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2004 Susan L. Stevenson
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Saturday, May 1

A new month; a slightly new format. I figure with the purchase of my new camera, I will probably be wanting to show some more photos. I was wasting quite a bit of space with my other layout so this might work better. May already! So hard to believe... We have now been residents of Alaska only 6 weeks short of an entire year. I eagerly look forward to what is known as 'green up' here in Alaska. That seemingly short day, or hour, or maybe moment, when the new buds on the trees and bushes burst open with their new growth. Although the days are getting warm, and lasting much longer now (17 hours), Alaska is still plain in color. Brown, gold, tan, black. The grass is not green yet. The trees are still bare of leaves. The leaves that remain are brown and dead and somehow found a way to hang on through the long winter months. Only the pines and spruce trees are green, but they never lost their color. I did see some dandelions yesterday and was so thrilled to see bright yellow, I wanted to stop and pick some.

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend and then we took a drive through town in search of something to photograph. I see photos in just about everything. We came upon a house with a yard that was full of old appliances. Refrigerators, washers, dryers, stoves, dishwashers. A junk yard. That's the downside to spring thaw. The trash, debris, old cars, appliances, and other messes that were once camouflaged with pure white snow, come back into view. Couple these eyesores with the dull tan and brown of the world and it's downright ugly in places. Mostly the out of the way places. But once in a while, you'll find a house with this kind of mess smack dab in the middle of two houses with neatly trimmed yards. I know I'd be upset about that...

So, I was sadly looking out over the expanse of rusty appliances, and commenting to April about the mess, when I happened to spot two horses in the rear of the property. They had access to a side yard and when I approached the fence and made a clicking sound with my mouth, the dark brown mare approached me eagerly.

I bravely extended my hand and stroked her face. She was being harassed by the major enemy of Alaskans - the mosquito. They attacked her from each side of her face, not giving her any relief. I snapped a few photos of her and was surprised at just what my camera was capable of capturing. She watched this mosquito intensely, as if trying to intimidate it and keep it from biting her. But while her attention was focused on this bugger, five or six more where busy landing and biting the other side of her face.

Today, I took care of some chores around the house and then headed out to Denny's to meet up with some friends from the Alaska Living Group I belong to. Most of the same people were there, (George and Ella and LuEllen, Georganne and her two children, Charles and Moe and their three kids). But I did finally get to meet Pamela (the moderator) and her husband, and another nice gal named Jean. We talked for almost an hour and a half and could have talked a lot longer. I really enjoyed myself a lot and look forward to our lunch meeting next weekend when Jan DeNapoli (the musher) is back in town.

On the way home from Denny's I decided to take a drive downtown and take some photos. I am enamored with my zoom lens. Not only with the clarity of the photos, but of the anonymity I can employ when shooting photos of people. It's so much easier to get a good candid shot when your subject has no idea you are watching them.

I parked in the lot near the Immaculate Conception Church. I love this church and its white clapboard siding and tall bell tower. I have photographed it before, but everything is new to me now. While shooting the church, I noticed a middle aged man perched on the tailgate of his truck sketching the church. Around him were the tools of an artist. Paints, brushes, pencils... His large piece of canvas was on a short easel.

I think my presence distracted him. (I know how I feel when I try to paint or draw with an audience). So I drove away, but stopped a few hundred feet from him - partially hidden by a grassy berm. With my zoom, I was able to clearly see his progress on his painting. And I thought it made a lovely photo.

His angle as he painted was almost exactly the same angle I chose when I shot my photo of the church. It is a wonderful subject to reproduce - whether on canvas or photo paper.

Tomorrow, we're off to Denali again. I want to get a good workout with this camera!

Monday, May 3

Steve and I had the most fantastic day yesterday. We drove back to Denali National Park. I couldn't wait to play with my new camera and I wanted to be able to drive into the park to mile 30 one more time. The park opens to tourists in two weeks and then we'll only able to get into the park via shuttle bus. On the way back home, we stopped and ate at Monderosa's Bar and Grill - a restaurant recommended to me by three different 'long-timers'. If the locals rave about it, it must be good. (It was). It's basically a burger joint, but the burgers were huge (I brought home half a sandwich that I can enjoy today).

Time for the photos...

When the mountain (Denali) is 'out', it is visible from just about everywhere in Interior Alaska. All the times we have been through Nenana (67 miles from Fairbanks), we never saw the mountain on the horizon. A lot of the reason was because we didn't quite know what direction to look in. I asked Steve to stop so I could photograph the barges on the Tanana River, and there was "The Tall One" in the sky as a backdrop.

After passing through Nenana, we came to this bend in the road and there she was again looming on the horizon. I liked the the way the trees and the pond (although caused by run-off) looked in the foreground.

There is no mistaking Denali. It is twice as tall as the surrounding mountains in the Alaska Range. A great mountain...

This was taken from the truck. The road into Denali is paved until milemarker 13 or so. That's the furthest into the park that you can go during the tourist season. But when it's off season, you can drive in to mile 30. The road is gravel at that point. But what a magnificent drive! You drive through mountain passes, across rolling tundra, and near rivers and streams. But always, the snow-covered mountains are the awesome backdrop for the trip. As you can see in the photo, there aren't many people on the road in the park during the off season. Nice...
Another view of Denali from inside the park. Denali has its own weather system. Most times the peak is in the clouds or at least partly obscured by the clouds (as in this photo). You can see how tall she is by the way she dwarfs the rest of the range in front of her. It's awe-inspiring.

No trip is complete without coming upon the Alaska State Bird - the Ptarmigan! These funny little birds are said to be dumb. They run into traffic, stand still in the middle of the road as cars and trucks bear down on them, and generally don't seem to scare very easily. We saw quite a few pairs of these neat birds. The female hen is a nondescript brown and tan. But the male sports bright red eyebrows!

And look at the feathery feet! Aren't they the coolest? See, even the birds wear leg warmers here in Alaska.

In addition to the Ptarmigan, we saw Dall sheep, moose, and quite a few other species of birds. The rivers and streams are nearly thawed now. The water runs swift, but the shores are still heavy with snow. Within a few weeks, there won't be a trace of the white stuff. The mosquitos are getting thicker and I don't relish the thought of slathering myself in Deet just to leave the house.

Steve and I will be taking a month-long camping vacation beginning June 1st. Our itinerary includes stops in Paxson, Chitina, Valdez, Whittier, Seward, Anchorage, Homer, and Cantwell - among others. We are still in the planning stages, but will need to finalize reservations soon. The camper should be ready to go in a week or so. I'd like to pack our bikes too.

When Chris comes in mid-July (still waiting for him to give me a definitive "yes"), we're planning to go back and explore the Kenai Peninsula some more. I think he'd enjoy seeing the glaciers and (hopefully) whales, eagles, and seals. We'd like to take a scenic flight to Kodiak Island and see if we can spot some grizzlies. I hope he can make it. Still no word from Brandon and Becky. I don't know what their schedule is. The Marines aren't granting block leave and it's difficult to get time off "just because" when you're in the military. That's a bummer. I wanted to have all three of the kids up.

Wednesday, May 5 - Today "GREEN-UP" Came to Fairbanks!
You might think of spring as a season that begins with a few buds on the trees, continues with hardy early flowers and stretches from March into May. Not so in Alaska, where summer's too short to slip into casually. Instead of meandering through an entire spring season, locals refer to the process as 'green-up'.

It is a relatively quick process that usually occurs during the first part of May and it's the greening of the leaves on the willows and the birch that totally transforms the state from a very brown landscape to - by the middle of June - a very green landscape.

The plants don't have much time for their whole life-cycle. The snow doesn't melt until the end of April, and then the ground freezes-up again around the first week in September. Fortunately, during the short summer, the days are long.

There have been buds on the trees for about two weeks now. But they stayed tight and closed, just waiting for the perfect time to open up. And today it happened in parts of Fairbanks. I venture to guess that the entire city will be green by this time next week.

I came across the first open leaves (tiny little things!) after work today, when I decided to take the 'long way home' and make a stop at Creamer's Field to view the birds. While at Creamer's Field I saw my first sandhill crane of the season. I spent almost an hour watching the ducks and geese. The sun felt wonderful on my face and, although it was a bit windy, it was a beautifully warm day. From Creamer's Field, I made my way home. But instead of going straight home, I decided to stop at Birch Hill Cemetery. The cemetery has been closed all winter due to snow. The road that winds through is gravel and is not plowed in winter. I took my time meandering through the grave sites. The cemetery is a peaceful place to visit. for me. As I was leaving the cemetery, I caught a glimpse of GREEN! What a welcome surprise!

This sandhill crane was the only one of his species. But there were ducks and geese splashing in the ponds and filling their stomachs with the seed spread out on the fields.

The leaves at right are less than an inch in length. It is such a thrill to see the buds open and the leaves beginning to unfurl. I can't wait until the wildflowers start to bloom.

Saturday, May 8 - A visit to Chatanika

Today, my friend Susan Spivey and I took a drive to Chatanika to explore and take some photographs. Susan had never been there before, and the last time I was there, there was still a thick blanket of snow on the ground.

We stopped at an old gold mining village which opens for the tourist season, but was still closed even now. As we took photos from way down the driveway, we heard gunshots. We didn't think it would be a good idea to trespass with those sound effects.

We continued to the Chatanika Lodge and I parked the car so we could take a walk over to the abandoned gold dredge. We also were privileged to see Black Capped Chickadees flitting through the sky surrounding the dredge. We tried to get photos, but they were quick and never seemed to settle in any one place too long! After taking a short walk though a nearby wooded area (and getting attacked by the awful mosquitoes that are already out in full force), we got back in the car and continued up the road a few more miles to a stream where ducks were playing. I pulled off the road so we could take pictures of the ducks. I was more impressed by the way the trees were reflected in the stream and shot a few photos.

We then headed back to Fairbanks. On the way, we stopped at a roadside area where locals and visitors are allowed to pan for gold. There were about 9 people there (three groups) and they definitely knew what they were doing. They had pans, sluice boxes, sieves, and other tools. Gold is still found in Alaska. But most of the gold was mined up during the gold rush. You might find enough to give you some pocket change, but it is rare to become a millionaire panning for it now. (However, never say never!)

Once we got back to the city, I drove over to Creamer's Field so Susan could see the sandhill cranes. Unfortunately, they were too far away to photograph adequately, so that was disappointing. The ducks however were in a feisty mood and were diving and flapping their wings like small children in a swimming pool. I managed to get a few shots of these antics.

Old Chatanika Dredge

Reflections in a Stream

Gold Panning

Help Me Up!

Family news: My mom is in the hospital with an infection and very low blood pressure. The doctors did an echocardiogram and various other scans to rule out blood clots or blockages in her arteries or heart. The tests came back normal and they said her heart is in fantastic shape. She was admitted on Thursday after passing out twice while having blood drawn. They originally were only going to keep her for observation overnight, but decided they would keep her until Monday morning and treat her infection with intravenous antibiotics. According to my sister-in-law Diane, she is in good spirits and even enjoying the hospital food. I'll be calling her tomorrow to wish her a Happy Mother's Day and I'll probably get some more information then.

Sunday, May 9 - HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms in my family and all my wonderful 'mom' friends! I hope today was a day when you were spoiled, appreciated, and maybe even got breakfast in bed or a nice dinner out.

My day wasn't any of the above. Steve was training today at the MOUT (Military Operations on Urban Terrain) Site. This site is surreal in that it is a direct replication of an urban town. There are buildings, vehicles, and even people (other military members playing the role). Our MOUT site has a bakery, a coffee shop, a bank, a school, a municipal building, an apartment complex, and so much more. The vehicles which mostly litter the streets are burned or broken down. Inside some of the buildings are 'odor machines' and they pump out artificial smells to lend to the reality of the site. In the bakery, the smell of cinnamon buns wafted through the air. In the coffee shop, the smell of freshly roasted coffee hung in the air. In one of the apartments, the smell of human sweat permeated the air. Sometimes the machines spew out the putrid smell of charred flesh or human waste or sewage. It's all to make the training as real as possible.

I don't want to go into my thoughts and emotions about my visit to the MOUT Site to take photos for the company website. They are deeply personal and strong. War is ugly. War is scary. Being in the midst of blank rounds and fake grenades did nothing to ease the terror in my heart. It may have been all 'make-believe' today, but it won't be make-believe next year, when my husband is walking down a street in a village just like the one they trained in today. Only the village they'll be in will have REAL enemies - not other soldiers play-acting.

Here are a few photos I wanted to share:

Sniper fire makes everyone run for cover

Below (left to right)

Carrying the wounded
Covering a soldier
Steve in camouflage

Securing an apartment complex
Wednesday, May 12

I know it has been a few days since I updated last. I can't blame it on anything in particular; I just haven't had the time or the inclination to update my journal lately. I'm sure a large part of the reason may be the incessant rain that descended on Fairbanks last week sometime and stayed with us all weekend and into this week. But today it is sunny outside. And warm (50's). And this weekend promises to be even warmer - with temperatures climbing into the 70's.

On Monday, I went to the gym with my friend, Shawna. It was miserable and overcast, but I didn't want to waste the day. So I took Shawna (and her beautiful daughter, Courtney - now 7 weeks old) with me on a drive through the surrounding area. I discovered a small park along a road I have never traveled before. There are picnic tables and a boat ramp. I told Steve about it in the event he wants to grab his rod and reel and cast a line there someday.

After exploring the surrounding area, I drove Shawna back to the A-frame neighborhood. She never knew it was there. I was pleasantly surprised to discover a very 'still' pond which reflected the A-frames beautifully. There were seagulls and ducks enjoying the pond and so I stopped to take a few photos.

Later, when I took Shawna and Courtney home, Courtney was finally awake (she slept the entire time we were driving - typical with babies!) and I took the cutest photo of her. She was even smiling at me. OK... so maybe it was a smirk! As strange as it sounds, I took a close up photo of the dandelions that carpeted Shawna's front lawn. You can not imagine how beautiful the color yellow is when you are accustomed to the black and white of winter and the neutral tans and browns of early spring.

A place to cast a line - the Little Chena River

Reflection of A-Frames in the pond

Seagull Taking Off
Friday, May 14 - Chris is coming for a visit!!!!!!!!

I finally bought Chris's airline tickets. He hasn't heard yet if Home Depot is even going to approve his vacation - they keep dragging their feet - but said he's willing to get fired at this point. (He's not happy there at all) I don't think they'll get rid of him. He's a good, hard worker. He's not asking for any sort of vacation pay; just some time off. He'll be flying out of Madison on July 9th and staying with me until the evening of the 17th. I am so happy he's coming. I am not happy that we have no choice but to pay outrageous fares because we live up here in the Last Frontier. (Round-trip - 675.00!)

Our plans while he's in town are to drive down to the Kenai Peninsula again for some camping and exploring. I want to stop at Denali on the way so Chris can see McKinley - if it's out. Then we'll stop in Anchorage so he can see how much Anchorage is like most other large cities in the Lower 48. But the Kenai is like being in a whole new world. Mountains, wildflowers, wide open spaces, fishing towns, small populations, ghost towns, gold towns, and so on. If we can manage a flight or boat tour to Kodiak, that would be the icing on the cake.

Yesterday, on the way home from work, I decided to stop at the Large Animal Research Facility (LARS) to see if the musk ox were in the upper pasture. I was in luck! These animals are just amazing. Their heavy coats make it possible for them to survive in temperatures as low as -100. In the winter, they grow an undercoat of wool like the coat on a sheep. In the spring, this wool is shed - or in the case of domesticated musk ox - combed off. Native Alaskan People use this wool to weave into clothes and blankets.

While I was photographing these huge beasts, two males had a bit of an 'altercation' and one gave chase to the other. Then they faced off and charged each other - butting their heads together! The sound was loud and hollow. A deep WHOMP! Must be the nice weather making them ornery.

The chase is on

A little intimidation!
Saturday, May 15 - Fly Fishing in Alaska

Steve and I took a long walk through the woods behind our house yesterday afternoon. It was a marvelously sunny day and we couldn't wait to get out in it. The mosquitoes however, added a bit of extra movement to our walk as we waved and swatted them away from us. It's the time of year for the big bomber mosquitoes. They are lazy and fly slow, so they're easier to repel with a swat or a quick wave. Later in the season, they'll be replaced with fast-moving and dedicated blood suckers that are much smaller but steadfast in their desire to torture.

Our walk took us through the woods and then out to a portion of the slough which runs parallel to the Chena River. I stopped to take some photos of our surroundings. The sky was a brilliant blue and full of billowy white clouds. It is so wonderful to see green leaves (open even further now) on the trees - especially the birch trees. The contrast between the stark black and white of the paper birch bark and the bright green of new leaves is a treat for the eyes.

We soon came upon two guys enjoying some fly fishing. We stopped to watch for a few moments - intrigued by the choreographed casting of the nylon line into the river. This of course only whetted Steve's appetite to get his fishing gear and waders ready. He is SO looking forward to our trip next month. I might just try my hand at some fly fishing myself. Even if I can't get the cast right, it will give Steve great amusement to watch my antics.

"There is certainly something in fishing that tends to produce a gentleness of spirit, a pure serenity of mind." -Washington Irving -

Family Update: Mom had her consultation with the surgeon and is scheduled to have her tumor removed using laser surgery on June 2nd. The surgery will be performed via her urethra, so it will be 'relatively' noninvasive. There is concern that due to the tumor's size, the surgeon may have to remove it in two pieces. She wasn't clear on whether this meant two separate surgeries spaced days apart, or two separate movements up to her kidney in the same surgical session. The doctor also mentioned performing a chemotherapy wash after the surgery which helps to eradicate microscopic residual disease. She is back on antibiotics since being released from the hospital on Monday evening. It seems her infection has recurred. Her blood pressure however, has stabilized.

A Loss in the Smalley Family - My Great Aunt Eloise (Daddy's Aunt):

HOLMAN ELOISE L. (nee Smalley), on May 9, 2004, age 85. Beloved wife of the late Olaf G., loving mother of Nancy L. Mueller and her husband Howard Cash, Jane E. Hart and her husband Ronald Hart, dear sister of Mary Beu, William Smalley, Naomi Oehlert and John Smalley, cherished grandmother of Todd and Brian Mueller, Beth Purcell, Ronnie and Bobby Hart, great grandmother of Nate, Meghan, Shane, Delaney and Aidan.

Sunday, May 16 - Exploring Nature and Discovering Wildlife

Last night, Steve and I went to a BBQ at Brian and Marcella's house. We had a fantastic time. We created and BBQ'd kabobs. Steve also took some moose and caribou meat with him and made burgers. We hung around the Hoffman's house until after midnight. It's not hard to lose track of time when it stays light out for so long. Even at midnight, the sky still had traces of orange glow in it from sunset.

Today, I slept in until 11:30am. That is totally unlike me! But I suppose I needed it or I wouldn't have slept so late. Steve spent the morning making phone calls and finalizing reservations for our trip in June. After I had my much-needed coffee and got dressed, we decided to take a drive through the wooded area here on post in search of beavers. My friend LuAnn had discovered the beavers last week. Steve and I had been to the lodge before, but hadn't seen any activity. After hearing her account, I was on a mission to photograph them myself.

At first, Steve got a kick out of doing some backroad exploring. The roads (dirt) are a disaster with ruts and deep puddles - deep enough to cover the tires on his truck. I'm glad we didn't get stuck. There were lots of ducks along the way - bathing and swimming along in the many temporary ponds which will disappear in a month or so. We saw a sandhill crane too, but he took off before I could get a photo.

We finally headed toward the beaver pond and saw both beavers swimming in the pond outside their lodge. They wouldn't come close to the shore, so I had to be happy shooting them from afar. But it was exciting to watch them swim and dive. When we got too close to their lodge, they'd slap their tails in the water warning us to 'scram!'.

As we were standing on the shore watching them swim, we heard a twig snap behind us in the woods. It wasn't a heavy enough sound to make us fear for moose or bear. At first we worried it might be another beaver (a rabid one with a mission to kill *laugh*). Well, it was none of the above. What it was however, was the cutest snowshoe hare! He allowed me to get to within about 10 yards of him before taking off into the woods again. Although his fur has changed from white to tan and brown for the warmer months, his feet remain white (and will always be white). And boy - did he have some big feet!

Another great thrill for me was coming upon a hidden little patch of pasque flowers. They were a beautiful purple and yellow in the midst of brown underbrush. The pasque flower (the plant is called pasque flower because it blooms at Easter), is used by Native Peoples as an herbal remedy for cataracts, cramps, and a variety of other ailments.

Wednesday, May 19 - Trip Plans

We have finalized our trip plans. The reservations are made. We'll be leaving Fairbanks on June 1st and won't be returning until June 30th. Our trip will encompass 1555 miles.

I've numbered our stops in order of visit. We'll be spending at least 2 days in each location, except for the last stretch before heading home.

Here are the cities we'll be stopping to camp at:

1. Paxson
2. Chitina
3. Valdez
4. Glennallen (area)
5. Anchorage
6. Seward
7. Cooper Landing
8. Homer
9. Kasilof
10. Cooper Landing
11. Anchorage
12. Cantwell

When Chris arrives on July 9th, we'll be heading back to Homer with tentative plans to visit Kodiak Island to view the grizzlies

Wednesday, May 19 - Sunny Days in Fairbanks

The day started out foggy and overcast, but by the time I got to work, the sun was shining. Which of course made me wish I didn't have to be cooped up all day.

After work, I decided to take a drive downtown and walk around the area with my camera. The clouds were amazing - big and puffy. The river was running swiftly and there is so much green now, it's like the entire world has woken from a long nap.

While downtown, I came across a teenage girl skateboarding in a parking lot. I pulled over and used my zoom to take a photo of her without her knowing she was being watched. She was skilled on the board and 'caught air' several times.

When I got home, I took Sedona for her afternoon walk and took a leisurely stroll through the surrounding woods. There's a tree root that I see when we take the long walk. It looks very different now that it's surrounded by greenery.

Today's photos:

Sunday, May 23 - Seeing Gallagher!

What a weekend! Steve and I are still diligently making preparations for our trip. It's hard to believe we're leaving here in about a week. All our reservations are made and the camper has been made ready for summer. We had a slide-out awning installed to keep water and debris out of the camper when we bring the slide in. The awning itself was nearly 400.00. Shipping and handling to AK was 160.00!!!!!!!!! The drawbacks to living in the Last Frontier...

On Friday night, Steve and I went to see Gallagher at the local arena. Much thanks to our friend, Susan - who got us free tickets to attend (the advantages of knowing people who work for the media *wink*) Our seats were straight back from the stage, but not close enough to risk being covered in gooey food mess.

Steve and I had a wonderful time! There was food flying, watermelon flying, water flying... you name it - it went flying. The people in the 'splash zone' had to wear trash bag raincoats to keep from ruining their clothes. There were also huge sheets of plastic to hold up to block the food from smacking you in the face.

But the funniest part of the show was when Gallagher asked kids to come up on stage and kneel around the table so he could smash a huge, gooey birthday cake with his mallet. About twenty kids ran up there and willingly kneeled in the messy cake flying zone. And boy did it fly! I pity the poor parents who had to take those messy kids home after the show. I wonder if they gave them plastic to put on their car seats?

We had a really enjoyable time at the show and I got a lot of messy photos. I wish I knew how to get some of these photos to the parents of the kids. I caught some incredibly funny facial expressions on some of their faces.

Before the show, we went to the Dogsled Saloon for dinner. It was very crowded - both inside and out on the deck too. It is apparent that 'tourist season' has arrived in Fairbanks once again. RV's are on the road, people with cameras slung around their neck are wandering the streets, and the tour buses are out in full force.

I remember last year at this time, we were on our way here. I'm sure we looked like tourists when we first arrived too. Although I still carry my camera around my neck, I feel like a local and not a tourist. It's a good feeling.

Spring has definitely arrived in Fairbanks. Besides the brilliant new green color of leaves on the trees, flower gardens are beginning to appear. I found a beautiful hanging basket of flowers while out driving the other day. When I downloaded the photo from my camera, I realized I caught a bug in the shot too! I'm not too fond of insects, so it's a good thing I didn't see it before I got close for the shot!

Yesterday, Brian and Marcella came over for dinner. We ate late (9pm) and it was still brilliantly lit outside. We're at about 19 hours of full-blown sunlight. There is no darkness any longer. The sun goes below the horizon but still illuminates the sky. So far, we're not having too hard a time sleeping. I hope Chris can adjust when he comes in July. I can't wait to have him here!!!!

Tuesday, May 25 - Last week of work!

I am happy to have finished the first day (my longest day) of my last work week until August. I am ecstatic! The weather has been so beautiful and I've hated being cooped up in an office. After Thursday, I'm FREE! And in 6 days, we leave for our trip. We both need this badly.

I managed to download some free dial-up software from UAF. It's primarily a service used by distance learners and students who live in the bush. Steve made reservations for us in quite a few campgrounds that have modem access. There is always the possibility that I won't be able to get online at all (or very infrequently). In that case, you'll all be in for some heavy reading and photos when we return at the end of the month.

Today, after work, I walked through campus with my camera looking for flowers. There are flowering choke cherry trees all over campus! I had to get some close-ups. Little did I know, I'd get to practice shooting bees too!

I also finished the template for my boss and her husband's Native Alaskan Ministry called "Alaska Vision". I am hoping to attend a few celebrations and special events so that I can take photos. She was so enamored with this journal of mine - and loved the color scheme - that she asked me to use the same for hers. She also liked the fact that I have the state of Alaska in my header and wanted that incorporated into hers too. (What a copycat! *grin*). I spent an afternoon putting something together and here is the result:

It's a simple template and has room for Hild to insert text and photos. She's perfectly capable of taking off with the project now that the bare bones are created. However, I did give her my home phone number in the event she needs to send out an S.O.S. The most touching thing of all was when I called her into my office to show her what I had done. She cried....

She said that they had always prayed for a beautiful site and now they have one. I couldn't help but well up with tears myself. Their ministry is a nonprofit organization. I was happy to help.

Thursday, May 27 - FREE at last!

Today was my last day of work. I stayed much later than scheduled yesterday, to help out with a project which came into the office at the last minute. So today I only had to work for three hours. Boy, did it go FAST! It's was, and still is, a sunny, beautiful day out and I was practically skipping out of the office at 11:15am. I had noticed on my way into work that some of the choke cherry trees already had berries on them. I made a mental note to stop and take a photo after work.

FAMILY NEWS: I talked to Brandon today. He is trying to schedule his second shoulder surgery for sometime before July if possible. His unit is returning to Iraq in August. Right now he assures me that he is non-deployable because of his medical profile. I pray that is true. If he is able to have his surgery by the end of July, he estimates he'll be through with recovery and physical therapy by the end of January - which is when he is planning on getting out of the Marines. Although he originally had plans of moving to Wisconsin, he has now swung his thoughts back to moving home to Philadelphia. It really doesn't matter to me where he decides to go. If he goes to PA, I get to visit him and the rest of my family. If he moves to WI, I get to visit both my boys together. He and Becky are flying to Salt Lake City the last week of July to visit with her family. Brandon has never met anyone in her family yet, so this is pretty important. Becky's parents were generous enough to purchase their airline tickets. I suppose I shall have to wait until next year to see them. I haven't seen Brandon since before he went off to war - Christmas, 2002. A year and a half.... too long.

Sunday, May 30 - Picnic Photos

Steve and I managed to get most of the stuff done that we need to before leaving on Tuesday morning. We've got a friend mowing our lawn while we're gone and doing drive-bys to check on the house.

The grocery shopping is done and the camper is stocked with the dry/canned foods. Steve will turn on the refrigerator today and get it cool enough to stock with our cold foods tomorrow. I haven't even begun packing yet. Still catching up on laundry and trying to predict what the weather is going to be like while we're on the road. It still gets chilly here at night, and lately the weather in Western Alaska has been overcast and rainy. I promised my friends in Anchorage that we would bring sunny days with us.

Yesterday, Steve and I managed to take a break from the trip planning and attend a picnic hosted by my Alaska Living group. Everyone who had RSVP'd showed up, which made for a good time. I truly enjoy visiting with the locals. In fact, I feel I have more in common with the locals. They are here because they WANT to be here - not because the military sent them. They chose Alaska as their home and they appreciate the beauty, the simplicity, the solitude, and the people.

I have found myself stepping back from some of my military friends. As time has passed, I realized that quite a few of the gals were more preoccupied with complaining about living here, or being gossipy about others, or just basically being mean-spirited. That is so not me. Perhaps there was a time in my life when I followed along with the others because I wanted to feel accepted - but those years were so long ago and seem to have happened in another woman's life. I have decided to ignore their behavior and chalk it up to childishness and immaturity. A young friend of mine just said to me: "Once a year, I mentally go through the list of my friends and acquaintances. Any who are not positive influences in my life, or breed negativity, are cast off. I compare it to taking out the garbage." So I guess you could say, I've taken out the garbage. And what is left behind is a fantastic group of supportive, trustworthy, and positive people.

So, as I was saying, Steve and I attended a picnic yesterday. We enjoyed great food (we all brought an entree and a side dish), had fantastic conversation, and even had some wonderful entertainment when Jean took out her fiddle and played Celtic music after we were through eating.

Some photos from the picnic:

This is Ella, her husband, George, and their daughter Georganne. George used to build airplanes from kits and pilot them all over the country. They moved here from Minnesota a few months ago. Georganne accompanied her parents. She came from Oklahoma with her two children.
This is Charles, his wife, Moe and one of his daughters. Charles and Moe came to AK from San Diego, CA in April of last year. Their dream was to raise their children in a place far from urban sprawl and crime. They are looking forward to buying a house here someday. They are great people!
This is Jodie and Malinda - a military couple. They have a son, Tristan. They enjoy hiking and being in the outdoors. Malinda is like me in that she is thrilled to be here in Alaska and hopes to see and do as much as she can while here.
This is Pamela (the moderator of the group) and Susan (from Denali) Susan lives in Raleigh 9 months out of the year and comes here to work at the park in the summer.

This is Jean - our group fiddle, mandolin, and violin player. She specializes in Celtic music and entertained us after our picnic. She definitely is the vision of an Irish lass, isn't she?

A Mew Gull (cousin to the sea gull of the east coast). Mew gulls have broader wingspans, yellow beaks, dark eyes, and slightly different colors in their feathers. However, like sea gulls - they are scavengers. They enjoyed visiting our picnic pavilion - especially with all the food the kids dropped.