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Wednesday, August 3 - Last minute things... all to prepare for a year apart.

Much has been going on regarding my mother's health, and the impact her decades-long 'on again/off again' fight against colon cancer has had on not only her, but my brothers and I. We discovered that she carries a genetic mutation which predisposes her to various cancers - to include early colon cancer. (She was 41 when she was diagnosed with colon cancer the first time). My siblings have already been tested, and I had my blood sent off last week. It could be a month before I find out if I carry the gene. If I do, I will have to be very proactive about getting regular health screenings. There are some who questioned my desire to know about this mutation, but I'd much rather know and stay vigilant, than not know and discover I've got cancer when it's too late to do anything about it. I don't want to write too much about the situation in this journal, because it is personal and emotional. And lately, I've found myself riding a rollercoaster of emotions - first when coping with my mother's illness, and second - when preparing to send my husband off to war for a year. It hasn't been easy, but I am so thankful to have Steve here with me still. He is my rock and my strength. Oh, how I will miss him!

The camper has been cleaned up and smells brand new again. Floors have been scrubbed, walls have been wiped down, and upholstery has been vacuumed. I hate that our camping days are over for a long while. But I am so thankful for the times we have had together - exploring Alaska, enjoying the scenery and the wildlife... the sound of birds calling, the smell of the air just before the rain comes, the taste of blueberries picked fresh, the feel of the morning sun as it chases away the coolness of the night, and the sight of so many colors, patterns, and textures. I would have chosen no other place to spend these last few months making memories. Simple splendor abounds in Alaska. There is very little man-made beauty, but much God-made beauty. It reminds me of the quote by James Bailey, Photographer: "Art is Man's nature. Nature is God's art."

The upcoming year will no doubt be difficult. I worry most about the winter months, when night lasts forever and the cold makes everything stop, as if in suspended animation. I will miss the sound of my husband's voice when he admonishes me for not wearing my hat, or not putting on my long underwear. I will miss the sound of his keys in the door, such a familiar sound, that both the cat and the dog run to greet him before he's even turned the doorknob.

I have a friend who is already 7 months into her husband's deployment. She's preparing for him to come home for two weeks R&R. She says the time went fast. I hope she is right and the time does pass quickly. I hope that before I know it, I'll be sitting here, cross-legged on my loveseat, making an entry in this journal that my husband is finally coming home.

Friday, August 5 - Colors, Creativity, and Cleaning

Steve has a four-day weekend, but we're not going anywhere. Instead, we plan to clean out the garage. Our goal is to straighten it up enough so that I can park the truck in there this winter. We're going to need some wall shelves to get organized and clear some floor space. It will make my life so much easier if the truck is out of the elements this winter. I won't have to scrape the windows, or brush snow off of it in the morning. And it will warm up a lot faster too. I hope we can manage to make room.

This morning, I took Sedona out for a walk along the ATV path behind our house. I was amazed to see that some of the foliage is making the transition from green to gold to red already. It's only the beginning of August! I'm not ready to say goodbye to summer yet! Actually, we still do have a few more weeks of summer, but the leaves will steadily continue to change color until autumn comes upon us full force. Last year (September 2004), Steve took me to Chena Hot Springs on the 5th, and the photos show bright golden leaves on the horizon. Summer melts into Fall and then Winter quickly here.

There is a squirrel who hangs out in a tall spruce tree behind my house. She waits for me to approach the base of the tree and then scolds me with her loud chatter and fast 'clicking' sound. I think she does it to rile up Sedona. Sedona hates squirrels, and this gal even throws down pinecones and debris from the branches when the dog is with me. I find it amusing.

(Click to enlarge)

After seeing the colored leaves, I came back to the house for my camera, and put Sedona in. I went back up on the hill, and busied myself shooting photos of the foliage. When I approached the spruce, 'Ms. Squirrel' started up her noisy chatter again. I stopped to take some photos of her. When she saw I didn't have Sedona with me, she got brave and came further down the tree, until she perched on a branch about 10 feet above me. I clicked my tongue back at her and she peered at me with her round black eyes, tilting her head up. The way her mouth is shaped, it almost looks like she's smiling. I have roasted peanuts in the house. I think I may take her a few tomorrow. Maybe she'll come closer and allow me some better photos.

I have been working on a pretty big project for Steve to take with him to Iraq. I did almost the same thing for him when we were first married and he had to go to Panama for 5 months. I created calendar pages, using my photos and graphics - one for each month he'll be gone - and printed each page out on photo paper. I then put the pages in plastic sleeves. The calendar is marked with special occasions, holidays, and other sentiments. Each month has photos at the top which depict life in Fairbanks for that particular month. Some photographs are landscapes showing the weather or colors. Some are activities, such as dogsledding or the Ice Art Championships. And some are wildlife. And there are also photos of us and the pets.

Along with each monthly calendar, are love letters (which I'm still working on). A letter for each month. A letter about the things we have done together, the experiences we have had, and of course, how much I love and miss him. The letters will be tucked in the sleeve with the calendar page and he is instructed not to read them until the first of each month. (They're dated) On his calendar, there's a reminder on the first of each month for him to read the letter. Oh, and the letters will be sprayed with my perfume. *smile*

I'd like to share two of the calendar pages with you. Steve hasn't seen them yet, and won't see them until he gets over there, as they will be sealed in a manilla enveloped until he gets settled and has a 'room' or 'space' to call his own. I'm sure he will like the calendar and I hope that my photos and 'little nothings' as well as the love letters will keep his heart warm and help with homesickness. You can see January 2006 and May 2006 by clicking this sentence.

I will stay strong for Steve. And I will stay busy for my own sanity. And we will come through this just fine.

Wednesday, August 10 - Friends, Babies & Sandhill Cranes

Yesterday, the day dawned bright and sunny. What a wonderful change from the day prior - when I woke to a hazy sky that smelled of smoke. The wildfires continue to burn in various places in Alaska, and when the wind turns toward us, the haze and smell come with it. It doesn't help with my asthma, and I try to avoid being outside in it when it's bad.

I went walking with Rachael, and I think we were both glad to get back out on the path with the furkids. Since we just came out of a four-day weekend, both of us had a few days off from any exercise. The first day back is usually a hard one; the fact that we walked even further than usual led to some stiff thigh and hip muscles. But, as always, it felt good to exercise.

I hurried to get cleaned up, as Shawna and the babies were coming for me at noon. I neglected to post in my July Journal that Shawna gave birth to baby Collin Alfred Johnston on July 28th - the day of the deployment ceremony. He's a big boy - well over 8lbs and 21 inches long! I visited them in the hospital when he was born, but haven't had the chance to visit since. I was looking forward to seeing them all. Our plans included lunch and then a trip to Creamers Field to see the sandhill cranes.

Courtney as always, was the picture of cuteness - with her Barbie sunglasses, pink gingham sundress, and huge smile. She is accustomed to having a camera in her face, and knows how to turn on the charm. Collin (12 days old) slept a lot, and when he was awake he screamed with hunger - typical newborn behavior. *grin*

When we got to Creamers Field, we unloaded both strollers. I grabbed the stroller with Collin, while Shawna took control of Courtney's stroller. The sun was very warm, and before long we were breaking a sweat. Not long into our walk, Collin starting crying. It was feeding time and he wouldn't be satisfied until mama took care of him. We headed back to the car so that Shawna could tend to him, and I took Courtney off with me to see the cranes.

Here are some photos from today's outing. (Click to enlarge)

Information collected online:
Cranes breeding and migrating in Alaska are part of a complex of lesser sandhill cranes found from Siberia across northern Canada. They are considered a separate subspecies from greater sandhill cranes found in southern Canada and the lower 48 states. These birds, along with others from Siberia and Canada, form the Mid-continent Population of lesser sandhill cranes that winters in Texas, the southwestern United States, and Mexico. Some cranes may travel nearly 14,000 miles per year round trip. Cranes also mate for life.

When the cranes arrive in Fairbanks in May, it is a wonderful sight to behold, as we know that summer is merely weeks away. When we see them in August, the opposite is true, as we know that winter is not far off. Nevertheless, they are a beautiful bird to observe and photograph. I hope to get back this weekend to take some more photos with my longer zoom lens.

I had a wonderful afternoon with Shawna, and when she brought me home, I hugged her goodbye and burst into tears. It seems I've been wearing my emotions on my sleeve lately, and it's an easy transition to go from smiling and happy one moment, to crying the next. I really hope this is only a manifestation of pre-deployment stress, and will go away once the deployment is underway.

It was sad to say goodbye to Shawna and the babies. Shawna is taking the children and going 'home' to NY to live with her parents while her husband is deployed. From there, they'll go wherever the army sends them. I may not ever see them again, and that's what made me so sad. I'm sure we'll stay in touch via e-mail, and I know that Shawna will continue to share photos of the babies with me via e-mail, but it won't be the same. I'll miss them all.

Such is the life of a military family. I love that the lifestyle enables me to make a lot of new friends, but I hate that goodbyes are inevitable.

Saturday, August 13 - Fall and Farewells

Our days are now numbered. In less than a week, I will say goodbye to my husband for a year. While I have had a few days that have been pretty emotional, we've tried to keep ourselves occupied with getting things organized. One of our most important goals is to clean the garage up enough to be able to park the truck in there. Steve has this huge fear that I will end up knocking his side mirrors off. He really needs to trust me. *grin*

He's almost through with packing up his gear, so that the 'army room' can be converted to a guest room. We have a queen size bed in the garage that needs to be moved up there, once the room is emptied out. The house is still in a shambles, even though I wake each day with grandiose ideas of cleaning. But then, both of us just feel extremely lazy and end up cuddling together on the sofa and watching television. I know that's not very productive, but it seems to be what we need the most. The cleaning can wait.

Quite a few of our friends will be leaving within the next couple of days. Steve is lucky to be one of the last to go, but that doesn't make it any easier. My heart breaks for those of my friends whose husbands leave before him. As I've said many times before, I hope the next year passes by quickly and all of our guys come home safe and sound. I've tried to make a list of things I want to accomplish over the next year. Mostly I want to sort through and purge a lot of the 'stuff' we've accumulated and simplify my surroundings. There are so many things that we've carried from house to house - stuff we really won't need when it's time to retire. I plan to take advantage of local venues like Fairbanks Freecycle and Fairbanks Garage Sale, rather than toss good stuff in the dumpster. I'll probably also post in some of the online groups I belong to. I'd much rather give those I know an opportunity to take stuff before I offer it up to the rest of the city. I don't like to toss 'good stuff', while we have so many in the communty who are needy.

I start back to work on August 23rd. The summer went much too quickly for me, but I almost look forward to going back to work. It will give me a reason to get up and out of bed three days a week. And that's very important. My class in Photojournalism starts on September 5th. I'm really looking forward to that too. I haven't paid any of my fees yet, but I have time. I've been putting it all off until I go back to work and Steve is gone. Things to keep me busy...

Over the last few days, we've had smoke here in Fairbanks. It's very reminiscent of last summer, but not nearly as bad (thank goodness!). I can 'taste' it in my mouth when I wake up and it's been triggering some asthma attacks too. I hate to close the windows because it's also been very warm (80's) and the wind is nonexistent. It's times like this that I wish for air conditioning. Fortunately, at night the temperature still dips into the 50s and sleeping - when I don't have insomnia - is very comfortable. We go to bed kicking off just a sheet, and wake in the middle of the night to pull on a thermal blanket. It's perfect.

While we still don't have night - as in pitch darkness - we are getting longer hours of dusk and dawn. Before long, we'll be seeing the stars again. I'm disappointed that we're missing the meteor shower that's been entertaining people in the Lower 48. Or perhaps I'm just not waiting up late enough for this display?

I took Sedona for a long walk yesterday through the nearby woods. The smoke was fairly heavy, so the skies were an awful flat gray color. But more and more foliage is changing colors. Berries have appeared on the dwarf dogwood and the high bush cranberry plants. The fireweed is now blooming at the top, and the leaves on the plant are turning a brilliant red in places. I took a pocketful of peanuts with me for Ms. Squirrel. She scolded me from high above me on a tree branch, but I placed the peanuts on the top of the fence - hoping she'd come down to fetch them after Sedona and I went on our way. They weren't there when we passed by that way again. If she didn't get them, some other Fairbanks wildlife did.

Last night, we drove down to the Chena River to get a close up view of the beavers who have built a lodge there. Rachael and I have seen a baby beaver while walking in the morning. I hoped to see the baby again, but only an adult was enjoying a swim.

We noticed some drag marks in the dirt and through the woods and followed the path. The beavers have been busy gnawing down trees and dragging them along this path to the river. Although we had to push aside branches and bushes to follow the path, we soon came to a huge clearing where the beavers have destroyed every tree within range. This circle had to be 25 feet in diameter. I tried to imagine such a 'small' creature dragging a long tree behind him. What strength! And what damage they've done to the surrounding forest! Perhaps someday I'll catch them busy at their work and manage to snap a photograph.

Wednesday, August 17 - Sitting in Limbo, Saying Goodbye to a Friend, & a Birthday

Sorry for the delay in updating. Lately, I just haven't been in the right frame of mind to write here. Steve is still here. That's a GREAT thing, but also causes its own rollercoaster of emotions because at this time he has no date or time for a flight out. He'll be last to go, since he has to coordinate everyone else's departure and the shipping of cargo. That's good for me, but not knowing a hard date and time is very unsettling for two people who are very organized. We spend every single moment as if it's our last, but the last week has felt like a week of mourning, and frankly we're both exhausted. I have so many friends who have already said goodbye to their husbands. They keep journals too, and reading their words about saying goodbye, and crying babies, and buses pulling away, tugs at my heart and brings a fresh stream of tears. Perhaps I shouldn't read these things, but they are friends of mine and their pain is my pain. Soon, it will be my turn to write about a sad goodbye.

Rachael, Susan and LuAnn were supposed to say goodbye to their husbands very early this morning. When I went to bed last night, one of the last thoughts in my mind was of my three friends - knowing that it would be their last night to cuddle around the man they love... for a very long time. When Steve and I woke up this morning at 6:30am, we curled into each other and he said, "James, Stephen and Ken are probably already gone." I couldn't help but cry for my friends. It made me hold Steve even tighter.

Then, when I got up, I found an instant message from Susan... the flight was canceled! They get a couple more days home with their families! That's wonderful news for sure, but just makes the separation process even harder. They had all said their emotional goodbyes yesterday. And will have to do it again. Susan summed it up nicely when she wrote, "It's like pulling off a bandaid slowly." I know exactly how she feels.

Last night, Shawna came by with the babies, Courtney and Collin. As I type this, she is on her way to the Canadian border as she begins her drive home to upstate NY. She said goodbye to Jay yesterday afternoon. When she arrived at my house, I could see that the afternoon and the goodbye had been hard on her. We visited with one another for an hour or so, and then I walked her to her car. As we hugged goodbye, we both started crying hard. As military families, we are used to saying goodbye to friends along the way, but it never makes it easy. When you say goodbye to someone you've grown close to, you realize that you may never see each other again. I am blessed to have known Shawna for the last two years. I found a quotation online that sums up my feelings about this farewell: "How lucky I am to have known someone who was so hard to say goodbye to." ~ Unknown

Before I finish this entry, I want to say Happy Birthday to my brother, Steve! I wish I could be with you celebrating - I miss you very much! Lots of kisses and hugs!

Thursday, August 18 - Special Friends & Farewell Banners
My friend Dianne came for dinner last night. She brought markers so we could decorate a sheet for Steve. After a delicious dinner of ravioli with alfredo sauce and chicken breasts, Dianne handed Steve a beautifully wrapped box. Inside the box was a beautiful pewter angel, and a small card with this sentiment on it:

This 'Angel of Friendship' is a reminder that God gives us friends to experience His love for us. Friends share our joys and sorrows, our hopes and dreams, and support us in times of need. Yet our greatest gifts are through love and prayer for one another. As we visualize our friends in spirit, love flows freely; and we see all things as possible, for prayers honoring love are always answered.

Steve put the angel, in its blue velvet bag, in the uniform pocket near his calf. In the other calf pocket, he has the dogtag that I had made for him. Everyone was getting a bit choked up, but I really lost it when Dianne took a length of yellow ribbon and tied it around the back of the chair that Steve sits in during dinner. She tied the first knot and I tied the second. She completed the bow. She told Steve it would stay there until he came home and removed it himself. It wasn't just the symbolism of the yellow ribbon on the chair that made me cry - but the realization that the chair would be empty for a year.

We finished the sheet as best we could. There is no need to put Steve's last name on it. He would know it was meant for him just because of the things that are written there. Things we say to each other everyday - many times a day... "Have I told you?" (This means, "Have I told you I love you?" - which we always do, but when one of us says this to the other, the response is always, "Yes, but you can tell me again." And we do.) Another thing we say to each other, especially before falling asleep, is "You're the love of my life." And when one of us just says "I love you" to the other, the response is always "I love you more." So, even though there are no last names on the sheet, Steve will know it's for him. Dianne wrote something for him on it too.

Just then the phone rang. It was my youngest son, Brandon. He wanted to wish Steve a safe deployment. (Brandon was over there with the Marines when the war first started). There may be 30 years difference in their ages, but they share a special bond. When Dianne and I headed out to hang the sheet up, Steve was still laying across the bed, talking to Brandon. They talked for more than an hour. I'm glad.

Dianne drove me down to the ballfield and before we found our spot to hang the sheet, she drove me past all the other banners, sheets, and signs. Reading them just broke my heart. :( I made a sort of collage of some of the sheets hanging on the fence. (Click the photos for enlargements)

Just as we were leaving, a car pulled up behind us and a young mother got out. She had a sheet too, but her kids were too little to help (4 and 21 months). We offered our help, and she gladly accepted. After we got her sheet hung up, I took a few photos of it, and got her email address so I could email her the photos. We didn't know each other, but yet we shared the military wife bond.

When I got home and said goodbye to Dianne, Steve and I took a long walk with Sedona. We headed down to the river, walking slowly, holding hands, talking.... stopping to kiss along the way. *sigh* I'm really going to miss our walks.

I've got him with me for the weekend. No exact date or time still, but early next week seems fairly certain. I'm supposed to report back to work on Tuesday, but if he's still here (or has just left), I might email my boss and tell her I'll start the following week. It's something she agreed to when I left in May, so at least I have some flexibility in my return to work date.

Saturday, August 20 - Hiking on Murphy Dome & A Few Extra Days!

We finally got a date for Steve's departure. I can't be too specific here for security purposes, but getting a hard date and time has brought a sense of calm over both of us. Not knowing when he was leaving had us both on edge. At least now we know how much time we have left before he goes. And we can better plan how we're going to spend that time.

Steve only worked a few hours on Thursday morning, so when he got home, we decided to drive up to the top of Murphy Dome and do some hiking. Thursday was a beautiful, smoke-free day and we didn't want to waste it. We took Sedona with us, as she loves the freedom of running unleashed across wide open spaces.

The view from the top of the hill wasn't as sweeping as it is on a clear day. The range wasn't visible due to the smoke on the horizon. Although the wind had blown the smoke out of Fairbanks for the day, it still hung thick over the hills and valleys off to the northeast.

We walked out to the Tors rocks, enjoying the solitude and the sunshine. It was a little chilly up there and the wind gusted strongly at times. But it was a beautiful day to be 'on top of the world' and alone with one another. Hand in hand, we walked across bouncy muskeg, taking note of the abundance of blueberries and low-bush cranberries. Unfortunately, the blueberries are already shriveling so we didn't stop to pick any.

On the way back up the path to the truck, Sedona took a wrong step and injured one of her legs. She's fine today, so it was probably just a sprain or strain. We had to slow down sufficiently so that she could keep up, as she was favoring it heavily. The slowdown was fine with me, as the grade rises steadily, and I was tired myself. Here are some more photos I took. Click to enlarge them.

My Guy and My Girl

Hands Entwined
Hearts Entwined

Yesterday, my friends Susan, Rachael and LuAnn said goodbye to their husbands. I felt very sad for them. There are no words to ease the pain of sending the love of your life off to a war zone. It is a pain and sorrow that is indescribable. The actual farewell is hard enough, but I think the real sadness occurs when you go home. Photographs on the walls... articles of clothing, shoes, personal effects which belong to your mate... the smell of him on his pillow or his bathrobe. He is around you everywhere you look, and yet you can't touch him, hold him, or speak to him. I am dreading it.

I have a friend who found a half empty bottle of soda in the refrigerator last year before her husband deployed. He put it there on the afternoon he left. She left it there until he came home. The thought of pouring it down the drain upset her, because his lips had touched that bottle. My friend LuAnn came home after saying goodbye and found the half-empty coffee mug her husband drank from that morning. It was still warm. She cried as she poured it down the sink. It is so easy to understand her tears...

Last night, Steve pulled a package of chicken out of the freezer and told me to invite Rachael and Susan over for dinner. I wasn't sure if they'd want to come over, and that was OK too. Some people just prefer to be alone when they are sad. But they both accepted the invite. We were both happy to have them. Before we ate dinner, Steve said a few words. It was so touching, and very emotional for all of us. Next year, we plan to gather around the table sharing a meal and celebrating their homecoming and our friendship. God protect all of our soldiers....

My next door neighbor, Leon, is one of the few husbands who is married to a deployed soldier. He's retired military and has done his time in Iraq. His wife, Pat, left this past Sunday. Last night, as Steve was closing the blinds in our bedroom, he asked me to come to the window. The spruce tree in front of their house is decorated with yellow ribbons. Tears came to both our eyes at the sight.

This morning, I went walking with Rachael. It was the first time in a long time for me. Tomorrow Susan will go with us. We hope to walk until it's too cold to walk. This morning it was indeed chilly. At 7:30am, it was only 39F! We went walking an hour later, and it wasn't much warmer. My ears were freezing and Rachael's hands were numb with cold. Looking at the weather forecast for the next week, it appears as though we'll still be reaching the 60s in the afternoon, but our mornings will certainly be chilly. I suppose it's safe to say that autumn has arrived.

Monday, August 22 - Making the most of our time together

Steve and I have been taking care of some chores around the house before he leaves. Our biggest chore was readying the garage for his truck. We were successful - which means that the truck will have a nice warm home this winter, and I won't have to be scraping ice and snow off of it before I go to work in the morning.

Other than that, we've been doing lazy things - like watching movies together, cuddling, and taking long walks in the woods nearby. Sometimes I find myself looking at him at various times during the day and envisioning him gone. I look over at him as he lays stretched out on the sofa, and I imagine the sofa empty. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I cuddle into him and hold him close, knowing our nights are numbered. The nights are going to be so lonely. *sigh*

Today, we took a nice long walk with Sedona. We went in search of the beaver family, but didn't even see a tail smack on the river. I had my camera and took a few photos of the turning leaves. It was a gloriously sunny day - and not a bit of smoke either. We just had to get out in it. We walked for a few miles, taking a path we haven't walked since we moved here. I was a bit apprehensive about moose encounters as this path is known for them. A friend of mine was chased by one last summer, and Steve and Sedona encountered one near the path last fall. But there were no signs of moose - just plenty of chattering squirrels and noisy ravens.

We saw ducks in the river, tail feathers in the air as they submerged their heads looking for something to nibble on. They must have been concentrating on eating; they hardly budged, even when Sedona got into the river and started swimming toward them. It's hard to believe that the river will soon have small patches of ice floating on it - especially when it's a gorgeous sunny day and feels so much like summer.

Steve's old company (Charlie Co 1-17), got "Daddy Dolls" for all the children in the company. Even though I'm no longer a part of the company, I still hang out with the great friends I made there. Susan was sweet enough to get me a "Daddy Doll", however we women without kids call them "Hubby Dolls". The dolls are about 15 inches tall and have a clear plastic place on the face to slide a photo of your soldier. It comes with long hair (just in case it's a Mommy Doll), so we gave our dolls haircuts so they'd look like our husbands. They are so funny looking with photos of our husbands' faces in the pocket! It looks like our guys are astronauts!

Rachael and I were joking that we're going to take all our Hubby Dolls with us on our adventures (chick flick night, dinner and a movie, etc.) and get pictures of them participating. Then we'll email them to the guys. I think they'll get a kick out of that. *grin*

As you can see by the photo at left, I gave Steve a nice "high and tight" haircut. I also posed my Deployment Bear with him. I'll keep both in bed with me at night. I got the bear from my friend Marcella.

I doubt you'll hear from me until after Steve leaves. Our days (and hours) are numbered now, and my main focus is on spending every moment I can with him. Thank you to all of you who have sent emails of encouragement and well wishes. They are much appreciated and lift my heart. It's going to be a tough year without my darling husband, but I will survive.

Saturday, August 27 - Sad Farewells and finally a Phonecall!

Over the last several days, Steve and I spent nearly every waking moment together. Keeping up with my journal was the last thing on my mind; all I wanted to do was devote all of my love and attention to my husband.

When we found out that Steve would be flying out early Friday morning, our only concern was making the most of our remaining days and hours. We were blessed with sunny blue skies, and took daily walks in the woods near our house. We considered going out to dinner, or taking in a movie, but then mutually decided we'd rather 'hole up' in the house with each other. I'm so glad we did. Our last two days together were bittersweet, but we wanted it no other way.

Scenes from our walk (Click to enlarge)

I took Steve to his office at 9:30pm on Thursday night. Even though he wasn't scheduled to fly out for several hours, there was still much to do to prepare for the long journey. We went up to his office, where we could be alone and sat together on the sofa there, talking and holding each other. I stayed with him until 11pm.

He walked me down to his truck and we said our final goodbyes. I felt like my heart was being ripped from my chest. It was definitely one of the saddest days of my life. Neither of us wanted to let go of each other and I wished that it could all be a bad dream that we'd wake up from. When I drove away, and heard him yell across the parking lot, "I love you, Babydoll", the tears flowed so heavily that I could barely see to make my way home. I felt so empty inside.

A few minutes after arriving home, the phone rang. It was Steve, calling me from his office. As painful as it was to prolong the goodbye, I desperately needed to hear his voice again. We ended our phone call and I fell into bed exhausted. It was so difficult to lay in our bed without him next to me and I cried myself to sleep.

The next morning, Steve called again. There was an additional delay and they still hadn't left Alaska. He was on the Air Force base nearby. I was sad that he spent the night sleeping on the floor in a hangar, when he could have spent the night with me, but such is life in the military. Things don't always go as planned. I was very thankful to hear his voice again.

Yesterday afternoon, I went to lunch with Rachael and then we picked up some movies. I hosted "chick flick night" at my house last night and cooked dinner for all of us. The movies were entertaining and funny ("The Wedding Date" and "Beauty Shop"), which took our minds off of our loneliness for a little while. We all had our Hubby Dolls, so we had to get a photo of the 'guys' watching chick flicks with us. (Something they would NEVER do in real life!)

Susan and Rachael went home a little after 10pm and I went up to bed. I had a very fitful night and hardly slept at all. I catnapped on and off all night and woke up this morning exhausted. I hope these sleepless nights aren't a regular occurrence. *sigh* As of 9:30am I still hadn't heard from Steve, and felt the sadness inside of me grow again. I'm not worried about the intensity of these emotions, as I have several friends who said goodbye to their husbands a week ago and are still having crying fits. I'm sure it will take a few weeks for us to get past the initial 'grieving' process and get into a routine.

Then, at 10am my time, the phone rang and I didn't recognize the number on the caller ID. It was my darling husband! How wonderful to hear his voice! He's still in Europe - where he was supposed to lay over only for a few hours. Their plane broke down, so they'll be there overnight. Because of the problem, the Air Force picked up the tab for their hotel - and they don't even have to share a room. Steve was thrilled to get a hot shower, and wash his uniform. He also has a phone in his hotel room, as well as a small kitchenette and a sitting room with television. We talked for nearly an hour. The phone card he is using (our AT&T long distance card) has 1000 domestic minutes on it. When he placed the call, those domestic minutes translated into only 136 international minutes! Unbelievable! I added an additional 1500 minutes to the card so he won't run out of time. I hope he finds a place to get more reasonable phone cards over there. At this rate, AT&T is going to make a fortune off of us. He's going to call me tonight, and I'm staying in to wait for his call, since I don't know when I'll hear from him again.

One day at a time...

Wednesday, August 31 - Missing his Voice, Mother Nature's Cheer, Returning to Work

The past three or four days have gone by quickly. I suppose that's a good thing. The nights are hard. It's quiet in the house and hard for me to fall off to sleep comfortably. I leave my computer on and turned up loud, so I can hear if Steve gets onto Yahoo Messenger and sends a message. It's so hard not knowing when or if he's going to be able to call.

I spoke to him by phone on Saturday night. The connection left a lot to be desired and I heard my sentences repeated back to me as if I was standing in a bucket. But I heard his voice and that's all that mattered. I was already in bed when he called. He's 11 hours ahead of me, and it was already morning for him and he was about to get started on another grueling day.

On Sunday, I went to a Gold Canyon Candle party with Rachael, Susan and Marcella. It was nice to get out, sniff some fragrant candles, and chat with other women who are also in the midst of this deployment. I came away from the party with quite a few candles to make my house smell nice during the winter.

After the candle party, Susan, Rachael and I went to Boston's for lunch. The conversation took a sad turn, as Susan was feeling pretty down. Fortunately, Rachael and I were in pretty good moods. When one is down, the others lift her up. I am so thankful for our friendship. When I got home I found an email from Steve. It was very short and basically said that I might not hear from him for a few days. That made me sad... and worried.

On Monday, I walked with Rachael, and then picked up LuAnn to take her to lunch. LuAnn's been feeling a bit down too, so going out to eat, and then taking our cameras out shooting was good therapy for us. We first stopped by Creamers Field to see the cranes. There were still quite a few of them on the field, but they were farther out than I would have liked. Nevertheless, I did capture this gorgeous bird as he made his way across the field. (Click all photos for enlargement)

From Creamers Field, we drove down to the Botanical Gardens. As soon as we got out of the truck, it started spitting rain. I like photographing flowers in a gentle rain, but it got heavier until we finally gave up and went back to the truck. I did manage to take a few photos of some of the colorful flowers which are still in bloom before the deluge came.

Flowers have spoken to me more than I can tell in written words. They are the hieroglyphics of angels, loved by all men for the beauty of their character, though few can decipher even
fragments of their meaning.
~Lydia M. Child ~

As fate would have it, the rain stopped as soon as we got back on the road. So I decided to drive up to the little city park on Chena Pump Rd. There are beautiful views of the river from there. It appears as if there are many people here in Fairbanks who aren't ready to say goodbye to summer yet. The parking area was full of vehicles and boat trailers. It's hard to believe that the river will have ice floating in it in a month or so. I took a few photos while we were there. LuAnn busied herself carving a message of love to her husband in the sand.

Click to enlarge

Yesterday (Tuesday) was my first day back to work. I was depressed because I hadn't heard from Steve since his phone call on Saturday night and his email on Sunday afternoon. My day passed pretty quickly, as I had a lot of work to catch up on, but left me feeling sad.

I thought a lot about Steve and wondered what he was doing. I really missed his presence more than ever. My first day back to work is a big thing in our household. I always complain that the summer went too fast, and Steve sympathizes with me. He brings me my morning coffee (which he does most every morning anyway - I'm so spoiled!), and then he sends me off with a sweet kiss and a 'Have a nice day, Babydoll'. And I'm always guaranteed to get a phone call during my day to see how things are going.

But not this time. I felt empty inside as I got dressed for work. I wanted to just crawl back into bed and mope. I thought about Steve and wondered where he was and what he was doing. It was 6pm where he was.

When I got home from work yesterday, there were two messages from Steve on the answering machine. He called at 8:30am Alaska time, thinking it was only 6:30am my time! He miscalculated the time difference. I was so disappointed! I burst into tears. I really needed to hear from him yesterday....

I've been sending him emails, and instant messages. But I doubt that he's gotten them. If he did get them, he would have emailed me. I'm so worried that he's already headed 'north' and I didn't get a chance to talk to him before he moved. I hate that we're separated. I hate more that we have no communication. What makes it worse is that so many of my friends are hearing from their husbands on a regular basis - even daily. While I'm happy for them, I'm also envious. I miss him so much.

EDIT: I just got off the phone with Steve! We had a 20 minute conversation, and his voice was like music to my ears, although we still had the horrible echoing bucket sound. He gave me a list of things to add to his care package. I reminded him that he's got a love letter to read for his September Calendar page. I hope it still smells of my perfume. Things are going to get hectic now. Please keep him and all of our troops in your prayers.