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Saturday, October 1st - A new month, a moose family, and a tease of snow

Steve has been gone for 37 days. While I wish I could say that living through the last 37 days has been a piece of cake, it hasn't been that simple. Yes, the time has passed by quickly at times, but on most days the void in my day is quite palpable and envelops me completely. I think the one thing I miss the most is coming home from work and having Steve here to discuss my day with. Sharing the mundane, laughing about the silly - some of the things I miss the most.

Winter is on its way. Thursday morning, we woke to snow coating the grass, the trees, and the cars. It wasn't very cold, but seeing the white stuff was certainly a reminder of things to come. I'm not quite sure I'm ready for winter yet. Driving on icy roads is never fun. Approaching intersections and having the light change to yellow is enough to get my heart racing. Being blinded by ice fog is definitely a challenge. Last year, snow arrived (and stayed) on October 19th.

The other day, as I drove onto post, I saw a beautiful moose and her twins nibbling on branches in the campground. I drove into Glass Park, as I had my camera with me. Mama and her babies moved further into the treeline, but I managed to snap a few photos of them before they got too far into the trees. Just once, I'd love to see the papa to these babies!
Tuesday, October 4th - Sunbeams in the Woods

The past two days have started out chilly in the morning, with a layer of frost coating the truck windshield. This morning, I actually had to take the scraper out and clean them off. I should have remembered to use the autostart to warm up the truck, to avoid the extra work.

On the way to work today, I had a very close encounter with a moose. It would have been truck vs. moose if the brakes didn't work as well as they did. A huge cow moose darted across four lanes of traffic and right in front of my truck. I missed her by only a couple of feet. Once she cleared my truck, I glanced in my rear view mirror to make sure there wasn't any other traffic coming. With the cap on the truck, the moose would have been blocked from anyone coming up on my right side. Fortunately, the lane was clear. The moose took off into an open field on the other side of the road.

What was most amazing about the situation was the position of the sun, and the colors the sun cast upon the world. The moose was running in an orange cloud of warm breath. The sun lit up the puffs of air as they pushed from her nostrils, and steam rose off of her body with her perspiration. All of this was painted orange in the morning light. It was a gorgeous sight! There is no way I could have captured the moment with my camera; it happened so quickly. But I did capture it with my mind, and I will remember it forever.

I turned in my second assignment in photojournalism tonight. The assignment was an 'environmental portrait' (someone doing their job). It was great to see some of the work of the other students in the class. Everything from a yoga instructor to a jewelry repairman and piano tuner. The next assignment is capturing news or events. I took a few photos of people heading into the polling places today to vote. On Friday, I plan to attend the Sled Dog Trade Show at Pioneer Park and get photos.

Today, I was surprised to see Steve log into Yahoo Messenger! He's finally hooked up to it. This means we can finally webcam with one another. I need to ship him a webcam, and it will be a few weeks before he gets it - but in the meantime, he'll get to see me, and that will have to do for now. I'm sure he won't complain.

This morning I took Sedona for her customary morning walk through the woods near my house. The sun was blazing and highlighted the remaining leaves on the trees. I just had to snap this photo of the sunbeams streaming through the trees - providing a spot light to this small twig and leaves.

I love that sunrise and sunset is so awesome again. We're losing light quickly, and at 7am it's still dark outside. As much as it makes me move a little slower in the morning, it also provides me with some beautiful skyscapes on the way into work. The colors as the sun rises are gorgeous. I am so thankful for the gift of sight.

Saturday, October 8th - Birthdays, Sunshine, and Ducks

It's 7:40am and the sky is still dark. It feels much earlier, but this is something I'm going to have to get used to for the next several months. At least we still have sunshine past 6pm. That will all change when we head into Daylight Savings Time at the end of the month.

Yesterday was an absolutely beautiful day. The sun was shining, the air was warmer than usual, and I was on a mission to clear the cobwebs from my head. I usually feel this way on a Friday - when my work week is over, and I'm officially beginning the weekend. Yesterday was also a beautiful day because it was the birthday of my youngest son.

Brandon is now officially 22 years old. Where did the years go? Like most mothers, I remember the day he came into this world like it happened yesterday. I remember moments over the years - special moments - snapshots on the timeline of his life. It is so sad that childhood is so fleeting. When we're in the middle of raising children, we don't dwell on the future and those days coming to an end. We're too busy. There are boo-boos to kiss, and games to play, meals to prepare, homework to do, storybooks to read, and songs to sing. And then, one day, you wake up and your kids are grown and living their own lives.

I am so proud of both my sons. I am proud of the men they grew into. I did the best I knew how, raising them for so many years as a single mom. I may not have done everything by the book, but I did make sure they knew they are loved and that I am proud of them. So, on this day I just want to say "Happy Birthday, Brandon! I love you with all my heart and, no matter how many years go by, you will always be my baby."

Yesterday I had a very full morning before I could get dressed and tend to even more errands. I had quite a few photos to print out. You may recall that I did a maternity photo shoot for a couple a few months ago. It was my first maternity shoot and everyone was quite pleased with the results. There was a lot of love in the air, which made my job even easier. Here are two of the photos I took. They ordered seven 5x7's of various poses, as well as regular prints of the 15 shots I included in the portfolio. Earning money for something I love to do is like icing on the cake! They had a baby boy not long after I took these photos. The framed prints will be displayed in his nursery, and the small prints will go in his baby book.

After preparing the prints for the mail, I got started in packing up some care packages for Steve. I crammed three boxes full of goodies for him. One box has his new webcam in it, as well as some other goodies. I sent him a case of V8 (small plastic bottles) to keep in his room. He loves V8, but the chow hall doesn't have it all the time. I also sent him some more coffee creamer - both powdered and the individual serving liquid containers. He goes through a lot of creamer, since he's a coffee fiend. He's got a coffee pot in his room and keeps one brewing all the time, since he has meetings in his room.

Communication with Steve is pretty good. Of course, I'd love to talk to him several times a day - like I do when he's home - but getting an email, or a phonecall, or being able to webcam and IM each other every couple of days is wonderful! We're so fortunate to have the ability to keep in touch this way. When Brandon was over there, the only communication was writing and relying on the Post Office to get it to them. Weeks would pass in between correspondence. That made it so difficult. I'm glad we've come so far in regards to technology and communication.

My main goal for the morning was to take care of the assignment for my photojournalism class. This week's assignment was to shoot two different news events. I got a few photos from the elections on Tuesday, and then yesterday took some photos of the vendors setting up for the Sled Dog Symposium.

Once I accomplished my mission, I took off driving. I enjoyed soaking up the sunshine. I had the window down, CDs playing in the truck, and was singing along. It was just what I needed to lift my spirits.

Just behind Pioneer Park, is a portion of the Chena River where the ducks like to congregate. They are there by the hundreds! And they're not shy either. It's obvious that they are accustomed to people. I'll bet they've been fed by more than a few people too. As soon as I got out of the truck, they surrounded me like little children looking for a handout. The green heads of the mallard drakes was sparkling in the sunshine. I spent at least 20 minutes with them, snapping photos and enjoying their antics.

The breeding male (drake) of this species is a very distinctive and easily recognized bird. The body is black, grey and white, the rump is black and the tail feathers are white. The drake's head is dark iridescent green that shines bluish in some lights. The wings are grey, white and black and have bars of iridescent green on them. Females (hens) are light brown with darker brown patches on some of the feathers. They also have the iridescent bars on the wings. 

I drove down the Parks Highway toward Ester. I was hoping for some beautiful views of the range from the overlooks along the way, but there was too much haze on the horizon. Regardless, the drive was wonderful. I enjoyed the wind in my hair, singing along with great music, and letting my mind wander. It was very rejuvenating!

Last night, Steve got online (it was morning in Iraq) and we got to chat via Yahoo Messenger. I used the webcam again, even though he doesn't have one yet. He likes looking at me though and that makes me smile. We chatted for more than an hour and talked about retirement and where we'd like to settle down. It seems his arthritis has really improved while he's been in the desert. I suppose we can't rule out Arizona yet - especially if it's going to be better for him health-wise. Of course our real dream would be a winter home in AZ and a summer home here in AK. Then we could have the best of both worlds and live in two of the most gorgeous states in the country. It's nice to daydream...

Wednesday, October 12th - First Sticking Snow of Winter & Beautiful Sunrises

Guess what came to Fairbanks on Monday? I was actually quite thrilled to see the white stuff because it coated the world in a beautiful layer of cleanliness - and I didn't have to go to work in it. As happens every year, cars ended up in ditches, fenders got bent, and tempers flared. I don't know why people seem to lose their minds when it snows the first time. How can they forget from one year to the next how slippery and crazy the roads are? There's no chance of seeing me speeding down the road. You'll see me creeping along in the right lane, with white knuckles wrapped around the steering wheel!

Monday night, I had the pleasure of having dinner with two absolutely wonderful people. (Hello to Carmen and Gip *big smile*). We enjoyed a great meal and entertaining conversation. It was fantastic meeting them in person, after exchanging emails with each other over the last few months. I look forward to seeing them again.

Alaska Range
The grand show is eternal.
It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the
round earth rolls.

~ John Muir

On Tuesday morning, as I was driving to work, I noticed that the clouds over the Alaska Range were a beautiful shade of orange-red The morning sun was painting the sky a wonderful array of colors and I almost went off the road as I craned my neck to keep looking at it out the window! Riding the shuttle bus to my building, I couldn't wait until it stopped and let us get off. I didn't care if I was late to my desk; I was going to take a few photos.

I wasn't the only who stopped to photograph the color show. Once I dug my camera out of my backpack, I noticed another woman standing down the hill from me, and she was also snapping away. How can anyone resist capturing such incredible morning beauty? I've said it countless times before, and I'll say it again. There is nothing like the sunrises and sunsets of winter!

Photojournalism update: I got my grades back on the two photos I turned in for my "Environmental Portrait" (the Red Cross shoot). I got an A on that week's assignment! I turned in a Spot News assignment in yesterday's class. I'm not feeling as confident about them. There wasn't very much 'news' going on in Fairbanks last week. This week's assignment is Sports. I'm thinking of taking in a curling game or a junior hockey game.

Steve update: Steve and I continue to have the opportunity to communicate via Instant Messenger, email, and the occasional phone call. He's been promising me photos every day for a week now, and isn't coming through with them, no matter how much I harass him. I'm kidding, of course - but I really want some photos of him, his room, his surroundings, etc. Of course I miss him more than anything. It has been 48 days since he left. Only 317 more to go.

I love you, Sweetheart! I miss you everyday. Stay safe. xoxoxoxoxoxox

Sunday, October 16 - Photos from Steve, Playing the Mechanic, and Job Changes

I was up early this morning, so I could get to the Auto Crafts Shop with Rachael and work on my car. We had made plans last week to take advantage of the services available here on post. I figured not only would it be less expensive to take my car to the auto center to put my studded tires on - but I'd be able to get in without a long wait. With the roads covered in ice and snow now - there's a mad rush to get tires swapped out. In my case, my studded tires are not mounted - which involves a little more work. I also planned to change my oil. The auto crafts shop charges a bay fee ($4/hour) and you get the help of a mechanic if needed. Of course I needed to be taught how to use the lift, and all the equipment and tools. This was my first time taking care of auto stuff. I was a bit nervous, but had all the confidence in the world that I could do it.

At the risk of sounding like a nut - what a thrill! The tire machine (removes tires from the rims and puts the new tires on) was really cool and I was able to do it after only being shown once. :) I was very proud of myself. Then I put the car up higher on the lift, so I could get under it and drain the oil and put in a new oil filter. That's when I really got dirty. I had grease under my fingernails and on my face. Why is it that when your fingers are a greasy, dirty mess, your nose itches? Anyway... the next time it will only take about an hour to swap my tires out and change my oil - since I know how to use all the tools and machines now. I can't wait to show Steve!

I missed an IM from Steve by about an hour. :( He told me he'd call me when he gets up - which will be about 8pm tonight my time. He also emailed me and sent me lots of photos. Here is a small portion of his email:

...I was out rolling all day Saturday on election day. Super quiet all day. "No Roll" was in effect. That means no civilian traffic whatsoever. Very nice. We spent most of the day in [unit name deleted]'s sector. We rolled to a few polling places, just to see how the vote was going. We weren't allow to visit or influence the vote in any way. The pictures came from a nearby polling station in [unit name deleted]'s sector in the morning.

The guy in the picture (photos posted below) walked up to our vehicle. He held up his finger and I saw a smile come to his face. He was so proud that he had just voted, so I got out the camera and gladly took his picture. Then he just blended into the crowd...

Here are some of the photos that Steve sent me. There are a few of his room, some of him, and some taken while he was out patrolling on the streets.

Here's a photo of Steve's room. It's his bedroom, living room, kitchen, and office. He has meetings in this room too. At least he has some of the comforts of home (TV, fridge, microwave). Many do not. Steve titled this photo, "Me and my Girl". I send him photos to hang on his wall over his bed. I took the one of me going to sleep so that he could look at it before he goes to sleep. He likes that one most of all.
There is a soldier in Steve's unit who is an artist. Using one of my photos, he painted a scene on Steve's window. Here, the artist soldier used one of my eagle shots to create this painting on Steve's window. Alaska scenery to cheer him up.
This is one of the polling areas that Steve drove through. Lots of men and boys hanging out. Steve said that even though a "No Roll" was in effect (no vehicles on the road), this doesn't pertain to sheep.
I miss seeing my husband's smile. I can't wait until his webcam gets to him and I get to see his face while we IM back and forth. This man was very proud of the fact that he voted in the election. As you can see by the photo, the streets of Iraq are garbage-strewn and sheep are everywhere. A totally different world...

Now for the big news in my life. Well, it's big news for me. I gave notice at my job at UAF. My last day is October 27th. I was going to stay until December, but my boss told me that I was only obligated to give two weeks notice. So I did.

Over the past year, I have been feeling very bored at my job. I've felt like I have been wasting my time there.... as if every minute I spent at my desk, was a minute lost from my life; a minute lost from pursuing my dreams.

Before Steve deployed, we talked quite a bit about how I would spend the time that he is away. I thought that it would be good to go back to work - that my hours spent at my job would help the time pass more quickly. It did, but not in a good way. It made me feel like precious moments were forever being lost, never to be recaptured. I wanted to pursue my photography. I wanted to start actively marketing myself. I wanted to begin submitting some of my work to publications. I wanted to expand into portraiture. I wanted to have notecards printed for sale. And so many other ideas have flitted through my mind.

I just wasn't feeling fulfilled at my job any longer. And life is just too short. Steve supports me 100%. With him at my side, anything is possible. With these changes in my life, I miss him more than anything. He's my biggest cheerleader.

One more thing... HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my brother MARC!!!!

Wednesday, October 19th - Sad, sad, of our own.
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

From the Kansas City Star:

Soldier dies in Iraq
Associated Press

TONGANOXIE, Kan. - The wife of a Kansas soldier killed in Iraq on his 22nd birthday was glad she was able to wave goodbye and blow kisses to her husband just last week on a Web camera.

Army Spc. Lucas A. Frantz was killed Tuesday during a mission in Mosul, Iraq, the Pentagon announced Wednesday.

"It was fate we were meant to see each other one last time," his wife, Kelly Frantz, told Kansas City television station WDAF. "I'm happy I got to tell him I love him and he said he loved me."

Frantz, of Tonganoxie, had left for Iraq two months ago. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

Kelly, still wearing her husband's wedding ring around her neck, said the military told her a sniper shot him in the head.

"I've worn it by my heart the whole time he was gone," she told the television station.

His mother, Lorrie VanDruff, said having her son killed on his birthday made his death that much more difficult. But the family remained solidly behind the war.

"They're over there trying to help us," VanDruff said.

Fellow squad member Spc. Toby Alsip recalled his friend as a giant of a man.

"He was always helping others fix things - anything - he could fix it," Alsip said.

And Frantz's platoon leader said he was always willing to help.

"He would never ask you for help, no matter what, but he was always helping others," 1st Lt. Randy Lewis said.

Flags in Tonganoxie, where Frantz was a high school football star, were flying at half staff. Frantz's alma mater planned to retire Frantz's jersey number before the Friday night football game.

I don't have any words that are adequate enough to express my extreme sadness over this news. Please continue to pray for our troops.

Steve and I had the opportunity to communicate via Yahoo Messenger today. I took a few screenshots so you could see what I see on my computer screen when we type back and forth. I thought you'd get a kick out of getting a peek into our online communication. I am so happy to be able to see his face! Likewise for him. (Click for enlargements)

Please excuse the 'just woke up' look I'm sporting. :-D

This is a closeup of the sunrise

And here's the entire sky with the sunrays!

In addition to getting the chance to chat online for almost an hour, Steve emailed me two photos he took of sunrise yesterday. The photos are amazing! But what makes me grin from ear to ear is the fact that he ran back to his room to get his camera so he could share the sunrise with me. What a sweet man!

Looking at the spectacular beauty of this sunrise, makes me wonder if the people of Iraq - despite the turmoil, violence, and sadness - see such splendor and have their spirits lifted. How could you not?

We had an ice storm last night which left the roads a slick mess. I didn't go to work today because of it. Everything was coated in ice - even our flag. It hung stiffly on our flagpole in suspended animation. While winter doesn't bother me in the least, I'm not a fan of driving on ice.

Praying for you and all our troops. Sleep well, my love.

Monday, October 24th - Snow, frost, and the company of friends

I haven't been in the mood to write much lately. Losing two soldiers from the 172nd Stryker Brigade family, in the last week, threw many of us into various depths of despair. My prayers go out to the families of SPC Frantz and SPC Bartels.

Frozen Flag
Moon at 7am  
Snow on a branch  

Winter is definitely here. The snow is still coating the ground, but accumulations haven't increased substantially. The roads are a slippery mess in places, and I'm thankful for 4WD and huge all-weather tires on the truck. During the night, frost and ice coats everything. Imagine my surprise when I woke up a few days ago, and found our American flag frozen in position where it had wrapped around the pole. The *sparkles* you see in the photo at left, is the reflection of my flash off of the ice crystals.

The shorter days are quite apparent now. Once again, the mornings are pitch black when I get up - making it feel like it's still the middle of the night. The moon is still high in the sky at 7am, and I'm actually happy to see it. When the clouds are thick, the moon looks like a true October (Halloween) moon as it peeks through. I can imagine the sound of wolves howling to complete the picture.

Regular communication with Steve continues. While I don't get to talk to him every day, we do manage to touch base via email or instant messenger (with webcam) every other day or so. Once a week or so, he manages to call me by phone, which is always a treat. I love to hear his voice, despite the occasional delays and static.

I hosted a dinner party (nothing formal at all!) at my house on Saturday night. In addition to Susan and Rachael, I invited three other friends. Missi - who I've chatted with online and by telephone - came over. It was nice to finally meet her in person. I may have met her a long time ago when Steve was still over at Charlie Co., but my memory's not the greatest! My friends Nina and Nik also came over. They have little ones at home, but took them to respite care for a few hours. Respite care is offered free of charge to spouses of deployed soldiers. It's hard to get a slot, but they both lucked out for the same evening. I made five-cheese tortellini, meatballs, and cheesy garlic bread. Rachael brought a Caesar salad and Nina brought a chocolate lava cake (very rich and chocolatey!). Missi brought some Ben and Jerry's ice cream, which rounded out dessert very nicely.

We had a wonderful time with lively conversation, lots of laughs, and some good old-fashioned army spouse bonding. It's nice to have friends around who are going through what the rest of us are going through. They totally understand complaints, sadness, and the funny stories we share in regards to our soldiers, our families, etc. It's nice to feel 'normal' for feeling a certain way, or for acting a certain way. Although I know that my family would be very supportive of me during this separation, my army family truly knows what it's like. I'm happy to be here in Alaska, where I can get this support and camaraderie.

This week is my last week of work. I have a lot of work ahead of me to prepare for diving into my photography headfirst. I need to sort through all my DVDs of my images and compile the ones I offer for sale onto their own disks. It will be tedious work as I have taken thousands and thousands of photos over the last two years. I may add some more prints to the mix, and take some away. I'm going to be ordering some matts and notecards as well. Like I said.. lots to do! Once I get everything sorted, I'll be updating my online gallery. I hope I can stay motivated - especially as the days get shorter and shorter, and darker and darker. Regardless, I'm very excited!

I took these during my morning walk with Sedona. I love when the frost looks like this!

Thursday, October 27th - More ducks, sunset over the river, and last day of work

A sord of mallards

Mallard drake and ice

Hopping onto the ice

On Tuesday, after my photojournalism class, I stopped by the river to see if the ducks were still there. It was a sunny day, and the snow looked bright and white in the sunshine. The sun doesn't get as high in the sky now, so the light isn't that glaring intensity which strips the world of its colors. When it's lower on the horizon, it casts a softer light - making everything seem to glow.

When I got to the river, there were two vehicles parked nearby. A truck had a woman and a little boy in it. He climbed down out of the truck and made his way to the river bank and the ducks that were splashing there. An SUV had two women and two small children in it. They opened the hatch and pulled out a huge bag of bird seed. The children were bundled up in snowsuits, and I couldn't see the little girls face because of the scarf she had wrapped around her head. The temperature was in the 20s, but there was a slight wind. Despite the sunshine, my hands started to cramp with cold almost immediately. I wasn't wearing gloves, so that I could operate my camera.

The river's edge is frozen, narrowing the waterway slightly. Small chunks of ice float by, catching on the banks at times and building up. The ducks stand on these ice 'shelves', or in the shallow water next to them. It's hard to believe that their feet don't get cold in the frigid water! I was surprised to see so many ducks still hanging around, so I did some online research and discovered that the ducks will stay as long as there is open water and food. The river is still flowing, so the open water is still available. And if people keep showing up with bags of bird seed, food will remain abundant. I just hope people aren't messing with the ducks' migration schedule. I stayed to watch the ducks for almost an hour.

Last night, my friend Rachael and I took our furkids to the dog park. There were about 15-20 other dogs there when we arrived. I was a little concerned that Sedona would be a little snippy with the other dogs, since she's older and not as tolerant of juvenile dog behavior. But she did pretty well. She ran around like the younger dogs did, and even put some of the big dogs in their place when they got snippy with her. I didn't have on long underwear, and within twenty minutes, my legs were feeling like popsicles. We stayed about 45 minutes before I couldn't stand the cold any longer. Next time, I'll be better prepared. One of the highlights of the evening, was a beautiful orange sunset, reflected in the Chena River.

Today was my last day at UAF. I gathered up my belongings, purged a lot of files from my computer, and was taken to lunch by two of my bosses. We ate at Zachs, and I had a delicious turkey and cheddar sandwich with au jus to dip it in. It really hit the spot. Although I met some wonderful people working at the university, it was time for me to go. I'm still able to attend my class, so I'll be back on campus on Tuesday afternoons until December. I felt a great amount of relief come over me as I drove home.

Tonight, I went to Boston's for dinner with Rachael, Susan, and Butch (Susan's father in law). I was really in the mood for a chicken Caesar salad, and I got my craving satisfied. I don't have anything pressing on the calendar for tomorrow, but I do have to run by the clinic at some point soon and pick up some test results for some blood work I had done a month ago. I also have to print out four 8x10s of some wildlife shots I took (bears and eagles) for some of the soldiers who work with Steve. He's been a great marketing agent for my photography. Maybe I'll hire him on when he retires from the army. *grin*

Steve called tonight and we talked for 20 minutes. The connection was great. It was wonderful hearing his voice. I can't wait until he comes home on R&R early next year. A nice big hug would be awesome right now.

Sunday, October 30th - Frozen River, and Little Redheads

I can't believe the weekend is over already. Where did the time go? Friday I ran a lot of errands and did some shopping for Steve's care package. He's got everything he could possibly need right now, and has told me to stop sending stuff like creamer, and talcum powder, etc. But still, when I'm out and about, if I see some DVDs he might enjoy for a good price, I pick them up. The bargain bin at Walmart, and the previously viewed stuff at Blockbuster are great for filling up a care package. I also picked up a lightweight velour blanket - so soft! - for his bed. While it's not cold in Iraq yet, he did say it's getting cooler at night and he only has his *woobie* (poncho liner) in addition to his flat sheet. I managed to 'smoosh' enough air out of it to cram it in a flat-rate box.

Saturday - early afternoon - I picked up my friend Nik and her two kids (Neena and Devon) and we went out to a late breakfast. The plan was to go visit the ducks hanging out behind Pioneer Park, but when we got there, there were only a few left. Those that remain are hanging around on the ice shelf which lines the river. Because the ice grows every day - narrowing the river - there's no way for us to get close to the ducks without falling through the thin ice. Very disappointing.

Since we were in the area, we decided to take a walk through Pioneer Park, so the kids could play in the playground. It was cold, but we were bundled up nicely. I took my camera (of course) so that I could get some photos of Neena and Devon for their dad (who is also in Iraq).

Neena is a beautiful red-haired girl, who stole my heart the first time I saw her. The sprinkle of freckles across her nose only adds to her cuteness. While she has been known to play 'shy' with people who she has just met, it seems she likes me. For this I am glad. I thoroughly enjoyed taking her photo and seeing her sweet smile. I know that she will be my subject in future months too. I admit, I have a soft spot for little girls. Perhaps because I raised boys and missed out on the 'sugar and spice' of a daughter. How could anyone resist such a sweet face?

As I wrote, the river continues to grow more and more clogged with ice. Every day, the ice moves closer and closer to the bridge which leads to my neighborhood. I had to stop the other day and take a photo of it. While it's nowhere near being strong enough to support anything but the soft touch of a bird, in only a few months, it will soon be solid and strong, and we'll assemble on it to watch mushers run their dogs.

Although my photography 'store' isn't open for business yet, I sold four 8x10s to one of the soldiers over in Iraq with Steve. He wanted two photos of eagles, and two of bears. Steve is my best marketing agent thusfar, and I am appreciative of that. It will still take a bit of work before I'm ready to publish my online gallery and fill print orders, but he's already throwing himself into 'advertising' his wife. How did I get so lucky to get a man who cheers me on so completely?