Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas in Palmer, Alaska

Flying from 75 degree Oahu to -15 degree Palmer was a bit of a shock - out here on the island it storms like no place else, but rarely gets below 30 degrees.  Goldfish's Mom had a project for me while we were there, she had frozen 5 gallon buckets of water and she wanted the blocks of ice carved out so we could put pillar candles in them and place them around the tree in the front yard.  I got right to work and they turned out really nice!  A wonderful idea for the holidays and easy to accomplish when its below zero; out here, I bet a 5 gallon bucket of water would never freeze solid, even if you left it out all winter!  I guess I could freeze some in the plant freezer and they would probably last for a few days around Christmas, maybe longer.  Now keeping a candle lit in 80 knot winds might be another story . . . .
This is Mr. Kitty.   Mr. Kitty terrorized me the first night we slept in Palmer by insisting on being petted in the middle of the night.  When I stopped petting him and turned away, he hooked the side of my face with his claws like he was palming a basketball and turned my head back towards him until I started petting him again.  This scene was repeated several times in the night, and Goldfish was either oblivious to the whole thing or secretly grinning under the covers while her big strong fearless husband was completely dominated - physically and mentally - by the 14 pound family cat.
I finally got to meet James, the British husband of Goldfish's baby sister Megan.  Cool guy, great sense of humor, wicked smart, clearly adores Megan - ya done good Megan, and that's why you're still number one . . . .
We got a big bunch of family together with family friend Chris and had breakfast at Cafe Amsterdam in Anchorage on Christmas Eve.  What a great spot - the food was amazing, and I loved the atmosphere, definitely a place to explore further next time we're passing through.  We finished up a last bit of shopping, I drooled on James' Alienware computer, and we headed back out to "the valley".
In sharp contrast to Unalaska, the air was completely still on mainland Alaska, and the snow was decorating all the trees for the holidays.  I lived in both Anchorage and the valley for years, and it is always wonderful to return.
This is Pioneer Peak, one of my very favorite mountains in Noth America.  I climbed it back in 2006 and when I moved to Alaska in 1988, I pulled the car over on the highway and stood staring at this perfect mountain.  I was thrilled when I first saw it, and I am thrilled anew every time I see it again!
Chico is guarding the tree - poor guy, nothing under for him.  While we were in Hawaii, we dropped Chico off to "vacation" on the mainland where he could be spoiled by Grandma and play with his new best friend Brutus.
We had a very relaxed Christmas, lots of family time which is what you always remember long after any gifts are forgotten.  Goldfish has a great family, and while I sorely missed mine spread all over North America (she is so lucky to have everyone in one place!), I had a great time.

The day after Christmas, we flew back to Unalaska.  Flying onto the island is always an adventure, and this time was no exception as anyone who flew out here during that time frame can attest.  How the pilot found a little hole between storms to land us safely is beyond me, and those Saabs sure are tough little planes!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Odds & Ends from the Hawaiian Vacation

 What has been a year or so in the planning got knocked out while we were in Oahu.  I've been mentally planning a tattoo that would honor my Goldfish, incorporate Alaska tribal art, and address my recurring interest and participation in commercial fishing.  It was Goldfish that came up with the final element of making the koi fish a little bit tribal, and making the salmon a little bit koi.  I think it unites the piece and really illustrates what I'm trying to convey.
 Lisa at Koi Tattoo in Kailua did and amazing job executing the plan, and worked with my schedule by knocking the whole thing out in one 3 1/2 hour needle session after the shop was closed.
 It's a great piece - and it was my Dad's idea!  I was sitting overlooking the beach at the rental on the day of my tattoo appointment, talking to him on the phone and soaking up what proved to be a wee bit too much sun, and he remarked that I had lived a pretty successful life overall, and that he was proud of me.  He added that the only thing I could have maybe done better was not waiting so long to be with Goldfish - whom I have known since she was 22 years old.  I'm thinking by this he really meant getting a Goldfish on my forearm would be a great idea!

Okay, okay - it was not my Dad's idea, he hates tattoos, but he does love me, and he loves Goldfish, and he did say I should have married her long ago . . . . sorry about the new tattoo Dad, but it sure is pretty, right?
 We had a couple days of rain and this proved to be perfect - we slowed way down, relaxed, read a lot, and emptied our heads out, replacing the stresses of life with the sound of the surf.  Chester set a very good example of how to chill out . . .
 We did a fair amount of driving on various days as the mood struck us, covering all the major paved road on the island, always with no particular itinerary or plan, open to whatever the day offered.
 Sweet hippie van! !
 We always kept our eyes and guidebooks open for interesting places to grab a bite to eat.  Pizza Bob's was a winner, and right across the parking lot was a soap and candle shop where we scored some stocking stuffers.
 This was Turtle Beach, named for a good reason!
 The place was thick with sea turtles, but they proved hard to photograph.  Here you can see one being tumbled by an incoming wave.
All too soon, our 10 days was up, and we were sitting at the Honolulu Airport, waiting for the Alaska Air counter to open so we could check our bags and head back to Alaska to spend Christmas with Goldfish's family before returning to Unalaska.  I'll post that portion of vacation tomorrow night - cheers, I'm off to bed, I think I'm coming down with a cold . . .

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Polynesian Cultural Center

 Also in the town we stayed was the Polynesian Cultural Center.  After a lot of research, we decided on going to to a luau here - while the food was not the rated the best, the after dinner show was without exception pretty highly regarded.
 And true to form, we found the food so-so (and in fairness, Goldfish really isn't going to like traditional luau food no matter where we went - the pig is tasty but there is also an emphasis on raw fish that she does not enjoy.
 We did not want to commit to the time required to tour all the attractions, so we just dabbled here and there.  They do have some nice gift shops where we found an item for the house to remember our vacation.
 If you go, book early and spend the little extra for the Ambassador package - you get seated right on the stage at both the meal, and the after dinner show.
 This was a simple show while we were eating.

 Bringing out the pig; this was not the pig we actually ate as there were over  thousand of us.  The luau here is not a small intimate affair, if you are looking for that there are other venues and islands where the crowds are smaller.
 The show afterwards was excellent!  No flash photography allowed so you had to make the best with what you had.  There is a powerful story line presented which I won't get into here; we enjoyed every minute.

 A boy growing into manhood, love, war, tragedy, and the power of family to bind it all together . . .

 This was one of my favorite parts of the show; these guys were doing pelvic thrusts through the fire, and it ended up being a comedy piece that had me laughing so hard I forgot to take pictures.  The whole theater reeked of burning banana leaves by the time they were done, and I'm sure they have no hair left on their legs.

 This guy was fantastic, and it gave me a chance to goof around with different settings on the camera to get the best shots with the available light.

 This is leaving the shutter open for a bit, getting multiple exposures of one guy in the same frame.
 Towards the end, the one guy was joined on stage by 5 others, and they performed in formation.

Great job guys!  The Polynesian Cultural Center is run by the Mormon Church, and I believe most of the performers at students from the BYU campus down the street, working off tuition.  If you want alcohol with your luau and gals in coconut bikinis, this is not the choice for you.  With that said, we gave it two thumbs up.

East O'Ahu Drive

 Motorcycle cop on O'Ahu - now there's a job that looked good to me.  First of all, the whole island has a pretty laid back vibe, the speed limits almost everywhere are very low, no road rage, everyone seems to be in no real hurry.  I spent a lot of times on the roads and saw maybe six or eight in 10 days, including these guys.  I was usually back at the rental by six most nights so maybe it gets more lively at night?
 This is the Hukilau Burger from the Hukilau Cafe right in Laie where we stayed, as featured on Man vs. Food.  1/4 pound beef patty sitting under 1/4 pound of teriyaki beef, all under a fried egg and melted cheese.  A little lettuce and tomato and you have burger heaven folks, it was amazing . . . .
 I'm not sure what the name of this beach was without dragging out the guidebook, but I do remember the tide pooling was great, so my sister from Idaho would love it.
 Hard to see, but a land crab is making a stand in this crevice.  I tried to get closer for a better photo and he backed completely into the hole.
 Along with the good tide-pooling, there was some nice surf rolling in on the lava rock.
 This is Halona Blowhole, looking back towards Halona Beach.  This is one of my favorite photos from the trip, I like the rock formations piled on the cliff and I love the water with Halona Beach in the background.  The weather was perfect, we had the top down, and it was just a great day cruising around being tourists.
 Honolulu Fire Rescue apparently doesn't always hang out in their bare feet, they were staged on Halona Beach making a rescue (or doing some very realistic training) on the cliffs above the highway.
 They made several trips, bringing someone down in the litter basket each time.  Riding in that litter would be pretty wild . . . .

 This is the Blowhole in action - not going too high when we were there, it depends on the surf and the tide.  From what I could tell, it was the amount of water entering the right side of the blowhole that dictated the height.
 I'm not sure if this lighthouse is still a navigational aide, but it makes for a great picture.
There was so much to see on the North and East sides of O'ahu, we didn't make it to the middle and leeward areas of the island until the day we left.  Based on what we saw, we stayed in just the right place!