Lawler Christmas Newsletter 2013

Christmas_treeSheesh, it’s hard to believe that another year has passed! Looking back on it, though, a lot has happened.

Merry Christmas everyone!

The first three months of the year were relatively dry and warm, so we went hiking virtually every month of this year, except for this December.

I went whale watching in March for the gray whale migration. It was fun but cold (open boat).

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Whale watching in March was fun but cold.

In April, Alice flew to Arizona for an Ascention retreat. Her brother from Taiwan came to look after their mom while Alice was gone, and in between, I got to be tour guide and show him around our island, Fidalgo Island, and San Juan Island. We had a great time hiking and sight-seeing.

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Alice’s brother, Tang Kung, visited in April and we visited San Juan Island.

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Alice’s brother from Taiwan at the Admiralty Head Lighthouse in Fort Casey State Park.

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Alice’s brother at the Coupeville Wharf.

April is also the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. I took a day and got some photos and video. This is a stunning festival and if you ever get the chance to visit during April, take it.

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Tulips at the Roozendarde location in the Skagit Valley.

Memorial Day weekend, Alice and I took a mini-vacation to our favorite: Orcas Island. We got a good deal at the Deer Harbor Inn and we had a great time, once we got there. We left in plenty of time, I thought, for the ferry in Anacortes. When we got the turn-off for the ferry line, however, cars were back up out of sight on the main highway. Luckily we had taken the back route and bypassed most of the congestion.

 
On our way back on Monday, I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. We would leave Orcas in the morning, take the inter-island ferry to Lopez Island and look around (we’d never been there before). The afterrnoon ferry from there to Anacortes came from Anacortes so it wouldn’t be filled with cars from other islands. Luckily, the weather was lousy, dull and raining, so we cut our sightseeing short and went back to the ferry terminal. The line was already about a half-mile long and we were several hours early. The line grew behind us out of sight. We got on the ferry and got home on time, but it was iffy there for a while.

 
Sean graduated from Oak Harbor High School in June. Sara and Jake flew here for that event. Two days later, the whole family flew to Las Vegas for a week of vacation. Since none of us had ridden in a limo before (except Jake), I reserved a stretch limo to take us from the airport to our WorldMark resort. Imagine our surprise when the driver said the stretch limo was in use and all they had left was the super-stretch Hummer limo! We enjoyed Las Vegas, but it is bigger and busier than it used to be (see the post below), and they’ve come up with many ways to separate visitors from their money without even gambling.

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Sean displaying his high school diploma.

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The Oak Harbor High School graduating class of 2013.

Sara and Jake moved into their new home which they had built near Shreveport earlier this year and they are doing great!

 
It was an eventful year for Alice as well. The Navy reassigned many of the dentists at the base hospital and new dentists arrived in late Spring. With the sequestration and government shutdown, several contract employees were laid off, but Alice made the cut. She moved from oral surgery to endodontics and has been working there several months.

In July, volunteers at the Chamber were privileged to sail on the SV Cutty Sark for a tourh of Penn Cove. Alice and I were among those who got to enjoy this two-hour adventure.

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Alice at the bow of the Cutty Sark as it sails through Penn Cove.

In August, my former co-worker, Neil came up to help me promote our new book Way Too Much Fun and I had a great time showing Neil around. In addition to seeing the sights, we went kayaking in Penn Cove, attended a talk by National Geographic Photographer Sam Abell in Coupeville, explored San Juan Island and had an all-around great time. You can purchase our book at Amazon.com or http://www.waytoomuchfun.us (That’s dot US not COM).

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Neil promoting our book at the Wind and Tide Bookstore where we held a book signing event.

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Neil enjoying the Deception Pass Tours jet boat ride under the bridge.

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Neil, a wannabe veterinary proctologist, gets in some practice in Coupeville.

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Neil and I went kayaking in Penn Cove. We had a great time.

Photography-wise, it was a great year. Our local Applebee’s went through a remodel and they selected two of my photos for the interior decor. A regional publisher of guidebooks decided to do one for Island County and they ended up using about 70 of my photos (in exchange for an ad). At the Coupeville Arts and Crafts Festival in August, I had three works accepted for the juried art show. Two of them sold; the person who bought one of my canvas prints ordered a second one, so I actually sold three from the Arts & Crafts Festival.

Take a look at my online gallery at http://www.whidbeyphotos.com.

The Deception Pass Park Foundation held a photo contest for their 2014 calendar. They kept asking me if I wanted to be a judge, so I entered two photos in the contest so I could decline. Surprise! They selected both of my photos and I won two gift cards at local restaurants.

The local newspaper publisher held a contest for the cover of their annual Winter on Whidbey guide. Guess who won? And I got $100 prize. So I have a lot to be thankful for with my photography.
I continue to sell my two photo books, matted and sleeved prints, and calendars (buy them at http://www.minref.com).

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My photo won the Winter on Whidbey contest.

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One of the canvases I sold at the Coupeville Arts & Crafts Festival in August.

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About 70 of my photos are in this visitor guide. Read the guide (and see the photos) at http://issuu.com/guycorp/docs/ig_final13/1?e=1594080/4982929

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Sold one of these at the Arts & Crafts Festival, and the buyer purchased another one.

One thing a photographer needs is good eyes. Mine have never been very good, but when I had my annual exam in September, my eye doctor said I needed cataract surgery. So I went in Oct. 1 for the right eye and Oct. 8 for the left. I can now do most things without glasses, but I need them to read and it helps with the computer screen. It’s amazing being able to do things without glasses; I’ve been wearing them since I was six years old.

Alice, her mom, and I attended the Oak Harbor community Thanksgiving feast. Sean and Lisa (his girlfriend) stayed home and cooked their own meal, a duck with all the trimmings.

Well, that was our life for the year. Please keep in touch, let us know what’s happening in your life. If you live in California, plan to come see us this summer. We’ve been here eight-and-a-half years now and if you ain’t made it up here yet, it’s time to bite the bullet and go for the gusto. We’d be delighted to show you around: our island, the San Juans, Olympic National Park, North Cascades National Park, Seattle. Bring a passport and we’ll take you to Victoria, B.C. Kayaking, whale watching, hiking, awesome scenery, and lots more. Have a great Christmas and a healthy and prosperous 2014.

Las Vegas Vacation

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Las Vegas is taking itself too seriously.

Remember the old days, when you could get cheap flights or bus transportation to Sin City? When you got there, hotel rooms were cheap, food was cheap, entertainment could be cheap. Transportation along the famed Strip was free or nearly so. All to lure you into the casinos to lose your money gambling?

Not any more.

Everybody in Vegas has their hand out now. From street vendors selling water to bus transportation to airport shuttles to food. Losers built all those giant casinos and at one time those same casinos were willing to soften the blow with low-cost buffets and restaurants, reasonable room rates, and subsidized cost to get those selfsame gamblers to this desert, uh, location.

We just got back from a week-long trip to Las Vegas. It was a combination family reunion with our daughter and her husband and our son; a graduation ceremony (our son just graduated from high school), and a combination birthday/Father’s day for moi.

We stayed at our WorldMark timeshare resort on Las Vegas Boulevard a few miles South of the famed Strip. We enjoyed a clean, comfortable two-bedroom two-bath condo with a full kitchen, a patio with barbecue with resort amenities that included a large swimming pool, a lazy river, numerous spas (one of which had three heated waterfalls). The resort offered a gaming room with pool tables, ping pong table and electronic games. We had a free shuttle to the Strip.

Stretch Limo

We were expecting a regular stretch limo, but we got this extra-long Hummer limo!

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We are loaded up and ready to depart the Airport for our WorldMark resort.

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Alice and Sara taking photos of our Hummer Limo.

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Jake and Sean getting used to this lifestyle!

We flew from Seattle to Vegas (with a stop in San Francisco) via Virgin America, which seemed to have a bit more leg room than the average flying cattle car. Each seat back featured a video screen that offered television, movies, games, music, shopping and more.

We reserved a stretch limo to take us from the airport to the resort because four of the five of us had never ridden in a limo before. To our surprise, when we arrived the stretch limos were all in use, so we got the super-stretch Hummer limo. We definitely made an impression on our arrival at the WorldMark resort. The driver was almost unable to navigate the entry to the resort, but made it. I still don’t know how in the world he got that thing in and out of there.

We arrived at our condo that first night and settled in, then took a quick tour of the resort grounds. The next day, it was off to the Strip.

Arrival

Our arrival at the WorldMark resort made quite an impression!

I soon discovered one thing: These days, a little Las Vegas goes a long way.

You have to remember that Las Vegas is in a desert. In mid-June, it’s hot. Any green stuff is there artificially. Bodies of water are there artificially. Otherwise, it’s brown, dry, empty. There is a certain beauty to the dry, barren mountains in the distance. You can tour Red Rock Canyon, Hoover Dam, and Lake Meade, fly over the Grand Canyon. These are things I enjoy seeing and doing, but I wouldn’t want to live here.

Two things I noticed right away when we hopped on the shuttle and arrived at the Strip: The streets were packed with tourists, and very few people were actually inside the casinos gambling. Another thing: The major casinos are huge! Most of them have a shopping district (or an entire shopping mall), numerous restaurants, one or more attractions and/or shows, conference centers and, of course, the casino floors. This doesn’t even include the multiple towers that house the thousands of hotel rooms.

A search can often locate discount tickets for shows, tours, and attractions. Even so, they are expensive. Our kids visited a shark experience aquarium in one casino and a dolphin experience in another. Sean and Jake rode roller coasters at New York New York and the indoor amusement park at Circus Circus (the first one was great, the second was okay). None of us had the courage/stupidity to journey to the top of the Stratosphere and get on the rides way up there.

There is an elevator ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower at the Paris casino; in Venice you can ride the gondolas and get sung to. These cost money. The Bellagio has its free outdoor water fountain show; the Mirage has a free outdoor volcano show; Treasure Island conducts a free show involving sailing ships and live actors. These shows are usually done in the afternoon or evening.

Many Casinos have food courts for those who prefer to eat cheap. In-house eateries are often very expensive even with discount coupons. Vegas was once famous for low-cost, high-quality buffets. Don’t know about the latter, but the former have passed on. Buffets are now very expensive so you’d better show up hungry.

On my birthday, I searched several casinos for a moderately-priced steak and as I didn’t want to pay for the entire cow, we finally ended up walking back to an Outback Steakhouse on an area of the Strip that was between huge casinos.

Resort Entrance

This is the entrance to our WorldMark Resort on Las Vegas Blvd.

In the Condo

Sean checking out our 2-bedroom condo.

Kitchen

This is the kitchen in our condo.

Resort Courtyard

A view of the main swimming pool at the resort, taken early morning while waiting for the shuttle.

Not only are these casinos huge, most of them are very impressively built. One night we walked from Mandalay Bay to the Luxor. Coming upon the giant black pyramid at night was an awesome experience. Inside the Luxor is equally awesome and if you go to Vegas you need to experience it.

In fact, most of our entertainment consisted of walking through the casinos, enjoying looking in the shops, restaurants, entertainment venues, etc.

When Alice and I visited Vegas a dozen or so years ago, each casino seemed to have a Krispy Kreme outlet near each entrance. Those are all gone now, replaced by Starbucks coffee shops, which appear, seemingly, every time you turn a corner in a casino.

Outside, the streets are packed, traffic is unrelenting, and you are pestered every few feet by people peddling women of the evening or discount show tickets. There are so many sex sellers (which includes trucks driving up and down the Strip with “Hot Babes Want to Meet You!” signs) that it makes one wonder how many of these working women are actually in Vegas.

Unknown to many, there is a free tram from Excalibur to Mandalay Bay (with a sometimes stop at Luxor) and another one from Monte Carlo to Bellagio (with a couple of stops along the way). This can save you a ton of walking. On the other side of the street, there is a monorail from MGM Grand with stops all the way to Fremont Street, but this one costs money; quite a bit of it if there are five of you.

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A view of our WorldMark Resort on Las Vegas Blvd.

Lazy River

Alice enjoying the Lazy River at the resort.

Waterboarding

Sara and Sean practice a little self-administered waterboarding at the spa with three waterfalls.

In the Spa

Sara and Jake having fun in the spa, which included three heated waterfalls.

Back Massage

Alice getting a free back massage via the spa waterfall.

Paris from the Bellagio

A view of the Paris casino from the Bellagio which has a fountain show.

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Alice enjoying the massive fountain pool at the Bellagio.

Our attempts to reach Circus Circus on the North end of the Strip without walking were thwarted until we finally broke down and bought day passes to the Strip double-decker bus at $8 a pop (5×8=40). Of course, one could also take a taxi. There are thousands of taxis in Las Vegas and they do not sit idle for long. They charge by the one-thirteenth of a mile and by time, with a fuel surcharge and an extra fee if you use a credit card.

Probably the best thing that happened to us in Vegas was the exercise we got walking the Strip and inside the casinos. For those who don’t gamble, there is plenty to see and do, but you’re still going to end up with a flat wallet and a lighter purse.

Which, I guess, is what Vegas is all about.

Visit to Deer Harbor in Orcas Island

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This Memorial Day weekend, Alice and I celebrated our 32nd Anniversary with a three-day retreat on Orcas Island. We left early in the morning, along with just about everybody else in the Pacific Northwest. Fortunately, we knew the back route to the ferry terminal and were able to “cut” into the middle of the line.

Ferry Ride

On our way to Orcas Island. The ferry takes about an hour with a stop at Lopez Island.

After our one-hour ferry ride (with a stop at Lopez Island), we arrived at Orcas just before lunch time. We drove to Eastsound and looked around for a while. Alice partook of a special event and tried food samples from area restaurants. I saved my appetite until we passed a tavern advertising the best burgers on the island. Having not tried all the burgers on the island, I had no way to compare, but it was really good and the fries were excellent.
A bakers going out of business provided dessert in the form of some chocolate-chip cookies.

Lopez Ferry

Alice as we docked at Lopez Island.

After that, we headed to Moran State Park. As we passed Cascade Lake, Alice noticed that the boat rental place was open, so I turned around, went back, and we rented a peddle boat for an hour. The weather was great. Warm, sunny, with a nice selection of big, billowy clouds.

Boat Rentals

Canoes for rent, and people enjoying a peddle boat on Cascade Lake.

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Cascade Lake boat rental shop. Taken from our peddle boat on the lake.

Hikers

Hikers relaxing on the shore of Cascade Lake.

Lake View

View from the lake at Cascade Lake on Orcas Island.

After not drowning on the peddle boat, we drove up to Cascade Falls and took pictures of the upper falls then hiked down to the lower falls and took more pictures.

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Mushrooms growing on a tree trunk in Moran State Park near Cascade Falls

Mushroom Family

A family of mushrooms growing out of a tree stump in Moran State Park

Upper Falls

Upper Cascade Falls in Moran State Park on Orcas Island.

Lower Falls

Lower Cascade Falls in Moran State Park on Orcas Island.

As evening approached, we drove back to Eastsound, stopped and the market and picked up some deli food for dinner, then headed to Deer Harbor where we would be staying for three days and two nights.

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Alice on the porch at the Deer Harbor Inn Lodge.

Through the fortunes of a Groupon, I was able to snag two nights at the historic Deer Harbor Inn on Memorial Day weekend. The property has cottages, cabins, and a lodge. We stayed in the lodge which had four rooms upstairs and four downstairs. Check-in was very informal. We walked to the office and there was a bag with our name on it, the room number, and a key. We happened to run into the manager, but filled out no paperwork.

Lodge Entrance

Alice at the entrance to the Deer Harbor Inn Lodge.

The lodge has a common area for each floor. Our room was large, well-appointed in pine. The bed had a memory-foam mattress which is what we are used to sleeping on. We had a nice, though rather small TV, an electric fireplace and our own bathroom (I don’t like to share a bathroom, thank you very much).

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Our room at the Deer Harbor Inn Lodge. Nice!

On the mantle of the fireplace was a picnic basket with tomorrow morning’s breakfast. It consisted of English muffins, bananas and cereal. Our small refrigerator held a couple of boiled eggs and some butter for the muffins. We had a toaster and a coffee maker.
Here’s the nice thing. In the common area we found more cereal, plates, plastic wear, napkins, extra towels, and a larger refrigerator containing the milk and more butter, and a microwave. The lodge also had a computer and a VOIP phone, which meant we could make all the domestic and local phone calls we wanted at no charge.

Shortcut

Sign for a shortcut to our resort. We used it.

The common area has a sofa, a selection of books and magazines, and some puzzles and games.

Of course, there’s always a downside. The people above us were noisy sometimes, and when they flushed the toilet, it sounded like a rocket launch. If we go back to this site, we’ll opt for an upstairs room.
The Deer Harbor Inn also boasts a restaurant, and we walked over to check the menu. Pricey, but the menu items looked good. We decided to eat there Sunday evening for our anniversary dinner. After eating our deli dinner, we drove down to the Deer Harbor Marina to take photos and see if we had a photogenic sunset. On the way back, I saw on old, beat up 1940s pickup I was determined to get a photo of, but too dark that first night.

Old Pickup

An old truck and chickens near our resort.

Marina sign

Deer Harbor Marina sign.

Deer Harbor

Deer Harbor view at sunset.

The next morning, we woke to a drizzly rain. We breakfasted in bed (at least Alice did), watched some TV, then decided to head to Eastsound to look in the shops.
We took a back road into town, and I had to turn around to get a photo of an old, European-style building with two sheep standing in front of it. I was also able to get some photos of flowers in Eastsound as the rain continued for a while longer, then stopped.

Sheep and building.

Even though it was raining the second day, I got this photo of sheep sheltering against a building.

After a couple of hours of shopping, we went back to Deer Harbor to wait for dinner. We decided to hike down to the street and get the photos of the old truck. Later that evening, we walked to the restaurant, the only remaining structure of the historic Inn. I decided on the special, Southern Fried Chicken. Alice tried a seafood medly. Our dinners came with soup, salad, bread, and live music. The food was excellent and I topped mine off with an old fashioned chocolate sundae. We were seated close to the musicians and had an ocean view.

Monday morning we got up early and packed. Checkout was as simple as putting the key in a little basket near the door. We wanted to take the early ferry over to Lopez Island, which we hadn’t seen before. Unfortunately, it was raining steadily. I began to worry that all the people in the San Juans would be trying to get back to the mainland all at the same time.
My worry increase when we got to the Orcas Island ferry terminal and there were many cars waiting to go to Anacortes. But, as it turned out, we made a shrewd decision, because the ferry we planned to take from Lopez at 1:30 came directly from Anacortes, unloaded, loaded up, and went directly back to Anacortes. So we wouldn’t have to worry about ferrys already filled up from Sidney, Friday Harbor and Orcas.
We planned a couple of hours to see Lopez Island, but as we exited the ferry we could see a long line of cars already waiting for the 1:30 ferry to Anacortes. Yikes! If we didn’t get on that ferry, the next one wasn’t until 5 p.m.
We started our tour of Lopez with that nagging worry. The rain prevented any hiking. Then I got lost. We got a call from home that required cell phone access, so I tried to find a place to pull over where we had some bars, but Lopez doesn’t seem to have too many places to pull over.
After driving aimlessly for a while, enjoying the pastoral hills, farms, ranches, and the occasional view of the Salish Sea, we finally found our way back to civilization–only to find everything closed. We had bars, however, so Alice was able to make that connection.
We then decided to make our way back to the ferry terminal and get in line for the 1:30 sailing. It would be almost a two-hour wait, but we’d at least make it home fairly early.
We only made it part way to the terminal. Over a hundred cars had appeared out of the woodwork with the same idea. We parked over a quarter mile from the terminal, in line with all the rest. The fine filled up behind us, around the corner and out of sight. I was afraid we’d have to wait until the 5 p.m. sailing. Alice walked down to the terminal and back, counting cars. We were 112 in line.
When 1:30 arrived and the line began to move I consoled myself with the fact that the terminal area had both a bathroom and a small food service area. We got down to the loading area and they waved us on! I don’t know how many cars the ferry held, but it wasn’t quite full when we got on and we were very happy, indeed.
All of our past trips to the San Juans had been before Memorial Day or after Labor Day allowing us to miss the Summer tourist crowds. Things were quieter and less traffic, so we’ll probably continue to do that or try to travel mid-week.

Sailboat

The weather was less than perfect on our way home, but this sailboat crew were enjoying it.

We had fun, got some great pictures, ate good food, and took in some of the most awesome scenery in the world. So I think it was definitely worth it.

 

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

Every April, the Skagit Valley in Washington State erupts in color with the annual Tulip Festival. I had an opportunity to visit the festival this week (April 16, 2013) and took some photos.  For the most part, the only enhancements to these photos were adjusting brightness and contrast. The colors really are that vivid. I spent most of my time at the RoosenGaarde Gardens, and one of their tulip fields. I doubt the pictures need individual descriptions. Click on any photo to get a larger view. And visit my online gallery at http://www.whidbeyphotos.com. Thanks!

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2012 Lawler Christmas Newsletter

This year was an eventful one for us, mostly good. We hope you are receiving this in health and happiness and that the coming year is prosperous for you and your family.

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Sara was promoted to a managerial position at Game Stop where she works at Game Stop in Louisiana. Jake was deployed to Guam for a couple of months late in 2012. They came to visit us in early August and to attend Jake’s mom’s retirement from the Navy. She lives near Sequim.

For the rest of the family, 2012 proved to be eventful. Early in the year, we were able to get a vehicle for Sean. We found a fire-engine red 2003 Mustang for a good price, which was close to Sean’s dream car. He’s now a Senior at Oak Harbor High School. He’s been checking out colleges, and this summer spent a week in Redmond attending a gaming program at DigiPen Institute of Technology.

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Alice continued working at NAS-Whidbey Hospital as an oral surgery technician. Rick was “fired” from his Coupeville Chamber job in January so now instead of working three days a week, he volunteers at the Chamber one day per week. Rick replaced his lost income by  applying for Social Security.

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In March we hosted a Japanese exchange student for 10 days. He didn’t speak much English, but we got along. Sean drove him to school most days. In April, all four of us took a week vacation in Victoria, B.C. For us, that involves a half-hour drive to the ferry terminal in Anacortes, a two-hour ferry trip through the San Juans, then another half-hour drive from Sidney to our resort in Victoria.

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We had a two-bedroom unit with a spectacular view of the harbor and Fisherman’s Wharf. We spent a day at Butchart Gardens and Rick, Alice and Sean drove to Sooke for a zipline tour which was a lot of fun, but scary. There were seven zip lines in the tour and several of them were way up high.

A week after returning home, Rick, Alice and Sean went to Tukwila where Rick and Sean went indoor skydiving.

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In early May, one of Rick’s former co-workers and his wife visited for a couple of days. We had a great time seeing the sights and talking over old times. On Mother’s Day, Sean and Rick took Alice on the Deception Pass boat tour.

In June, just after Sean’s last school day, Rick, Alice and Sean took the Island Transit bus to the ferry from Clinton to Mukilteo, walked to the train station and rode the train to King Station in Seattle, then rode light rail to downtown where we walked to the cruise terminal.

We boarded the ship for a one-week Inside Passage cruise to Alaska. This was an awesome trip except Rick had a painful back. On the second day of the cruise, Rick and Alice attended a talk about acupuncture and back pain. Rick signed up immediately and after being thoroughly punctured, he was able to walk upright and with little pain. A second treatment helped even more and saved the cruise for him.

We visited Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway with a visit to the Sawyer Glacier and Mendenhall Glacier. We took a bus trip up White Pass to the Klondike, saw a bear along the way. The food was awesome and we ate ourselves into a stupor almost every evening

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The last day in July, just before Sara and Jake showed up for their visit, Rick had an acute case of vertigo, ended up in the emergency room and spend the night in the hospital. It took a couple of weeks for the dizziness to go away.

In August, Sean turned 17 and a month later started his Senior year at high school. Rick entered three of his photos-on-canvas in the annual Coupeville Arts & Crafts Festival, and sold two of them. He also had four photos-on-canvas on display at the Oak Harbor Library during the month of August. He continues to sell is Whidbey Island photo books, prints, calendars and other products.

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Alice had one of her Deception Pass Bridge photos accepted for the KOMO Weather calendar.

That’s about it for this year. Sean will be visiting his sister in Louisiana during the Christmas break.

If you haven’t visited us yet, please make 2013 the year to come see us. We’d love to have you visit and have the chance to show you around. If you’ve visited before, time for another trip up North.

Please keep in touch and let us know how life is treating you!

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Whale Watching Tour, 9-7-12

Whale Watching Tour
September 7, 2011

I signed up for an Island Adventures Whale Watching Tour out of Anacortes on September 7. Departure time was 11 a.m. Weather was picture perfect. Warm, calm, no breeze. I left home about 9 a.m. for a 10 O’clock check-in time. We boarded the Island Adventurer III at about 10:30, and departed the Cap Sante Marina at 11 a.m.

Two whale-watching boats live in Anacortes. I was on the left-hand boat.

We sailed out toward the San Juan Islands with another whale-watching boat pacing us. We saw harbor seals and other wildlife on the way, along with some kayakers, container boats, a cruise ship, ferries, and personal water craft of all sizes.

Awesome photo of Mount Baker.

The water was very calm most of the way out.

The only wind was that generated by us moving, and the only waves caused by boats. There were a few places where a light wind kicked up for a moment or two, but most of the day was calm.

A container ship directed us to the Orcas.

It soon became clear that we would be heading out, far, far out along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, beyond Victoria, past Port Angeles. The other whale-watching boat turned back, and we began to wonder if we’d find whales or not.

A whale-watching boat out of Anacortes gets a close-up look!

Here are two Orcas surfacing near our boat,

Finally the crew of a container ship radioed that they had sighted Orcas nearby. In half-an-hour we were near the container ship and began seeing the whales. Over the next hour we enjoyed a whale of a show, including breaching Orcas.

An Orca comes up very close to our boat.

While water craft are prohibited from approaching within 200 yards of Orcas, the Orcas themselves are allowed to get as close to the boats as they want. We were lucky to have one or two surface near our boat.

A breaching Orca!

A second breaching Orca.

Photographing whales is as frustrating as it is rewarding. You need a telephoto or zoom lens to get good shots, but a telephoto lens restricts your view. You need to aim where you think a whale might surface, only to hear shouts of “wow” “spectacular” and such on the other side of the boat.

A harbor seal on a log floating past our boat as we head back.

I can’t tell you how many times I looked toward such exclamations only to miss the whale that popped up into my viewfinder at just that moment. Aaargh! The other issue is time. The Orcas might be on the surface for a second or two at most. That’s not a lot of time for you to see and react. The reaction is usually mashing the shutter with a jerk, which blurs the photo. Much different that photographing birds or most other wildlife where you can see it coming and have a much better chance of getting a good shot.

It doesn’t get any better than this!

I have much more respect for those who get those awesome shots of Orcas and whales. It takes patience, time, and a huge helping of luck.

The sun moves lower as we approach Anacortes after a six-hour trip!

We finally sailed for home, arriving in Anacortes two hours late.

A great day of whale watching!

Our Cruise to Alaska—Tracy Arm and Inside Passage

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Leaving Home—On Foot

We left home at 4:30 a.m. on Friday, carrying all our luggage, and walked to the bus stop near our home. I was a bit worried because I had somehow strained my lower back the Monday before and it had gotten worse, not better so any time standing or sitting my back tightened up and I walked all bent over. On the move it wasn’t too bad.

We rode the bus to the Clinton ferry terminal, took the ferry to Mulkiteo and walked to the train station. The train dropped us at King Station in Seattle at about 7:30 a.m. We killed about an hour there, then took light rail to down town. Total cost for the trip: $6.00 a person.

Alice had packed a light breakfast for us which we ate on the train. Once downtown, we went to the indoor mall and looked around for a while. Then we retired to the food court as Sean was hungry. McDonald’s was still selling breakfast, so we waited a while and Sean got his quarter pounder meal. Alice and I had more sensible lunches (noodles for Alice and a caesar salad for me).

Checking In—Line Up!

It had started raining as we began our final trek to the cruise terminal, a couple of blocks north of Pike Place Market. When we arrived at Pier 66, the check-in process had already begun and we joined the line. We got our luggage checked and got ourselves checked in and on the boat (Celebrity Infinity) by 2:30 p.m. Check-in involves the typical metal-detector (place your hand-carried luggage and everything in your pockets on the conveyer and step through here), but what I didn’t realize was that we would repeat the procedure aboard ship every time we returned from going ashore.

We had an inside stateroom which was (barely) large enough for the three of us. A queen-size bed for Alice and me, and a small loveseat/sofabed for Sean. His legs kind of hung off the edge if he stretched out. Our room had a modern television, an adequate bathroom, and sufficient storage.

After getting stowed away, and attending the mandatory “what to do if the boat sinks” lecture, we went exploring. The only place open for food at the time was the hamburger/hotdog place near the pool. Since our dinner seating was 8:30 p.m., we decided to have a tide-me-over, which for Sean meant a hamburger and a hotdog with fries.

Leaving Late

The boat was scheduled to depart at 4 p.m. but we didn’t actually leave the dock until 5 p.m. because one of the supply trucks broke down. The rain continued and a fog moved in, so we were unable to see Whidbey Island as we passed. That set kind of a pattern for much of the trip; morning and evening fog with some rain during the day. Sunshine was very rare.

“Poke me, my back hurts!”

Our first full day (Saturday) was at sea. After breakfast, we looked around the ship and attended a program by the on-board naturalist. We tried to catch as many of his programs as possible because he was excellent. Afterwards Alice and I attended an acupuncture talk that focused on, guess what? Lower back pain. Since pain killers weren’t helping and my back wasn’t getting any better, we decided to sign up for an appointment that afternoon. I had never had acupuncture before and was skeptical and kind of nervous. But, while expensive, it did work and I was able to stand upright and move without much pain. While my back still hurt, it no longer limited my range of movement and I no longer yelled when turning over in bed.

We tried to make most of the entertainment, all of which as far as I could see, was family friendly. The comedian was super funny, the magician excellent, and the Broadway-type shows very good.

Catching Ketchikan

Our first stop was Ketchikan, one of the few places we actually had some sunshine, fleeting though it was. We hadn’t signed up for any excursions there so we got off the boat and just looked around the tourist shops near the port. There were two other cruise ships docked there as well (they can handle four), so the town was rather full.
After buying some souvenirs—fudge and Sean bought two giant-sized jaw breakers—we walked around town until it started to rain.

Ketchikan

A View of downtown Ketchikan from the top deck of our ship.

A couple of images of downtown Ketchikan, our first stop.

Ketchikan Banner Sign

Ketchikan Banner Sign.

Up Early for Icebergs!

We were up early the next morning as we were entering the Tracy Arm Fjord and the Sawyer Glacier. We were actually able to get relatively close to the glacier, we were told, which was unusual. The scenery was awesome, which icebergs in the water all around us (some with harbor seals), imposing mountains wrapped in fog, with dozens of waterfalls. One or two of the icebergs were the rare iridescent blue color.

While it was a bit cold, we got no rain. After we left Tracy Arm, Alice and I took advantage of the mineral pool and hot tub and soaked ourselves for a while. Due to the weather, few people other than a few brave kids used the outdoor pool.

Entering Tracy Arm

Entering Tracy Arm. Note the bright blue iceberg.

Foggy, but no rain.

Sawyer Glacier

The Sawyer Glacier.

This is a narrow passage for a cruise ship. Someone said we even scraped bottom at one point, getting close to the glacier.

Tracy Arm View

A small boat joins us in the Tracy Arm.

There were literally hundreds of small waterfalls descending from these magnificent mountains.

Waterfalls

We saw dozens of these small waterfalls.

The scenery was awesome!

Trees in Fog

A small stand of trees shrouded in fog.

Take a look at these stunning icebergs, art in motion.

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Yes, it was really this blue. Something about old, compressed ice losing oxygen turns the ice blue. Just like us, I guess.

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Some of the icebergs even had harbor seals on them.

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Juneau We Are Almost Late?

That afternoon we pulled into Juneau. We were the fourth ship and had no place to dock. We got to shore on the ship’s tenders. Our arrival time was scheduled for 2:30 and we had an excursion scheduled for 3:30 which would have worked fine if we had been able to simply walk off the ship. Luckily we actually got there about 1:30. We had gotten our excursion through the web site were we purchased the cruise. The excursions purchased from the ship were more expensive but had an added bonus: If the ship was late, the tour would wait, and if the tour was late getting back, the ship would wait. There was some problem with the tenders and we didn’t get on one until 3:15. By the time we got to the pier and off the tender it was just 3:30 and we had quite a walk to meet our bus. We made it, barely, the last three on the bus.
Unlike the cruise-bought tours which used full-size buses, we were able to tour Juneau as well as a small part of Douglas Island and West Juneau. Then it was off to the Mendenhall Glacier. There was a huge waterfall off to one side of the glacier, and a trail to hike out to it, but we weren’t there long enough for that, so we just hiked out to the glacier viewpoint down from the visitor center. After returning to town, we went to the public library and checked e-mail (cost of Internet access on the ship was prohibitively expensive).

It was an interesting day. We heard later that some of the cruise-bought tours had actually been cancelled because they couldn’t get all the people off the boat in time. So we were lucky.

Juneau didn’t impress me as a place I’d like to visit on a regular basis. It has no roads to the outside; the only way in is by boat or plane. It is not a large city, with about 32,000 people very spread out. The “downtown” area is mostly tourism and in the winter it basically shuts down.

View of Juneau

View of Juneau with another cruise ship in port. There were actually four cruise ships there that day.

Visiting the Mendenhall Glacier…

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This glacier has been receding about 100 feet per year.

Waterfall with people

Notice the tiny people at the base of this waterfall, located near the Mendenhall Glacier.

Colder Than A Cast-Iron Commode in the Klondike

The next morning we arrived at Skagway, gateway to the Klondike gold rush. Since the gold was in Canada, gold-seeking Americans arriving in Skagway had to haul their stuff up and over White Pass. The Canadian government required they bring one ton of supplies to see them through the winter, which meant the gold prospectors had to make many trips up the pass. Sometimes thieves would steal a stash and sell it to other miners.

We took a bus trip tour of Skagway (which is largely devoted to the tourist trade) and then up to White Pass into the Klondike. On the way up, the driver stopped the bus on the road so we could photograph a bear eating vegetation alongside the road. We actually entered Canada for a short time and got another view of sunshine along with incredible vistas. Sean and I (among a few other people) won a prize for using the very un-serviced outhouses at the top of the pass.

Back in Skagway, we went to the town cemetery and a hike up to a waterfall. After going back to the ship and having lunch, Alice and I walked to town to look in the shops and a museum. The wind started picking up and on our way back, we almost got blown off the pier.

Downtown Skagway

A view of downtown Skagway. Notice our cruise ship in the distance.

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We saw a bear!

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A stop in the Klondike where people build these good-luck rock people. There are acres of them.

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A great view from the Klondike.

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Woozy and Gluttony

After leaving Skagway, we had two days at sea. The first one was a little rough and all three of us had some motion sickness. Sean and I got better and went to the buffet brunch where we ate ourselves silly. Alice spent much of the day in bed and ordered room service.

The food was pretty much awesome. There were three restaurants on the ship that charged an additional fee to eat there, a couple of them $40 a person. We weren’t about to do that, so can’t comment on the quality of the food (nor did we eat in any of the towns when we had food we’d already paid for on the ship). The main restaurant was uniformly excellent and most of us, most of the time, ordered multiples of something (soup and salad, two entrees, or two desserts, and sometimes, especially for Sean, all three). I liked the fact that the right side of the menu changed each night, but the left side stayed the same (with staples like chicken, salmon, and steak). So we always had a choice of about six or seven appetizers, six or seven soup/salad, six or seven main courses, and the same for desserts.

The other main restaurant was more of a cafe-style where you got in line to get your food. We mostly ate breakfast and lunch there. Sean used room service a couple of times because he could play games on his iPod, watch TV and stuff himself.

One of the classes we attended was “How to Cook the Perfect Steak” and when we got home Alice tried it and it worked. The steak she cooked was one of the best I’d ever eaten.

Our last stop was Victoria, B.C. but since we’d spent a week there in April, we stayed on the boat. We docked at 6 p.m. so the first dinner seating was moved up an hour to 5 p.m. and our seating a half-hour to 8 p.m. This meant that when we went to dinner, almost everyone else was in Victoria. Including us, there were three groups on our side of the restaurant. We had great service that night!

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Fellow shipmates enjoying Tracy Arm.

Home and Final Thoughts

The next morning we were back in Seattle. Getting off the ship was a fairly painless process. Our original plan was to kill time until the 3:30 train left King Station, dropped us at Mukilteo, onto the ferry, then catch a bus home, reversing what we had done the previous Friday. However, we were all anxious to get home so we decided to splurge. With a little help from our daughter in Louisiana, who looked up the phone number for Whidbey-SeaTac Shuttle, we made reservations to be picked up at 11 a.m. (the shuttle makes cruise terminal runs Fri-Sun), so we ended up getting home at 1:30 instead of around 7 p.m.

We had a great time. The service was excellent. I didn’t like the idea of paying almost $50 for a soda package, so twice a day I got my fizz fix from our stateroom fridge at $2.00 a can. Everything you do on the ship that costs money also costs a gratuity (even the cost of the acupuncture treatment). The standard gratuity for your restaurant server (and whoever else gets some of it) and room steward is automatically added to your bill on a daily basis unless you choose to adjust it.

Smoking is allowed on the ship, but only in specific areas. Unfortunately, some of those areas are where everybody else has to walk to get from one end of the boat to the other. Although the ship was (we were told) full, there were only a few times when we felt there were too many people. Usually sufficient activities were available to handle everyone.

Would we go again? Absolutely, although we’d wish for better weather.

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A view of cruise ships docked at Skagway.

Foggy Ebey

“Foggy Ebey” was taken from the Ebey’s Prairie overlook near Sunnyside Cemetery during the early morning. The entire prairie was blanketed in fog, and I zoomed in on this farm (the Jenne Farm, I believe) all the way across the prairie.

Foggy Ebey

This 16×20″ Gallery Wrap canvas has a .75″ edge and can stare back at your for the reasonable price of $120.00 plus tax (and shipping if needed).

I manipulated the image to enhance the fog as much as possible. I also removed some of the color and gave it a sepia tone. It has a soft, and old-fashioned look to it and you can almost hear Ma calling the ranch hands in to breakfast.

Images captured under less than ideal conditions can really benefit from enhancement and adjustment in the computer. Early morning and late afternoon offer opportunities to get some amazing shots, and the computer can help your bring out those details that you saw with your eyeballs, but were lost to the camera in shadow.

Digital photography creates a computer file that can be stored in more than one place by simply copying it to a thumb drive, an optical disk (CD, DVD, BluRay), or in the cloud. This is probably very elementary advice, but it took me a couple of months to learn it: Never alter your original image that came from the camera. Always use Save As to give your modified file a different name (I simply add to the filename a code that tells me which application I used to create that file).

Manipulation almost always degrades the image to a certain extent, so having that original file to go back to is a valuable resource.

And you never know what the future will hold. Someday, someone may develop an application that might provide amazing capabilities. If you have your original, unaltered images, that gives you the opportunity to start from ground zero.

The great thing about digital image files is that they are not going to fade over time like prints and negatives are wont to do; nor are you as likely to misplace them. Losing them, however, is the same pain in the patootie as your spouse tossing that shoe box full of priceless negatives by accident.

You need to back up your image files. The more places, the better. This can be a daunting task if you’re an avid photographer. After seven years, I’ve accumulated almost 400 gigabytes of photos (with some video mixed in). Those cloud services that advertise “unlimited storage for $50 a year” choke, spit, sputter, cough, and break wind at the thought of 400 gb of “unlimited” storage.

So I use a couple of external hard drives to back up my images, one of which I try to store somewhere other than my home. I also copy better images to optical disks. Just like people, hard drives fail. Disks get lost, broken, or simply go bad.

If you don’t back up your images, eventually you will lose them. Then you will hate yourself. Save that hate for someone who really deserves it (like politicians) and back up your files.

Admiralty Head Lighthouse on Canvas

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Lighthouse in the Fog is a 30×24″ Gallery Wrap with 1.5″ edges. It depicts the Admiralty Head Lighthouse on Whidbey Island during a foggy morning with the sun trying to break through. This is an unusual and dramatic depiction of this iconic landmark.

Lighthouse in the Fog

30×24″ Gallery Wrap Canvas $175.00 plus tax and shipping (if needed).

I’m loving this new world of digital photography. I grew up with black-and-white film cameras and spent many, many hours sniffing darkroom chemicals. I even set up my own darkroom in my parents’ bathroom, having purchased my own chemicals, trays, paper, lights, and enlarger.

When I put away my twin-lens reflex camera and moved into 35mm color photography it broadened my horizons significantly. There were problems, however. Without an investment of tens of thousands of dollars, you had to send your rolls of film off to a lab and wait until they were returned to see if you got the picture you wanted. And it was up to the lab equipment how the finished product looked.

Today that has all changed. Most, if not all, digital cameras have a view screen that lets you get at least a preliminary opinion of your capture. Once back home, your images can be downloaded to your PC and manipulated, cropped, adjusted. Modestly advanced practitioners can remove (or add) people or objects, change backgrounds, alter colors, move elements, and just about anything else. It doesn’t take a laboratory to modify even modest-resolution images taken by phones, toys, and tablets.

In fact, the entire concept of a photograph is changing constantly and is no longer simply the image you saw in your viewfinder.

Fundamentals remain unchanged, however. The finished product, different as it may be from the original, needs to make that artistic connection with the viewer. Today, taking 100 photos costs next to nothing. In the old days that meant the cost of three or four rolls of film, the cost of processing the film, and the cost of printing– no ink jet printers back then!

I tend to do most of my image enhancement on the PC, and thus leave the camera settings in a more neutral position. Someone looking at images directly from my camera would not be impressed. This image of the Admiralty Head Lighthouse was cropped to fit the size of the canvas. It was processed through various filters to enhance detail, contrast, and color, with a goal of making the image match what I saw in my mind’s eye at the location.

Here are three images. The first one as it came from the camera, the second with a medium enhancement and the third with a heavier hand at the controls.

My Photos on Canvas

Greetings!

I’ve been working to get some of my photos onto stretched canvas. Living in the Pacific Northwest it’s very easy to get awesome photos, but it’s difficult to put them on something that’s easy to display and looks nice. Framed and matted prints do the trick, and I have many available at my online gallery, but they can be expensive.

I’ve found that photos on canvas are a great way to display fine art. Canvas is light, less prone to damage and done correctly, they last for many decades. Here is an example of  photo art on canvas:

The Deception Pass Bridge on 16×20″ canvas with 1.5″ Gallery Wrap.

This canvas is $125 plus tax (and shipping if needed). The actual canvas is gallery wrapped which means the image continues around the outside edges of the frame unlike as pictured above with a black edge.

The Deception Pass Bridge in fog is an iconic image of this 75-year-old structure. If you’re interested in owning this canvas, contact me at minref@gmail.com. Otherwise, just enjoy the scene.

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