Monday, April 21, 2014

First Robotics Competition

Our grandson Brandon has been participating in an after school program called First Robotics Competition sponsored by Boeing, Microsoft and other tech companies. It pairs high school students with adult mentors (primarily engineers and teachers) to design and build robots that compete against one another in a high energy “Varsity Sport for the Mind™”.  Each January at the Kickoff, a new, challenging game is introduced. These exciting competitions combine the practical application of science and technology with the fun, intense energy and excitement of a championship-sporting event. Under strict rules, limited resources, and time limits, teams are challenged to raise funds, design a team "brand," hone teamwork skills, and build and program robots to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors.  It’s as close to "real-world engineering" as a student can get. Teams are encouraged to display Gracious Professionalism® and to cooperate while competing – known as Coopertition™.

In 2014, FRC will reach 71,000 high-school students representing approximately 2,850 teams.  FRC teams come from nearly every state in the United States, as well as many other countries. FRC teams will participate in fifty-four Regional Competitions, about forty FRC District Competitions, four District Championships, and approximately 400 deserving teams will qualify to go to the FIRST Championship in the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

Brandon's team placed first in Washington earning them a trip to the regionals in Portland, Oregon. Jim, our Grandson William, and Dan (B's Dad) all went to Portland to cheer for B's team. It was so crazy! 1500 high school kids, lots of loud rock and roll and an insane master of ceremonies made for an awesome competition.  For those parents and friends who could not attend the competition it was carried live on the web. B's team took first in individual and second in the alliance competition so they're off to St. Louis for the Finals.  We are so proud of Brandon and his teammates. Hope you enjoy the photos. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

North to Alaska!

For my Mom's 88th birthday we are taking a cruise to Alaska followed by a week of land cruising in a motor home. I am so excited to show my Mom Alaska!

We are sailing out of  Vancouver, British Columbia on Celebrity's ship, Millennium.  7 glorious days sailing through the Inside Passage with stops at Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, Skagway,  Hubbard Glacier and finally Seward.  We are the first cruise of the season so I hope we'll see a lot of sea ice. We will be stopping to view Hubbard Glacier, one of the few Tidal glaciers that is GROWING! On previous trips to Alaska we have seen other Tidal glaciers and they are humongous, noisy and spectacular. Can't wait to see Hubbard.  Here is the ship we will sail on by Hubbard Glacier. Pretty cool! 

Then we pick up a 28' motor home in Anchorage. We will spend 10 days seeing Alaska's interior. I hope my Mom gets to see lots of Brown Bears (grizzlies) and Moose, Caribou, Elk, Black Bears, Lynx, Musk Ox, Wolf, Fox, etc.

This will be my first trip without Jim, I know I will miss him.  No telling what kind of trouble Jim and Maggie will get into while I am gone.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

I learned many things on this trip but I want to pass on to you the most important thing I learned. When you accidentally drop your "World Famous Cinnamon Bun" DO NOT slap your knees together to keep it from falling on the floor! I have come to realize this information is more important than not drinking dog water with floaties in it (which was the most important thing I learned on our first trip to Alaska.)


Friday, September 6, 2013

Maggie had a great time in Alaska (again.)  The Princess loves to travel.  Sleeping in until 10:30 am.  Lots of naps. A little squirrel hunting. Some sightseeing (she’s fascinated by the Bison.)  Lots of good rolls in Moose and Bear poop. Lots of treats. Lots of naps. Long walks on the beach. Exploring the great outdoors.  Meeting new dogs.  “Helping” with the laundry. Lots of naps. Playing captain of her own ship. Learning how to drive the truck (checking to see if you are paying attention.) Lots of naps. Counting Kleenex and getting her picture taken with Dad.
She is the best little traveler EVER. People are always amazed at how calm and quiet she is. They ask how can they adopt a Basenji and we always tell them the breed is not for everyone. Want a dog that may walk on your kitchen counters? Climb on top of your refrigerator? De-stuff your sofa? Ignore you like a cat does? I am sure many of them wonder why we even have Maggie.  It's because she makes us laugh every day. She dances when she wants to go out or needs a treat. She moans with pleasure when you rub her ears or scratch her back. Her curly tail wags furiously when she see us. We will be forever grateful to BRAT for allowing us to adopt this wonderful dog.
Here are a few things we learned about Alaska on this trip:

In Alaska real women do NOT clean toothpaste spit off their cars.

In Alaska this is NOT a big fish!

In Alaska you don’t have to worry about CHILDREN walking on your newly poured cement walkway.

In Alaska the Mullet is still ALIVE (unfortunately.)
Only in Alaska would you consider picking up THIS hitch hiker.

In Alaska this IS a trash dumpster.

In Alaska ANYTHING can be used for building materials.

In Alaska you NEED Mosquito traps.

Only in Alaska is THIS considered a ride at the Fair.

 Only in Alaska do they need this law.


In Alaska this IS an automatic door closer (bungee cords.)

Only in Alaska do buses have THESE signs.


In Alaska men WANT Fish and Wildlife to check their catch!


Thursday, September 5, 2013

So many  things happened in the past few days. Alaska and the Yukon are now in our rear view mirror (so sad.) We crossed the Continental Divide (and streams now flow in the correct direction.)  Our truck’s odometer rolled over 189,000 miles (WOW.) It was 72 degrees (we were pitiful, three of four truck windows down, bitching about the heat.)  The  thought of returning to 90 degree weather makes me cringe.
The landscape says snow is just around the corner. The hills are splashed in a fall palette of gold, yellow and red. Ponds that were filled with ducks, loons and swans are now empty.  The days have become much shorter, no more land of the midnight sun.  Our drive out of Alaska was cold, but as we have moved south through the Yukon and British Columbia it has warmed up.

We stopped at Watson Lake to check on the sign we put up in the Sign Forest in 2010. It was doing pretty good, but needed a new coat of urethane.  When we stopped there in 2010 there were 68,000 signs. Now there are 75,000. This is such an interesting place to walk through.  It is a must see for anyone driving to Alaska.


Next stop was one of my favorite places – Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park. This is one of the best primitive campgrounds we have ever stayed in.  It’s heavily forested and each camp site is large, private and very well maintained.  After several long days on the road, the chance to relax in the hot spring is pure bliss. A short walk through the woods leads you to Alpha Pool where the water temperature ranges between 107°-126°F.  If you want it even cooler then slide into the water below the man made falls.  

If you’re interested in roasting yourself all you have to do is wade towards the natural vent where boiling water from deep in the earth
surfaces. The pool is surrounded by ferns, wildflowers, forest and wildlife. You could not ask for a more beautiful setting. There is also a second pool, but it is now permanently closed to the public due to bear problems.

Last time we were here we ran into neighbors from our home town. This time I met the cousin of the woman who made the native doll I purchased in Inuvik. It was really interesting listening to her talk about her large family in Inuvik.
Then I saw someone I met in Chicken, Alaska!  Linda and I met at the Chicken Saloon while I was talking to Toad, my first Alaskan character. It was so nice to run into Linda again. She is such an interesting and super smart woman. Until recently she had never owned a car. To get from place to place she hitch hiked or rode the rails (hobo style.) She teaches school during the winter. It’s amazing listening to her talk about “her kids.”  I wish every teacher had the passion for teaching that Linda has. She had just come from the Northwest Territories where she had been searching for coral fossils from over 150 million years ago. She also went to see the footprints of a  large fish called Sauripterus that lived 360-380 million years ago and walked on its fins! That's long before dinosaurs even existed! How cool is that?

Between Watson Lake and Liard Springs are a ton of signs warning about Buffalo on the road and they are not kidding. These are Wood Bison and they are much bigger than our Plains Buffalo. Because they salt the roads during the winter the Bison come to lick the leftover salt along the shoulder of the road.

All the Bison we saw on this trip were in small groups. A few cows and calves, a number of bachelor bulls and of course,  big daddy bull (weighing in at 2,000 pounds.) Hunted to the brink of extinction, it’s great to see these magnificent animals making a comeback.

We also saw several young female Caribou along the road. I was surprised to see the Caribou as it’s Elk and Moose hunting season. The woods are crawling with hunters on ATV’s and horseback so most critters with horns are hunkered down praying for hunting season to end.  
The drive on this section of the AlCan Highway is always beautiful. Loads of mountains, aqua blue streams and wildlife like this Black Bear.
Tomorrow we cross back into the US.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Yesterday we took the fast ferry to Skagway for the day. For the first time in a week it was sunny and
warm. The ride was really pretty, water the color of aqua, sea birds soaring overhead, Humpback whales cruising past, glacier fed waterfalls cascading into the canal.
A crew member told us about  “Glacial Rebound?” As the glaciers melt an enormous weight is lifted of the land and the land actually rises (rebounding.)  In Haines it’s rising .760 inches a year, other places it’s an inch and half! WOW. This waterfall used to fall straight into the canal. It is not erosion at the foot of the waterfall, it’s rebound land rising up.


Our first stop in Skagway was the Red Onion for lunch. This is one of my favorite places in Alaska! After lunch we took the Brothel Museum tour. The tour was so much fun and our tour guide really got into her role. While the building has served many uses over the past 100 years it stilled retained much of its original “brothelness.” (I know that is not a word, but you get the idea, right?) Here are several of the saloon's working girls all tricked out for business. Jim enjoyed making "deposits into their treasure chests."


The Red Onion Saloon, was Skagway’s most exclusive bordello. It was the classiest dance hall and saloon in the bustling gold rush town of Skagway. The saloon served alcohol on the first floor while the upper floor satisfied more than the prospectors thirst. The brothel consisted of ten tiny cubicles, called cribs, each one was ten foot by ten foot. Each room had a hole in the floor which connected to the cash register in the bar by means of a copper tube.

In order to keep track of which girls were busy, the bartender kept ten dolls on the back bar, one for each of the girls in each of the rooms. When a girl was with a customer, her doll was laid on its back. When she sent her money down the tube, the doll was returned to the upright position signaling to the waiting prospectors that she was ready for business. The bartender safeguarded the girl’s earnings, usually $5.00 for a fifteen minute  trick, preferably in gold. The girls then utilized the loose floorboards to hide nuggets and private tips. After paying the Madam and the upstairs bodyguard their cut the girls made about $1.25 per trick.
Because the rooms were divided by single planks toe-nailed into the ceiling and floor not much sound-proofing was provided. To decorate their cribs, the women stretched linen across the rough planks, and then glued wall paper to the cloth. Remnants of the original wall papers still cling to those planks. When one of the crib walls was removed there were eighteen layers of wallpaper on it! 

In the parlor were period photos of half naked women. Our guide told the story of a local judge who volunteered to reduce the sentence of  any woman who had been arrested if they would provide him with a nude photo of themselves. When the judge passed away the nude photo collection was found in his home.

The museum is filled with many antiques from the gold rush days. Many of the items on display were found in the brothel including this Madam’s gown. The gown was found wadded up and stuffed beneath the floorboards. In its time it would have cost a small fortune for such a dress. It is made of silk and weighs ten pounds. It’s been beaded with tiny pieces of copper. Very shimmery.

The museum includes a crib room as it might have looked during the Gold Rush.

Here's Jim in the Madam's bedroom hoping to get lucky with our guide.

The Red Onions most famous madam was Diamond Lil Davenport. This Klondike Gold Rush madam ran one of the most lavish houses of ill repute, and her ostentatious nature showed in her personal demeanor. Lil stood nearly six feet tall; she was remarkably good looking and she always sported an elaborate diamond collection, one of which was implanted into her teeth.  Certainly nature had fashioned her into a perfect beauty and at first glance she did appear to be a person of real refinement. But Diamond Lil was a courtesan in the fullest sense of the word, only entertaining the obviously rich clients who could pay handsomely for what she had to offer. Nevertheless she was fully entrenched in the world’s oldest profession.

Skagway is a really cute gold rush town. It is an absolute must see when traveling in Alaska.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Welcome to Haines Alaska, Valley of the Eagles. Haines is located on the shores of America’s longest fjord, the Lynn Canal. We are camped at Oceanside RV, right on the beach with an incredible view of the canal. This is a great campground. During summer they host crab feeds. But now its fall so our host, Joyce did a shrimp boil. It was delicious and so much fun!
Haines is home to the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. The Preserve consists of 48,000 acres of river bottom land of the Chilkat, Kleheni, and Tsirku Rivers. Eagles are attracted to these rivers by the five species of salmon that spawn here. During summer, eagles build huge nests along the rivers. The trees are peppered with eagles perched high up looking for fish to feed their eaglets. Come November and the late salmon run, salmon carcasses will provide lots of food for the eagles. The combination of open water and large amounts of food bring over 3,000 eagles to the Chilkat Valley. Come November (and the Bald Eagle Festival,) birders and photographers will outnumber the eagles!

We took a flat bottom jet boat ride on the Chilkat River. We saw several Bald Eagle nests on the trip. I’ve always known their nests are huge but the actual statistics are really interesting! Nests
can measure 9 feet in diameter, be up to 12 feet tall and weighed over 2 tons. WOW! I guess that makes sense since eagles usually return to the same nest annually. The nest grows larger and heavier during the nesting season and as the years pass.

The flat bottom boat ride was incredible. They feed you lunch, provide you with jackets and blankets to be sure you stay warm and our boat captain, Seagra was so knowledgeable. The weather was good, the scenery beautiful and there were lots of eagles. Perfect!

A couple  of years ago the Haines library was selected for the Best Small Library in America Award. From nearly 150 nominations the Haines library was selected for its tremendous commitment to its community, its services, programs, collections, and growth over the past five years. The library boasts 67,000 visits annually, which is amazing when you consider their  population is only 2,600.

The library provides the most interesting programs. Like Creating Contagious Content; How to Build Your Social Media Audience; Learn to Play the Ukulele; Spanish Fun; Amateur Magicians; Puppeteers; Summer Canoe Project;  Read to a Dog; Chess Club; Music in the Stacks. No wonder they won the award!

We also visited the Sheldon Museum while we were here. The museum’s collection was started by Steve Sheldon at the age of 8 (in 1893) when he purchased a piece of the original transatlantic cable for "the museum I'll have some day."  Steve and his wife gathered all sorts of interesting things including Tlingit baskets, bead work and blankets. A family hobby for 50 years, the collection was eventually donated to the community.

The museum’s Tlingit (sounds like KLINK IT) collection is amazing. Also displayed are a number of carvings done by local Master Carver, Jim Heaton.  The museum has commissioned a new totem pole for the museum grounds.  Master Carver, Jim Heaton (above) and apprentice Jeffery Klanott (left) are hard at work on the new totem pole. Carved from an 800 year old yellow cedar, it will be next year before the totem is finished.

A major attraction in Haines is the Chilkoot Weir Adult Salmon Counting Station operated by Alaska Fish and Game. They count the salmon which are going up the Chilkoot River to spawn. For every 10 Sockeye counted, they take one and cut a sample out of its back and record its length and sex. The samples are sent back to the lab and studied. It turns out that the fish from each spawning river have unique scales. These are like "river" prints. They also sample catches made by commercial fishermen and can tell in which river they spawned. People come from all over the area to fish for salmon below the weir. It’s always interesting to watch the fisherman and the bears share the same stretch of river. It’s also interesting to watch the bears and tourists interact. When we were here in 2010 we saw an Asian tourist ride her bicycle into the bushes closely following a Brown sow and her twin cubs! I immediately switched my camera to video so I could capture the “incident” to sell to CNN. Fortunately a Park Ranger interceded and the bear was saved from the stupid tourist.

Watching the bears is always so interesting. While this sow is hard at work eating and bulking up for winter her cub is busy playing with anything he can get his paws on. Such as the sand bags placed on the weir by Fish and Game. Before the evening is over the cub will dislodge all the sandbags and chuck them in the river. Bad bear cub! He’s also busy honing his how to catch salmon skills. So far we have seen five bears fishing the river by the weir.

Haines Packing Company is located at one of the oldest cannery sites in Alaska. The cannery is situated just five and a half miles from Haines, at the mouth of the Chilkat River in Northern Lynn Canal. All five species of wild Alaska salmon are delivered fresh to the dock by the local fishing fleet. The fish are processed immediately.

We were able to watch them process the salmon through viewing windows. I had no idea how labor intensive it is. After trimming the head and tail off they are run through a filleting machine. The are trimmed by hand and put through a
machine that debones the fish. Now here’s the amazing part, they debone the fillet again by hand with pliers! No wonder salmon is so expensive!
The cannery also has the cutest gift shop ever! It’s guarded by Splash, the Boston Bull Terrier.  I was able to cross a number of people off my Christmas shopping list thanks to this shop!  

See the cute doggie raincoat and hat? The shop owner won first place at the Alaska State Fair for this entry in the Recycling category. It's made from Purina Dog Food bags which are plastic coated. So cute!

Did you know the Disney movie
White Fang was filmed in Haines and the movie set still lies in the city? The Haines Brew Fest and Southeast State Fair are both hosted on the old Alaska set. This is also the location of the community garden. While Jim and Maggie poked around the old movie set I checked out the garden! I was surprised at some of the vegetables they can grow in Haines. Not only was the garden productive, it was also very pretty! 

We took a ride one day to do a little birding and to look for the Gold Nugget Mine on Porcupine Creek. The birding sucked, but we found the mine! Unfortunately the mine gate was locked and a DANGER! – Restricted Area sign hung from the post. We could see a little bit of the plant and we could hear it running but that's all. If you are familiar with the show “Gold Rush” you know Grandpa and Parker Schnabel run the Gold Nugget Mine. Because I felt so unsatisfied with my non mine experience we stopped on the way to town so Jim could snap my photo in front of Ma and Pa Schnabel’s Southeast Road Builders location. With my “Gold Rush” experience completed (sort of) we headed back to camp.


Almost everything in Haines is brought in by the once a week barge. Food, fuel, building materials, parts, etc. Because of this, it’s an expensive place to live. Jim had a heart attack today when he went to the store for a loaf of bread that turned out to be $9.00 (because it’s baked in the lower 48, then frozen and shipped here.) Want premium gas? It’s  $5.55 a gallon. It’s no wonder Alaskans hunt, fish, gather berries and keep a vegetable garden to help offset the high cost of  living in Alaska.  

Did I mention that Haines celebrates Mardi Gras? Yup. I know it’s hard to believe, but for the last 20 years on August 24, Haines plasters the town with green, gold and purple decorations and then gets plastered (if the noise level last weekend was any indication.)  At least Jim survived this Mardi Gras without injury. Who knew there was a New Orleans of the North?

I forgot to tell you we are stranded in Haines. We left two days ago for Skagway and only made it as far as the Canadian Border. As we pulled up to the crossing a very loud screeching sound emanated from underneath the 5th wheel. One of the Border Guards checked underneath and said “you have a busted spring.” Of course this happened on a Saturday when all the auto shops are closed. So back Oceanside RV Campground we went. Turns out the campground owners also own a marine repair shop and they can fix our spring for us! On Sunday they took measurements and ordered the part on Monday from Anchorage. Hoping it will be here in a few days and  we  can get back on the road. It’s getting cold here, the first snow is just around the corner, so we need to go soon. Don’t think we’ll make Skagway, time to head south before winter catches us.