9-13-13 Friday (Flea Market Finds Best Left Lost)

layoffsIt’s been a scary (Friday the 13th, get it?) few weeks in terms of employment.  Some back story… Jim was an underwriter for Company A.  Company B out Company A.  Company X hires Company B for a “project”.  Jim was underwriting for that company who did not renew their contract which left Jim without work a week prior to the cruise.  Layoffs?  New project assignment?  With Jim’s prior company owner, Company A, it wasn’t uncommon to have layoffs.   Job uncertainty really sucks.  As you know, we went on our cruise, had a blast and then it was back to reality.  Back to work we went.  Jim continued doing “busy work” which consisted of a lot of computer based training for nothing in particular.  On Monday, he was assigned to a new project which means learning a new system for the bank he’ll be underwriting for.  Yay!

Meanwhile, when I get back to my job, different company, underwriting like Jim, I find out that there were some layoffs in a similar department.  Mortgage laid off many people, I work in Home Equity which is typically second mortgage.  I think a lot of the layoffs had to do with that government mortgage refi program, HARP that was going to expire soon. 

On my first day back, I find out that we’ve been “slow”.  All week I experience it firsthand.  Our underwriting system is set up that we pull tasks from our queues.  It might be an appraisal review, maybe just a file note, perhaps a document to review or even a new loan altogether.  Well, sometimes, when I pull for another task I get “no tasks available”.  Others may have tasks to work on their files based on their levels or just depending on what’s in their pipeline.

hand-crossManagement assures us that we’re being staffed to be ready for surges.  I can buy that; when I started we had a 5 hour mandatory overtime requirement… we were that busy.  They say that they’ve added more underwriters to the other sites which decreases the work load.  We’re being staffed at 90% of our busiest need.  It all makes sense.  I’m concerned but not worried.  I’ll roll with it.  What else can I do?  For now I’m tweaking my various checklists, forms, notes and other stuff I use.

Some photos from my phone:

2013-09-17 026Above: This guy is like my unofficial hero.  Everyday he carries a Superman lunchbox to work.  On this day he also had a Superman mug in the same hand.  Sorry for the blurred picture, he was almost moving at the speed of light.

2013-08-25 003Above: One of my favorite pictures from Alaska.

2013-09-14 025Above: Taken at a Flea Market in Augusta. It reminded me of an excerpt from a blog entry while in Roswell:


I’ll just add that to my collection of other bizarre business combinations:

2010-11-20 009


9-2-13 Monday (GPS vs Mapquest)

Saturday and Sunday with Mom and Aunt Donna was pretty laid back.  We really didn’t do much.  It’s tough because they both can’t do too much walking which eliminates many an activity.  Mom has a leg brace she’s been wearing plus her tooth has been hurting her during her visit here.  She was to a dentist prior to her visit and even during. They didn’t seem to mind just hanging out so that’s pretty much what we did.

Labor Day was their return flight home.  Allegiant had such a great deal but it was from Greenville-Spartanburg Airport rather than Charlotte. $450 round-trip total for 2 people is an awesome deal.  $46 of that was Trip Flex which was a fee to have the ability to change the flight. $20 my Dad paid for seat assignments.


The night before their flight, we were figuring out what time we’d need to leave by.  I couldn’t remember how long it took to get to the airport (yet I just went 2.5 weeks ago prior) so I used my phone’s GPS.  1:23 to get there.  So we calculated based on that.  We agreed we needed to leave by 7:30am.  Nighty night.

The next morning, my Aunt thought we agreed for 8am so she was a little late getting ready; we left at 7:45am.  The flight was at 10am.  Later in the driver I glanced down at the clock, it was 9am and we still had 25 minutes per the GPS.  That would put us at 9:25am for a 10am flight.  They still need to check in and go through security!  I couldn’t believe it, I checked Mapquest and it said it would take 1:45 to get there.  Where’d I come up with 1:23 via GPS?  Maybe the GPS thought I was somewhere else when I checked?  Damn!  I was so stressed it was unbelievable.  We arrived at the curb, they were directing traffic, it was congested due to airport construction.  Another delay!  Jim dropped us off, I accompanied hurried them through the airport as far as I could take them.  No one was in front of us for the ticket counter.  Their gate was A7, at the other end of the airport… of course.  We hurried to security and was told it would take about 15 minutes to make it through.  I had to leave them at that point.

Mom called me while on the plane, they had just made it.  They had to run.  They were the last ones on the plane.  Sheesh!

They almost missed the flight.  It’s happened on a previous visit December 2010.  On their next visit, extra time will be utilized! 

8-30-13 Friday (The End)

Up at 6:00 am, buffet breakfast, sit around and kill time.  Our flight back to Seattle isn’t until 1pm.  Michael and Mark joined us for breakfast.  They live in Seattle and even offered for us to go home with them and relax before our flight.  We decided to just go to the airport… slowly.  We awaited our private car service for quite a while.  No problem.  We wandered through the airport.  We sat near outlets, plugged in our laptops, used the airport’s Wi-Fi and surfed the internet.  I even worked on the blog for a while.

luggageCelebrity had a program called “Luggage Valet”.

“Luggage Valet is a convenient service that helps make your return travels as carefree as your cruise. On the final night of your cruise, you'll receive debarkation instructions, airline boarding passes, luggage tags and baggage claim checks. Simply place your tagged bags outside your stateroom door and we'll do the rest. Your luggage will be taken care of so the next time you see it will be at your final destination airport's baggage claim.” 

This was awesome.  As it says, they did the airline check-in for us, printed airline luggage tags, collected the luggage and the next time we saw them was Charlotte.  No loading and unloading into a cab/bus from the port to the airport.  It cost $20 a person.

In case you didn’t see each day’s entry or perhaps I didn’t make myself clear throughout, this was a fabulous vacation.  Alaska is wonderful.  If you just get off the boat and shop, you’re dumb.  Do the excursions.  They’re pricey but worth it.

Weather?  Some Augusta campground friends who went on the same cruise, same ship a few weeks prior to us said temps were warm and they wore shorts.  We checked the weather for each port constantly prior to packing and it was forecasted 60% chance rain and temps 40-60 so we back sweaters.  For the most part, the weather was t-shirt with a polo for me and pants.  For Jim, pants and a long sleeve shirt.  We had jackets.  The only time we had to bundle up was during our Tracy Arm Fjord glacier watching.

We never got to use the pool/hot tub.  The ship featured indoor and outdoor pools/hot tubs. 

The food overall was excellent.  Some was better than others. 

Entertainment was excellent, what little we saw.

Service was excellent most of the time.  There were a few hiccups here and there but it happens.

The ship is modern and in my opinion gorgeous… well isn’t it all my opinion?  There’s plenty of bars on board and always lots to do, even shopping.  We never hit the casino.  Usually we do. 

There’s plenty of photographers snapping photos all the time.  We didn’t have any photos taken.  Have you seen the size of us?  I’m not gonna pay for professional photos to show us we’re too wide.  Thanks.

No, there aren’t penguins in Alaska.

I think we had the perfect blend of adventure and relaxation.  Sigh.


8-29-13 Thursday (Day 7, Gardens And Castles)

It’s the last full day on board.  The ship was rocking a lot.  I woke up with a headache behind my eyes and a neck ache to match.  As if it wasn’t enough, I was also feeling sick, probably sea-sick.  I woke up at 10am.  Jim slept a little longer and he wasn’t feeling well either.  We started packing but I felt so bad I laid down again.  Then Jim laid down and it turned into a nap.  All in all, we didn’t leave the cabin until 2ish.

We ate a late lunch at an onboard creperie.  This particular eatery had a $5 cover charge.  The cover charge, like the specialty restaurants, is one flat price for whatever you want there.

We didn’t dock in Victoria, BC until 6pm.  We’d set sail again at 12pm.  We disembarked, boarded a tour bus and listened to a guide tell us about Victoria and its history.  After about 45 minutes, we arrived at Butchart Gardens.  They supplied clear umbrellas all throughout the gardens which was nice since it was raining.  Unfortunately we didn’t have much daylight but from what we saw, these gardens are amazing. We’ve never seen better.  I took a few photos here and there but with the loss of light and rain, most were deleted due to blurriness.  I would absolutely love to see this gorgeous gardens again in daylight.

2013-08-29 012

2013-08-29 001

2013-08-29 002

2013-08-29 003

2013-08-29 005

2013-08-29 010

2013-08-29 011

We hopped on the bus again and went to Craigdarroch Castle.  It’s a huge old house.  What more can I say. 

2013-08-29 022

2013-08-29 028

2013-08-29 025

Here’s Celebrity’s excursion description if you’re interested.  If not this is the end of this entry:

Craigdarroch Castle & Butchart Garden(VI33)

Victoria, British Columbia

Visit Craigdarroch Castle, a landmark home dating to the 1880's, accompanied by live classical music. You must negotiate a gradual uphill walk to the castle & 87 steps to view all four floors of the castle. Later your drive will take in views of a rolling landscape en-route to Victoria's famed Butchart Gardens. During your visit, children have the option to partake on a specially designed Garden Discovery. The gardens are stunning in the evening when illuminated by thousands of hidden lights, creating soft background lighting (not floodlit). Garden illuminations offered when night falls (mid May - mid June & from mid August - mid September). Approximately 1.5 hours at Butchart Gardens.

Departing Ogden Point your guide will point out Mile Zero, which is the western end of the Trans Canada Highway and Beacon Hill Park. Later your drive will take in views of a rolling landscape and farms en-route, arriving at Victoria’s famed Butchart Gardens, still owned by family descendants. The Gardens began with a turn-of-the-century effort to beautify a quarry site and since its inception has grown into 55 acres with all the colors of nature. During your visit, children, if they so desire, get to partake on a specially designed Garden Discovery - a great experience for the entire family. The gardens are stunning in the evening when illuminated by thousands of hidden lights, creating soft background lighting (not floodlit). Garden illuminations offered when night falls (Mid May - Mid June and from Mid August - Mid September). You will have approximately 1.5 hours at Butchart Gardens.

Your tour continues with a drive to the Craigdarroch Castle, an outstanding landmark home dating to the 1800’s. The Castle stands most affluent in a city steeped in heritage. Built in 1890 by Robert Dunsmuir, it boasts a unique collection of residential stained and leaded glass, period furnishing, and wood paneling and carving. You must negotiate a gradual uphill walk to the castle and 87 steps to view all four floors of the castle.

8-28-13 Wednesday (Day 6, A Day Of Rest)

Cruise Itinerary

As you can see by the itinerary, we’re at sea.  Man, we needed this day of nothing.  Sure there’s things to do I suppose but we don’t want to do anything other than eat, drink and nap. 

Eating.  Wow, today they did a brunch buffet in the main dining room.  It was done so well with ice, melon and bread sculptures.  Exquisite.  They had the typical omelet and waffle stations.  What a spread!  It’s always about the food for me, isn’t it?  Here’s lotsa photos of this spectacular buffet.  It was all so pretty, I almost hated messing it up.

2013-08-28 0062013-08-28 0012013-08-28 0022013-08-28 0032013-08-28 0042013-08-28 005

Celebrity Solstice Brunch Buffet video:

Some photos while we were walking around the ship:

2013-08-28 012

2013-08-28 008

2013-08-28 009

Perhaps later we’ll eat again and see a show.  Maybe we’ll even hit the casino and/or the pool.  I’m blogging today’s entry while Jim is napping (I finished mine). 

The cabin doors are “heavy” and have a self closing mechanism (the norm).  The problem is that they will slam if you let go of them.  On day 6 or so, the cabin next to us hasn’t figured this out and continually lets the door slam.  That’s what ended my nap.

Specialty restaurant 3 of 3, Murano, a French restaurant, was the “fanciest” of the 3 restaurants we’ve dined in.  Unfortunately, the menu featured a lot of animals I’m not particularly fond of munching on.  No worries, there were still delicious selections to be had. 

Our main course was Chateaubriand for two.  This was carved/served tableside.  Jim also wanted lobster so we ordered an additional entrée. I’m not a lobster fan but I do enjoy lobster bisque and some other lobster dishes.  I think it’s just that I don’t like lobster and drawn butter?  Anyway, the lobster was also prepared tableside with fresh ingredients in a frying pan before our eyes.  Impressive.  It was pretty good.

2013-08-28 020

Some funny things about the Murano: 

2013-08-28 017Above: Cold potato and leek soup.  It was served with a tiny demitasse-ish spoon and in something the size of a tea-light candle holder. Serving strange foods in weird ways makes it eccentric and costs more… I’m sure of it.

2013-08-28 019Above: After the waiter poured Jim some Diet Coke, he put the can into the chilled wine stand.  We laughed.

Tonight’s show was amazing.  Jugglers, hula-hoop tricks, silks, acrobats, dancing, aerial stuff, this show had it all and they were all so very good.  No photos or video were allowed.

Miscellaneous: Here’s a copy of the ship map:

Celebrity Solstice MapAbove: Click to enormousize.

8-27-13 Tuesday (Day 5, Choo-Choo)

Cruise Itinerary

Welcome to Skagway, our last Alaskan port.  It’s a long excursion day for us.  We hopped aboard a tour bus at the port.  Our tour started with a narrated ride through the downtown area with some residential drive throughs mixed in.  We road on the Klondike Highway into British Columbia and as far as the Yukon Territory Sign. We made several photo stops along the way. The bus turned around and headed back to the Fraser, B.C. where we boarded the White Pass & Yukon Railway.  The train car was reserved for our group.  It was 2 hours back down the mountain to Skagway.  This time we were on the opposite side of the valley/gorge.  This was a great excursion although it was long… maybe an hour or two, too long.

2013-08-27 001

2013-08-27 013

2013-08-27 015

2013-08-27 019

2013-08-27 020

2013-08-27 047

Salmon video:

Upon arrival to Skagway, we got off the train and decided to make a pit stop to a river nearby where at the beginning of the tour we clearly saw salmon jumping wildly.  We were able to get some fantastic up close photos.  Awesome. 

We hoofed it back to the ship. We ate the canapés platter.

2013-08-27 048

We also ordered room service for a snack, then showered, dressed and met up with Mark and Michael for cocktails in the Molecular Bar.  What a cool bar! 

2013-08-28 054

2013-08-28 052

We had a great meal with them in the main dining room, returned to the Molecular Bar for another drink then hit the main theater for the tail end of a show.

2013-08-28 0602013-08-28 058

Click here to see all of the photos.  Many are similar to one another.  This will take you to a Facebook album.  You DO NOT need a Facebook account to view the photos here.

Here’s Celebrity’s excursion description if you’re interested.  If not this is the end of this entry:

Yukon Adventure & White Pass Scenic Railway (SK76)

Skagway, Alaska

Explore the historic White Pass Trail of '98 from several different perspectives. Climb aboard the White Pass & Yukon Railway and ascend into the mountains, hearing stories of the miners who made this sojourn on foot more than a century ago. At Fraser, BC transfer to a deluxe motorcoach and begin your adventure along the historic Trail of '98 to the White Pass summit and into the Yukon. Stop at the Yukon sign for a photo and view of the Yukon Territory. Continuing down the Klondike Highway visit the Yukon Suspension Bridge where you can cross the suspension bridge, 57 feet above a class 4 and 5 river. Enjoy a bowl of Bison Chili before your return drive into Skagway. Bring your passport.

This one-of-a-kind excursion allows you to explore the historic White Pass Trail of '98 from different perspectives. First, climb aboard the White Pass and Yukon Railway and ascend into the scenic mountains, hearing stories of the miners who made this sojourn on foot more than a century ago. At Fraser, British Columbia transfer to a deluxe motorcoach, designed for highway travel, as you begin your adventure along the historic Trail of '98 to the White Pass Summit and into the Yukon. You will make a photo stop at the Yukon Territory sign. Continue down the Klondike Highway and visit the Yukon Suspension Bridge at Tutshi Canyon, where you will enjoy a bowl of Bison Chili. Listen to the awesome silence, interrupted only by the rushing rapids below the bridge.  View three-dimensional interpretive displays detailing the history of the area. Let the exhilarating experience of crossing the suspension bridge, 57 feet above a class four and five river take your breath away. Continue your journey down White Pass with views of waterfalls and Alpine Valleys before returning to Skagway.

8-26-13 Monday (Day 4, Glaciers And Helicopters)

2013-08-26 011Juneau!  Capitol of Alaska, here we are...almost.  We have 2 excursions today.  For the first, the tour group met in one of the smaller theaters.  Our ship was in the Tracy Arm Fjord.  A huge catamaran came along side our ship and we boarded that way. 

Cruise ItineraryWe went on to go deeper inside the Fjord and see glaciers up close.  The ship continued on to  Juneau without us.  No worries, because at the end of our excursion, the catamaran will return us to the ship in Juneau.

This was another amazing excursion.  We went to the North and South Sawyer Glaciers.  We watched the glacier as is calved several times.  We saw a double one occur which isn’t very typical.  Harbor seals and/or sea lions were laying on drifting ice all around.  It was all spectacular!  Here’s a few of the 104 photos I took today.

2013-08-26 007

2013-08-26 025

2013-08-26 020

2013-08-26 024Above: Seals!

Tracy Arm Fjord Sawyer Glacier videos:





The catamaran returned us to our ship where we went to the buffet for a quick bite to eat and then went ashore again to explore downtown Juneau while we kill sometime before excursion #2.  We went ashore via tenders.  For you land lovers, tenders are used when the cruise ship can’t dock because the port is full or perhaps the ship is too big.  In this case, the port was full so our ship used several of the lifeboats to transport passengers back and forth from ship to shore.  Generally, I hate this method because the process takes much longer to go back and forth.

2013-08-26 056

The second excursion was a helicopter tour.  A-MAZ-ING… and very expensive.  This was absolutely breathtaking and probably the most amazing excursion we have ever taken in the 6 cruises we’ve ever taken.  We flew to two different places.  One with just a small patch of ice atop a mountain with breathtaking views and the other right on top of a full glacier.

2013-08-26 057

2013-08-26 060

2013-08-26 061

2013-08-26 077

2013-08-26 089

2013-08-26 099

Helicopter Glacier Tour videos:





After this excursion, we returned to the ship, had dinner in the dining room, and then went back to the cabin.  Dining in the dining rooms is quite a production with the 5 or so courses.  It takes a while and by the time we finished dinner, I was a dishrag.  It was an exhausting day finished off with too much food = sleepiness.  I should have had coffee.  We had to skip the shows.

Click here to see all of the photos.  Many are similar to one another.  This will take you to a Facebook album.  You DO NOT need a Facebook account to view the photos here.

Here’s Celebrity’s excursion description if you’re interested.  If not this is the end of this entry:

Tracy Arm Fjord & Glacier Explorer - Celebrity Solstice (JU94)

Juneau, Alaska

After disembarking Celebrity Solstice while making a viewing stop near the Sawyer Glaciers, travel in comfort aboard a deluxe waterjet-powered catamaran to experience the very best of the Tracy Arm Wilderness Area, including glacier-carved cliffs, spectacular waterfalls & exciting close-up views of the majestic Sawyer Glaciers. You'll also have opportunities to view & photograph the area's abundant wildlife. Wear comfortable walking shoes & bring a warm rainproof jacket. The catamaran is equipped with comfortable inside seating for all participants, galley & restroom.

Join an exclusive opportunity to see the very best of the Tracy Arm Wilderness Area, including exciting close-up views of the majestic Sawyer Glaciers. The adventure begins as soon as you board a luxurious, high-speed catamaran directly from your cruise ship.  Relax in the warm, spacious cabin, surrounded by large windows as your experienced captain guides you past curious seals resting on floating icebergs.  The extraordinary maneuverability of this vessel will allow you to get as close as possible to the ever-changing face of South Sawyer Glacier.

From the topside observation decks you will be able to enjoy this unforgettable experience with all your senses.  You can sometimes even feel the “white thunder”, as immense spires of ice break from the glacier and crash into the sea.  Before departing the head of Tracy Arm you will also view the beautiful North Sawyer Glacier, which cannot be approached by large cruise ships. While exploring the length of this ice-carved fjord you will cruise beneath cliffs that rise 4000-feet above the jade-colored sea, and you can even feel the mist on your face as the vessel maneuvers almost directly under a plunging waterfall.  There will also be frequent stops to view and photograph wildlife, such as Pigeon Guillemots, Bald Eagles, Harbor Seals, Mountain Goats and Bear.

Departing Tracy Arm, the onboard naturalist will provide a wealth of information about the area, which naturalist John Muir called “one of the most dramatically stunning fjords of Southeast Alaska.”  Enjoy a variety of complimentary snacks and beverages served by your Alaskan crew as you trace the rugged shores of Stephens Passage on the cruise north to Juneau.


"Pilot's Choice" Glacier Explorer (JU07)

Juneau, Alaska

Marvel at vistas seen by few - high alpine lakes, "icefalls" hanging from sheer cliffs, and some of the most remote peaks and glaciers in the Juneau Icefield. Your pilot will create the best possible flight seeing based on the weather and glacier conditions. You'll land in two different locations, where you will continue the tour on foot! Approx. 50 minutes of flight time and 30 minutes for landings. Participants must register their body weight at the time of booking. Guests weighing 250 lbs. or more will be assessed a weight surcharge ($100.00) which will be manually added to your account.

Experience a second-to-none journey to see the best Alaska has to offer. Your pilot will give you an eagle's-eye view of high alpine lakes, "icefalls" hanging from sheer cliffs and some of the most remote peaks and glaciers in the Juneau Icefield - places like Wonderland, Glacier King, the Mendenhall Towers, and Devil's Paw. The itinerary is flexible; your pilot is free to create the best possible tour under the current weather and glacier conditions. For an up-close opportunity to appreciate this ancient landscape, your pilot will land in two different locations, where you will continue your tour on foot! During these two landings you will learn about the geological and environmental processes at work creating moraines, crevasses, seracs, and the glaciers themselves. Warm clothing and sunglasses are recommended. Glacier boots are provided. For security purposes, no bags are allowed on the helicopter. Approximately 50 minutes of flight time and 30 minutes for landings.