February 15, 2015

Aurora, Aurora, and MORE Aurora!

Filed under: Aurora, Everyday Life — Susan Stevenson @ 3:49 pm

January and February have been awesome months for aurora viewing and photographing! But because of the arctic cold, I have stayed close to home - especially when Steve is on night shift, and not close by to help me if I had any car problems. While my car is in good repair, -45F is not easy on any vehicle, and I try not to go anywhere unless absolutely necessary.

One of the more exciting nights of aurora viewing was on January 26th. That evening, Poker Flat Research Range launched four rockets into and aurora-filled sky. The four launches were successful and were done to gather data that will help researchers understand turbulent air currents in the upper atmosphere.

Two teams collaborated to launch the four rockets. One team was led by Rich Collins from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the other by Miguel Larsen at Clemson University. Larsen’s rockets released a gas called trimethyl aluminum, which glows green when it reacts with oxygen. His team will use images of the gas dispersal to better understand turbulence. Researchers have been in position to launch since Jan. 13, waiting each night for the clear weather they needed for their experiments.

I don’t know much of the technical information in regards to these rockets, and found the above information at the Poker Flat website. But how lucky that I happened to be standing out in my road just as a rocket launched! Here are the photos I captured.

The Rocket Trail appears off in the distance, beyond the trees I think this squiggly light trail was made when the gas was first released from the rocket More gas released and glowing as part of the rocket makes its way back to earth.
Poker Flat Rocket and Aurora from my road Poker Flat Rocket and Aurora

At the end of January, we had several days of continued activity. I hardly slept a wink, as I found myself stuck to the Aurora Cam, watching for the familiar lights in the sky. When I see strong activity on the cam, I know that I have several minutes to get outside and set up in the driveway or the road for photos. I especially pay attention to where the lights are showing up. If they are straight up, I have a good chance of seeing them from my house. If they are low, I know I will see very little, or will need to drive elsewhere for an open sky. (The camera is offline during daylight hours, but if you’re up late, give it a look and get an idea of what I’m seeing!)

I attended an aurora lecture given by the very knowledgeable Neal Brown - one of Fairbanks’ real rocket scientists. If you’re curious about his education and professional experience, feast your eyes on this extremely impressive resume. And if you’re local, and he schedules another lecture - GO!

Beautiful Aurora over my House Beautiful Aurora over Frosted Trees Beautiful Aurora over Road
Beautiful Aurora over House Beautiful Aurora


February 2, 2015

December in Wisconsin

Filed under: Family, Travel — Susan Stevenson @ 12:07 am


I spent three weeks in Madison, WI (and vicinity) visiting my two sons and their special ladies. Brandon and Becky - who just celebrated 12 years of marriage - are still living in the townhouse they used to share with Chris. Chris moved out at the end of last summer, and lives with his fiancee Kimberly now. It was a little different having to split my time between two places, but things went much more smoothly than I anticipated.

I arrived in Madison just before dinner on December 9th. My eldest son, Chris, picked me up from the airport and took me to his and Kimberly’s house, where Brandon and Becky were also waiting for me, and the delicious smell of lasagna filled the house. It was so wonderful to see everyone, and my heart was filled with such love and joy to have them near.

We had a delicious dinner of lasagna and garlic bread, followed by home-made cheesecake. I don’t think I mentioned that Kimberly is an amazing cook and baker, as is Becky. I find it humorous that both my boys married women who love to cook and bake, as I have never been someone who is comfortable in the kitchen. I’m happy about that, and it’s obvious that they are too.

Kimberly Art WallKimberly’s home is beautiful. She is a talented painter, and enjoys spending time in her basement studio creating beautiful and quite personal canvases. She paints mostly what she thinks and feels, so much of her work is far from a more mainstream collection of landscapes. I was totally enthralled by her entry hall wall, as it was filled with art that not only she had created, but that friends and family had painted too.

Chris made me this decoration when he was in 1st grade.Chris and Kimberly's treeSince she has high ceilings, she and Chris bought a real Christmas tree - a beautiful tree that was probably 9 feet tall. I enjoyed looking at the decorations they hung, and smiled when I came across some of the handcrafted items that Chris made me when he was in kindergarten and elementary school. (I sent old Christmas decorations to the boys when we moved to AK, and downsized our tree to a 4′ tabletop)

Three squirrels - of many - that enjoy the bounty of seedTheir home backs up to a protected nature area, which is lucky for them, as they have a wooded area behind them - and the privacy that goes along with it. Through the low bushes and dead leaves of fall, there are well-worn paths made by the many squirrels that come to raid her bird feeders on a regular basis. I thought I had a squirrel problem here, with my one or two red squirrels - but they have a much bigger problem there with the dozens of HUGE gray squirrels that raid their seeds on a daily basis. It was fun to watch them chase each other off. They were so large, they reminded me of cats. Our squirrels are so much smaller!

After our delicious dinner and dessert, Brandon and Becky went back to their place, and I finally went to bed after a day and a half of being awake. The bed was so comfortable, I was fast asleep in less than 5 minutes!


The next day, Chris had to go to work later in the afternoon, so I dropped him off at work and then took his car to pick up Brandon’s wife, Becky at work. She and I hit the mall shopping for a few hours, until Brandon got off work. It was fun to shop at so many stores we don’t have here in Fairbanks. And the prices were AMAZING! Boy… we are charged such a premium up here! It was fun to shop with my daughter-in-love. I know she was loving the girl time too. I spent the night with Brandon and Becky.

While there, I enjoyed playing with the house full of furkids. Perseus (Boxer) is the only canine in the family. JiJi, Phelps, and Torres are three felines who also take up residence. JiJi is Chris’ cat, and is elderly, so he felt it best not to uproot her and move her to Kimmie’s house. Besides… she’s become quite accustomed to the other furkids in the house and he didn’t want her to get lonely. She took a liking to me and slept with me each night, which was actually quite welcoming as I miss my girl Airborne very much.

Brandon and Becky’s tree also has ornaments on it that I made for the boys when they were babies. There are little stuffed animals and wreaths, and I began making them when I was pregnant with Chris. I continued making ornaments every year until after Brandon was born. Many of them have disappeared (I think one of our several dogs ate them over the years), but the ones that remain are happy to hang on Brandon’s tree now. I found a photo of our tree when the boys were very little, and added a photo of Brandon’s tree. It’s more than 35 years later, and these ornaments are still loved. I hope my grandchildren enjoy them someday.

Ornaments - Then and Now


January 19, 2015

Happy 2015! Here’s to a year of adventures!

Filed under: Aurora, Roadtrips, Travel, Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 2:32 pm

Hello my dear friends and readers! I think this is the longest time that has lapsed between entries about my life here in Alaska. I apologize for that, as I have certainly missed writing.

The last time I updated, I was preparing for my three week trip to Madison, WI to spend the holidays with my two sons and their ladies. It was an amazing trip, and I am so happy I was able to have so much time with my boys. I miss them so much throughout the year, despite the regular communication between us via phone, text, and messaging. What a joy it was to wrap my arms around them and feel their cheeks against mine!

I’ll share more details and lots of photos in my next entry, as I haven’t completed processing and re-sizing all the photos I took while I was in WI.

One highlight of my WI visit, was being able to hang out with Julie - my dear gal pal and roadtrip partner who used to live here in Fairbanks. She and her family moved to IA last November, after her husband retired from the army, to help out on the family farm. Julie made the three-hour drive from Hawkeye, IA to Madison to spend the weekend with me. We went north, in search of waterfalls. Our travels took us all the way to the southern end of the Michigan U.P. - to Iron Mountain - where we spent the night. We enjoyed some much needed “girl time” catching up with each other, exploring the beautiful countryside, and stopping for photos and some winter hiking. It was a fun and beautiful drive. I miss her very much!


I returned to Alaska early on New Years Eve. After a long night of traveling in a cramped airplane, it was so fabulous to be back in my own house, and sleeping in my own bed. It was so wonderful to see Steve (and Raven) again, and although we originally had plans to go up to UAF to see the fireworks on New Years Eve, I wanted nothing more than to stay in my comfy clothes, sip champagne, and celebrate the arrival of 2015 here at home.

The day after New Years, my friend Amanda and I flew to Anchorage, where we photographed the wedding of another friend - Tracy. Tracy and her husband Steven spent one of their very first dates at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood (south of Anchorage) and were married at the top of the mountain on Saturday afternoon (1/3). Amanda and I flew down for the weekend, and hung out with Tracy and Steven’s families in a beautiful log home within walking distance of the resort. It was a gorgeous wedding, and I am happy for Tracy and Steven and their new blended family.

Tracy and Steven had a *First Look* - seeing each other before the ceremony. Tracy and Steven just pronounced married! Tracy and Steven's blended family
Tracy and Steven in silhouette Tracy and Steven share a romantic kiss with the mountains in the background Tracy and Steven and family at the top of the mountain.

On Sunday, since we had a late flight back to Fairbanks, Amanda and I decided to visit the AWCC (Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center) and do some sight seeing. What a fabulous visit! Since we were the only ones visiting, one of the staff members asked us if we’d like to feed the bull moose! Of course we said YES! Amanda and I hand fed two beautiful moose tangerines. And I also had the opportunity to pet a moose nose - something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s as soft as I imagined it would be.

Me petting a moose at AWCC