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Saturday, January 1 - Happy New Year

"Here's to the bright New Year, and a fond farewell to the old; here's to the things that are yet to come,
and to the memories that we hold."
~ Anonymous ~

Tuesday, January 4 - Watching a new year arrive in PA with family

Steve and I left Fairbanks on the evening of the 28th and began our trip to Philadelphia. Fortunately, our flights were on time, our luggage made it intact, and the flights were smooth and uneventful. Unfortunately, I spent the majority of my time in the air in a totally uncomfortable state due to the small seats, the lack of leg room, and the passengers who shared our row and thought they had the right to move into my "space". By the time we arrived in Philadelphia at 11am on Wednesday (29th), I was glad to be on solid ground.

My sister-in-law, Diane, met us at the airport and what a joy it was to see a familiar face. We came back to her house in Bensalem and dropped our bags and relaxed on comfortable chairs, enjoying wonderful conversation. It was good to be 'home'.

The next morning we were leaving on a 2+ hour drive to the mountains of PA to spend New Years weekend with some friends, so we spent the entire day doing nothing but visiting with one another. It felt great to get into sweat pants and slippers!

On Thursday morning, we loaded up the car and packed the trailer with two of Steve's (my brother) quads - aka 4-wheelers - and made our way to the mountains. When we arrived at Ed and Carolann's cabin in the woods, it was very chilly; much colder than it feels in Alaska. I suppose it was the dampness that crept into our bones.

The weekend was wonderful with good food, good conversation, and beautiful scenery. Steve and I came upon a trio of deer while out riding, and they willingly stood still as I took a photo of them. It was amazing. I grabbed some shots of the frozen creek, the old barn they have on the property, and the frozen pond that the kids use to play hockey on.

New Years Eve was a bittersweet one for Steve and I. As the ball dropped and everyone hugged and kissed and wished each other well wishes, Steve and I meandered onto the back deck of the cabin where we held each other and shed a few tears. We didn't have to say anything; we knew we were both thinking about the fact that next year we won't be holding each other on New Years Eve. Listening to the sounds of joy and excitement coming from inside, we were a bit envious that the others could celebrate a new year with unbridled enthusiasm. For us, it was the beginning of an 8-month countdown to a time when we would be separated from each other. We finally managed to put on a happy face and once again join the others for some New Years cheer and games. All in all, it was a wonderful weekend with fabulous people. We're glad we were able to go.

On the way home from the mountains, Steve's brother-in-law John met us and took us back to his house where we were able to visit with Steve's sister Elaine, and his niece Caprice - our first visit in 7 years. We relaxed, 'caught up' with each other and enjoyed our time with them. Elaine brought us back to Bensalem yesterday (Monday).

We were supposed to go into Center City today to explore. But it's rainy and dismal outside. The weatherman is calling for sun on Friday. Even if it's not sunny, we're going. I want to get photos of the historical areas. It's been a while since I've been downtown.

Here are some photos I took over the weekend:

Taken in Northeastern Pennsylvania
click thumbnails for enlargement)

Mossy Carpet Frozen Creekbed Mountain Haven Summers A Memory
Weathered Barn Tranquility Trio of Does Woodpecker

The rest of this week will have us enjoying many dinners out (in restaurants we've missed since moving to Alaska), and some visits with other family members. I'm still trying to convince my family to come for a visit to Alaska. The long plane ride is what's keeping them from making the trip, but hopefully that will change this summer. I would love to show them around Fairbanks and the entire state.

It is nice to be here visiting, but I do miss my house, the snow, and my 'fur kids'. As much as I hate to see this visit come to an end, I look forward to seeing mountains on the horizon again.

Happy New Year to all my readers! May 2005 be a healthy, happy, and loving one for you all.

Sunday, January 9th - Back in Alaska - a recap of our trip to Philadelphia

Steve and I had a wonderful time in Philadelphia, but as is usual, we were glad to get home. Especially after suffering through such a long plane trip. At least this time we had emergency exit seats, so we had a few extra inches of legroom.

We had a great time dining out in restaurants we haven't seen in a long time. My mom took us all to Georgine's for dinner and Steve and I enjoyed running upstairs to the ballroom to reminisce about our wedding day. My brother even hummed a few bars, so we could take a spin across the floor. It's hard to believe that we pledged our lives to one another almost 13 years ago in that very spot. Dinner was fabulous as always.

We also went to Carrabbas for dinner with Steve and Diane - a belated birthday present for the both of us. We have always loved Carrabbas and went frequently when we lived in FL. It was delicious and we all enjoyed ourselves.

On Friday, Steve and I took the train to Center City, Philadelphia to see the historical sites and explore the city. The weather was perfect. Although it was only in the 30's, the sun was blazing and was warm on us as we made our way on foot for miles. I took lots of photos and felt slight pangs of disappointment that I didn't live near a big, cultural, city. Although the traffic and pedestrian congestion bothers me to no end - having so many great places of history and culture nearby are wonderful. It's too bad that it's nearly impossible to have both in one location. If I had to choose, I'd choose Fairbanks and the lack of culture over Philadelphia and it's fast-paced and crowded streets. I have become much accustomed to the laid-back and slower pace of Alaska.

We arrived back in Fairbanks last night at 6:00pm. It was a very long plane ride and one I don't want to have to do again for a while. Our visit went too fast, but it's good to be home again.

Downtown Philadelphia


Steve and I both return to work on Tuesday. I look forward to getting out and photographing Alaska again. I'm going to Anchorage this weekend to visit my friend, Nikki. Although I'm not looking forward to getting on a plane again, I'm glad it's only an hour flight! I'm sure I'll have photos to share from my weekend there.

Tuesday, January 11 - Deep Freezes and Ice Fog

This morning we woke to very frigid weather. It was supposed to warm up to -26F, but the temperature kept falling. The image at left shows you what the current temperature is here in Fairbanks.

Dealing with this cold takes a lot of preparation. This morning, I had to put on long underwear (tops and bottoms), two pair of socks - liners and wool ones, fleece pants and a top, glove liners, and then a balaclava, parka, boots, and thinsulate mittens. It literally takes 15 minutes to get ready to go outside. After I was ready to go, I had to put Sedona's booties on her. When it gets this cold, frostbite to her pads is a big threat.

My first breath after stepping outside seared my lungs and caused me to go into a coughing fit. The jolt of the frigid air causes your chest to constrict and always throws me into an asthma attack if I don't take extra care to cover my mouth with a scarf or even my hand.

The snow is deep. While we were in Philadelphia, Fairbanks got another 12-18 inches of accumulation. Our neighbors and friends (James and Rachael) took the time to shovel our driveway for us - at least the part they could get to around Steve's truck. Finding places to throw the shoveled snow gets more and more difficult as winter continues. Huge berms already stand between the driveways. The snowplows have created small mountains around the neighborhood with the snow they have moved off the streets. The only place left to throw the snow was the porch.

I took Sedona for an actual walk this morning, instead of just opening the door and letting her do her business. It was difficult to maneuver through the deep snowdrifts and I grew tired quickly. My strain aggravated the pain in my back which I came home from Philadelphia with. (No doubt caused by the cramped airline seats and the long flight) As soon as I got back in the house, I had to collapse on the sofa in agony. I didn't make it to work; I could barely move.

Porch SnowHere's a shot I took out the front door towards the neighborhood. Notice how deep the snow is on the porch, as well as the huge piles of snow next to our house where the guest parking lot is. The haze you see in the photo is ice fog. It hung around all day long.

Found online at the Alaska Science Forum:
Ice fog is what happens when water vapor meets bitter cold air that can't hold any more water. When water vapor exits a car tailpipe when it's minus 40, for example, the water vapor temperature drops from about 250 degrees to minus 40 in less than 10 seconds. Water cooled that fast forms tiny ice particles, so small that ten of them could fit side by side on the finger-cutting edge of a piece of paper. Collectively, millions of these particles take form as ice fog, the cotton candy-like clouds that hang over our roads.

I'm leaving early (6am) on Friday morning to head to Anchorage and will be flying back to Fairbanks on Monday afternoon at about 3pm. I'm looking forward to seeing my friend Nikki, and having some 'girl time'. We're going to play it by ear as to what we'll be doing, but hopefully I'll be able to grab some photos while I'm in town. It's only a 44-minute flight, so it will be a piece of cake compared to what we endured this past weekend!

Since I posted the temperature photo above, we've lost two more degrees. The weatherman is predicting lows to the MINUS 50's tonight. Definitely a "Three Dog Night".

Three Dog Night:
"Three dog night" (attributed to Australian Aborigines) came about because on especially cold nights these nomadic people needed three dogs (dingos, actually) to keep from freezing.
Wednesday, January 12 - Deep Freeze

No words needed (hazy due to ice fog)

Tuesday, January 18 - Happy Birthday Rachel and a Trip to Anchorage
I want to wish a very Happy Birthday to my niece Rachel - who is SWEET 16 today! Stay sweet, enjoy life, and don't drive too crazy when you get your license. I hope you can
come visit your Aunt Susie and Uncle Steve here in Alaska someday.
Lots of love, hugs, and kisses!

On Friday morning, I was up long before the crack of dawn. I had a 6am flight out and Steve thought it would be best if we left the house at 4:30am. The airport was practically deserted, and excited as I was to be visiting Nikki, I hated leaving Steve.

The flight was short, and before I knew it I was touching down in Anchorage. Not long after, my friend Billie pulled up, and I hopped into her warm car gratefully. I met Billie online and we've been 'chatting' for almost a year now. Steve and I met her and her husband Jim for the first time last June - when we took our month-long camping trip.

Anchorage was warmer than Fairbanks in temperature, but the wind was blowing and it went right through me. Billie and I headed to Starbucks for a latte and a nice chat. Sitting in front of the fireplace, sipping on a white chocolate mocha made the morning seem much warmer. Sharing conversation with Billie was even warmer.

Playing Dress UpWe made our way back to Billie's house, where I got to meet two of her grandchildren. Aiden - two months old - has the face of the Gerber baby and a sweet temperament to match. Gabriella (Gabi for short) was as adorable and precocious in real life as she appears in the many photos that Billie shares with us. Soon after arriving, Nikki and her son John M. arrived. We chatted a bit before heading out for some breakfast. Nikki - being almost 8 months pregnant - had a craving for IHOP, so that's where we indulged. After breakfast, Nikki and I went back to her house where we changed immediately into lounging clothes and settled in for a lazy afternoon and evening of girltalk.

Shannon and FriendsThe next day, we attended a performance at a local Celtic Shop. Another online friend, Shannon (wearing the red skirt in the photo below), performed bawdy Celtic songs along with the rest of her troupe They are called the Rogues and Wenches and they were fabulous! There were many people in attendance, and I recognized still more faces as belonging to other online friends I had made over the past several months. When the performance was over, a large group of us made our way to the local McDonalds to formally meet and chat further. (Since some of my friends have children, we thought McDonalds would be a great place to meet since it had a nice playland.) I was pleasantly surprised to see such a turnout on my behalf! I met eleven more online friends. How wonderful to know that I can visit Anchorage and have so many great people to spend time with.

Sunday, Nikki and I took a drive all over Fort Richardson/Elmendorf AFB and then around town a bit. I got some wonderful photos of frozen creeks and snow covered landscapes. The mountains there are just beautiful. But the city itself really stresses me out. I think I'm still overloaded from all those years of living in big cities. Once you live in a smaller town, it's hard to go back to the hustle-bustle, traffic, and congestion. I loved the surrounding area, but couldn't stand all the people! Both Denali and the Sleeping Lady (Mt. Susitna) were visible, which was a wonderful surprise on the horizon.

Later on Sunday evening, we had dinner at Billie's daughter's house (pizza!) and I got to meet them. Very nice people! Billie is truly blessed to have such a marvelous family. We stayed until nearly 8pm, and practically fell into bed as soon as we got back to Nikki's place.

My plane left Anchorage on Monday at 1:45pm. What a marvelous and scenic flight! I took lots of photos of Mt. Foraker, Denali (Mt. McKinley), Mt. Susitna, and the Parks Highway where it wound like a ribbon between the hills. Incredible!

Photos from my Weekend in Anchorage

The furkids at left belong to my friend Nikki. Both of them kept me company while I was visiting with her.

This morning, when I got up with Steve, I happened to glance outside and was thrilled to see that the Northern Lights were out! Taking only a second to throw on my snowboots, I grabbed my tripod, camera, and bathrobe and ran into the backyard to snap a few photos. If it weren't so darn cold (-38F), I would have stayed outside for more. Since terrycloth isn't a great insulator, I knew that the longer I stayed out, the more my chances of getting frostbite. The Aurora forecasters are calling for another light show this evening. Perhaps I'll be better prepared this time!

UPDATE: 9:30pm - Another Light Show!

Saturday, January 22 - Happy Birthday, Mike!

We can't choose our family members
as we go along life's way.
When it comes to who's in our family tree-
we just don't have any say.
But if the time ever came along
and it were possible to do,
when I was picking out a brother
there's no doubt that I'd choose you!

Happy Birthday, Mike!
I hope today is filled with lots of love and happiness. Thinking of you!

Yesterday was a good day. I made it to the gym and I'm certainly feeling it today. Later, I had an appointment to stop by the company and take a photo of everyone for the Captain (who is leaving). It turned out fairly well. He'll be enlarging it and having it framed. Even his dog, Cody, got into the photo.

I then picked up my friend, LuAnn and took her out to lunch - a belated birthday present. From there we took a drive around town looking for photo opportunities. Our drive took us from Creamer's Field to UAF, to behind the airport, to Chena Pump Rd. and then on post for a drive through the A-frame neighborhood.

We had a few minor mishaps. I bottomed out when I turned into a city park; the snowpack was too high and was hard. I thought for sure I'd see my muffler or gas tank laying on the ground after that. This is why trucks are the vehicle of choice in Alaska.

Then, while photographing the reindeer (caribou) at UAF, I whacked my forehead on the back door of my car while attempting to get another lens out of my case. I'm sporting a nice blue and purple egg on the side of my head. Too bad it's not Easter; I'd look like I was decorated for the holiday. Later, in the A-frame neighborhood, I got my car stuck in some deep snow. Ordering LuAnn behind the wheel, I used all my might to rock the car forward until it gained traction and got out. Thank goodness for front wheel drive!

That was enough adventure for us. I did manage to get a couple of photos I wanted to share.

A man leaves all kinds of footprints when he walks through life. Some you can see ... others are invisible, like the prints he leaves across other people's lives.
~ Margaret Lee Runbeck ~
Every winter the liquid and trembling surface of the pond, which was so sensitive to every breath, and reflected every light and shadow, becomes solid to the depth of a foot or a foot and a half, so that it will support the heaviest teams, and perchance the snow covers it to an equal depth, and it is not to be distinguished from any level field. Like the marmots in the surrounding hills, it closes its eyelids and becomes dormant for three months or more. ~ Henry David Thoreau ~
Monday, January 24 - Sunrises, Full moons, and lunch and a movie with a friend.

First of all - HOORAY for the Eagles! I still root for the 'home team', no matter where my life may take me. It will be exciting to watch the birds play in the Superbowl for once.

I made it to the gym this morning and worked really hard. I feel so much better when I'm through, but it's a lot of work while I'm there. Forty minutes on the bike, forty minutes on the nautilus equipment, and a feeling like I've accomplished something.

On the way home, a beautiful sunrise - shot in panoramic..

At noon, my friend Rachael came over for me and we tried out a Mexican restaurant that neither of us had been in before (Jalapenos). The food was good, reasonably priced, and the atmosphere was nice. As a bonus, we had a very nice waiter. After lunch, we headed to Blockbuster and rented two movies. We watched one of them at her house, but she had to get ready for an evening class so I headed home a little after 5pm with the second one. I was quite surprised to see Steve home already.

Tonight, I decided to try out my new 2x teleconverter (I bought it in Philadelphia) on shots of the almost full moon. I was quite pleased with the clarity of the shots. This was taken tonight:

Friday, January 28 - Early Afternoon Moonrises & Work Changes

The past week has flown by. Sorry for not updating.

The days are growing longer and it's so exciting for all of us! The long, dark and dreary nights of winter are finally taking leave of us and I can see an increase in good moods all around me. It is so wonderful to leave work at 4:30pm and see a beautiful sunset, rather than stars in a black sky.

The photo at left was taken just before 5pm. As you can see, the moon is low on the horizon and making its way upward, but the sky is a beautiful shade of blue. In the opposite direction, the sun was making its descent. I love it when both the moon and the sun are visible at the same time. It wasn't so long ago, that the moon seemed to be the only thing we saw during the day.

On the workfront, Steve has been laterally promoted and will now be the 1SG for HHC 172nd Brigade SBCT (Stryker Brigade Combat Team). This change came as a surprise to both of us - especially after spending the last 18 months training with the soldiers of Charlie Company. The position itself is an excellent addition to his 'resume', but also will entail new adjustments, possibly longer hours (I hope not!), and a lot more responsibility. I am very proud of Steve and how far he has come in his career. I fully intend to remain active with the women of Charlie Company. I have made several great friends and don't intend to give them up.

I also found out yesterday that my boss is going to 'reclassify' my position so that I will be getting a raise. I already received a minuscule cost of living raise, but this one should be more sufficient. I hope that the work picks up. I've found myself bored quite a bit over the last few weeks - a slow time at the University. There is another deadline coming up in late March, so I expect the workload will increase over the next few weeks. I'm glad. I'd much rather be busy than bored.

I'm excitedly looking forward to the upcoming events we'll be having here in Fairbanks. I can't wait to photograph these events with my Rebel. I'm especially looking forward to the Ice Art Festival. I'll be purchasing a season pass so that I can make many visits during the course of the festival. I'd like to get a lot more photos of the artists at work. The Native Arts Festival should also be enjoyable and again, I'm looking forward to photographing the dancers.

Many more events are coming up. Stay tuned for photos and commentary!

Saturday, January 29 - Moose Sightings, Snow Drifts and Sunny Days

You may have read my *complaints* regarding the fairly elusive moose here on Fort Wainwright. My yard backs up to a wooded area and last year I was rewarded with quite a few sightings, as well as some pretty interesting close encounters.

Moose in YardMoose in YardThis morning, half asleep, I was opening the door to let Sedona out to do her duty, when I spied a mama and baby in my yard! Actually, I'm guessing it was a mama and baby, since one was a bit smaller than the other - but not by much. So I shooed Sedona back into the house and grabbed my camera. Unfortunately it was still only dusk outside, so I had to adjust my camera to let in as much light as possible. This resulted in much grain and blur due to the slow shutter speed. Here are two of the shots I managed to get. Sorry for the quality.

Later on this afternoon I decided to take Sedona out for a long walk in the woods. Guess who I ran into? This time however, I could only see half of the duo. As I was looking at one huge beast, Sedona was facing in the opposite direction snarling and barking. I whirled around but didn't see anything. Not wanting to take any chances, I began running perpendicular to the imaginary line leading from the visible moose to the invisible one that Sedona obviously knew was there. I was obviously between them - not the best place to be.

I discovered it's very difficult to run quickly in 2' of snow. Even harder when the snow reaches mid-thigh. Having a dog who is vertically challenged lent its own slant. My poor girl appeared to be swimming across the top of the snow. When her feet did sink to the ground, she was merely a head.

I stepped in her impressions - hoping they were tamped down enough to keep me atop the snow. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn't. Luckily, I managed to keep my balance. I looked over my shoulder a few times and thought I heard sticks cracking. A very disconcerting sound for sure.

When I finally got out of the woods and reached the fringes of the neighborhood, I stepped 'onto' a 3' drift, sunk to the top of my thighs, and proceeded to fall face-first into the snow. All I can say is that it's really hard to get your footing when you're laying face first in a 3' snowdrift. By the time I actually righted myself, my heart was pounding and I was perspiring. (I'm sure adrenaline had a lot to do with it too).

Through the WoodsI think perhaps it's time I had my husband bring home the extra set of snowshoes he has at work. Not that I'd be able to run in them...

I did manage to shoot a photo of the pretty sunlit trees. When the sun is out, the world looks so incredibly beautiful and bright. It was -24F during my walk, so my poor face was burning, but the rest of me was nice and warm in my many layers. However - after my fall into the snowdrift - I got cold quickly. Once my pants got wet, it wasn't long before the cold penetrated my silk long undies and made my legs cold.

I huffed and puffed all the way home. What a workout it is to trudge through deep snow! How in the world do mountain climbers do it? How did the Pioneers do it? All I know is that I'll probably be feeling it tomorrow.

Monday, January 31 - Watching the dogs run

Yesterday, Steve and I went out to breakfast and then headed over to Musher's Headquarters to watch the Challenge Race. Unfortunately, the race was canceled due to the temperature (-29F). The races are canceled if the temperature falls below -25F. Nevertheless, there were a few brave souls present who had come all that way and decided to run their dogs anyway.

I watched a skijorer take off with three dogs towing him. Soon after, a musher harnessed up her team and took off on the trail. Steve and I sat in the warm truck and awaited their return. I took a few photos of the dogs. The sun was still low in the sky, creating a warm glow, but also throwing people and dogs into silhouette.

Next weekend is the Jr. Yukon Quest. I'm really excited about attending it. The weather should warm up to -10F (almost a heat wave!). I hope the sun is shining, the skies are blue, and the young mushers and their dogs have a great race.

We have come to the end of another month. As always, it has flown by. Steve and I have now been living in Alaska for more than 18 months. And yet sometimes it feels like we just arrived last week. Every day I find something to be thankful for.

I love the colors in the sky when the sun and the moon make their appearance. The orange and yellow hues of sunrise and sunset are bright and pure. The deep blue of the sky after sunset is like that of a sapphire. The brightness of the moon spills light over the trees and makes their snow-shrouded twigs twinkle in the night. The snow can be white when the sun is high, blue when the sun is low, and yellow when sunlight streams through the trees.

The Alaska range on the horizon can be all shades of blue on a clear day, the white stripes of snow clearly visible. On an overcast day, the range is a uniform shade of medium blue or gray. As the sun sets, the range turns black and is backlit with bands of orange and yellow and red. I could never grow tired of seeing the range when I leave work at the end of my day.

And then there are those encounters (as written above) with wildlife. They are what makes living here in Alaska unique. Oh, how I love living here!

Today is my parent's anniversary. If my father were still alive, my mom and dad would be married 46 years. I know she is thinking of him today and missing him. I know I am.

Life is eternal and love is immortal;
And death is only a horizon,
And a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.

~ Rossiter W. Raymond ~

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