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Is that the sound of a shoe dropping?

June 28, 2010

I have it all. And I am not saying that to boast or brag, but because sometimes I wonder why. How?

One friend tells me I have figured out “The Secret” — that as soon as I put something “out there,” it falls right in my lap. And I’ll admit, I’ve given that explanation some weight, at times, and here’s why:

When I was pregnant with my first child, I wanted a boy. And, on Jan 9, 1985, my son Tim was born.

When I was pregnant with my second child, I wished for a girl. Robyn was born in 1986.

Third child: wanted a boy. Had a boy. Fourth child…asked for a boy….well, you get the picture…I had a boy.

I remember being sort of amazed that I got every single wish.

Of course, I didn’t wish for a bad marriage — and I got that. But then, I didn’t ASK for a good one, not the first time, away. That was where I went wrong. And when I did ask  — when I asked “the Universe” for someone to love me unconditionally, be handsome and intelligent, have a good job, lots of patience, who had a good sense of humor, would appreciate my sarcasm and love my two children — when I “put that wish out there,” I got it. Just like that. Thank you Universe.

My friend laughs at me for some of the things that she says I’ve “put out there,” that have come to me. She once told me she wouldn’t want to get on my bad side — what with every single person that I loathed working with at my company being let go and all (and yes…I totally asked the Universe to find a way for me to NOT have to deal with these women…every last one of them…).

Good Karma?

When we were looking for a new home a few years back, our real estate agent showed us all the houses that we asked to see, then she took us to this amazing house at the back of the neighborhood. The minute I saw it, I loved it. A two-story with a grand entrance, two car-garage, flat driveway (quite the find here in Lawrenceville), wooded backyard, two-story deck, huge kitchen with a bar, finished basement,…..and the list went on.

This was during a time when houses were moving fast, and this one was a hot property. But, I put it out there. And, the weirdest thing happened.

We put an offer in on the house, with a condition, of course, that our house would sell. Even though I was so hoping we would close this deal, I had realistic expectations that it would be snatched away before we could find a buyer for our house. Then the call came that there was another offer on the house — from out-of-towners. We held our breathe, waiting to see what the sellers would do. I saw my family in that house. I saw my kids playing in the basement and I saw myself soaking in the huge garden tub with the waterfall faucet (that I’ve always wanted).

I knew it was my house, so how could they sell it to those Floridians? They wouldn’t.

And they didn’t. In a twist of fate — one unheard of during hot real estate times, I’m sure — the owners decided to take the house off the market, and keep our offer open for 60 days, allowing us time to sell our house. No one else would see the house, and they wouldn’t take any more offers.

Our house sold within a week. We got the new house. I got what I wanted.

And really, sometimes, I do wonder why I have it so good. I’m not a bad person, or anything like that, but there are times when I wonder if my luck will run out! Of course, I don’t put THAT out there. With my POWERS and all, I’d rather not tempt the Universe.

I don’t want to be sitting around waiting for the axe to drop; the shoe to drop, but I do want to always keep it in check: be grateful and recognize that I am truly lucky. That I have so much in my life today. I must be doing something right…and I just hope that whatever it is, I keep on doing it…

Is Reality Real? Really? Why I Wanna Be a Wannabe

June 28, 2010

Guest post – Best-selling author Jacquelyn Mitchard

Perhaps I’ve watched ‘The Apprentice’ twice. Perhaps it is because I am unjust to Donald Trump, unfairly prejudiced against his hair comb, although I admit his other abilities.

I watched ‘The Celebrity Apprentice’ once, because I can’t figure out if Sharon Osbourne is gallant or nuts – and because she survived colon cancer, the disease that killed my husband.

What I really like to watch are cooking and designer shows. My favorites are ‘Chopped’ and ‘Project Runway.’ I have a son who’s a chef and love seeing tension juxtaposed with knives. And Heidi Klum’s icy gentleness is somewhere between Supernanny and Berlin, 1938. She fascinates me.

But when I say that these are my “favorites,” I mean I’ve watched them … maybe four times each.

Except for ‘Law and Order,’ ‘Glee’ and ‘The Good Wife’ (Dick Wolf, I’m still ready for my cameo!) I’m not a big TV fan. I was addicted to ‘West Wing’ and, a thousand years ago, to ‘The X-Files,’ and I’ll watch almost any drama and have even been caught watching the Hallmark Channel.

If I were a big TV fan, I wouldn’t watch reality TV. Reality TV seems, to me, like a business lunch, that is to say, it’s neither thing. Shows like ‘Bad Girls,’ and ‘The Hills’ and that one about the rich girls with the long hair and the Armenian last name make me want to set myself on fire. I keep waiting for the show called ‘Ridealong with the LA County Coroner,’ and mark my words, it’s going to happen.

But talk shows pre-dated reality TV, although the two forms have blended in the age of rants and reunions.

So why do I want my own talk show?

Why am I willing – no, eager! – to make a fool of myself in front of God and country by submitting a video audition on Jacquelyn’s Audition: Oh, Jackie! (Reinvent Yourself. Reinvent Your World) – OWN TV to be considered as a contestant on a reality show for which the grand prize is … well, your own talk show on OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network?)

Undoubtedly, it’s because it’s I remember from being a child sneaking down the hall at night in our apartment to watch ‘Dick Cavett.’

I’ve watched old films of the Dick Cavett show and it would never make it on TV today. Everything is plain, slow and cerebral. The guests sat on regular chairs and Cavett’s monologues were often about his obsession with things that nobody had really got on board with yet – like the dangers of the airplane then known as the Super-Sonic Transport, ‘The Concorde.’ And yet, when it came to the Concorde, Cavett was prescient: The Air France airliner crashed ten years ago next month, ending effectively that mode of expensive, unnecessary high-speed travel. Cavett also had really funny people on. At the age of 11, I didn’t know much about Gore Vidal and Truman Capote but they fought in a way that I found hysterically bitchy and cool. Charlie Rose is the closet thing around to that old show now. But it’s just not funny, or if it is, it’s too dry for the modern palate. Bill Maher is incredibly funny but too vulgar even for me and definitely too vulgar for daytime. ‘The View’ is the closest  thing around but it’s too often a hen party or mean-spirited or silly – with Barbara Walters’ exasperation plain when she has to listen to her co-hosts take off on a subject with no regard for facts and plenty for their own polarized beliefs. (I exempt Joy Behar. I love Joy Behar.)

If I watch talk shows now, it’s generally Joy Behar. I don’t like that Jon Stewart, although he’s really smart and terribly funny, doesn’t really have “guests.” He has 58-second confrontations with other smart and funny people, or people with whom he has a bone to pick. Joy Behar luxuriates with her guests. Then she adds more. Sometimes, it’s just one person. It’s like a long visit with an old friend.

And that’s what I would want to do – a daytime vision of Joy Behar with a little more snap and slapstick a la Ellen DeGeneres (there is only one Ellen and long may she reign), with some stories that are really stories (like Oprah’s story about Janni, a seven-year-old schizophrenic, who is the beautiful and tragic daughter of two of my dear friends). There would also be some visits that are really visits, in the manner of James Lipton on ‘Inside the Actor’s Studio,’ although perhaps not quite so … er, long-winded and worshipful (sorry James; really, still ask my son Marty to be on one day when he’s famous!).

So let’s do this. Go to Jacquelyn’s Audition: Oh, Jackie! (Reinvent Yourself. Reinvent Your World) – OWN TVand vote for me. This is how you do it.

For you, it’s a win-win. If you think I’m a self-seeking nut, you can see me fall on my bizonga.

If you think I’ve got a decent head and a good heart and some chops, maybe you’ll identify with me as one of your own.

Anyhow, if you’re not gigging, you’re dying. So let’s have some fun before we die.

Jacquelyn Mitchard, is author of the best-selling novel The Deep End of the Ocean, which was the first selection for Oprah’s Book Club. Other books by Mitchard include The Breakdown Lane, Twelve Times BlessedChristmas, Present, A Theory of RelativityThe Most WantedCage of Stars, and No Time to Wave Goodbye.

Alaska Cruise: Day Seven

June 27, 2010

Day 7 on The Pearl: Victoria, BC

Today was our last day on The Pearl. Why does time fly so much more quickly when you’re not sitting in a 7 x 10 cubicle? Strange, how that is.

We slept in a little later than we had been – partly because we were up late (with the waves tossing the ship from side-to-side, it was tough to get to sleep!) — and partly JUST because we could. We have had a busy week and here we were : packing day.

The mood on “the last day” is always a little less jovial than the first day. Our fellow passengers were, like us, packing clothes back into suitcases, checking under bunks for the deodorant they lost on day 3, and basically preparing themselves for re-entry into the real world.

We had breakfast in the dining room with the boys and then Dave and I hit the spa for one last round of relaxation. We savored every last minute — soaked in the whirlpool, then lounged in the therapy pool, then back to the whirlpool. I gave the spa my tension, and as far as I was concerned, there was a “no return” policy, so I was leaving this ship before they tried to give it back.

We were back in calm waters, so we met the boys for a quick lunch and few games of shuffleboard. Nick and I teamed up against Dave and Dylan. I can’t remember who won, but it was a lot of fun.

Showtime
As we were arriving in Victoria, B.C. at 5 p.m., the traditional evening “Farewell” show was scheduled for early afternoon  in The Stardust
Theatre. A return performance from the jugglers and some lively music by the Four Seasons cover band brought the audience to its feet.

After the show we spent the next hour packing and getting ready for our arrival in Victoria.

Victoria
We arrived at the port of Victoria a little early and we were on shore by 4:45.

What a beautiful city! The taxi driver took us to the downtown district and dropped us off in front of  The Empress Hotel — one of the oldest and most famous hotels in Victoria.

The hotel was built in 1904 and is well-known for its Edwardian afternoon tea service. During the summer months, the hotel serves tea, tea sandwiches, fresh scones and Jersey cream to hundreds of tourists and guests in its Tea Lobby.

Victoria is the capital city of British Columbia and is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island and has a well-earned reputation for its myriad of beautiful gardens. Over-flowing baskets of flowers hang from the classic antique lampposts that line the downtown streets. The distinctive architecture was charming and the city has an old-world feel to it.

Even though many of the larger stores closed at 6, the downtown district was still buzzing. Street musicians and artists added the beauty of their music to the scenery. We came across one artist whose sidewalk art was breathtaking.

Bastion Square
The site of the original Fort Victoria, and said to be one of the most haunted areas of the city, Bastion square is home to many shops, arts and crafts venues, and restaurants and cafes that
offer a scenic view of Inner Harbor.

It was here that I finally found the perfect souvenir from my trip. Traditionally, I like to buy one small piece of jewelry — inexpensive but authentic to the region — on every vacation. I prefer for it to be made locally, or made from materials that are from that particular region. My find was a beautiful necklace, hand-crafted by a local artist. It was lovely and she was sweet, and I was glad that I was supporting a local artist.

The Harbor (Harbour, in Canadian…)
After my big “find,” we headed back to the harbor. We only had a few hours in Victoria, but when we arrived, I spotted a market across from The Empress hotel.

We strolled through the market, listened to a band play, and Nick found the best Belgian waffle he said he’d ever had in his life. He also found a new friend on the Harbor, who gave him a little trouble.

Back on board — last night of our Alaskan voyage
We were back on board around 9 p.m.. The boys headed up to the teen room so they could spend some time with new friends on the last night. Dave and I spent the evening in the lobby bar, listening to music, dancing and trying to savor every last minute of our last night aboard The Pearl

At 12:30, we finally called it a night. Our Alaskan voyage had come to an end. It was heavenly. Perfection. Beautiful. Even better than I imagined. Lots of laughs. Dancing and dining. Scenery that took my breath away.

And Sex at Sunset (the drink…of course).

Photo credit: Dave Morrison

Alaska Cruise: Day Six

June 25, 2010

Day 6 on The Pearl: Ketchikan, Alaska

Arrived in Ketchikan early, and got off the ship right after breakfast as we only had a short time on shore. All aboard was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Just enough time to do a little shopping, and tour the “Red Light District” of Creek Street.

Ketchikan –known as the salmon capital of the world — is five hundred miles north of Seattle, is Alaska’s “first city,” with a historic downtown area that welcomes cruise passengers daily.  Nestled between water and forested mountains, Ketchikan is not built into steep hills. Steep wooden staircases, boardwalks and totem poles are dotted throughout the city.

Shopping in Ketchikan
We hopped on shuttle (free!) from the dock to downtown and poked through the numerous shops and galleries in search of the perfect gift for Nick’s girlfriend. The day was cold. Colder than any of the other ports we’d stopped along the way.

We found some interesting shops and were greeted at several of the shops by large Ketchikan wildlife.

Some of our favorite finds at the souvenir shops were the hats. Not just any hat. If you’re in Ketchikan, you have to get yourself a warm hat. We tried on a few.

Creek Street
Creek Street is located just a short walk from the dock. We strolled down the rustic boardwalk and popped in and out of the  rows of wooden buildings perched over the water on pilings. The brightly painted boutiques and shops once catered to gentlemen seeking the company of “sporting women.

The red-light district – shut down in 1953 — draws cruise passengers all summer long. Most are there to see Dolly’s house. Dolly Arthur opened up her brothel in 1919 to provide local men with alcohol and girls. Today, the museum at Dolly’s house gives you a peek into the bawdy ways of frontier life.

All Aboard
Back on board, we had lunch at The Blue Lagoon. Good burgers and bar food here and it’s open 24 hours for hungry cruisers who may have missed their midnight snack.

After lunch, the boys disappeared into the teen room, and we hid out in the spa. It was around 5 o’clock that we noticed that the ship wasn’t sailing as smoothly as it had been the day before. And it got much, much worse. After a quick shower, we headed to the Star Bar for our half price martini (Sex at Sunset, baby!), and by then the ship was really rocking.

The Star Bar is on Deck 13, overlooking the pool deck, and is surrounded by windows. We could see the staff outside on the deck furiously trying to tie down the chairs and take the tables off the deck. The wind was so strong, they were having some trouble — and when they turned their back, two of the small tables flew up and over the railing. Incredible.

We met the boys for dinner and then they were off again.

Dave and I spent the evening trying our luck at the casino. I found a pretty decent slot machine that kept me busy for at least an hour, before taking my $20.

We headed to the Spinnaker lounge, thinking we’d take in the show before bed, but the the lounge is at the front of the ship and we’d had about enough “rocking” for the day, so we called it a night.

It turned out that the waves we were watching out the porthole of the window at the casino were 27 feet high! No wonder we felt like we were on a roller-coaster!

Photo credit: Dave Morrison

Alaska Cruise: Day Five

June 24, 2010

Day 5 on The Pearl: Cruising Glacier Bay

Today was a very exciting day on the ship. We cruised through Glacier Bay — a natural waterway from Alaska’s Inside Passage to the tidewater glaciers located in Glacier Bay National Park.

In the early morning hours, the National Park Service park rangers boarded the ship and provided a narrative about important aspects of the park as we cruised along. It was spectacular.

As its name implies, much of Glacier Bay National Park is water. Most of the land within the park is mountainous, covered with dense rain forest, without any roads or trails. Some have ventured to hike, raft, or climb the mountain, but most visitors to the park witness its beauty and wildlife by boat or cruise ship.

Our tour of the park lasted most of the day as we sailed along slowly. Great photo opportunities in the quiet morning. Dave and I dragged the kids out of bed, not wanting them to miss the approach to Margerie Glacier.

With ear-muffs, blankets, and heavy jackets in tow, we set up camp on the top deck so we wouldn’t miss a thing (…along with 400 other excited passengers with cameras hanging around their necks).

The chill in the air was forgotten as the ship got closer and closer to the glacier. At one mile wide and 250 feet tall, Marjorie Glacier is a sight to see. The glacier also extends another 100 feet below the water line. To provide a comparison: the Statue of Liberty is 307 feet tall.

The ship stopped at the glacier for about 30 minutes as anxious photographers watched and waited for the glacier to calve. Calving is when the ice breaks away from the glacier and it happens often, and when it does it sounds like thunder and firecrackers going off nearby.

The majesty of the glaciers and the mountains were overwhelming. Nature at its finest. Eagles and sea lions were also in abundance during our tour in Glacier Bay. A beautiful park and feel very grateful for the opportunity to witness its beauty so close!

Ah, the spa
The temperatures were a lot cooler in Glacier Bay than they were in Skagway, so a trip to the spa was next on our agenda. We spent the better part of the afternoon there. Whirlpools, therapy pool, sauna, steam rooms, and the heated stone lounges were awesome.

After warming up, Dave and I snagged a double lounge chair that was set up in front of the huge picture window. With a view of majestic ice-capped mountains in our view, it was the perfect place to take a nap.

Out on the town
After the spa, we got ready for our evening “on the town.” A trip to our favorite martini bar, where I chose the most amazing, new-favorite martini called “Sex at Sunset.” YUMMM! With Amaretto and Fangelico and a dash of sour and some other alcoholic splashes, and voila: Sex at Sunset. I think I liked it even more than a Cosmo.

We met the boys for dinner at Indigo Main Dining Room. A steak dinner, with red wine and cheesecake for dessert, was the perfect end to a perfect day. But there’s more! There’s always more when you’re on a cruise ship.

After dinner we took in the late night show at the Stardust Theatre and then it was off to Bliss Ultra Lounge and Nightclub for some late, late night music. Bliss is a lounge that is inspired by all things spherical and out of space. The room is colorful and flashy, and as nightclub-ish as you will find at sea or on land. Very cool. Note the vibrant colors, lights, and the large bed in the picture below. The Pearl offers comfort like no other. Nap at the bar if you like…it’s all about relaxation!

The band on stage played all the favorites right out of the 80’s. Lots of dancing and laughing followed. Then it was time to call it a night.

Another day (and evening) in Alaska had come and gone.

Photo credit: Dave Morrison

Alaska Cruise: Day Four

June 23, 2010

Day 4 on the Pearl: Skagway, Alaska
The ship docked in Skagway at 5 a.m. and we disembarked at 9 a.m., after scarfing down as much food as we could manage.

Funny how much more one consumes when the food is available 24/7. Good thing we’re doing a lot of walking. I did try to “health” it up a little today and skipped the bacon, and went for the cottage cheese and fruit. Need to be able to fit into my clothes for the duration of the cruise!

Skagway, Alaska

The Gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, Skagway is a town set in a spectacular natural setting and is steeped in history. A stroll down the streets revealed the usual tourist-y shops and local bars–the striking difference being the mountains that towered above them AND the old-time western architecture. It felt a little like we’d stepped back in time. There were plenty of the usual port-of-call jewelry stores.  Lucky for Dave, I was here for the adventure, not the bling!

We stopped at the museum to find out more about the Skagway Gold Rush Cemetery. This historic cemetery includes the graves of Soapy Smith and other graves from the gold rush era. Dave was hoping it was within walking distance as we had a tour scheduled for noon, but as we walked (per the directions we were given), it became clear that we wouldn’t make it there in time to do the return trip so we headed back into town.

We sent the boys back to the ship to pick up our tickets for the White Pass Scenic Railway excursion.

While we waited for the boys, we ducked into the Skagway Brewing Company to talk to the locals and check out some Alaskan beer.

A 40-mile round-trip from Skagway to Frasier, B.C. in Canada, the old-fashioned parlor car took us along the route that served as the pathway for gold miners to the Klondike in 1898.

We crossed over sky-high trestles, through two tunnels, and across beautiful valleys. This incredible experience was one that I was so glad to be able to share with my family. The scenery from the train is indescribable. The best place to take photos was on the platform between the cars, which is where Dave and I spent most of the trip. Standing there almost 3000 feet above sea level was an amazing experience (especially since I’m terrified of heights!)

Back on The Pearl
We were back on board by 7:30 and enjoying a martini at The Star Bar by 7:45 (1/2 price martinis are only from 6 – 8). I tried one called French Kiss. Not bad. To be fair to the martini list, I will have to try every one before the week is out. We grabbed a quick bite to eat and took in the late night show–Sharkbait.

The two ex-clowns-turned-full-time-juggling act were hysterical. So far, I’ve been very surprised (in a good way!) about the quality of entertainment aboard The Pearl. The audience were on their feet by the end of the show. Great fun!


Back on the Pearl

Alaska Cruise: Day Three

June 23, 2010

I’m reposting the travel log I’ve been publishing on my Novel Writing blog, here on this blog, so that the few people I know read this blog can take a gander at the great photos Dave took on our Alaskan cruise.

Here’s Day 3: Juneau, Alaska

Dave and I got up early today and crept quietly out of our cabin for coffee and breakfast at Summer Place. We scored a table by the window. The scenery was amazing. The ship was sailing slowly through the Inside Passage, on course to our first port-of-call — the beautiful state capital of Juneau.

We roused the boys after breakfast and then Dave and I headed to Deck 7 for a friendly game of shuffleboard. Being a former curler (yes, curling…it’s a sport!), Dave clearly had an advantage over me. We played two games and I didn’t have a chance. Playing shuffleboard, with the Alaskan landscape towering in the distance, was surreal.

When the boys finally made their way downstairs to the deck, we teamed up and unfortunately for Nick, he got stuck with me as a teammate. Dylan and Dave kicked ass!

Hot chocolate and my Kindle kept me busy for another hour. I lounged on the deck until lunch time (feeding time). Anyone who’s cruised will agree that when you’re on the ship, you eat. Breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, midnight buffet.

Juneau
We arrived in Juneau at  2 p.m. Our first experience with disembarkation on the Pearl was a little chaotic. Hoping that all of our “off boarding” experiences are not as crazy.

Once off the ship, we made our way to the shuttle that took us downtown to the Tramway, where Dolphin Tours was supposed to be waiting to take us on our “Mendenhall Glacier/ Whale Watching” combo. I had booked the tour directly with the company, and was more than a little surprised to find they did not have us on the list for the excursion, that the bus was full — the tour 0ver-booked. I tried to keep my cool — it’s not like I get to Juneau for whale watching with my family every day, so I was going on that damn tour! The very rude tour guide finally got confirmation from his office that we did indeed book and they offered us an alternative tour: City tour, with a trip to the glacier and the whale watching tour we signed up for. We agreed, knowing there was really no other alternative. The company rep was not at all apologetic for their blunder, and even when we returned at 3:25, he just hurried us to the bus and appeared very scattered.

After a brief detour from our original plan (didn’t sign up for City Tour), we made it to Mendenhall Glacier. The most famous of the glaciers in the Juneau Ice Field, the Mendenhall Glacier is 12 miles long and 1-1/2 miles wide where it stretches across the Mendenhall Valley. Its ice can be 400 to 800 feet deep. If you go, plan on being there at least an hour to 1 1/2 hours to give you time to hike to the beautiful waterfall alongside the glacier. We did not have that much time, but were able to get some great photos of the magnificent glacier.

Part two of our excursion was the whale watching tour, leaving from Auke Bay, Juneau. Captain Dan was extremely friendly and energetic and made the tour that much more enjoyable with his excitement about the whales we were seeing (although I know he sees them every day!).

We went in search for whales, and we found them: Humpback whales AND Orcas! Beautiful. It can be tough to spot a whale, and even more difficult to capture them in a photo. The first thing you see is the “blow,” then the whale. Their blow is a double stream of spray that rises 10-13 feet (3.1-4 m) above the surface of the water.

During our boat ride, we also saw masses of sea lions lounging on the rocks, and quite a few bald eagles.

“All aboard” on the Pearl was scheduled for 9:30 p.m., and as the tour company “forgot” to send a driver to Auke Bay to pick us up, we had to wait quite a while after docking for another driver to come and get us, so there was no time to explore Juneau.

Overall, it was a fabulous day. Weather was incredible. Scenery was unbelievable, and even with our botched tour, it turned out fine. Dave took lots of great photos and the boys were so thrilled to see all the whales in Auke Bay. A memorable experience for all.