Adventures in Alaska

So, reality started to set in a few weeks ago. We are all about to go back to school and work soon. G-Man heads back to college, the remaining Heathens will finally return to in-person school, and the husband goes back to a travel-heavy work schedule. We will no longer have flexible schedules and routines will return with a vengeance. We decided we wanted one last trip before summer ends, but one that was far different from anything we’ve done before. I called my handy-dandy travel agent, and we were soon on our way to an Alaskan cruise.

I have never been on a cruise, or had any desire to do one. But, she convinced me that this really was the best option for a last minute trip to Alaska, and the Royal Caribbean ship  would only operate 40% capacity for safety (and with serious restrictions in the ports). She wasn’t kidding. The staff to guest ratio was 2:1. Y’all, I was skeptical but this ended up being the best vacation we’ve ever experienced. The weather was glorious (a rarity according to local residents), the food was amazing, and the excursions blew our minds.

Our ports included Sitka, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, and Ketchikan. Due to Covid, we could only exit the ship for excursions that were limited strictly to passengers (because Bean is only 9 and can’t be vaccinated yet. Vaccinated passengers could explore freely). This limited our excursion options, but we still had plenty to choose from.

We explored Sitka, went whale watching in Icy Strait Point, took a helicopter to the Mendenhall Glacier, and fished for salmon in Ketchikan. Each adventure felt like a living postcard, and we learned so much from our guides. We certainly accomplished our goals of new experiences and making the most of every moment of our trip. Normally, the husband and I are ready to get home at the end of a vacation, but we were genuinely sad that this trip had to end. We barely scratched surface, and are already planning on what we would like to experience next time.

Important note: who caught the biggest fish? (cough, cough…..ME!)

My neighbor and well-traveled adopted maternal figure, Mama P, told me this was the best vacation she ever took, and I now know why. From breath-taking views to rich culture and history, we soaked up pure enjoyment each and every day. I will say that this particular trip/cruise probably isn’t an ideal choice for younger children, despite the ship amenities (unless you want to put them in the kids’ program). Bean is a seasoned traveler, and is used to fishing, camping, and outdoor activities. She understands that every moment of a trip isn’t going to be Disneyworld/kid-centric, so she knows to go along with the get-along, as Granny would say. During our downtime, we still had plenty to do on the ship, like bingo, trivia, shows, and cards, so everyone remained entertained.

So, overall fantastic trip all around. Unfortunately, the airline cancelled our return flights, and we got stuck in Seattle, but that’s a post for another day.

Changes, Summer Travels, and Catching My Breath

Whelp, we limped across the virtual schooling finish line, not with a bang but a whimper. No rocking out to Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out for Summer” in the carpool line as is our tradition, but rather a heavy sigh that this chapter is hopefully, maybe, possibly, better-be-or-my-liver-can’t-handle-it closed. My two youngest kids have not been in the classroom since March 13th of 2020, and while they made virtual school work and received excellent grades, I think we can all agree that no one wants to experience a repeat of this academic year. It’s weird to think that a few years from now, some doctoral candidate will publish a study on just how this pandemic turned a generation of learning on its head.

Now that 80 percent of our household is vaccinated, life is returning damn-near normal. After school concluded, I called my friend who is also a travel agent and had her throw together a quick, impromptu vacation for us. We ended up in Jamaica! This was our first family trip outside of the states, and it was both fun and educational. I learned so much along the way, while also realizing how much I need to learn.

We swam with dolphins and went snorkeling, tubing, and deep sea fishing. After all of the missed milestone celebrations last year, this trip was a blessing and the perfect summer vacation for the family.  The voyage back to Louisiana had its hiccups, but after the past year, well, perspective has become something we strive to maintain.

While we still have a lot more summer to go, it’s difficult not to think ahead of how much our days will change when the Heathens are back in the classroom this fall. We will be back to carpool lines, school lunches, routines, and socializing, but I’m not naïve enough to believe that we will all make the transition seamlessly. I’m mentally preparing myself for how tired they will be resuming full schedules and being more active. Also, Bean’s virtual learning only took up about 4 hours of the day, so she is used to large sections of free time between lessons. Will they be ostracized from their old friends and peers after being home for the year? We shall see, I suppose.

Meanwhile, I’ll be over here canning and counting down the days.

PSA–pssssst. The Halloween décor is hitting the shelves at places like At Home. If you know, you know.

 

 

Summer’s End–Family, Community, and Canning.

School started this week, and for the first time, its arrival felt bittersweet. Usually, by this time, I feel like I will sell my soul to their teachers in exchange for removing the Heathens from my home for a few hours a day. August means we’ve devolved into who-looked-at-who the wrong way, which in turn, ends up being a crossover between “Who Moved My Cheese?” and The Hunger Games.  This year, however, summer seemed to fly by at a too-rapid pace. It doesn’t help that G-Man is a junior, Bear is a freshman, and Bean is in (gulp!) first grade. I wish I had a few more days at the pool or the camp, but in the end, the promise of less than 100-degree heat means that I’ll get over it quickly. So, the summer recap:

We had our epic family reunion with my 80-plus cousins who are just as zany as we are, fun days at the Gulf and the camp, questionable fishing, and general mayhem:

There was some knitting, which I will post about tomorrow:

I smoked and cooked at bit (including hosting 4th of July for our neighborhood, and tackling fresh pasta):

But, if I had to sum up this summer, I would call it The Summer of Canning. We spent the spring installing and planting several raised beds in our postage stamp-sized back yard. We hope to adopt a year-round gardening plan down the road, but ultimately, I think the Husband and I feel called to find a balance between the frantic digital pace of modern daily life, and the skills, traditions, and values that we internalized from our parents and grandparents.

We want to raise well-balanced, knowledgeable kids that have adequate life skills by graduation, or at least some exposure to many things and the attitude that they can figure crap out if they try. This isn’t just about gardening. G-Man must have changed tires on the family car six times this summer as we dealt with failing tires and those pesky nails the contractors down the road kept dropping. He also has a bank account, and I’ll send that kid to the Kroger at the drop of at hat, which means he now knows where to find vinegar and pectin, and the difference between a poblano and a banana pepper. G-Man and Bear can cook a meal, bake a mean cookie, and follow a recipe while adapting if needed. As such, the garden is another extension of our desire for fresh produce and deliciousness, while modelling life skills that might keep our kids from being left for zombie bait in the event of a Walking Dead scenario. Kidding…Kidding…

But, with that garden, came the dilemma of keeping up with it. I swore to the Husband that I would not let his efforts go to waste. I’ve written about canning before, but this behemoth was beyond my ability to manage, or at least my available time. But then, the blessing came. My neighbor had never canned and wanted to learn, so I did a quick recipe with her (that she brought over) so she could get the basics. One thing led to another. Before long, we transformed into a well-oiled operation of shared labor and shared bounty. We worked side-by-side each week, harvesting, prepping, and putting up recipe after recipe. We fought the bugs, the heat, our restless kids, and the burn of hot peppers from forgotten gloves. As the days blended together, we visited, shared stories and memories, and ended up with overflowing pantries of salsa, jalapeno jelly, serrano jelly, pickled peppers and onions, cucumber relish, pickles, spicy tomato jam, pickled jalapenos, and more.


We even put together and vacuum-sealed bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers for fall and winter entertaining. A full pantry and freezer soothes my soul and makes me feel more connected to the strong women in my family tree. That was something I didn’t expect, but I’ll take any day.

Over these intense kitchen sessions, I noted to my neighbor that I can now see why chores like canning, quilting, butchering, and harvesting historically often turned into group events. People helped their neighbors or friends with these labor-intensive activities not only to share the load, but also to connect in a way we now have lost, and which we often miss in our disconnected, overworked, digital lives. (and yes, I get the irony of saying that on my digital blog, but I do believe we can all find a better balance between the power of the internet to connect and educate us, and the temptation for it to consume us at the expense of genuine experiences). Whether we were enveloped by steam from the canner, or got lost in the hours of chopping 12 pounds of tomatoes at a time, we strengthened our bonds as both friends and neighbors in a way that made me feel closer to her, and my family’s history and traditions.

So, as I come to summer’s end, I still feel like it flew by, but as I reflect, I also think of it as time of connecting with family and neighbors, cultivating skills, and transitioning from the tragedy of losing my father to letting the light back in. That, if anything, was probably the best takeaway of all.

But you know what’s even better about summer’s end? I can now plan the Halloween decorations and party. Mwhahahah!