our alaska summer vacation: the cruise

Leaving Vancouver

Alaska came up as a vacation idea last summer, during our day of travel home from Paris. We’d just spent nearly two weeks overseas, the first half in London and the second half in Paris. I was impressed with how well my vacation-averse husband fared during the trip and, feeling optimistic, I suggested that we begin thinking of our next summer vacation. Somewhere else in Europe, maybe? Ireland or Scotland?

“How about we stay in the US next summer?” he said. “We could look into Alaska.”

Knowing my husband as well as I do, I knew that he was imagining how much less expensive a domestic trip would be. I’m not quite sure why he thought Alaska would be less expensive than a European trip, but I chalked it up to the after effects of consuming a small country’s worth of wine, cheese, and pastries over the previous week in Paris.

I took his suggestion and ran with it.

Both of our parents had visited Alaska by cruise, and they all loved their experience. I felt relatively indifferent about an Alaskan cruise, but when I investigated how we could best tour the state, it seemed that a cruise made the most sense. I wanted to see the Inside Passage and Glacier Bay National Park, and the most feasible way of doing so was by ship. I also wanted us to have the flexibility of touring on our own, though, so at the end of the cruise itinerary, we would plan to rent a car and explore on our own.

On July 2nd, we boarded our cruise ship – Holland America’s ms Noordam – at the port in Vancouver and soon departed for a north-bound trip up the Inside Passage, headed for Seward, Alaska.

Leaving Vancouver

After a full day of cruising, we awoke on the third morning of the cruise to our first port, Ketchikan. We spent the morning wandering around the town, exploring the shops along Creek Street, and generally wandering aimlessly. It was the 4th of July, and the town prepared for their annual parade, to be held around noon. We had other plans, though. A floatplane awaited us, and with Captain Randy at the helm, our family of four and another young couple were treated to amazing views of the waters and mountains surrounding Ketchikan. We flew through the Misty Fjords National Monument, admiring waterfalls, thick evergreen forests, winding waterways, and scattered islands. We landed on a lake somewhere in the middle of the wilderness and the silence and stillness of the place were incredible.

For the rest of our trip, Oliver talked about his strong need to own a floatplane one day.


Creek Street in Ketchikan

remembering to breathe

remembering to breathe | the merry gourmet

My mother, brother, and me.

In January, I gave myself the gift of trying a barre class. The studio offers one week of unlimited classes free when you first sign up, and after my first class, I immediately signed up for another. After the first week, I’d taken three classes and felt sore in places I didn’t think possible. I remember getting up in the middle of the night to pee and wishing that my bathroom had rails along the walls so that I could hold on as I gingerly eased myself down and then up again, holding my breath with the pain. The soreness reminded me of the existence of so many individual muscles, but I liked knowing they were there. There was potential in that pain.

This morning, I took another barre class. It was my 141st class since the year began. Toward the end of class, during the final stretching period when the lights were dimmed and the music slowed down, I found my thoughts drifting to a place outside that room. I inhaled deeply, exhaled, and brought myself back. I understood again – because I’ve known this all year, but I love when I remember it – what a true gift barre has been and how necessary it has become to me. For a solid hour of class, I have allowed myself to focus only on myself, on remembering to breathe (especially through the pain), on becoming stronger than I was when I walked in the door.

Barre has been therapy for me. I mean that figuratively, of course, but also literally. In January, I was faced with a choice of what to do with two or three spare hours of my time each week. I could either continue seeing the therapist I’d begun seeing while trying to come to terms with my mother’s alcoholism and my brother’s mental illness and drug addiction, or, I could take barre classes. For that first week, I did both – a few barre classes and a therapy session. After that week, I realized that I felt physically better, but also mentally better, after a barre class. After a therapy session, I mostly just cried. The decision was an easy one.

where i have been

where i have been | the merry gourmet

I’ve been missing from this space for so long now that when I sit down to write, it feels foreign and almost uncomfortable. It feels like I don’t know it any more, this blog that once felt like my best friend. Now, she’s like that friend from college who, as it turns out, I really don’t have much in common with these days, but I know that once, long ago, we had lots of great times together and shared all of our secrets. The conversation is now slow to start and we can’t get past the awkward silences and talking about the weather. I really want to hang out with her again, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to confide in her as openly and trustingly as I used to.

I’ve intended to write so many things over so many of these past two years, but I freaked myself out a bit. I began to think about those of you who may still be reading here (when there is something to read). I know many of you may be strangers, some of you are old friends from food blogging and social media, some of you may be friends or colleagues from my real life (as opposed to this online one), a handful of you are family or friends of the family, and a small number of you (or maybe more?) may be patients or friends of patients. I questioned whether it was good for me to be so honest and open and raw. I began to wonder whether what I share here could hurt me in any way. Or whether it could hurt someone I love.