Sunday, November 11, 2012

Dear Readers,

Killisnoo, one of my five brown bear buddies.
It seems pretty difficult for me to get around to "putting pen to paper" so to speak, but here I am. So much has happened in our world since my first/last post [See "News from Nicole (No foolin') if you missed it]. I cried uncle about the third week in July and left the job at the Fortress of the Bear. I enjoyed working there, but as time wore on the physical aspects of my job were too much to "bear". Fortunately, there was a young man interning for the summer who worked with me to see that I didn't overextend myself and did most of the heavy lifting for me while learning about animal care. I was able to provide part time interpretive service, but we had a member on staff more suited to that type of work, so I mainly served as an alternate. In the end, everyone there was very supportive of my decision to leave, and I may continue on with them in some capacity in the near future. It was pretty interesting to meet so many people coming from all over the world off of the cruise ships that make Sitka a port-of-call or visiting relatives and friends of residents.

August 19, 2012
I spent the last weeks of my pregnancy preparing and pampering for the birth of the baby. It all went by in a blur, and of course, we still weren't ready when labor beset upon me. Madeline arrived on her due date, apparently a much more punctual person than her mother.

Time is spinning ever faster now, and 10 weeks have passed since Madeline's arrival. The time has been memorable and enjoyable, but having a child IS a big adjustment, just like everyone says it will be. Somehow I had convinced myself that such exaggerations were not going to affect my outlook or approach. But, alas, I have found there to be no exaggeration in the assertion. Albeit challenging at times, certainly with many ups and downs, we are finding our way and making a happy little family.

I like crinklies. Thank you!
Even the cat is making the necessary adjustments in her outlook and demeanor. While by no means happy about the very loud, noisome addition to the household, she is coming to terms in her own way. The process for her is a slow one, and one that involves caution and distance (from baby at least) and that is just fine with me. She is very pleased, however, with all the wonderful gifts coming in the mail for her. Invariably most packaging ends up on the floor for a day or two for her enjoyment, and she is very appreciative.

A picture speaks a thousand words.
While Greg was home with us for the first three weeks, we all got to know each other a bit in our new roles. But Greg is now back at work full-time, and that makes life a little more challenging in some ways. For Greg misses spending the valuable hours with his family, and his family misses his reassuring presence and support during the working day. Madeline makes the most of it though by putting her best face forward when Daddy interacts with her morning and evening. Now that she can, she is always ready with a smile, and often times they can be heard having little "conversations", he speaking to her and she cooing and gurgling back. Too precious!

Since many of you are here for pictures of Madeline, I will forgo rambling as I am prone to do (have already done?) and finish out with some pictures with captions.

September 29
Our little "milkaholic" milk drunk once again.

October 14
Aren't I just darling?

October 18
In the alcove of downtown business on Lincoln St. waiting
 for the Alaska Day parade to begin.

October 18
Madeline has now outgrown the hat and bunting she was wearing
 this day, in addition to several of her first outfits.
She is clearly distressed about it.

October 22
One of Madeline's first grins captured for posterity.
When she smiles, the room lights up.

October 22
The personalized onsie was created by a long-time Filipek
family friend and neighbor.  Unfortunately, Madeline has
just about outgrown this one as well.

October 23
One of Madeline's favorite activities- studying for her mid-terms. Ha!
The book is a gift from the local library's "Babies and Books" program.
We love our library!

October 24
Another precious moment.

October 31
All dressed and ready to go trick-or-treating downtown.
Sitka really pulls out all the stops on Halloween, and we saw
 so many really creative and well done costumes on both
the parents and children, it was definitely a treat.
Well readers, that concludes this particular effort at keeping you informed and entertained. I hope that you found it to be gratifying in some way, and would be happy to hear from you. Again and as always, thank you for your interest.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Big Thank You

Who you callin' noisy?
Any of our readers that have children can probably relate to the fact that we have been a bit preoccupied lately.  Each morning when I leave for work I need to check to make sure I have my wallet, not because it is common for me to forget my wallet, but these days it might be just as likely I forgot to put on pants before leaving the boat, so my wallet check serves several purposes.  Along with forgetting things in daily life, our priorities tend more towards survival and a minimizing of noise.  My internet surfing time is taken up with comparison shopping for diapers, and our "down time" on the weekends resembles a three ring circus of laundry, groceries and cleaning.  All of this works as convenient excuses for what we haven't done but want to, which is to say Thank You.
Many of our friends and relatives have sent cards, gifts, and well wishes for the addition to our family, and we haven't quite been able to squeeze in time to write the thank you notes we intend to write.  I still have hope that we will get to them, but the timing is no longer just subject to my procrastination.
Being physically isolated as we are from both family and friends, we lack the network many have for input, encouragement and reassurance and the cards and emails become that much more important to us.  This is just a quick note to say thank you for checking in, it means a lot to us, and don't be surprised if you find a thank you note in the mail, someday.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Month in the life of Madeline

September 2, 2012
My Birthday!!

September 3, 2012
Hanging out in the hospital watching Family Guy on TV

September 4, 2012
No more cable TV, delivered meals, long hot showers, they're kicking us out

September 9, 2012
Just chillin' out at home on the boat

September 16, 2012
Bath time in a perfectly baby-sized sink

September 19, 2012
Tors' Mom and Dad take a cruise in Alaska and stop by for a visit

September 20, 2012
Grandma Filipek comes to Sitka for a visit

September 21, 2012
Three generations of Filipeks

September 25, 2012
What in the hell is that thing?  The baby gifts keep on coming

October 2, 2012
A whole month old, I'm a big girl now

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

I realize that since Madeline has arrived on the scene, Nicole and I have ceased to exist, and nobody really wants to hear about us, but as you can see by the length of this post I put a lot of time into writing it and thought I should at least post it for folks to read.  I promise I'll get more baby pictures up soon.

Being neither rich nor famous, you may wonder about this post from the start.  Turns out it really is more about who you know sometimes.
Quite a few weeks back I was having a phone conversation with our friends Adam and Ellen from Boulder, CO, and they decided they wanted to come for a visit.  You know part of how the visit went from my earlier post, but as the saying goes, there is more to the story.  While we were talking they expressed an interest in going out on the boat, and really wanted to see Glacier Bay.  Their visit was going to coincide with about the 8th month of Nicole's pregnancy, so sailing was possible but unlikely, and a trip to Glacier Bay on our boat (about a 2 week affair even being as close as we are) was pretty much out of the question.  Being from Minnesota and thus preprogrammed to make everyone around me happy regardless of the cost, I put my feeble brain to work and came up with a grand scheme to make everyone happy.  The company I work for, Allen Marine, had recently gotten into the overnight cruise business with an offshoot company called Alaska Dream Cruises, and had set up a "friends and family" offer that was not only too good to be true but also matched some of the possible dates for our friends visit.  After some calendar searching we found a date that worked for all of us and booked two staterooms on the Admiralty Dream for an eight day trip around Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska.  The luckiest part of this trip is that it started and ended in Sitka so we wouldn't have to hassle with getting a pregnant woman on a plane.  These trips are on relatively small ships, 120 foot long with less than 70 passengers at most, offer plush accommodations and gourmet food, and include activities and stops exclusive to this company.  Given that our staterooms for the four of us would have cost well in excess of $17,000, you can now see the justification of the title of this post.
A picture is worth a thousand words, but I'm pretty long-winded so I'm going to go ahead and give a run-down of the trip day-by-day with lots of words and pictures.
The trip started in Sitka on July 28, aboard one of the Allen Marine 65' catamarans for a lengthy sea otter and whale watch tour.  This is kind of a warm up for things to come, but also gave passengers a chance to see the beauty of Sitka and it's surroundings.  We did see quite a few otters and a lot of Bald Eagles, but the Humpback Whales stole the show with lots of tail slapping and general ruckus right alongside the boat.  It was also a chance for us to meet our fellow passengers, and after several hours of sightseeing around Silver Bay and Sitka Sound we met up with the Admiralty Dream and transferred over to start our cruise.
Once aboard we got a quick orientation from the crew and were shown to our rooms to unpack and relax for a bit before the first of many incredible meals.  Evenings usually had some sort of program in the lounge, and for the first night there was a meet and greet with introductions and name tags.  The crew had been pre-warned about Nicoles "condition", but we were guessing there were already some whisperings about us amongst the other passengers and Adam had a great idea for some fun with the name tags, as you can see in the picture.  The ship continued through the night so we could arrive early at our first destination.

Day two started with some very early morning whale watching, for those passengers that happened to be up early to catch the show.  Quite a few Humpbacks were sighted in Frederick Sound, and those of us slightly later risers got to see a pair of Orcas before our next stop.  We arrived at the dock in Petersburg early, and after a wonderful breakfast we were escorted into town for our own private show of the Sons and Daughters of Norway Dancers.  Along with the dance performance, we also went on a walk through a muskeg area just outside of town, and wandered through town doing a bit of window shopping before returning to the boat.  Dinner was fabulous, with several delicious courses including a wonderful dessert. (Are you starting to see a theme here?)
Our third day was just a quick trip north up Stephens Passage to Hobart Bay.  Allen Marine and Alaskan Dream Cruises has worked with the local tribal companies to set up a sort of adventure center in Hobart Bay for the exclusive use of our tour boats.  Tucked back in the bay there is a dock for the ship to tie to, giving passengers access to both the land and water aspects of the area.  Passengers are divided into groups for the day, with each group taking turns participating in the three activities.  Our group started with one of the on-the-water activities, a tour around the bay on small motorized catamaran vessels called Zegos.  This turned out to be more fun than I expected.  Nicole and I rode double on ours and switched off driving half way through.  The Zegos are very stable and not all that fast, so the only excitement came when Ellen's Zego overheated and had to be towed back to the dock.  Next up was an ATV ride on the old logging roads that wind through the hills surrounding the bay.  This was the only activity that worried me.  Not because I thought it was dangerous, or because they regularly see bears on the trips, but because I didn't know the condition of the trails and a lot of bouncing might result in Nicole providing an extra passenger for the remainder of the trip.  Turns out some of the other passengers had similar concerns as there was no shortage of people asking if Nicole was really going to participate in all the activities.  I asked one of the crew that participated in the first ATV ride about trail conditions, and he said the trail was fine so off we went.  It was nice to be able to see the bay and the surrounding area from high up on the hillsides, and we spotted our first bear of the trip in one of the streams we crossed during our ride.  After a tasty lunch we were off for our third and final adventure, sea kayaking.  Even the light rain didn't dampen our spirits for a nice long paddle around the bay.  We got up close and personal with a couple of seals as we paddled along the shore, and finally ended up back at the ship tired but happy.  The crew put away all the gear as we snuck in a quick nap, and a bit later sat down to another excellent meal as the ship made it's way out of the bay.
Our next stop was in Juneau, and we had planned to break away from the group to do some shopping in town, but a busy day at the Allen Marine dock meant no available vehicles, so we hopped on the tour bus with the rest of our group instead.  The first stop was the Mendenhall Glacier, where we got a chance to do some walking and see the exhibits in the visitors center.  Nicole and I had been to Mendenhall last year at about this time with my brother and knew the sockeye salmon would be running in a nearby stream, so we headed up the road to check them out before returning to the glacier and the visitors center.  From Mendenhall we got back on the bus and headed in to downtown for lunch at the Westmark Hotel.
After lunch we did a bit of shopping nearby, and then we were given the choice of either riding the Mount Roberts tram or going on a whale watch tour out of Juneau.  Because the weather was cloudy and overcast we thought the view from the tram would be blocked and the four of us chose to do the whale watch tour.  The trip lasted several hours with good sightings of seals, sea lions and eagles, but again the Humpback whales stole the show.  Lots of whale activity from a good sized group and a very rambunctious youngster made for a good show.  After the tour we all boarded the Admiralty Dream, headed about an hour out of Juneau to the Orca Point Lodge for dinner.  Orca Point Lodge is an event center located on Colt Island. It is also owned by Allen Marine, and is used in conjunction with the Juneau tour division for dinners and special events.  Our dinner for the evening included halibut, scallops, and all you can eat king crab, with a campfire on the beach afterwards for desert s'mores.  Not too shabby.

Day five was our trip to Glacier Bay.  We had visited Glacier Bay on our own boat in 2009, but as we were coming to realize on this trip, having someone else drive, navigate, and cook, tends to change the experience you have.  The first change was that, being on a tour boat, we stopped by headquarters in Bartlett Cove and picked up a park ranger and a cultural interpreter to ride along with us for the day.  They both turned out to be quite knowledgeable and did a great job of answering our questions.  Our route for the day took us up to our first stop at South Marble Island for some bird watching, including sightings of both horned and tufted puffins.  There is also a large population of sea lions on South Marble.
From South Marble we headed for Gloomy Knob, a large rocky, cliff area known for good wildlife spotting.  Just before Gloomy Knob, we got a tip from the park ranger and made a slight detour into a small bay where we spotted several wolves on shore.  They had been seeing the wolves for the past few days so it was great to have some "insider information" to know exactly where to look.  As we continued north we spotted several brown bear sows with cubs, and a lone mountain goat high on the cliffs.  From Gloomy Knob we made a pass east of Russell Island to look for more wildlife, then the decision was made to head west and try our luck in Johns Hopkins Inlet.

Johns Hopkins is one of several inlets in the park with active tidewater glaciers.  The glacier was recently in the news after a massive landslide covered a section of ice further up the valley.  It is also an area used extensively by seals as a nursery and pupping area.  Because of it's importance to the seal population, the area is closed to boat traffic for a good part of the spring and summer, and inaccessible many other times of the year because of the heavy ice conditions, so a visit to this area of the park is somewhat rare.  The ranger thought we might be the first boat of the season to try to get in, and as it turned out the ice was still too thick to make it all the way to the face of the glacier, but we did get some stunning views of the surrounding landscape, and a lot of sightings of both young and mature seals.  At this point we turned around to head back south, stopping by Lamplugh Glacier and in front of Reid Inlet to view several more glaciers.  Arriving back at park headquarters to drop off our two guests, we took enough time at the dock to let everyone stretch their legs and visit the park lodge before heading out of the park just after dark.

After traveling through the night, back past Juneau and down Stephens Passage, we arrived at the entrance to Tracy Arm.  Tracy Arm is probably one of the most stunning destinations in all of southeast Alaska, which is really saying something in an area of stunning landscapes.  The arm is a narrow fjord stretching back almost 30 miles from the main waterway with steep cliffs on either side rising to over 5000 feet in places.  The arm forks at its head and each branch features its own tidewater glacier, making the trip up the inlet beautiful and sometimes treacherous because of the large amount of ice in the water.  This ice ranges from ice cube sized all the way up to house and building sized icebergs, many in stunning blues and whites.
We found the waterway relatively clear of ice compared to our trip in 2009, and got to visit both arms and watch the ice calve off the glaciers.  The weather was cold and rainy like it was for our earlier visit, but it almost feels right for the surroundings.  We spent the majority of the day transiting up the fjord and back and watching the glaciers at the head, and exited back into Stephens Passage just before dark.
Our last stop of the trip was at the small native village of Kake.  Nicole and I had stopped here the year before on our way to Sitka and were not overly impressed, but tried to keep open minds for this visit.  With a decline in both fishing and logging by the village population, there really is no industry in Kake and the inclusion of a stop here by Alaska Dream Cruise boats could signal a change for their future economy.  Unfortunately the organization is not yet in place for tourism and the stop felt like a bit of a let-down compared to other stops on the trip.  That being said, during our tour we had an enjoyable stop at a fish hatchery and bear observation area.  The bears were out and cooperative for picture-taking, and a hatchery worker volunteered to provide an interesting tour of the facilities.  We also got to visit with a local wood carver, and watch a native dance performance at the local school.

I'm not sure if I mentioned earlier in this post, but the food throughout the entire trip was fabulous.  As a special treat for our last night on the boat, the pastry chef went all out and dessert consisted of a collection of  incredible treats.  This was certainly not a trip for someone on a diet.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Baby Pics

 Since nobody seemed satisfied with only one picture, I suppose I should throw a bunch out there for Madeline's adoring fans.  Don't be fooled by the calm, sedate poses in most of these pictures, there is more than enough screaming, pooping, and fussing to keep us on our toes.

Madeline made her entrance at just after 6 am, which might have been a problem for her non-morning person parents if they had actually slept at some point the night before.  Luckily Nicole is young enough and I'm stubborn enough that we pushed through (no pun intended).  Having everything happen on a holiday weekend meant things were a little quiet at Sitka Community Hospital, but going into labor on Labor Day weekend seemed ironically appropriate.  Everyone else in Sitka was busy hunting, fishing, picnicking, or being attacked by bears, but we decided to buck the trend of outdoor activities and do this inside where it was warm and dry.

After the birth, we had a couple nice days in the hospital, showering without needing a hand full of quarters and catching up on our sit-coms.  In reality, it was nice to have nurses and doctors with functioning brains looking out for us during our first few days as parents.  There seems to be a bit more to the parenting thing than deciding which toy is best in the happy meal.
Lots of helpful staff and good information to help alleviate our fears and concerns.  While we were busy learning how to be perfect role models (Ha!) Madeline was doing a great job with subtle life challenges like breathing, eating, and body temperature regulation.  The doctors and nurses all commented on how well she was doing learning to feed, how alert and responsive she was, how cute she is....I'm not sure if they say that to all new parents but I'll take the compliments as they come.

My friend Tor pointed out that once his boys were born he started worrying, about pretty much everything, and that has just continued as their childhood progresses.  If that's the role of a father, I seem to be right on track.  I thought maybe if I could find one of those nifty sealed habitats like from the boy in a bubble, but it looks like that's one product has not started carrying, yet.  I am signed up for an email reminder from them as soon as it becomes available.

Now that we are back on the boat I can finally relax.  I mean, what is there to worry about while living in a house that floats on the ocean in the Gulf of Alaska.  With no current earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or tsunamis there seems to be no looming weather catastrophe, so we can concentrate more on keeping warm and dry.
I'm still not much for the whole "dress up baby" thing, but I will admit that a couple of my recent purchases are starting to creep in that direction. I thought that the hat with ears was pretty cute, and the tiny Smartwool socks are fricken adorable.  I'm trying very hard to break the pink is for baby girls trend and go for more gender neutral colors when possible, but I think between Nicole and my mom I'm fighting a losing battle.

And lastly, in case anyone is wondering, the cat is still offering little to no help, claiming a lack of thumbs is sufficient reason for not helping with diaper changes and other child care duties.

Monday, September 3, 2012


Madeline Sophia Filipek

Born September 2, 2012 at 6:16 am
6 pounds 10 ounces
Mom and baby (and dad) are doing fine and should be back home Tuesday.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

More Visitors

Seems my family visiting us in Sitka has set off a wave of visitors.  Several weeks after my mom and brother left, friends of ours showed up on their sailboat.  We met Jason and Christy in Seattle, where we lived aboard our sailboats at Shilshole Bay Marina for several years.  They left Seattle earlier this year on their sailboat Hello World, intending on making a slow trip up to and around Southeast Alaska.  They plan to leave their boat in Alaska for the winter while they head back south to work, and return in the spring to continue exploring Southeast for a second summer before sailing back down to more reasonable winter weather.
After a couple days of playing tourist, with multiple stops at the local brewery, more friends showed up, and we were suddenly overwhelmed with socializing.  Friends from Boulder Colorado, Adam and Ellen, came up to Sitka to visit with us for a few days before all four of us left on a cruise around Southeast Alaska.  For the first few days of their visit, all six of us did some hiking, visited more touristy spots, and of course made our way to the brewery most afternoons.  In case anyone is thinking that by going to the brewery almost daily, Nicole is either being left out of the activities or is being an atrocious mother-to-be, the brewery also offers some of the best home brewed root beer, is smoke-free, and is very family friendly, so it turned out to be a great place to sit and socialize.  After a few more days of outdoor fun, Adam and Ellen headed out of town with us aboard one of the company tour boats, and Jason and Christy flew out to Anchorage to meet up with family.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Filipek Family Visit

My mom and brother came to Sitka to visit us at the end of June, staying over the 4th of July holiday.  We spent most of the time being tourists and seeing all the local attractions, including a bunch Nicole and I hadn't visited even after living here for almost a year.  We also spent a lot of time eating, sampling from the majority of restaurants in Sitka.  The touristy spots we visited included:

Sheldon Jackson Museum
Alaska Raptor Center
Sitka Native Dancers
Sitka National Historic Park/Totem Park
Russian Bishops House
Starrigavan Recreation Area
Castle Hill
Sitka Sound Science Center
Harrigan Centennial Hall

We had planned on doing a whale watch trip through the company I work for, Allen Marine, but ended up getting a better offer.  I was worried about my mom getting sea sick on the trip, since at least a portion of each trip is out on the open ocean and it can get rough, and when I mentioned it to the head of the day tours division, he suggested that he could take us out on one of our smaller tour boats.  This turned out to be a great solution, not only did we get great personal attention, but we could dictate where we went to avoid any rough weather.  Turns out it wasn't an issue, and we got to go for a boat ride on one of the nicest days of the summer.
The boat we took is one of our 28' aluminum catamarans with twin outboard motors.  These are fast boats which meant we could cover a lot of area.  We started out by heading to Redoubt Bay to look at Sea Otters.  We saw quite a few otters including a large raft of males.  After exploring the shoreline in an unsuccessful attempt to see bears, we decided the weather was so nice we should take advantage and headed across to St. Lazaria National Wildlife Refuge.  This is a small island near Cape Edgecombe that is a nesting area for a lot of seabirds, including puffins.  Because it is open to the Gulf of Alaska it is usually very rough but we lucked out with almost glass calm conditions.
After drifting around watching the puffins, murres, gulls, and other sea birds, we headed back to town, but not before spotting a humpback whale and getting some good gawking while it fed nearby.

Another highlight of the trip was a visit to Fortress of the Bear.  If you remember from a past post, this is where Nicole had been working for the summer, so we not only got the normal tourist tour, but also some behind the scenes information.  The bears were in fine form as usual.