Glacier Bay

After our long travel from Paraguay to Alaska, it took about three days before we were finally starting to feel rested and back to normal. With at least three of us full of energy, we all boarded a 8-hour boat tour to see Glacier Bay National Park with a park ranger narrating the visit.

Each year there are 600,000 visitors to Glacier Bay National Park. About 90% of those visitors are on one of the two daily cruise ships that visit the park. The other ten percent, like us, board a boat in or near the national park. There are no roads in the park, and in fact the north end of the park near the Canadian border is further from a road than any other spot in the United States.

It was about 75 and sunny, really amazing weather. It’s never this nice, everyone kept saying. It was chillier closer to the glaciers though!

We had a great day on the boat and our wildlife spotting included sea lions, otters, puffins, bald eagles (adults and a juvenile), whales spouting, cormorants, a mountain goat and baby, and (my favorite) costal brown bears on the shore foraging for food, turning over rocks and opening shells.

The glaciers, especially Margerie Glacier, were stunning.

Lunch was served on the boat. There were sandwiches for the adults and chicken nuggets for the kids. Kevin ate his chicken nuggets while laying on the floor.

We saw two cruise ships and we dropped off a few kayakers who were embarking on weeklong camping/kayaking adventure. Our boat captain wished them well and told us, “They’re now in the food chain!”

Danny and Patrick successfully completed a Junior Ranger activity books and took oaths as Junior Rangers, complete with a patch and badge. Kev, after hearing repeated talk of Junior Rangers, kept saying he wanted to be a power ranger.

We arrived back at the lodge mid-afternoon and spent some time hiking the trails around the lodge.

We saw a whale skeleton along the way.

Kevin was very interested in all the tiny rocks along the gravel path. “I pick one” he kept saying, even though he had picked as many as his little hands and pockets would hold.

Danny was excited to see a carving in a tree trunk. “We found a clue!” he said.

We had a nice walk!

We ate dinner at the lodge again and I had a delicious salmon filet stuffed with snow crab and topped with a chipotle citrus butter.

The next day was the Fourth of July and we were all excited to celebrate the day in the United States for the first time in years. We went to the town of Gustavus, thankful the gorgeous and unusually warm weather continued. It was 80 and sunny.

The town park was all set up for the celebration. There was a homemade pie contest and I sampled some delicious apple pie.

The boys played with a nice dog.

The kids played with trucks and moose antlers.

There was a parade down the main street of the town. The parade participants then turned around and came back, so we got to see everything twice.

Wa saw an acrobat doing tricks on the back of a patriotic painted horse.

The airport fire trucks did a demonstration with their hoses.

The parade definitely had a few hippies too.

After the parade, Boy Scouts did a flag raising ceremony and town residents read the Declaration of Independence, with each sentence read by a different volunteer.

After everyone sang the national anthem, there was a ceremony to inaugurate the town’s new playground. The playground was decorated with red, white, and blue balloons. The town mayor told all the kids to grab a balloon and pop it. Three balloons had a piece of paper inside indicating a prize for whomever popped that balloon. Danny got a prize – a badminton set – and he was so excited. It was so big, he could barely carry it!

The celebration continued with a slow bike race, a three legged race, and race to fill up a PVC pipe with water and spill the puffin out the top of the pipe.

This year, there was no greased flagpole contest because the tide was too low, and the party organizers were concerned that participants could fall and seriously hurt themselves in shallow water. The town firemen hosted a barbecue lunch. Danny and Patrick had hotdogs.

The excitement of the party was too much for Kev, who fell asleep.

Patrick and Danny climbed on a big carved wooden bear in the town.

We took the green school bus shuttle back to the Gustavus ferry dock, and boarded a ferry back to Juneau.

We had dinner on the boat and an ice cream snack.

Brian and Patrick saw sea lion eat a bird and I ate a salmon burger. We all enjoyed the beautiful views.

We arrived in Juneau at 8pm, still hours before sunset.

We got to our hotel and after bathing three filthy boys we got them all settled in bed, grateful that our ferry to Ketchikan, originally scheduled to depart at 615 the next morning had been delayed until noon.

48 hours later

As part of the compensation packages for overseas assignments, the government pays for us to take Rest and Recuperation (R&R) trips. The rules for R&R used to be that the government would pay for the cost of plane tickets from Asuncion to Miami, and if employees preferred to go somewhere else, the employee would have to pay any cost difference. This year, the rule changed and the government will now pay the cost of a plane ticket to anywhere in United States. (Employees have always been responsible for hotels and all other expenses.) We decided to take a family trip to Alaska since Brian and I have never been and always wanted to.

It’s a long way to go and we knew it wouldn’t be quick or easy to get to Alaska from Paraguay, but we figured it wouldn’t be too much harder than travel to Chicago (which usually takes about 24 hours), so we booked it. Unfortunately, the plane tickets that the government bought for us were not the most direct or convenient, so the assigned route was a bit tougher that travel to Chicago. We were scheduled to fly to Buenos Aires with a 12 hour layover, then a flight to Dallas with a five hour layover, followed by a flight to Seattle with a two hour layover before our final flight to Juneau. Door to door, we were expecting it to take 43 hours. That was the plan anyway.

We left our house on Saturday morning at 2 AM.

We checked in and the boys were in good spirits as we boarded our 4:15am flight to Buenos Aires.

During our 12-hour stop in Buenos Aires we got a room at a nearby hotel. We intended to take naps, but the only ones who slept were Brian and me in alternating shifts while the boys watched Argentina vs France in the World Cup. Unfortunately Argentina lost and the boys didn’t sleep.

Our favorite feature of the hotel was the great playground outside. The kids played there for quite awhile. It was better than anything we’d seen in Paraguay!

And we had a nice lunch of Argentine beef and red wine at the hotel restaurant.

Once we were back at the airport, exhausted Kev fell asleep in the stroller while we waited to board our flight to Dallas.

Once we boarded, the crew informed us that the airport was closed due to heavy fog and low visibility, so we waited on the tarmac for more news. We had been scheduled to take off just before 8pm for an 11-hour overnight flight. The flight attendants told us that if we didn’t take off by 10:30pm, the flight would be canceled and we’d be rebooked on another flight the next day. Finally at about 10:26, we took off. Since we had originally been planning on a five-hour layover, we weren’t worried about missing our next flight. Kev fell asleep one hour into our delay. Danny was asleep by take off and Patrick was asleep about two hours after takeoff. By Brian’s count, Patrick had stayed awake for 21 hours straight. Despite supreme exhaustion, everyone was pretty good. At one point during the flight, Brian came back from the bathroom and found that Danny and Patrick had taken over his seat in between the two boys. Patrick’s feet were basically in Danny’s face and they stayed like that for hours. A flight attendant helpfully directed Brian to a nearby empty seat where he slept for a couple hours.

All three boys slept until just before landing. They were great. In Dallas, we ate breakfast at an Irish pub and the boys ran around like well-rested crazy people.

Unfortunately, our flight from Dallas to Seattle was delayed about 90 minutes and we missed our tight connection in Seattle. Once we finally took off for Seattle, we gave the kids some Pringles chips which Kevin ate by taking bites of large stacks.

Once in Seattle, we had to wait another five hours for the next flight to Juneau. Airline staff gave us a $60 food voucher and assured us our luggage would be on that next flight too. While in Seattle, we ate dinner at a Big Foot-themed restaurant in the airport. The kids had lots of questions about Big Foot. Is he real? Have you seen him? Will we see him in Alaska? What does he like to eat?

On the 90-minute flight to Juneau, everyone fell asleep.

We finally made it to Juneau around 9:30pm with full sunlight. The hotel driver who picked us up said that this time of year the sun sets at 10:30pm and rises at 4am.

After 48 hours of travel we were all exhausted and went right to bed. We were up again early the next morning for our 4:45am shuttle to the ferry terminal for our boat to Gustavus, home of Glacier Bay National Park.

Although we were all tired, we enjoyed the 4.5 hour boat ride, seeing amazing the scenery of Alaska’s Inside Passage as well as whales, sea otters and bald eagles.

A green school bus from Glacier Bay Lodge met the ferry at the dock to drive us and other hotel guests to the lodge.

We checked into the hotel, ditched our bags and had lunch. Smoked salmon for me!

After lunch, we walked around the national park, hiking some of the trails just outside of the hotel and stopping by the park’s visitor center. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it appears that Danny licked a moose antler.

We went back to our hotel room and tried to get Kev to nap but he wouldn’t, even with an excellent demonstration from Brian. We had an early dinner at the hotel, since everyone was so tired, especially Kev who fell asleep at dinner.

I managed to eat salmon with one hand while Kev slept in my lap.

We were all excited for our big outing, visiting the glaciers the next day!

Kevin Gets a Big Boy Bed!

Before we left on our five week vacation to the United States, Kev had begun to occasionally escape from his crib at home. We knew he was ready for a big boy bed, but since we also knew he’d be sleeping in a crib or pack n play during our trip, we held out and decided we’d switch out his crib at home once we got back from our trip. While in the States, Kev did a great job sleeping at my mom and dad’s house in his own dark, quiet room. He had a much harder time when we stayed at Brian’s parents’ house in Hilton Head, sharing a room with his brothers. After his constant escapes, we moved the pack n play to our room and rigged it so he couldn’t get out. Once he knew he couldn’t get out, he went back to taking long afternoon naps and going right to bed at night.

Once we were back in Paraguay, we kept Kev in a sleep sack backwards and inside out so he couldn’t remove it which kept him from being able to get out of his crib. So we waited a couple of weeks to switch him out of his crib.

We decided to give Danny’s bed (with side rails) to Kev, but first we had to give Danny an Embassy twin bed. He was excited for his new bed, though Patrick was mad that’s Danny’s new bed was now taller than Patrick’s bed.

That night was Kev’s last night in the crib and in the morning his brothers got in too. Each one of those boys had slept in that crib for about two years each.

Patrick looked at the spot when he, as a teething baby, had chewed on the crib. Danny and Kevin did not do that.

The boys helped Brian take down the crib.

We got the new bed all ready for Kev.

Kev got a new red duvet and new rocket ship themed sheets. Patrick admired the sheets and asked if he could have the new sheets and Kev could have Patrick and Danny’s old sheets. I said no.

We had a great afternoon playing at the Yacht Club pool and riding bikes, and Kev skipped his nap.

When it was finally bedtime, Kev was exhausted and very sad to get in his new bed all alone and he cried for Danny.

Danny came over and, while flossing his teeth, snuggled with Kev for a few minutes. Kev calmed right down.

Before Danny left the room, he asked me to cut a hole in the wall so he and Kev would be able to see each other if they woke up during the night. Even though I didn’t do that, Kev fell right asleep and stayed asleep for about 12 hours.

So far Kev is loving his big boy bed and is back to sleeping like a champ!

Giant Lily Pads

Every four years, in the town of Limpio, about 45 minutes from Asunción, giant lily pads grow in the river.

Some lily pads grow as large as six feet across. The locals call the lily pads “yacaré yrupé” in the indigenous language of Guarani, meaning crocodile beds in English. Last weekend, while Brian was out of town, Maria and the boys and I drove to Limpio and hired a local to take us out on his boat.

While the boats certainly weren’t new, they looked pretty sturdy, had covers to give us shade, and they even had life jackets for all of us.

The boys had fun on the boat, pretending to steer.

The lily pads were at their peak about a month ago, when we were in the US, but it was still worth a visit to check them out.

Although some of the lily pads were starting to deteriorate and we didn’t see any larger than four feet across, they were beautiful to see.

After paddling around the lily pads for a while, our guide took us to visit a castle built on a rock in the middle of the river.

We climbed to the top and the boys loved it.

The boys were especially interested in what was likely the bathroom with a sink on one wall and a hole in the ground. The boys peered through the hole to the river below.

We had a fun outing! (And don’t worry – Danny and Patrick got haircuts later that day. Their hair was getting out of control!)

Welcome, Mónica!

We have a new member of our household, a four month old kitten named Mónica.

Before Brian and the kids and I left Paraguay for five weeks in the United States, we decided to get rid of our five chickens. Since we were going to be gone for so long and since the chickens were getting older and not laying eggs as regularly, we decided to give Maria the chickens. Maria wanted to pay us, and when we insisted it wasn’t necessary, she decided to pay us with a cat kitten.

Brian and I are not exactly cat people (he’s allergic) and we certainly prefer dogs to cats, but we decided to try out the cat for a little while and see how it goes. We’ve told the boys the cat is not allowed in the house and must stay in the backyard.

So far, the boys love the cat and can’t get enough of playing with her.

Patrick has told us that he in the cat’s dad.

Danny has told us that he is the cat’s grandfather.

Kevin just calls the cat “meechee” which is the indigenous word for cat. Kev loves picking up the cat. We think he really likes not being the smallest anymore.

Kevin also enjoys doing little boy things with the cat, which unfortunately for the cat are not typical cat activities, things like riding a bike and riding on a truck.

The cat has been with us for about a week and at least three of those nights I’ve woken up in the middle of the night to a loud catfight. We assume it’s neighborhood cats (perhaps trying to steal our cats food?) since our kitten doesn’t really make loud sounds. But our cat has been so scared that she climbs up on the 10 foot fence surrounding our property (presumably by jumping from a tree), and then can’t get down. In the morning we have to go rescue her with a ladder. We started putting away the cat’s food at night, thinking that might keep larger cats away, but so far the cats continue to fight. If the nightly catfights continue, Mónica will be looking for a new home very soon.

Danny’s Fifth Birthday Interview

In honor of his fifth birthday, I asked Daniel a few questions about life.  Here are his answers.  Any explanations or translations are in parentheses.

What is your favorite cereal? Milk with cereal. Crunchy cereal. I don’t know it’s name. Oh I know – it’s Rice Crispy.

What is your favorite veggie?  Carrots

What is your favorite drink? When Maria and me drink orange juice together. That’s fun. She makes the juice with real oranges.

What is your favorite toy? a light saber (we don’t have one of these)

What is your favorite movie? Ninjas that have tornadoes. There are many types of ninjas. Like fire tornadoes or white tornadoes or lightning tornadoes. Four ninjas have tornadoes. The fifth ninja doesn’t have a tornado. (I have no idea what he’s talking about)

What is your favorite game? Tocaditas. (Tag) We play it at school. When I’m it, I try to tag Fran and Octavio.

What is your favorite book?  My favorite book is xfight. It’s where people fight. Can you buy me a transformers book?

What is your favorite dinner? Lo de Osvaldo (This is where we went for Danny’s birthday dinner celebration)

What is your favorite lunch? Chicken nuggets.

What is your favorite breakfast? Cereal. Also maybe water with pancakes.

What is your favorite holiday?Christmas

What is your favorite animal? Giraffe

What is your favorite stuffed animal?It’s this llama from Bolivia.

What is your favorite color?Turquoise. Not really though. My real favorites are, red, blue, and white. Because those colors are on the soccer stadium.

What is your favorite thing to do at school?  Play in the pool and play soccer.

What is your favorite sport? Hockey

What do you want for your birthday? A transformer that lights up and has a gun

Where do you want to go on vacation next year?To a place with a movie theater. Or maybe to China, and if they have museums there, we could visit the museums. When we get there, we’ll have to ask if China has museums.

What makes you happy?  Movies

What makes you sad? When Patrick hits me

How old is Mommy? I don’t know, 18?

How old is Daddy?  He’s older, like 100

How old is Patrick? He’s six. No – wait! He’s seven.

How old are you?  I’m five now.

How old is Kev?  He’s one.

What is Mommy’s favorite thing to do? She likes cooking stuff.

What is Daddy’s favorite thing to do?  Go to the Yacht Club I think.

What is Daddy’s job? Work at the Embassy, with a computer.

What is Mommy’s job? Go to work and do the same thing as Daddy.

What is Patrick’s favorite food? Tacos

What is your favorite food?  Sandia (watermelon)

What is Daddy’s favorite food? Salad

What is Mommy’s favorite food? Salad

What is Kevin’s favorite food? Pasta

What does our family like to do together?  Play in the pool

What do you like to do with Mommy?  Snuggle

What do you like to do with Daddy? Go down the slide at the Yacht Club

What do you like to do with Patrick? Watch movies with him, especially movies about transformers

What do you like to do with Kevin? Play where he runs away and I go after him and catch him. Kev laughs so much. When I trap him I give him little tickles and Kev likes that too.

Who are you going to marry?  Well, I don’t know yet. Maybe one of Patrick’s teachers, he talks about them a lot and likes them so much.

What do you want to be when you grow up? Fireman

What else do you want to talk about? How Mrs. O’Leary’s cow knocked over the lamp and made a ginormous fire. And I want to go ice skating in Chicago.

To see Daniel’s answers from last year, click here!

Blancanieves y Los Siete Enanitos

For the end of year show at Danny and Kevin’s preschool, the students performed a darling play featuring “Blancanieves y Los Siete Enanitos” (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in English).

The teachers started to plan this theatrical masterpiece about three months before the show.  Kevin was assigned the role of “squirrel” and Danny was given the part of Prince Charming. The kids spent a lot of time practicing.  Danny practiced with such passion, that he fell over while dancing one day at school and got a bloody nose.

About two months before the show, we started to work on costumes for the boys. Danny was a very regal prince and took his role seriously.

Kevin was not very interested in his squirrel costume so Danny tried to inspire Kev to enjoy the role of squirrel.

Once he realized that gloves were part of the costume, Kev was very excited. He didn’t really like the tail at first but once we put it on him so he couldn’t remove it, he didn’t mind it so much. And he kept the hat on too!

From the library at his school, Patrick checked out the Spanish book “Blancanieves y Los Siete Enanitos” and all three boys listened happily as we read them the book over and over. Every time Prince Charming appeared in the story, Danny excitedly pointed to him and said, “Look! That’s me!” Danny also pointed out the squirrel and said, “There’s Kevin!”

Finally the big day had arrived! The preschool teachers combined the event with an end of school year art show.

Danny and Kevin had many creative projects on display.

Before the show, Kevin had a minor meltdown and refused to wear his hat and gloves. He couldn’t take off his tail and cried while crouched face down on the floor. Danny posed proudly on the stage.

Patrick threw up everywhere near the door to the school. He said he felt better though and wanted to watch the show, so he stayed, but didn’t look so good.

The preschool director told everyone to take their seats.

The show began with animals in the forest singing and dancing with Snow White. Kevin was not happy when he came on the stage. He was crying, somehow had a piece of bread in his hand, and ran off the stage.

He recovered enough to rejoin Snow White and the dancing forest creatures.

Jealous of Snow White’s beauty, the wicked queen ordered a hunter to kill Snow White, her stepdaughter. The hunter instead left Snow White in the forest where she met the seven dwarfs, including one very sad blue dwarf. She helped take care of the dwarfs and sang them a sweet lullaby at bedtime.

After learning Snow White wasn’t dead, the wicked queen disguised herself as an old lady and gave Snow White a poison apple which made her sleep after she ate a bite. The dwarves were all very sad, until Prince Charming arrived.

Danny kneeled next to Snow White and kissed her forehead. Snow White woke up and everyone celebrated by dancing.

Danny relished his role and was so happy dancing! Kev did a good job dancing too.

All of the little actors received party favors of (non-poisoned) apples.

Here are the Prince and Snow White, the happy couple.

It was a great show!

Happy Seventh Birthday, Patrick!

Patrick was very excited leading up to his birthday! He could hardly wait to be seven! On the big day, Brian and I visited Patrick’s class at snack time.

We brought cupcakes, popcorn, and juice for the class. Patrick liked when the kids sang “Happy Birthday” to him.

At Patrick’s request, we went dinner at TGI Friday’s with our nanny Maria and her family.

Back at home, Danny was excited to help carry the cake to Patrick who had asked for a Batman cake.

We sang “Happy Birthday” to Patrick, gave him a couple gifts, and spoke to a few relatives via FaceTime who had mailed gifts to Patrick.

Patrick received a books, games, and toys and couldn’t have been happier. It was a great day of celebration! Danny, on the other hand, was despondent by the end of the day and couldn’t stop crying. He kept saying, “Patrick got way more presents than me!” Danny was not consoled by the fact that his own birthday was three weeks away and he’d get more gifts then!

An Interview with Patrick on His Seventh Birthday

In honor of his seventh birthday, I asked Patrick a few questions about life.  Here are his answers.  Any explanations or translations are in parentheses.

What is your favorite cereal? Bird Cheerios (He means Fruit Loops which has a bird on the box)

What is your favorite veggie?  What are veggies? Carrots are veggies. Peas are my favorite.

What is your favorite drink? Apple juice

What is your favorite toy? Star Wars toys

What is your favorite movie? Ninja Turtles

What is your favorite game? Sorry

What is your favorite book?  Books by Geronimo Stilton

What is your favorite dinner? Chicken fingers

What is your favorite lunch? Milanesa

What is your favorite breakfast? Eggs. No – bacon! From America!

What is your favorite holiday? Easter. Because you get candy. Though Halloween is the same, but no eggs.

What is your favorite animal? Jaguars

What is your favorite stuffed animal? There’s two I really like. A teddy bear that says Patrick Thomas, and my blue elephant.

What is your favorite color? Turquoise

What is your favorite thing to do at school?  Play on the swings

What is your favorite sport? Golf

What do you want for your birthday? A hover board.

Where do you want to go on vacation this year? To Egypt. To see pyramids.

What makes you happy?  Christmas

What makes you sad?  When someone dies.

How old is Mommy? 39

How old is Daddy?  41

How old is Danny? 4

How old are you?  7!

How old is Kev?  1

What is Mommy’s favorite thing to do? Hug me. You like that, right?

What is Daddy’s favorite thing to do?  Go to TGI Fridays with me and sit at the bar. That’s the thing he most loves.

What is Daddy’s job? Work with the police

What is Mommy’s job? Work with police

What is Danny’s favorite food? Macaroni and cheese

What is your favorite food?  Oreos

What is Daddy’s favorite food? Tacos. No, it’s hamburgers. Because he tries to eat hamburgers all the time. But not all places have hamburgers.

What is Mommy’s favorite food? Is it bacon?

What is Kevin’s favorite food? Pouches of baby food.

What does our family like to do together?  Well it’s not “go to TGI Friday’s” because you don’t really like that place. I think we all like to go swimming.

What do you like to do with Mommy?  Snuggle

What do you like to do with Daddy? Go to TGI Friday’s

What do you like to do with Danny? Go swimming with him

What do you like to do with Kevin?  Chase him and he laughs. And I like to try to snuggle with him but sometimes he is noisy and doesn’t hold still.

Who are you going to marry?  I don’t know. But maybe Miss Peroni. (One of his first grade teachers)

What do you want to be when you grow up?I don’t know. A basketball player. And a golfer. And I want to be a police.

What else do you want to talk about? Um more things that I like? I like books. And you didn’t ask me my favorite country. It is California because I was born there. And really I can’t even sleep tonight because my birthday is tomorrow and I am so excited!

To see Patrick’s answers from last year, click here!

Daddy’s Birthday

Brian’s 41st birthday was on a Sunday this year. We went to church and then out to lunch to celebrate. At the restaurant Brian had a few double thumb wars with Danny and Patrick which they all seemed to enjoy.

When Kev saw Danny and Patrick making paper airplanes from the kids’ menus, he tried to do the same.

We had a nice lunch, though it was not so nice to find the forgotten leftovers in my car two days later at the end of a hot day!Later in the afternoon while Kevin and Brian napped, Patrick and Danny helped me decorate the birthday cake.

For dinner, Brian and the boys grilled brats and hot dogs. Danny and Patrick had werewolf and mummy cups, respectively, and pretended to be those creatures. Kev sucked the ketchup off his food and ate very little of his meal.

Everyone loved the three layer cake, which the boys dyed blue after Brian told them it was his favorite color.

Unfortunately, Brian’s gifts didn’t arrive on time, so we gave him pictures of the gifts. Danny and Patrick also drew pictures for Brian. After I took pictures of the boys and their drawings with Brian, Kev wanted a picture with Brian too, holding a picture of wood chips to go with a new electric smoker.

Happy birthday, Brian! We love you!

About two weeks after Brian’s birthday, the electric smoker I got for him finally arrived. We inaugurated it on a Sunday, with a nice pork tenderloin served with twice baked potatoes. Success!