I grew up in the country, but I was pretty much the most reluctant country kid alive. I don’t like dirt or bright sunshine, and mosquitoes eat me alive. Every once in a while, though, I do long for the privacy of wide open spaces, and the quiet. Kris and I have talked at length about moving to the country until we come to our senses: we are bad country people. I am far too lazy to keep up a property and have a ton of animals or a garden. After keeping it alive for three years, I accidentally killed my only plant by leaving it trapped in our scorching hot sunroom. Seeing its dead, wilted leaves was a good reminder that part of growing up is recognizing your weaknesses.
Rewinding to a year ago, I saw a cute AirBNB listing for a stay at the Circle M Farm in Blanchardville, Wisconsin run by Shannon and Kriss Marion. I was immediately enthralled by the vintage ‘glamper’ and myriad of animals on the farm. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go last summer, but I made sure to get it on this year’s calendar.
Glamping is about 1000% times easier than camping. I can confirm this because we went camping the next weekend and it was quite the production and we don’t even own that much camping stuff. Glamping means you just show up and it’s all there for you, ready to be enjoyed. The camper had everything we needed, including stuff we didn’t know we needed, like a vintage record player. Kris played “Greatest Love Songs of the Sensational 60s” for me. Romantic!
Outside of the glamper, there was a very nice bathroom with a double shower in the farmhouse along with a soaking tub. There was the option to shower outside, too, but it was a little cold and rainy for that.
Speaking of goose…here is my new best friend, the goose. This is the world’s friendliest goose.
She wanted to be petted so much she’d kinda quack at me or gently poke me in the leg to get my attention. I’d kneel down and pet her, and she’d cozy up. She even tried to climb in my lap! I think she fell asleep on my leg once, because I stood up and she fell beak first into the ground. Silly goose!
Perhaps she was just a smart goose and her friendly nature is so that she doesn’t end up on the Christmas dinner table. Either way, she was way cuter than the terrifying geese that I grew up with. Those geese we kept at bay with a broken ski pole. Good times!
Aside from goose, Circle M has a few friendly barn cats roaming the property. All of them came around for petting. One cat climbed into Kris’s car when we left the window cracked a few inches. I have no idea how it managed to get in there. We ended up naming him the Hamburgler because we found out later that he gnawed through a styrofoam container and ate Kris’s leftover cheeseburger. There was like 1/3 of a burger in there!
There were fenced in pens housing sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, and the old farm dog.
Further back, we came upon Waylon and Willie.
I’d never met a Great Pyrenees before, so meeting two was even better. Waylon and Willie (I never managed to find out who was who) roamed the back of the farm. They were huge and lovable and a bit dirty from the mud. They didn’t seem to care. I picked a bad day to wear black.
We spent a few hours after our arrival exploring the farm and splitting some host-supplied beverages, and then we walked to town for dinner. Lady Dawn’s served up more food than we could eat, but we sure tried.
It was a quiet walk back to the farm, where Shannon had a campfire going and s’mores fixings set out. Sadly, we couldn’t bring ourselves to make any due to extreme fullness. We went to bed smelling like campfire. That’s the best.
The next morning, we had an amazing locally sourced breakfast of waffles, eggs, fresh whipped cream, rhubarb sauce, sausage gravy, and lots of hot coffee. I tried an egg courtesy of our friendly goose. It was huge.
Even though it was chilly, we walked around for a few more hours and said our goodbyes to the animals.
We later found out the Hamburgler peed a little in Kris’s car. Kris was not as amused. I was even more amused.
All in all, a great stay and I can’t wait to go back. Country life isn’t for everyone–me included–but it is fun to visit for a bit. Also, I can’t wait to get a pet goose now (and, what the hell, how about a kitten, too).
For the sanitized Hawaii recap without, you know, copious amounts of sadness, please see Case of the Missing Hawaii Recap: SOLVED. This post is the real deal.
To be clear, I loved Hawaii, even though I ended up giving it my blood, sweat, and tears. It was amazing, and like an entirely different country but also American in so many ways. The black lava rock and the ocean and the lush green plants…it was so cool. But when I got back, I had a hard time articulating how my vacation went because having a miscarriage while you are supposed to be having fun and seeing a place you’ve dreamed of seeing is a special kind of awful.
Before I knew I was in for a special kind of awful, at the suggestion of our Hawaiian AirBNB host, Buck, we hired his friend, Sean, to go see the firehose lava that was shooting into the ocean, and the lava that was flowing on the ground. We were staying on the eastern edge of the Big Island, near Kilauea (the volcano that is currently exploding). The hike was scheduled for Valentine’s Day.
I’m not really into Valentine’s Day (less now). My ideal Valentine’s Day is watching all the 30 Rock Valentine’s Day episodes.
But on that V-Day, we were both feeling a lot of love. We had just found out we were pregnant for the second time, and due in October. We were cautious enough to know that miscarriage could happen, but also fairly certain that lightning wouldn’t strike us twice. I strongly felt that nothing could go wrong—we had paid our grief dues already. My mind unspooled all the plans for the previous pregnancy without an ounce of caution. Sure, when talking we mentioned IF we had the baby, but I didn’t mean it. I meant WHEN we had the baby. The funny thing about being pregnant after miscarriage is that you can’t stop planning or imagining. You can try to promise yourself that you’ll only grow attached to the outcome after 12 weeks, but that’s a little like me saying I’ll buy a package of Oreos and only eat a few.
So, we were excited about the pregnancy but not very excited to be getting up at 4 in the morning to greet Sean in the pitch dark and get in his car, along with Frank and Esther, two other AirBNB guests of Buck’s. We drove to the end of a mostly empty strip of land covered by lava rock and pulled off to start hiking down a long dirt road. Sean regaled us with stories about Hawaii and lava and his upbringing. This guy had been everywhere and seen everything! He handed out head beams, flashlights, and breakfast sandwiches, and we began a trek over jagged lava rocks that sometimes crumbled beneath our feet and sometimes stabbed painfully at the soles of our hiking shoes.
As the dawn light came up over the ocean, Sean showed us the huge canyons that developed in the cracks of the black lava rock and dropped off to sea, which made our hike excitingly dangerous. He also showed us small green plants that grew up between the black rocks, proof that lava doesn’t kill everything forever.
We hiked to the firehose lava shooting into the ocean, and then we walked to the surface flow. Lava has a strange hypnotic effect, like watching a campfire. The lava we saw was pretty slow moving, but steadily advancing. The heat from it was incredible. We took pictures and paused for water and snacks. A stray piece of trash flew from Sean’s hand and into the lava, where it burned up immediately.
“Pele’s going to be pissed with me,” Sean said.
Pele, the fire goddess. Not Pele the soccer player, to be clear.
Hot, hot, hot.
Under the cloudless morning sky, we began our hike back. We talked to Frank and Esther, our AirBNB buddies, about traveling. We talked to Sean about the drug problems in Pahoa and how some people, especially young people, move to Hawaii and take on an apathetic stoner lifestyle and waste away years of their lives. Sean talked about trying to help those people, which was cool.
I stopped in the porta-potty before we got back in the car. I peed, wiped, and paused. Huh. Spotting. No big deal, I told myself. It happens sometimes early on.
We went back to our AirBNB for a nap, only I couldn’t sleep. I was obsessively drinking water and going pee and examining each piece of toilet paper, along with Googling early pregnancy spotting. As the morning faded into midday, it was not, I realized, looking good.
When Kris woke up from his nap, I told him what I thought was happening. There was nothing we could do. It was either going to happen or not happen. Baby or no baby. No control, just waiting for the obvious to become obvious.
We debated what to do next. I felt physically okay, and we were still in Hawaii. We had plans to go to the beach that afternoon. The options were sit in bed and continue crying and obsessing and bleeding, or go to the beach and lay in the sand and continue bleeding. We opted for the beach.
The surreal part of this is that it was a nude beach. There were a lot of nude men that seemed very proud of their dangling bits. To be fair, there was a woman with incredible breasts doing cartwheels on the beach, too. I opted for keeping my swimsuit on and crying behind my sunglasses and cursing my body and my boobs that would look terrible if I did a naked cartwheel. I also cursed Pele, who, I was sure, was punishing me for Sean’s transgression with the garbage.
My mind turned to the beer I had the night I found out I was pregnant. I thought about the flights I had been on with this pregnancy and the one before it. I thought about the waiver I had signed before going on a boat a few days before, the one where I lied and checked the box saying that I WAS NOT PREGNANT. I thought about the rocky Jeep ride to the beach a few days before, and the snorkeling we had done.
Miscarriage makes you feel bad about every choice you made during the pregnancy. Fun fact.
I also thought about how I had said after my first miscarriage that “at least we know we can get pregnant,” as if getting pregnant were something special. Having the baby is the special thing, not getting pregnant. You don’t get some sort of millennial participation trophy for getting pregnant when it ends in no baby.
By the evening, we knew it was over. With two more days left to our vacation, we forged ahead and I was grateful we didn’t have much planned for those two days other than lounging at a resort. I cried most of the flight back (apologies to the stranger I was sitting next to who bravely pretended not to be sitting next to a crying woman and kudos to me for mastering silent crying).
When we got back home, I didn’t have time to be devastated because my cat got really sick and needed some intense medical and home care. It was like he knew I needed an awful distraction! He lovingly racked up the hospital bills as he stayed overnight at the ER vet and helpfully made me cry about losing him instead of the lost pregnancy. What a guy.
Thankfully, he pulled through, but he only has eight lives now. He has not paid any portion of his medical bills to date, which is really rude. I might send him to collections.
Carom, as seen today, waiting for me to get out of bed.
When the dust settled, we went to my doctor. Because we didn’t get in to see her in a super timely fashion, all of the pregnancy hormone was gone by the time I did blood test. The second miscarriage wasn’t on the books, so to speak, so we’d need to have a third miscarriage to really be considered not at all good at pregnancy, our doctor said.
We tried to muster up the strength and energy for a third pregnancy. A third pregnancy would get us answers either way: a baby or a miscarriage.
Or so I thought. I was so dumb.
Addendum—More sads if you haven’t had enough
I came across this article about Sean. I don’t know what to say, except that you really remember some people that come into your life for even the briefest of moments, and Sean was one of those people. He died doing something he loved to do.
I never talked about going to Hawaii on the blog! Huge oversight. It was our 49th state and how could I skip over arguably the best the US has to offer?
Well…because I had a second miscarriage halfway through our Hawaiian vacation in February, 2017. It actually happened on Valentine’s Day! How romantic. Wait, what’s the opposite of romantic? Oh, I guess I meant traumatic and you can read about it in the unedited version of events I’ll post soon. I’ve had a hard time disentangling that experience with the vacation, but I think I’m finally making progress. So…here’s Hawaii, edited.
Although we’d love to see all the islands someday, we decided to go big literally and start with the Big Island on this trip. We flew in and out of Kona, and drove counterclockwise around the whole island. We had about 9 days, and that felt like a decent amount of time to us, but we are speedy do-and-see-it-all travelers. To prepare, I diligently read Hawaii by James Michener and impressed/annoyed Kris with my Hawaiian knowledge along the way. The book was a hundred zillion pages, and I’m not sure it was worth it, unless you count bragging rights (which are ongoing, as you can see).
We flew out of Milwaukee, and had a long layover in Phoenix (Arizona was my 48th state, so I checked that box). I won’t bore you with many details about Phoenix, other than I still have not figured out why people enjoy hugs. They hurt.
The next morning, we flew Phoenix to Kona. American Airlines didn’t give us any meals, which I was bitter about. Yes, it is a ‘flight within the US’ but it’s a seven hour flight! Luckily, we bought some sandwiches at Helpings Cafe, which was so good we went there twice in less than 24 hours. Our sandwiches were remarked upon by jealous passengers (and flight attendants) who had to pay ridiculous amounts for AA sammies that looked terrible. We were very smug about this.
Kona Airport is an outdoor airport (well, technically every airport is outside, but hopefully you know what I mean), and right away it felt like we were in a different country. The air was warm and black lava rock and palm trees proved to us that we were in Hawaii, but after so many years of dreaming about going there, it didn’t feel real.
We picked up our rental car, which was white. I named it Haole (slang for white person/foreigner in Hawaiian and pronounced ‘Hulie’). And we were off! I think day by day recaps can be a bit boring, so I’ll hit the highlights from here on out: food, beaches, hotels and AirBNBs, and nature! Things I will not cover: Kris bottoming Haole out going down a road I told him not to go down, the half day I spent in a hotel room watching KUWTK instead of being out enjoying Hawaii, the dog at one AirBNB peeing on my foot upon arrival, and the dirty look the owner of a wiener dog gave Kris after Kris loudly said the wiener dog was fat.
We tried poi (taro root made into a paste) because Michener does not shut up about it in his book. We bought it at a farmer’s market, and it was awful. We couldn’t even give it away because the locals know better. I guess if you are an early Polynesian coming to Hawaii this might be good, but otherwise, it is not.
There are delicious purple sweet potatoes hiding inside this fish, also procured at the Maku’u Farmer’s Market.
We ate twice at Broke Da Mouth Grindz. It was amazing. Never underestimate a restaurant in a strip mall–there’s a travel tip for ya that’s been consistent wherever we go.
Shaka Restaurant has the claim to fame of being the southernmost bar in the U.S. We had a hearty breakfast there that was cheap and tasty. It felt like a real local place, too.
Speaking of, the real southernmost point of the U.S. was worth a stop. I’ve never seen water as blue. Daredevils were diving off the cliff. I made Kris hold my hand the entire time we were there so that he would not jump.
Coffee everywhere! The Big Island has quite a few coffee plantations, and even though I’m no connoisseur (just a classic guzzler) I had some delicious coffee. This pot was served with a side of gecko.
It’s very true that groceries were more expensive. We stopped at a few convenience stores and grocery stores, and…yikes. Let’s just say I’d have to give up my bacon habit. Milk was around $5/gallon. Meals out were maybe a little bit more than usual, but not too much. We didn’t do any fine dining, so that helped.
Let’s go the beach…
We went to Makalawena Beach (very rocky, lots of big waves and surfers who knew what they were doing).
We endured a very bumpy ride in a beat up van to Papakolea Green Sand Beach. The beach was amazing! It was perfectly sandy and warm. There are only four green sand beaches in the entire world, so we didn’t want to miss out. The green is more olive, but still pretty distinct.
We snorkeled in the Kapoho Tidepools, which were beautiful and painful. We both cut our feet on rocks. It was worth it, though, despite the amount I complained.
We also snorkeled in Kealakekua Bay. The coral was amazing and we saw quite a few fishies. Captain Cook was murdered there, so while we snorkeled I put together the Dateline episode of his murder in my head. Keith Morrison would definitely be the reporter for that episode (and all the episodes I make up). Spoiler: no one would be found guilty.
Captain Cook Memorial
We went to Kehena Black Sand (nude) Beach. There was as much dong as there was black sand. At Punalu’u Beach we saw some turtles. I drank out of a coconut there that some guy sliced open with a machete.
We stayed at all AirBNBs, with the exception of our last night, when we splurged a little more and stayed at Kings’ Land by Hilton. The vibe of the pool area was generally an older crowd (they had a separate adult area). We also explored the Hilton Waikoloa Village, which was the more exciting sister property of our hotel. There was a lot going on there. They had a ton of activities and a lagoon with dolphins. This resort also offered up a canal with boats to escort guests to their rooms. Cool! These were big, beautiful properties and I can easily see how people get sucked in to thinking that is the way to do a Hawaiian vacation. I enjoyed it and wished we had more time there! But in reality, there was a lot more to see and experience and I felt a little sad for the people that just go to these resorts and leave.
Our favorite AirBNB was near Pahoa, on the eastern side of the island (currently evacuated due to lava and eruptions). We stayed in the Coconut Cottage and made friends with Winter, the cat. Winter in Hawaii, get it?
Nice touches from Buck, the owner, and bonus points for not f-ing up my name:
We stayed near Kona, on the western side, at Keli’s. We got some fun, not at all posed, photos at sunset.
At the southern end of the island, we stayed at this place, which was actually very cheap for the area and a lot nicer than we expected. However, it took us about three tries to find it, and we were very frustrated! I hope they are giving out better directions.
Overall, we were very happy with our AirBNBs. One huge advantage to staying at an AirBNB is that almost all of them offered up stuff that would be impossible to pack–snorkeling equipment, beach towels and chairs, and even sunscreen.
The Big Island is home to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Hawaiians are quick to let you know that the Big Island is the biggest mountain in the world…if you count starting from the base on the ocean floor. Does that count? Not sure. Kilaueau is the currently erupting volcano. It was steaming and spewing lava when we visited. We saw it up close and personal on a lava hike, and from a helicopter tour.
While at Volcanoes, we also saw a traditional luau. This one was free, which was better than paying $80 plus at a resort. Another tip: search local calendars online to see what events are going on, and try to plan around what you want to see. I would’ve been pissed if we found out about this after the fact.
Although, if you do hit up a resort luau, I won’t begrudge you. There were hot bodies and fire. Here was a preview we saw at our resort.
At Volcanoes, in addition to the luau, we saw lava rock, lava fields, and lava tunnels.
The other big park we went to was Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park. This is a quick drive from Kona, and here I raised my hand several times during the ranger talk to display my Hawaiian knowledge via Michener. Kris was impressed. I could tell from the way he rolled his eyes.
This park was a ‘place of refuge’ for those who broke the sacred laws. All you had to do was make it there and a) not drown trying and b) not be murdered by your angry neighbors. Easy peasy!
Other highlights from nature:
Can’t beat Waipi’o Valley Lookout. The beach down there is private. Can you imagine owning that?!
And we took a really pretty drive along the northern coast.
To me, Hawaii was beautiful and brutal. I can’t wait to see more, under different circumstances.
Our cruise stopped in three Alaskan ports, which were Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan, and we spent a day cruising Glacier Bay National Park. We also stopped in Victoria, British Columbia. None of the stops seemed long enough, but I guess that is the nature of the cruise! You’re on the captain’s time, not your own.
Juneau was first. To be honest, the town was very touristy with t-shirt shops, and, strangely, a ton of jewelry shops. Lots of stores wanted to give us a ‘free crystal pendant.’ Barf.
Getting off the boat:
We determined we had just enough time to ride the Mt. Roberts Tram up the side of the hill to get some nice views. Or rainy views.
We saw Lady Baltimore, an eagle that lives up on the mountain. She was a non-releasable eagle due to the fact that she had been shot and severely injured. She’s doing okay now.
Kris pretended to be an eagle.
Nice view at the top:
We raced back down the mountain and were the last ones to get in our van to head over to Mendenhall Lake for a glacier hike adventure. We put on tour supplied rain jackets, rain pants, boots, and grabbed helmets before we got in a giant canoe with about 20 people and two guides. The two guys I was positioned between whacked my paddle on every other stroke, so it was an exercise in patience for me. At some points, to save my knuckles, I had to sit back and not paddle.
The scenery mostly made up for the irritating boat ride.
We eventually made it to shore, and dragged the canoe up. The first stop was the ice caves. Our guides went in to make sure everything was reasonably safe, and then we went inside. It was wet and surreal and very blue.
Environmental sidebar: One disturbing theme of the glacier hike was our guides repeated and repeated how much the glacier was receding. They mentioned several times what the area looked like last summer, and how far back the glacier was moving. Yes, glaciers do have natural recession cycles, but nothing like what has been going on in the past few years. Global warming is real. Humans are the likely cause. Alaska’s receding glaciers are canaries in the coal mine.
After the ice caves, they gave us crampons (spikes) to put on our boots and we hiked on the glacier. It was pretty easy to walk on, but parts were steep. The ice looked incredible.
Apparently one complaint from past tourists was that the glacier was ‘too dirty.’ Ha!
Kris refused to go down this ice hole to see what was at the bottom. Rude.
After we paddled back (another exercise in patience for me), we walked around downtown Juneau a little more before getting back on the ship.
We cruised Glacier Bay the next day and got some good photos. We also heard ‘white thunder’ as the Margerie Glacier calved.
The next city we stopped in was Sitka. This was probably my favorite city since it was the least touristy.
If you know me, you know I’m always interested in a good cemetery. The Sitka Russian Cemetery didn’t disappoint. We were the only (living) people there. It was a so, so beautiful.
Kris dragged me away from the cemetery to check out some history. Sitka was once owned by the Russians. It was the site of the Alaska Purchase ($7.2 million for the whole state!). I suppose it’d have been pretty cool to see the Russian flag lowered and the American flag raised. If you’re some sort of history nerd.
Sitka had some fun totem poles:
One main attraction at Sitka is its Raptor Center, which rehabilitates and releases birds, or keeps them safe if they can’t be released again. This owl, Boris, was my favorite. Kris was creeped out by Boris.
The list of eagle health problems:
It was a fun stop, but the birds weren’t as entertaining as the bears! Sitka is home to Fortress of the Bear, a bear rescue. Unlike Canada and some other U.S. states, bears that are rehabilitated in Alaska can’t be released again, so Fortress of the Bear is signing on to take care of these bears for 40-some years. Most of the bears here were abandoned cubs whose mothers had been injured or killed.
The black bears were much more lively and they chased each other around.
Also enjoyed in Sitka: a stop at a thrift store, a sushi lunch, and the free wifi at the public library. We also stopped at the public library in Juneau and enjoyed their free wifi. Wifi on cruises is ridiculously expensive. As usual, the local libraries came through for us and, as a nice bonus, we have some bookmarks from Alaska now.
Ketchikan was the last Alaskan port. Again, there were a lot of shops and tourist traps.
We wandered over to Creek Street. I guess this is where prostitutes used to set up shop.
There was a handy back entrance for attached men.
We took a float plane tour of the Misty Fjords. The scenery was amazing, but, I’ll admit, I was a little nervous on the tiny plane!
We stopped halfway, got out, and took some pictures. It was quiet and serene, and made me feel very small to be out in the middle of nowhere.
I had mixed feelings about the float plane. I think I would actually recommend to skip it if you find yourself in Ketchikan. Maybe it’s because our pilot wasn’t that personable or the duration of the trip was pretty short. It was one of those things that doesn’t match up with what I thought it would be in my head. It was on the pricey side, too, so I’m sure that added to my mixed feelings.
We said goodbye to Alaska (or until next time), and arrived in Victoria the next day. The Victoria port was typical Canada: a clean and pretty city. We ventured out to Butchart Gardens. We had trouble pronouncing the name, so it became Butch Fart Gardens for the duration because we are mature adults.
The gardens were something else.
We got sidetracked by the merry-go-round. I rode the zebra (the best animal to ride). Kris rode an orca.
Kris is actually very short. Proof:
The downside to this tour was that we finished up with the gardens about an hour early, so it was kind of frustrating to be ready to go back into Victoria, but not able to do so. I’d recommend hiring a taxi rather than a hopping on a tour bus for anyone in a similar time crunch.
We did get to see the parliament during the day and at night, though. Canadians do it right.
After Victoria, we came back to the ship. I was sad that we didn’t have an itinerary for the next day. Our vacation was over!
It was a good one, though.
In August we did a cruise to Alaska and now I might be addicted. I really enjoyed the cruising part of the vacation, which let me enjoy our time in Alaska even more.
We cruised with Holland America, on the Eurodam. Holland America caters to a middle-age and older crowd, and is not really a party cruise type line. We were in the younger third of the passengers, and that was fine with me. A late night for me is 11:00, and I’m down to eat dinner at 4:00.
Our ship was considered mid-sized with about 2000 passengers and 800 crew. It never felt crowded, unless we were at the buffet. We stayed in a veranda room on the 7th floor in the aft section of the ship. We could feel the waves, and I occasionally voiced my opinion that the Captain was drunk, but it was probably typical motion. Neither of us experienced any seasickness, although after we disembarked for the final time, I felt like I was still moving and that lasted for about a day.
There was plenty to do on the ship without being bored. In room entertainment included a wide selection of new and old movies and some TV shows. The news was also shown, but, let’s face it, I was more than ready to take a small break from news. We watched everything from Beauty and the Beast (old school version) to Fast and Furious 7 and Fate of the Furious (Kris hate watched).
Here’s Kris watching…something.
There was also a streaming feed of cameras off the back and front of the ship that looked something like this:
The veranda provided its own entertainment if you’re into nature and stuff. One morning I woke up early enough to watch our side of the ship dock.
The room itself was smaller than, say, a normal hotel room, but it was smartly arranged and had great storage. We (I) opted for two twin beds. Don’t judge-Kris is 6’7″! Every night we came back to chocolates and a towel animal and the itinerary for the next day. Everything was kept tidy with twice-a-day service by our cabin stewards, Risland and Lasiman. Risland even had our names down by the second day.
Tips about tips: make sure to bring some cash to tip your cabin stewards or anyone bringing you room service or the especially nice bartender. Some gratuities are charged automatically, usually for alcoholic drinks. In addition, be prepared for a daily per person charge for gratuities. We paid $13.50 each for 7 days. Some people probably think that’s enough or maybe even too much for tips, but I guess I question how much of that is being passed on to the staff, so I’d prefer to be able to do some tipping on my own. If you strongly object to the daily charge, I’ve heard you can go down to guest services to have it taken off. Just be aware of this—if I hadn’t done my homework and known, that would’ve been a bad surprise.
Outside of the room, the entertainment options were plentiful. There was a three-story main stage with various entertainment every night, ranging from an original musical to an illusionist to the crew putting on an Indonesian cultural presentation. We went to the original musical and awkwardly/awesomely sat in the front row.
We also attended the Captain’s toast and, later on, the Captain’s Talk in the main stage. The toast had free sparkling wine and I made Kris steal us a second glass.
The talk was about how the ship worked and some Q&A time. Best question was if the Captain worried about pirates. Spoiler: not a lot of pirates off the Alaskan coast.
More musical entertainment included B.B. King’s Nightclub with a jazz band, dueling pianos, and Lincoln Center Stage, a string quartet accompanied by a piano.
Dueling pianos during the day:
Aside from music, there were two pools to enjoy along with hot tubs. We did some hot tubbing and watched the waves in the pool. I guess I’m dumb and didn’t know that the huge lips on the pools were because once you’re cruising, the pool generates its own waves in response. Neato.
One highlight was the Tamarind Bar, which was on the top floor of the ship near the Tamarind restaurant. It was usually very quiet up there, and I felt like I had my own secret spot. I spent a few mornings and afternoons up there taking in the scenery and in general feeling like I was in another world. We watched the sunset from the Tamarind Bar one night, and stopped in for drinks another night.
Drink tips: another suggestion is to have an alcohol plan if you want to drink on your vacation. Holland America lets each guest take one bottle of wine or champagne in their carry-on luggage. You have to check in your alcohol, so don’t think you’re going to be smart and take a bottle of hard liquor. Anyway, DO use your bottle allowance. Drinks on the ship are on the expensive side, about $6 for a beer and $7-10 for a glass of wine or cocktail. There were quite a few happy hours, though, nicely timed for before and after supper. The special was buy one, get the second for $2, but be aware that the second drink is the same as the first one. We ordered two drinks one night, expecting to be charged for a drink, and then $2. However, we ended up with four drinks. It was a good problem to have, but a little unexpected. Sodas were about $2.50 for a can, which we mostly avoided.
Another thought on drinks: I’m an avid water drinker. You’re not allowed to fill your water bottle at the buffet water station, and all of the drink glasses are tiny, tiny. I filled up a few times at the gym water fountain. Make an effort to stay hydrated, and scope out some places to refill your water bottle.
One of the first things we learned was from a presentation in the fitness center that passengers gain 1-2 pounds per DAY on a cruise. I’m sad to say that I believe this! Food was readily available. The ship had a huge buffet, dining room, 24-hour room service, an Asian restaurant, an Italian restaurant, a steakhouse, poolside burgers and fries, pizzas, and a pop-up French restaurant. Food everywhere all the time! It was pretty tasty, too. We tried to get away with skipping a few courses one night in the dining room, only to be nicely scolded by our waiter that we were “On vacation! Enjoy!”
Here’s the formal, two-story dining room:
Food tip: come up with some sort of game plan if you are worried about gaining weight. Maybe make a rule to skip the bread or indulge in one dessert a day instead of the *ahem* five Kris ate one night. To be fair, I had a wild night of three shrimp cocktails. The choices were overwhelming and our willpower seemed to fade as the day went on.
I managed to hit up the gym a few times. Running on the treadmill with the ship movement was like additional training! We also ended up walking the veranda deck for a few miles one night to burn off some calories. The ship hosted a 5k walk for the American Cancer Society as well. I attended a morning mediation/yoga class, which was pretty much stretching, but given the average age of participants, that was a good idea for everyone involved.
Another tip: take the stairs if you can. There were always people waiting for elevators. The stairs were empty and it was another way to burn off some of the creme brulee calories I was worried about.
We had tea one afternoon and felt fancy:
Another evening there was a “Chocolate Surprise.” Staff wandered around the second floor of the ship with different chocolate desserts around 11:00 p.m.. That was fun and totally unnecessary! That might have been the day Kris had five desserts. We also took a tour of the kitchens and saw the massive amounts of prep work behind the scenes.
I missed towel folding because I was extremely busy napping. Damn, I wanted to learn how to make this guy:
One highlight was when we cruised Glacier Bay. The ship hosted some park rangers who gave talks throughout the day, and provided narration as we cruised through the park. Apparently the park rangers embarked and disembarked via a rope ladder! Now that’s a fun/terrifying way to get to work.
Other entertainment included the casino.
Behold the table where Kris won first place in a poker tournament!
We also played and dominated trivia, natch.
Kris was on a hot streak. We played bingo and he won a Caribbean cruise with Holland America! I’m really glad he won because I loved cruising, and can’t wait to do it again.
King of the…Alaskan waters!
Alaska is our 50th state, and we were happy and lucky to hit our goal of seeing every state! Next blog will be all about what we did in AK.
Don’t worry, we still have to see Africa, Asia, Australia, Antarctica, all the National Parks, and all of Wisconsin’s State Parks (about 20 to go) and 180+ countries.
Do you suddenly feel like you want to run straight into the woods and forget about everything?
Yeah, me too. And I know the perfect place to go.
First, make sure you like tigers.
Rad! Who doesn’t like tigers? No one, that’s who.
Then, make sure you aren’t afraid of heights and climbing.
Now book your stay at the Necedah Tower in Necedah, Wisconsin. We were checking off some state parks in the area and stayed overnight in the Necedah Tower, which Daniel, the owner, built over the course of seven years. Daniel was very knowledgeable about the area and Wisconsin’s natural history and enjoyed showing us around the tower and talking about its construction.
The views at the top can’t be beat.
There’s a comfy queen bed, a bathroom and shower, and everything you need for a night. There was no Wifi or TV, though, which was fine with me. Bed at 8:00 p.m.! The tower is in a quiet, wooded area, but easy to find. You can’t see it from the road, which makes it even more spectacular when it appears at the end of the driveway.
Due to some problems getting up to code (the part you sleep in is up to code and we weren’t worried about being unsafe at all—the whole thing felt very solid) Daniel has pulled the listing from AirBNB until he can get an inspector out. He closes the tower during winter anyway, so check back in the spring. You can become a fan of it on Facebook by looking for Necedah Tower. If you want to stay somewhere different, give it a spin. Daniel built his own house, too, and he also takes pictures of Bollywood performers.
We didn’t see any clowns in the woods, but they probably are out and about after 8:00 p.m. All the more reason to go to bed early.
I’m working on a mind-numbing, soul-sucking data entry project at work that has me questioning my existence and general contribution to society. I have been listing to podcast after podcast as I type type type away. Here’s what I’ve been listening to.
I started listening to podcasts on a frequent basis back in 2013. I had already listened to most of the This American Life catalog, but didn’t venture beyond that. Then I had my great financial crises of 2013: a $500 doctor bill that totally changed my outlook on money. I downloaded some Dave Ramsey in desperation and listening to him inspired me so much back then. While I don’t agree with his politics, he has some great financial guidelines for people who are clueless (like I was) about how to budget and get on track. I used to make Kris listen to it sometimes, but after one episode wherein Dave Ramsey kept calling a caller a “butt” Kris had enough. I eventually grew tired of DR going off on political rants, and graduated to other money podcasts to keep me inspired. One of the more recent ones that I enjoy is HerMoney with Jean Chatzky. Jean interviews different people of varying degrees of fame, and then answers listener questions about money. She’s interviewed Angie Hicks from Angie’s List about starting a business from scratch, Ali Sweeney about identity theft, and even Dave Ramsey. While it is geared toward women, anyone can learn from it. She touches on careers, inspiration, organization…pretty much relevant to anyone who gets or wants a paycheck. Hundred dollar bills, ya’ll.
Heavyweight is similar to This American Life, but sticks to one story and the host/narrator is directly involved. It’s funny and sad and has moments of beauty…basically TAL condensed. I was hooked by episode 2, Gregor, which covers the story of a guy that loaned Moby his Sounds of the South albums back in the 90s. Moby sampled Sounds of the South heavily for his Play album and subsequently blew up and became the famous bald vegan we all know. Gregor has complicated feelings about this and has repeatedly asked Moby for his albums back over the years. He goes to L.A. to track Moby down to get the albums back….20 years later. It is a fascinating listen, and Moby has some dark revelations about his fame.
2000 was a weird time.
On Friday nights I can be found drinking wine and shouting at Dateline on the TV. “The husband did it!” is my usual refrain. Naturally, I loved Serial. I tried to fill the gap listening to a podcast (I won’t even name because I can’t recommend) about the Maura Murray disappearance, but it ended up going off the rails as they followed bizarre tangents. I was reluctant to spend time on another, but I really enjoyed listening to Accused. This follows a cold case from 1978 and there are so many suspects and twists that I listened to all eight episodes in two days. Elizabeth Andes was murdered in her college apartment a few days after graduation, and her boyfriend, Bob Young, was immediately accused. He gave a confession under intense interrogation, but was ultimately acquitted by a criminal and civil jury. Accused interviews everyone and anyone around Elizabeth at that time, and it is fascinating to follow the cold case. There are no easy answers in this one, but it is well put together and the tenacity of the two female reporters is remarkable.
Of a far less murder-y flavor is Happier with Gretchen Rubin, which takes a look at habits and personality types and gives tips for making life easier and more productive. Gretchen and her sister discuss their work and family lives, and I frequently come back to bits of advice they give. One that’s running through my head lately is: what you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while. This is deceivingly simple: exercising every day, writing every day, doing a little cleaning every day will get me further than devoting a huge chunk of time to these activities every once in a while. I try to keep this in mind when I want to procrastinate, or put off the horrible data entry project I’m slugging through at work.
I’m a fan of Gretchen’s books, too, and I’ve started using her one-sentence journal as a gratitude journal. Gretchen introduced me to the 5 Love Languages (I’m the kind that likes getting gifts, so next time I see you, feel free) and Headspace, which let me try out guided meditation. Overall, lots of tips and tricks to examine yourself and fall down the rabbit hole of self-improvement.
The next podcast is an acquired, dirty taste: My Dad Wrote a Porno. This is put together by an English guy whose dad, like the title infers, wrote a porno. He reads it out loud to his two friends and they try and make sense of what is happening in Belinda Blinked, the porno book. There is nothing remotely sexy about any of the writing. It’s similar to trying to figure out if Pitbull has ever had sex based on his lyrics, and just as befuddling. This is one podcast I have actually LOLed at, and it’s always fun to listen to sophisticated British accents as they discuss x-rated topics. Especially when you’re at work (headphones are on for this one).
So, what podcasts are you digging? I am always on the hunt for new ones and have found some great ones through trial and error and recommendations from friends.
Also: I’ve figured out how to insert gifs. And no, I won’t stop.