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Thursday, November 2nd - Giving Thanks

Give ThanksNovember already - a month meant for giving thanks! I am going to think about one thing I am thankful for every morning when I wake up this month. So often we let the stresses of everyday life cloud our thoughts and forget about those things we should truly be grateful for. Yesterday, I gave thanks that I have Steve home with me - whole and healthy - and we have the opportunity to move forward into this next chapter of our life. This morning, I gave thanks for being blessed with two parents who loved and encouraged me throughout my life. While I only had them for a short while, I learned much from both of them. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

We own a new home, but it doesn't look like we'll be moving into it for a couple of weeks. That's actually OK with us, because we're not sure how long it will take to have the phone, satellite TV, and internet connected. The movers are scheduled to pack us up and haul our stuff between the 13th and the 15th. In the meantime, Steve and I will run back and forth to the new house to clean it up and get it ready for our 'stuff'. It's not dirty, but there's sawdust in the kitchen cabinets and little things like that to be tidied up. I want to put shelf liner in the cabinets too, and install shower curtains, etc.

Chena River iceThe weather is getting gradually more 'wintry'. The weatherman says we'll dip below zero on Friday night; as cold as -10F. While this isn't the 'real' winter weather yet, it will definitely mean layering, long underwear, hats, gloves and scarves.

The ice moves further and further up the river and will soon reach the bridge. I took the photo above from Rachael's car, using my old G2 camera (I shot the raven below with it too). It's easier to throw that camera in my purse, and rather than go out without any camera at all, I've been toting it along - just in case. I like the video feature it has too, and have been playing a bit more with that. I'm definitely in need of a 'real' photo shoot though. The shorter days of winter can bring periods of the doldrums upon me, and the only thing that really helps is going off on my own in search of beauty.

raven trashSteve and I have been getting rid of so much stuff as we prepare to relocate. Monday is trash day here, and the pile in front of our house was bigger than it's been in a long time. The snow was falling lightly, and as I was stacking some empty boxes, I glanced over at the house next door. A huge raven was standing on top of the trash can, pulling food scraps from the bag poking out, and then tossing them onto the ground where he could enjoy at his leisure. The ravens are very smart birds, and I could watch their antics for hours.

I found a couple of birdhouses that I brought with me from Florida. I never hung them up at this house, but I'd like to hang them at the new place. I also want to have bird feeders in the yard. And lots of beautiful flowers. Here it is, the beginning of winter, and my thoughts are on springtime, birds, and gardens!

172nd Stryker Brigade PatchOur Stryker Brigade has lost six soldiers since they were extended in Iraq this past August, and we've had countless soldiers injured over the course of this war. On October 11th, we lost Sgt. Nicholas R. Sowinski when he was killed by an IED. Several other soldiers in his vehicle were injured; one of those seriously. That seriously injured soldier is the spouse to one of the women in my online Alaska Military Spouse group.

Lizz has since flown out to Washington DC (Walter Reed) to be at her husband Brian's side (last name withheld for privacy reasons). Despite many heroic measures, Brian lost his right leg below the knee. He's not out of the woods yet, as there are other medical issues which are making the healing process move slowly. Lizz keeps an online journal, and she posts occasional updates. Yesterday, her husband got control of her laptop and posted a journal entry. I wanted to share it here:

Hello Everyone!!!

First of all, this is Brian and I wanted to make a post about Lizz. She lets me browse her LJ so I can keep up in her life (or, after this, she USED to let me). I've looked at what she has told you all about how frustrated she has felt and about my progress. But there are things she fails to mention horrifically at times.

This woman is absolutely amazing. She has been so incredibly busy since I've seen her. I've had to send her out with my brother and sister to have fun, and then she would only go with my parents watching me. (Her idea of fun, by the way, seem to be eating as little as possiblt and coming back after maybe an hour out ) She has been ever-vigilant in taking care of me. She does BY FAR more than the nurses. She has helped to clean me and clean my wounds. She wakes up in the middle of the night and wakes me up before my nightmares get too bad. She adjusts my padding and blankets at least 20 times a day, and every time it is before I even realize I could be more comfortable.

She has been selfless in my care, almost self-destructive. She refuses to let herself cry in front of me. She has been a paragon of strength to me. She has been the closest of confidants and bears all my personal frustrations along-side her own. She spends probably an hour every day tidying and cleaning to make this tiny little room feel like home. This woman bought cleaning supplies to clean the hospital's baseboards!

Lizz is amazing to me. With a traumatic event in a person's life, it tend to give something for everyone to focus on. So I have no more right foot, yes, it sucks. But I swear every time I go to look through the foot that isn't there I see Lizz's spectacular green eyes looking back to ask if everything is okay on my end. My Lizz loves me unconditionally and totally. I KNOW this. And I love her right back.

So, if you've a moment, please, send your thoughts and prayers to Lizz. She deserves some acknowedgement.

So often we forget those brave servicemen and women who have been injured during this war. If you go online and read the statistics at the Iraq Coalition Casualties website, those injured are represented by a number. As of September 30, 2006, there have been FORTY-FOUR THOUSAND, SEVEN HUNDRED SEVENTY NINE (44,779) US non mortal casualties (including non-hostile and medical evacuations). Unless you personally know someone who has been injured, or have read the occasional human interest story in the news, this statistic is virtually unknown to most Americans.

As you keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers, please remember those families who are still fighting battles, even though they are no longer on foreign soil.

Tuesday, November 7th - Get out and VOTE!

As I wrote in my last entry, I have decided that November would be an entire month of gratitude. I suppose I should play 'catch up' and continue with my list.

November 3rd As the outside temperature plummets, I am thankful that I live in a nice warm house. Many people in the world don't have shelter. It is estimated that there are more than 600,000 homeless men, women, and children in the United States on any given night.

I am thankful to see full shelves of food when I open the refrigerator and pantry. Many people in the world don't know when their next meal will be. Millions of children and millions of seniors nationwide rely on food and grocery assistance from soup kitchens, food pantries and emergency shelters annually.

I am thankful when I turn on the shower or the sink, and clean water comes out. More than 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water.

When I open my closet, or go into my dresser, I am thankful that I have clothing and the ability to purchase more. Many people in the world would not be clothed if not for the generosity of others, and some only have the clothes on their back.

When I am sick, I am thankful for medical insurance and healthcare. So many people don't receive any medical care at all. A National Health Survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found more than 40 million people of all ages went without insurance at some point in 2005.

Food, Shelter, Water, Clothing, and Healthcare - the basic necessities of life. How thankful I am to have all of them.

****Info in italics was found on the internet****

November 4th Today I am thankful for morning coffee. But it's not really all about the coffee. It's about the moments which surround my coffee sipping.

Almost every single morning (with the exception of ten months this past year), I enjoy morning coffee with my husband. It's a routine that we both love, and one that starts the day off perfectly.

Steve is the 'coffee man' and he sets up the pot each night; ensuring that we wake to the delicious aroma of coffee wafting through the house.

I get comfy on the loveseat and flip on the TV to CNN, so that we can catch up on what we missed while we slept. "On the eights", we flip to the Weather Channel to determine just how many layers we'll need to put on that day.

Steve brings our mugs out into the living room, and then retrieves the newspaper from the front porch. He always hands me the local section, while he peruses the front section. Then we swap.

If it's a weekday, our 'together time' lasts about 30 minutes before he heads off to work. If it's the weekend, we stretch the coffee hour out indefinitely. If it's Saturday (as it is today), Steve will tune into The Outdoor Channel and enjoy hunting or fishing shows for an hour or two, while I get on my laptop and catch up with email.

Today I am thankful for routine. And coffee. My days just aren't the same, if they don't start out with both.

November 5th

 Today I am thankful for lazy Sundays. On lazy Sundays I...

  • Stay in my pjs until noon - or all day if I want.
  • Wear my heavy socks with the rubber grips on the bottom.
  • Give myself a facial and go without makeup the rest of the day.
  • Call my kids.
  • Eat soup and sandwiches instead of a big dinner.
  • Watch movies all day long.
  • Or do absolutely nothing.

Today is a lazy Sunday. :)

November 6th

Today I am thankful that I actually got a full night's sleep! I fell asleep at 10pm and I didn't get up until Steve woke me with his kiss goodbye at 7:30am. w00t!

But what I'm really thankful for is the full moon which illuminated the back yard when I let Sedona out this morning. I love wintry mornings when there's a full moon. I love when the clouds are wispy and drift across the moon. I love when it's in a position between trees - framed by inky silhouettes.

And so, today, my gratitude entry includes a photo (Click to enlarge).

November 7th

 Today, like many other Americans, I am thankful for the right to vote.

I will exercise that right to vote, as I have done in countless elections over the last 29 years.

I'll echo some of my friends: "If you don't go out and vote, don't complain about our government."

We've been dipping to below zero regularly now. I'm trying not to let it slow me down, although getting dressed to go out in the weather sure slows me down! If I'm going to be outdoors for more than just a few minutes, I definitely put on my long underwear now.

Rachael and I still try to take the pups to the campground for a run in the late morning/early afternoon. We do a long lap around the campground. It's only a mile - much less than the 6 miles we were accustomed to when the weather was warmer - but it's certainly better than laying around and being a couch potato.

We walked yesterday morning. The temperature was -4F when we headed out. For the first time this winter season, I pulled out my heavy winter parka. I also wore two pair of socks, and both a fleece shirt and fleece vest beneath my parka. I wrapped a scarf around my face to keep it and my ears warm. My hair does a good job of keeping my head warm, although Steve still scuffs me up for not wearing a hat. Believe me, when it's much colder, I do wear a hat!

As we walked, I could feel my eyelashes freezing up. I knew that my breath was freezing in my hair too. I brought my little camera with me in the event we ran across any wildlife, and just had to get a photo of Rachael and her frosty lashes. Then she took one of me. (Steve calls us "Arctic Ninjas")

We both know it's going to get a lot worse, before it gets better! Soon, we'll be so bundled up you'll only see our eyes peeking out between the layers of scarves and hats and hoods, etc.

Yesterday, the housing office sent out three representatives to do a preliminary inspection of our house. Two of them went room by room, looking at the condition of blinds and woodwork, walls, closet doors, etc. The third one was writing down any work orders that needed to be done before the house could be turned over to the next tenants. Soon after they arrived, a representative from the moving company came by to take inventory of our stuff and figure out how many boxes and packing supplies they'd need to bring with them.

Steve took off with the housing people, and I walked around the house with the moving company rep. We passed phase one of the inspection (thank goodness!), with only a few minor deficiencies. We have to replace lightbulbs and one doorstop. If we don't do it ourselves, it will cost us more than $100 for the housing people to do it. Inflated prices, for sure! The final inspection is on November 20th. At that time they will blacklight the carpet. If there are any pet stains, we'll be liable for carpet replacement. My animals have never had accidents on the carpet, but there are a few small spots where they got sick. I bought some "Nature's Miracle" to clean those spots up so they won't show under blacklight. It comes highly recommended! *keeping my fingers crossed*

The moving people will come out on the 13th and pack us up. On the 14th, they'll finish packing us and load our stuff onto the trailer. On the 15th, they'll deliver it to the new place. Monday night, we'll probably have a bed or the sofa to sleep on. Tuesday night will be a lot trickier, so I expect we'll be 'camping'. Rachael's offered her guest room to us, which is so sweet, but I think the furkids will be much less stressed if we stay here in the house with them.

The plan is to get the new house set up by Thanksgiving. We plan to have Rachael over for dinner since her husband is still in Iraq. He's expected to be home the first week of December with the rest of our Stryker Brigade. The entire community is ready for them to return, and several homecoming celebrations are in the planning.

Unfortunately, we lost another soldier on Saturday. SPC James Lee Bridges, 22, of Buhl, ID was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment here at Fort Wainwright, and was killed by enemy small-arms fire. What makes James' death even more tragic, is that he was sent home early (with Steve) and then sent back to Iraq when the extension was announced. This makes seven soldiers lost since the deployment was extended, and 26 since the brigade was deployed. May all their souls rest peacefully.

Steve and I went to the polls together before he had to go into work. The sky was streaked with orange bands of sunlight in one direction, and the moon was high in the sky in the other.

I saw the colors out my front window, but only grabbed my little camera to get some photos, since I knew I'd be shooting from the car window anyway due to time constraints. (They are grainy and not the best, but I wanted to share the colors with you)

I love the later mornings. Last year at this time, I'd jump in the truck and drive out to the golf course for sunrise photos. I haven't felt that energetic in the morning yet. Most times I barely get myself dressed until nearly 10am. (Yes, I'm a slug) This is a natural reaction to winter in Alaska, and I'm not the only one who moves a lot slower this time of year.

As you can see, the Chena River is growing more narrow each day. This photo was shot from the same bridge as the photo in the first entry I posted this month. Hard to believe that in less than a week, the ice has taken over so much of the river. Things are definitely moving in winter 'fast forward' now.

I checked out Weather Underground earlier to see what the forecast is going to be like this week, and we could see lows to -20 overnight. Rachael and I are planning to walk the pups in the morning, but I think it might be time to wear both my silk long undies and my polypro long undies to keep my legs warm.

Sunday, November 12th - Home is where the heart is...

Steve and I have been quite busy this past week, as we prepare for the movers to come tomorrow and start packing our belongings up.

We'll be spending tomorrow night here at the "old" house. After the packers leave us for the day, we're having dinner at Rachael's house. It will be a welcome respite.

On Tuesday night, we'll spend our first night in the new house. We'll be sleeping on an air mattress, and only have those things we hand-carried to the house, but it will be a special night nonetheless. I hope our furkids make the transition well. They have both been nervous with all the activity and boxes that have turned up all over the house.

I hope that we can get the phone and the internet hooked up quickly. I called in a work order two weeks ago, but the customer service rep 'dropped the ball' and we seem to be back to square one - which is a phone line hanging on the outside of our house, but nothing running to the pole. I will go crazy without internet contact; I am truly addicted!

I hope that the next time I make a journal entry, I will have photos to share of our new home.

Before I end this entry, I will update my daily Gratitude List:

November 8th

Today, I am thankful for the Internet, and the way that it has enabled people to connect with others all over the world.

The Internet has allowed me the privilege to *meet* and befriend many wonderful, smart, humorous, and caring people, whose support and friendship carried me through several low points in my life.

The Internet has also allowed me to touch the lives of others, through my journaling. I have been keeping my Alaska Journal since May, 2003 and now that Steve and I plan to be lifelong Alaskans, I will do my best to continue to keep it updated. Through this journal, I have shared my experiences of living in The Last Frontier, with words and photos.

When I get a personal email from a reader, it always warms my heart. Most of the time these correspondences express joy in reading my journal and seeing my photos because the reader has always hoped to come to Alaska for a visit or for a lifetime. I often read, "I am living vicariously through you".

And then there are those emails that come from military families, who find themselves with PCS orders which will bring them to AK for a tour of duty. They ask me questions about housing, and necessary clothing, and winterizing cars, etc. I answer their questions and point them toward my Alaska Military Spouse group on Yahoo for further support and friendship.

And then there are the emails from the parents of soldiers and their families. Like the one I received this morning from the mother of a young soldier, who just arrived in Fairbanks with his wife and daughter. She asked me if I could find some time during this busy time to give them a call.

I did more than call this lovely young woman; I went to the hotel and met the three of them. She (and her beautiful daughter) and I then drove all over Fairbanks, so I could point out places of interest. We had a lovely afternoon. It is the least I could do for a fellow military family.

I wish them all well as they begin their Alaska adventure!

November 9th

Today I am thankful for bright sunshine on a frigid arctic morning. I love the way the sun bounces off of the snow, turning it into fairy dust as it glitters in the morning light.

I am also thankful that, over the years, my personality evolved from shy and slightly introverted to outgoing and friendly. While I never really had a problem making friends; when I was a young woman I didn't often go out of my way to meet 'strangers'. Throughout my life, my friend base was mostly a result of meeting friends of friends and didn't take much effort, or a reaching out, on my part. But when I married into the military, I realized that I had to be more willing to extend myself - and accept rejection, if that was the case. Fortunately there have only been a handful of 'rejections', but they were best for all parties involved.

I look forward to meeting new people, as I do any adventure. I am thankful that others find me friendly and welcoming. I believe that we are all connected to one another - much like the 'Six Degrees of Separation' phenomenom. My life is enriched by those who pass through it. And for that I am grateful.

Life is not measured by years, it is measured by all of the moments that are full of
passion and joy, all of the lives we touch, and all of the good we do.

November 10th

 Today's gratitude entry is short and sweet.

  • I am thankful it is Friday.
  • I am thankful that Steve is off from work.
  • I am thankful that we are having the locks changed on the new house today, so we can start moving stuff over there.
  • I am thankful that it's 'warm' enough out to do a lap around the campground with Rachael and all our furkids.

November 11th

(I don't know who wrote this)

What is a Vet.............

He is the POW who went away one person and came back another - or didn't come back AT ALL.

He is the Parris Island drill instructor who has never seen combat - but has saved countless lives by turning slouchy, no-account rednecks and gang members into Marines, and teaching them to watch each other's backs.

He is the parade-riding Legionnaire who pins on his ribbons and medals with a prosthetic hand.

He is an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human being - a person who offered some of his life's most vital years in the service of his country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs.

He is the three anonymous heroes in The Tomb Of The Unknowns, whose presence at the Arlington National Cemetery must forever preserve the memory of all anonymous heroes whose valor dies unrecognized with them on the battlefield or in the ocean's sunless deep.

He is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket - palsied now and aggravatingly slow - who helped liberate a Nazi death camp and who wishes all day long that his wife were still alive to hold him when them nightmares come.

He is the bar room loudmouth, dumber than five wooden planks, whose overgrown frat-boy behavior is outweighed a hundred times in the cosmic scales by four hours of exquisite bravery near the 38th parallel.

She (or he) is the nurse who fought against futility and went to sleep sobbing every night for two solid years in Da Nang.

He is a soldier and a savior and a sword against the darkness, and he is nothing more than the finest, greatest testimony on behalf of the finest, greatest nation ever known.

So remember, each time you see someone who has served our country, just lean over and say Thank You. That's all most people need, and in most cases it will mean more than any medals they could have been awarded or were awarded.

Two little words that mean a lot, "THANK YOU."

It's the soldier, not the reporter, who gave us our freedom of the press.

It's the soldier, not the poet, who gave us our freedom of speech.

It's the soldier, not the campus organizer, who gave us our freedom to demonstrate.

It's the soldier, who salutes the flag, who serves others with respect for the flag, And whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag.

Thank you to all who have served and are serving our country!

November 12th

Today I am grateful for the beautiful yard we have at the new house. I love all the trees which envelope our property and shield us from the road and our neighbors. I love the way the snow sits on the spruce boughs and frosts the birch branches. I love the way the setting sun paints the tips of the branches with orange and yellow.

I hope the moose and the fox like my yard just as much as I do.

Tuesday, November 21st - Out with the Old, In with the New

(As I type this, we still don't have internet service - nor phone - so I don't know when it will actually be posted.)

Packing up the old houseEmpty HouseThe past nine days has been total chaos - as is to be expected when you pack up your entire life and move to another home. Fortunately our move was only about 6 miles; nothing like the 7800 mile move that brought us here. (The photo at left is our old house as it's being packed up. At right is after the movers hauled everything away.)

I wish I could say it was a painless experience, but I don't think any move is. It could have been a lot worse, I'm sure. I'm just glad we're finally here in the new house and trying to pull things together to make the house a home.

Every day, I open more boxes, find places to store things, hang blinds and drapes, and move things from one place to another as I try to get a feel for how I want the house to 'flow'. The floorplan is challenging, but I think we've come to a solution as to furniture placement.

Movers at New HouseWe spent our first night in the house last Tuesday. We slept on a feather bed on the floor and realized that we're entirely too old for floor camping. We were chilly too; keeping the thermostat at 67 now that we're paying the electric bill. It's easy to get used to blasting the heat in military quarters when you aren't responsible for the electric bill. There will be quite a few everyday changes in the way we live, now that our hard earned money is going towards utilities.

On Wednesday morning, we brewed a pot of coffee (thank goodness we hand-carried our coffee pot) and Steve drove into Fairbanks to the Sunrise Bagel corner stand to get us breakfast sandwiches. The movers arrived shortly after 9am. Steve had a plan to conserve energy (and heat). It was -30F, and the last thing we wanted was to see our heat flying out open doors. The plan was to download the truck to the garage in shifts, and then to close the garage door, open the door to the house, and carry the furniture/boxes inside. Our garage is heated (50F), so at least we weren't seeing too many precious dollars in heating oil blow out into the wind. It took five downloads into the garage.

Almost empty living roomFurniture placementIt's hard to grasp how much 'stuff' you own until it's packed in many, many boxes. In an attempt to make the unpacking and setup of furniture easier, we decided to stack all boxes pertaining to the living or dining room in the dining room, with only the furniture going in the living room. The plan worked OK, and we were able to roll out one of the Turkish rugs Steve sent home from Iraq, and assemble the living room furniture around it in a temporary setup. Finally... a place to sit! (We have slipcovers for the furniture in the photos. It's still in great condition, but we prefer a more neutral palette. Until we're ready to replace our living room set, the slipcovers will do.)

Airborne in Living RoomSteve had to go back to work on Thursday, so I spent the entire day opening boxes and figuring out where to put things. While I don't mind it too much, it is a major chore. My back was screaming by the time he got home from work. (Airborne was quite content to watch me work.)

I had a minor meltdown soon after the movers left the house. I had just finished making up the bed, and hanging up our clothes in the closet, and was taking a few minutes to rest. My eyes came to rest on one of my mother's rings, where it lay on my nightstand. It is the engagement ring my father bought her almost twenty years after they were married. It's a beautiful diamond - marquise shaped - with several small diamonds surrounding it. Mom always told me that the ring would be mine after 'she was gone'. I brought it home from Philadelphia with me in September, and I've worn it on the ring finger of my right hand ever since.

I picked up the ring and looked at it... watching the sunlight glisten on the many facets. And I felt such incredible sadness come over me because Mom will never see this house, or come to visit us here in Alaska. A few days earlier, as I was packing up the old house, I came upon a card from Mom. It was written in early 2004. In it she wrote: "Maybe I'll surprise you someday and come to Alaska to visit. It's a long flight, but I miss you and would love to come see you in your new home." She never got that chance because of her health... I wish I could still pick up the phone and call her.

On Thursday, the Dish Network guys arrived and mounted our satellite dish to the roof. We have to get a second dish if we want local channels. This was the plan, until they came out and informed us that we couldn't mount the second dish until we dropped four trees. (Our property has a lot of trees, and these four were directly in the line of the signal for local channels, as well as reducing the signal path of the main satellite dish.) Steve called his friend (and fellow soldier) Dave, and they set up a time to cut down the trees on Sunday. In return for his help in cutting down the trees, we promised him all the wood from the trees we plan to remove. He heats his home using a wood stove. We'll be removing more trees from our property (mostly deadwood and spindly spruce trees) and he's welcome to the wood. We're quite thankful for his help!

SunsetOn Thursday night, Steve had to oversee an FRG (Family Readiness Group) meeting, and I made plans to attend the Soldier Show with Rachael. We attended the show last year and were quite impressed with the performance. I needed a break from unpacking, and was looking forward to a little downtime. The evening started beautifully with a gorgeous sunset as I made my way to Rachael's house. We had dinner at The Chowder House, and then made our way to the Physical Fitness Center for the show. What a wonderful time we had!

The Soldier Show
Fort Wainwright, AK
November 16, 2006

Playing 'catch-up' with my Gratitude Journal:

November 13th

I am grateful that the Army is moving us to our new house. Moving is stressful in itself; having a professional moving company pack our stuff up for us is a huge blessing.

November 14th

Tonight is our first night in our new house. Despite the hard floor and minimal comfort of sleeping on a feather bed mattress cover, it is wonderful to be sleeping under the roof of a house that belongs to us! I look forward to making this house a HOME!

November 15th

I am thankful for the strong backs of our moving crew. In addition, I am thankful for their good spirits - despite the cold - and their friendliness. We had a great crew of movers, and for that I am thankful!

November 16th

I am thankful for the talent of so many of our military members. Tonight's Solder Show was a wonderful respite from my moving obligations. The performers were quite entertaining with their dance, their songs, and their emotion. It was an evening of laughter, of tears, and of melancholy. I am thankful for all of our armed forces - and especially those who serve our country and entertain us with their beautiful voices, musical talent, and uplifting spirit.

November 17th

I am thankful for the modern technology of satellite images which beam from 'outer space' to my television, and fill my house with entertainment. After days of silence, hearing the background noise of TV is quite welcome!

November 18th I am thankful for my husband's job and the ability to purchase blinds and drapes and other niceties for our new house. So many people try to make ends meet with just the necessities, and I have the ability to 'shop'. For that I am immensely thankful. I am thrilled to make this house a home with my personal touches.
November 19th I am thankful for new friends. Today I met Dave's wife when he came over to cut down trees. What a sweet and friendly young woman! I look forward to getting to know her better as time goes on. They will be staying in the Fairbanks area for the next four years - if not more - and I hope that she and I can become good friends.
November 20th My thanks today is for 'alone time'. As much as I love people and spending time with my darling husband, I also crave alone time. Today was one of those days. I spent nearly five hours shopping, window shopping, browsing, running errands, and driving around town just enjoying the wintry landscape. It was good to get out of the house, and away from the boxes. It was wonderful to take a drive in my car - from place to place - with my radio blasting, and singing along with CDs. Alone time rejuvenates me. Today, it's what I needed.
November 21st

Accomplishment. I am thankful for accomplishing a lot today. Today, I hung vertical blinds, mini blinds, three curtain rods, and cleared out the dining room. Finally, the house is looking more like a home. I love seeing it all come together.

I also met my neighbor today. He came by to ask me if I heard from the phone company. He moved into the house next door in September and still doesn't have phone service. We were both supposed to be hooked up temporarily today. (With DSL internet too) Fortunately, the phone company did come out, but they said they won't get us hooked up with service until tomorrow. *fingers crossed*

My neighbor is very nice, and I hope to meet his wife sometime. I can see his yellow house through the trees. It's nice to know they are there in the case of an emergency. We feel secluded where we are, but know that neighbors are just through the trees. I like that.

Steve and I planned to have Rachael over for Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday. Our plans have changed; Rachael and her sister managed to pool their airline miles so that Rachael could fly home to the Seattle area and have dinner with her family. I am very happy for her. When she comes home on Friday, it will only be a matter of days before she will be welcoming home her soldier, James. I plan to be there, taking photos of their reunion. I am so happy that they will finally be reunited. Our Stryker men and gals will be home by mid December.

The "Welcome Home" signs are going up all over Fort Wainwright, and when I drive down the main road, my eyes always fill up with tears when I see them. I have many friends who will be welcoming home their husbands over the next two weeks. I feel such joy for them! It's as if I am reliving my homecoming with Steve.

Because Rachael will not be coming to dinner, we have decided that we won't be cooking a huge meal just for us. Instead, we are going to eat at the Chow Hall. Steve will be serving chow from 2:30 - 3:30pm to the single soldiers and families, and I plan to meet him when his 'shift' is over. The menu looks delicious with turkey, ham, prime rib, and all the fixings. It will be much easier than preparing a huge meal for just the two of us, and no dishes either. Besides... what better way to spend Thanksgiving, than with our fellow soldiers and/or their families.

I am so thankful that Steve returned home safely to me. I pray that God allows us many more happy and healthy years together...

Friday, November 24th - Always Thankful

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my family, friends, and readers in the US. I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving shared with good friends and family, good food, and much joy.

Our holiday didn't go as well as I hoped. I woke in the middle of the night (around 2:45am) and just could not go back to sleep. In addition to my insomnia, my stomach was quite upset. There's nothing I dislike more than nausea. I lay in bed looking up and out the window into the night sky, hoping the beautiful view would lull me back to sleep. There were a million stars twinkling overhead and I was hypnotized by their brilliance. The sky is so much more beautiful here at the house, without ambient neighborhood light to interrupt the darkness.

As I lay there, a band of green came from over the roof of the house and continued to arch across the sky to the trees in our yard. The lights! What a beautiful sight! Despite my nausea, I got out of bed, pulled on my robe, and ran downstairs to get my camera set up on the tripod. I pulled on my parka over my bathrobe, slipped my feet into Steve's huge snowboots, and trudged through the garage and into the side yard. The temperature was in the -20F range, and my breath caught in my throat when I inhaled the first time. There's nothing like frozen lungs to bring you wide awake!

It was so dark in the yard, and the lights weren't as bright as they can usually get. I had a hard time getting my camera focused on the trees which ring the house. After a few blurry shots, I managed to get the focus right. I only stayed outside about ten minutes. My uncovered legs were turning into popsicles by that time.

My trip into the arctic night air really woke me up. But it didn't do anything for my upset stomach, unfortunately. I lay down on the sofa, turned on the TV and watched a movie. When it was over, I made my way upstairs and climbed back into bed with Steve. He woke when I got in and I told him I was feeling sick and had been up all night. It was already 7am, but still pitch black outside (the sun doesn't rise until 10am at this time of year). The darling man that he is, he rubbed my back and I feel right to sleep. I slept until 10am.

I awoke rested, but still sick to my stomach. The thought of eating anything - much less turkey, gravy and all the fixings, made my stomach lurch. I told Steve to go to the chow hall and eat, before it was his shift to serve food. He felt terrible for me, but I just wanted to rest. Before he left, he made me a mug of chicken broth, which I managed to get down. Happy Thanksgiving to us. *sigh*

I felt much better after a short nap, and when Steve finally arrived home at 4pm, he came bearing two huge platters of food. He didn't eat before serving; he wanted to eat Thanksgiving dinner with me - even if that meant eating turkey the next day. Since I was feeling much better, we dished out the delicious turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cornbread, corn, green bean casserole, and cranberry sauce, popped our plates in the microwave, and dined together at the coffee table (the dining room table isn't assembled yet). Dinner couldn't have been more perfect. Our first Thanksgiving in the new house, just the two of us, enjoying delicious food, and thankful for all of the blessings in our life.

Later last evening, we warmed up the delicious apple and pecan pie slices Steve also brought home, made some hot cider, and cuddled up in bed to watch a movie together. I didn't think the day could end any more perfectly, until we turned off the TV and looked out the bedroom window, where the lights, once again, were dancing across the sky.

Bands of green over the trees

Tinges of purple light the sky

Millions of twinkling stars

Stars and a faint green light

November 22nd

I will always be thankful for the magical light show that colors the skies over Alaska. The Aurora Borealis may be a 'scientific phenomenon', but I am always reminded of a higher power when I witness such beauty.

November 23rd

Happy Thanksgiving! Today, I am thankful that my husband is home with me, safe and sound, and enjoying our first Thanksgiving in our new home. So many of my friends are without their husbands - and so many families all over the country are celebrating Thanksgiving with an empty chair at their table. Please remember all of our troops who can not be home this year.

November 24th

There will be no 'Black Friday' shopping for me today. The day after Thanksgiving is a day of rest and relaxation in this household. Today I am thankful for fleece lounging clothes and wool socks with non-skid soles. Ahhhh.. the simple things in life are often the best!

Rachael will be home tonight. We're picking her up at the airport. I've missed her, but she's been having a great time visiting with her family, eating yummy Thanksgiving food, and hitting all the 4am sales at the Seattle malls. I can't wait to see what kind of deals she got!

Steve will be working this weekend. The first groups of our Stryker Brigade soldiers should arrive home from Iraq sometime this weekend, and he will be part of the welcoming committee. Once they do what they have to do at the Air Force Base, they'll be bused here to Fort Wainwright to be reunited with their families. I am so thrilled that this deployment is finally coming to an end. It's going to be a wonderful Christmas here on Fort Wainwright!

Tuesday, November 28th - Welcome Home 172nd Stryker Brigade!!!!

The past four days have been a whirlwind of activity and excitement as our soldiers make their way back to US soil. Over the weekend, we had three planes come in, yesterday we had a plane come in, and over the next several days we should get the bulk of our soldiers home!

Welcome Home Strykers!Welcome Home SignsEvery square inch of fence space on Fort Wainwright is full of Welcome Home banners and signs. It's so heartwarming to see these signs and know it's finally for real!!!

Several of my friends have already welcomed their soldier home, but Rachael is still waiting for James' arrival. He should be home by the end of the week - a full year since she saw him last for R&R. She's been an emotional mess lately; fluctuating between tears, happiness and excitement. I feel so bad for her as I know the waiting is so stressful. I'll be so glad when she finally holds her husband again. I'm sure I'll be a crying mess too.

I helped her to hang up her banner for James on the fence that leads into the neighborhood. She has another one just like it hanging over her garage. I remember when we hung this sign up in August in anticipation of homecoming. It's so nice to know that this time James is going to see it with his own eyes!

November 25th: Today I am grateful for the safe return of the first wave of our Arctic Wolves!!! I am happy for all of the families who are finally holding their soldier safely in their arms, and all the children who are finally being held by their mommy or daddy.

Alaska Range SunsetAfter Steve got home from the Air Force Base on Sunday, we ate a quick sandwich and then drove down to Chena Lakes Rec Area so I could take some photographs. The sun was just starting to set and the sky was a lovely orange behind the Alaska Range. We drove up on Moose Creek Dike for a sweeping view of the flood plains and the range on the horizon.

It was cold (-30 something), so I didn't stand outside the truck for too long. We drove deeper into the park, exploring the roads that lead to the lakes and the campgrounds. I hoped to see some moose, but no luck.

November 26th: Today I am grateful for the many colors that God uses to paint our world. I am also grateful for the discovery that my backyard is a major thoroughfare for snowshoe hares (as evidenced by the many huge footprints). Now if only I can capture one with my lens...

Yesterday, I met Rachael and Stryker at the DAWG WASH. This time it was Sedona's turn to get a shampoo. We hoped that Sedona's presence would put Stryker more at ease, and I think it worked. He was much less stressed out about getting squirted down and lathered up. Sedona, as usual, loved the attention. She's definitely a water dog. I just love the concept of this establishment and I hope that the customer base picks up enough to keep them in business. I tell everyone I know about it, because I love giving Sedona a bath in someone else's tub, using someone else's products, and not having to clean up after myself.

I took my camera to get a few snapshots of the action. I took a photo of Rachael and Stryker first. Poor boy looks like a deer in the headlights, but he wasn't as scared as the first time, thank goodness. She then took a couple of photos of Sedona and me. She managed to catch Sedona mid-shake and the resulting face I made as water sprayed all over me. It was great fun, and Sedona smells so fresh and clean now!

November 27th:

“A dog doesn't care if you're rich or poor, big or small, young or old. He doesn't care if you're not smart, not popular, not a good joke-teller, not the best athlete, nor the best-looking person. To your dog, you are the greatest, the smartest, the nicest human being who was ever born. You are his friend and protector.” ~ Louis Sabin

Oh how I love my girl, Sedona!

Today, I spent the entire day sorting out more boxes, putting things away, and trying to straighten up the clutter which seems to get moved from one room to another. I start off in one room, with the plan of getting it totally in order before starting on another, and then I walk into another room and start doing something in there. Needless to say, the entire house is in disarray. Fortunately, Steve is a huge help. He set up the guest room for me (bed, dresser, etc.), which at least makes it look more like a room and not a storage closet.

I haven't had much motivation lately. And my mood has been a bit down too. I always get like this over the holidays, but this year it's even worse with both my parents gone. I talked to my sister-in-law Diane today, and she's feeling the blues too. She always had my mom over for Thanksgiving dinner, so this year it was really hard for her to have an empty chair at the table.

The days are getting shorter and shorter as we head toward Winter Solstice. We have less than five hours of daylight now. The positive is that the sunsets (on clear days) are brilliant. The negative is that when it's dark at 4pm, your sense of time gets thrown off and you get tired earlier. I've had middle of the night insomnia as well (typical for me in winter), which hasn't helped. I'll be glad when we're through the holidays.

I hung my first photographs today. Two 16x20 moose prints went in the guest bathroom. They look very nice with the new shower curtain. (You can view the shower curtain I bought here) Steve joked that one of the moose is looking straight at the toilet. Oh well; he'll have to get used to an audience!

I haven't decided where I'm going to hang the other photos yet. I have plenty of wall space - to include a very tall stairwell - but it doesn't make it any easier to decide. I've thought about making the guest room a 'Northern Lights' room. I've got four aurora shots so far, and a couple more I want to have enlarged. I've thought about recreating one of my aurora photographs in stained glass, and hanging it in the window. I have a lot of ideas and can never find the time to see them to fruition. I really need to work on that. *sigh*

November 28th:

I am grateful for my husband, who - despite his own hectic schedule - still pitches in 100% to help me get the house in order. I am also thankful that he trusts my sense of 'decoration' and allows me to do whatever I want with the house. While I wouldn't surround him with feminine frills, if it made me happy to do that, he wouldn't protest. (OK... so he might roll his eyes a bit) He's such a huge help, and I love him for that.

November 30th - Finishing up my Gratitude Entries

November 29th:


A friend of mine had to put her cat down today. His name was Phantom, and he was a beautiful black kitty - 11 years old. He got sick, and they discovered that he had a cancerous tumor in his head. There was no chance for recovery, and so she had to make a very difficult decision to put him out of his misery and release him from this world.

After hearing of this sad news, I knew that today's gratitude entry had to be about my dear kitty, Airborne. Airborne woke me at 4am, but I'm not angry about that. Steve was gone for the evening, and she kept me company all night long. When she draped her body over my hip, and began to knead and purr against me, I couldn't keep from reaching down and stroking her silky smooth fur. Anyone who loves a cat, knows how hard it is to resist the head nudges and occasional rough tongue kisses which encourage further stroking.

I've had Airborne for 9 years. I adopted her as a kitten, from a litter of 8 beautiful black kitties. Each kitten had a tuft of white somewhere on their body. Airborne's little touch of white is on her belly. She willingly lays back in my arms and allows me to stroke her tummy. I always toy with that tuft of hair until static makes it stand up like a mohawk. I suppose she senses my amusement at this; I bet she would roll her eyes if she could. But still she lets me play.

Animal lovers understand that there's a big difference between a 'pet' and a member of the family. Tonight, my precious Airborne will be held even closer. When it's her time to cross the rainbow bridge, I know that Phantom will be waiting for her there.

November 30th Today I am thankful for the return home of Rachael's husband James!!! Also, my friends Shawna, Missi, and LuAnn welcomed their soldiers home. I took photos at the emotional and joyous event, and will write about homecoming in my December 1st entry.


Go to December

© 2006 Susan L Stevenson