Mattie Miracle 10th Anniversary Walk was an $119,000 success!

Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation Promotional Video

Thank you for keeping Mattie's memory alive!

Dear Mattie Blog Readers,

It means a great deal to us that you take the time to write to us and to share your thoughts, feelings, and reflections on Mattie's battle and death. Your messages are very meaningful to us and help support us through very challenging times. To you we are forever grateful. As my readers know, I promised to write the blog for a year after Mattie's death, which would mean that I could technically stop writing on September 9, 2010. However, at the moment, I feel like our journey with grief still needs to be processed and fortunately I have a willing support network still committed to reading. Therefore, the blog continues on. If I should find the need to stop writing, I assure you I will give you advanced notice. In the mean time, thank you for reading, thank you for having the courage to share this journey with us, and most importantly thank you for keeping Mattie's memory alive.


As Mattie would say, Ooga Booga (meaning, I LOVE YOU)! Vicki and Peter



The Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation celebrates its 7th anniversary!

The Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation was created in the honor of Mattie.

We are a 501(c)(3) Public Charity. We are dedicated to increasing childhood cancer awareness, education, advocacy, research and psychosocial support services to children, their families and medical personnel. Children and their families will be supported throughout the cancer treatment journey, to ensure access to quality psychosocial and mental health care, and to enable children to cope with cancer so they can lead happy and productive lives. Please visit the website at: www.mattiemiracle.com and take some time to explore the site.

We have only gotten this far because of people like yourself, who have supported us through thick and thin. So thank you for your continued support and caring, and remember:

.... Let's Make the Miracle Happen and Stomp Out Childhood Cancer!

A Remembrance Video of Mattie

August 13, 2011

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Tonight's picture was taken in August of 2003. Mattie was one year old and red was a color right from the start that he gravitated to. It just worked for him and his personality! In his right hand he was holding one of his stackable cups. I still have his cups that he used to play with, mainly because he LOVED them so much. You can stack with cups, fill them up with all sorts of things, and also watch them float. The perfect toy for Mattie and his curiosity!

Quote of the day: Tell me, how can I live without my Husband any longer? This is my first awakening thought each morning, and as I watch the waves of the turbulent lake under our windows I sometimes feel I should like to go under them. ~ Mary Todd Lincoln


On Friday evening, the ship had its second formal dinner night. As always I travel everywhere with my camera and Peter captured a picture of myself with my parents along with the ship’s presentation production of the Baked Alaska dessert. Princess Cruise’s signature farewell to passengers is this dessert dance. Literally all the lights in the dining room are lowered and the Macarena is usually blaring, while the assistant waiters walk around the entire parameter of the dining room displaying hundreds of Baked Alaska all light up.


Vicki and her parents













Our assistant waiter, Jomel, in the Baked Alaska parade!















At the end of the evening, we asked our head waiter, Jose from Portugal, and our assistant waiter, Jomel from the Philippians, to pose for a picture. The wait staff on large cruise ships works extremely hard. Try 13 hour days, constantly moving, and trying to please all sorts of people. These folks also do not get paid much and therefore rely heavily on the tips and gratuities of passengers. In fact if you knew how much these people were paid per month you would be appalled and then wonder how on earth they survive and also support their families. Actually I would love to go undercover and write an exposĂ© on the true stories and lives of a cruise ship’s crew. There are times that I find myself feeling bad and guilty that so many passengers can afford to go on such a ship, and yet, the people helping us are working non-stop, for very little in return, just to try to get ahead and to support their families. This is a long and drawn out way of saying that I appreciate the people who have helped us this week.



This morning outside our cabin window we saw this sight! A sight Mattie would have absolutely loved. Dolphins as far as the eye could see, jumping in and out of the water. Everyone was outside admiring this wonderful and happy sight.







Peter zoomed in and got a close up of these wonderful creatures. I happen to love dolphins. I admire their intelligence and gentleness.











I just had to take a picture of my towel family, created for me this week. Mind you I am missing the monkey that Leonila (our cabin steward) created, but I kept the elephant, the dove, and the mouse. Mattie would have particularly LOVED the mouse.










Zumba picture We had a very active day on the ship. My mom and I started the day with Line dancing. Since I am been doing Zumba all week, I would have to say that line dancing seemed VERY slow. Despite that, I still like line dancing better. I suppose what I like about line dancing is that you have to use your mind to remember the routines, you are dancing in a coordinated fashion with others around you, and for the most part I prefer the music. After line dancing, we all participated in Bingo, and lost royally! After lunch, my mom and I went for a Zumba class. I am not sure I would recommend doing zumba after eating, but based on the ship’s packed entertainment schedule, this was the time of the class. Peter snapped a picture of the class in motion, and I have to say at times I got frustrated with this class because the instructor didn’t show us the movements ahead of time nor did she call out the movements while we were doing them. Top it off with the fact that most of us couldn’t see her feet, and it was quite a frustrating class for me. Nonetheless, I got a feeling for zumba this week and can definitely see how it would be good exercise.

Our final dance class was Salsa dancing. I have never done salsa dancing before and the funny part of this is I pretended to be the male in this partnership with my mom. So I stood in the line with the men and learned all the male dance steps, while my mom stood in the line with the other women and learned the female dance steps. At first I did not feel right about standing with the men, but I got over it quickly, and they got used to me standing with them and learning along. I can say that my mom and I learned to salsa today and though the male in this dance partnership is supposed to lead, I found it was better if my mom and I planned out steps together and followed a routine we both agreed upon. So in essence neither one of us was leading the other.

After three dance classes today, we all went for high tea on the ship. We hadn’t tried this all week, and I LOVE high tea, or hot tea in general. So this was a fun experience. While in the dining room, we happened to bump into Jomel, our assistant waiter, who came by to say hello to us. After observing me ALL week at our dining room table, he has learned that I love sugar and desserts. So he tracked down the dessert trays for me during high tea and sent them over in my direction. A man after my own heart!

It is Saturday evening, and we will be making our way to Seattle and arriving in port at 7am on Sunday. So it will be a very busy transit day for us and by the time I get to the blog tomorrow night, I will be lucky if I write three words. We won’t be getting home until around 11pm. But I have already told Peter, I plan on starting laundry at midnight and unpacking. Somehow coming home is never an easy process for me, but then again vacationing and day to day living without Mattie are equally challenging. I have seen many little boys on the ship this week, and naturally I can’t help but ask the continual haunting question…. Why Mattie?

August 12, 2011

Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday, August 12, 2011

Tonight's picture was taken in August of 2003 at my parent's house in Los Angeles. Mattie was a live wire and a handful to raise, but not when it came to being by a pool or the ocean. Mattie had a very healthy respect and fear of the water, so I knew he was never going to try to leap in or explore this without one of us. Since I tend to worry about drowning and children by a pool, his temperament and mine were a perfect match. Anycase, what I love about this picture was Peter and Mattie had matching swimming shorts and Mattie always loved pointing this fact out to others.

Quote of the day: We have met with so overwhelming an affliction in the death of our beloved Willie, a being too precious for this earth. All that human skill could do, was done for our sainted boy. I fully believe the severe illness [scarlet fever], he passed through, now, almost two years since, was but a warning to us, that one so pure, was not to remain long here and at the same time, he was lent us a little longer to try us and wean us from a world whose chains were fastening around us; and when the blow came it found us so unprepared to meet it. …He has fulfilled his mission and we are left desolate. When I think over his short but happy childhood, how much comfort, he always was to me, and how fearfully I always found my hopes concentrating on so good a boy as he was - when I can bring myself to realize that he has indeed passed away, my question to myself is, ‘can life be endured?’. ~ Mary Ann Todd Lincoln From letter to to her friend and neighbor Julia Ann Spriggs in Springfield, Ill., grieving over the death of Willie, the third Lincoln son, who died of typhoid resulting from contaminated drinking water from the Potomac river. May 29, 1862

I have two interesting stories I would like to share with you today. The first story involves our cabin steward. Our steward, Leonila, is from the Philippians. Until yesterday, I really never had the opportunity to talk with her, other than saying hello or requesting something in passing. But yesterday I went out of my way to find her and to thank her for the wonderful elephant made out of folded towels (picture posted on Thursday’s blog) that she left for us in our room. She appreciated being thanked and then started asking me about the picture of Mattie which we have in our room. As I mentioned the other day on the blog, Peter carries this picture of Mattie with him on all his journeys. Any case, Leonila told me she loved the picture and wanted to know how old Mattie was because he has a beautiful face. I then explained to her that Mattie died of cancer at age 7. Not what she was expecting to hear. She was visibly upset and saddened by this news. Of course she wouldn’t know this, but if Mattie were alive, there is NO way Peter and I would have ever gone on a vacation without him! Mattie was an integral part of our lives and the role of parenthood was taken very seriously by both of us.


Leonila and I got to talking and I learned she has three children and is a single mom. Her children live with her mom in the Philippians. She explained that she has worked for the cruise ship for 15 years and works hard in order to provide financially for her children. All of whom are going to college. She says when her third son is finished with college, she will move back home. However, she said that seeing Mattie’s picture reminded her of when her sons were little, and in a way she told me she feels bad for missing out on this portion of their lives. Two of her sons are 18 and the third is 20 years old now. I told her that I understood what she is saying, but I also told her on some level her sons will always be grateful for the sacrifices she makes to give them a good education and a better life. Leonila’s story is very compelling, and I can’t help but feel for most of the staff who works in the cruise ship industry. In a way, the crew is comprised on international folks who are working hard in hopes of achieving what we once called the American dream.

The second story involves our morning wake up. Today was going to be the day we were to sleep in without a 5:30am rising! I was looking forward to getting some sleep since I feel exhausted and wiped out from the cold and rain. However, sleep never happened. At exactly 6:05am, a ship alarm went off. It was actually a frightening way to wake up because Peter and I thought something was WRONG with the ship. The captain came on the audio system to let us know that a 14 year old passenger was MISSING. He went on to tell us the boy’s name, his age, and his cabin number. The captain encouraged the boy to report to deck 6 or to dial 6000 on any ship phone. So this was our first greeting to the morning. Naturally both Peter and I were very disturbed by this news. Within ten minutes after this announcement, again that horrid emergency alarm was sounded and the captain came back on to let us know the boy was found and returned safely to his cabin. This story gets worse, but I will continue it below. At this point Peter and I attempted to go back to sleep. Within 20 minutes, again the emergency alarm is sounded (third time!) and the captain comes on the audio system and announces that another person was reported missing. This time the woman was age 28. Again we learned her name, age, and her cabin number (which was just down the hall from us!). The captain announced that this woman needed to report immediately to deck 6 or call 6000. So by this point we are all awaiting the next announcement. It was like being glued to the radio awaiting information about a natural disaster. After about 10 minutes, the captain came back on (fourth time!) and announced that the woman still had NOT responded or been found. Cruise ships are prepared for all sorts of emergencies and disasters, and at this point, the captain began unfolding the next stage of the emergency process. At 6:30am, the fifth emergency announcement was made in which the captain asked for any passenger who were out of their cabin to return to their cabins immediately. He said this was necessary in order for the crew to do a full search and sweep of the ship. The notion of passengers out of their cabins at 6:30am after several very aggressive tour days was beyond me, but nonetheless, those out of their cabins did return. Again, the captain encouraged this woman to reveal herself if she was on the ship. The captain made a sixth announcement minutes later letting us know that another passenger (who they gave his name and cabin number) was being tracked down for questioning about this 28 year old passenger. By the seventh message, the captain announced that the woman had been found. OH MY GOD!!! I felt like I lived through some sort of crime drama show on the high seas. However, it was a little scary since it was pitch black outside, we were on the Pacific Ocean, and I was in my pajamas. Needless to say, no one on board the ship slept in this morning!

The story about the 14 year old boy was truly disturbing. We learned later in the day when we went to a scholarship at sea program that this boy was actually missing for over 12 hours, but his parents only reported it minutes before the announcement was made at 6:05am. Specifically the boy was missing since 5:30pm on Thursday, but his parents alerted the ship a full 12 hours later. I was actually stunned to hear this news! In my perspective, these parents are negligent and if they had a license to be parents, it should be taken away. Cruise ships are large, they have thousands of passengers on them, and even though the crew is outstanding, parents MUST always be responsible for their children and know where they are at all times. I imagine these parents developed a sense of complacency on board especially since there are extensive programs for children and teens on ships that occupy kids at all hours of the day and night. Yet, it would be my hope that when this child did not come back to go to bed, the parents would have noticed this!!!! It is appalling, anything could have happened to this boy, including falling over board into frigid water.

A missing person aboard a cruise ship is a serious concern. It is the ship’s responsibility to find this person. If this boy or 28 year old girl were not found today, the ship would be unable to leave Alaska waters and head to Victoria, BC. Instead a water search would have begun for these individuals, but with the cold water temperatures, no one can survive more than two hours without developing hyperthermia.

Since we were up early, Peter took some pictures of our day at sea. It was actually cold outside and at times raining. Yet Peter was able to capture the sun trying to break through the clouds.

We attended a cooking demonstration and galley tour this morning. The cooking demonstration was hosted by the ship’s executive chef, Nilo Palma, who was born in the Philippians, and the ship’s maitre d’hotel, Jean Paul Musiu, born in Alsace, France. The camaraderie between these two men was witty, funny, entertaining, and enlightening. We learned to make the following dishes: premium seafood and gin-cured salmon appetizer, classic ceasar salad, flambĂ©ed shrimp in a hot and fiery tomato sauce, and Tiramisu. We also learned that in addition to the 2600 passengers, they also have to feed 1100 crew. To do this requires the ship to have SEVEN kitchens and 208 cooking staff who at times are working 24 hours a day. These are just the folks working in the kitchen, there are another 276 staff who are serving the food. The amount of food on a cruise ship is downright overwhelming. In a way, it seems to me we could solve world hunger by just raiding the supplies of a couple of cruise ships. We are talking TONS of food and provisions. Everybody loves particular things about cruise dining. I am actually very simple. They could take all the food away from me, and just give me their freshly baked breads and I would be very happy. To me there is nothing like fresh bread.

After our cooking demonstration, several hundred of us went for a tour of one of the kitchens. As you can see from this picture, the kitchen is spotless and the cleaning regime in this facility is beyond impressive.

As our galley tour came to an end, Peter snapped a picture of my mom and I with Nilo (the executive chef) and Jean Paul (the maitre d’hotel). They were very gracious and more than happy to take pictures.

Later this afternoon, mind you today was a FULL day at sea and the ship keeps you quite busy with activities, we went to a navigation lecture hosted by the senior office on the watch. Who basically appears to be second in command under the captain. This officer gave us a wonderful overview of the responsibility of the ship’s navigational crew and I found it fascinating that cruise ships have a responsibility to respond to any neighboring vessel at sea who is in distress. Our cruise ship, like so many other cruise ships, would be the ideal rescue vessel considering the provisions of food and water, and access to medical care. Most large ships have doctors, nurses, and in some cases operating rooms aboard. What absolutely stunned me however was that the cost of fuel for our seven day cruise is 2 million dollars. I’m speechless!

For my readers who are RED SOX fans, you would be happy to know that the Red Sox nation is alive and well on the high seas. Whether we are on the ship or were in Alaska, people stopped Peter to talk scores and about the team. I honestly have never experienced such a unifying factor between people. Somehow just seeing that Red ‘B’ on his hat is a signal to others that Peter is safe to approach, to talk to, and to engage with in conversation. This doesn’t only happen in Alaska or on this cruise. It is a phenomenon that I have experienced everywhere I go. It is like fans have joined a special club or society, in which they all speak the same sport language and for the most part have some sort of connection to New England.

Tomorrow is the last day of our cruise. The ship docks in Victoria, BC at 7pm. We were scheduled to go on a tour of the famous gardens in Victoria at 7:15pm. The tour would get us back to the ship at 11:15pm. That may not sound bad, but it is awful, when you consider that we have to pack, have our luggage outside our door by tomorrow night, and then have to disembark the ship on Sunday at 7am. I honestly told my parents I did not think I had the energy for this, especially since Sunday involves being on a plane back home to Washington, DC for five hours. I have been raised to try to accomplish as much as possible and learn as much as possible even on a vacation, so I have had to come to peace with the fact that sometimes everything can’t be done. I am also focusing upon the fact that the trip was to see Alaska and we certainly did that fully. It is my hope that someday we will be able to see Victoria, because I have heard that it is simply beautiful and truly memorable.



August 11, 2011

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tonight's picture was taken in August of 2003 at the Los Angeles Zoo. Mattie was a year old and even at that young age three things were apparent: 1) he loved being outside, 2) he hated crowds and noise, and 3) he loved animals. These were givens with Mattie! Because of Mattie's interests, I quickly learned to love being outside and appreciating nature. A gift he gave me which will always be a part of me.

Quote of the day: The sorrow for the dead is the only sorrow from which we refuse to be divorced. Every other wound we seek to heal -- every other affliction to forget: but this wound we consider it a duty to keep open -- this affliction we cherish and brood over in solitude. ~ Washington Irving

Last night when Peter and I got back to our cabin, we found this sight right on our desk. Our cabin steward surprised us with a towel elephant and then placed Peter’s glasses on top of it. I am partial to elephants. If you are expecting a logical reason for this affection, I may disappoint you. I love elephants because my favorite stuffed animal as a child was of an elephant. Ellie went everywhere with me and this poor thing was so loved, every ounce of its plush fur had eventually all worn off.


We arrived this morning in Skagway. Skagway got its name from the Tlingit Indian name “Skagua,” which means the place where the north wind blows. The temperature today seemed cold and very damp, maybe in the 40s with non-stop rain! The irony is that Skagway is NOT typically a rainy part of Alaska, since they only receive 26 inches of rain a year. Skagway has around 800 residents in the summer and in the winter it drops down to about 400.

I learned the following about Skagway today: 1) It has ONE grocery store that receives food by barge on Tuesdays. By Thursday of each week, there is little to NO food on the shelves. 2) There are NO doctors, a hospital, or dentist in Skagway at ALL! The only medical professional available is a nurse practitioner. This left me stunned, since I can’t seem to function without a host of medical doctors in my life. 3) The law regulates pregnant women. All pregnant women are flown OUT of Skagway in their 8th month, in order to have their babies in a hospital in Juneau. Juneau, the capitol of Alaska, is the only place nearby with a hospital. Mind you however, that this hospital is NOT equipped to handle intensive care and trauma issues! The new mothers and their babies are not allowed back into Skagway until the babies are over 6 weeks old. Interesting, no?! 4) If you work and live in Skagway, you must bring and supply your own house, a RV to be exact. The cost of living in Skagway is very high, with rent being about $1800 a month for a one bedroom apartment.

The first non-Native settler was Captain William Moore in 1887, who is credited with the discovery of the White Pass route into Interior Canada. Gold was discovered in the Klondike in 1896 and by 1897, the first boatload of prospectors landed in Skagway. In 1897, Skagway grew from a tent city to a fair sized town with well laid out streets and numerous frame buildings, stores, saloons, gambling houses, dance houses, and a population of about 20,000. Keep in mind Skagway only has 800 residents NOW!

 When our ship docked in Skagway, we were faced with a very interesting mountain, a mountain that is unofficially titled, Skagway’s Ship Registry. Since the 1800s, when ships arrived in port, they would mark their arrival on this mountain. Currently, when a new ship comes into port, the crew from the ship paints its logo on a rock, and also lists the ship’s name and the name of its captain. The legend is the more popular a ship’s captain, the higher up on the mountain his crew paints the ship’s logo.

The sensation about the Klondike Gold Rush started with newspaper reporters reacting to the two tons of gold that sailed into the Seattle harbor on a ship called The Portland. At that time, the Country was coming out of a depression, so when The Portland arrived filled with gold, it signaled hope and opportunity for America.

Sensational journalism manufactured the gold “rush” in Alaska. This news was simply a tale, not based on facts or reality. These reporters in many ways are responsible for the thousands of people and animals who lost their lives in search of gold in parts of Alaska, GOLD that was never found, or ever existed.

Thousands came to Alaska in search of gold and quick ways to get rich which were described in newspapers. The local towns in Alaska, like Skagway, were deluged with people needing provisions, supplies, guides, and animals.

There were only two ways to get to where the gold was, which was not actually in Alaska but in Canada. However, everyone had to go through at least 33 miles of Alaska territory to eventually get there. One of the towns that gold stampeders needed to traverse to get into Canada was Skagway. Once in Skagway, there were two different hiking trails one could select to get into Canada. One was labeled as impossible and the other was labeled as easier and could be done in two weeks. This easy trail was called The White Pass Trail. However, the press LIED about the ease of this trail. Lying is NOT my terminology, it is the word of all those who live in Skagway and have researched the Klondike Gold Rush. The press basically wrote in newspapers that in two weeks time, a person could hike the White Pass trail which would put him in Canada. Once in Canada, the gold stampeder could board a boat and be taken to the Klondike River area, where the gold could be found. What the press failed to mention was the hike alone could literally take months, and even if you survived the trail, the hardship and weather conditions you had to endure were overwhelming. In addition, once in Canada, there was NO boat service. The gold stampeder had to build his own boat to get to the Klondike River. Keep in mind that over 30,000 people fell for this scam, and only about 100 actually survived and became wealthy from this venture (such as the Nordstrom and Levi families).

Once gold stampeders got themselves to Skagway, they needed a place to rest before hiking the White Pass Trail. So a tent city was established. We visited this tent city today and the city itself is called LIARVILLE. Telling, no?! Any case, gold stampeders needed to rest before hiking, because in order to hike on the White Pass Trail they were expected to cart along with them supplies and provisions. Actually about 1 TON of provisions per stampeder was mandated by the Canadian government (remember the Klondike is in Canada). Keep in mind there were NO cars or easy transports. The only way stampeders got their ton of provisions through this harsh trail was by horse. Thousands of horses died on this trail, and in fact the trail is unofficially called the dead horse trail. Because the trail was so treacherous, a railroad was constructed in 1898 that would take people from Skagway into Canada.

The railroad was constructed by stampeders who needed a job and money. Keep in mind that the majority of these stampeders used their life savings ($2500) to get to Skagway and to buy provisions in order to search for gold. If they were lucky enough to survive the experience, they were left destitute, and therefore in need of ANY job to get money, which in essence is how the railroad was built. Britain financed the railroad but the actual construction was American ingenuity.

Today we went on the White Pass Railway. It was like being a part of history and seeing what these courageous stampeders had to endure as they were trying to fulfill the American dream…. or a better life and wealth.

You can see the train on the tracks and the terrain of the journey. Many people on the train today were actually scared at times because when you look out the window there is a steep grade over the side of the mountain. It was easy to see that the terrain is difficult, rocky, mountainous, and simply impossible to traverse by foot.

Notice the intense fog. This is during the summer, and yet today was frigid and rainy. These stampeders traversed this trail even in the winter. During the winter, this area can get over 28 FEET of snow.

I love this picture, because Peter was able to capture the beautiful fireweed plant that freely grows all over Alaska. Even at high attitudes. The train trip took us to an elevation of about 3000 feet!

I title this picture…. FOG! A fog that seemed intense combined with raw weather.

After the train climbed up 3000 feet, you can see the terrain changed. It because more flat, however, despite that, it was still rocky and jagged and impossible to cross (with a ton of supplies) on foot!

The train trip took about 90 minutes. We boarded the train in Skagway, Alaska, and ended the trip in Fraser, Canada. So after going through customs at a border check we took a picture by the sign welcoming us back into the USA.

After the train trip, we had the opportunity to spend two hours in Liarsville. It was fascinating to see this Tent Camp and how these stampeders had to live. The camp has various tents, such as the bath house tent (in which CLEAN water cost 50 cents a wash; dirty water only 25 cents), a supplies tent (where stampeders could buy tools and even animals), and a tent for “negotiating affections.” This tent absolutely got me. Basically the stampeders were all men and this tent featured women who would sell their services to men, $5 for 15 minutes. In fact, the whole town of Skagway had this same tone, since one brothel in particular has been preserved right in the middle of town as a landmark and a part of history. LOVELY (and I am being very sarcastic!)!!!!

Here is a picture of what the reporter’s tent looked like on the camp. Technically these reporters were to be reporting from the field, but they knew how HARD life was on the trail, and they instead fabricated stories and tales from the comfort of their tent in this tent city.

We attended a show at the tent camp and got to hear some of the music and poetry stampeders may have participated in while living at the site. Interestingly enough one of the songs sung was “You are my sunshine.” For many people this maybe a happy song or a song that even reminds them of their childhood. For me, this song brings about sadness, since this was a song Mattie and I used to sing together all the time. As I heard the song, I was basically visualizing Mattie, his eyes, and his presence.

The last thing they taught us at the tent camp was how to pan for gold. I learned for myself today this is NOT an easy process and certainly the reporters who stated that you could literally pull gold out of the ground, were not only bending the truth, but were lying.

The last photo I would like to share with you tonight is of the city of Skagway. Skagway works hard at preserving its past and thereby its buildings. So in many ways, what we are seeing now is in part what may have been seen in the 1880s.

We have now set sail for Victoria, British Columbia. It will take us over a day to get there. We will be at sea all day on Friday and part of Saturday. It is hard to believe that our voyage ends Sunday morning. I think Alaska is a must see, but I also think one has to be prepared for the fact that this trip is NOT a relaxing vacation. This trip is about rising early, seeing and experiencing nature, and being active.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tonight's picture was taken in August of 2007. Mattie received this toy from Peter's parents. Basically the toy came in parts, which Mattie could assemble and design in any way he wanted. However, if the parts were interlocked the correct way, then the whole object would move using a battery powered motor. Well needless to say, my little engineer had absolutely NO problem with this toy. He designed all sorts of motorized vehicles and they usually would land up moving around our home to find me or Patches.


Quote of the day: Grief is hard on friendships, but it doesn't have to be. Sometimes, all it takes is a little honesty between friends. If we gently and lovingly explain what we need from the relationship during our time of grief. ~ Margaret Brownley

Today was a very full day that started, for at least Peter, at 5:45am! We saw sights today that we could NEVER have imagined and are almost too difficult to describe. We have seen Alaska before on TV or in movies, but seeing such natural beauty in person was an unforgettable adventure. Even despite the fact that it was frigid, about 30 degrees and raining!

 
The ship traversed the Tracy Arm fjord this morning. A fjord is a valley that was created or I should say carved out by a glacier. Such a journey took us about four hours! Tracy Arm fjord is an incredible stretch of passageway that is lined with all sorts of ice pieces, growlers (which are building size or larger pieces of ice), and views of Sawyer Glacier (one of 17 tidewater glaciers in the world). Tracy Arm is also comprised of mountains that are over 4000 feet tall, with Sitka Spruce trees lining them. The naturalist on our ship describes these trees as “pine trees on steroids.” That may sound funny, but when you see these trees which are over 250 feet tall, you begin to see there is a lot of truth in jest.

There are many different types of glaciers. A glacier is literally layers of snow that have become compacted and turned into ice. So a glacier is basically ICE! Sawyer is considered a Tidewater Glacier, because the ice runs from the land into the water.

I must admit that I did not know much about glaciers before this trip. But I have had a steep learning curve over the last two days. Not unlike us, a glacier also has a life cycle. It is formed by layers of snow that gets compressed and turned into ice. Over time, due to intense pressure, large pieces of ice get separated from the glacier. The separation process is called calving and the pieces that are severed off are called growlers. You can tell a newly formed growler because it is bluish in color. Apparently the ONLY color ice reflects is blue. Growlers eventually lose their bluish color and turn white/clear, and assuming the air temperature is above freezing, growlers eventually melt and as they melt they form smaller ice pieces the size of cars.

Glaciers, due to their movement, are able to create amazing effects on mountains and their terrain. In fact, as glaciers move passed mountains, they land up taking some debris with them. The debris gets embedded within the ice. Over time, as the ice melts away, glaciers form bodies of water, but they also leave behind their embedded sediment. This left behind sediment can look like the sand one would find on a shoreline of a beach. However, it is not sand at all, but the materials that glaciers have picked up and embedded over time. This sediment is called moraine. Let me share some pictures with you to help you visualize what I am talking about.


In this picture you can clearly see the ice pieces floating around within the fjord or valley. These ice pieces came off of growlers and the glacier itself. In so many ways, as our huge ship navigated this challenging icy terrain, one couldn’t help but remember the Titanic and the tragedy that ensued when a ship hit a massive piece of ice.


This is a beautiful picture of Sawyer Glacier. A tidewater glacier is ice that has formed from the land all the way into the water.

 
Here is a close up of a growler and the ice pieces that can be severed from the growler and glacier.




This picture captures all the grand beauty of the tidewater glacier and the incredible vision of ice that surrounded us. Peter loves the symmetry of this picture and the amazing way the mountains are reflected within the water.


This afternoon, after a zumba class, we headed on a tour of Macaulay Salmon Hatchery. The hatchery’s main purpose is to sustain and enhance the valuable salmon resources for the State of Alaska for the economic, social, and cultural benefit of all citizens.

These are not farm raised salmon, but they are definitely salmon who are helped along in the process. Salmon are salt water fish. However, they spawn once a year in fresh water. But not any fresh water. They ALWAYS return to the fresh water they were born in and they will travel great distances to get back to their birthplace in order to mate. However, at the hatchery, fish NEVER mate. Instead, when the adults come back in the summer, they go through fishing ladders and are then sorted and basically killed. Once killed eggs are removed from the females and milt is removed from the males. Baby salmon are formed artificially and after spending time in incubators, they are then placed in rearing pens for 9 to 12 weeks where they get imprinted. The imprinting enables them to recognize the scent of the fresh water within these holding tanks. A scent that they will then seek to come back to when it is time to spawn. Once these baby fish reach a certain size, they are released into the ocean and spend the next 2 to five years cruising the waters of the Pacific Ocean. When it is time to spawn they return to the hatchery and then go through the fishing ladder process. Basically these ladders look like an obstacle course, in which the fish have to jump hurdles to get “up river.” Once up river, or up the ladder (which replicates the jumping process they would do in the wild), the fish are killed for their eggs and milt. Though I was absolutely appalled by this process you have to keep in mind that even in the wild, when salmon spawn, the adults die thereafter.

 

Here you can see what the fishing ladder looks it. This is the obstacle course all adult salmon go through at the hatchery in the hopes of spawning.


 Peter captured a fish actually jumping over one of the ladder hurdles

 A picture of Peter and I right near the Mendenhall Glacier.

A panoramic picture of the glacier and the growlers right near it

A close up of “Mendy (as the natives call her)” and its waterfall. The waterfall is basically water runoff from the glacier.

My mom and I by Mendy.


Our final stop on the tour was the city of Juneau. Juneau is the capitol of Alaska and is approximately 3108 square miles with 30,000 people. I love the picture that Peter captured of the town, because you can see the amazingly thick layer of fog hanging over our heads.

Tomorrow we will be in Skagway, Alaska. Our day starts very early and the rhyme of the ship is quite different from a Caribbean cruise. People get up VERY early, 5am or so, and go to bed early!!!

August 9, 2011

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tuesday, August 9, 2011 -- Mattie died 100 weeks ago today.

Tonight's picture was taken in August of 2007. That summer I had gone to a conference in New Orleans and brought back a Mardi Gras mask and fan for Mattie. Mattie did not waste any time with this gift. He immediately put on the mask and wore it around the house. I thought he looked adorable in it and I am so glad I captured that moment. In fact, I captured many photo moments with Mattie. Naturally the explanation could be that he was my first and only child, but regardless, to me these photos are priceless. They hold a visual of our memories and they remind me of our times together. Times that were too short and fleeting.


Quote of the day: Please be patient with me; I need to grieve in my own way and in my own time.
Please don't take away my grief or try to fix my pain. The best thing you can do is listen to me and let me cry on your shoulder. Don't be afraid to cry with me. Your tears will tell me how much you care. Please forgive me if I seem insensitive to your problems. I feel depleted and drained, like an empty vessel, with nothing left to give. Please let me express my feelings and talk about my memories. Feel free to share your own stories of my loved one with me. I need to hear them.
~ Margaret Brownley

The Sapphire Princess docked at Ketchikan, Alaska this morning at 6:30am. As we were coming into port, Peter snapped some wonderful pictures of our journey.





We were on shore by 7:15am and began our tour of the city, attended an amazing lumberjack show, and toured Totem Bight Park. Ketchikan received its name from the Tlingit people, who originally settled this area as a summer fishing camp. The Tlingit name for Ketchikan Creek was recorded in 1881. One translation of the word extends into “spread wings of a prostrate eagle” because the course of the creek when viewed from above resembled the outspread wings of an eagle. Another version says the real name was Katskan or land belonging to Kats, an early Tlingit chief.

By the late 19th century, the discovery of gold and copper created a need for a mining supply center. Gold was discovered in the nearby hills and copper was discovered a short time later. Ketchikan quickly became the supply center for all the mines in the surrounding area. Ketchikan’s economy is dependent on tourism, commercial fishing activity and marine and retail services. Today it is a popular tourist destination. It is known as “The First City” because it is the first stop for ships heading north along the famed inside passage.

It was a glorious weather day in Ketchikan, the SUN was out and by midday it was in the high 60s. Our tour guide told us that seeing the SUN is VERY rare, even in the summer. Make a note that Ketchikan gets an average of about 14 FEET a year of rain! OH MY GOD! I need the sun, however I learned that people in Ketchikan need the rain. They love the rain, and we were told people get edgy when it doesn’t rain in a few days. Want to know why? Because Ketchikan has no municipal water supply and the only source of water is RAIN. Every house has a cistern to catch rain. To me this gives rain a whole new meaning. Rain is a necessity for life here. From my East coast perspective, I would say living in Ketchikan is downright challenging at best. It may be tolerable May through September, but after that point, the amount of sunlight decreases each day and the weather becomes cold. Ketchikan’s number one industry is tourism, with 36 cruise ships visiting EACH DAY during the summer! During the winter months the whole area goes into hibernation. Ketchikan is an island and the only way onto it is by ship or plane. Our tour guide told us that Alaska Airlines is the ONLY airline that flies into Ketchikan and the cost of an hour and a half flight from Ketchikan to Seattle is over $600. Being an island, the cost of living for residents is very high. Our tour guide bought 3 bundles of asparagus in the grocery store last week and she spent $23 on that alone and a package of ground beef was over $9. In a way it leaves you speechless! Keep in mind that our tour guide is a special education teacher during the year and in the summer months she is a tour guide. She says she can’t live in Ketchikan on her $36,000 a year school job.

The first stop on our tour today was to a lumberjack show. Peter was familiar with this sport, since he has seen these lumberjack athletes perform on ESPN. Honestly I did not know what to expect, but after watching this entertaining and yet amazing show for an hour, I can clearly see the art and skill needed to be a lumberjack. It doesn’t necessarily involve just sheer strength and bulk, it requires ability and agility. The audience at the show was divided into two halves. One half cheered for the American “Spruce Pine Mill” lumberjacks and the other half cheered for the Canadian “Dawson Creek” lumberjacks. These two teams competed with each other doing various lumberjack stunts. The site upon which the show took place was the old Spruce Pine Mill of Ketchikan and the only other large pine mill nearby was in Canada, The Dawson Creek Mill. So history provides some explanation for the names of the competing lumberjack teams.

Our “Dawson Creek” team member, Bryce, throwing an axe at a target! Bryce was an amazing lumberjack and apparently he has achieved an “ironjack” status, a status that only 19 other people have obtained in the world!

Bryce won the pole climbing competition today. He climbed up 55 feet in the air within 30-40 seconds!

Our other team member, Michael, was also amazing. Very agile and light on his feet. During the log rolling competition it almost seemed like he was dancing rather than just picking up his feet.

At the end of the performance, Peter took my picture with the two competing teams.

The next stop on our tour was to Totem Bight Park. At this park, we learned about the rich Native American history on the Island of Ketchikan. In fact, during two weeks of every school year, local Native Americans come into the classrooms and teach curriculum. The Native American history, traditions, and culture are imperative to all that live in Ketchikan, and Native American children and non-Native American children are integrated in the same schools. In addition, in middle school, every Ketchikan child is sent on a three day “survival camp.” Basically that entails a test of survival. Middle school children are given only a sleeping bag and NO other provisions. They must use the skills taught to them by Native Americans in order to live for three days without food, water, or shelter. As I was listening to this, the scary notion crossed my mind that I would never have graduated from middle school if I grew up in Ketchikan.

At this park we learned about Native American Clan Houses. Within each house lived an extended family of about 40 or more people. All these people were related to each other. However, I must emphasize that in this one large roomed house there was NO privacy. There were no closets, instead of walk in closets, they used walk on closets (closets which were found under the floor boards). In each clan house was also totem poles. I learned today that there are six different types of totem poles. Some are for memorial purposes or serve as headstones of a deceased and others can be used as supporting posts within a house for example. Nonetheless regardless of the purpose, the totem pole ALWAYS tells a story. Not in WORDS, but in pictures. Usually pictures of animals. In addition, totem poles always have a human face on them, to indicate the strongest or most dominate part of the structure. Like we read a book from left to right, a totem pole is read from bottom to top! It was fascinating to me how our tour guide who is a non-Native American knew many of the legends and cultural stories of her local tribes. In fact, she was able to translate many of the totem poles we saw and shared the legends and meanings with us. It was like listening to an Aesop fable, filled with meaning and a moral lesson!

Outside the clan house, you can see how colorful the exterior is. In fact, the exterior of a clan house could always be seen from the water. The pictures on the outside of the house helped to identify the tribe and family member of its owner. This particular clan house belonged to the Raven family, and those who passed the house by canoe could determine if they would be welcome at such a house or not.

Totem poles are made out of one large cedar tree trunk. Some are 50 feet tall! Each piece of the tree is intricately carved and only three colors are typically seen on a pole: blue, red, and black. In addition, to get a wooden copy of a totem pole here in Ketchikan, it costs anywhere between $1000 to $3000 per foot. So it is very expensive, and it takes years of training to be considered a master carver.

I wanted to share this picture of me with a totem pole to show you the amazing size difference.

I would like to end tonight’s posting with two messages. The first message is from Mattie’s oncologist and our friend, Kristen. Kristen writes to us each Tuesday in honor of Mattie’s passing. Kristen wrote, “Just wanted to send a note to you all the way to Alaska! Thinking of you this Tuesday and every day.”

The second message is from my friend and colleague, Nancy. Nancy wrote, “As I looked at the pictures of Seattle, I was reminded of my stay during the AMHCA conference and our visit to the Space Needle. Being so high up from the ground helped me to bridge ‘heaven from earth’ and appreciate all the wonders that life has to offer. I know that Mattie’s death has made recent sightings bittersweet, although, each sighting and reference keeps him in each of our thoughts. Although out of context, I wanted to remind you, as Karen did, that even though the staff has changed at the hospital, Mattie’s presence and experience is still there. You are living proof and I get that what you miss most was the connection that you felt with all of the staff and how they kept you afloat during those turbulent times. I guess this is what ‘time marches on’ is referring to. The picture of Charlotte and Mattie was precious and so telling about Charlotte. She is another wise and old soul! Maybe that is why she and Mattie were so close. To see a child their age be able to understand and be fully present with Mattie was exceptional. Peter’s picture of Mattie was so genuine. What each of us knows about grief is that one doesn’t need an actual picture of a loved one to carry with them after they have died, so this one of Mattie is reminiscent of his going along on the trip. In some way I see it as a way for Mattie to visualize all of the experiences for himself.”