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December 1st - WELCOME HOME JAMES!!!
a wonderful, and very emotional, day yesterday was! I am so thrilled
that I had the opportunity to share such a special event with Rachael!
I arrived at Rachael's house a little after 11am. She told me wanted
to leave for the AHA (Alert Holding Area) at 11:15am. James' plane
had landed at about 10:30 at Eielson, but it would take an hour
or so before they got on buses and arrived here at Fort Wainwright.
Parking was limited, and we didn't want to park too far away, so
we decided to go early and get a spot. Besides... Rachael would
have just paced a hole through her carpet anyway.
drove over and found two parking spots across the street. When we
got inside, there was already a crowd gathering. I'm glad we left
when we did. We ran into a few other wives we knew and chatted with
each other. Everyone was smiling. The air was charged with such
I had to test the settings on my camera to make sure I could get
decent photos in low lighting, and what better subject than Rachael?!
You can easily see the happiness in her eyes. (I then got my friend
LuAnn to take a photo of me and Rachael together.)
Steve called a little while later and let us know he was leaving
Eielson AFB, and James would be boarding a bus shortly to make the
trip along with the rest of the soldiers. Steve usually stays at
Eielson to take care of business, but he told the Colonel he wanted
to be here for James' and Rachael's reunion. Besides, Rachael had
given him the job of videographer. (Yes, Steve and I come as a photographic
service package sometimes. *grin*)
When we saw Steve coming towards us, we knew it was only a matter
of minutes. By this time there were a lot more people in the building,
so we moved to a position closer to the front line, so we could
get a better view. An announcement was made that the bus was at
the FRONT GATE!!!! Well, Rachael and I both started crying when
we heard that. I think she even said at one point, "He's really
the huge garage doors at the end of the building started going up,
and we could see the grills of the buses come into view. The whole
building erupted in cheers and the band started playing God Bless
America. The soldiers started filing off of the buses, with the
lead soldier waving the 1-17 battalion colors.
There was such a sense of excitement - both with the soldiers and
the families. I remembered another reunion five months before, when
my soldier came home. I will never forget the moment that
those garage doors opened and I knew he was home!
soldiers dropped their bags and moved into formation. Steve ran
out into the middle of the room, camera in hand! We were glad he
was there because there is no way they would have let us get up
close to the soldiers like he did! (That's Steve on the far left
with the camera videotaping) He told me after I showed him this
picture that the soldier on the right side of the photo - with the
dark hat - is JAMES! He told James to take off his hat, so Rachael
could recognize him.
the soldiers lined up before marching to the center of the building,
I saw James waving and smiling at Rachael. I don't think she had
seen him yet, so I turned to her and shouted, "THERE'S JAMES!!!"
Rachael immediately burst into tears of joy, relief and love. I
cried right along with her; so thankful that her soldier was home
safely! It was such an amazing moment, and I was happy to be sharing
it with my dear friend.
soldiers marched over to the center of the building so a short speech
could be given. Everyone was scanning the group looking for their
hero. Fortunately, the Colonel kept the speech short. It may have
lasted 45 seconds at most, before "Dismissed" was called.
And then there was chaos as people started running towards each
other. Husbands and wives embraced. New daddies saw their babies
for the first time. Fathers scooped up their children. Parents hugged
their sons and daughters. Everything was a blur as people ran across
the open floor.
saw James running from about 20 yards away. He and Rachael were
heading towards each other, but couldn't see each other because
their line of vision was blocked by other running families. I was
off to the side and saw when the crowd opened up and they saw each
other. Only a few steps later, and Rachael was in James' arms. The
deployment is over for them!
We still have several more planeloads of soldiers coming in over
the next several days. But soon, all of our Stryker Brigade soldiers
will be home. The community, and Fort Wainwright, is in a very celebratory
mood - with 'welcome home' festivities scheduled throughout the
month of December.
Here are some more photos I took yesterday:
I met up with Shawna and her children at the AHA too.
The three of them were dressed in camouflage to celebrate the special
day. If you've been reading my journal for awhile, you've seen photographs
of Courtney and Collin - her adorable children. Here are a few photographs
depicting their exciting day. Welcome Home, Jay!
Can she get any cuter?
Look at those eyelashes!
December 6th - Short days and beautiful sunsets
The past few days have been very
busy for Steve. He's gone down to Eielson to meet every plane of
Stryker soldiers. I think the last one came in today. If so, that
means all of our soldiers are home except for the 'trail party'
- who stay later to tie up loose ends. They should be home by mid
It's nice to have our troops back. The community is much more lively.
The restaurants are packed with tables full of families enjoying
a meal out. The commissary and PX are busy for the holiday season,
but also because there are a lot of soldiers home with disposable
income. It is so wonderful to see 'army bald' men everywhere; holding
hands with their children, with their arms around their wives, or
laughing with their friends. I smiled at a young soldier behind
me in line at Walmart. He was pushing a cart with a 3' Christmas
tree in it. I bet he's thrilled to be celebrating Christmas here
on American soil this year. It's so good to have them home!
The days are getting shorter as we approach December 21st and winter
solstice. Now, if I'm out running errands, I get to see a sunrise
and sunset within a few hours of each other. While the darkness
can sometimes be depressing, I get great joy in seeing the sky painted
in bright shades of orange and yellow.
The other day I met Steve for lunch, and as I was leaving the restaurant,
I saw the most glorious sunset. Huge billowy clouds were rolling
in, but they were uplit with bright orange. It was one of those
moments when I was glad I brought my camera out with me.
decided to cut through Fort Wainwright on the way home, and drove
past the ski hill, so I could pull over and take some photos without
holding up traffic. I continued onward to the one lane bridge and
the golf course, for some additional photos.The photos here were
taken between 2:30 and 3:00pm.
The one lane bridge
Footprints in the snow
Tall spruce and sunset
We're having quite a few issues here at the house with satellite
TV. We have Dish Network through ACS, and the technicians have been
out three times (and will be out on Saturday to run new cable).
The problem is that the only way to get any kind of credit for lost
service is to go through Dish Network themselves. It's such a mess
and extremely frustrating. The service is costing us $55/month,
and we don't have a signal 75% of the time. Unfortunately - unless
we swear off television - there are no other options where we live
now. We have 90 days to decide if we're going to stay with Dish
or not. If the techs can't fix it this time, we're going to have
them take the dish away. It's not worth the aggravation or the money.
Then, this morning, I woke up to find that my DSL line is down
too. What else could go wrong? First no television; now no internet.
I think someone is trying to tell us that we don't need the conveniences
of the modern world. Because of this, I'm not sure when I'll get
this entry uploaded to my site.
Steve's birthday is on Friday. He'll be 52 years old. It's hard
to believe how quickly time passes! I asked him what he wanted for
his birthday, and he said he wanted a snow blower. Why is it that
men (maybe just my man?) choose really expensive 'toys' for gifts?
It is now Saturday, December 9th. Yesterday, a technician
from ACS gave us the phone number to get a dial-up internet connection
as a temporary fix. They still don't know what's wrong with our
DSL. Our phones work just fine, so I don't understand it either.
It has been several weeks of frustration for both of us. The satellite
TV is still down, and every time the technicians come out from ACS,
they get it up for one day and then it fails again. It takes a week
or more to get them back out here. They are due to come out here
in an hour. Personally, I don't think they know what they're doing.
ACS just got into the Dish Network business, and it seems that these
techs must have gotten a crash course in how to set the system up.
It's especially frustrating when they stand on your roof and say,
"I don't know why this isn't working". We're between a
rock and a hard place. If we go outside of ACS for a technician,
we have to pay for the service call. On top of all this, any hope
for credits or refunds has to go directly through Dish Network (an
entity in the Lower 48), who has no idea what we're going through
up here. I wish the customer service reps at Dish Network had a
dialog with the techs here, but I doubt it. If they did, they'd
see first hand that we've been without service almost consistently
since day one.
living room is finally as put together as it's going to get. I even
put the Christmas tree up. Now the dining room looks like a bomb
blew up in there, but slowly that will come around too. I just hope
it's in time for Christmas. We don't have any formal plans for Christmas.
Now that our soldiers are home, most have opted for a quiet holiday
at home with their families, or are going 'home' to their extended
family. Understandable after more than 15 months deployed!
Every year I have a problem with the 'blues', but it seems a lot
worse this year. I'm thankful for a husband who does his best to
comfort me, even when it doesn't seem to work very well. This has
been one heck of a year for me, with so many changes and so much
sadness and stress. I suppose these plummeting spirits are to be
expected. It doesn't mean I have to like it though.
We're almost at our shortest day of the year, and the darkness
isn't helping either. Last year, around this time, I was preparing
for my trip to Madison, WI to see my sons and my daughter-in-love.
Spending time with them was such a mood lifter. And it got me out
of dark Fairbanks for a couple of weeks too. I miss my family.
I know that with everything, this too shall pass. I am confident
that once I get past the new year, things will be much better. The
dogsled races will start up again. There will be more activities
going on around town. Things will hopefully calm down a bit with
Steve's work schedule. Perhaps we'll even regain some sense of normalcy
in our life. Just a few more weeks...
Yesterday, for Steve's birthday, I baked him a German Chocolate
cake and made him a nice dinner. Rachael also baked him a German
Chocolate cake (his favorite)! With both our birthdays so close
to Christmas, we usually don't go overboard on birthday gifts. Gifts
really aren't that important anyway; if we want something bad enough,
we get it whether it's our birthday or not. But I did pick him up
an alarm clock (he fried his in Iraq), that 'wakes you gently'.
The tone starts out low in volume and then gradually gets louder.
I also threw in the movie Mission Impossible III. He was pleased
with his gifts, even though there wasn't a snow blower in the garage.
I don't know if Santa is going to get that memo this year. *grin*
The weather here has been unseasonably warm, while we watch the
arctic winds and temperatures take over the Lower 48. It hasn't
snowed in a long time - just a few flurries about a week ago. I
love when it snows, but I also don't want to wish a blizzard on
us with 3 feet of accumulation. I'm also not anxious to see -40F
on the thermometer anytime soon, but I have a feeling we're going
to see some bad weather later this month or in January. I suppose
we should just enjoy this while we have it. At least it's keeping
our fuel oil consumption down.
Here are some more photos from around the house, and various other
things I've shot over the past week. The first photo is of the bird
feeder my friend Kathy sent me as a housewarming gift. Steve added
a suet feeder to the tree a few days later. I haven't seen any activity
around either lately, but I think the squirrels are helping themselves
since there are seeds spread all over the ground beneath it.
Bird feeder from my friend Kathy
Another glorious sunset
My Santa Collection
December 15th - My Awesome Soldier!
It's been a great week, and for
this I am thankful. My winter blues took a short hiatus for a few
days, leaving me feeling much more cheerful and energetic. I've
accomplished a little more around the house (will I ever
be totally through with unpacking and finding places for everything?),
and Steve has been able to get home a little earlier in the evening,
and managed to have most of last weekend off. I have really missed
having my husband around on the weekends, but I know that he was
needed much more by all of our returning soldiers.
This past Sunday, Steve and I accompanied Rachael and James to
Pikes Landing for their Champagne Brunch. It was absolutely wonderful
- just as we remember from the last time we all went (in the summer,
in a little boat down the Chena River). We ate our fill of breakfast
foods, salmon, ham, roast beef, crepes, desserts, and more than
a little champagne. Thank goodness for our designated drivers (Steve
and James), because Rachael and I truly got our money's worth in
champagne alone. As an added surprise, the Trujillo's picked up
our tab in honor of our birthdays. We planned to pick up the tab
in honor of James' return from Iraq, so we're going to have to go
back again to do that. We're looking forward to it.
On Wednesday evening, Steve and I attended a Hail and Farewell
for Sr. NCOs (non-commissioned officers) and Officers. It was held
at Pikes Waterfront Hotel, in a beautifully decorated room. The
mode of dress was Alaska Casual, which means that jeans and sweaters,
flannel shirts, etc. were acceptable. We love Alaska Casual dress
mandates! Hail and Farewell events are held so that outgoing personnel
can be presented with awards or plaques commemorating the service
they've done for the company. Since Steve is retiring next year,
we thought that perhaps he'd be receiving a going away plaque for
his time as the 1SG.
Colonel called up two LTCs and Steve to receive awards. What a huge
surprise it was for all three to be awarded the Holy Medal of Saint
Maurice! This was totally unexpected, and was such a heart-felt
moment for both Steve and I. To see the surprise in his eyes, followed
by deep emotion, is something I will remember forever. I am so proud
of Steve for all of his hard work and dedication to his soldiers.
He is not only a loving husband, but a caring and committed leader
Here is the story behind the medal:
Martyrdom of St. Maurice
Maurice was Primicerius of the Theban Legion. In 287 AD, the
Theban Legion marched in service of the Roman Empire fighting against
the revolt of the Berguadae Gauls. The legion was composed entirely
of Christians recruited from Upper Egypt, near the Valley of Kings.
The legion was ordered to perform service under Augustus Maximian
Hercules. Maurice led the legion through Egypt, across the Mediterranean,
through Italy, and over the Alps. The legion was ordered to offer
pagan sacrifices, to the Gods of Rome, before battle near the river
Rhone-at-Martigny. The Theban Legion refused to participate and
withdrew to the town of Agaunum (Saint Maruice-en-Valais), also
refusing to kill innocent civilians in the conduct of duty. Enraged,
Maximian ordered every tenth legionnaire decimated. A second time
Maximian ordered the Legion to participate in pagan rites. Again
they refused to participate. Maximian ordered a second group decimated.
Maurice declared his earnest desire to obey every other order lawful
in the eyes of God. It is said he replied: "We have seen our
comrades killed," followed by, "Rather than sorrow, we
rejoice at the honor done to them." At this time Maximian ordered
the total butchery of the Theban Legion, and the martyrdom of Saint
Maurice. He provided loyal service to Rome. For his courage, commitment,
and his strength of conviction, he was declared a Saint by the Catholic
Church, and designated as the protector and Patron Saint of weavers,
dyers, sword-smiths, and Infantry Soldiers.
was my birthday. I turned 47 years old. I am not ashamed to tell
my age, as I believe that age is just a number and doesn't define
who you are as a person. I saw a cute quotation about birthdays:
"A birthday is just the first day of another 365-day
journey around the sun. Enjoy the trip!" I certainly
plan to do just that! I am thankful to have good health, loving
friends, caring family, and a wonderful life mate at my side.
The photo at left was taken on my 3rd birthday. I think I look
much happier at turning 47 then I did turning 3! And I even had
two cakes back then. I suppose I should blame Mom and those double
cakes for the pudgy thighs I've had my whole life! It's a good thing
she didn't bake us a cake for every year of our age, or I'd be in
It was a quiet day for me, which is OK. Steve came home at lunchtime
and took me out to The Pagoda for some Chinese food. As always,
it was delicious. Then he was sweet enough to take me to the North
Pole post office to mail off some more cards and packages, and didn't
even complain when he had to wait 35 minutes for me to get through
the line. Unfortunately, he had to go back to work for the afternoon,
but when he came home last night he made dinner, poured me a glass
of wine, and gave me a terrific foot massage. It was a quiet evening
at home with my favorite guy; exactly what I wanted and needed.
love this time of year because of all the goodies I find in my mailbox.
I've been getting cards from a lot of friends and family over the
last two weeks. I strung a ribbon on a wall, and I hang them from
there so I can enjoy them during the holiday season. My friend Kerry
sent me a cute moose nightlight for the guest bathroom. He's dressed
as Santa, and casts a red glow in the room. So cute! He goes wonderfully
with my moose decor. I found a 'wildlife' shower curtain for that
bathroom, and hung two of my moose prints in there. Both photos
were taken at Denali National Park just before the park closed for
the season in mid September.
of moose, I haven't seen too many lately. I know they're around
because I find nibbled branches in my yard, and there was even a
small sapling down across our driveway the other morning. The little
branches had been chewed off. There are times that I open the door
to let Sedona out (at night), and she looks off into the trees and
begins to growl and make gruff sounds under her breath.
You have to be careful when driving at night here. Especially now
that nightfall is so early. I've seen moose dart across the road
seemingly out of nowhere. If you're not vigilant, you could end
up with a huge hood ornament and a totaled car. The moose photo
above was taken the night before last, on the way home from the
awards ceremony. Fortunately, she was content to stay on the side
of the road. When I took the photo, the flash spooked her and she
went running off into the trees. I'm glad. I'd hate to see her get
hit, and I'd hate to see people get hurt too.
dear friend Michele (we grew up together in Philadelphia), and husband
James, sent Steve and I the 2006 White House Ornament. This is the
9th ornament in our collection! (Thank you very much!!!!) It is
always such a thrill to find it in our mailbox. Also included with
the ornament was a lovely Christmas card photo of their beautiful
daughters, Maddie and Josie. It's always so surprising - and bittersweet
- to watch my friends' children grow up so quickly. Where does the
We're 'on again/off again' with our Dish Network service. I'm really
not happy with the service, but as long as we're getting 80% of
our channels, we're relatively satisfied. It just stinks to have
to pay so much money for television reception. (We're so spoiled,
aren't we? I remember when we only got 3-4 channels on TV, and you
had to use rabbit ears to get them!)
My DSL is working again too. Thank goodness! Dial up was driving
me crazy. I don't know how we survived with Dial up for all those
years. We didn't get fast internet until we came here to Alaska.
Until then, I thought Dial up was just fine. I know I should be
thankful that fast internet is even available where we live. Many
folks in AK don't have any internet service at all. I'm so addicted
to it; it's my main contact to family and friends!
It's hard to believe that Christmas is only 10 days away. While
it will be a quiet Christmas at our home, it will also be a very
special one. I am so thankful to have my husband home safe and sound,
where we can hold each other and take advantage of the mistletoe
sprinkled throughout the house (he's a sneaky guy!), rather than
share holiday greetings via web cam or telephone. Likewise, I am
happy for all of my friends who have their soldiers home too.
Please keep those troops who are not spending the holidays at home
in your thoughts and prayers, and never forget those who made the
ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives for our country.
December 18th - Scenic Drives
This past weekend (including today)
has been wonderful for Steve and I. It's the first weekend in almost
a month that he's actually had the entire weekend off. He's also
taking today off, and we plan to just chill out and do nothing.
Right now, he's out running last minute errands for me; standing
in the dreaded line at the Post Office, to get some more cards and
small packages in the mail. I'll be glad when the Christmas rush
spent Saturday unpacking some more boxes and getting the dining
room in some semblance of order. At least the table is now cleared
off and we can actually host dinner here. I still have some of my
photos stacked against the wall for placement throughout the house,
but I've hung those I wanted in that room. Someday I'd like to get
a new dining room table and chairs, but it's not a priority. What
we have is quite sufficient.
On Sunday, we were up early and eating ham and swiss cheese omelets
with bagels and cream cheese. Steve is the absolute best breakfast
chef in the world! I love weekend breakfasts when he cooks for us.
What a delicious way to start the day.
We packed up the emergency box for the truck (sleeping bags, water,
candles, matches, extra clothes and outer gear, crackers, etc.),
loaded up my camera gear, and took off for Chena
Hot Springs Resort - about 60 miles away. We were both in need
of a quiet scenic drive, after weeks of getting settled in and military
homecoming events. The emergency box is a must when you go off driving
here in Alaska. Chena Hot Springs Road, while not desolate, winds
through miles of wilderness about 25 miles down the road. Except
for a few homes here and there, and the occasional campground, you're
basically on your own.
Length of day is now less than 4 hours, however there is visible
daylight for about 6 hours with the period of dawn and dusk before
and after the sun rises and sets. Believe me - it passes quickly.
Sometimes it seems like I'm just getting started on my day when
the sun starts moving back down again. Thank goodness, we only have
a few more days and we'll be gaining daylight.
We had a peaceful drive; keeping our eyes open for moose along
the way. The road had some slick areas in places, so we couldn't
even maintain the speed limit - which is perfectly fine with me.
I prefer a leisurely drive, slow enough so that I can enjoy the
road goes over various sloughs and forks of the Chena River. For
the most part, the waterways are frozen, however there are some
areas where the current is running swift and still carves a thin
opening in the ice and snow. One of my favorite places to stop for
photographs is the Tors Trail State Campground at about mile 45.
When we arrived at Chena Hot Springs Resort, we decided to have
lunch before heading back home. The food is expensive, but the restaurant
has nice ambience with its log walls and wood trim. We opted for
burgers, and although I ordered mine well-done, it didn't arrive
that way. They cooked me another one, but because I had to wait
an extra 30 minutes for my meal after Steve was served, the manager
comped my meal. We didn't even complain about the mix-up, but she
took care of us anyway. Very nice!
There weren't too many people swimming in the hot springs. It was
cold, so Steve and I only did a short lap around the premises so
I could take a few photos. I love the way the frost forms on the
trees there. The warm steam coming off the hot springs freezes on
the trees and branches almost immediately, making them thick with
hoarfrost. It truly looks like a landscape out of some far off arctic
On the way home, we watched the sun dip below the hills in front
of us. A beautiful band of orange stretched just above the hills,
as the sky turned a deeper and deeper blue. We didn't see any moose,
but we did drive by a musher/handler training his sled dogs for
the upcoming race season. The photo is blurry because I took it
from the moving truck (and past Steve and out his window), but I
wanted you to see that the team is pulling a four-wheeler. When
the snow isn't deep enough for a sled, four-wheelers are a good
alternative. A four-wheeler is a four-wheel all-terrain vehicle
that weighs about 500 pounds and has an engine that can be used
to regulate how fast the dogs run and how hard they pull. Good training!
Tors Trail Campground
Tors Trail Campground
Tors Trail Campground
Tors Trail Campground
Sunlight on the Slough
The Bent Tree
Tire tracks on the river
Chena Hot Springs Cabin
Chena Hot Springs
Steve and frosty landscape
The Ice Hotel
Leaving Chena Hot Springs
Training the dogs
The Alaska Range
Sunset at 2:30pm
Band of orange
(It's now a few hours later): While I'm updating this journal,
Steve is behind me organizing/unpacking the home office. When I
hear something hit the trash can, I have to turn and look because
I just never know what he's classifying as worthless. This is a
man who has carried a fuel plug for a Humvee around with him since
1987. If he thinks it has value, it must. However, whatever I carry
with me is automatically determined to be of no use at all. (I'm
exaggerating somewhat, but it is VERY important that I keep an eye
on that trash can. I have a feeling some of you can relate to this!)
The other day, my eldest son Chris called me to let me know
that he had received the box I sent him. This wasn't a box of Christmas
gifts. Instead, it was a box of old Christmas ornaments from his
and his brother's childhood.
When the boys were little, I removed all glass ornaments from the
tree, since they were quite fond of playing with whatever they could
reach, and were also not the most careful when riding their little
pedal toys in the house. In the place of the glass balls, I hand
sewed about two dozen stuffed ornaments. There were angels and Santas
and reindeer and carolers, etc. I also made candy canes and snowflakes
out of wire and beads. And there were a few painted wooden ornaments.
After moving into this house, we discovered that the packers had
unpacked my 'old ornaments' boxes and repacked them - combining
them with the ornaments I currently use on my tree. It was time
to do the sorting I had put off for years. I gathered up all of
those stuffed ornaments, along with some of the early ornaments
my kids made me in school (their picture on a margarine lid with
glitter and painted elbow macaroni), pipe cleaner reindeer, and
wooden spool drums, etc. I placed everything in a box and addressed
it to Chris.
While going through the boxes, I also came across a manger set-up
that the boys and I had made about 20 years ago. It was a plaster
of paris project, with powder to be mixed up with water, and poured
into molds. Once the molds were dry, you could paint the pieces
and then spray them with a sealant. The boys and I loved mixing
up the plaster and being careful to fill all the parts of the molds.
There were instructions on the box to tap the molds a few times
after filling them, to make sure all the air bubbles came out.
Well, I guess we didn't tap hard enough. When we un-molded Mary,
there was a huge gaping bubble hole where her mouth should be. Imagine
the painting by Edvard
Munch - "The Scream". This is what Mary looked like.
Of course, the boys got a huge kick out of this. To them, there
was nothing funnier than a screaming Mary standing next to baby
Jesus. Since there wasn't any more plaster mix, we had no choice
but to paint her and seal her, just as we did Joseph, Jesus, the
Wise Men, and the many farm animals.
Every year, when we'd decorate the house for Christmas, the boys
would laugh hysterically when that manger set came out of the box.
I continued to set it up, until both my sons grew up and moved out.
I couldn't wait to put it in the box with the other ornaments. I
just knew that Chris would love it!
As soon as I picked up the phone and heard his voice, I could hear
the laughter in his tone. "Mom, I got the box of ornaments
you sent me! It's awesome! Thank you for sending me Screaming Mary!"
We both had a good laugh, and then he told me that he had already
set up what's left of the manger on his mantle, so that all of his
friends can appreciate our handiwork. He also hung the stuffed figures
on his tree. I'm so happy that the ornaments are back on display
again. Perhaps someday, he'll be sending them off to his
I'm not sure if I'll be updating again before Christmas, so I wanted
to take this opportunity to wish you all a joyful holiday season.
Thank you all, for your continuing friendship, your words of encouragement,
your emails, and your thoughts and prayers throughout what was a
very stressful and sad year for me. You have touched my heart across
the miles and the internet, and I am forever grateful. Thank you
for sharing my life with me. May 2007 be a happy, healthy, and joyful
year for all of us!
It's the feeling of
home, even if it's only a memory that takes you there. It's
the quiet places of the heart you return to year after year.
It's the comfort of tradition in an ever-widening circle
of friends and family. Wishing you everything beautiful
this holiday season!
Seasons Greetings from
Steve and Susan Stevenson
December 22nd - Happy Winter Solstice!
Yesterday was a good day for those
of us in Alaska. Solstice day is an important dawning of a new annual
era: this is the day the sun starts coming back! For those of us
who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), whether in short
spurts or continually, it's easy to become excited over December
21st. At least we know the darkest days are over for another year.
I didn't think I was going to make another entry before Christmas,
but I wanted to share some photos that I took on Wednesday night
while out driving around town with Steve. First we drove to Pioneer
Park (known originally as Alaskaland - and still called that by
long-timers), and walked through Gold Rush Town. The cabins form
a unique walk through Fairbanks' history, and I've photographed
them many times over the past three years.
the holiday season, the cabins are strung with lights. Many nights,
the park is uninhabited, so walking down the street that runs between
the cabins is quite peaceful and beautiful. It was cold on Wednesday
night (about -10F), so we had Gold Rush Town to ourselves. The photo
at left was taken at one end of Sourdough Way, and the one at right
was taken from the other end. In the photo at right, you can see
the First Presbyterian Church in the forefront. Here's some information
I found online about the church (I've written about it in my journal
The 1st Presbyterian Church, was the first church in Fairbanks.
In 1902-03, a mission cabin was erected in the town of Chena,
and was replaced with this church in September of 1904. Built
on the corner of Cushman Street and 7th Avenue, the church contained
the original stained glass windows from the Chena mission cabin.
It had no plumbing (water was hauled in buckets from the Chena
River) and, during the winter, was heated by two large wood stoves.
A basement was also dug out by hand, by thawing the frozen ground
with small fires. In the 1930s, the church was moved farther east
on its site and turned to face 7th Avenue. It was renamed "Young
Memorial Hall"; and was finally moved to Alaskaland in 1966.
The lights on the houses were beautiful against the
night sky. A glow settled over the street, lighting our way as we
walked. In my mind I heard Christmas Carols, and even snowflakes
fell from the sky. It was a lovely evening for a stroll.
The second photo above is of the Kitty Hensley house (two story).
I've photographed and written about that particular house in one
or two prior journal entries, but here's the information again (found
The Kitty Hensley house was
originally located at 932-Eighth Avenue. It was rumored that Kitty
and her daughter, Hazel, lived as recluses in a two room tar-paper
shack on Eighth Avenue. In 1914, Kitty’s friend Capt Smythe (a retired
riverboat captain with excellent carpentry skills) remodeled the
cabin using lumber from his sternwheeler, which had been badly damaged
by the spring’s breakup. He built this attractive two-story home,
with a finely turned stairwell and a decorative fireplace. It was
said that he worked slowly, in order to prolong his affectionate
contact with Kitty. Some time after Kitty’s daughter grew up and
left home, Kitty died -- just as much a recluse as ever. The house
was moved to Alaskaland in 1967, where the Pioneers of Alaska furnished
it with authentic pieces of the period.
The third photo is of the Riverboat S.S. Nenana. She looks beautiful
lit up like that! I don't remember the lights on her last year,
but then again - I don't think I visited Pioneer Park last year
since Steve was deployed. Again, here is information I found online
about the Riverboat Nenana:
The Riverboat Nenana was built in 1933
for the Alaska Railroad. During it's 21 year active life, it hauled
passengers and freight on the Yukon River in Interior Alaska.
The 300 ton boat is 230 feet long and is the second largest wooden-hull
vessel in existence. After laying dormant in the Chena River for
several years, the old girl had enough left in her to make one
final voyage. In October 1966, the proud Nenana, battered hull
and all, traveled several miles, negotiating sand bars and diked
channels to a resting place made for a Queen. The Sternwheeler
Nenana is a precious part of Alaska's past. Extensive restoration
was completed in 1992 and on July 12th of that year, she was officially
dedicated as a National Historic Landmark. Her cargo hold now
houses the Tanana/Yukon Rivers Historic Diorama which graphically
tells the story of the riverboat's mission along the interior
river system. 22 towns, villages, and settlements along her route
have been recreated in incredible detail through a cross cultural,
3 dimensional display 340 feet long with an oil background mural
of 237 feet.
We did eventually run into another photographer while we were walking
through Pioneer Park. It was definitely a good night to capture
the mixture of old and new; old cabins and modern Christmas lights.
After our trip through Pioneer Park, we decided to head for home.
There were fireworks scheduled for later that evening, but we weren't
sure where they were being held, and I was getting cold. On the
way back to North Pole, I asked Steve to drive down to Golden Heart
Plaza so I could see the lights along the river. It was peaceful
there as well, and we had the place to ourselves.
||The First Family Statue
stands in Golden Heart Park on First Avenue as a tribute to
the many who pioneered the interior region of Alaska.
I finally finished up my Christmas shopping for Steve. I didn't
get him any of those expensive items that are always on his wish
list, but I did pick him up some things he needs (like warm clothes,
and comfortable flannel lounging pants). Next winter, he won't have
all the cold weather gear the army issued him, so there will definitely
in his future. (And probably mine too!)
We're having Christmas dinner with Rachael and James. And the four
of us are having Christmas Eve breakfast at Pike's Landing - to
take advantage of the scrumptious champagne brunch again. Steve
and I are considering a drive to Anchorage for a few days the weekend
after Christmas. If we go, it will be totally spur of the moment,
and everything will just have to come together - or not. We don't
expect there would be too much trouble getting a room in either
Army or Air Force Base guest housing, but I have a feeling the kennel
might be booked up since our soldiers are home and many families
went 'home' for the holidays. I keep meaning to call.
The drive is about 7.5 hours, when the weather is cooperating and
the roads are clear. But at this time of year, you just never know
what to expect. We'll play it by ear.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible
that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia.
Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it
will be a day of remembrance--a day in which we think of everything
we have ever loved. ~ Augusta E. Rundel
December 28th - Preparing for a New Year
I hope that you all had a wonderful
holiday! Christmas Eve was very quiet at our house. Steve and I
watched some movies and just relaxed. Normally, we open a gift on
Christmas Eve, but since there were only a few under the tree (something
we agreed upon), we decided to wait until Christmas morning to exchange
We slept in, which was nice. I do remember those days when my boys
were little and we'd get up at the crack of dawn. I miss those days
Steve cooked up some ham and cheese omelets for breakfast, and
made a pot of Millstone Holiday Peppermint coffee. It was absolutely
scrumptious with a splash of French vanilla creamer.
After exchanging gifts, we watched a movie together until it was
time to get ready to go to the Trujillo's house to watch the football
game and enjoy lots (too much!) food. I'm not as big a football
fan as I used to be, but I do root for my Eagles when they play.
Rachael outdid herself with appetizers, and by the time the ham
came out of the oven, Steve and I could have used a wheelbarrow
to push each other around the house. Thank goodness for relaxed
jeans! Dinner was delicious, and she sent us home with lots of leftover
goodies. We exchanged small gifts with one another and they got
us the cutest miniature moose and grizzly trophy heads to hang on
the wall. They're about 6" across; absolutely adorable! I think
I'm going to put them in the guest bath with the moose photos and
moose shower curtain. This way, when I have guests visit, they can
really have the true Alaskan experience. *grin*
I went out and did some 'day after Christmas' shopping with Rachael
and found quite a few bargains. I picked up a few Christmas decor
items (drastically discounted) for next year. I planned to take
Steve back out the next day to look at a few bigger ticket items.
As fate would have it, everything I wanted him to see was gone by
then. Perhaps it was for the best.
drove me past Creamers Field so that I could get some photos. The
sun was just starting to go down, and the moon was already up. It
was a cloudy day, so there weren't any gorgeous streaks of orange
or yellow. Everything was a dusky blue as daylight gradually left
us. But I find the blue just as beautiful in its monochromatic glory.
It lends a definite 'coolness' to the image.
After we did some shopping, we went back to Pioneer Park so that
I could take some more photos of Gold Rush Town. A friend of mine
wanted to purchase an 11x14 print of the log cabins and lights to
hang up in her house during the holidays. The photos I posted in
the previous post were OK for web posting, but they were shot without
a tripod, and a little too soft for my liking (especially for enlargements).
a difference using the tripod made! I was able to open the shutter
for a much longer exposure, capturing a lot more light and color.
The moon in the sky was a nice added touch too. The photo at left
has had no retouching at all. This is exactly the way it came off
of my camera. The long shutter speed and overexposure captured every
bit of light in the scene - to include the backlighting and front
lighting of the trees behind the cabins. It looks like a movie set
with a painted backdrop to me. Very surreal!
the way back to the house, we drove past a home with a huge tree
in the front yard. The owners had strung lights all the way up and
down the tree. He must have had a cherry picker at his disposal,
because that tree was tall! He used red and blue lights, which combined
to cast a purple glow on the snow covered boughs. Just lovely! I
just had to take a photo.
We're having Rachael and James over for dinner on New Years Eve.
It will be my first "dinner party" here in the new house,
and I'm excited about 'christening' the dining room. I'm making
a roast with vegetables for dinner, and picked up some appetizers
to enjoy while we're playing some games and watching the New Years
Eve festivities on TV. My goal is to make them feel as fat and bloated
as they made us feel on Christmas Day! I'll be glad when the holidays
are over and I can attempt to go back to sensible eating.
You probably won't hear from me again until after 2007 is upon
us. May you bring in the new year surrounded by those you love the
most! Happy New Year, everyone!
"Resolve to make
at least one person happy every day, and then in ten years you may
have made three thousand, six hundred and fifty persons happy, or
brightened a small town
by your contribution to the fund of general enjoyment."
-- Sydney Smith --
2006 Susan L Stevenson