Experiencing Alaska Month by Month

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2003 Susan L. Stevenson - All photos are copyright protected
December 1, 2003

The Raven
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore -
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door -
Only this and nothing more."

The ravens are very active during the short daylight hours. I watch them from my upstairs window as I get dressed in the morning. They chase each other in the sky and like to come to rest on the lightpole in front of my house. Ravens are the great scavengers of Alaska. Like the pigeons of my hometown of Philadelphia, and the seagulls of the coast, they are quite knowledgeable about where the best food sources are - whether it be dog food left out in the yard, or neighborhood dumpsters.

Along with other birds such as pigeons, ravens seek the shelter and companionship of a communal roost to get them through the long Alaska winter nights. I don't know where the roost is near Fairbanks, but some online research enlightened me to the fact that these birds could be roosting as far as 40 miles away. That's a lot of air miles to log every day. It is thought that when the temperatures fall extremely low, the ravens will roost in town rather than making the flight "home".

Ravens are the largest species of songbirds and the largest all-back bird in the world averaging almost 24 inches tall, with a wingspan as much as 56 inches. As juveniles, ravens form groups, pairing off into lifelong monogamous and extremely territorial relationships at around the age of three.

For the trivia buffs out there, a group of ravens is called "an unkindness of ravens". You can hear the raven's call HERE.

December 2, 2003

We woke to -38 temperatures this morning. Can you say COLD??? I found out later that Fort Wainwright actually logged -42 at some point during the day.

I was hesitant about going out, but decided to brave the elements anyway. I was curious as to see how my car would do in this brutal weather. It's used to being all snug and warm in our temperature-controlled 32 degree garage. This would be my first time taking her out for the day. I asked Susan if she wanted to go with me and picked her up just before 11am.

I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I'd have to find a place to plug in while I was out. You'd think that most establishments would have outlets for plugging in, but that's not the case. We did find a parking lot downtown that had outlets, but it was about 2 blocks from the shops we wanted to visit. We had no choice but to plug in and quickly make our way to the shops and welcome warmth.

The cold air positively takes your breath away. It feels like it actually sears your lungs. I didn't have a scarf on, but had on a hat. I hunkered down in my parka, trying to bury as much of my face as possible in the high collar. My exposed face above my mouth was burning with cold in less than a minute. Susan complained immediately about her feet being cold. She was wearing typical street shoes. I was in my boots and thankful for their cold weather rating.

We made our way towards the river and stopped in several gift shops. These shops are primarily for tourists - with souvenirs and Alaskan-made items. But that's exactly what I was looking for. I picked up a few Alaska ornaments to send to my brothers' families to hang on their tree. I also picked up a few small items to give as Christmas gifts.

We left downtown Fairbanks in search of a place to eat. My car started immediately, but it groaned and squealed and squeaked with every movement. With all the fiberglass parts on the car, I could imagine pieces of plastic falling off my car as I made my way down the street. It sure sounded like it was going to disintegrate!

We had lunch at 'The Diner' - described as the "working man's restaurant" specializing in hearty fare. We had eaten there once before. The food is typical diner fare: burgers, breakfast all day, nice dinner platters of roast beef and mashed potatoes, etc. The wait staff is always very friendly and it's a place the locals frequent. I wouldn't say the food is worthy of any culinary awards, but it's a comfortable and casual place to grab a bite to eat.

After lunch, we went to the PX (Post Exchange) in search of more gifts. The concept of a Post Exchange was established in 1895 and later coined "PX" in 1919. It's purpose was to provide military men with a place to buy personal supplies like toiletry items, cigarettes, etc. There are PX's (BX - Base Exchange on Navy and Marine bases) on most every military installation in the world. The PX carries higher-quality clothing; the prices are a bit lower than local department stores such as JCPenney, etc., but still a lot higher than the lesser-quality clothing sold at WalMart or K-Mart. The benefit to shopping at a PX is that there is no sales tax. Up here in AK, that's not a big issue since there's no sales tax anyway. But the PX does carry a lot of items that are much lower priced than those you'd find on the economy.

I picked up a few more little trinkets to send home to my family. That was enough shopping for me and I looked forward to getting back to my warm house.

December 3, 2003

Snow covered fir trees

We're having a heat wave. The temperature has risen 27 degrees since this morning. It is now at ZERO. Break out the suntan lotion.

When I left for the gym, it was still 20-something below zero. I was happy to discover that there are some outlets at the gym, even though they are a bit of a walk from the front door. I felt much better plugging the car in while I was inside. My friend LuAnn accompanied me. Our friend Susan couldn't go today. She took her father-in-law (he lives with Susan and Stephen) to the hospital to be admitted for treatment of an infection.

After the workout, I noticed how beautiful the large fir trees look which are planted all over Post. The heavy snow makes the branches droop, but it only adds to the seasonal appearance. Many of our neighbors who are fortunate enough to have one of these impressive trees in their front yard, have draped them with Christmas lights. The twinkling lights against the backdrop of snow-laden boughs is a beautiful sight to behold.

I am planning to put up our Christmas tree tomorrow. The weather and the snow has put me in the mood.

December 4, 2003

Navaho Wedding Vase Ornament
We found this ornament in Arizona in 2002. Steve and I renewed our wedding vows on the rim of the Grand Canyon. The wedding vase is used in a traditional marriage ceremony, where holy water that has been blessed by a Shaman or Priest is placed in the vessel. The bride drinks from one spout and the groom from the other, uniting them as one. We brought home a full-sized one too.

The Friendship Dove
This was given to me by my friend, Lee in 1992 - just before I left Philadelphia to join Steve in Georgia and begin my new life as a military wife. It was one of a set. Lee kept one and he gave the other to me. It is a gesture that says you care and will remember each other forever . He still has his and thinks of me when he hangs it on his tree. I do the same.

Hooray! The tree is up! The house is decorated! I am so relieved to have this chore complete. I did it alone (as usual). It's not that Steve doesn't want to help; it's just that it's better for everyone if he doesn't help. The man doesn't have one decorating bone in his body. So, while he was at work, I was unpacking boxes and sorting ornaments and deciding what I wanted to use and what I was going to leave packed. I have a lot of decorations from when we lived in the house in NC. When we moved into the apartment in FL, I had to cut back sufficiently due to lack of space. This house is about the same size as the apartment was, so a lot will remain in boxes again. The most frustrating thing is sorting out the branches for the tree and trying to make out the color codes at the end of the branches. After nearly 12 years, there's no such thing as color-coded ends. I have to do it visually now and there have been times I've ended up with a short branch in the wrong row.

I bought another Santa to add to my collection. You can see some of them in the top photo standing on the windowsill. My newest addition is a Santa dressed in fur and carrying snowshoes. Very Alaskan. I was thrilled to find him.

As I was decorating, I played Christmas music to get me in the spirit. My Kenny G "Miracles" CD is one of my favorites because of the soothing sounds of his sax. I spent more than an hour looking through all the ornaments I have - deciding which ones would have a place on the tree. Over the years I have gone through stages regarding my tree "theme". My colors have changed every few years or so as well. I wanted to keep it simple this year. My Victorian ornaments always go on the tree. My ornaments from a bygone era do too. And several very special ornaments will always go on the tree no matter what the new "theme" is.

Sometime this week, I have to get photos of Steve and I for our Christmas newsletter. I'm hoping to take a "family" photo (to include Sedona and Airborne) out in the yard surrounded by snow. If that doesn't pan out, it might just have to be taken in front of the tree.

The next few weeks will be a whirlwind of activity with all of the parties and activities being planned for the holidays. I'd rather be busy than bored...

December 5, 2003

Steve and Moose
Steve and moose in yard

Tree Lighting Ceremony
Tree lighting ceremony at the gym

Frozen Angel ice sculpture

Sleeping Moose

What an active day I had today! This morning I went to the gym with Susan and LuAnn. While there I finally got to meet in person a woman named Marcella; she is married to my friend Michelle's brother. Michelle and her husband John are now stationed at Fort Campbell, KY but were in Florida with us for a year or so. Steve and I loved hanging out with them and they were missed when they left. Brian (Michelle's brother) just arrived here the day after Thanksgiving. They are still in guest quarters and waiting for a house to open up for them. Marcella goes to the gym 4x/week, so we agreed to meet there.

She and I have spoken by phone several times and each time, we spend almost an hour chit-chatting. She's very outgoing and talkative and we both fight to get a word in edgewise. She and I are hoping to get together with our husbands for dinner one night. I'm hoping that Steve and Brian get along. Oh - and the best thing of all - they are currently childless too. Her son served in Iraq with the Marines and when he got home in June, he got out. So the two of us also share the bond of having a child who was at war earlier this year.

A few hours later, Steve came in the front door and said, "Get your coat on and get your camera. There is a moose sleeping in our side yard." And he wasn't kidding! She looked mighty comfortable lounging out there. Then Steve disrupted her little nap with some whistles. She perked up immediately, looked at us for a few minutes and then figured out if she wanted to get anymore sleep, she needed to find a place where some guy in camouflage wasn't going to disturb her.

Later on Steve and I went to the tree-lighting ceremony at the gym. The Post Commander and the USARAK Commander made a few opening comments about all the lights throughout Fort Wainwright coming on when the tree was lit. They also made the children happy with announcements that Santa Claus was stopping by. The Army Band played Christmas carols, there was face painting for the kids, and free ice-skating for the families. (The rink is at the gym too)

After the ceremony, we went out to get a bite to eat. On the way, we passed one of the first ice sculptures in town. This one - which I call Frozen Angel - is located in front of a dentist's office. From what I've been told, establishments all over town will soon have these beautiful sculptures gracing their property. I know that Fort Wainwright usually puts an ice soldier at the front gate.

Seeing the ice angel has really made me look forward to going to the World Ice Art Championships in March. If you click on the link, you can view the winners from last year. This is a worldwide competition with sculptors from all over coming here to create their works of art. At night the lights on the sculptures make them even more breathtaking.


December 6, 2003

I did it! I actually took a good family photo with only two shots. And this was including both Sedona and Airborne (who wasn't a happy kitty), the self-timer on my camera, a tripod, and a quick run through deep snow to get into the photo with Steve and the animals. I'll be including the photo in my annual Christmas newsletter, but here's a sneak preview:

The Stevensons
The Stevensons - Susan, Steve, Airborne & Sedona

It's not perfect, but it's as close as it can get considering. You can barely make out Airborne against Steve's jacket. Her black fur blends in pretty good with his coat. Her glowing eyes are a dead giveaway though. Sedona might look like the obedient dog, but if you look close enough, you'll see that Steve's foot is on her leash. She can't go anywhere! Notice the frost on her muzzle where her breath has frozen.

Tomorrow we're getting up early to go to a dogsled race. After that, we might explore downtown Fairbanks. The winter solstice celebration is underway. On December 21st, we will have 222 minutes of daylight on the shortest day of the year. And from that point on, we'll start gaining daylight hours. Almost over the hump!

December 7, 2003


What another great day! We started the day with a trip to the Jeff Studdert Race Grounds to watch the first set of races of the ADMA (Alaska Dog Mushers Association) Challenge Series. The races began with skijoring. Skijoring is an exhilarating and fast growing winter sport which combines cross country skiing and dog mushing. Part of skijoring's beauty lies in its simplicity and minimal equipment requirements. Besides basic cross country ski gear, only three items are necessary to skijor: a harness for your dog; a skijoring belt for your waist; and a towline that connects you to your dog.

The dogs' excitement was apparent. Pulling at their towline, they seemed anxious to get started. A few dogs had to be sent back to the line because of their overexcitement and false starts. Not all sled dogs are Huskies or Malemutes. Sled dogs come in all shapes and sizes.
After the skijoring competition was over, the different teams raced. This photo is of a 4-dog team. As you can see, the dog in the front was very excited about getting this race underway! I never saw so many spirited dogs in one place before. It was a really neat experience.

After the dogsled races, we came home for a little while until my friend Susan came to get me to attend a candle party at another friend's house. I came away from the party with a huge peppermint candy scented candle (perfect for Christmas) and one called "Autumn walk" which is more earthy (i.e.: manly).

No sooner was I back in the house than it was time to go to the hockey game. Some of Steve's soldiers are on the team and he promised them he'd attend. On the way, we stopped at guest housing so Marcella and Brian could follow us to the game. After the game we decided to go to Gambardellas for a nice Italian meal. Marcella is Italian and has promised to cook us 'real' raviolis sometime. Sounds wonderful! I just happened to have the two certificates for free desserts with me. I let Brian and Marcella use one to order a piece of cheesecake to share. Steve and I had the tiramasu. We all enjoyed our meal immensely.

They asked us if we wanted to do something next week with them, but our company Christmas party is next Saturday. Sunday is my birthday and Steve asked me what I wanted to do to celebrate. I told him I wanted to do something fun, so he said he's taking me tubing and then out for some mocha latte and dessert. I think that would be a wonderful way to spend a few hours!

December 8th, 2003

Happy Birthday to my loving husband!

~ Love ~

It is not a word,
nor a single action.
In truth, it can never be wrong
Like the sunrise,
perfect in every possible way.
It is many things
and yet it must exist
In the small space of the heart.
Once found it can bloom endlessly, with no cease.
It can choke one's throat,
bring one to tears...
But it never hides in shadows
or in darkness
It never feeds itself on deception.
It grows with trust, honesty
and compassion.
Nothing less, always more.

Today is Steve's birthday. The big 4-9. One more year until we can start taking advantage of the AARP discounts on camping and attractions all over the country. With age comes privilege, right?

To celebrate his birthday, I cooked a nice dinner for him. Cooking dinner in and of itself might not seem too special to some of you, but those of you who know me best, know that cooking any kind of meal which involves more than just boiling water for pasta is truly a display of great love and affection and signifies a special occasion. *grin*

I also baked a cake. A yellow cake with cream cheese icing. Slaved in a hot kitchen for HOURS! I used square pans instead of round ones. The cake still stuck to the bottom even though I greased them well. Thank goodness for icing. I was able to patch up the huge craters and hide them well.

We had chicken and rice with a gravy and crumb topping. I also made broccoli and cheese. Steve stopped at the Class 6 (liquor store) on the way home and bought some wine. He was thrilled to have such a feast awaiting him.

For his birthday he got some binoculars he always wanted. And he got several cards from family members. (Special thanks to Aunt Mary and Brother Steve and SIL Diane for remembering his special day!) He also got a package of adult diapers from his soldiers.

Age doesn't matter to me. I look at my husband and still see the man I married almost 12 years ago. I don't notice the white hairs mixed in with the (getting fewer) red hairs. The lines around his eyes just remind me of all the times we have laughed together. I hope that God blesses us with 50 more years together - at the very least!

December 10, 2003

Insomnia isn't a fun thing. It comes and goes with me and it's been a while since I've had these early morning risings. I've now been up since just after 2am.

I came downstairs to the living room to watch some television in an attempt to get drowsy again. For some reason, I always take the time to glance through the blinds into our backyard. I suppose I'm always hoping that I'll see wildlife. I doubt that the moose are having a hard time sleeping, but you just never know in Alaska.

The lights are out. I haven't seen the northern lights in a while. They aren't bright green like they were in late fall, but they are there - dancing in the winter sky.

So I slipped my feet into Steve's winter boots, and threw my parka on over my bathrobe. And I carried my tripod and camera outside into the cold night. It's -2 out there this morning. A definite warm spell compared to the temps of the past few weeks. I wasn't even wearing my gloves, but did tuck my hands up into the sleeves of my parka in between shots. The photo above was taken using a long exposure. I discovered that the snow really throws off a lot of light - even when the naked eye doesn't notice it consciously. This is why the photo doesn't appear to be a middle-of-the-night shot.

My friend Susan and I went out Christmas shopping yesterday. Just as I got to her house to pick her up, her husband Stephen stopped home for lunch. She told him that we were going "husband shopping" and he asked me if Steve knew I was out looking for another husband. *Grin*

So I finished up my shopping for Steve. Clothing, slippers, belt, really nice fleece jacket... I can write it here because he'll never read my journal. He wants a fishing rod. I think I'm going to stop at the sporting goods store and ask about rods which are good for salmon fishing. I know nothing about these things, so hopefully the clerk will be able to help.

December 11, 2003

The sun appears on the horizon
at 11:30am at the golf course

I woke with a headache... a bad headache. I think I'm dehydrated. I haven't been drinking water like I need to. The dryness of the air outside and inside will just suck the moisture out of your body. Moving around the inside of the house is an exercise in pain management. Anytime you touch ANYTHING, you get shocked by static electricity. It has become so bad, that Steve and I have to touch each other's hands or arm before we kiss goodbye. I have actually seen sparks jump from his lips to mine when we don't touch first. (OK.. so we might have some real chemistry between us, but kissing can be downright painful!) And my hair... sheesh... talk about a science experiment gone bad.

Because of my headache, I decided not to go to the gym as planned. I let Susan know I didn't feel well enough to work out and she told me she was battling a headache too. I later found out that three other friends of mine woke with headaches this morning. Something in the air? Maybe a bug going around? Strange...

A hot shower eased the pain a little. Two aspirin helped some more. I got dressed and decided to go out and look for more Christmas decorations for the company Christmas party. We have a tree with lights. That's it.

Susan said she'd go with me. We only intended to go to the PX, because we heard they had green garland (fake evergreen). No one else in town carries the stuff. You can get enough gold and silver to decorate the entire city, but no green. Well, the PX let us down too. In fact, their selection of decorations was even poorer than the stores in Fairbanks. I can't wait for WalMart to get here.... (they are coming in the spring).

On the way to the PX, we couldn't help but admirer the sun as it finally rose above the horizon. We both had our cameras (as usual) and decided the shopping could wait. I drove to the golf course so we could take a few photos of the beautiful sunrise. The orange and yellow of the sun looked wonderful against the white snow.

After we finished shooting our photos, we took care of our shopping needs and went out to lunch. Susan and I "swap off" when it comes to lunch. Today was my turn. I suggested Musher's Roadhouse (in the Captain Bartlett Inn). The last time it was my turn, I took her there and we were pleasantly surprised to find that the lunch special was Fettucine Alfredo with Chicken for only $4.95. We were hoping to find another worthwhile lunch special today. Well we did! Today we had their version of Turkey Pot Pie. It wasn't a pie, per se... it was two biscuits split with a great turkey stew mixture ladled over them. Big hunks of potatoes, large chunks of turkey, peas, carrots, green beans... it was so yummy and filling. And for only $5.95, you couldn't beat the value. Susan joked and said that the next time it's her turn to buy, she's coming to Mushers because everytime it's her turn we choose a restaurant where it ends up costing her $20.00+ for lunch!

Our husbands have a long weekend. Four days off. So Steve is home till Tuesday. Tomorrow, I'm going with Susan and several other girls to the company to decorate for our Christmas party on Saturday. Steve says he's finally going to have time to go shopping for me. I made a list. I don't like making a list. He should KNOW what I want or like. (I know... I'm living in dream world) Well, at least if I hand him a list, I'll get what I want and not something that I open and look at with a quizzical tilt to my head and say, "Uh... thanks sweetheart... I... always wanted one of these!" I'm joking... Steve does pretty good when it comes to gifts. But a little hint never hurt anyone.

December 13, 2003

I am aggravated. I can't say it any simpler than that. Yesterday the 'Christmas Party Committee' had agreed to meet at the company day room to decorate it for the party which is tonight at 5pm. We had set up two shifts because some of the members work during the day and couldn't get there earlier. The first shift would meet there at 2pm. The second shift was expected to arrive around 5pm.

Susan came over and picked me up. Before we headed to Tania's and LuAnn's house to get them, Susan gave me a giftbag and a card for my birthday. Inside the bag was a huge coffee mug which says "Queen of Everything" on it. She knows me pretty well - heh heh... that was so sweet of her to remember me! She also had jingle bell necklaces for LuAnn and me.

Once we arrived at the dayroom, we were pleased to see that Marie Cruz was there. Soon after another wife arrived after finding out from her husband that we were decorating. The more the merrier. We had a lot to do. LuAnn took care of decorating the tree. Marie and Tania and I worked on decorating the garlands and wreaths. We then came up with a way to hang our Santa piñata. In the meantime, Susan and Shawna were stuffing kiddie gift bags and making the photo frames we're going to give the children when they have their picture taken with Santa. I then started placing the tablecloths on the tables, and decorating the edges with garland.

LuAnn had to leave around 5pm. Susan had to leave around 6pm. This wasn't a problem because we were SURE that the second shift would be arriving any minute. The second shift would include our FRG (family readiness group) leader who should know if all of the food has been purchased, how many people are coming, if the parents bought gifts for their kids (for Santa to give out), who was bringing what side dish, etc. She (as well as others) never showed up. So four of us were there until 8pm last night getting the room pulled together. We were all sore from climbing and stooping. We were hungry. We were thirsty. We were all starting to get downright miserable. And then we started getting angry. What if we would have adopted the same "I don't care" attitude about this party? The room wouldn't be decorated. At this point we don't even know if we have the huge urns for hot water to make cider or cocoa. Heck, we don't even know if we have cider or cocoa! We don't know if the Polaroid film has been purchased for the kids' pictures. There are so many unknowns at this point. So that is why I am aggravated. I have no idea how this party is going to turn out.

We need a new FRG leader. It is apparent that this one doesn't care about the job.

It's time for me to get the deviled eggs made and prepare the ham for the oven. Stay tuned for the "Saga of the Charlie Company Christmas Party".

December 14, 2003

Happy Birthday to ME!

Me & Steve at the Christmas Party

They caught Saddam!
What a wonderful birthday present! I hope that in some way this will shorten the deployments of all of our men and women overseas and keep more of them on American soil.

I am another year older. I don't feel older. Not mentally, anyway. My joints sometimes ache. My back sometimes hurts. I'm finding a few more gray hairs in my head. I don't pull them all out anymore. I don't want to be old AND bald! :o)

The Christmas party last night went well. Despite all of the stress and worriment, everyone seemed to have a good time. There wasn't any Polaroid film to be found anywhere in town, so I volunteered to be the Santa photographer. Steve will be taking in all of the digital photos (after I print them out) to be claimed by parents.

We kept the children entertained with a visit from Santa and some cute goodie-bags that we put together for them. Then they got to bash in a Santa piñata. It took a lot of effort but the four pounds of candy and prizes was well worth their energy! After that we played a few games of tape the nose on Rudolph and musical chairs. Lots more prizes were awarded.

The food went quickly and I think everyone got their fill. The party started at 5pm and about 8pm the last of the stragglers went home. Steve and I were invited to the Colonel's holiday party, but decided instead to come straight home. I had had a tiring two days and just wanted to finally relax.

Today for my birthday, Steve got me LOTS of presents! I got the lighted makeup mirror that I wanted. I got two CD's I had asked for (Jim Brickman and Brian Culbertson), and I got a 256mb compact flash card for my camera. After I opened my gifts, we went out to breakfast. Now we are waiting for our friends, Marcella and Brian to get here so we can all go tubing at Birch Hill. I hope I don't break a hip!

I've got two big pots of beef stew simmering in the crock pots for after our tubing adventure. I had invited Susan and Stephen Spivey to join us, but they had other plans today. :o(

Well, guess it's time to get into my snowpants...

December 15, 2003

I thought I'd share another of my favorite Christmas things...

This is my Alaska Santa. I love him because of his fur coat and the snowshoes he is holding.

What a fabulous day I had yesterday! I am officially a TUBE-A-HOLIC! Tubing is definitely a pastime that Steve and I will be indulging in on a regular basis. And we're even thinking about taking snowboard lessons too! (Oh no - look out! Old people on snowboards! *laugh*)

Marcella and Brian weren't ready to head to Birch Hill until almost 3pm. They also decided to stop at Prospectors and take advantage of the big sale. Marcella got some new snow-pants and other items (an early Christmas present from Brian). We got our tubing tickets at 3:15 for an hour of fun. I'm actually glad we went later; we got to see a glorious sunset.

I haven't tubed in more than 20 years. I wasn't really worried though. If the little kids could do it, I could! The tubes are innertubes with a plastic base on them which gives them added stability. There are also handholds and a towline attached to each one. Having a towbar to haul you to the top is the best part of all! None of that trudging uphill pulling a tube behind you. They hook your towline to a bar that tows you to the top. At the top it dips down and disengages you from it and you slide down a short hill to the launch point.

There are three lanes with berms piled high between them so you don't fly into someone else's lane. The lanes are wide so you can go down in groups. You're only allowed to have one person per tube, but if you hold each others' towlines, you stay 'lashed' together and slide down together. Talk about getting some speed! And some air too! There are three bumps in the hill (like those carnival big slides) and if you hit them with enough speed, you come off the ground for a second.

I discovered that my snow-pants are wind and waterproof but not warm. I had on a pair of polypros underneath and definitely need to wear a double set next time. My coat is toasty warm when I wear my silk undershirt and polypro top. My hat works well and my gloves were adequate. My feet were warm the entire time. (Yeah!). I wore a face mask - a MUST! The snow blasts up and hits you in the face - not only stinging but darn cold too. It was -12 while we tubed. They close the slopes at -20.

We bought an hour ticket and that was just right. It didn't go as fast as we thought it would and by the time the hour was up, we were ready to get all our winter gear off and get warm.

We came back to our house and the smells of my beef stew simmering in the crockpots. Marcella and Brian brought a bottle of champagne so we could toast Saddam's capture, making new friends, and my birthday. They also brought two bottles of wine to have with dinner... and a huge loaf of crusty bread to have with the stew.

We filled our bellies with warmth and then had terrific conversation until 10pm. It was a marvelous day. In fact, I'd definitely rank it up there with one of my favorite birthdays.

December 16, 2003

Early morning...

Up early again this morning. 5:15am. It seems that every muscle in my body is checking in for a head count or something. I guess I shouldn't have made all those jokes about breaking a hip while tubing. Boy... I don't feel old mentally, but my body sure is feeling otherwise. I'm looking forward to going back to the gym today. I have to work out these kinks.

Last night Steve and I were watching television and the date flashed up on the screen. He turned to me and said, "Do you realize that we left Florida seven months ago today?" Which means that we have been Alaska residents for six full months now. Why is it that when you are looking forward to something happening (vacation, school to let out, weddings, etc.) the time seems to go sooooo slowwwww. And any other time it seems to move ahead in fast forward? I can almost envision a cartoon clock with the hands whizzing in circles at amazing speed.

It has been almost 7 months since I've seen my family in Philadelphia. Almost 7 months since I've seen Chris in Madison. It has been almost a year since I've seen Brandon - how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to see him at Christmas last year when he met us at my friend Barbara's in NC. Less than 3 weeks later, he was sent to Iraq. At least I got to meet Becky when we passed through Salt Lake City on Memorial Day.

How wonderful it will be if I do manage to get all three of them up here next summer at the same time! It will be the first time in nearly three years that I have BOTH my boys with me at the same time. All I can do now is pray that Brandon stays stateside and all of their vacation-time falls at the same time. If we're lucky enough to have that happen, I don't care how much it costs to get them here.

I really miss my sons....

December 17, 2003

The past two days have been a bit hectic. With Christmas on the horizon, lots of last-minute things had to be taken care of. We did get to the gym yesterday morning, but it was only Susan and I. LuAnn was home dealing with 2 foot of water in her basement (broken water main due to pipes freezing) and was too concerned with saving family heirlooms that she had stored down there. We had heard so many horror stories about the homes with basements (we don't have one), that I had already planned to keep anything of value out of there if I would have gotten one of those houses. What a shame!

I picked up our Christmas ham yesterday afternoon. Steve and I invited Marcella and Brian to come for Christmas dinner. It looks like they'll still be in guest quarters instead of in a house. Marcella is Italian and her Christmas tradition is to make homemade raviolis (which includes hand-rolling the pasta with a pasta machine). Well, her pasta machine is in storage with the rest of her household goods, so this year it won't be possible. Besides that, guest housing only has a microwave in the room. I can't promise her homemade ravioli, but I can at least give them a home-cooked meal with terrific company. *grin*

We were supposed to go to the gym again today. We didn't. Susan woke with a headache and LuAnn was still dealing with a wet basement. We decided to cancel today's workout and go instead tomorrow. My friend Maria called this morning (I haven't talked to her in AGES) and told me she had a birthday present for me. Maria gets a little depressed this time of year. The darkness bothers her a lot. I invited her to join us at the gym, but she didn't seem too interested. I also asked her if she'd like to go tubing with us. She said she is too scared to tube. She seemed a little upset that I haven't called her. I suppose I should make the effort to call her more often, but I just find that my days get away from me with all the activities I try to stay involved with. I feel bad about that.

Maria made me a basket with some Christmas hand towels in it, some linen napkins, a bottle of wine, a corkscrew, and some Christmas ornaments. In addition, she gave me a gorgeous Christmas throw that is nice enough to hang on the wall. I think I'll look for a quilt hanger after the holidays and display it next year. We had some cookies, cocoa and cider and chatted for about an hour before she had to leave to run some errands.

A few hours later, Marcella came over and picked me up. She wanted me to show her how to get to The Pump House Restaurant on Chena Pump Rd. We also went looking for Biscotti's (very pricey 'special occasion' restaurant) in the same vicinity. She wants to have dinner at Biscotti's for her birthday (which is December 30th). We found both and also ran across the Red Fox Bar & Grill in the same shopping center as Biscotti's. We decided to stop in and check it out. We ended up having a beer and chatting for another 45 minutes. It's definitely a 'bar' as opposed to a restaurant, which actually is a good thing. The food prices (and the beer prices) are lower than most of the other places in town. I filed it away for a future visit with Steve to grab a quick lunch and a glass of Alaskan Ale.

The sun was setting as we were making our way home and it wasn't even 3pm. I snapped this photo just after Marcella dropped me off at the house. The pastel colors of the sunset were pretty against the snow-covered trees.

Tomorrow we are invited to attend a dessert gathering at Mo's house. I asked Mo if Marcella could come and she said it would be great to see new faces. Marcella said she was interested in meeting new people too. A win-win situation for everyone involved.

The guys are on half-days for the holidays. Beginning Monday, they'll only be working until 11:30am and this will last until January 5th. This means that my friends with children will have their hubbies home to watch the kids so we ladies can have some girlfriend time. We're already talking about a tubing adventure on Monday or Tuesday of next week. I'm envisioning sunset tubing and then coming back to my house for some hot cocoa, cider and dessert. But we can go to one of the many coffee shops here in town if the gals prefer. Anyplace where we can get something warm to drink!

December 19, 2003


The piano
The Piano
This ornament is one of my favorites because I love piano music. It also reminds me of one of my closest friends, who plays the piano. I bought this ornament in Charleston, SC a few years ago, while spending a weekend there.

Today at 1pm, I will be going to the ceremony for the official name change of the brigade Steve is in. They will officially become known as the SBCT or Stryker Brigade Combat Team. Training on the new vehicles will get underway after the holidays. The ceremony will be held at the gym. We are all invited. A Senator will be there to make a speech too. (Not sure if it will be Ted Stevens or Lisa Murkowski)

Yesterday, I attended a dessert party at my friend, Mo's house. I took Marcella with me so she could meet some of the gals. We spent more than an hour there eating decadent desserts and drinking hot cider and coffee. There was another new face there. Suzetta is a member of our online military spouse group and we'd been chatting with her for a few weeks online. I'm glad she could attend. It's always nice to expand our group of friends.

We discussed our tubing adventure next week. A few of the girls still have to get the right snow clothes in order to go. Who knows what the temperature will be, although they are calling for temperatures to reach 10 degrees above zero by Sunday.

We're attending a Christmas party tomorrow evening at the CSM's (Command Sergeant Major) house. We're having a "white elephant" or "Chinese Christmas" gift exchange (it is called different things by different people). We're taking two inexpensive gifts to put under the tree without tags. Numbers get drawn from a hat and that's the order in which we choose gifts. It's always comical, because you get to trade your gift for another person's gift if you don't like what you picked.

Today is Steve's last full day of work. A lot of families took advantage of block leave to go 'home' for the holidays. It's tough to get airline tickets this time of year because the jets only fly into Fairbanks a few times a day and are limited on seats. If you can get a flight to Anchorage (via jet or small passenger plane) you have better options, but spend more time changing planes and sitting in airports. It's always a consideration when the holidays come. Flights book up fast so it's a necessity to get tickets way ahead of time. I'm happy to be spending this first Christmas here in Alaska, but perhaps next year we'll go home to PA. We'll see....

December 20, 2003

Thought I'd share another ornament with you.

This is my skiing moose. I bought this ornament about a month ago at a local shop. I thought it was a fitting addition to our tree this year.

Up early again today, but I'm sure the fact that I was passed out cold a little after 9pm last night is the reason. I got a good solid 8 hours sleep. Steve is still snuggled under the covers upstairs and I've got my second load of laundry in. I take advantage of these early morning risings so I'll have the rest of my day free.

The Reorganization Ceremony yesterday went well. It was short and sweet - except for when the much-decorated Veteran stood to speak. You just have to love our old warriors. Boy, can they TALK! Well I say it's his right to talk all he wants about his experiences in wartime.

This photo is of some members of Charlie Co (Steve's Company) in formation during the ceremony. Steve can't be seen in the photo; he's buried in the back somewhere.

Today I hope to get the wrapping done that I swore I'd tackle yesterday. I want to have everything complete before we head to the CSM's tonight. Tomorrow I just want to be lazy all day. That's my plan today; we'll see what happens tomorrow.

December 21, 2003

SUNRISE: 10:58am
SUNSET: 2:39pm


Today is the shortest day of the year. Last year, time lapse photography was used to create a photo depicting the movement of the sun in the sky during winter solstice. A photo was taken every 30 minutes. Click HERE to see it.

The winter solstice marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year. The sun appears at its lowest point in the sky, and its noontime elevation appears to be the same for several days before and after the solstice. Hence the origin of the word solstice, which comes from Latin solstitium, from sol, "sun" and -stitium, "a stoppage." Following the winter solstice, the days begin to grow longer and the nights shorter.

According to the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks:
At winter solstice, the Arctic Circle represents more than a dotted line on the map. On that day, it becomes the line north of which the sun won't rise. On winter solstice, December 21 this year, the sun will make an appearance for five-and-a-half hours in Anchorage, a little less than four hours in Fairbanks, and zero hours at the Arctic Circle and points north. The darkest day in the Northern Hemisphere is officially listed as the beginning of winter, but you'd have a hard time telling someone in Barrow--where the sun set November 19 and won't rise until January 23--that winter hasn't started yet. Alaskans have a different definition for the onset of winter, and it depends on who you ask.

Today's activities continue the month-long celebration in downtown Fairbanks to celebrate winter solstice. SING OUT FOR SOLSTICE is a community choral event live-cast on the internet. People are invited to come downtown and sing along with several choral groups. The performance will be broadcast via webcam across the US. There is also another dogsled race today - the second one in a long list of competitions.

Last night, Steve and I attended a party at the CSM's house. In attendance were the other 1SG's and their wives as well as some other friends of the Crisostomo's. We had great food and drinks and had a "White Elephant" gift exchange. Steve ended up with a really nice contemporary candle holder and I got a pretty blue and white ceramic Christmas tree that holds a tea light candle. It looks nice sitting on the table with my other various glass and crystal Christmas trees.

They had a karaoke machine and that got us involved with singing. I actually sang once - a song by PINK (I'm coming out... so you better get this party started). I can't say there are any talent scouts banging down my door, but I had a good time.

We got home a little after 10pm - the second couple to leave the party. Steve had really overeaten and was looking forward to laying down in bed and letting the food digest. I was asleep in no time... but that still didn't stop me from getting up this morning at 3am. I suppose all that sleep I got the night before last has built up my reserves for awhile.

I'm not sure what our plans for today entail. Perhaps we'll take in a movie. Or maybe we'll wander downtown and see what else is going on.

From this day onward, the days will start getting longer again. I look forward to experiencing the rest of the winter season and especially the Yukon Quest which starts here in Fairbanks on February 14th. That's also the day of our Military Ball, so it's going to be a full day for sure!

Still Sunday...

Snow Covered Picnic Table
Picnic anyone? Let me clear the snow!

Espresso Drive Through
Ah... a warm cup of mocha latte! One of the many drive-through coffee stands here in Fairbanks.

Musher with her dogs
Almost Frozen River
Running too fast to freeze

Because the morning remained dark for so long, I found myself still in my nightgown and bathrobe at 11am! At first I thought I'd just stay like that all day and lounge around on the sofa watching TV. And then I got this jolt of energy through me and I bounded up the stairs to where Steve was engrossed in a computer espionage game. "Let's go for a drive!" He looked at me like I was nuts. But I really wanted to get out. It has been awhile since we've gone exploring. And except for a few photos taken here and here, I haven't been out with my camera to actually go looking for something to shoot in a long time either. So we bundled up warmly, and jumped in the truck and headed up the Steese Hwy to Chena Hot Springs Rd. We drove a good 40 miles up the road. The many streams and river inlets were frozen over completely and there were both animal tracks and snowmachine tracks on many of them. Once in a while we'd come upon a stream or river that still had fast moving water running through it, resisting a total freeze-over.

We stopped at one of our favorite campgrounds - our destination when we left this morning. Of course the campground is closed, but there are bathroom facilities there. And the roads leading into the campground were passable which was a huge plus. We parked the truck and I walked over to the river to shoot some photos. It's hard to believe that only a few short months ago (September), Steve was standing exactly where I was, casting a line with the hopes of pulling in some salmon. The pond I photographed with the beaver lodges in it, was almost invisible - covered with a layer of ice and snow.

I was taking photos of the river, when Steve alerted me to the musher coming over the horizon. She was followed by a second musher and her team. They stopped a short distance from us and if it weren't for the fact that my fingertips were freezing (even with my contact gloves on), I would have trudged over to where they were and asked to take some photos of the team. But my fingertips were in serious pain, and Steve's legs were very cold despite wearing polypros under his pants. (I think it was -12 today)

We left the park and headed home. As we were making our way up and down the hills along the road, we could see the sky changing colors as the sun - which had never really gotten too high on the horizon in the first place - began to disappear behind the bluffs and mountains on the horizon. The sky turned a pale shade of pink as the orange ball slid behind a mountain. We both looked at the clock in the truck. Not even 3pm.

We are now officially gaining back our daylight. By New Years Eve we will have an additional 12 minutes of daylight.

December 23, 2003

It's nearly 9:30am. You wouldn't know it from the black sky outside. It still looks like the middle of the night out there. I'm waiting for my friend Susan to come pick me up so we can run last minute errands. She's still looking for a few gifts for Stephen, and I think I'm going to see if Sam's has the DVD collection Band of Brothers. Steve never got to see it, since we don't have HBO. Besides, he has a huge war movie collection so it will be a nice addition.

I increased my weight levels at the gym yesterday. I'm paying for it today. I've got some sore muscles in my lower back that are really giving me trouble. It's lessened somewhat since I've been up and moving around, and I hope it continues to improve.

Later this afternoon, when Steve gets home from work, we're going tubing. I was supposed to go with a bunch of gals from my online group, but they're not prepared with adequate clothing yet. We'll try to do it after the holidays. We invited Susan and Stephen to go with us. They haven't been tubing yet, but we know they'll be tubaholics like us once they make that first trip down the hill. It's so exhilarating!

I'm thinking I might try and take my camera with me. I'll have to keep it close to my body to keep it warm (and safe), but I'd love to snap some photos. I don't know if it's a good idea or not... we'll see.

Still Tuesday...

A few more ornaments:

I made this guitar for Chris in 1995, because he loves to play.

Victorian Slippers
I have several pairs of these slippers in various colors. I bought them at Biltmore Estates, NC when I visited the mansion with my friend, Barbara in 2000.

Well tubing never happened.... it was too darn cold! Temps were in the minus teens and just running around from store to store had me chilled to the bone. I know I wasn't wearing the right clothes for my little shopping spree with Susan (I was wearing a cotton sweater under my parka and no long underwear - cotton is a big NO NO when it's cold outside). Anyway... I was chilly. And the chillier I got, the less I wanted to hit the slopes. I guess we'll have to plan it for another day.

When Susan dropped me off, Steve was home from work. I was thrilled to see that he was actually home before 1pm. I told him that I thought it was too cold to tube and he was fine with that. They close the hill at -20 and I think it was about -15 when we got home.

A few minutes after getting home, Marcella called. She wanted to drop off the videos we loaned her and Brian to watch, while they are in guest housing. At least there's a VCR in the room for them. Marcella stayed for more than an hour and chose some more videos to take back to the room with her. Steve and I invited the two of them over tomorrow night (Christmas Eve) for a few drinks and dinner. We're hoping to find a pizza place open; we're in the mood for something fast that no one has to cook. They'll be coming back on Christmas Day to have dinner with us. The ham is thawing on the countertop as I type...

I was thrilled to find LOTS of Christmas cards in my mailbox. I love getting cards from my family and friends. So many of my friends include photos with their cards. It's great to see how their children have grown over the year. A few others include newsletters with their cards and Steve and I love catching up with those friends who are spread out all over the country. Steve's sister Elaine and her husband John included a newsletter. They live in Shavertown, PA. Steve's niece, Caprice is 13 now. She was born while Steve was in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm in 1990.

In addition to the cards was a package from my oldest (as in longest) friend, Michele Chew (Farren). Every year for the past 6 years, Michele has sent me the White House Historical Association Christmas Ornament. This ornament is always a special gift to find in my mailbox. You can read more about this year's ornament (and see photos of it) HERE. We also have in our collection, ornaments from 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002. (Michele: you REALLY don't have to do this - but we do love them so much!)

It's hard to believe that Christmas is only a few days away. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. If I were back in Philadelphia, I'd be at my brother and sister-in-law's house helping Diane prepare for her annual Christmas open house. It's so hard to believe that at this time last year, Steve and I were sitting in their kitchen - the hub of the house - sharing much laughter and love. Oh how I miss my family!

Christmas Eve

Just about noon here in AK

I knew today was going to be a hard day for me emotionally. I shouldn't assume otherwise - it's a constant since leaving my family in PA eleven years ago, and losing my father in 1996.

There's a radio station here in Fairbanks which has been playing only Christmas music for the past week or so. I tuned it in while I straightened up the house and wrapped Steve's presents. More than several times, I found myself weeping as I dusted and vacuumed. Johnny Mathis's rendition of "I'll be home for Christmas" and "O Holy Night" reminded me of Christmases at home with my family. My father always liked to play his Christmas albums while we decorated the tree and wrapped presents. Then Barbara Streisand's rendition of "These are a Few of my Favorite Things" came on and by that time I was vacuuming up salt water. Daddy loved Barbara Streisand too...

I'm not the only one feeling emotional today. Many of my online friends have posted to their journals about missing their families. It's so difficult being a military family at this time of year. We have to learn to lean on each other as family. We don't have to say anything to each other about the underlying sadness surrounding the holidays, because we all know exactly how the other feels. We try to create new family traditions, but we can never forget the traditions that were such an integral part of our life 'before the military'.

This year, we here at Fort Wainwright are giving thanks that our husbands are home with us. So many of our military members are not home with their families this Christmas. We can't help but feel sad for them. I know how I would feel if Steve were deployed and I was alone for Christmas. Especially our friends with small children at home...

Steve's not home from work yet. I have a feeling he's out doing his Christmas shopping for me. Always the last minute guy. My friend Susan knows what kinds of things I would love to find under the tree, but do you think he'd give her a call? Sheesh... I might just end up with socks and underwear again this year. OK.. if it's wool socks and silk longjohns, I'll be happy - but I hope he's a little more creative than that. Something romantic would be nice. He should know by now that you can never go wrong with jewelry. Oh well... it's really OK. We just buy what we want during the course of the year anyway. I feel better now. For the time being anyway...


It's a few minutes after 6. I can smell the coffee brewing in the kitchen. Sedona is curled up on the floor by my feet on her doggy pillow and Airborne is asleep on the back of the loveseat. The house is silent...

Last night, we had Marcella and Brian over. Marcella was a lifesaver, asking if I needed anything at the grocery store for our Christmas dinner today. I actually did need a few things and she and Brian stopped to pick them up so Steve and I wouldn't have to go out and brave the awful crowds to get them. (I knew the crowds were awful; my husband didn't get home from his Christmas Eve shopping spree until after 4pm and he was in quite the grumpy mood).

I called my brother Steve's house. It was after 8pm ET and I knew their house would be full of my relatives - as it is traditional for Diane to host an Open House on Christmas Eve. I could hear the laughter in the background as they participated in their Chinese Christmas gift exchange. Diane put me on speakerphone so I could say hello to everyone. It was almost... but not quite... like being there.

I got to talk to my Aunt Mary for a little bit, and my mom. Aunt Mary said she'd like to come visit when the weather breaks. I'd love to have her and look forward to any and all company!

When Marcella and Brian arrived, they were bearing two pizza's and some DVDs. We ate our fill while we watched Pirates of the Caribbean. They'll be back today for dinner, which is scheduled for around 3pm.

A moose made its way through our yard just as Marcella and Brian arrived. It wasn't a large moose. She must have been dozing in the side yard and was startled when our neighbor took his dog out for a walk in her direction. She seemed a bit frightened, so we kept our distance until she was safely within the shelter of the trees and bushes behind the house. Seeing her was a treat.

Steve is still fast asleep upstairs. With no children in the house, there are no early morning risings to rush down the stairs to see what Santa has brought to the house. We plan to open our gifts while sipping a glass of champagne. It is a tradition we started about 5 years ago. After our gifts are open, Steve will cook us omelets for breakfast, with bagels and cream cheese on the side. That is also a tradition and one we got to keep last year when we were in Philadelphia for Christmas. My sister-in-law Diane liked having breakfast prepared by someone else the most. *grin*

December 26, 2003

Steve checking out one of his gifts

When you take as many photos as I do, you can never have enough CD-RW to save your photos to.


Yesterday morning, I put on a pot of coffee while waiting for Steve to wake up. There were no presents for me under the tree (he still had them hidden away), so I couldn't shake any boxes or try to guess what was in any of the packages. So I just waited and waited...

Finally at about 8am, he came down the stairs - all chipper from his good night sleep. He poured us both some coffee and we sat by the tree to exchange gifts. (For the first time in years, we skipped the champagne - we drank a little too much wine the night before and were very dehydrated.) Christmas gifts are a bit difficult for us to pick out for each other. It's not that we don't know each other well enough, it's just that we have reached a time in our life when we pretty much get what we want or need during the rest of the year. Because of that, our Christmas gifts for each other might be of a more practical nature. Or perhaps of a sentimental nature. Or there might be some "just for fun" gifts under the tree.

Steve always gets clothes from me. He hates to shop for his own clothes, so this is the perfect time for me to provide him with some new duds. I got him some new Levis, and a few sweaters, a fleece jacket, a new belt, and a much needed new wallet. He also got some DVD movies and music CDs. (And the AUTOSTART he got a few months ago was also a very early Christmas present).

I got the new Dean Koontz book (I have all of his books), some silk longjohns which were much-needed, the blank CDs for saving my photos to, and a really cool faux fox vest that I have been admiring for some time now. But the special gift for me was the necklace and earrings by artist Judie Gumm (I posted about her a month or so ago. She has her studio in Ester). I have admired her musher necklace since seeing it in her studio. Steve not only got me the necklace, but got me sled dog earrings to match. I love them because they suit my quirky style and will forever remind me of my time here in Alaska.

After savoring breakfast (we decided on scrambled eggs and cheese and toasted English muffins), I got dressed and began planning dinner. Once the ham and potatoes were in the oven, I was able to relax for about an hour before preparing the side dishes.

Marcella and Brian arrived just before 3pm as scheduled. They came bearing two bottles of wine to have with dinner. On Christmas Eve they had brought a cherry pie over for us to have for dessert.

We enjoyed our meal of ham and potatoes and stuffing and green beans and rolls. It didn't turn out as well as I hoped (the ham was a bit dry), but we ate our fill. A quick clearing of the dishes and we were sitting in the living room chatting up a storm and sipping on some wine. It's so nice to be comfortable enough with people to never run out of things to talk about!

Steve and Brian thumbed through cigar magazines and decided on a few boxes they'd like to try. Steve's one of those 'special occasion cigar smokers'. He usually savors one or two when we're on vacation, or if he's in the field training. Steve and Brian will be ordering two boxes, in order to share both the cigars and the shipping and handling cost. (The shipping costs when ordering by mail or online can be pretty sizable to have the products sent to Alaska. We try to buddy up with one or more people and place our orders together so we can all share in the S&H)

Today, Marcella and Brian are hitting the stores for some after-holiday sales. I'm not brave enough for that. I'll be happy to be lazy today. We decided we're going to drive to Chena Hot Springs this weekend - not sure which day yet. We want to go see the Ice Hotel and get photos if it's near completion. We're also planning to have lunch/dinner there at the resort. Marcella and Brian might take a soak in the hot springs. Steve and I don't have too big an interest in doing that. We're taking separate vehicles so we can have more flexibility and also as an 'insurance policy' in case we have any vehicle troubles. The road to mile 40 was pretty icy; who knows what it's like for the additional 30 miles. It will be a nice way to spend the day and I'm sure I'll have photos to share.

My musher and dogteam necklace. My earrings are individual dogs that look like the ones here in the team.
December 27, 2003

Yesterday was the laziest day of the year for us. I suppose that's the way it is for most people. Christmas preparation and then the speed at which the day passes, leaves many of us exhausted.

When my kids were little, the day after Christmas was an exercise in patience. There'd be a few squabbles over gifts - the Christmas spirit of sharing being forgotten when the toys are spread out all over the room. Walking through the living room would almost always result in something sharp or hard being jabbed into my foot as I tried to sidestep the items strewn from one corner to the other. My boys were spoiled rotten - especially by my father (their Pop Pop). The pile of gifts couldn't fit under the tree because they would tower almost 4 feet high. Anything my boys expressed an interest in would make its way to my house on Christmas Eve. (Such brats! *grin*)

We'd spend the day being lazy. We'd eat Christmas dinner leftovers. Even if we had Christmas dinner at Mom and Dad's, we'd come home with enough food to feed the family for a week. I'd call my friends who didn't live in PA anymore and we'd chat about the great things we got under the tree. I have lots of great memories of Christmases past.

So yesterday we were lazy here too. Steve watched some sports games. Then he watched a couple of movies. I worked on some design projects to include in my portfolio. I never got out of my sweatsuit. Heck, I didn't even pull a brush through my hair!

Today it is -31 outside. I'm dressed for warmth, just in the event we take a drive today. I'm not sure if we planned on going to Chena Hot Springs today or tomorrow. I suppose we'll know if the phone rings and it's Marcella or Brian telling us we better get our butts in gear. It looks like early morning dawn even though it's 10:39am here.

It's hard to get up and motivated when the sun doesn't come up until late in the morning and is gone before 3pm. The fact that it stays fairly level and low on the horizon doesn't help either. I have some friends who are suffering with depression because of the lack of light. I am so thankful that I haven't been affected too badly. Sure, I have my days when I feel a bit down - but those days don't happen more frequently than when I was living in sunny Florida, so I consider them normal occurrences.

December 29, 2003

Chena Hot Springs Ice Hotel
(Bar area)

Ice Hotel Guestroom and Bed

Arctic Warrior ice sculpture being carved

What a very nice Sunday we had! We met Marcella and Brian at 8am and headed to a nearby diner for breakfast, before beginning our 65+ mile drive to Chena Hot Springs.

While at Dillingers, Steve recounted the story of how he had taken his Platoon Sergeants out for breakfast on Christmas Eve morning to show his appreciation for them. As the five of them were finishing up their breakfast, the waitress approached their table and told Steve that the entire tab had been picked up by a fellow patron. Not only had this gentleman picked up my husband's table's tab, but also the tab of another soldier in the restaurant who was dining with his wife. When Steve asked who the generous patron was, the waitress told him that the man wished to remain anonymous and had already left the restaurant. When I heard this story, I felt such pride for my husband and the members of the public who appreciate our military and the sacrifices that they make in an attempt to keep peace in the world. I wrote a letter to the editor of our local newspaper in an attempt to thank this gentleman for not only paying for the meals of these soldiers, but for allowing us to feel the gratitude of our civilian counterparts. What a wonderful Christmas gift! I can't express adequately how much this gesture touched not only my husband, but all of the brave men he was dining with.

The sky was just beginning to grow light when we got on the highway and started our journey. Brian and Marcella followed us in their own vehicle. Along for the trip was "Flat Stanley". Flat Stanley is a paper doll who was made by my cousin Lynda's daughter, Lara. (My 2nd cousin) Flat Stanley wasn't a project I had to deal with my children, but he is a fairly popular fellow now. Lara decided that I would be a good person to mail her Flat Stanley to, so that he could have lots of adventures in Alaska. At first I thought I'd look a little foolish taking a paper doll along on my trips and photographing him experiencing the wonders of Alaska, but then it became a fun game for Steve and I to think up great places to photograph him. (Lara: we hope you get an A on your project!)

We all stopped at milemarker 40 (Tors Campground) so that Brian and Marcella could see the beautiful rocky mounds. It helped that there was an outhouse there too! *grin* We didn't see any sled dogs this time, but the sunrise was a beautiful pink on the horizon, which made the white snowy scenery look like a pastel watercolor painting. I am always in such awe of the colors I have seen here...

This is the Chena Hot Springs Ice Hotel. The outside is complete, but they are still working on the inside. Currently most of the inside bar/entertainment area is finished and sports a solid ice bar and barstools (with fur seat covers - see left). There is one guest room finished and it has a solid ice bed in it with lots of covers!
The Hot Springs are a big attraction for people from all over the world. When the air is below zero, the steam coming off the springs makes it look almost like you are in a dream world. We didn't swim this time...
This team and its musher arrived just as we were making our way along the grounds. Soon after, another musher arrived. These dogs are absolutely beautiful and the teamwork they display when pulling a sled is amazing.

After exploring Chena Hot Springs for a little while, we started home again. The drive back was just as beautiful as the drive up. The hilltops were a brilliant orange as the sun made it's way down below the horizon. With such short days, you can't dilly dally if you want to be home before dark. We decided to eat at the Sled Dog Saloon when we got back to town and enjoyed some light fare while the guys watched the football game on the big screen TV.

Later that evening, Marcella and Brian came over with their new X-BOX system and a few video games. At first Marcella and I just sat and watched them play the Star Wars game (not being big on playing video games), but when they left us to play the Grand Theft Auto game (which involves driving a vehicle through a downtown city), she and I nearly wet our pants laughing hysterically as we ran over pedestrians and took out lightpoles while trying to figure out how to work the controls. We figured it out eventually and actually had a good time playing.

This morning, my friend Susan had a job interview so I didn't think we'd make it to the gym. I was downloading photos from my camera when she IM'd me (Instant Messenger - for those who aren't familiar with online chat and messaging) and asked me if I wanted to go - even though it was already after 10am. I was thrilled to get myself dressed and get a workout in or I would have been a lazy slug all day today too.

Tomorrow Susan and Stephen, and Steve and I, are going tubing as soon as the guys get home from work. Then I'm having the both of them over for dinner tomorrow night. Susan got a bread machine for her birthday and is bringing some homemade bread with her. I intend to bake a cake for dessert. Any excuse to have cake in the house.... *smile*

I'm thinking about taking my camera with us tubing. I'm worried about harming it, but I really want to get some photos. If I can get some action shots, that would be really neat! We'll see...

December 30, 2003

Happy Birthday, Marcella!

We had such a fantastic day tubing! The weather was perfect at about 15 ABOVE zero (a heat wave). As soon as Steve got home from work, we got changed for an hour on Birch Hill. Polypro long johns, silk undershirt, sock liners and then wool socks, fleece sweatshirt... so many layers!

It has been snowing all day and a new layer of the white stuff makes the world look pure and clean. It also helped to set the mood for our tubing adventure. Susan and Stephen showed up a short while later and off we went. The hill was crowded and the tubes were sparse. It seems everyone was taking advantage of the temperate weather. The schools are closed for the holiday season and the guys are on a half-day schedule, so this week has kept the hill busy. It also looked like lots of kids got new snowboards from Santa.

We tubed for an hour, which was just perfect. By the time the hour was up, we were ready to get home to a warm house and strip off the many layers of clothes we had on. Stephen and Susan dropped us off at our place and then went home to take a hot shower and change before coming back over for dinner.

I popped in the roast as soon as we got home. By the time they came back over two hours later, it was done and we were ready to eat. We shared good conversation and laughs both during dinner and afterward. Susan and I talked about her new job at the newspaper as a graphic layout artist (she starts Friday) and her journal ideas for next year (she also keeps an online journal for her friends and family).

I'll miss having her as a workout buddy, since her hours won't allow her to join us. But with new families coming in all the time, we're sure to get a few wives who would prefer going in the morning. So it looks like it will be LuAnn and I (and Shawna, who is pregnant and probably won't have much time to go after she has her baby). These three times per week visits to the gym really help to keep us motivated - especially in the winter. If it weren't for this routine, I worry I'd stay in my PJ's all morning! I do plan to have lunch with Susan from time to time so we can play "catch up" with one another.

It's hard to believe that 2003 is coming to a close. A new year lies ahead with new resolutions, new plans, new goals. It seems daunting sometimes, but I relish the fact that it's like starting with a clean slate. I look forward to what lies ahead and the opportunity to continue to grow. I look forward to expressing myself more with my writing and photography. I especially look forward to exploring Alaska with my best friend and soulmate...