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Saturday, February 4th - The Start of a New Month

February, when the days of winter seem endless
and no amount of wistful recollecting
can bring back any air of summer.
Shirley Jackson "Raising Demons" ~

February already! Back in August, when Steve was preparing to deploy, I remember thinking: "I hope that time passes quickly, because January starts the year that my husband comes home to me." January came and went in the blink of an eye. I'm sure a lot of it had to do with spending the first few days of the year in Madison with my kids. But then the rest of the month flew by, each day melting into the next, the time between weekends speeds by. I want to thank my friends for that. Because of them, I got out of the house a lot - even if just to run an errand or two.

January's weather was brutal, and even though we've warmed up 10 degrees or so (to -20F on average), February is also a cold month. There's been some dampness in the air, and occasionally a slight wind - making the cold seep even deeper into my bones. There have been days over the last two weeks, when I've had a hard time feeling warm - even when buried under my heavy quilt in bed. I hope that February brings us 'above zero' days, as predicted yesterday on the news.

In a little over two weeks, I leave for Philadelphia. I'm looking forward to spending time with my mother and the rest of my family. I'll be staying with mom, which will surely bring back memories of my younger years. She doesn't have internet connection, nor a computer, but I'm bringing my laptop and will download Netzero so that I can at least check my emails and hopefully chat with Steve from time to time. Using dial up service after several years with high speed cable, is going to be frustrating I'm sure. But it's better than nothing. What an addiction the internet has become!

Bear photo collectionI ordered enlargements of some of my bear photos. I wanted to try out an online printing company to see the quality of prints they offered. I'm happy with the results. The center photo in the picture at left is 16x20. You'll remember that photo from our July 4th bear viewing trip to Katmai this past summer. Flanking it are two 11x14s. The close up of the bear face was also taken during this past year's trip, but the other photo of the bears standing was taken during our 2004 trip. The bears in that photo and the large photo are the same family. Likewise the 8x10 of the cubs being nursed. I hung the grouping over my kitchen table. Every time I walk into the kitchen, I smile at the memories the photos represent.

I've got great news to share! My sister-in-law, Diane, is coming for a visit this summer! She's coming by herself, so we're going to have a 'girls vacation' and explore Alaska. She'll be in town from June 29th through July 10th. I'm so excited, and I know she is too - although she's also very nervous about flying in general - and flying by herself. It's not the easiest flight to make - Philadelphia to Fairbanks is about 10 hours of flying. The plan is to rest up the first day she's in town and then drive down to Anchorage for a day or two. From there, we'll visit Seward and go on a wildlife cruise. Then we'll either head down to Homer, or backtrack to Anchorage and on to Valdez. I've still got a few months to plan this trip, and I'm sure I'll be writing about it here. I love my SIL like a sister. She's got a heart of gold, and has always been there for my mother during her illness. Diane unselfishly spends entire days in waiting rooms while my mother goes for doctor's visits and medical procedures. I appreciate that so much, and I look forward to showing her this great state and giving her the chance to have fun, see beautiful landscapes, and experience the wildlife of Alaska. I hope I'm as good a tour guide as she thinks I will be.

I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you (my readers), how much I appreciate the messages you leave in my guest book, and the emails you send me personally. I've never met the majority of you, and yet there are many of you who I feel an intrinsic connection to, because of your kind words, well wishes, and prayers. Some of you have taken a few minutes to send supportive words my way, even as you are dealing with your own stresses and painful matters. Some of you have thanked me for keeping this journal and sharing my photos, because coming to Alaska - whether for a visit or forever - has been your long time dream. A few of you have thanked me because my words and photos have made you happy, or helped you to daydream for a few moments in time. I am flattered by your words and praises, and I hope that I can continue to keep this journal for a long, long, time. For those of you who are going through your own difficult time right now, please know that my prayers are with you and your loved ones.

Tuesday, February 7th - Sled Dog Races and a Warm Up!

On Sunday, I picked up my friend Nik and her kids, and drove out to the Jeff Studdert Racegrounds for the Annamaet Series Challenge Race #5. It was a warm morning, compared to past weekends, and there seemed to be more participants and spectators taking advantage of above zero temperatures. Again, I found a good vantage point to take some photos of the skijorers and mushers as they left the starting line.

Sled Dogs - Selective Color Sunrise on a Dogbox Two Dog Skijorer Encouragement at the Starting Line
My little old dog:
A heart-beat at my feet.
~ Edith Wharton ~
Off the Starting Line Restraining the Dogs Frosty Trees and Sunrise

The weather lately has been absolutely beautiful! Yesterday we hit a high of 34F above zero, and currently it is 25F above zero at 7:30pm. What a treat to leave the house without long underwear and a scarf wrapped around my face. I don't expect this warming trend to last (nor do I want it to, with the Ice Festival coming up at the end of the month), but it's certainly been a nice respite. I've enjoyed taking Sedona for longer walks, savoring the sunshine and blue skies.

Chena River North PoleSedonaYesterday, I took Sedona for a ride and did a huge loop around Fairbanks and North Pole. I stopped at a little park along the river where I could let Sedona run free for a little while. It was wonderful to run and play in the snow with her and we spent a good thirty minutes soaking up the sunshine.

We came back onto Post and took the long way back to the house. But this time, instead of bypassing the road which leads up to the Birch Hill Ski Lodge, I decided to see if the road leading up to the top of Birch Hill was navigational. While the Alaska Range wasn't clear because of cloud cover on the horizon, the sun was starting its descent and I hoped to see the sky change colors from above the city.

View from Birch HillSunset from Birch HillBy the time I got to the top of the hill, the weather had warmed up so much that snow and frost were quickly melting and falling off the trees, leaving behind the dead, brown look of late fall and early spring - not a pretty sight. I'm sure this look isn't going to be around forever. We've got a good two months ahead of us that could bring some more hoarfrost and snow to the branches.

Today, I took a drive to Eielson AFB with Rachael to visit their PX. On the way, we stopped in North Pole to have lunch at the Pagoda Restaurant. It was my first visit, and it was delicious. I ordered the lemon chicken lunch special which came with pork fried rice, an egg roll, wonton soup, and tea. It was a great value for the $9.95 price tag. I can't wait for Steve to come home on R&R, so we can go back together. (That concludes my restaurant review for this entry. *grin*)

On the way back from Eielson, we drove into Chena Lakes Recreation Area in search of moose. There was no sign of wildlife, except for the snowmachiners speeding across the frozen lake! There were two ice fishing houses out on the lake, but we didn't see any fishermen. We could hear the happy barks of sled dogs as they passed nearby in the trees on one of the groomed trails. The last time I visited Chena Lakes Rec Area was early spring of last year. I remember that drive, because I discovered willow catkins blooming and knew that winter would soon be over. Here are a few photos from our drive today:

Frozen Chena Lake
Frozen Chena Lake
Chena Lakes Ice House
Snowmachiner, Ice Fishing House
Frozen Chena Lake and Hills
Snowmachiner with Levee

Steve wasn't able to get online for the past few days. We finally touched base this morning. Our chat mostly revolved around R&R, and how excited we both are about seeing each other again. If all goes as scheduled, we will finally be in each other's arms in 50-55 days. At least it's less than 60! Hopefully, the time between now and then will fly by. And then I want it to slow to a crawl while he's in town. Two weeks isn't a long visit, but it's something. We'll take what we can get. I'll be so glad when this is over and he's home for good. I miss him terribly.

I started booking lodging and activities for when Diane is in town in July. Our tentative itinerary includes visits to Anchorage, Seward (where we'll do a wildlife cruise), and Homer. I managed to get reservations for a hotel room in Seward during July 4th week. I'm excited as I've always wanted to see the Mt. Marathon Race on July 4th. We'll be checking out of the hotel that morning, but will be hanging around for a little while to check out the race and the July 4th festivities before driving down to Homer. It should be a lot of fun. I love hanging out with Diane, so I know we'll have a great time.

I'm looking forward to the Yukon Quest this Saturday. I'm going downtown to shoot some photos before the race, and as the first couple of teams leave the starting gate. From there, I'm planning to visit friends (*waves at Gip and Carmen*). They have a view of the river, and I'm hoping to catch a couple of shots from their place. You'll be experiencing the day in pictures as soon as I get them downloaded and resized. I'm excited!

Thursday, February 9th - Warm Enough for Snow and the House in NC

February snowFebruary snowflakesTuesday evening we got snow! One of the benefits of warming up, is the probability of a nice fresh dusting of white stuff. It didn't last long, but the flakes were large and there were many. Because it was so warm (high 20s), I ran out into the yard to get a few photographs, while Sedona bounded through the snowdrifts playing. You're probably wondering why snow is such a big deal. It's a big deal because it's not a common occurrence in the dead of winter. When it's too cold, there is rarely snow. I found the following explanation HERE: Snow can form at any temperature provided the right conditions exist, but it has a hard time forming in really cold air. Right around freezing is where you will see the most snow. This is because the air can absorb more moisture while it's still cold enough to freeze. Once it drops below -20°F, the chances of snow are virtually nil (but still possible).

We get the most snow in the early months of winter (October and November), and additional accumulations in December. What falls in these months generally hangs around until "break-up", which is typically sometime in April. Seeing snow fall in January or February is a rare treat. Not only is it a beautiful occurrence, it also means it's warmed up a bit - and these periodic warm-ups are always welcome, especially after weeks of arctic temps. The only thing that would make me happier than seeing fresh snow, would be seeing the northern lights. I thought I caught a glimpse of them very early this morning (around 2am), but they were faint and I was too tired to put on my boots and take my camera out in the yard.

Some other news: Steve and I own a home in Fayetteville, NC. We bought the house when the army transferred us from Fort Benning, GA to Fort Bragg, NC in 1996. There was a saying back in those days: "Once at Bragg; always at Bragg." Steve was in the 82nd Airborne, and being on airborne status narrowed down the possibilities of stations. So, when we arrived in NC, we bought a house. I stayed in the house until Brandon joined the Marines in 2001. After he left home, I joined Steve in FL and put the house on the rental market.

We've been lucky in that we've had good tenants, who always paid the rent on time, and caused minimal problems/damage. But being a long-distance landlord - even with a property manager looking after the house - is stressful and can sometimes be costly too. When something needs painting, you have to hire a painter. What would normally be a $100 job if we did it ourselves, turns into a several hundred dollar job. A malfunctioning ball cock in a toilet ends up costing $90 because the plumber charges $75 in trip charges to install a $15 part - that I could do myself if I lived closer. On a good note, the rent always covered our mortgage payment, so our investment paid for itself over the last five years.

We have no intention of ever living in NC again. Even if we couldn't stay in Alaska, NC wouldn't be our choice for retirement places. While we certainly enjoyed our time living in the southeast, and have many friends there, Steve and I know that we prefer a climate which includes winter snow. So... with talk of Steve's retirement, we decided to sell the NC house. It will be much better for us to start off this next chapter of our life with the least amount of debt as possible.

The house went on the market on Tuesday. Four hours later, an acceptable offer was made. If all goes well, closing is scheduled for the 22nd of this month. We are really keeping our fingers crossed about this sale. The only thing that 'freaks me out' at this point is passing the home inspection. While there's really nothing obviously wrong with the house, you never can tell what a home inspector may find, since the house is 20 years old. (I can see fresh gray hair sprouting as I type this.) I'll be so glad when this is behind us. And we'll be one step closer to realizing our dream of retiring in Alaska.

Sunday, February 12th - The Yukon Quest!
What a day I had yesterday! First of all, the temperature gauge in the truck was reading 46F at about 2pm. I don't know how accurate that is, but it was WARM! The temperature at the start of the race is said to have been 35F.

I picked up Rachael at 10am and we headed downtown. I found a place to park near the Newsminer (local newspaper) and we walked over to the staging area to get photos of the dogs and mushers, before heading to the river and the starting chute. Rachael was a little paranoid about being on the river, even though it was frozen. I teased her a little, but truth be told, I was a bit paranoid the first year I climbed down on it with Steve to watch the Quest. There definitely is something unnerving about having thousands of people standing on a river.

We stayed to watch four teams go off the line, before making our way back to my truck. And then we discovered that a bunch of people had parked illegally - essentially trapping about 12 vehicles - mine included. I was angry because I was planning to run over to my friends' place in North Pole to get more photos of the teams as they came along the river.

Rachael called the police and reported the illegally parked cars, as I contemplated looking for a car with unlocked doors so I could throw it in neutral and push it out of the way to make an opening. A few minutes later a girl showed up (who was parked illegally) and looked at the other vehicles parked next to her and said, "Wow... I can't believe they all parked like that and blocked you in!". She was obviously part of the problem, but I'm glad she came along and let me out.

I dropped Rachael off at her house and made my way to Gip and Carmen's house (Thank you for allowing me to come by!). I saw that Gip had already shoveled a path in his yard to the bluff overlooking the river, so I could set up my tripod. He and I sipped coffee as we waited for the teams to come by. It takes about 45 minutes for the teams to come from downtown to their house, so I made it in plenty of time. We took some photos, chatting in between teams.

When the last team went by, we went inside and I spent some time talking to Carmen. She 'reborns' dolls: hand weaving their hair, repainting them and restuffing their bodies. Her house is full of dolls and doll parts and supplies. Some of her 'real life' babydolls were so real looking, I couldn't help but pick them up and hold them. Sheesh, this urge to be a grandma is overwhelming sometimes! (Don't rush though, Brandon and Becky, OK?) I enjoyed my visit, as always, and look forward to having lunch or dinner with them when I come home from Philadelphia at the end of the month.

I took a lot of photos today, and I think the ones I chose to post here are a pretty good representation of yesterday's adventure at the Yukon Quest. Oh, how I love ALASKA!!! (Click to enlarge)

Colorful Dog Box
Colorful Dogbox Yukon Quest
Checking out the scenery
Yukon Quest Dog in Box
Staging area
Yukon Quest
Waiting to be hooked up
Yukon Quest Waiting to be Harnessed
Putting on the booties
Yukon Quest Putting the Booties On
Wayne Hall
Yukon Quest Wayne Hall
The starting chute on the Chena
Yukon Quest Starting Chute Chena river
The pedestrian bridge
Yukon Quest Pedestrian Bridge Downtown
I want a fur hat!
Yukon Quest Fur Hats
Fun for all ages
Yukon Quest Fun for all ages
I bet his head is warm!
Yukon Quest Fur Hat
Brothers with matching hats
Yukon Quest two brothers
Off the starting line
Yukon Quest Off the Starting Line
Kyla Boivin - age 23
Yukon Quest Kyla Boivin
Kyla Boivin heading down river
Yukon Quest Kyla Boivin
Happy dog face
Yukon Quest Happy Dogs
Regina Wycoff - age 36
Yukon Quest Regina Wycoff
Jennifer Cochran - age 33
a Fairbanks favorite

Yukon Quest Jennifer Cochran
Kyla Boivin on the river in North Pole
Yukon Quest Kyla Boivin
Regina Wycoff following Eric Butcher in North Pole
Yukon Quest Regina Wycoff behind Eric Butcher
Eric Butcher - age 35
Yukon Quest Eric Butcher
Hugh Neff - age 38
Yukon Quest Hugh Neff
Michelle Phillips - age 37
Yukon Quest Michelle Phillips
William Kleedehn - age 46 Yukon Quest William Kleedehn
David Dalton - age 48
Yukon Quest David Dalton
Kiara Adams - age 18
Yukon Quest Kiara Adams

If you'd like to follow the race, you can click HERE for race updates. The site will tell you the times in and out at each checkpoint. The Yukon Quest website has some very interesting information on it too, including musher profiles. Average time to travel 1000 miles is about 11-12 days.
Good luck to all the teams!

Tuesday, February 14th - Valentines Day (Warning: Mushy Entry!)

(penned earlier in the evening - before midnight on Monday)

It is 11pm here in Alaska. Not quite Valentines Day yet. All over the rest of the country, it is officially February 14th - a day set aside for love and romance.

The man who has my affection and devotion is in a country thousands of miles away. It is raining where he is, and muddy. It is nearly lunchtime where he is, and Valentines Day is already 11 hours old.

I went to the mailbox today, hoping that I'd find a card from him. I know there is one coming, because he told me so. He mailed it more than two weeks ago, because he wanted me to get it in time. But there was no card from him, and I felt my heart sink. Perhaps it will come tomorrow.

It's not really the card which is so important. It's the fact that his lips and his tongue touched the glue on the envelope to seal it. It's the fact that his hands touched the card as he signed it. It's the fact that for the short minute or two that it took him to pen a message inside and sign his name, his thoughts were totally focused on me... and us.

He doesn't have to send me cards. He doesn't have to send me flowers. And he certainly doesn't have to do anything different on February 14th, than he does any other time of the year. There is no reason to prove his love for me. I know the depth of that love without flowery cards, and sentimental words. He shows me that love in his actions.

I haven't touched him in almost 6 months. The last time I felt the warmth of his skin, I was sitting in his truck and he was standing in the parking lot at his office. It was late - nearly midnight. We said our goodbyes with hugs and kisses and tears, but couldn't let go. My arm hung out the window and our fingers were laced together. I couldn't bring myself to drive away from him.

When I finally found the strength to pull away, I stopped in the middle of the street and looked at the lone figure dressed in camouflage, turning his entire body to follow the slow movement of the truck. I heard him yell, "I love you, Babydoll" as I lost sight of him. I felt numb. Just writing about that night brings tears to my eyes. So much anguish.

Now we touch with words. And we touch with laughter. And we touch with tears. It's not the same, but it keeps us connected. When he gets online, we spend the first few minutes saying "I love you", because we have learned with experience, that those times you don't say those words, are the times his internet service will go down and the chance is lost.

Then he'll write, "I want to see you". And I'll make all kinds of excuses for my appearance: I just woke up, I haven't brushed my hair, I don't have any makeup on. And he'll insist I turn on the webcam anyway. And when he sees my image on his computer screen, he always types, "There's the most beautiful woman in the world!" and I type back, "I think you need to have your eyes checked." And we laugh. But the truth of the matter is, I do feel like the most beautiful woman in the world with him.

Steve is an old fashioned guy in so many ways. I thank his grandma for that. She instilled in him manners that unfortunately have fallen by the wayside with some of the younger generation. I like that he holds a door for me. I like that he opens car doors for me. I like that he takes my arm or my hand when we cross a street. I like how he extends a hand to me when we're hiking - to help me up a steep incline, or over a ravine. I'm not a woman who needs 'taking care of', but I welcome the care he shows me.

I like the way he holds me when I'm sad. I like the way he offers his t-shirt tail to me so I can dry my eyes when I cry. I like that he doesn't care that my mascara has run all over the front of him. "It will wash out", he'll say, when I apologize for the mess.

I like that he pulls the covers up over me before he leaves the house in the morning. And I like that he makes coffee and brings me my first mug of the day while I'm still in bed. I like that he helps with the housework, and the laundry. And I love that he cooks.

I've missed all of this for six months. Now that we are apart, I have become the primary nurturer in our relationship. I nurture him with words. I shower him with love and support. I remind him of all that awaits us when he is finally home again. I assure him that I will stand beside him forever - no matter what - just as we vowed nearly 14 years ago. He really needs to hear that - especially now. He's never doubted me, but he sees marriages crumbling all around him. Relationships that have already fallen apart under the pressure of deployment and separation. And we're only at the halfway point. How many more will disintegrate? How many will survive the deployment, and falter after the reunion? It's scary stuff.

We talk about that too. Our expectations when he comes home. We speak in a joking manner. I tell him that I will never give him control of the remote again. We laugh about it, but he remembers how irritated I get when he changes the channel in the middle of something I'm watching. I tell him that he will never get his side of the bed back, because the featherbed is now perfectly formed to my body and he has the bigger nightstand to hold my books. There will be adjustments. We know that.

When things settle down, and the honeymoon period fades, we know there are going to be disagreements. We know that we will have to redefine his space vs. my space. We know that we're each going to crave alone time. After all - as much as we hate this separation - we've learned to cherish quiet time in our respective lives. We're going to have to learn to live together again. That's frightening to me. I imagine a few less than loving words as we make this transition.

But all in all, there is no other man I want to go through all of this with. No other man has made me feel so valued and so appreciated. No other man has made me feel so safe.

I look forward to growing old with Steve. I look forward to many more years of butterflies in my stomach when he looks at me that certain way. I look forward to years of laughter.

I can't wait to hold his hand again. He will forever be my only Valentine. Happy Valentines Day to the love of my life!

Wednesday, February 15th - Beautiful sunrises, and Valentines Dinner with the Girls.

Yesterday wasn't as melancholy as I thought it would be. It didn't have a chance to be sad, because my day started with a phone call from Steve. I was so surprised to see the familiar communication company name on my caller ID and snatched up the phone before it rang a second time. Steve was so concerned that the card he sent wouldn't get here on time, and wanted to call me himself and wish me a Happy Valentines Day. (The card still hasn't arrived - must be slow dogsleds from Iraq). I'll take a phone call over a card any day!

Alaska Range from  Birch Hill access road.Alaska Range from top of Birch HillI ran a few errands before noon, and saw that the sky was a pretty shade of orange and yellow as the sun came over the horizon. Since I had my camera (I almost always have my camera), I decided to drive to the top of Birch Hill to get a photo of the pretty sky and the Alaska Range. Lately it's been cloudy enough that the range hasn't been visible. When it is visible, it's hard to believe that it's several hundred miles away. I can't wait until spring comes and I can drive down to the Donnelly Dome area and get even closer to the majestic mountains.

I made plans to have Valentines Day dinner with Rachael and Missi. Missi made reservations at Pike's Waterfront Lodge. Pike's has two sides to the dining portion. One side - the restaurant side - is more formal, with cloth covered tables, slipcovered chairs, and an atmosphere very conducive to romance or for celebrating a special occasion. While celebrating Valentines Day without our husbands isn't very special, we did want to do something nice for ourselves.

Missi, Me, Rachael Valentines DinnerSteve and James Hubby DollsDinner was delicious, and the company was wonderful. We talked and laughed a lot, had a few glasses of wine, and ordered dessert after dinner - even though our stomachs were exploding. To make the night even more special, the sunset over the frozen Chena River was magnificent. Rachael brought her camera, and we got a waitress to take our photo. Rachael and I took our 'husbands' with us, but Missi forgot and left 'Tim' home in bed. Of course, we had to get a photo of just the guys. I sent the photo to Steve and although he sometimes says I'm silly for dragging this little stuffed entity around with me, I know he also thinks it's sweet that I want to share the special things with 'him'.

Valentines Roses from SteveAnd what made the day even more special? Just as I was leaving for dinner, the Fedex guy showed up with a special delivery for me. Despite my assurances to Steve that I didn't need anything from him for Valentines Day, he still made sure that I knew he was thinking of me on this day of romance.

What a guy! I'm a lucky woman to have him by my side.

Sunday, February 19th - Insomnia and Stress, A Trip Home, and A Beautiful Rose

The past week has been a very stressful one for me. And with stress comes insomnia. I haven't slept a full night for at least the past two weeks. I've tried herbal remedies (Sleepy-time Tea, Melatonin) as well as pharmaceuticals (Ambien), but can't seem to get more than 4-5 hours of fitful sleep each night. While I'm groggy in the morning, I do manage to function OK during the day, when my second and third wind kicks in.

I'm sure all of the recent increase of stress in my life is contributing to my inability to rest completely. I fall to sleep at night with my mind going a million miles a minute, and I wake up the same way. I wake throughout the night, and it sometimes takes me more than 20 minutes to doze off again.

Someone told me that the halfway point in a year-long deployment can cause depression in some people. While I am thrilled that half of this deployment is behind us, I hate that we have to repeat an equal amount of time before we reach the end. We still have R&R ahead of us (only about a month away now), and that is the brightest light on the horizon for both of us. It's all we talk about when we communicate with one another.

Another matter of stress in my life, is the sale of the house in NC. My fears about the home inspection were well-founded, and there are going to be almost $1000 in repairs necessary before we can close the deal. Needless to say, the house will not be changing hands on Wednesday as planned. If we're lucky, it will take place on Friday. Fortunately for us, the buyers really love the house and are doing all that they can to make this deal happen. Our nemesis in this scenario is the home inspector - a man appointed by the VA to examine the house and guarantee that it is sound. If it's not, VA will not finance the loan. While I certainly understand the importance of a sound inspection - pointing out blown light bulbs, worn carpeting, and loose bolts on a commode are totally unimportant matters. And yet this man has notated these types of things, mandating that they be *fixed* before he will sign off on the inspection. It's an added stress that I really don't need right now. Being thousands of miles away, and having to rely on handymen to make these minor repairs is costly. But we have no choice. I will be glad when the deal is closed and the house is no longer ours. Perhaps then I will sleep again.

I'm leaving tomorrow evening for Philadelphia. I have been somewhat vague about my trip home, but there are reasons for my visit besides catching up with my family. If you've been reading me for a while, you know that my mother has been battling cancer on and off for the past 25 years. After she was diagnosed at age 41, and had the necessary surgery and radiation treatment, she was pretty much pronounced cured. Just after my father passed away in 1996, the cancer recurred. It is believed that the cancer came back before then, but because my mother was preoccupied with caring for my father, she neglected her own health and ignored the symptoms. She had another surgery in 1996 to remove even more of her colon. In the summer of 2004, she was diagnosed with kidney cancer. She had laser surgery to remove the tumor. No further treatment was undergone, but she goes back quarterly to be scoped and if any tumors are found, they are removed with a laser. Last summer, a large tumor was found on her colon. This one had grown into her abdominal wall. The tumor was removed, and while further treatments were recommended (chemotherapy), my mother decided against it. I support my mother 100% in her choice not to have chemotherapy.

I have not seen my mother in nearly 14 months. I have heard from some members of my family that she has lost weight and is showing the weariness that battling illness can cause. I already know the emotional toll this illness has taken on her, as we have talked about it at length over the phone. She also suffers from S.A.D. every winter, so I'm sure everything seems overwhelming at best. I am a little fearful of what I will find when I get there. I'm sure this fear has also contributed to my sleeplessness.

Being alone through all of this hasn't been easy, but I'm certainly not an incapable woman. I handle it. I manage. But oh how I wish my husband were here wrapping his arms around me and sharing his strength.

Rose CloseupIn closing, I'd like to share a photo I took of one of the roses Steve sent me in my Valentines bouquet. I lowered the saturation on it, so that it appears pink, rather than red. I wanted the veins and texture to stand out more, and making it paler helped me to achieve that. The roses still smell so fragrant. I have been diligent about changing out the water and feeding them the special food that came with them. They have all just about opened up fully too. Simply beautiful.

I'm not sure how often - if at all - I will be able to update this journal while I'm in Philadelphia. I'll be taking my laptop, but my schedule will be full. I do hope to at least make one update, and post some photos if I get the opportunity.

Thursday, February 23rd - In Philadelphia...

My flights were on time and went smoothly, and I actually arrived in Philadelphia on Tuesday morning a good 15 minutes early. While I'm not fond of the flight from Anchorage to Minneapolis - because it's so long - the overnight flight allows you to at least sleep (if you can), making the flight pass more quickly. I lucked out in that the plane wasn't full, so there was a seat between me and the other person in my row. This gave both of us plenty of room to spread out a bit and I was able to doze off for about 3 hours of the 5 hour flight.

My mom and her friend picked me up at the airport. We stopped at a diner for brunch on the way to my mother's, as I was famished. As I mentioned back in December, Northwest Airlines no longer feeds you (for free), but you can purchase a snack box if you like. I had some crackers to tide me over, but getting a real meal was definitely on my list of things to do first. We spent a couple of hours enjoying our meal and catching up with one another.

I unpacked my stuff and lay down with Mom for a few hours nap. She was tired from the trip to the airport and lunch, and I was exhausted from going 48 hours on only about 5 hours sleep total. We had plans to go to Diane and Steve's (SIL and brother) for dinner later that evening. We spent about an hour talking before dozing off. Our nap lasted a lot longer than we planned, but we made it in time for dinner. I was famished and Diane always cooks a great meal! The company was great too. I even took "Steve" to dinner, so my family could see my hubby doll. We watched a movie after dinner before Mom and I headed home.

Yesterday, Mom wasn't feeling very well and hadn't slept too well the night before. She hoped a nap would rejuvenate her enough to go to a movie and lunch with her friend. This is a regular Wednesday routine. I certainly didn't mind her going out with him, as I planned on spending the afternoon with my SIL. I needed to get online and check my emails - hoping to find one from my husband (I did), and my broker regarding closing (I didn't). I can't get online at my mother's place, even though I have Netzero installed for dialup service, because she still has PULSE service (used for rotary phones) and not touchtone. I couldn't believe it! When I asked her about it and she said there was no reason for her to upgrade the service as she's perfectly happy with it the way it is. While her phone has a switch to simulate touchtone (so she can use touchtone menus when calling businesses), the line itself doesn't get me online. So I went to Diane's to use her phone line, which worked fine. I later found out that Mom didn't go anywhere - instead spending the day sleeping and watching TV. If I would have known that, I would have stayed home with her.

Today my mother had two doctor's appointments. Her doctors are downtown at Jefferson Hospital. She schedules both appointments on the same day so that she only has to drive downtown once every quarter or so. Diane is the one who takes her to these appointments, but since I was in town, I took her. After today, I have even more appreciation for Diane. She is definitely an angel in my book!

It only takes about 30 minutes to get downtown (when it's not rush-hour), but the trick is to find a parking lot centrally located between two different medical buildings which are about 6-7 blocks apart. Once parked, you walk to building #1 and wait hours for the doctor to see you. Her appointment was for 10:30am. We weren't seen until after noon. The appointment was a follow-up and lasted 20 minutes. Then we had to walk 5 blocks to the second building. A torrential downpour ensued. It was windy too. And we didn't have an umbrella. We got drenched, and Mom was freezing as we made our way. We kept ducking under eaves to rest a little and get out of the downpour, but still ended up looking like drowned rats. Doctor #2 took us right away, and had us in and out in less than 20 minutes. Fortunately the sun came out, so our 4 block walk back to the car was dry. Then I had to fight center city traffic to get us home. Definitely not a stress-free day, but we're both glad it's over. Tonight we're doing nothing.

Tomorrow night, we made reservations to go to dinner and a comedy show at the restaurant where Steve and I were married. It will surely bring back memories. The laughter will be good for all of us, and the food is great too, so I'm looking forward to it.

I don't know when I will be able to upload to this journal, so you'll probably be reading this entry at a later date. It's wonderful to see my family again, and my mother looks a lot better than I imagined. She's lost a lot of weight and is thinner than she's ever been, and that's a big concern. But her appetite - while not the best - is OK and she's at least getting nutrition. She's also in intermittent pain which requires strong medication that in turn makes her sleep. I don't like that she has days when all she does is stay in bed. I realize that she might not have the strength to get out and do something everyday, but I think even an hour or two of fresh air would do her wonders. I know that her illness is physical and mental, and that sometimes her mind and her thoughts are more debilitating than the pain itself. Living alone doesn't help matters. I've seen a big change in her just while I've been in town. She's even spent some time laughing with me and talking about things that do not revolve around the big "C" - and that's a good thing.

Here are more photos I took today at my brother's house:

Mom at dinner

Mom at dinner

Sean on Daddy's (Steve) bike

Latest project:
Refrigerator with Coke Theme
Sunday, February 26th - Hanging out with family

Mom and MeFriday, Mom and I went back over to Diane's house to pick her up and go shopping. Mom had a gift certificate for Steinmart and wanted to spend it. The closest Steinmart is 40 minutes from her house. We didn't find much, and she still has a huge credit on the gift card. I'm going to email the company and see if I can get them to cash it out, since the store is too inconvenient for her. They wouldn't do it at the store; company policy. I've never been very happy with the practice of crediting gift cards instead of giving you cash back. After all, cash was spent on it.

Our shopping excursion exhausted Mom, so afterward we came back to the house so she could nap before dinner and the comedy show. Before she dozed off, she told us that she wasn't going to make the dinner, but that she would meet us (with her friend) at the comedy show which followed. A little while later, my brother Marc and his wife called to tell us that they were going to skip the dinner as well, but would also meet us at the show. So we opted to order in ourselves and just meet everyone at the show. Just before we were ready to leave for the show, my mother told us she wasn't feeling well and wouldn't be coming after all. We were very disappointed. The show was fun, but Mom was missed.

On a positive note, we closed on our house on Friday morning! Although the paperwork hasn't been recorded yet (it will be finalized on Monday), it's a *done deal* for all intents and purposes. I am so relieved! I got an email from Steve expressing his happiness. It is good to be through with that part of our life as we move toward our future.

Yesterday (Saturday), we decided to rent a couple of 'chick flicks', order pizza and hang out at Diane and Steve's again. It was a very lazy, but relaxing afternoon. I snapped a few photos of my brother and SIL riding his new motorcycle. The weather was bright and sunny, but the wind was cutting and bitter cold. (I do not miss the weather of the northeast!) Despite the laid back day, my mother and I fell right to sleep as soon as we lay down.

We're leaving here in about an hour - once again heading to Steve and Diane's place. We're having dinner there, and I will be spending the night, as my flight out of Philadelphia is at 8:30am tomorrow morning, and in order to get to the airport in time (rush hour will be in full force), we need to leave the house by 6am. It's going to be another long day of travel, and while I don't look forward to the trip itself, I do look forward to getting back to Alaska, my pup Sedona, my friends, and regular contact with Steve. Except for two short emails, we haven't had any other communication, and I miss him terribly.

Mom Steve and Diane
Steve and Diane
Grandmother Frost Grandfather Frost
Maternal Grandparents

My mother has photos of her parents hanging in the living room. I don't have any old photographs of my grandparents, so I took photos of the photos. They're not the best quality, but they are better than nothing. I see a lot of resemblance between my mother and her mother - more so in the photograph taken of her when she was a younger woman. My grandparents are both deceased - my grandfather passing in 1981, and my grandmother in 1988. I have fond memories of spending time with both of them as a child, although in my teen and adult years, visits weren't as frequent. I sometimes wish I would have taken the time to get to know them better.

February is almost over, and March brings me closer to R&R and two weeks with the man whom I love with all of my heart and soul. I want the time between now and then to pass quickly, but I want time to stop when he gets home.

I look forward to being back in Alaska with the wide open spaces, fresh air, and wildlife. While I love going 'home' for a visit, I can't tolerate the rude drivers and fast pace anymore. It will be good to sleep in my own bed, take Sedona on walks in the woods, and slow down. And the Ice Art Championships open tomorrow too - an added perk to living in Alaska.

Go to March

© 2006 Susan L Stevenson