Boats and Trains

There are a lot of fun things to do here in Baltimore.  We have been staying with Eric's cousin Mike and his wife Beca in one of the eastern suburbs for the past week.  The day after we arrived, we headed downtown to the Inner Harbor.  There was an event called "Sailabration" featuring tall ships from all over the world to celebrate the War of 1812 (I am embarrassed to admit that the only thing I know about the War of 1812 is what year it happened in....).  The harbor was fun, but PACKED full of people, it also being Father's Day.  We wandered around for awhile, people watching and enjoying the views of all the boats.  Featured below is a unique lighthouse that is no longer functioning, but now a little museum of sorts.

Below: Maggie next to the lighthouse

 Some of the boats were available for boarding, but unfortunately we came too late in the day to get on and explore any of them.  So we just enjoyed from the outside.  It would have been really fun to see them with all their sails unfurled!

Then the question of, what to do with the kids while Eric is in class?  I had flashbacks to my two months in Gallup NM, stuck in a tiny apartment with a 5 month old, knowing no one, nothing to do...but Baltimore has proved different.  I mean, it's obviously much bigger, the kids are older and more interactive, and there are people we know in the area!  There is a playground just down the street, but temps have been in the upper 90s so we've tried to find indoor stuff.  One of the coolest places I discovered was a little indoor "town" called Storyville, a free feature of the Baltimore Public Library (for kids 0-5).  Maggie and Ben loved playing in the kitchen, the "garden", a construction site, a theater, a grocery store, a post office, etc.  One day we also went to the B&O Railroad Museum.  Every other Wednesday they feature a Toddler Time with crafts, songs, and a free ride on Choo Choo Blue.  Why not?
Here are Maggie and Ben at the museum, located in an old historic roundhouse (where they can turn trains around).
Inside the roundhouse...a beautiful building!  There were probably 30 historic trains inside, although we didn't take the time to look at most of them.
Maggie and Ben riding Choo Choo Blue!  It was a little 4 car train that ran around a small set of tracks that had a miniature village around it.  They went around three times and were ecstatic the whole time!
This train will take you up the tracks for a mile or so and then come back.  We didn't go, but enjoyed saying bye bye as it pulled out of the station.
One of the other highlights was the Kid Zone area.  There were three train tables featuring lots of Thomas trains!  I had to drag Maggie away.  What a fun morning at the B&O.



After we returned from the cruise, we spent almost 2 weeks in Minnesota.  I (Rachel) lived in MN for 14 years and Eric's mom grew up in MN so he has lots of family there.  We enjoyed spending a lot of time with Eric's grandparents, Grammy and Papa, as well as a few cousins of both Rachel's and Eric's, aunts and uncles, and a few friends.  Grammy and Papa graciously reserved an apartment for us in their retirement complex, so we even had our own space for one of those weeks (so luxurious!).  

Maggie and Ben in our own apartment...Mags getting on her ballerina garb and Ben finding random toys to play with

We were able to visit my best friend from college, Cassi, and her family.  They live on Forest Lake and it was a great place to visit!  We went swimming, picnic-ed out on the lawn, walked to DQ, and took the pontoon boat out.  Maggie even got to DRIVE the boat, a big highlight for her.
 The kids, chilling out while watching a movie

It was a great two weeks, very relaxing, and the kids enjoyed a chance to bond with their great-grandparents.

 Maggie also formed a special relationship with Uncle Bill.  He's an architect, and spent some time showing Maggie the finer points of block building.

 Thanks to everyone for making our trip so fun!  From MN, we headed out to Baltimore via Chicago and Columbus, OH.  We arrived last week and will post more soon about our adventures here.  Eric has been attending classes at Hopkins, and the kids and I have found lots of fun things to do during the day.



Well, finally the last installment in our cruise.  The last two stops we made were both shorter stops:  one morning in Ketchikan, and then an evening stop the next day in Victoria BC.  We had no real plans for either one, so just got off the boat and decided to see what we could see!

In Ketchikan, there was a free shuttle that took Eric, Ben, and I around town (Maggie went with her grandparents to see the Great American Lumberjack Show!)  Apparently the town's biggest attraction is the salmon spawning, which doesn't happen until July/August, but we got to see the river where it happens and the ladders, etc.  
My favorite park of the town was called Creek Street, which used to the the town's red light district!  It is a series of boardwalks on both side of the river and the shops are now art galleries, shops, and restaurants.  We browsed around and bought ourselves a Christmas ornament souvenir, featuring local artwork.

When we got in to Victoria the next day, our ship was actually over an hour late due to "unfavorable currents," so we got off the boat around 7:30pm.  Shar and Tim graciously watched all four kids and the other adults decided to see the town.  We rented a limo (a somewhat ghetto limo, but still) and the very nice driver showed us the sights.  Below is the largest totem pole in the world, something like 124 feet.
Next we went to the Lt.Governor's mansion, which had beautifully manicured grounds and garden.  You can see some cute little ducklings below.
We wrapped up by getting some great sights of the town all lit up for the evening.  A fun way to see the town!  We'll have to go back some day...



I was pretty excited to get to Sitka.  I had a medical school classmate from Sitka and she had always talked about how great her town was.  Also, as we learned, the town only allows one cruise ship in per day, so it retained a bit more of its small town feel.  Still touristy, though. :)  Our first view of Sitka was a lot of fun (since our kids were up super early, we always go a good view of town as the ship was actually coming in to port)--there are tons of tiny islands in the harbor, each with 1-2 houses on them.  Your own private island is a reality in Sitka, AK!  There is no dock, so the ship lowered a few lifeboats and we were able to take the little boats (little meaning 150 people) to shore.

Upon landing, we selected a little trolley tour that had an all day pass, making a loop around town to some of the attractions we were interested in.  First, we headed to the Raptor Center.  In the parking lot alone we saw probably a dozen bald eagles circling above us.  The center is a home for injured raptors (birds like eagles, hawks, and owls) to recover and rehabilitate.  There is a room for some of these birds to learn to fly again, pictured below.  Many have run into planes, buildings, etc, and broken wings or lost important flight feathers.  Some will never fly again and there are special outside habitats where they live.  Very cool!
 The habitat for permanently "flightless" birds looks out on the river below.  Nice view, huh?  There was a short hike through the extremely lush woods with a sign at the entrance that this was brown bear habitat and sightings were common.  Cool as that would have been, Eric was on crutches and we had three little kids, so in the end I guess we were glad that we didn't see bears!
 One of the majestic bald eagles in its outdoor cage:
 Then it was off to the Totem Park, a national park that houses 20-30 totem poles.  It was interesting to hear the stories about the poles (each carving tells a story).  We didn't walk through many of the trails, but there were about 6 poles right in front of the center that we could see.
 Our cruise ship in the harbor behind a totem:
 So, unfortunately at this point, we sat down to wait for the trolley to return but it never came.  While we were waiting, a nice bike taxi showed up and gave Maggie a free ride through the parking lot.  Had we known the trolley was MIA, we might have all piled in for a ride back to the boat!
In the end, it was about a mile back to the dock.  Not a bad walk...unless you have 2 kids and only one stroller, and a guy on crutches.  Eric was so sore by the time we got back that he decided his foot might be the least sore part of his body.  So, that was the end of the crutches and he walked around the rest of the trip. :)  A beautiful little town, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.



Our first real stop on the cruise was Juneau.  We did some research ahead of time and figured that the one "not to miss" thing in Juneau was Mendenhall Glacier.  It's about 7-8 miles north of town, so we bought shuttle tickets and headed out.  We were able to get a lot closer than the glacier in Tracy Arm, so it was an awesome experience!
 There was a beaver dam right by the viewing platform with some ripples in the water just upstream of the dam.  I like to think the ripples were beavers, which I'll always think of fondly thanks to CS Lewis ("Safe? Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you." — Mr. Beaver)
Here's the glacier, which has actually receded quite a bit in recent years.  Still magnificent.  You can walk on it if you're willing to fork over the money for a helicopter ride to the top.  That would have been cool, but pricey...
 Maggie and her Mimi at the glacier.
 There was also a waterfall just to the right of the glacier (Nugget Falls) which Mariah and I hiked over to while someone else watched our kids (Eric was still on crutches at this point of the trip).
 Back in Juneau town, a view of our boat.
 And from one of the upper decks of the ship, looking out onto Juneau harbor.  There were 5 ships in port that day, and float planes (probably carrying cruise shippers to the glaciers and such) landing every few minutes.



I can't say that I was all that well traveled of a kid.  Family vacations consisted of visiting family, and when you live in Minnesota and family lives in exotic locations like Michigan and Nebraska, well, you don't rack up a whole lot of states driving between those.  We did move to Arizona for a few years though, and in junior high drove from Indiana to California.  Then in college I took a road trip out to the west coast and back to MN.  At some point, maybe by the time I started dating Eric, I realized that I had actually seen a fair number of US states.  Maybe 30 or so.  But the East Coast.  Wow, that was just one long stretch of 15 states or something, none of which I had visited.  So during residency interviews I hit up most of them.  And suddenly, all I had left were a few southeastern states, W Virginia, Vermont, and Alaska (I got Hawaii in college on the way back from a trip to New Zealand).  Eric and I started planning vacations specifically to get to states we have never seen before.  And just before leaving for Kenya, I hit #49.  Alaska was all that was left...and it seemed a long ways away. :)

Fast forward 2 1/2 yrs.  When Eric's parents suggested an Alaskan cruise, I was thrilled for several reasons.  Deep down inside, the peak of my excitement was seeing #50 finally within my grasp.  And on May 28, 2012, I stepped off the boat onto the dock in Juneau, Alaska.
 Here is Eric's family, graciously helping me celebrate, and Eric's dad waiting at the end to welcome we into the 50 State Club (he made it about 10 years ago in Vermont).

Some interesting tidbits.  I can remember visiting EACH of the 50 states.  Meaning, I have visited them all in more or less recent memory.  Wyoming was the "longest ago," in 1993, I think.  My first state (of birth) was Ohio.  I have lived in seven of the states.  Eric's first state was my last state.  My favorite state?  Hm.  Maine and Alaska are both hard to beat!

Ah, victory.  What's next?  Well, there's the seven continents list...only South America and Antarctica to go...


Tracy Arm

After our first day at sea was completed, the next day was a scenic cruising day through Tracy Arm.  Tracy Arm is a fjord which houses 2 glaciers:  North and South Sawyer glaciers.  We were told that due to current weather conditions, there was almost no chance of reaching the actual glaciers (too much ice for the cruise ship to get past) but the rest of the cruising would be scenic anyways.  And wow, was it!  It actually coincided well with the kids' naptimes, so Eric and I were able to spend almost three hours reveling in the majestic creation before us.

It was probably one of those situations where you start taking pictures immediately, because everything is so beautiful, and then the further in you go, the better it gets, so you end up with over 100 pictures. :)  Here is the beginning of Tracy Arm, with waterfalls EVERYWHERE.
 Eric and his sister Mariah up on deck.
 Eric's parents got an oceanview room with a window, and it was great to be able to see the beauty around us even while taking our turn listening for the napping kids.
 One of the fun features was all the pieces of glacial ice floating around the boat.  The closer we got to the glaciers, the more ice we saw and also the bigger the pieces.  This was a fun "arch" of ice floating along.  And the pictures don't do it justice, but the ice was all a beautiful blue.
 And then...we turned the last corner, and North Sawyer glacier appeared in front of us.  Wow!  You can see it in the cleft of the mountains above, along with Sawyer Island (featuring a nesting pair of bald eagles, one of which we saw later on).
 Here is a great shot Eric took with the glacier above and a giant ice floe right in the triangular mountain reflection.  The water was so still and pretty.  Words failed us!  Except, of course, to make a lot of Titanic jokes and references. :)


Cruising with Family

Eric's parents have been talking about taking the family on an Alaskan cruise for awhile now.  Eric's dad worked for many years in the Indian Health Service as a civil engineer, and they lived in Anchorage for several years in the early 80s...Eric was actually born there.  Eric and his dad, Tim, returned for a visit about 10 years ago, but none of the rest of the family has been back (his two youngest sisters have never been to Alaska).  The initial Alaska plans were for about four years ago, but got tabled when all four of the McLaughlin siblings got married in a three year span.  Then we moved to Kenya for two years.  When we returned this fall, his mom asked if we were still interested.  Um, yes!

All three of Eric's sisters and their families (minus one husband who sadly was unable to get away from work) came along for a 7 day cruise on Holland America leaving from Seattle.  We visited Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Victoria BC, and did scenic cruising in Tracy Arm (a fjord that's home to 2 glaciers) and Puget Sound.  Awesome, awesome trip.  We took 100s of photos and will share them in a few upcoming posts, but wanted to start with some fun family photos.  The kids especially enjoyed getting to see Mimi and Bapa, their aunts and cousins, and their "chunkles" (uncles).  And we especially enjoyed having all those people around to help out with our kids. :)

Maggie and Ben reunited with their Bapa
View of Puget Sound from the back of the MS Amsterdam
Mimi and her grandkids on the first formal night.  She made Maggie and Sierra matching dresses, and Ben and Liam were wearing (unplanned) more or less matching vests.
13 McLaughlins in an elevator!
Rachel and my only niece, Sierra
Maggie and Ben sharing a chair (they each had their own chairs, neither of which was the chair they are sitting on in this picture, but when dinner takes 2 hours, some musical chairs do provide much needed entertainment!)
Ben and his Mimi

Calling Grandma to tell her about the cruise
Maggie, Ben, and Liam had fun checking out the rental carts at the Seattle airport.
Ben and Liam, 5 days apart in age, chilling in their carseats