23 December 2010

Letters To Santa 2010

As they did in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 the kids are making their cases to the man up north. This year they did their own typing.

Dear Santa.
For Christmas I would like a stuff dog and a barby doll. Could you please get mind flex for me and my borther Alex. Can you get me a pack of fake finger nails. Also can you get me a nekalas for chirstmas. This is why I should get any presents this year. I was a good girl in ALASkA even though some of it was very boring. I got a wonderful report card at school. I got hamsters and I am taking very good care of them. Most peaple think they are just going to die. But not in my house. I love animals so much that I went to the carnival and won a gold fish in June and yet she is still alive P.S. It is a girl! From Ella!

Dear Santa,
For Christmas I would like Minatourus lego game, Mind flex, ipet and an interesting book. I deseve all this becuase A: I've been very helpful this year.
B: I've behaved around other adults.And C:I've gotten along with other kids.
(Apart from my sister.)


20 December 2010

2010 Christmas Letter

Cane Able

It was midnight and the sun was shining when I thought to myself 'This would make a great opening sentence for the Christmas letter'. It's not every year that I start working on the letter in July or in Alaska, but then 2010 was not just any old year.

Sure it started out calmly enough with New Year's Day finding us sharing our house with 20 of our closest friends. The resounding quiet after they left lasted into February when we got all the snow that we could ever want, then got it all again a week later.

It only took a few weeks to dig out, then Shelley and I made a long weekend visit to New Orleans. We got to meet my favorite trumpet player, Leroy Jones, and learn how to make gumbo and jambalyaya. We got back in time to take the kids to Great Wolf Lodge in Pennsylvania in May for Alex's eighth birthday.

Our big adventure of the year was a cruise and tour through the Pacific Northwest with 13 Roths, courtesy of my dad (thanks, Dad!). We traveled by ship from Vancouver to Skagaway, then on a variety of trains, busses, and assorted watercraft through the Yukon and Alaska. This was such a once in a 39-year experience (for me at least). You can read about it in more detail and see  pictures here.

In August Alex (3rd grade) and Ella (1st grade) started at a new school. They both adjusted well and enjoy their new situations. Sadly, Shelley has not adjusted as well nor does she enjoy the new minivan that carpooling to the new school necessitates.

Not sure if it is because of some latent migratory instinct, but when Ella turned seven in October, back to Pennsylvania we went - this time to make some bears and other assorted creatures in Gettysburg. Luckily in November, my friend Joe brought his football team to Maryland to save us from going to PA one more time.

Along with these events, the year contained the regular ebbs and flows of life in the 21st century. Shelley continues to work at Westat, and will be going back to full time in January. Though she is not yet ready to give up her day job, she has become a recording artist and you can listen to some of her stylings here. Meanwhile, I continue with GetGlue where things have been going well and normal people have started hearing about us.

You can take a look at the virtual version of our 2010 photobook, or better yet, come visit us, see it in person, and maybe even make into the 2011 version.

Best wishes to all of our dear family and friends for the holidays and in the coming year!

05 September 2010

Alaska Adventure - Day 9, 10, & 11 - July 10-12, 2010

Previously: [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3] [Day 4] [Day 5] [Day 6] [Day 7] [Day 8]

All my trip photos

"Bags Out" at 6:00 came all too soon, but it was well worth it when we boarded the McKinley Explorer bound for Denali National Park and Preserve. The only train ride I've ever had that comes close to the awe-inspiring scenery of this trip was years ago in Switzlerland (though the Amtrak through New Jersey is nice, too). Breakfast in the diner car was fun and tasty - the best salmon breakfast burrito I've ever had on a train. For the rest of the four hour trip we alternated between looking out the windows in the top deck of the dome car, and standing on the outdoor platform with the wind in our hair.

Two Rails Diverged

Shelley Express

Random Observation: As the trip progressed it seems all the other members of the Mighty 7A Tour Group were slowly and completely replacing their wardrobes with clothing acquired along the way that advertised all the places we'd been.

Once at our destination, we grabbed lunch with my dad at a special Denali sandwhich place called Subway then visited a couple shops to gather supplies for our trek into the park. On the deck in front of one of the stores we saw a coin. When we went to pick it up (all the day to have good luck) we discovered it was permanently affixed. A good trick.

At 2:00 we boarded a modified school bus for the Denali Natural History Tour. Yes, it was a school bus, but part of what helps preserve the Preserve is they don't allow private vehicles into the park, so these school busses are actually a great way to go. Indeed we went up and down all through the town, but it was worth it.

Before the trip I predicted that Denali would be one of my favorite parts of the trip and we weren't too far into the park before I was congratulating myself on my prognostication skills. Even after many, many days of experiencing views that I could hardly imagine, Denali was something special. I wished I'd had eight more eyes to see all there was to see. The five hour tour was at least a week too short.

The Cousins Off the Bus

After the tour we returned to the Village Of Shops where we discovered Prospector's Pizza - a pizza place with 49 beers on tap. I did not make it through all 49, but the ones I did try were all wise choices, and the food and atmosphere were great too. It was definitely one of my favorite meals of the trip.

We only had a short time to spend in Denali the next morning, and it was raining, so we went to the visitor's center where the kids earned their second Junior Ranger badges of the trip. Sadly we had to be back on the train and gone for the trip to Anchorage. Maybe we had finally seen enough scenery, or maybe we were just tired and depressed becuase it was the end of the trip, but that train ride was not very memorable.

I could say the same thing about Anchorage, though we basically spent just one night there. In the morning we were up and on our way to the airport before I had time to notice. The flight back via Utah (another new state!) was fine, though I now have a theory that Mormons always recline their seats on airplane, which I don't like.

As I write this it is nearly 2 months later, and still I keep thinking about Alaska, the Yukon, and the things we saw and did on our odyssey. The scenes we experienced are burned into my brain and will continue to provide a backdrop to my dreams for a very long time. We feel very lucky to have made this trip, and very grateful to my dad for making it all possible.

All that is left now is to answer the question that has been repeatedly asked by my kids and by my soul: When will we go back?

14 August 2010

Alaska Adventure - Day 8 - July 9, 2010

Previously: [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3] [Day 4] [Day 5] [Day 6] [Day 7]

All my trip photos (so far)

Another day in Fairbanks. This day in Fairbanks however was not actually spent in Fairbanks. Instead we met our new coach commander who commanded a slightly less comfortable coach, and bussed on out to the Riverboat Discovery. I discovered that this is a vessel designed to take tourists up and down the river while an ex-DJ narrates your trip in a way that most tourists seem to enjoy.

Paddle Wheel

The "highlight" of this trip, according to them is a visit to a fake Chena Indian Village which may or may not also be a fake Athabascan fish camp. I guess these learning opportunities are not my cup of tea, because for me the highlights of the trip were spotting some beavers in the river, and the tasty salmon spread samples the boat people severed on the way back.

After some requisite time in the gift shop, our new Coach Commander, who lets call Mike, drove us to visit Gold Dredge #8 which apparently is "just the ticket for an authentic look at mining life in early Fairbanks". I cannot confrim this because after the tasty lunch they serverd us (beef stew and biscuits FTW!), instead of going on the tour I took an authentic look at a nice cold authentic Alaskan beer in the shade and some authentic Alaskan ice cream.

In case that did not cure our gold fever, the next stop was up in them thar hills at a gold mine where we got to mine for our own gold. After only an hour of touring the mine, watching a sluicing demonstation, and actual sluicing some pay-dirt of our very own, I had discovered gold flakes worth approximately $16. For an additional $30 I could have had these put these in to a keepsake locket in their giftshop.

Next up was my least favorite stop of the entire trip. It was a visit to the Alaskan Oil Pipeline. In case you've never seen one, picture a big line of pipe that carries oil. I was even able to touch it, and you will never guess what it felt like (wait for it...) a big pipe. I understand the connection between oil and money, and realize there was some amount of fine engineering in building the thing, but to me it just looked like a big scar across an otherwise scenic landscape.

Luckily they managed to somehow keep the pipeline stop to under an hour, so we made it back to the hotel in time to head out on an optional excursion - the inaccurately named yet still quite enjoyable Midnight Sun River Float. Our guide, who lets call John Zahn because he was a cross between John Denver and Steve Zahn picked us up in a really nice van and took us to dinner. The eight people on this tour (4 Roths and 4 not-Roths) accounted for 100% of the dining room customers in the restaurant. Not sure why though because the food was quite tasty. Best salmon I'd had since that morning.

We then traveled to the river for the midnight sun part of the adventure, though it was actually about 9:00. At least it was sunny. Well, sunny for the first 5 minutes or so, then we experienced enough of a downpour to get plenty wet. We probably would not have signed up for it if it was called The Late Evening Get Rained On Float Trip.


Say What?

I'm glad it wasn't though, because even with the rain we had a really good time and enjoyed some relaxing time floating down the beautiful river. We also enjoyed the part where John Zahn left the raft to speak words to some guys who were shooting guns across the beautiful river.

Random Observation: The longer someone has lived in Alaska, the more compelled they are to tell you how long they have lived in Alaska.

When we got back to the Westmark, though very tired, we stayed up to see the actual midnight sun. Such a strange experience. Half my brain said "It is very late, you should be asleep." and the other half said "It is the middle of the evening - time to find some ice cream."

Next: [Days 9, 10, 11]

27 July 2010

Alaska Adventure - Day 7 - July 8, 2010

Previously: [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3] [Day 4] [Day 5] [Day 6]

All my trip photos (so far)

All too soon in was time to leave Beaver Creek. From there it was not too many kilometers before the neutral zone (which actually exists) and then the Alaskan border.

Let me take an aside here. Traveling with anyone can put a strain on a relationship. This is especially true when traveling with your kids, even more so when there are time zone changes, late nights, early mornings, and too much AIS (Bottom In Seat) time. Add to this (perhaps unrealistically) high expectations about your children's ability to cooperate, behave, and not annoy other people, and you may get to the point where you want to leave your kids in the previous country.

That is what happened here when Ella did not want me to take her picture crossing the border, which was right after we yelled at her for playing in the giant Welcome to Alaska pile of dirt.


Some more yelling and pleading and threats that she would never ever get a hamster finally got her to cooperate.

Take Off

We had miles to go before we slept, but we did still make a few stops. One was for lunch at some place I don't recall - but I do recall there was reindeer sausage, two kinds of fish and an ear shaped piece of cornbread all served in an iron skillet. Not too shabby. We later stopped at Rika's Roadhouse which had some picturesque grounds, but more importantly - ice cream.

We stopped at North Pole, AK where the presence of Santa in his giant giftshop forced me to fabricate some story about how he spends his summers in Alaska so that good girls and boys can visit him.

When we finally found Fairbanks we were free to find some food and some fun. I don't have too much to say about Fairbanks. Even though we stayed there two nights, we really did not see much of Fairbanks. Either that, or there just wasn't too much of Fairbanks to see. But I digress.

We settled on dinner at Some Greek Place after not finding anywhere more compelling that was open. Little known fact - Greek children like very spicy ham on their pizza. I learned this when the pizza my kids were splitting had some very spicy ham on it. My kids are not Greek. Luckily they had previously consumed 2/3 of my steamed clam appetizer so they would survive.

We explored more of Fairbanks, including a walk along the river on the river walk. We also got to a enticing fudge store just after they closed, but the Fudgiers were cool enough to sell us some tasty fudge anyway.


Next: [Day 8] [Days 9, 10, 11]

25 July 2010

Alaska Adventure - Day 6 - July 7, 2010

Previously: [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3] [Day 4] [Day 5]

All my trip photos (so far)

We were determined to have a better day Wednesay, and as we rode out of Whitehorse, Wednesday seemed to be cooperating. The weather was sunny and bright, and remember the bald eagle I didn't see from Day 5? On the morning of Day 6 the bird had not flown and was waiting for me by the side of the road. I spy with my little eye something from my bucket list. Isn't it good?

Our first post-eagle stop was Uncommon Journeys which provides dog sledding adventures in Canada's Yukon, among other things. Since we were there during the one month with no snow, we did not have a dogsled adventure, but we did get to hear all about it and meet the team. Also, there were cookies. It was a very good stop, and somewhere I would not mind coming back to someday.

Alaskan Husky

We continued along the Alaskan Highway until we reached Kluane where we were able to enjoy the sunhine while we lunched on sandwiches. Soon said sandwiches were gone, so Shelley and I sojourned to a more scenic view on other side of the street. I was glad we did, not just for the photo opportunities but also because we discovered a bakery that had delicious ice cream.

Kluane Sign

Kluane Girl
After more bump-diddy-bumping along the ALCAN highway, we stopped at Skipping Stone Lake. Note, this is not the actual name of the lake, nor is it a name I made up. It was actually made up by Coach Commander Parker Anderson, which made me appreciate Parker that much more. Even though this was yet another gorgeous lake with a breathtaking mountain background, the effect was just as intense as the first.

Cousins Range

Our final stop for the night was Beaver Creek (population 100) which is Canada's westernmost community. As we approached, we were told that there was no toliet paper in Beaver Creek. In a seemingly unrelated tour bus activity, we were asked to compose a song about Beaver Creek. One of the lines (that we did not use) included the phrase "You'll be asked to spare a square or supply a ply". Other lines were worse than that, and by worse I mean way better. The whole toilet paper thing turned out to be a fabrication however. I can only assume it was meant as some tour group bonding exercise.

Shortly after arriving we were treated to some dinner theater, Yukon style. (By the use of the word "treated" you should not assume that any part of this was complimentary nor should you assume that it was much of a treat). Leave it to Beaver Creek to show us that kind of good time. While the rest of us "enjoyed" the "show", Shelley ducked out and took pictures of blue, sunny skies at 11:00 PM.

Next: [Day 7] [Day 8] [Days 9, 10, 11]

22 July 2010

Alaska Adventure - Day 5 - July 6, 2010

Previously: [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3] [Day 4]

All my trip photos (so far)

The disappointing weather in Juneau followed us to Skagway while we slept. After our last breakfast at sea, we met the rest of our tour group - The Mighty 7A - in the Vista Lounge. Our tour guide Rosyln ($4 per person per day expected gratuity) guided us to a bus for an unnecessary 2 minute bus ride to downtown Skagway.

The town was booming in 1898 because of the Klondike Gold Rush where gold was separated from the wilderness. The town was also booming in 2010 where gold was separated from tourists. There was a National Historic Park in town so the kids were able to earn their first Junior Ranger badges in Alaska (2nd overall).

After grabbing lunch at the Red Onion Saloon (where the waitresses were both hotter and cheaper than the food) we all aboarded the White Pass-Yukon Railroad and took off for a trip up and over the Great White (North) Pass. It's the beauty way to go. If the weather had cooperated the views would have been something as we climbed almost 3000 feet in just 20 miles to Fraser, Canada. Even with the clouds and fog, however, it will still a worthwhile trip.

Watching the World Go By

Better Than One

In Fraser we met our coach and it's intrepid Commander, Parker Anderson ($4 per person per day expected gratuity) and we lit off a grinnin' to the Yukon, more specifically to the booming metropolis of Whitehorse. Though traveling by bus is not glamorous, it did provide us with opportunities to see and experience many things that we could not have done from the ship. The scenery along the way continued to be so stunning that I constantly could not believe it was real.

River Runs Through It

One stop we made was at Emerald Lake, the intense green color of which is hard to describe or capture. Another stop was at Carcross, Yukon (population 431, not counting tourists) which was less stunning but had really good ice cream.

In addition to the scenery, we also spotted some wildlife. Shortly after boarding the coach we saw a brown bear. On the way into Whitehorse everyone but me saw a bald eagle except. Since seeing a bald eagle in the wild is on my bucket list, I was quite disappointed.

What can I say about Whitehorse that has not already been said? It is a two Westmark town, and sadly ours was the one that was further away from downtown. Perhaps that is why of the 13 Roths that set out for dinner, only 4 made it to the Italian Restaurant in town. Since both kids were far past tired, the extra long wait for our food was especially enjoyable, and gave me ample time to feel sorry for myself for missing the bald eagle.

Next: [Day 6] [Day 7] [Day 8]

20 July 2010

Alaska Adventure - Day 4 - July 5, 2010

Previously: [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3]

All my trip photos (so far)

Alex's arm shook me awake at 4:00 am in the morning to tell me we had arrived in Tracy Arm. This is an fjord with stunning mountains, long waterfalls, and car sized chunks of floating blue ice. Or it would have been if that was where we actually were. Instead we were still a few nautical hours away from Tracy Arm. Even so, basked in the magic warm light of sunrise, wherever we were was still quite worthwhile.

There With Snow

A short time later while we were still not in Tracy Arm we traveled through what must have been a pod of whales. While a cool thing to see, it was not a life changing experience for me, and probably not for the whales, either. We went back to sleep. I don't know what the whales did.

When we woke a couple hours later, we could tell by looking out the window that now, finally, we were not quite there yet. After breakfast on the Lido Deck however, guess where we were. Yup, Tracy Arm.

The morning was cool and rainy but that did not stop us from going around the various decks taking pictures of all the scenery we were cruising past. The ship even did a 180 in a tight spot, which was a nifty trick. The place was unlike anywhere I'd ever been.

Look Out

Long Time Falling

the brothers Roth

We soon arrived in Juneau which is the only capital city in the U.S. that you can't drive to, not counting Honolulu. We were very excited to be in Juneau because from there we were going on the Taku Lodge excursion. This began with a floatplane trip past the ship, up the Taku River, and over, above and around some glaciers. Despite the rain and fog we saw amazing views of mountains, rivers, and blue ice and glaciers.


Slow Flow

When we arrived at the Taku Lodge I was able to check-off one of the animals from my Animals I Hope to See list - a bear. A relatively small black bear was situated in a tree, ready to pounce on a tourist. Of course I shot it. It wasn't long before several more black bears came around, so of course I shot them too. I think they were attracted to the site because they sensed in me a kindred spirit. Either that or they smelled the fresh caught salmon that was cooking over an alder fire.

Kids On Ice

The salmon dinner with the various fixins was so tasty. If you ever find yourself at Taku Lodge, I highly recommend it. The lodge itself was also quite interesting. It's a log cabin, the walls of which are lined with various dead animals from the area. While we ate we got the requisite local history talk, but for once it was quite interesting. Also the ice cubes were from a nearby glacier.

After dinner we went on a short hike, saw some more bears, then float planed back to Juneau. The flight back had even worse weather and therefore worse views than the flight out. This was a disappointment, but even so the excursion was the highlight of our trip thus far.

Here Bear

Next: [Day 5] [Day 6] [Day 7] [Day 8]

18 July 2010

Alaska Adventure - Day 3 - July 4, 2010

[Day 1] [Day 2]


Since we always spend Canada Day in the USA, it seemed only fair that we should spend an Independence Day in Canada, or at least traveling along the coast of it. This was what the sailors call a "Day At Sea" which is the nautical term for Cruise-a-palooza.

We spent the day availing ourselves of the shipboard activities. For the kids this meant spending time in Club Hal (doggie day care, but for kids), swimming, eating, and fighting with each other. For us it meant patting ourselves on the backs for leaving the kids in Club Hal, sitting around, eating, and taking a few pictures of the inner passage (including Shelley's lighthouse picture above)

Shelley With a G

Luckily they were offering a Fourth of July special - a bottomless mug of Alaskan Amber draft beer from noon to 2:30. I could not pass up an opportunity for what could be a worthwhile bargain on cruise ship. These are few and far between. Getting my moneys worth was hard work, which is probably why I then nook a 2+ hour nap - the longest nap I've had this century.

It was "Formal Night" for dinner which is nautical for "You Are Supposed to Wear a Tie" I have not worn a tie in nearly three years and was not about to break my streak for filet and prawns. I don't think they were really enforcing it, but still felt quite clever for picking up Ella and using her as human shield to hide my unensconced neck.

We ended the evening by attending the song and dance show in the Vista Lounge. Even the complimenty champagne did not make the show anything more than laughable. This was no more true than when the did their rendition of Clang Clang Went the Trolley. Perhaps it was a parody show of cruise ship song and dance shows. Nah.

Next: [Day 4] [Day 5] [Day 6] [Day 7] [Day 8]

17 July 2010

Alaska Adventure - Day 2 - July 3, 2010

[Day 1]

I could not face another day like yesterday, and luckily, so far today, I've not had to. This morning, based on a tip from yesterday's shuttle driver, we walked across the bridge to Granville Island. A brisk 30 minute scenic walk was just what we needed.

Bridge Over

Bridge From

Delicious pastries and hot beverages were also just what we needed. We spent the right amount of time browsing and sampling the wonders of the Public Market and wishing we had something like it back in our zip code. A quick ferry ride took us back to the hotel where me made the final preparations before heading to the ship.

Bridge Under

The first and only cruise I was on was 13 years ago. Though it was not unpleasant, I've had no strong desire to cruise again during the past bakers dozen years. Not to say I was not excited about this cruise, but I tend to prefer less structured ways of traveling. My opinion of cruising has improved during the time we've spent on the Zuiderdam.

Not sure if it because the ship and location are different or because I am, but we are having a great time on the ship. Other than losing at taxi bingo getting to the port, getting on the ship was a smooth and easy process. We went right to the Lido deck to begin the process of gaining 7-14 pounds.

Before long we were able to check into our cabin. Luckily someone cancelled thier reservation for a suite so we were able to snag it at a discount. Definitely money well spent, not only for the extra space but also for the veranda. After we explored the suite we then explored the ship until we discovered the pool, then the kids spent most of the afternoon exploring that. We did our lifeboat drill then set sail and bid au reviour to Vancouver.


Next: [Day 3] [Day 4] [Day 5] [Day 6] [Day 7] [Day 8]

15 July 2010

Alaska Adventure - Day 1 - July 2, 2010

Waiting in Baltimore

The beginning of a journey holds a special kind of magic. The waiting is over and all the possibilities are still ahead. We set out this morning for the biggest vacation we are taking together as a family. Our eventual destination is the 49th state - Alaska. This leg of the trip takes us from BWI airport to the Emerald City - Seattle.

I am very excited about this trip because we will be visiting a part of the world I've not yet explored. I am hoping to see and shoot (with my camera) lots of wildlife including bear, moose, elk, and the bonus animal - wolf. It will also be cool to make this trip with 12 other Roths - my wife, my son, my daughter, my dad, my brother, my other brother, my sisters-in-law Jennifer, 3 nieces, and 1 nephew. Talk about wildlife. But seriously, the seeds for this trip were planted by my mom years ago, so I'm sure she'll be with us, too.

The first surprise occurred as we boarded the plane. Who should be on the plane but The Traveling Roths from Mebane, NC? OK, this was not actually a surprise for Shelley or me, but it was for the kids. Not that you could tell from their reactions. I guess in their world it is a common thing to run into your cousins, aunt, and uncle anywhere you go.

We are currently 36,000 feet over the Midwest. From this altitude it sure does look flat. Any moment now my complimentary juice will arrive, so I will sign off for now...

Much Later That Same Day

As travel days go, today has not been terrible.  Even so, the last thing you want to do after a 5 hour flight is endure a 5 hour bus ride.  Especailly when it should only take 3 hours and especially when your traveling companions have had more than enough traveling.

We arrived at the hotel at 8:30 PM PDT low on steam but even lower on fuel.  We met up with 4 more Roths and found a pizza place nearby. I don't know it's actual name, so let's call it At Least It Was Close. Then it was back to the "Quality" Hotel to fight with kids until they gave up and went to sleep.

Next: [Day 2] [Day 3] [Day 4] [Day 5] [Day 6] [Day 7] [Day 8]