is the best I can make it.  You have to admit, the blob looks vaguely bear-like.

OK, on to Glacier Bay.  Where we actually saw glaciers!  Here's one:

Here's another one:

In the interest of dumbing down the science to easily memorable talking points, our Exploration Leader explained that the one and only thing you need in order to get a glacier is more snow accumulating than melting.  So that's what these guys are.  Big piles of snow that never melts and just keeps piling on and on until it gets so densely packed it turns into ice.  There's more to it than that, of course, but I think it explains the photos.

I took a bazillion pictures in Glacier Bay.  The beauty of Glacier Bay is that even a lousy photographer will take at least a few good shots.  It's pretty hard to screw up Glacier Bay.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Guilt Break!

I actually posted this on the theatre website where I do my reviews, but I'm still feeling guilty for it, so I'm confessing here, as well....

I've never been late to a show before. OK, I've relied on the six-to-ten minute "grace period" on occasion, and, once or twice, snuck in during the Overture, but I've never been really late. Until today.

It should take 20 minutes to get the theatre with no traffic. I figured it would take 40. I allowed 60.

It took 100.

And in the particularly devious circumstances of LA traffic, I actually thought I could still make it right up until about eight minutes before the 4:00 show time. Because my car's GPS, in its optimistic way, calculates the "time left to destination" based on top speeds, and since I only had about 4 miles left to go, I could've made it if at 3:52 traffic would have just started moving.

It didn't. And when I was still on the 405 at 4:10, I realized I was going to be substantially late. For a minute, I toyed with just going home and rescheduling, but I didn't want the theatre to think I was the sort of person who would accept press tickets for a show and then just flake, so I pressed on -- figuring I'd just take my lumps and see the latter part of the show.

By 4:30, I was inching my way through surface roads and praying for an intermission.

At 4:40, I was pulling into the parking garage and saw people leaving the theatre holding programs. "Crap," I thought, "Did I miss the whole thing?" (No, that was just the crowd from the show playing on their other stage.)

I finally run up around 4:45. I'm looking for the press table, but, of course, they've put that away by now. I see some helpful-looking theatre employees at the "Concierge Desk." (And the little voice in the back of my head says, "Concierge desk? Is this a hotel?") I say I'm really late for the show and can I just sneak in back and watch whatever is left of it? They ask for my ticket. I say it's a press ticket that I was supposed to pick up. ("Time is ticking here, people," says the voice in the back of my head.) The lady at the concierge desk tells me that I have to pick my ticket up at the box office. She also tells me that the show started at 4:00 (the voice in the back of my head says, "I know. That very thought has been foremost in my mind for the past hour and a half") and there's only twenty minutes left. Would I like to reschedule for another performance?

I'd spent the last hour and a half desperately hoping I'd get to the damn theatre on time (or, at least, not phenomenally late) and, in a reaction to the frustration of not being immediately let in and the thought of doing this again ... I burst into tears.

At this point, a nice lady in a green suit -- perhaps thinking that having a theatre critic blubbering outside the box office isn't good for business -- escorts me into the Founders Room.  She flicks on a flat screen TV which is showing the performance, hands me a stack of cocktail napkins (to act as tissues), and tells me I can watch the show from here, and when I'm ready, she'll take me into the theatre. (Although I am a mess, the little voice in the back of my head has the presence of mind to check out the super secret room where only the big donors can go and thinks, "Ooooo, breaking down outside the theatre gets you a peek into the Founders Room.")

I sit down and attempt to compose myself. Frankly, I can't even put a finger on exactly why I've just melted down, although I think it's something about being a total failure as an audience member -- an obligation which I take very seriously.

I watch the show on the TV screen for a few minutes, but it really does not play well on television.  I figure I'd better get myself together right quick, so I can go inside and see this the way it was meant to be seen.

I throw some water on my face (little voice takes note of the two private bathrooms the big donors get), and come out. The nice lady in the green suit has disappeared. I go to the box office and pick up my ticket. I aim towards the auditorium, hoping someone will let me in.

Someone does. I hand the nice man my ticket. I tell the nice man to just give me a seat in the back (as I don't want to distract anyone). The nice man takes me in the theatre. He starts walking down the aisle and then turns on his flashlight. ("Oh no!" says the little voice, "I'm the latecomer who has to be seated by flashlight!") He aims me toward a seat for which I have to step over a couple people giving me annoyed looks. I make a mental note to remember this moment, so that I'll stop giving annoyed looks to latecomers who step over me in the future.

The show ends with "Rhapsody in Blue" played on piano.  Right around this time, I hear a different song, "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," coming from somewhere on my left.  It doesn't sound like a cell phone -- it sounds like someone accidentally turned a radio on in their purse.  The Cyndi Lauper finally is silenced, and I go back to listening to "Rhapsody in Blue."  As people in the audience realize he's not just playing a few bars of it, a few people around me start having a conversation -- operating, I guess, on the theory that since there's no actual dialogue on stage, it's OK for them to have their own. The little voice in the back of my head decides that I am not, in fact, the most insensitive theatregoer ever, given that I was only accidentally late, while these morons are willfully talking over Rhapsody in Freakin' Blue.

I push them out of my mind and try to curl up in the music. I usually listen to music while I'm doing other things -- and now I took the opportunity here to really listen to the piece -- the recurring melodies, the way the phrases interwove ... even the choices being made by the pianist.  I started to cry again. Mostly because I was still pretty unstable, but also because I felt sorry for the people who were talking over the song.  The show is giving you a gift here, a chance to just put everything else aside and do nothing but enjoy a (fairly easily accessible) musical classic, and they weren't even trying.  As if they thought they'd already gotten everything there was to get out of the piece, so it could just serve as underscoring for their own private conversation.  I was frustrated that they didn't get it.  This isn't a recording on your ipod; it's live music.  It's why we attend musical theatre, ya bozos, rather than just listening on CDs.  It's live.  It changes every time it is played, based on the musician and the audience -- through that indescribable magic that is live theatre.  They perform; we react; they feel it; and it changes.

I think it's precisely my understanding of the performer/audience relationship that makes me feel so guilty about showing up late.  I didn't hold up my end of the bargain.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The British TV Thing

Wil asks what British TV show was not, in fact, cancelled.


It's a Doctor Who spinoff that I'd swear I journalled about before, but seeing as nothing come up when I used that handy "search this journal" feature, I have to assume I didn't.

OK, here's the thing about Torchwood.  It takes place in the Doctor Who universe but (since it airs an hour later) is for more mature audiences.  (This means the characters have lots of sex.  Oh, and the violence is more violent.)  If you think of it as the Angel to Doctor Who's Buffy, you wouldn't be too far off.

Here's the other thing about Torchwood.  I bought the first Torchwood DVD sight unseen.  I mean, I'd heard about it; read a bit about it; and ... when I saw the DVD in London, thought "why the heck not?" so I bought the first few episodes of season one.  And, because I am ... whatever it is that I am (a sucker?) I bought the second part of season one from the Duty Free shop in Heathrow on the way home.  Because, y'know, if I actually liked the series (which I figured I would), I'd probably want to see the rest of the first season.

Here's the third thing about Torchwood.  The first season actually came out in three DVDs.  This would have been good to know.  When I got back from London, I watched me my seven or so episodes from my DVDs, and at the end I thought, "Wow, that's a really odd way to end the season."  Further research indicated that they had not, in fact, ended the season on that particular note.  Seeing as there were, like, three more episodes which were now available on yet another DVD.

Here's the fourth thing about Torchwood.  It's going to be on BBC America.  And, ever since I found that out, I've been trying to decide whether to buy that third Season One DVD.  Because, y'know, sooner or later, I'd be able to watch it for free on BBC America.  And the DVD of the third part of the first season of Torchwood is not, y'know, free.  And I like free.  Free has the advantage of not costing anything.

So, the other day (just to link this allup), I was poking around wondering just how not free that DVD was -- planning to also hunt down the start date of Torchwood on BBC America, and then work out via the complex "Time is Money" formula whether it would be worth the price to get the lead time.  And when I saw the user reviews on said DVD, that's where people had talked about the final episode being the "series finale," and I nearly had kittens.  But all is well, Torchwood is doing fine in the ratings and they've renewed it for a second "series," so now I can go back to deciding whether to buy that DVD.

.... here's the other thing about Torchwood.  I mean, if it was drop dead amazingly good right out of the box, I'd be all over that last DVD.  Hell, I'd have ordered it months ago.  Thing is, it wasn't drop dead amazingly good.  It was good enough to keep watching, in the hopes that it would get, y'know, better.  And then I hit this one episode of it that was just ... I'm having a really hard time finishing this sentence because I don't want to spoil it for those of you who might someday want to watch it when it comes to a cable system near you.  But the episode was the sort of thing I'd wanted to discuss with all my friends at work the next day in a "holy crap, did you see that?" sort of way -- although, quite obviously, none of them had.  It was just scary good (and good scary) from beginning to end.  And I was amazed they'd managed an episode like this during their very first season -- because I'd seen other series take way longer to hit their stride and be able to accomplish something like this. 

And then the rest of the episodes were fairly standard fare.

So, yeah, the show isn't the greatest thing ever, but it's certainly watchable, and it has demonstrated a capacity for brilliance surprisingly early on -- so I'm just curious to see if they nailed it again.  (But am I $35-plus-international-shipping curious?  That is the question.)

Photos of (Not) Le Conte Glacier

As previously mentioned, we took a jet boat ride to Le Conte glacier but did not actually make it to the glacier.  Still, I took a bazillion pictures as I was totally impressed by the little bits of ice (not big enough to be icebergs -- I was told the technical term is "Bergie Bits") that had calved away and were floating along in the water on our way to the glacier.

For instance:  an initial bergie bit.  It had floated quite some ways to be nearly alone like this:

My father got the "wildlife spot" of the day, when he said, "Isn't that a bald eagle over on that one?"

As we got closer to the glacier, the water started to be spotted with bergie bits:

A significant percentage of each bergie bit (more than half) is actually underwater:

And they're blue.  I mean, really, really blue.  This photograph is not altered.  The damn things are blue.  Seems that the ice is so densely packed that they absorb all the other colors of light that reach them, reflecting back only the blue.  This will be a recurring theme in later photographs:

Here's another one of those Me-Having-Fun-With-Reflections photos -- it's my favorite of this set:

And finally, this is why we couldn't get to the glacier.  All of a sudden, the scattered population of bergie bits started to look like this and the jet boat could go no further:

So, we turned back, glacier unseen.  Of course, the next day, we went to Glacier Bay, so we would be remedying that.

Lost in Translation

We take a short break from the photo entries for the following.

I like to think of myself as reasonable proficient in English English (as contrasted with the American language).  I mean, I've been to England quite a bit; I've seen (and safely followed) many British films, television shows, and plays.  So I reckon I can generally understand what our English friends mean when they say something.

Yesterday, while poking around Amazon lookin' for DVDs of some British TV shows (er, "programmes") that I like, I saw a phrase that made me very unhappy:  Series Finale.

Series Finale?!  They've cancelled it??!!  I'd thought the ratings were pretty good.  Damn it.  Damn it.  Damn it.  Damn it.

Further research today reveals that the British use "Series Finale" where we'd use "Season Finale."  Thus, the BBC website will speak of the "Series Finale" episode on the same page that it says they've committed to another season of the programme.

Oh.  Good.  Don't scare me like that.

(I think they just enjoy messing with the Americans.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Misty Fjords and Metlakatla Pictures!

(Wow.  Totally diggin' the new "upload and put in journal" picture-adding feature.  Way better than the old two-step way.)

So, next set of pics are from cruising through Misty Fjords and visiting Metlakatla.

As for the Misty Fjords pics, I was still trying to get to know my camera.  (Which, actually, I was trying to do all trip.)  Do I use the "landscape" setting or the "sun and snow" setting when there's, y'know, a landscape with sun and snow?  Oh, the pressure.

Anyway, here's some vague piece of Alaskan scenery:

Here's another piece of Alaskan scenery.  This one (she says, proudly) has a waterfall in it.

Dig the reflection.  I was, like, aiming for that, trying to be all artsy and stuff.  Just for you.  :)

OK, then we went to Metlakatla which was the one remaining Alaska Native Reservation in all of Alaska.  (It was all made clear to me later in the trip.)  Back when they decided to build that great big ol' oil pipeline in Alaska, they had to go through a whole bunch of lands on which Alaska Natives had claims.  So a deal was made whereby Alaska could put the pipeline where the pipeline had to go, and, in exchange, the Alaska Natives would incorporate their tribes (and, one assumes, get a piece of the pipeline income) and also be able to claim some other land.  This was (says our tour guide) a much better deal than Native Americans get in other states.  Which, I think, just goes to show that it pays to have your land conveniently located underneath the planned course of an extremely profitable pipeline.

In any event, Metlakatla is the island reservation owned by the Tsimshian tribe, the one tribe that chose not to take the incorporation deal in all of Alaska.  After we toured the island, we were invited into the Long House for traditional songs and dances.

This here is a photograph of one of the performers.  I totally dug her because she brought her baby along and was including the kid in all this cultural stuff.  At first, I'd been a little concerned that the baby would start crying because of the loud drums and stuff, but the kid totally dug swaying around to the traditional rhythms.

Now, what they're wearing are "button robes" (or "button blankets" -- embarassingly, I've forgotten).  They're these robes (made out of blankets, hence my confusion) where all the beadwork on them is individual buttons all hand-sewn on.  There's a lot of work that goes into these things, as they reflect one's identity within the tribe.  People are born into different "houses," which are identified by different animals.  So they're, like, "people of the killer whale" or "people of the wolf" or whatever.  Here's the back of a robe one guy was wearing.  I'm trying to figure out which animal -- it's got wings so I'm thinking Eagle or Raven, but I can't remember how you tell the difference between the two (something about whether it has a hooked beak).  I'm thinking Raven, but feel free to correct me on this.

All of the silver colored outlining on that is individual buttons.  Be impressed.

We had a Tlingit lecturer who explained that, traditionally, the buttons used were "mother of pearl," but that now, when his kids made their button robes, they used "mother of plastic."  Ahh... keeping traditions in a modern world.