Friday, December 2, 2016


I'm pretty surprised that it took us so long to get to Alaska.  We had been to every state in the US except for Alaska and North Dakota. Between the two, it was no contest which one we wanted to visit more.

Sorry, North Dakota, but you're next on the list.

If I had to say which state I think Alaska is most like, I'd have to say Texas. WHAT?!! Except for size, they don't seem to have much in common, and even regarding size--although they are the two largest states in the Union--Alaska is 2.5 times larger than Texas.

What I found to be similar is that both feel almost like an independent country rather than a state. Things are just different in Texas and Alaska.

Here is Goldilocks (Whiteylocks?) and the Three Bears:

I'm not sure what this ceiling design in the Anchorage Airport  is all about--maybe the aurora borealis?

We arrived in Anchorage in the WEE hours of the morning (4:15 AM constitutes "wee," doncha think?), picked up our rental car, and headed north towards the metropolis of Talkeetna. There was plenty of "purple mountain majesty" to appreciate:

"Bob! Bob! Can we visit Sarah? We can see Russia from her house!" (At least that's what SNL said she said. What she really said was "They're our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska." I was kind of disappointed to learn she didn't say she could see Alaska from her house.)

You don't see Moose Crossing signs in California. Bob collects photos of animal crossing signs, so we had to stop for a picture. We saw duplicate versions of this sign about 500 more times in the next two weeks.

We had a 10:00 AM appointment for an adventure in Talkeetna that was at the top of my list, but we got there so early that we had to kick around for a few hours. Talkeetna is a swanky little town:

There is no better way to kill time than to eat, and if you're going to eat in Talkeetna, you'd better stop at The Roadhouse and try some of their specialties:

Then you have to walk it all off, and that's fun to do in Talkeetna:

We were in Alaska in late July, the peak of their summer, and I was wowed by the beautiful vegetation:

Fuchsia? Isn't that native to Central and South America?

One of our kids is an amateur mycologist, so I'm always on the lookout for mushrooms. They were everywhere. He would love Alaska:

Well, on to why we were hanging out in Talkeetna. 

One of the items on my Bucket List has been to go ziplining--not at a theme park, but over trees and lakes. My dream came true in Alaska at Denali Zipline Tours:

Okay, here we go!

See, Bob? I told you it would be fun!

In addition to the NINE zips, each longer and more adrenaline-pumping than the last, there were three aerial walkways. 

They had a way of swinging back and forth when we walked on them.

"Look, Judy! No hands!" (Every group has a show-off.)

The scenery was spectacular, in spite of the fact that it was raining, sometimes pretty hard. But yeah, we don't just go ziplining, we do it in a downpour! We're tough like that!

Here we go again, right over that big lake! (Isn't Bob graceful? I was impressed.)

We had a great group of six zippers and two pretty crazy guides, one at each end of the zipline. The other zippers were a couple from Palmer, Alaska, and sisters in their 20s from North Dakota. They also needed two guides so that one could take pictures, which they supplied to us free of charge via email after we got home:

Can you tell which one is the guide?

It's nice to have their photos:

Can you tell the rain is falling on our faces? It was all part of the experience.

Good times. Now that I've checked that off my Bucket List, I need to move on to . . . Go Ziplining Again!

Ziplining made us hungry. Had we eaten breakfast? We couldn't remember. After we saw this spinach bread, we were sure we hadn't had any breakfast.

Yum-EEEEEEEEE! I give it--and Denali Zipline Tours--an A+.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


I have a dear Catholic friend named Diane who, about a year ago, invited me to go on a retreat with her to a Benedictine monastery in Valyermo, California, just over an hour from where we live. It was somewhat out of my comfort zone but exactly the type of interfaith experience I have learned to value, so I accepted her invitation. The earliest my schedule and the retreat schedule matched up, however, was the second week in July, so I had to wait a while.

It was worth the wait, and in fact I think I will go again if given the opportunity. I found at least ten things that visitors need to see/experience when at St. Andrew's Abbey in Valyermo.

St. Benedict, who lived in Italy from c. 480-543 AD, is often called "The Founder of Western Monasticism" and is the Patron Saint of Europe. The Benedictines observe a strict daily schedule revolving around gathering in the monastery chapel five times a day for prayer. Guests are not required to attend all (or even any) of those prayers, but I tried to go with Diane (who went to them all) to two or three each day. The focus on prayer is one of the things that makes visiting St. Andrew's a unique spiritual experience.

Resounding peals of the bell standing outside the chapel call the monks and guests to prayer four times a day. (Out of respect for sleepy guests, the monks don't ring the bell for the earliest prayer at 6:00 AM, which I confess I never attended).

                                                                 This is the daily schedule:
6:00 AM: VIGILS (The first communal prayer of the morning)
6:30-7:30: Lecto Divina (Contemplative scripture study)
7:30: LAUDS (Morning prayer)
8:00: Breakfast (Eaten in total silence, called "Grand Silence")
8:30-11:30: Assigned labor or study (This was the first of our two daily session of lecture/discussion for the retreat)
12:00 PM: Conventional MASS
1:00: Lunch with guests
1:30-4:00: Assigned labor or study (Session two of retreat lectures and discussion)
4:00-5:30: Study, rest, exercise
5:30: Lectio Divina
6:00: VESPERS (Evening prayer)
6:30: Dinner (in silence)
8:00-8:30: Community recreation
8:30: COMPLINE (Night prayer)

The Benedictine liturgy and music focuses on the Psalms, which the monks sing through completely (even the more violent or salacious psalms) every month or so as part of their prayer services. One of the monks is the "lead" singer or cantor (I'm not sure if that is the correct term). He sings his part, and then the other monks and congregants sing other parts, sometimes a capella, sometimes accompanied by a small organ.