Friday, June 30, 2017

Trip of a Lifetime

Where to begin! From beginning to end, our seven day cruise to Alaska was more magical and wonderful than anything Leisel or I could have ever imagined.

The Oosterdam, room number 1079, table number 59...these places became like a second home to us during our seven day cruise to Alaska! Evenings spent watching the dueling pianists in Billboard Onboard, breakfasts in the Lido lounge, morning walks on deck three: these all came together to make for the most memorable trip of a lifetime!

The day before our departure, Leisel, Melinda and I headed to the mall to get pedicures. We still had all of our packing to do, but we had planned our wardrobes days in advance! The packing process became more of a social event as sisters crowded in the room and chatted with us as we packed, commenting on the fact that we were both way over packing :)

Sunday morning, we took off, swinging by Chris and Melinda’s house to pick them up first. We were all riding down to Seattle in one car. The stress of work immediately seemed to leave each of the passengers as they looked forward with anticipation to boarding their ship in only three short hours! Grandpa and Chris decided that we should stop by Cabela’s on the way since you can't be so close and not pay it a visit :) The store is rather large with way too many choices and a great too many temptations for the pocketbook ;)

We hit traffic in the last hour of our trip. It wouldn’t have been so bad if we didn’t, at that moment, realize that our fuel tank was on empty. There was a little gauge that told us just how many miles we had left to go before we were stranded in traffic. 😊 We were finally able to pull off at an exit and fuel up. Grandpa assured us though that the name “Spafford” would have been enough to make our cruise ship wait for us if we were at all late :D
The excitement must have shown on our faces as we made our way to the ship. When we handed our passports to the lady at the counter, she smiled at us and informed us that we had the look of first time cruisers.
Leisel and I spent a good majority of the first day on the trip trying to get familiar with the layout of the ship, visiting all 10 levels of the Oosterdam. Of all of the Spafford’s, Leisel and I were the two most likely to get lost on a vessel that large ;) We found out on the first day that we had 24 hour room service for free! This seemed too good to be true so Leisel and I decided to try it out that night and ordered two plates of fruit to our room :)

Day #2 and it already felt like we had been on the ship for an eternity. It’s amazing how time seems to stop when you’re out on the water with no connection to the outer world, and the only things to do were relax, tour the ship, play games, eat amazing food and enjoy the lovely entertainment provided on the ship.
Already feeling like we were way overeating, we decided to go on a 3 mile run on deck #3 that morning. The waves were splashing up onto the deck and the ship was rocking rather rapidly. It made it hard to run sometimes, or at least to run straight. We never found the constant sway of the ship to be sickening. In fact, we rather enjoyed the gentle rocking back and forth and found that it often had a soporific effect on us.

Leisel and I decided, as we got ready that morning, that we would order breakfast in our room to save time. We had to rush our getting ready process in order to make it in time for the kitchen tour that morning. They allowed a crowd of passengers to see where all of the food was prepared with different people at each station to answer any questions that we had.

We wanted to experience as much as we could on that first day. At 3:00, we made it to high tea and spent an hour in lovely company and conversation. Leisel and I explored the ship further, feeling sure that by the end of the trip we would know the ship like the back of our hands. It was during that exploration trip that we stumbled across one of my favorite spots on the ship. At the 10th level, there was an area where they rented out these cabana huts and absolutely nobody was up there at the time. From that level, we had a perfect panoramic view of the ocean and a lovely lookout from the ship. We later met up with Chris and Melinda for a game of Clue in the Crow’s Nest.

It was Monday night that Leisel and I happened upon these two pianists . They captured our attention and we made it to almost every show they performed that week. They had two shows in the evenings and then one more that was an “all request”. They didn’t use any sheet music and could play anything you requested from oldies to pop to country. We later learned that John, the pianist, knew 1,500 songs by heart. That night they were playing a 60’s show that was probably their best show of all time.

Monday night was our first of two gala dinners. We took time to dress up before we made our way to dinner. I had decided to be a little adventuresome on this trip and ended up ordering escargot that night. It sounded better in theory then when the actual plate was brought to the table. I was a little hesitant to take my first bite even though the snails had been drowned in a butter garlic sauce. Even a professional chef has a hard time disguising a snail. When I cut one of them in half, they looked amazingly like the little critters you see crawling on the ground with a trail of white behind them. The chewing process was equally unpleasant. I ate four of them and then decided that it was an experience that I tried once but would never do again :) Among the other interesting foods that I tried over the course of the trip were lobster tail, venison, wiener schnitzel, lamb, and duck.

We discovered that night that the upper Lido lounge opened up every night from 10:30 to 11:30, serving a late-night snack. That proved to be a dangerous discovery and a favorite evening tradition for us :)

Leisel and I did try running the nine flights of stairs from our floor to the dining room as often as we could because gaining an appetite for each meal took work on a ship when you’re eating all the time!

Day #3, we made our first stop in Juneau, Alaska. Lunch hour was crazy that day as everyone prepared to disembark from the ship. It was pouring rain outside, but it immediately cleared up as we pulled into port.

We hiked to the Mendenhall Glacier and right up to the Nugget falls. It was only a short 1 mile hike and we had plenty of time after that to take the Mt. Robert’s tram. It brought us up to a trail head where we took a lovely hike up Mt. Roberts. At each new lookout point, the view kept getting prettier. Chris was determined to see a bear on one of our hikes that day. Melinda and I tried not to think about the wonderful food waiting for us back on the ship.
Due to a confusion with the time change, Chris thought that it was five o’clock and we would get back in plenty of time for dinner. When we finally realized that it was actually an hour later then that, we had already missed the early dining. We made it down the mountain and to the tram. The line was insane and we ended up waiting for an hour. It was a welcome sound to hear “welcome back” from all of the staff as we checked back onto the ship.

I made my way to the 9th floor to catch one final glimpse of Juneau as we left the port. We met up with the rest of the group later that night in the Crow’s Nest for a game of dominoes.

Later Chris and Melinda joined us in the lido lounge for a late night snack. We felt like we’d earned it that day after our long hike :) We did come to the conclusion that we were having too much dessert on this cruise. It’s hard when it’s offered to you lunch, dinner and all hours in between ;) Rudy, our dining steward, gave us our daily calorie count each time he saw us, reminding us that in order to work off all we were eating, we’d have to be on an all-day workout routine :D

Wednesday was another “all-day-on-board” day, which were Leisel and my favorite days :) We missed the ship whenever we were off of it, and always looked forward to getting back on.

We visited the Hubbard Glacier later that afternoon. It was a perfect clear day to see the glacier, but cold enough to freeze your ears off. If I didn’t think that I would lose my perfect lookout spot at the bow of the ship, I would have sneaked back inside to bundle up further. I wished that I had an appetite to consume the bowls of hot pea soup that they passed out to the passengers on deck.
The captain informed us that this was the closest that they had gotten to the glacier in 9 months. It’s hard to believe that the glacier you’re viewing from a distance is 6 miles long and 300 feet tall above water. Everyone watched in awe as huge chunks of the glacier broke off and fell into the ocean, followed by a crashing thunderbolt.
It struck me, as I gazed at the lovely glacier standing before me, that I was able to experience something that most people only marvel at in pictures! I wondered how people deal with such awe-inspiring glory who don’t have God to attribute the wonder to. During the course of that trip, I didn't want to get lost in the enjoyment of it all and lose sight of the fact that I had the privilege of witnessing this awesome creation first hand!

Leisel and I had been waiting all week for the hot tub to clear up. We finally had an opportunity that evening. Although we found that it was not quite as warm as we would have liked it to have been compared to the cold temperature of the outdoors.

As we pulled into the little town of Sitka on Thursday morning, Leisel and I immediately fell in love with it! It was a small fishing village. Our driver told us if we stop at two stoplights during our visit, we’ll have passed the only two stoplights in Sitka. If you blink, you’ll probably miss the tiny building that serves as the Sitka high school. We were blessed to have hit Sitka on one of her sunny days as we were told they get 320 days of precipitation throughout the year. Our tour bus guide gave us helpful little facts about Sitka. As we passed one of the homes in town, he pointed out a totem pole that a husband had bought for he and his wife’s 50th anniversary! He had paid $65,000 for it! We were also informed that we were passing one of Alaska’s greatest monuments, the golden arch: McDonald's :)

Alaska has a very rugged beauty, with mountain ranges stretching as far as the eye can see, and old shipyards at every well earns its title “the last frontier”. Someone had told us that Alaska was one place that seemed to have frozen in time.

Our last stop in Alaska, and by far our favorite, was Ketchikan. We had been waiting all week to take the zip line through Bear Creek. It had seven stations to zip line through and two areas to repel from.
Our driver told us that last week they had seven cruise ships docked in the Ketchikan port. Ketchikan has a population of 8,000 people. Thirteen-thousand people poured off of the 7 ships more than doubling the population. We were very grateful that we had come when we did!
That night was our second gala dinner. Grandpa had let our stewards know that it was near Chris and Melinda's second anniversary. They brought a cake to our table and sang to them in their Indonesian tongue.

There are some nights that stand out as more magical to me than others. There was something about Thursday night: playing a game of late night chess with Leisel in the Crow’s Nest, relaxing in the hot tub after a day spent in Ketchikan, listening to our favorite pianists playing popular tunes, enjoying getting to know some of the staff up in the lido lounge, and enjoying the most lovely sunset that I’ve ever beheld...something about all of this that made it a particularly special night to remember. Perhaps the sunset was lovelier because of its surroundings, being out in the middle of the ocean on a ship, with the sound of the rushing water in the background.

That night, we enjoyed the entertainment of a 21 year old magician in the Main stage theater room. I sneaked out early though to catch the pianists playing “Country Hits”.

Leisel and I were rarely in bed before one or two on that trip. We had decided at the beginning of the trip that we didn't want to miss a single thing! We tried twice that week to watch a movie in the evening, but both fell asleep in the first 30 minutes :) On occasion, we found our way to the BB King’s jazz concert and enjoyed the band there.

Chris was always on the lookout for the sighting of a whale or dolphin. We saw them quite frequently, large spurts of water followed by large tails sticking up out of the sea. It only took Chris whispering the word “whale” at the dining room table and within minutes, everyone in the room would be at the windows gazing out. Among whales, we saw dolphins, sea otters, eagles and jellyfish!

By the end of the week Leisel and I agreed that, while we enjoyed the luxury of being waited on, we couldn't help but feel guilty when we saw how hard the servers had to work. By day six, we were both ready to skip the dinner service and help out in the kitchen :) When Leisel told one of our servers that she works an 8 hour day, he told her that seemed short compared to the 11 hour days they work, with no weekends. One of our table waiters told us that they are away from their families 9 months out of the year!

Leisel and I were both majorly blue the last day of the cruise knowing that each of the things we did we were doing for the last time. We tried to cheer each other up and enjoy every last thing we did together. At 6:15, we pulled into Victoria B.C. Leisel and I were hesitant to get off, debating whether we had enough time in five hours to really see anything. It turned into a delightful evening though and we were glad that we had taken the opportunity to get a short glimpse of Canada. As we were preparing to disembark, Leisel and I had the opportunity to meet the pianist, John. His contract with Holland America was up and he too was getting off the ship for good that day.

Victoria was a very busy place at night. Every street corner had some kind of musician playing...we briefly watched Darth Vader play the violin at one of the street corners. Carriages, bicyclists, and rickshaw’s carted people all over the streets of Victoria. Leisel and I felt a little lost, but we tried to look confident :) After walking the streets, we decided to get one of the chocolate dipped cones we’d seen other people walking around with. They were worth the wait! I’ve never tasted anything quite like the vanilla ice cream dipped in dark chocolate hazelnut that I tried that evening! We sat down on a stone wall and enjoyed our treats with a view of the hustle and bustle of the streets before us!

The next morning, we said our goodbyes to the staff and made our way off the ship. We warned our families that we might be a little unbearable for the next couple days as we had become rather accustomed to someone being there to pull our chairs out for us each evening, to place our napkins on our laps at each meal; there would be no dressing up for dinner, no five-course artistic fact, I was back in business as the chief dinner-maker ;)

...with many more pictures ;)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Birthday Surprise

Leisel and I knew that we would be leaving on a trip with our Grandparents on the official day of Charae's birthday. As some of us were driving home from church one Sunday, we decided that we needed to hold an early birthday celebration for Charae, and we needed to make it a big one. With ten people planning it, the details came together quickly. A notebook was taken out and filled with a guest list, menu items, and decoration ideas.

We only had two weeks to put everything together, so we jumped right away into making phone calls and writing grocery lists. Mom and I sneaked away on several occasions to the grocery store and party city. When asked why we had been gone so long, we came up with all sorts of convincing excuses. Trying to hide things when you all live together and to keep 10 people from letting the cat out of the bag is quite difficult.

The fridge became a hiding place for bratwurst sausages, salads and condiments.
We had only to hope that Charae would have no need to venture out to the fridge till after her birthday. 

The night before, there was still a list of last minute tasks to finish and they would not be easy to do while Charae was around. A few minutes before we were supposed to leave for prayer meeting, Mom, Kayleen and I backed out of going to stay home and finish the tasks. We couldn't think of any reasonable excuse to give Charae for why we weren't going to church. 

We got a text from Leisel when the family was on their way home saying they would be there in five minutes. The kitchen was still in a state of catastrophe from dinner and the party preparation, and we knew Charae would be wondering what in the world we had been doing the whole time if the dishes were not finished. When she came in, the kitchen was clean, and we were calmly occupying ourselves with normal activities trying not to look as frazzled as we felt :) We waited till Charae was in bed, and then took out the mixing bowls, cut out more banners, and loaded up the car with all of the party decor, trying to tiptoe around the home the entire time. It was one in the morning when we finally decided to quit :) 

We were pretty sure that the girl whom we can never slip anything by was now well aware of the fact that we were planning a surprise birthday party for her. Resigned to that fact, we consoled ourselves  that she wouldn't know all of the details and who would be there that night.

Our story had been that Chris was inviting our family over for "a meal before Jonathon left for Malaysia and a simple celebration of Charae's birthday". And that is exactly what Charae was expecting when she walked in Chris and Melinda's door. She hadn't noticed the line up of cars outside parked by the barn. She didn't see the balloons attached to the chairs, nor had she noticed the crowd of people tucked away in the kitchen ready to yell "Happy Birthday". 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Sweet Summer

It's hard to believe that June is here and we are already half way through another year!
We're taking every opportunity to enjoy the sunshine, although some people have a bit of a tougher time when everything is in full bloom then others. The hay fields are high and the allergies in our household are at their peak.

 After the weather had cleared and we were beginning to feel the warmth of the sun again, we decided to pack up a picnic lunch and head to Hockinson park. We made a call to Leisel at the middle school and asked if she would be able to join us over her lunch break.

Jonathon put Austin in charge of the garden this year as the sole planner and manager of our crops. He's in charge of planning the layout of the garden, what to plant, taking soil samples to be tested at a lab, and planting all of the seeds for the year! We've taken a few Saturdays so far to prep the garden with layers of compost and bark chips. There is a crop of tomato plants growing up in Dad's shop where a few tables and some heat lamps have served as our greenhouse.

When it came time to mow the lawn for the first time this year, Ania pleaded with Austin to teach her how to use the John Deer tractor so that she could take over the responsibility. After one training session, mowing the lawn has become Ania's favorite farm chore, and it has been hard to keep her away from the tractor.

The kiddos finished early with School this year giving their teachers an early summer break. On Tuesday and Thursday of this week, they presented their poster board presentations to the family as well as a Roman play that they had been working on throughout the school year. 

It always amazes me what a thorough and detailed knowledge the kiddos have of the subjects they study! They each have a unique way of presenting the history that they have been learning from the Rise of the Roman Empire to it's fall. Once again, Austin and I worked together to trim his lengthy presentation down to a manageable size. I know it's a good problem to have because he had studied his topic so thoroughly and has so much to share on the subject of the barbarians! Austin informed me though that WWII tanks would always be his favorite topic to study ;)

 As nervous as the three kiddos were Thursday night as they dressed in their costumes and waited upstairs for the family to watch their play, they did a fantastic job of performing! There were many moments where they had the family in stitches as they enacted the 18 page drama of "A Three Dollar Day" with Shakespearean talent :)

Mom and Dad left for their cruise at four in the morning on Sunday the 14th. Their groggy children got up to say goodbye. Although Mom and Dad had only gotten a few hours of sleep, you would never have been able to tell by their energy and excitement that morning. If there was any reluctance in leaving everybody, it definitely didn't show :D

We heard very little from them, which was exactly how we wanted it! From what we did hear, they were taking in every moment of their time together! They told us that their first couple days on the ship felt like they had been there a whole month...time seemed to stand still!

Two gala dinners gave mom the opportunity to dress formerly for dinner. Jonathon had upgraded Mom and Dad to a suite on the ship and they both felt like royalty with the special treatment they received.

We tried to make that week for the kids as special as possible. Each night, we watched an episode of Cranford and enjoyed a serving of whatever dessert the cook had whipped up for that evening. The Saturday before their return, we all took a trip to the mall. Some of us were craving either a bubble tea or a fruit smoothie. Jonathon took Austin and Ania over to the "serve your own ice cream" bar and allowed them to choose their ice cream and dish as many toppings on it as they wanted. When Jonathon went to pay for their treats, the total of their order was $23, each ice cream weighing half a pound.

What else has been keeping everybody busy of late?

Charae is finishing up her last few months of college. Her goal right now is to finish in September...and she couldn't be more ready for it. The end of the school year is always extremely busy for her as she ties together the loose ends for her foreign exchange students preparing them to return home. Her classes at the Russian school have ended, but she continues to teach English to six Korean students.

Jonathon has had some unexpected changes to his summer. He found out that he would be returning to Malaysia in June for a two and a half week period and then soon after that, taking off again for a three month trip. He will be gone from the beginning of August through October. 

He's excited for the opportunity to return to Malaysia, but also will be disappointed to miss his favorite month of the year...September ;)

In Halloween attire :)

Leisel will be finishing up her work at the middle school at the end of June. She plans on pushing ahead in college over the summer months.

Since my job as school teacher is finished for the summer, I've had an opportunity to do some babysitting for our little neighbor boy. The little guy has practically been part of the family since he was born and is always a bit of a celebrity when he's over at our house ;)

Kayleen absolutely loves her new nanny position and enjoys every opportunity she get to show the twins off over Skype calls to home.

Cosette has officially graduated from high school. Her plans right now are to take a break from studying and work a bit on our land, looking into ways to use our land (purchasing cows, expanding our chicken clan, etc). 

On Monday, we commemorated memorial day by attending the Willamette National cemetery Memorial Day service. It's always an important way to remember those who have served our country! As the band played the service themes for each branch of the military, the different men who had served in those branches would rise and be recognized! As the colors were posted, two jets flew was too cloudy that morning to actually see them though :) 

When the service had concluded, Austin walked over to the tombstones, letting me know that there was still one more thing to do. As everybody gathered around to read some of the memorial plaques, Austin made his way down rows of white stones reading the names of some of our fallen heroes. I think he was specifically looking for the names of WWII soldiers :)

On the way back, Dad treated his family to Mod pizza. We all made it through the line and nine orders of pizza and two salads were on their way. 
With the extra time at home, Dad made it out to his shop to do some woodworking while the ladies busied themselves in the kitchen preparing a barbecue. 

Evening walks have been a summer favorite for us this year, and a very satisfying conclusion to a lovely evening. After dinner was through, a few of us girls took a walk, enjoying the last bit of evening sun. 
We ended the day by watching "We Were Soldiers". Although it's hard to call that movie enjoyable, I think it is a sobering reminder of the sacrifice that is being made for our country both by those out fighting for our freedom and their families left at home!

As far as summer plans go, we have a pretty full schedule with our annual camping trip to Rainier coming up in July and summer family camp in August. Last year, we made the Clark County fair a new tradition for some of us kids. 
We had to do a little rearranging of our schedule to make our beach trip work for this year. Our original plan had been to go during the last week in August, but when Bub's trip to Malaysia got scheduled, we all agreed that our only option would be to reschedule. We're all so thankful that we get to go at all! I think it's been the first year where we've actually had so do so much maneuvering around everyone's busy schedules to make the time work...but it's worth all of the hassle to make it happen :)