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Sunday, January 1st

Happy New Year! I'm not sad to say goodbye to 2005. Last year was one of adjustments, changes, happiness, sadness, and more. I guess that makes me as normal as the rest of the world. I look forward to starting fresh in a new year, and all that this year entails. Mostly I look forward to March (hopefully some R&R) and August, and seeing Steve again. It's been 129 days since he deployed; we are finally more than 1/3 of the way through the deployment.

I had a lot of goals that I wanted to reach by the end of the year. Not all of them were attained. I found myself very busy, despite giving up my job in October. Some projects went on a back burner, and others moved ahead - but at a snail's pace. I'm not going to make a resolution to achieve those goals this year either. I don't need the pressure. *grin* I've learned that sometimes you just have to let the day go by as it wants.

I've been selling photographs in spurts. I'm not 'officially' open for business, but word of mouth brings in print orders. Steve has been doing a heck of a business spreading the word to other soldiers, who tell someone else, etc. I've sold several bear and eagle prints to soldiers in Iraq who want to look at Alaska's magnificence hanging on their walls. In addition to my photography, I've been working in web design more actively. I am enjoying the balance in my life and I hope it continues.

Spending Christmas and New Years with my kids has been awesome. Time has been flying by since I arrived and it's hard to believe that I'll be leaving here in a few days. I'm a little sad about leaving, but I'm also looking forward to seeing my friends and comparing notes about our Christmas trips home. I miss Sedona and Airborne too, especially while in close proximity to JiJi and Pandora, and their nuzzles and purrs.

Yesterday, Brandon had to work, so Chris, Becky and I went to the Henry Vilas Zoo here in Madison. It's a free zoo, which is a good thing, as most of the animals were hiding in their shelters staying warm. I did enjoy the lions, the polar bear (funny how I had to come to Madison to get a good view of a polar bear), and the monkeys.

We left the zoo and stopped to watch the ice fisherman on Lake Monona before deciding on breakfast at Perkins Pancakes. It was delicious but I wished that Brandon could have been there too.

When we got home, I logged into Yahoo and Steve was online. Although we didn't stay online until it was midnight his time, we did wish each other a happy new year and talked about being reunited in a few months. His only plan for New Years Eve was to go to bed early and wake up in a new year. I hate to say I shared his enthusiasm for the holiday. However, I was very happy to be here with the kids, rather than home alone.

Last night, the kids had some company for a few hours. After they left, we tuned into the Times Square New Years Eve festivities and watched the ball come down on the east coast. An hour later, we again celebrated the new year as midnight arrived in the Central Time Zone. I went to bed soon after, thinking about my friends in AK who still had three hours until midnight.

Brandon is working again today (what a bummer!), and the rest of us plan to do absolutely nothing all day but watch movies. Tomorrow, the guys have to work, but Becky is off, so we're going shopping and exploring together which I know will be fun. I'm taking everyone out to Olive Garden for dinner tomorrow night. Yummy salad and bread sticks!

Here are some photos that were taken yesterday (Click to enlarge):

Bad tail!

Lions (Selective Color)

Ahhhh.. some snow!

Goats (Selective Color)

Ice Fishing on Lake Monona
The rest of the photos were taken by me and Chris. We had a great day at the zoo. <--- The photo to the left was a total accident, but I like the effect of the movement of the lion as Chris presses his hand to the glass.

Becky and *mom*

Becky and Chris
Wednesday, January 4th - Last Day in Madison

What a wonderful time I had with Becky shopping on Monday! It was just like being out with a girlfriend. We laughed, talked, tried on lots of clothes, and had fun spending money. There were so many bargains, I think I temporarily went a little insane. I'm glad we only had one day when we went wild and crazy.

Other than that, the week has been very quiet. It's hard to believe that I leave tomorrow morning. Where did the time go? I really enjoyed the last two weeks and getting to know my adult children a little better. I think they got to know their mom a little better too. We had a lot of fun together.

I snapped a few photos of the critters who live here.

The Fat Cat - JiJi

Sleepy Pandora
Caught in the act of
tormenting the fish

Snails, snails, everywhere!

It's time to pack up my laptop. The next time I'm posting here, I'll be back in Alaska. I can't wait to see Alaska from the sky. I hope it's still light enough to see the mountains when we pass over.
Friday, January 6th - I'm home, the furkids are happy, and it's good to be back in AK!

I had a very long day traveling yesterday. The more I travel, the less I enjoy it. Unless it's by car. I'll take a multi-day roadtrip over a long flight any day.

I got up at 6am with Chris yesterday morning. Brandon and Becky got up to say goodbye to me too. We had to leave the apartment by 7am in order to get to the airport in time for my 9am flight to Minneapolis. I hated saying goodbye, but I also looked forward to seeing Sedona and Airborne - and Alaska. While I enjoyed my stay in Madison, and do think it's a great city to live in, with a lot to offer, I've become spoiled by the wide open spaces of Alaska, the laid back attitude, and the lack of traffic congestion.

My flights were fine - as flights go. I have the same complaints most everyone else has: not enough leg room in the seats, delays, having to pay for your onboard meal now (this is Northwest Airlines I'm speaking of and I'm not sure if all the airlines are going this route), and having your luggage gone through by some stranger from TSA who doesn't know how to put everything back neatly and breaks things. Both my bags were gone through, my clothes were put back in a wad, and a Christmas ornament I got as a gift was broken. Besides the fact that I feel so darn violated when I know some stranger has been handling my 'unmentionables'. Why can't they x-ray checked baggage and only search those bags which show something suspicious?

I almost missed my connecting flight from Anchorage to Fairbanks. Why is it that when you're running late, it seems you have to run between the two furthest gates/terminals in the airport? Do they do this on purpose? Do they look at the manifest and determine that 40 people are going to be cutting it close for their connection and jokingly tell the pilot to pull into the furthest gate available?

So there I was deplaning in Terminal B/Gate 9 and having 10 minutes to get to my connecting flight which was at Terminal C/Gate 9. I ran. And I ran. And I had an asthma attack. And couldn't breathe. And got lightheaded. And then discovered that my connecting flight was also delayed and I had an hour to spare. I was thankful for that, but feeling very lousy after my long and strenuous run.

My friend Susan was waiting for me when I arrived. She brought me home to unload my suitcases and about an hour and a half later, the two of us went back for Rachael and her sister Brenda. Now the three of us are all back in Alaska again - and happy to be home.

Airborne was really mad at me for leaving her. When a cat has an attitude, look out. Airborne is the queen of snubbing. I had to search high and low for her, as she would not respond to my calls. I finally found her hiding under a table and she still wouldn't come to me. However, when I pulled her to me and began stroking her, she was purring in no time. She needed a bath terribly. It looks as if she slacked off in the grooming department while I was gone. And she's shedding horribly (stress, most likely). This morning, I put her in the bathroom sink and gave her a nice warm bath. She resisted at first, but then gave up the fight. I gave her a good brushing and she's smelling and looking just beautiful. She hasn't left my side since I got home.

I picked up Sedona at the kennel this afternoon. If you live local, I highly recommend Sheila Rae Kennels on Badger Road. I've taken Sedona there three times already and will use them again and again. Be aware - it's not some fancy-schmancy tile and marble boarding place. It's a kennel. And they really take good care of the dogs staying with them. The indoor cages are heated and have carpet on the floor, while the outdoor runs (accessible by doggy doors) are large and allow for some running. Sedona and Stryker (Rachael's Labrador) were side by side and seem to have fared very well. Sheila Rae Kennels came highly recommended to me by the manager at Cold Spot Feeds. And when I found out that my Vet uses them for her dogs, I was sold.

Sedona was so happy to see me. As soon as we got home, she covered me in kisses and played with me a little, before curling up at my feet and taking a long nap. When I took her out for her evening walk, she was thrilled to discover all the familiar smells. Boy, have I missed my furkids!

It's so nice to be back in Fairbanks. I can't wait to get out shooting landscape and skyscape photos again. While I miss my kids immensely, there's no place like home. I really hope I can bring all three of them up here this summer.

Saturday, January 7th - Moose!

I'm still a little jet lagged, but at least I got 7 hours of sleep last night. Not long after I woke up, Steve got online and we had a wonderful connection with our web cams too. We chatted for about an hour - the perfect way for me to start my day, and for him to end his.

The sunrise looked amazing out the bedroom window, and I was really in the mood to shoot some photos, so I drove a big loop around post - taking the gravel road which leads past Birch Hill. I stopped a few times for photographs, but mainly just enjoyed the view from the windshield.

As I was approaching Birch Hill, a mama moose and a baby appeared on the road. I stopped the truck a good distance away and mounted my zoom lens. (I wish I would have had my wildlife lens with me) I took a few photos while mama looked back and forth between me and the baby. Then she crossed the road and headed into the woods. I slowly made my way toward them, driving slowly so as not to frighten them. I could see mama's head in the foliage. I imagined she was calling to her calf - either that or chastising him for not following her. He started a slow sprint across the road in her direction. All of sudden a second baby came out of the woodline and followed the other calf. Twins! What a treat for the eyes. I think this was my first moose sighting in more than a month.

I turned off at the beaver pond and drove a little ways up the road. I had seen a moose last winter on this short stretch and hoped to see another. No such luck. I did stop and shoot a panoramic of the frozen pond. I don't believe the beavers live in the pond any longer. The lodge looked uninhabited this summer, and a new lodge has appeared on the banks of the Chena River. I read somewhere that beavers will move from one water source to another when they've exhausted the food supply. While getting from the old lodge to the new one is a couple of miles by road, it's not quite as far by water. During the summer and fall, we watched the beavers dragging huge logs downstream to their new den. I'd wager that it's the same family that used to live in the beaver pond I photographed today.

sunrise in the woods
Through the woods

Frozen Chena River
mama moose and  baby
Mama and one baby
twin moose calves
Second baby follows
Frozen Beaver Pond
Beaver Pond (900 pixels wide)
There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the forest clothed to its very hollows in snow.
It is the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray,
every blade of grass, every spire of reed,
every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance.

~ William Sharp ~
Monday, January 9th - The Raven

I love to watch the ravens. They are mischievous birds, that can make a huge mess. Especially on trash day. Opportunists, the ravens perch high in the trees or on the lamp posts, and lie in wait as we human folks roll our green county trash cans out to the front of our homes. Not all the families on my street are able to fit all of their household waste in the can and close the lid completely. There are always several cans with enough trash bags jammed inside that the lid stands partially open. It's like ringing the dinner bell.

First one or two ravens show up. They take turns standing on top of the trash can, pecking at the garbage bags. Soon the ground is littered with coffee grinds, pizza crust, and other edible (and sometimes non-edible) treasures. While one raven pulls foodstuff from the bag and drops it to the ground, the others eat. They take turns being the raven on top of the can.

Yesterday, five or six ravens did a number on my neighbor's trash. I watched them for a little while, before grabbing my camera. The contrast between their black feathers and the whiteness of the frost and snow was lovely.

Raven in a frosty tree Walking raven Raven Feathers Ravens on a lamp post
Wednesday, January 11th - Anniversaries, hoarfrost, and winter drives

Yesterday was Brandon and Becky's 3rd wedding anniversary. I called their house to wish them a happy day, and Brandon was home from work early. He had just returned from taking flowers and a card to Becky at her job. I know how happy that must have made her. Getting flowers delivered to work is always exciting; having your husband deliver them in person is even better. I wish them a lifetime of happiness.

hoarfrost on a branchYesterday wasn't a good day for me emotionally. I have these days when I feel lower than low - especially with Steve being halfway around the world. I know that it's normal, so I just ride out the storm and look forward to the dawn of a new day and a renewed spirit. When I'm feeling that down, I've found that a walk in the woods behind my house is the best medicine. It may not lift my spirits completely, but it does bring fresh air into my lungs and take my mind off of my loneliness. It's a much better way of dealing with temporary depression than sitting in my house moping. Besides, yesterday was a sunny day - not a very common occurrence lately - and I didn't want to waste it.

frosty eyelashesI put Sedona's booties on her and leashed her up for our walk. I made sure to don many layers of clothing, to include my long underwear, two layers of fleece tops, gloves, and even a hat. I am not a big fan of hats, but I'm also not stupid when it comes to Alaska winters. While I can get away with being hatless when I'm merely running errands and moving from vehicle to building, a long walk with Sedona - in minus 20F temperatures - requires that just about every square inch of my skin be covered. On the way back to the house, my eyelashes were stuck together because my breath had caused frost to form on them. My legs were beginning to tingle too. It was good I didn't stay out too long.

chena river bathroomDown by the Chena river, there are bathroom facilities (pit toilets). I have always admired the rustic brown appearance of the wood, especially when contrasted against the snow. While I'm not in the habit of photographing bathrooms (although I have photographed outhouses at one time or another), I couldn't resist taking a photo of this wooden structure nestled in the frost-covered trees, under a brilliant blue sky. It's hard to believe that in a few months, the ground will be grass-covered, the trees will have tiny leaves on them, and the river will be running freely.

I discovered on our walk that Sedona has split one of her booties. The snow was making its way into the bootie and getting stuck between her toes. This caused Sedona to lift the cold paw in the air, and look at me plaintively. I had to stop several times and brush the snow from between her toes before she would go on. Looks like I'll be making a stop at the local feed store to get her some new footwear. While I'm there I might pick up a set of booties for Pandora (Brandon and Becky's boxer). It seems that Pandora isn't very fond of walking in snow either.

winter moonThis morning I had a few errands to run and managed to make it out of the house by 11:15am. This isn't some simple feat, as the late sunrises can make a person lazy. I slept in this morning (7:30am - late for me), which put me behind the power curve. Then Steve got online and we chatted via Yahoo Messenger for about 30 minutes.

As I drove to the post office to ship off a couple of care packages, I noticed the moon - low on the horizon and nearly full. I just had to pull off the road and take a few photos. The ice fog which hung low to the ground added a magical touch to the image.

Twin Towers Steese HwyI picked up Rachael and we decided on lunch at The Cookie Jar, before taking a drive up the Steese Highway to see the "Twin Towers". I posted a photo of these ice towers back in November. They are much taller now, and there are streaks of pink on the tower to the right. I visited the website for these ice towers ( Check out the story here ), and discovered there's a webcam for them now. That will make it easier to follow their growth. I'd like to get some photographs of climbers on the towers. ice tower close up

little log cabinWe took a long way home - actually a 'totally out of our way' drive home. I was in the mood to drive Goldstream Rd. in the hopes of seeing some moose. While we didn't see any wildlife, we did come across some very pretty homes in the middle of nowhere. The house in the photograph at left was about the size of a camping cabin, and yet I imagine that the family who lives in it is extremely happy. Who wouldn't be? Situated beneath a tall fir tree, there wasn't another house for acres. I bet the northern lights look incredible from the front porch.

Tanana Chief on frozen riverAs we made our way home, we caught a glimpse of the Tanana Chief on the frozen Chena River. The Tanana Chief is a replica of the old riverboats that plied the waterways of Alaska's Interior. In the warmer months, you can take a sternwheeler cruise down the river on the Tanana Chief. But like most things in the Interior, winter brings everything to a halt. Black and white seems to suit winter photos best. Rest assured that when spring finally arrives, I'll be back to shooting in living color.

Saturday, January 14th - Full Moons and Snowy Roads

I love a full moon. I love the way it illuminates the sky - even during the day. But at night, especially on a clear night, the moon casts enough light to make the frost coated tree limbs glisten in the evening sky. The yard looks striped at night - the valleys between the drifts cloaked in darkness, as the peaks glisten with what I call 'fairy dust'. Tonight the sky is clear, but for the moon and the stars. It would be a perfect night for the northern lights to make an appearance. I'll be checking periodically, in the hopes that they do.

Yesterday, after running a few errands with Rachael, we took our cameras and drove up to the ammo supply point behind Birch Hill. The gravel road winds up the hill, looping back and forth until it reaches the heavily protected buildings. Steve used to drive me up there in search of moose. In the spring, we've discovered Pasque flowers in bloom along the road. In the winter, the view across the trees at sunset is breathtaking. Yesterday, our goal was to find an open spot to take photos of the full, round moon in the late afternoon sky.

It was so quiet. Not a soul was around but us. I was glad to have Rachael with me. My biggest fear when out exploring on my own, is getting stuck in too deep snow or breaking down. Being totally alone in a remote location can be a bit frightening. I'm glad for the blanket I have in the truck, and the extra clothes for warmth - just in case.

After coming down from the hill, we drove the gravel road toward the one lane bridge and decided to do the loop through the A-frame neighborhood. There was no sign of wildlife, but the moon looked pretty behind the houses.

Here are a few photos from yesterday, as well as an oversized photograph of the moon that I shot tonight.

Winter Road

Full moon - 850 pixels wide
Thursday, January 19th - Frigid Weather and Road Trips

It has been a busy few days for me. It's not that my calendar was full of 'places to go and things to do', but yet I did find places to go and things to do! I sometimes wonder how I keep up with all the running around. I do realize that this is why I have those nights when I collapse into my bed before 11pm and sleep a full eight hours. Last night was one of those evenings.

Sunday, I went with the girls to The Cookie Jar for breakfast, as always. Afterward, we decided to take in a movie (Last Holiday with Queen Latifah). It was an enjoyable movie, which would probably be classified as a 'chick flick'. I laughed a lot, and really enjoyed the location shots in the Czech Republic. There was one scene in the movie - a river running between snow-capped mountains - which reminded me immensely of a landscape I've had the privilege of seeing in Denali National Park. It was absolutely breathtaking, and made me wish for the opportunity to explore parts of Europe. Perhaps someday I will get a chance to vacation outside the United States. But, until then, I will continue to drink in the beauty which surrounds me here in Alaska, and be happy.

A few days ago, an online friend of mine posted an entry in his journal recapping the year using his photographs. I thought it was a great idea, and spent some time going through my collection of photos looking for one photograph from each month - January through December - in 2005. These are the photos I chose for to represent 2005 (Click to enlarge):


Beauty can be seen
in all things,
seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph.

~ Matt Hardy ~


On Tuesday, Rachael and I decided to take a drive to Chena Hot Springs. We were originally only going to drive up the road about 30 miles or so, in a quest for moose, but the shining sun and the fact that we got on the road before noon, made me change my mind and go all the way. Unfortunately, we only saw one moose and she was running through the woods. I didn't have a chance to pull out my camera, and Rachael managed to snap a few frames, but I don't think she was able to get the moose's face.

It was brutally cold, with temperatures at 30+ below zero. Before we hit the road, I made sure I had all of my emergency equipment in the truck, just in case. I threw in an extra quilt, some water and crackers, and extra clothing - as well as my snowpants and arctic boots. Better to be safe than sorry! Some may think I'm being overly cautious, but all it takes is one icy patch of road, and you can easily find yourself in a ditch on the side of the road. Besides - it doesn't take any extra time to toss these extras in the back seat.

When we got to the *resort*, I decided to leave the truck running to keep it warm for us. We barely made one lap around the grounds, before making a beeline into the restaurant to warm up. There were only a handful of bathers in the hot spring, and seeing them in nearly nothing, while Rachael and I stood shivering in the elements was surreal. The water at Chena Hot Springs is an average 110F all year round. Many people believe that by bathing in the water, arthritis may be relieved. Other people with bronchial disorders, claim the combination of steam and minerals provides breathing relief. You can read more about Chena Hot Springs Resort by clicking the link.

Cabin at Chena Hot Springs resortThe scene at left is one of my favorites to shoot at Chena Hot Springs Resort. In the summer, the grass is lush and green. In the fall, the alders and birch trees are full of brilliant yellow foliage. And in the winter, the steam coming off of the hot brooks and streams bring an extra touch of magic to a white, frosty landscape. This may be a resort, but if you decide to stay in one of their cabins, be prepared to use an outhouse. This might prove to be a bit uncomfortable when it's -30F.

The inside of the restaurant is rustic in decor. It's a log building, with a pitched ceiling and a fireplace. I've eaten there with Steve a few times, but we passed this time - instead planning to play 'beat the clock' with the sunset. I don't like to drive after dark, and Chena Hot Springs Road is very dark after sunset. There are a lot of moose vs. vehicle encounters on the road after dark as well. I didn't want to become a statistic.

When it's this cold, your breath quickly freezes on your hair, your eyelashes, and your scarf. Rachael has long, thick, eyelashes and I just had to snap a photo of her frosty face. I've told her in the past how frosted her eyelashes get, but until she saw the photo I took, she had never seen it on herself. I love the way the frost clings to her curly hair.

It was a wonderful drive - despite the lack of moose sightings - and it made me get the itch to do some more road trips. The next one will probably take us down to Black Rapids. The scenery along the Richardson Hwy is amazing. My only worry at this point is that the days aren't quite long enough yet, which means driving after dark. We might just have to wait a few weeks before we can attempt this drive. At the very least, perhaps we'll go as far as Donnelly Dome and then turn around and come back.

Steve is doing as well as can be expected. He sometimes refers to his days as Groundhog Day - same stuff/different day. While he doesn't care for dodging mortars or attacks on the FOB (Forward Operating Base), these incidents provide a much needed adrenaline rush. I can't imagine how hard it must be for all of our soldiers to spend a year in one place, doing the same thing, day after day. More than anything, Steve misses road trips in Alaska.

We are still planning for an R&R visit at the end of March or beginning of April. That will put us at about the 31-week mark. I just have to keep my eye on the prize - and R&R. After that, I hope the remaining 20 weeks or so fly by. I can not wait until he is home with me for good.

“Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”
~ Kahlil Gibran ~

Sunday, January 22nd - Birthdays, Dog Sledding, and a Trip Home
Let me start this entry with Happy Birthday wishes to several members of my family. Happy Birthday to my nephew Michael (age 22) - whose birthday was the 14th, my niece Rachael (age 17) - whose birthday was the 18th, and my brother Mike (old as dirt like me) - whose birthday is TODAY! I hope you all had a wonderful day surrounded by those who love you the most.

Today was a great day for me. It didn't start off so great, as Steve and I had to end our online conversation prematurely because he was called away from the computer for a meeting. We were only about 5 minutes into 'instant messaging' one another when he told me had to go. He wanted me to wait for him to come back, but I didn't get the chance to tell him that the dogsled races scheduled for today were actually going to take place. The Annamaet Challenge Series Races were supposed to start on January 9th. They normally take place every other Sunday. But, until today, they didn't go off as scheduled. The first race of the season was canceled due to lack of snow and bad trail conditions, and the second race was canceled because it was colder than -25F. I was very disappointed, and I'm sure a lot of mushers were too.

When I got up this morning to freshly fallen snow (we've been having flurries for the past couple of days), and a -15F temp, I was thrilled for the opportunity to watch the dogs run. I hadn't photographed any races this winter and was definitely looking forward to catching some sled dog action.

Sled on Truck with Frosty treesWhen my conversation with Steve ended, I piled on layers of clothing, grabbed my camera bag (and a nice hot cup of coffee) and drove over to the Jeff Studdert Racegrounds. The crowd was large; I think everyone was as happy as I was to finally be participating in or watching one of the wonderful things about living in Alaska.

I had the opportunity to talk to a few skijorers and get photos of them with their dogs. Completing the race is a feat in itself. Skijoring is the sport of skiing while being pulled by a dog or dogs. The trail length for skijorers is 4.5 miles. Mushers race with sleds pulled by 4 or more dogs and the trail length can be more than 13 miles (this is for the Annamaet Challenge Series, and race lengths vary depending on the race). I enjoyed seeing the excitement on the dogs faces. They just love to run and their excitement can be felt as well as heard. Their howls of joy echo across the race grounds as they wait for their turn to run. Here are photos I took today (Click to enlarge)

Jennifer Probert
Jennifer Probert
Two Dog Skijorer
Two dog skijorer
Kimberly Beckman
Kimberly Beckman
Mushing Jeff Studdert Racegrounds
Coming into the final stretch
David French & Boone
David French & Boone
Carol Kleckner
Carol Kleckner
Dog team members
Determined pair
Carol Kaynor
Carol Kaynor

I'm going to Philadelphia to visit my mother (and my family) at the end of February. Ticket prices finally dropped enough that I didn't have to sell my first born child to afford the airfare. What a scam the airlines have going. Prices go higher and higher all the time, and service gets worse and worse. This trip will (hopefully) earn me the frequent flyer miles I need to get a free ticket. Unless of course they change the rules - which I wouldn't put past them. Landing a ticket that cost me less than $750 was like hitting the lottery. (Said quite facetiously).

I'm spending a week in Philly. I've already made arrangements to kennel Sedona, and Rachael said she'll stop in and see Airborne while I'm gone. When I come home from PA, it will only be four weeks until Steve comes home on R&R. Once we get to R&R, things will be OK. The weather will be warming up, road trips will be possible, color will come back to Fairbanks, and the days will be longer. I do love spring and summer in Alaska!

The next event coming up is the Yukon Quest on February 11th. It starts in Fairbanks this year. You can bet I'll be there with my camera to get photos at the start of the race. Then I'll drive back up on Fort Wainwright and find a place to take more photos as they come by on the Chena River. I'm looking forward to it.

Saturday, January 28th - Ice Fog, Arctic Temps, and Tooth Pain

I have been missing in action, but not for fun reasons. The day after my last entry, I woke up to excruciating pain in a back molar. This molar had already had a root canal and crown done on it about 10 years ago. Fortunately, I was able to get some relief by taking ibuprofen. I also started on some erythromycin that I had left over from last year's dental issues. I figured it couldn't hurt.

I have dental insurance through the military. While I am happy to even have insurance, it is woefully inadequate if you need more than a few fillings a year. Add in the outlandish cost of dental work up here, and it's not hard to use up that maximum payout in no time. Last year, I had to have two root canals and crowns. Thank goodness I had University dental insurance as well - or I wouldn't have been able to have them both done. The claim year for United Concordia (military dental) starts on February 1st. I maxed out my claim last year in March. So, when this pain appeared last week, all I kept thinking was "I have to hang on until February 1st". And that's what my intent was.

By Wednesday, the ibuprofen wasn't doing a darn thing for pain management. Fortunately, I also had some Percocet and Vicodin from last year's dental crisis. I also called and made a dental appointment for February 1st (the first one of the day), to have the tooth looked at. I struggled through the day, dealing with nausea on top of pain because I couldn't eat, and the Vicodin was making me sick to my stomach. But it was also the only thing helping with pain.

Ice Fog Front yardIce Fog Back YardWednesday, our temperatures really started to plummet and the world was cloaked in ice fog. We've been seeing temps at 40+ BELOW for almost a week. The ice fog is dangerous in itself, and I was glad I was in no mood to go anywhere. The news stations reported accidents throughout the day, and some businesses were even shut down, or closed early for the day. If I was going to be feeling poorly, there's no better time than when it's too cold to leave the house.

I slept fitfully on Thursday and the pain was nonstop. If you've had tooth pain, you understand just how crazy it can make you. I can so relate to Tom Hank's character in Castaway and his knocking his own tooth out with the rock. That's exactly how I felt. By 5am Friday morning, I was in tears. I took two Percocet this time, and all they did was dull the pain. A little while later, Steve got online and insisted that I get to the ER. At that point, I just wanted someone to give me a pain shot and put me out of my misery. I was also really worried about the huge swelling on the left side of my face. I couldn't even close my lips and the swelling even made my eye squint.

I bundled up and headed to the hospital. It was -51F when I left the house. This was actually a good thing. No one was in the ER, but me. They took me right away, and pretty much told me they couldn't do anything for me (which I figured - I just wanted stronger pain pills). But the doctor did call the dentist on call and he had me come right over to the Dental Clinic here on post. This is not normal protocol, as the dental clinic is for troops only. Yes, I've read somewhere that it's also for dental emergencies for military dependents too, but their definition of a dental emergency is pretty precise (I'm assuming car accident, etc.). Because it was Friday and no dentists in Fairbanks were open, plus it was so darn cold and they didn't really have too many soldiers waiting for appointments, they took me. Thank you, God!

It turns out that my old root canal was an 'incomplete' root canal. In other words, the entire pulp wasn't removed. And that tissue decided - 10 years later - to rear its ugly head. I wonder if I can go back to that dentist and get my $500 back. Not likely. I had to have emergency oral surgery to place a drainage tube into my gum to drain the infection. I'm also on stronger antibiotics and a new course of Percocet (which dulls the pain, but also knocks me out for the day). I see some improvement in the swelling but I still look like a chipmunk. I will be going back on Monday to have the drain removed and to talk to an endodontist about redoing the root canal. He said they should be able to salvage the crown, so that's good.

So, for the past few days, I've turned off the ringer on the phone, and have slept away my day. I fully intend to continue the same way for the rest of the today. Tomorrow, I know I'm going to want to get out of the house. I'm getting cabin fever, but until I can manage the pain with only ibuprofen, I can't go anywhere because the pain meds make me so drowsy. Hopefully, today will be my last day on Percocet.

On another note... Steve has decided he's putting in his papers to retire from the army when he gets back from Iraq (if they'll let him out). We're not sure when he'll be released from duty, but we'd like to stay in until next spring (May '07). Our dream is to retire in Alaska. I just can't fathom living anywhere but this great state. While we might not be able to stay in Fairbanks, we'll go where we have to, as long as we can stay here in 'The Last Frontier". Steve's been talking to some people, and we've been keeping our eyes open for employment opportunities. Nothing is carved in stone yet. At this point, all we care about is getting him home from Iraq safely.

Tuesday, January 31st - Frosty Trees, Ice Art, and a Wedding Anniversary

In Heaven
If I cry to you then, will you hear or know?
~ A.C. Swinburne, "The Triumph of Time" ~

I'll start with the bittersweet... Today is my mom and dad's wedding anniversary. If Daddy were still alive, they would be married 47 years. I knew Mom would be sad, so I called her. I was right; the first few minutes of our phone conversation were sad, as she remembered my father and talked about how much she missed him and his daily smile, his laughter, and his loving and caring ways. I can't imagine what it's like to lose your life mate, and I hope that God gives Steve and I many more years together to enjoy each other. All I could do was listen to my mother talk, as tears filled my eyes too. I can't believe that this year will be ten years since Daddy left this world. A flash of time, it seems. I still remember the sadness as if it was yesterday. *sigh*

BLue Skies of FairbanksI awoke on Sunday morning, in a moderate amount of pain, but still decided to see if I could medicate myself with Motrin as opposed to Percocet. While I certainly enjoyed the restful sleep that Percocet provided me with, I'm not one to spend days curled up under a comfy quilt sleeping my life away. It was tempting, believe me. But when I saw that we were actually above -30F, I wanted to take advantage of the 'warm spell' and at least drive a short loop around post. The skies were an incredible shade of blue. A deep 'robin's egg blue' that really had to be seen to be appreciated. I looked longingly out my bedroom window, wide-eyed at the beauty of the pristine white frosted trees against the lovely blue of the sky. It was a scene that could make a person's breath catch in their throat. The colors seemed to be from a palette no mortal person could mix. That sight was all I needed to pull on my clothes and step out into the frigid air for the first time since my ER trip early Friday morning.

One Lane Bridge BWGolf Course Tree BWI was out for less than 30 minutes - only enough time to make the loop along the snow-covered, gravel road, which winds through wooded area and past our ski hill. I stopped only a few times to take photos. Sedona sat at my side, enjoying the passing of scenery, and thankful to be going for a ride in the truck. I had music playing and sang along with the CD, and Sedona seemed to smile at me as she wagged her tail.

On Monday morning, I had a follow up appointment with the dentist to remove the stitches and the drain tube from my gum. I wasn't sure if I'd be having a root canal or if I'd be referred outside, so I was nervous about enduring more trauma to my mouth. The drain removal was over and done with quickly, and with only a small amount of discomfort. I need to schedule an appointment to have the root canal re-done later on in the month. My only concern is having it done far enough in advance of my trip home to Philly. I certainly don't want to risk mouth pain while dealing with airports and long flights.

When I got home on Monday, I chatted with Rachael and let her know that I was itching to get out in the fresh air. It was another beautiful day yesterday with the same blue skies and shining sun. While the weatherman said it was closer to -20F, it still felt very cold to us. We decided to go out to lunch, and chose The Diner (the same one I wrote about last month) for comfort food: grilled cheese sandwiches and curly fries. I knew that the softness of the melted cheese wouldn't hurt my gum or tooth. I was right. What a wonderful meal to have as my first 'real' meal in almost a week.

When we left The Diner, I decided to drive over to the Ice Park to see what was going on in preparation for the Ice Art Championships - opening in late February. The local newspaper - The News Miner - had a story a few weeks back about the sculptures in the Kiddie Park. A press release issued on December 19th said:


Ice Sculptor - 2006This would explain the fact that the Kiddie Park area already has carvings of some of the characters of Ice Age. We drove into the park and turned toward two sculptors who were busy at work. They allowed us to take their photograph and smiled and waved toward our cameras. A little further past them, was an ice marquee advertising Ice Age 2, with a carving of one of the main characters: Scrat. The further we went, the more little ice sculptures we came upon. I can't wait until the park opens later on this month! I also hope that we maintain colder temperatures until the end of March so we can enjoy the ice art for longer. Last year, if you were reading me then, you'll remember that we had a heat wave when it warmed up to 40F and the sculptures started melting in the warm sun. It was such a sad and quick way to end the festivities. All of that attention to detail, gone at the touch of a sun beam. I'd be happy with highs in the low-mid 20s. It would definitely feel like spring to us Fairbanksans, and the ice art would stay around for a little longer. Here are some photographs taken in the Kiddie Park:

Chena River near Pioneer Park Wide Shot Chena River On the way home from the Ice Park, we drove along the river near Pioneer Park. The river there isn't totally thawed because the power plant expels warm water into the river as part of operations (I was told it is distilled water, and not toxic or hazardous). The warm water discharge keeps this portion of the river running all year round, and creates pockets of steam where the warm water meets the frigid air. It's a beautiful sight, especially when the skies are painted in pastel, and the trees are coated thickly with snow and frost.

I also have a few more photos that I took yesterday morning on the way home from my dental appointment. Again, I took the back way home - past the ski hill. I diverted to drive a loop through the A-Frame neighborhood. The small homes looked quaint and cozy surrounded by tall trees and nestled in the snow. As long as I'm warm, I could look at surroundings like this forever.

Joy in looking and comprehending
is nature's most beautiful gift.
~ Albert Einstein ~

Go to February

© 2006 Susan L Stevenson