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2004 Susan L. Stevenson
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April 1, 2004

April already. And I still haven't filed my tax return. I hate that chore most of all. We usually owe (on purpose). No sense in letting the IRS have our money all year long. It never only takes the estimated 2-3 hours to prepare the papers; more like a weekend. I'm dreading it.

Today I woke to snow flurries. WHAT ELSE IS NEW?! It was below zero when I left home, but the temperature reading at UAF was 2 above. Not that it matters anymore. The only thing that matters anymore is when the sun is shining - and it was!

There was an article in today's paper about the arrival of SNOW BUNTINGS here in Fairbanks.

From the News-Miner (edited for content):

Snow buntings are small, sparrow-like white birds with black and white wings. They are the first migrants to return to their breeding grounds each spring in Alaska, often before spring has sprung. The average date of the first arrival of snow buntings in Fairbanks is March 18.

The birds roll through Fairbanks in small flocks in late March on their way north.

Snow buntings aren't the only migrant species that has been spotted in Fairbanks. The first bald eagles of the season have also been spotted around town, though they are likely some of the same birds that spent the winter in Delta Junction. But the fact that they are paired up and moving means spring is on the way. The first bald eagles typically show up on April 8.

When the first geese will show up remains to be seen, however, especially with the unseasonably cold, snowy weather of late.

The first geese usually arrive in Fairbanks between April 10 and 20, according to past records. Last year the first geese showed up at Creamer's on April 9. In 2002, the first geese didn't arrive until April 18. The previous two years, geese showed up on April 11 and 10, respectively.

The front viewing field at Creamer's Field will be plowed late this week or early next week in anticipation of the first geese of the season. A local Kiwanis club will spread two tons of barley on the field on April 8 for incoming waterfowl such as geese, ducks and sandhill cranes.

Snow Buntings are the first birds of spring! *cheering wildly* I hope that spring is only days away and not weeks...

On a more serious note... My mom went for her second opinion yesterday about her kidney tumor. She is scheduled for a biopsy on April 19th. According to my brother, Mike, she likes this doctor (which is a definite plus). All we can do now is play the waiting game until her biopsy. I hate that she is going through this right now and I feel helpless being so far away from home. Much like my feelings of helplessness when my dad was sick, and my grandparents were sick. The military life may have its advantages in that we get to explore new places and make new friends, but it's a miserable life when the people you love are ill. I hope all of my readers will send positive vibes her way...

I love you, Mom, and I miss you!

April 5, 2004

April 5, 1992

Two hearts joined for eternity,
Walking hand in hand through life;
Every moment a gift.
Loving, laughing and living,
Visions shared; dreams followed;
Embracing each moment.

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow,
Each day a blessing.
Adventures await.
Reflecting on the past twelve years,
Standing by your side.

Susan L Stevenson 4/5/2004

Happy Anniversary to my Darling Husband, Steve!

(one of those bad 'handheld' camera shots - but oh well!)

I am married twelve years today. Sometimes, I feel like the past 12 years have passed rather quickly. And other times I feel like Steve and I have always been married; that he has always been a part of my life.

It's sometimes hard to believe that drafting a letter to "any serviceman" more than 13 years ago resulted in meeting and marrying a man who still makes my heart sing when I am in his presence.

It hasn't always been candy and roses. Living a military lifestyle is hard on families. The separations and long hours can easily take their toll on a relationship. But despite the hardships, I always knew that Steve was beside me and working just as hard to keep things together.

When we became 'empty nesters' a few years ago, a whole new world opened up to us. We really liked each other! We loved hanging out together. Experiencing life. Exploring our world. Together...

I love this man... and I know that I am loved by him. How spectacular is that?

Still Monday...

It's currently 48 degrees and it's 7:45pm. The sun is still shining. Daylight Savings Time is definitely helping with the later sunset, but what a joy! I opened almost every window in my house today. How wonderful to smell the outside and not the stuffiness of a house that has been closed up for months and months.

The background 'music' is the steady drip, drip, drip of the snow as it melts off the roof. Both the front and the back of the house have their own little waterfalls coming off the eaves. The weatherman is calling for temperatures in the 50's this week. I'm so excited! To add to my excitement, the first geese of the spring season were spotted at Creamer's Field on Sunday. The sighting is the earliest on record at Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge, according to records dating back to 1976.

The first geese typically show up in Fairbanks sometime between April 10 and 20. Last year, the first geese of the spring arrived at Creamer's Field on April 9. This means that spring is definitely on its way - and not a moment too soon!

Steve and I took a walk to the river yesterday along the path behind our house. The river is still frozen in the middle, but the edges are starting to thaw. It looks odd to see all these 'open' spaces of very thin ice and dripping icicles and still have many inches of ice in the center of the river. We walked out on it even though the edges looked treacherous. You can see in the photo at left that there are lots of tracks on the river - made by snowmachiners, cross-country skiers, and skijorers.

Steve and I saw lots of animal tracks in the snow. It was easy to pick out the moose tracks. The snowshoe hare and fox tracks were a bit more obscure. Several times, Sedona's hair stood up on her neck and she raised her nose into the air as if she was sniffing out another animal. As long as there weren't any bear tracks, I was feeling pretty secure.

On another note... Steve was able to come home from work early today. We had a nice home-cooked dinner and a beautiful toast to our marriage with some champagne. It was very nice...


The Alaska Range - from the parking lot at work

April 7, 2003

Break up is definitely here! And with it comes lots of slush, puddles, deep lakes at the low-lying intersections, and GEESE!

Creamer's Field has had quite a lot of activity lately. Not just with our feathered friends, but with Fairbanks residents as well. I decided to stop there on my way home from work today. The parking lot was full and lots of people had binoculars with them. (I'll have mine next time I stop). It is such a pleasure seeing geese here. Winter seems like it has been here forever. The entire city is waking up and preparing for spring and summer. It's amazing what bright sunshine can do for a person's mood. I know I've been perked up lately. What a wonderful change to drive home from work with the windows in the car rolled down and the radio blasting - singing along at the top of my lungs.

Today it reached 51 degrees. I saw a college student wearing shorts and sandals. I saw another student wearing a tank top with spaghetti straps and no jacket. I did bring a fleece jacket with me, but ended up carrying it. It's amazing how warm 51 degrees feels. In Florida, I would have still been wearing a sweater. Here, I feel like summer has arrived!

We had an FRG meeting last night. We went over the guys' training schedule for the summer months. It doesn't look good. There will be a lot of 'alone time' for us wives. There are quite a few angry family members, and I don't blame them. Our husbands could possibly be going 'somewhere' next year (where they could be gone for at least 6 months) and all of our plans to spend quality time with them has been snatched from us too. I feel especially sorry for the mothers of young children. I remember how hard it was to be a single parent - and that's what these women will be.

Steve and I are going to spend as much time as we can, on the road. Even if we only get a weekend, we're going somewhere. We don't care if we put 20,000 miles on the truck this summer. We came here to explore. We came here to discover Alaska. We hope to fulfill our goal. Still, I can't help but feel disappointed....

April 8, 2004

Denali was visible today! What a treat! The photo above was taken from my office building, out a window. Denali is the sunlit mountain to the right of the rest of the range. It is more than 20,000' high - twice as tall as the rest of the Alaska Range. I wish I would have been on the highway outside Denali National Park, rather than standing in a window in a building 140 miles away. But what a wonderfully pleasant surprise!

Steve is off from work tomorrow for Easter weekend. I'm planning to go to the gym and then to lunch with Susan Spivey.

Break-up is definitely upon us. Today it reached highs in the 50's. It is currently 9pm, still light out, and 48 degrees outside. The days are getting so long again, which is wonderful. According to the Civil Twilight (The time between the moment of sunset, when the sun's apparent upper edge is just at the horizon, until the center of the sun is 6 degrees directly below the horizon.) charts, sunrise today was at 5:45 AM and sunset will be at 10:02 PM. I love these long days!

Each day, more and more snow disappears. It also softens. Taking Sedona out for a walk is an exercise in futility. Every step she takes results in being buried to her hips. Likewise for us 'people'. It's disconcerting to take a step 'on' the snow and find yourself buried to your shin. Only a few weeks ago, the snow was frozen enough to support our body weight. Now it barely supports the cat's weight (and yes, I have tossed her outside to see how she likes the snow... she doesn't like it.)

There is a river running in front of my house. I can't walk to the mailbox without putting on boots. So I leave that chore to my husband. He's got waterproof shoes; I don't. The miniature lakes on the roads can also surprise you. They can be a lot deeper than you imagine. I've learned not to drive next to a truck with my windows down if there's a puddle on the road.

I have less than two months until I get 'laid off' from my job. I am looking forward to my last day. Now that the weather is warm again, I want to be out and about and not sitting at a desk in an office. I am so glad I took a seasonal job!

April 10, 2004

It's currently 46 degrees. The sun is shining brightly and the snow is melting quickly. Which also means that there are puddles and slush all over town. There is also lots of trash appearing all over the city. Cigarette butts, soda bottles, food wrappers, and more are quickly becoming visible as the snow that once covered them disappears. I don't understand how some people can be so callous about littering. What makes someone think it's OK to toss trash onto the ground? It's frustrating!

Fairbanks will host a citywide clean up on May 8th. On April 19th, the United Way office hands out free garbage bags for volunteers. Fort Wainwright will also have a Post Cleanup Day for the same reason. I hope there are a lot of volunteers; the city is a mess.

This morning Steve and I went out to breakfast and then drove to Creamer's Field to watch the geese. We took the binoculars with us and stood for a good thirty minutes watching groups of five or more fly over and land. So much more of the snow has melted. The Friends of Creamer's Field members distributed bags of barley all over the field for the geese to eat. It's relaxing to watch these graceful birds fly in and land. The sound of their honks is a sound for sore ears and lets us all know that spring is here. Tomorrow we should reach highs in the mid-50's!

After viewing the geese for awhile, Steve and I drove to UAF to see if Denali was visible today. The range looked pretty, but Denali was hidden in the clouds. So we continued further down the road to the Reindeer Research Facility to see them. What a surprise to see that babies have been born! We saw no less than 5 new calves and I'm sure there are more. I was able to get two nice photos of a mama and her baby.

We ran by Prospectors today so I could get a new pair of hiking boots. My old ones are pretty worn out and I needed a good pair for all the hiking we plan to do this summer. They were having a decent sale which was an added perk.

We're going to spend the rest of the day being lazy. Tomorrow (Easter Sunday), we don't have any plans. We don't usually celebrate Easter formally now that it's just Steve and me. I miss the way it used to be... Easter dinner at my parents, or my brother's house. But since the boys have grown up and began their own lives, and the military has moved us all over the country, those traditions have ended. There was an Easter egg hunt at the company today, but I wasn't in the mood to attend. It would be different if I still had little ones at home...

View of trail in July

We're hoping to get together with Brian and Marcella tomorrow to go hiking up Angel Rocks Trail. Steve and I hiked it on July 13th - just after moving into this house and getting things halfway unpacked. We needed a break - bad!

I'm sure it doesn't look as green and lush (and mosquito laden) as it was then, but hopefully it won't be too slushy to climb. I'm definitely in the mood for a hike.

If Angel Rocks trail doesn't work, maybe we can drive to the top of Murphy Dome and see if those trails are open. I don't want to waste a minute of the sunny weather.

Before I end this entry, I just wanted to thank all of you who have signed my guestbook (link at top of page). It is thrilling to see that I have picked up readers from all over the world! I'm glad that you are enjoying seeing Alaska through my eyes and photos.

Happy Easter
Easter is the gift of Peace, the gift of Hope, the gift of Love.

April 12, 2004

Happy Birthday, Daddy
I miss you so much...

John Edward Smalley
April 12, 1934 - June 18, 1996

I woke up this morning feeling sad. It's my father's birthday. He would have turned 70 today if he were still alive. It's so hard to imagine my father at 70. I suspect he would think the same thing about me being in my 40's! Isn't it wonderful how we continue to see our families and close friends in an ageless fashion?

I know that if my father were still alive, he'd already have airline tickets booked for a trip to Alaska. My father loved traveling and nothing would have kept him from seeing us. When I go out and explore Alaska, I sometimes find myself thinking about my father and wishing that he could see what I see. But the thing I miss the absolute most is dialing my parents' phone number and hearing his voice as he picks up the phone.

"Hello", he'd answer.
"It's ME!", I always responded.
"It's Me!" he'd respond back excitedly and then he'd exclaim, "MOOGIE!"
(pronounced MOO-jee; it was his pet name for me)

I can still hear his voice in my head... I miss him so much.

Yesterday, Steve and I decided to go hiking with Marcella and Brian. We originally had planned on exploring Angel Rocks Trail, but were worried that the trail would be a muddy mess with all the melting that's been going on here. The trail is steep as well, which would make it even more difficult to traverse. So instead we decided to do some hiking up at Murphy Dome.

Me, Steve, Marcella and Brian

We walked about 3 miles round-trip, but it was slow going in some spots. There was still snow in the lower portions of the rolling tundra, and we didn't know how deep it was until we'd take a step and our foot would crash through, burying us to our knees. But the views were magnificent! I shot almost 200 photos while we were out.

How wonderful to see bare ground where the snow has already melted away. Granted, much of it is still brown, but there is also color coming back! I was thrilled to see the red and green ground cover coming to life. When we reached the second outcropping, the four of us stopped to rest and take in the magnificent views. While Steve and the Hoffman's took the edge off of their hunger with nuts and raisins, I wandered around taking photos. The sun was actually hot on my face and I was glad I put on my moisturizer with sunscreen that morning.

On the way back to the house, we drove past the Reindeer Research Facility again so Marcella could see the baby reindeer. A mean cop was ticketing anyone who stopped on the side of the road to check out the babies, so we had to get out of there pretty quickly. While making our escape, Marcella and I stepped into a deep puddle running next to the road just outside the reindeer pens. All night long we wondered what smelled like caribou pee, until we realized it was our shoes. *laugh*

We stopped at the grocery store and ended up having eyes bigger than our stomachs. The plan was to barbecue and we had already decided on chicken breasts. We picked up some fresh asparagus (two bundles set us back $7.02!) and some fresh green beans (small bag - $3.38) I never cease to be amazed by the cost of fresh produce here. But what are you going to do?

Steve manned the grill while Marcella and I tackled the veggies. When everything was finally prepared, we sat down to a delicious and hearty meal of grilled chicken, grilled asparagus which had been marinated in olive oil, salt & pepper, and garlic, green beans which had been steamed with garlic (can you tell we love garlic?), rice, fresh crusty Italian bread, and ice cold Chardonnay. Mmm... mmm... good!

We settled in the living room to let the food digest and watched an old movie (The Edge). After watching that, Marcella again voiced her fears of hiking and camping in the wilderness of Alaska. Oh well... she's just going to have to get used to it. We're not going to let anything stop us.

April 15, 2004

My work week is over. How thankful I am. I have been so bored at work. There hasn't been much to keep me busy and I can think of a million other things I could be doing instead of sitting at a desk looking for something to do. I don't know how I'll get through the next 6 weeks without losing my mind...

It was overcast today, and I don't think it got any warmer than the 40's. I miss the sun. The days are getting so long. Last night it was still 'dusk' at 10:00pm. The longer days cause Steve and I to stay up later than usual. Which of course results in some grogginess when the alarm goes off at 5am.

While I was out taking Sedona for her afternoon walk, I noticed pussy willows on the banks of the shallow runoff creek behind our house. The creek bed stays bone dry all year long and then at breakup, it swells into a stream that is at least 2' deep. I found out that soon after pussy willows appear, green leaves will appear. That is wonderful!

I also found out that willows are where the earliest aspirin came from. The active principle in willow bark is salicin. Salicin is a precursor to salicylic acid.

The history of aspirin begins with the willow, which was used in Europe for fevers, debilities of the digestive system, and dysentery. The European use of willow bark infusions dates back to ancient Greece, where it was used to treat pain more than 2400 years ago. They seem to be preferred by moose too. Maybe this means I'll see some moose and their babies in the yard soon.

April 16, 2004

Ah... my day off. Lots of errands to run. Finally dropped State Farm after almost 15 years of carrying my car insurance with them. I know they offer good coverage, but Steve and I have perfect driving records, no claims, no tickets (in the last 5 years) and they upped our premium 200.00 this year. I've had it... Insurance is such a major rip-off. Why should WE have to pay for uninsured motorists?

I also opened a bank account up here at the local credit union. No fee checking, no fee savings, no fee nothing. The interest rates are as bad as anywhere else, so no advantage there. But at least *when* Steve deploys, our money will be local and not in a bank in Florida that requires me to use my debit card to get access to it.

It's overcast today. The sun came out for a short time, but not long enough to make me want to be out in it. I took the dog for a long walk through the muddy puddles in the woods near the house. It's wet out there. The ground seems to have reached its quota for water absorption. But there's new growth out there and that's great to see. Tiny pine saplings have sprung up all over the place. The paper birch trees are starting to flake and peel. Every so often, I'll run across a tree with a huge section missing out of the bark. Birch bark crafts are pretty popular up here. I suppose there might be a way to remove the outer layer of bark without harming the tree, but I've come across trees that have been irreparably damaged and are dying. What a shame.

I liked the way the new green needles of the pine saplings contrasted with the white bark of the birch. I took a few photos using the macro (close-up) setting on my camera. Here's one of them:

I'm in the market for a new camera. There's nothing wrong with the one I'm using now, but it's time to upgrade. I'm hoping to purchase the Canon Digital Rebel. I was originally interested in another Canon camera (the Pro1) but the Rebel will allow me to interchange lenses. Because I like to shoot wildlife and landscapes, I'd like the option to switch out my lenses - especially to a good telephoto lens. So... I jumped in my car to take a drive to the PX (Post Exchange) to see if they could order one for me and my car wouldn't start. It made the necessary 'noise' as if it were trying to start up, but just wouldn't roll over. Terrific... We're going to have a friend look at it tomorrow. I hope it's an easy fix. I don't need to have a car out of commission right now. It wouldn't be such a big problem if I was already laid off, but I have six weeks until that happens.

April 19, 2004

What an incredible weekend we had! Despite the car troubles (it had to go into the shop; luckily it wasn't anything major - just needed a tune up and some new plugs), the weekend was a very full and enjoyable one.

My friend, Susan, works at the Daily News-Miner and gets free passes to lots of shows and functions here in town. This weekend was the Outdoor Show. There was lots of information about halibut fishing, camping, kayaking, and all things outdoors. Steve and I went with Marcella and Brian and picked up information about the Kenai, Soldotna, Seward, Valdez, etc. Now we're even more excited about our summer vacation and exploring this breathtaking state!

On Sunday morning, we woke up early and decided to take a drive to Denali, after finding out from a friend of mine that the park was open to vehicle traffic to mile 29.5. Usually there is no vehicle traffic. Shuttle buses take visitors into the park during peak tourist season. Because it's not the peak season yet, we Alaska residents get to have a little fun before it becomes a crowded mess. (And it's FREE now too!)

We called Marcella and Brian and they were excited to go too. We took Brian's truck, because they wanted to take their dogs with us (Dar and Red are feisty little Min-Pins). It took us about 2 hours to get to the park. Once inside, we stopped frequently to take photos and to stretch our legs. When we got to the end of the 'permitted' road, we took a short 2.5 mile walk down to the river. It was a lot colder down there, but the views were just awesome. Unfortunately we didn't get to see any wildlife, although we did see a bald eagle on our way back out of the park.

"The great mountain rose above me desolate, magnificent, overpowering. . . . I felt, as never before, completely alone in the presence of this mighty mountain; no words can describe my feelings."—Charles Sheldon, The Wilderness of Denali, 1906

Denali was 'out' and what a sight it was! In both the photo above and the photo at left, you can see the mountain. It appears to be floating atop the clouds in the center of the photo. As soon as we came over the first high ridge in the park, we could see its subtle color and texture on the horizon. Denali has its own weather system. Although there are quite a few days per year that it is visible, the degree of visibility varies. Our visit on Sunday wasn't one of those picture 'perfect' days, but it was enough to make us stop in our tracks and drink in the beauty of it all.

There were very few cars on the road in the park. It was as if we were alone in the world. When a beautiful sight beckoned to us, we were able to stop where we were and get out of the truck and enjoy it. It's hard to believe that in a little more than a month, the road will become clogged with full busloads of tourists... I'm glad we have this time alone with the "Tall One" (as it is known to the Athabascans).

Our walk down to the river was enough to get our blood coursing through our veins and also warmed us. It was a lot colder in the higher elevations (mid 30's) despite the shining sun. If we stopped moving for too long, our fleece jackets weren't enough to keep us warm. The walk was brisk and invigorating. We drove home weary and visually satiated. Marcella dozed off and I fought to keep my own eyes open. We didn't arrive home until after 8pm and Steve and I went to bed almost immediately.

Today, Susan invited me to go along with her and her friend, Angel (visiting from Alabama) to Chena Hot Springs. I've been there several times before, but it's always a treat to go for a drive through beautiful countryside. The fact that both Susan and Angel are also photographer hobbyists made it even more enjoyable. When someone said "Stop - I want to get a photo!", the other two were perfectly happy for the interruption. We did a lot of stopping.

Our very first stop was at the pipeline so Angel could get some photos and read about the 700 mile link from Prudoe Bay to Valdez. We then wandered into the abandoned gold mine that Susan and I explored in early winter. The ground is muddy now, but there were good photo ops there.

Our next stop was a campground that Steve and I usually stop at on the way to the springs. There are tall rocks to climb up on and large beaver lodges on the river. The pussy willows were growing in abundance along the river banks. And moose nuggets were everywhere, although the creatures themselves were elusive. Angel enjoyed all the lovely little stops along the way and happily snapped photo after photo.

When we arrived at the hot springs, we decided to have a light lunch before exploring. While Susan and Angel took a dip in the springs, I wandered all over the grounds snapping photos. As I wandered further into the wooded area where the cabins and yurts are, I came across some bear scat which made me give thought to just how far into the wooded area I should wander. We're constantly warned about the bears who live here in abundance, but thankfully haven't had a close encounter yet. I didn't want today to be my initiation into stumbling upon a bear, so I didn't go any further.

We were disappointed to learn that the Ice Hotel isn't open for tours because some kind of work is being done inside. The proprietors of Chena Hot Springs have decided to 'wrap' the hotel in some sort of material to prevent it from melting. They want to rent the hotel out during the summer months too and take advantage of the tourist money that will start flowing into the state. It looks awful... like a huge picnic cooler. It's obvious that Martha Stewart didn't have anything to do with this design decision. *grin*

The ride back was uneventful. My legs ache a little bit. All the walking over the past two days has taken its toll on my calf muscles. But it's been good to break in my new hiking boots...

On a personal note: My mom had her biopsy today. I talked to my sister-in-law, Diane, and she said that Mom was home in bed resting. I'll be calling her tomorrow morning. We won't have the results back from the pathology tests for anywhere from 48hrs to a week. Nothing to do but wait... and pray.

April 23, 2004

Happy 25th Birthday
to my wonderful
son Chris!

Twenty five years ago today, you came into the world and my life... my firstborn son. I fell head over heels in love with you the moment you took your first breath.

You were my beautiful little boy, with your tousled head of blonde hair and your gorgeous blue eyes. I remember how I'd bury my nose in your neck after your bath and breathe in the scent of you - a scent more fragrant than any garden.

At bedtime, I'd pull your body close to mine and carry you tenderly to your bed. I delighted in the sensation of your little heart beating against mine.

When you went off to kindergarten, I stood in the foyer and sobbed, as you climbed into the bus with your colorful backpack and your wide smile. I didn't want to let you go, and yet I had to. I wondered where my baby had gone. And when you came home later on that afternoon, with lots of drawings to share with me, and animated stories about the boys and girls in your class, I saw my love for learning reflected in your eyes. And I was happy.

When your brother was born, you were such a big help to me. You'd bring me diapers and his clothes. You'd help to give him his bottle. You'd play with him. Such a loving big brother you were!

And then we were alone - the three of us. Our world changed dramatically. You were not even five yet, but you understood that I needed your help more. We'd stand together in the kitchen - you on a chair - and we'd make simple meals. You would help me fold clothes on laundry day. We'd sit on the floor in the middle of the living room and pair socks.

Times got tougher before they got better. I had to go back to work and you had so much added responsibility thrust upon you. I wish things could have been different. You did everything I asked with minimal complaint. I hope you know how much I appreciated that.

I remember once we were back on our feet financially, how I'd rush home from work on those Friday afternoons in the summer; with a long weekend ahead of me. And I'd walk into the house and yell out "who wants to go to the beach?!" And we'd pile in the car and we'd drive to Seaside Heights for the day. You and your brother would build sand castles, and dig for sand crabs and play in the ocean for a few hours. Later, we'd drive to the boardwalk and get pizza and ice-cream and sometimes play arcade games or ride the rides. We had a lot of fun in those days...

I remember hiking with you in Pennypack Park along the creek. We'd skip rocks and climb on the boulders near the small waterfall. And talk about everything and nothing. School, your friends, whatever came to mind.

And then Steve came into our lives. And I know it was hard for you to adjust to having a man around the house. You were 13 years old and it had been just the three of us for almost 9 years. But when I made the decision to marry him, it was just as easy for me to choose to have you walk me down the aisle and give me away. You have no idea how special it was to have you on one arm and my dad on the other. Two special men in my life...

I was so proud of how you excelled in high school. Your perfect grades. Your creativity. The way you played music - first the trumpet and then the guitar. The way you wrote; poetry, stories, comic strips (I'll never forget your comic rendition of the smiley face. You named him Mough). Your sense of humor was shining through then. We'd laugh so hard sometimes, we'd both have tears streaming down our face.

I remember when you fell in love for the first time with Mandy. And how you came to me when you had questions or wanted to talk. It felt so wonderful to know that you were comfortable enough to come to me with even the most personal questions.

And then you 'grew up'. You graduated high school with highest honors - making Who's Who for the third year in a row. You looked magnificent in your white robe and gold stole. And you decided you wanted to try living with your dad. You thought you might want to go to college in Florida, and living with him would make it easier. We loaded your stuff in the truck and drove down I-95 to meet your dad at the rest stop in Savannah. I know I must have made it harder on you with my constant crying. I wanted to never let you go. A piece of my heart went with you that day.

In the years since then, I have watched you grow into a mature, independent, passionate, and very loving young man. I am so proud of you, Chris! You have grown into the kind of man I have always wished my sons would grow into. And today you are 25. And I love you with all my heart.

April 25, 2004

I have had a very full weekend, and it's not over yet. We've been fairly busy and I've been having fun with my new toy. I got my new camera!!!!!!!!! I bought a Canon Digital Rebel and a zoom lens. (And there are a million other lenses, filters, and gadgets I'll probably be adding to the mix over the next year). It was a big investment for me - not only money wise, but hobby wise. I have a lot to learn about the camera and will need to make time to sit and read the owner's manual.

But let me back up and tell you how my weekend was....

On Friday morning, I picked up Angel (Susan Spivey's friend who was visiting from Alabama). Susan had to work, and I didn't, so I offered to take Angel around town for some sight-seeing and shopping. We started with breakfast at one of my favorite breakfast places - The Bakery. I like The Bakery because of the crowd of locals who frequent the place. It's amazing to live in a town where you recognize people when you go into different stores, restaurants, etc. With such a small population (about 56,000 inside city limits), you actually run across the same people over and over. Especially the "characters".

On Saturday mornings, The Bakery has a group of older men who regularly come into the place. They get together for breakfast and to discuss current events, politics, the war, their past war experiences, local news, etc. Steve and I find ourselves eavesdropping from time to time. They are quite an animated bunch. But on Friday mornings, it's relatively slow. It was quiet as Angel and I enjoyed our bacon and eggs.

After a short visit to the 'mall' (which is the size of a 'hall'), we headed to Pioneer Park. I've been to Pioneer Park many times, but I always find something to shoot. Angel shot a few rolls of film. Her processing costs are going to be outrageous! I'm so glad I made the transition to digital.

After Pioneer Park, we headed to the UAF Museum. It's been nearly a year since I visited the museum with Steve. There weren't any lectures going on (bummer), but we enjoyed our visit. Angel took some still shots and also videotaped. When my camera batteries died, I took over the videotaping.

We then headed off to Gottschalks so Angel could do some browsing. While there, I stopped at Fast Foto and looked at the Canon Digital Rebels. Well, needless to say, I left the photo store with a much lighter wallet. I think my Visa card squealed when they ran it through the card reader. I couldn't wait to play with my new toy, but couldn't do anything until I had the battery charged and read the manual. You can't imagine how frustrating it is to be wandering around town with a brand new digital camera and you can't play with it! And since my batteries in my G2 were dead, I was totally without photo taking abilities. (Which panics me somewhat; I always imagine the 'perfect' photo op and I'm without a camera)

We had a late lunch at Gambardella's. And then made one more stop to pick up some souvenirs for Angel's friends at home before heading back to Post. It was after 4pm when I dropped her off. What a long, but pleasant, day.

Yesterday, I had a charged battery and had read a little bit of my camera manual. So I asked Steve to take me out for a drive so I could play. Our first stop was Creamer's Field so I could photograph the geese and ducks. It was so wonderful having a zoom lens and getting up close and personal with the birds! I shot the photo at left from a distance of about 100 feet. With my other camera, I wouldn't have been able to get anything like this. Woo Hoo! I'm so excited! It's as if I'm looking at things in a new way.

We continued driving down the Steese Highway to the "ice wall". This man-made climbing wall was created during the winter by spraying fire hoses of water during -40 degree temps. They just kept spraying and spraying until it was formed. I was thrilled to see climbers on the wall and with my zoom I was able to get an up close shot of one of the climbers. As you can see, when the temperatures rise to 40 ABOVE, the clothes start to slowly come off. I don't know about the excitement of climbing on ice bare-chested, but it made for an interesting photo.

We continued down the highway and turned nto one of the roads which crosses the northern side of outer Fairbanks.

The road took us to the UAF Reindeer Research Facility, so I was able to try out my new camera on the reindeer. The babies were all hiding it seemed, but I did get a cute shot of a very 'itchy' reindeer.

From there we headed back to Post. I asked Steve to drive into Glass Park (which is where we camped when we first arrived here). The barricades are down now, so you can drive back into the wooded area near the picnic pavilions and playground equipment. There are still lots of big puddles dotting the area, from all the melting snow.

Steve and I attended a "Hail and Farewell" last night and then went to get some ice cream at Hot Licks with Jessica and Lawson Bell. I had Malted Milk and Chips flavor. Steve had the less-risky Butter Pecan. It was delicious. And crowded. There had to be at least 40 people waiting in the two lines to get their ice cream. It's homemade ice cream and when they run out of a flavor, they cross it off the dry-erase board and mix up a batch of some other custom flavor. Last night they ran out of Blueberry and replaced it with Ginger Snap. I love ginger snap cookies... I'll have to try that flavor next time.

Today, we're headed to Brian and Marcella's for surprise BBQ party for Brian. Steve and I picked up a gift certificate from the shooting range and a couple of boxes of ammo. Nothing says love like shooting and bullets. I asked Steve if he wanted me to wrap the boxes of bullets and he looked like I had lost my mind. "Guys don't like getting wrapped presents!", he replied. So Brian is getting his gift in a plastic white "Thank you for shopping at..." bag. Men!

I'm off to read up on my camera. I haven't figured out how to set the date yet. First things first, right? I'm going out 'shooting' with my friend LuAnn tomorrow - after we go to the gym (which I've been lax about for the past two weeks). I'm also going to see Shawna and beautiful baby Courtney. Shawna's ready to start working out again and Courtney can sit in her baby seat while we pedal on the bikes. It will be good to get back to working out again. I need it. Of course, I'm hoping to have photos to post after our exploration trip. I'm thinking we might head to North Pole and drive around down there.

April 26, 2004

Family update: My mother's biopsy results came back. The tumor on her kidney is malignant. It's certainly not the best news to hear. However, if there is anything positive to say, it is a low grade cancer and was caught early. She has an appointment to see a surgeon who has developed a laser surgery procedure which - if she's a candidate for it - could allow her to keep her kidney. That appt. isn't until mid-May. She's in much better spirits. Of course cancer is cancer... but her frame of mind has taken an upturn. I want to thank all of you who have been praying and sending good thoughts her way. It is very appreciated. The battle isn't won yet, but knowing that so many people are supporting her with their thoughts and prayers is a wonderful thing.

I've been having a good time playing with my new camera. I'm finally learning how to use it with a bit more creativity, rather than setting it on 'auto' and pressing the shutter button. So much more to learn, but so much fun to play with!

Last night there was a glorious sunset on the way home from Brian and Marcella's house. I was a bit tipsy, but despite my woozy demeanor, this camera was able to focus out of a moving truck window and get a pretty good photo.

Today, I made it back to the gym. I went with Shawna and baby Courtney. Courtney slept in her baby chair the entire time. We rode the bikes for 30 minutes and then headed to the machines. It was good to get back into working out. I've been lazy the last two weeks. We'll be starting up again regularly now that she's feeling up to snuff after giving birth.

I picked up LuAnn and we took our cameras and headed to North Pole. (She's got a Digital Rebel too, but she's had more time to play with hers). We stopped at Chena Lakes Recreation Area and I got a neat photo of a pussy willow pod which has already burst open. The tiny seeds are just waiting for a good breeze or an insect to carry them away. I was able to get a pretty good close-up shot.

Spring is definitely here. The temperature reached 60 today and I loved being out in the sunshine. Steve also informed me that his leave request was approved. We'll be taking 6 weeks vacation beginning on June 1st. Time to get the camper in to be 'de-winterized'. Still no concrete plans about getting Chris and Brandon (and Becky) up here. I'll be very disappointed if it doesn't happen. But they all have such varied schedules. Looks like getting them here at the same time is going to be impossible. I'll settle for one at a time. I just want to see my kids.

April 28, 2004

Not too much going on. Work is killing me with boredom. It is so slow that I wish they would just lay me off now. At least tomorrow I'll be meeting with one of the faculty members about redesigning her portion of the University website. Finally... some design work.

I got an email from Chris today. He finally got a leave form so he could put in for vacation. He wanted to know what days to put in for. He's limited in that he can't come over July 4th as I hoped. So I told him to shoot for July 9th-17th. Steve has to sign back into work on the 16th, but that's OK. Chris and I can run around town and do local stuff those last two days. I'm keeping my fingers crossed he gets approved for leave. I found tickets on line (Northwest Airlines) that will fly him out of Madison. He'll be thrilled not to have to drive to Chicago (4-hours) to get a flight out. The flight from Madison is a good one. He'll change planes in Minneapolis and then fly directly to Fairbanks. Not bad. Only one layover! Prices have risen since I researched last month. They're up to 640.00/pp. It's a lot of money, but I want to see my son. While on line, I researched tickets for Brandon and Becky for the same time period. Their tickets would be 780.00/pp. I wish he would know for sure if he can get time off.

Steve towed the camper into the RV shop today to be made ready for camping season. They'll flush the pipes and lines with water to get the antifreeze out (it's antifreeze that is fit for human consumption so it's OK for water lines). They'll prime the pump for the water and the hot water heater and fill the propane tanks. There are a few minor repairs that need to be made. A vent cover cracked with the cold weather but it's covered under warranty. We're also having a slide-out cover installed. Without it, rain and debris comes into the camper when we pull in the slide. They should install them as part of the package in the factory, but they don't. I suppose they think people only camp during sunny, dry weather.

Only a month to go before we hit the road for our great Alaska Adventure! We plan on spending the entire month of June on the road. Our large loop will take us from Fairbanks to Seward to Valdez to the Kenai to Anchorage to Denali and back. When Chris comes down in mid July, I want to go back to the Kenai (Homer) and take the ferry or a float plane to Kodiak Island to see the grizzlies. I hope all goes as planned...

April 29, 2004

Happy Birthday, Sean
12 years old!

I'm glad this work week is over, although today I actually had work to do. It didn't matter. It was sunny outside and I'd much rather be out and about than confined in an office. I have become so spoiled in the past few years with the flexibility to not have to be in the work force and pretty much do as I please. I am heading into my last month of work... technically I only have about 12 days of work left. I'll be spending them redesigning a portion of the UAF website devoted to Faculty Development. It's going to undergo substantial changes if I have my way. I hope it goes smoothly. The Director is a bit hardheaded and likes to have control. I hope this doesn't cramp my design sense.

We took my car in to have the studded tires taken off and replaced with my regular tires. Always the 'last minute guy', Steve picked today. They have to be off by Saturday or I'll risk being ticketed. Which means that I may be without wheels tomorrow. This never makes me happy. Especially since I got my new camera.

Speaking of my new camera... I bought a great zoom lens when I bought the camera. Today, on the way back from the mechanic's, there was a Blackhawk Medivac Helicopter hovering above the road. I grabbed my camera out of my backpack (I carry it everywhere!) and shot a few photos using the regular lens. Then, before the helicopter took off, I switched out the lenses and put on my new zoom. All I can say is WOW! Here's a montage I created showing the two different views:

There's a good chance I'll be able to pick up my car tomorrow morning. If I can, I'm going out looking for things to photograph. I love this camera!