April 25, 2017

“Attitude is the difference…

Filed under: Aurora,Photography,Roadtrips,Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 12:22 pm

— between an ordeal and an adventure”

Spring is slowly arriving here in North Pole, Alaska. We are up to nearly 18 hours of visible light each day, the temperature has warmed into the 40s and 50s, with overnight temps in the 30s and 40s. The snow is quickly melting in the warm sunshine, and there are puddles and mud everywhere. Our yard is still snow covered, but it is very soft so walking in it requires waterproof boots. Break-up boots as some call them.

Here at home, life has been extremely busy and hectic at times, but other than that, things are going really well. With so much to do in the planning of our extended trip, we’ve had no time to sit around and be bored. The additional hours of light, and ability to get outside every day has done wonders for our spirits (as well as Raven’s). I can’t say we have any kind of routine, but as long as we keep busy we feel accomplished. We also allow for down days of nothing but Netflix watching, as well as scenic drives to Denali or walks at Creamers Field. We survived another winter!

UPCOMING ADVENTURES

Our travels will take us from Alaska to Wisconsin at the end of the month, where we will be spending time with my sons and their families. Steve will finally get to meet Juliet, and of course I can’t wait to see her! We’ll be staying with Chris & Kimmie in Madison, while waiting to take possession of our new travel trailer. Once we do a few practice runs with it in WI, and get it stocked to hit the road, we’ll be moving on to MO to spend time with Steve’s family. I am excited to finally meet Eric’s wife Lacy and Steve’s granddaughter Regan.

From MO, we’ll head west to CO, and then north – following the Rockies – all the way back to Alaska. It’s going to be a long drive – the longest we’ve made since we drove from FL to AK back in 2003. Estimates put us at about 10,000 miles for this trip! Talk about an extensive maiden voyage! We aren’t towing our old camper out of here. We plan to sell it up here to avoid any additional wear and tear on it. We’re prepared to truck camp in case of an emergency, but will be staying at hotels along the way. The goal is to get through Canada in 6-7 days, which makes for some very long driving days.

Raven is accompanying us on our adventure south. Health wise, she is doing better. She’s not as lethargic as she was, although she does get out of breath quickly. She loves to play though, so we have to slow her down or she’ll keep going. Her hips have been giving her occasional pain. I started her on a chondroiton/glucosamine supplement about 3 weeks ago. I don’t really know if it’s helping, as results aren’t usually seen for 4-6 weeks. I do hope it does help. I hate that she can hardly climb the stairs some days. We had to build a ramp for her to get in and out of the truck and camper. Thankfully, she still has a great willingness to play Frisbee, and to chase squirrels in the yard. I think Raven will enjoy hanging out with Percy while in WI too. And Steve’s son has a couple of dogs. Hopefully there will be plenty of opportunity for doggie play dates.

I don’t know how much I will be able to formally blog while traveling. I will do my best, but it will also depend on wifi and internet access along the way. I don’t plan to spend much time on my laptop while seeing our beautiful country. However, if you are on Facebook, I hope to update my photography page with photos and commentary on a regular basis. (Here is my Susan L Stevenson Photography page)

Lately the temperature has been warming into the 50s. I know it will be getting warmer the further south we go. I look forward to finally getting out of my fleece and into short sleeves again. Since this will be our maiden voyage in the new RV, we want to revisit the National Parks we’ve already seen (31) and see those we haven’t visited yet (28). This time we plan to have a National Park book stamped. On this trip, we will visit Rocky Mountain National Park (never been), Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP (never been), and Great Sand Dunes NP (never been) in Colorado.  We will also re-visit Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier. Passing back through Canada we plan to visit Banff and Jasper (Free entrance to all National Parks in Colorado in 2017 in celebration of their 150th anniversary).

ICE PARK

Steve and I visited the ice park one day while it was open. I used to buy season passes, as I enjoyed visiting the park several times during the season to photograph the artists and the sculptures as they materialized out of ice. I liked collecting the Ice Park pins too. A few years ago, I was just too busy to justify a season pass, so I decided instead to buy a day pass and then visit the park during the day and again at night. I did the same again this year, with Steve. We had a lovely day visit, and when we returned to see the sculptures under colored lights, we were welcomed with a beautiful orange sunset.

One of our favorite sculptures was the multi-block tribute to David Bowie. Always a fan!

A beautiful sunset behind the train station

Sunset over the Ice Park Tram Station, Fairbanks AK

Held - Ice Alaska Changed Evolution - Night and Day - Ice Alaska Chained Evolution - USA - Ice Alaska
Tribute to David Bowie Tribute to David Bowie - FB Viewers Choice - Ice Alaska Ice slides

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March 5, 2017

Time Spent in Self-Reflection

Filed under: Aurora,Everyday Life,Family,Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 10:01 pm

“Time spent in self-reflection is never wasted – it is an intimate date with yourself.” ~ Dr. Paul T. P. Wong

Hello faithful readers. This is the longest break I have ever taken from blogging, and if you’re still here, I want you to know I appreciate it. It has been a time of adjustment, organization, and reflection.  Where to begin…

As you know, Steve is now fully retired. His last day of work was on May 2nd. The summer kept both of us busy, although we spent a lot of time apart too – which certainly isn’t the norm for us, especially in the summer. Of course, I had a great excuse for being gone from the end of July until mid September! I was privileged to be with my granddaughter for the first nearly 6 weeks of her life. While I was gone, Steve hitched up the camper and headed to Valdez for some fishing. He had problems with the camper both coming and going. These mishaps, combined with vacationing alone,  Raven ripping a toenail off while camping (she’s fine), the quiet in the house when he returned – along with the lack of socialization, did not make for a good summer for Steve.

By the time I arrived home the second week of September, Steve was starved for attention, human conversation and interaction. And while I most certainly missed him while I was gone, and loved all the doting and sweetness he showered on me with when I came home, it only took about a week for me to realize that I was not totally prepared to have him in *my* space 24 hours a day. And he wasn’t prepared to be there.

RHS – Retired Husband Syndrome – is a real thing.  Google it. I skimmed several articles and found my share of humorous or b*tchy stories about life after retirement. But I also found informative articles too. And I can’t tell you how relieved I was to learn that this isn’t something unique to our relationship.  Don’t worry…. we’re in it for the long haul.  I just didn’t expect to be constantly reminding myself of my marriage vows 25 years in! There are many more things to adjust to than just having your mate home with you all the time.

Every couple is unique, so the adjustment to such a big change is going to vary too. When I married Steve, he was active duty army. I was a very independent single mom, which is one of the things Steve admired most when we met. After he moved me and my boys to GA, my life revolved around him and his duties as a soldier. I did my best to be home when he was home, because our separations were so frequent. After the boys left the nest, and I started working for myself, I continued to do everything I could to be home for him when he was home. When he retired from the military and went to work for the mine, he worked rotating shifts, but we knew his schedule a year out. I made sure to plan my calendar to coincide as much as I could.  I wasn’t forced to do this. It’s something I wanted to do. I looked forward to spending time together when he was home, because those times were so infrequent.

Fast forward 24 years…. Steve retires. He’s home all the time. At first it’s awesome. It’s like vacation or a never ending holiday. We’re being lazy, watching movies, eating junk food, and we don’t even care what day it is. But of course, this isn’t the retirement plan we’ve been working toward. So I slip back into my normalcy – which is scheduling portrait sessions, editing photos, writing, and going on the occasional scenic drive or camping trip with friends. But things aren’t normal. There is one huge difference. I am never alone. And it’s hard for me to get used to that.

I have always needed alone time. It’s something I grew quite used to as both a young, recently divorced single mom, and as the spouse of a soldier. I like quiet time. I love my solitude. It’s the way I reflect, refresh, and re-energize. When Steve was working, I woke to quiet. I’d come down to a quiet kitchen, pour some coffee, interact with Raven, and catch up on the news.  If I didn’t have any sessions scheduled, I would leisurely dress for the day,  make a list of things to do,  load up the car with Raven and my camera, and head into town – where I might window shop, or take a walk at Creamers Field, or just drive around town looking for photo ops. I always made sure to be home by the time Steve woke for work (or came home from work, depending on his shift). He was happy I was there to welcome him or send him off, and I was happy I had an enjoyable day with myself. On his off day, we would do whatever he wanted to do, or something we both wanted to do. Sometimes he went off alone to fish or golf.  It was great and everyone was happy.  But now it’s over – or rather that routine is over.

Of course the happiness is still there – for so many reasons. We are happy because we love to plan adventures, and we love to RV, and now we don’t have to follow any schedules. And we’re thrilled because we bought a new camper (and will be picking it up this summer), and we’re planning a Lower 48 adventure. But sometimes the happiness can be muffled by the worry or stress or fear that retirement can bring.  It certainly doesn’t help that retirement is still synonymous with *old*. We don’t feel old, and I know a lot of you don’t feel old either! But it is sobering to know that we have less life ahead of us, than we do behind. And you never know when life can be snatched away. (My father was only 62 – Steve’s age – when he died.)

In January, Steve thought he was having a heart attack. It happened at 8am in the morning. We were both up, drinking coffee and watching the news. Trump had just been sworn in a week prior and every single TV channel was broadcasting the divisiveness of our country. People were marching and protesting, and we both found ourselves sucked into the news chaos. We had our own heated discussions about politics, and I know we weren’t the only couple feeling the strain of an election year – particularly this election year. One minute he’s sitting next to me in the living room, and the next thing I know, he’s calling me from the bedroom. When I went upstairs, he was monitoring his blood pressure (he has a BP cuff) and all the readings were high. His pulse was racing, he was clammy, and his chest hurt. I called 9-1-1. Paramedics arrived and took him to the hospital, where he underwent a barrage of tests for several hours. Fortunately, it was not a heart attack, but a severe anxiety attack. That experience put everything in perspective. We are both so thankful it wasn’t his heart. His stress and anxiety are being managed now, and things are so much better!

A few days ago, we put a deposit on our new travel trailer. We spent nearly a month talking, researching, and negotiating with several dealers – THAT was super stressful! You would think buying a new camper would be exciting. Until we take possession, outfit it, and begin our first journey, we’re both anxious and overwhelmed by all the things on our list we need to check off before we embark on this first adventure.

One good thing that has come out of Steve’s retirement – and his health scare – was that we’re really talking to each other now. But most importantly, we’re listening to each other too. There is no way for a retirement plan to work if you’re not on the same sheet of music. We have survived so much worse, and we know this too shall pass.

On top of our health worries with Steve, we discovered that Raven has a mass in her abdomen. At first they thought it was a tumor on her liver, but an ultrasound and blood work made the vet think it could be her gallbladder instead. The vet didn’t say it’s cancer, but we haven’t ruled anything out. We’re waiting for another ultrasound concentrating on the gallbladder and, if warranted, some medication to help. Needless to say, this has been very difficult for both of us, but especially Steve. Raven is not a formally trained PTSD dog, but she has been exactly that for Steve. When Steve becomes frustrated, or raises his voice, Raven immediately positions herself so that her face is as close to his as possible. Immediately, he is distracted by her presence. As he pets her and calms her, he calms himself. It is really such a wonderful thing to witness, and the love they have for each other is quite special. We know we won’t have Raven forever, and due to her recent health issues, we’ve had several conversations about the “what ifs”.  This hasn’t helped Steve’s anxiety levels either.

Then, bringing more worry to my family, my younger brother was recently diagnosed with colon cancer. He’s already had surgery, and we are now waiting to learn the treatment plan he faces ahead. If you’ve been reading me for a long time, you may remember my mother died of colon cancer. My grandmother did too. This is why my brothers and I are tested more frequently than the general population. We are hopeful that with Marc’s regular/frequent screenings, the cancer has been caught early enough for a complete recovery.

It has been a heck of a roller coaster ride these last few months, to say the least. But we’re on an upswing now…. the light is coming back, plans are coming together, and we’re both feeling so much better. One step at a time…

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January 1, 2017

A new year is on the way…

Filed under: Everyday Life,Family,Interesting Things — Susan Stevenson @ 5:10 pm

and the possibilities are endless!

Here we are again, at the end of another year. I won’t repeat myself with the usual “where has the time gone?” and “wow – that went fast!” lamentations (even though this last day of the year – as always – arrived much too quickly). Maybe I did just repeat myself?

2016 has been quite the year for me, my family, my friends, and our nation. It wasn’t all good, and certainly worse for some than others. But it wasn’t all bad either. I think back over this last year, and smile at the memories that made this year forever unforgettable: my granddaughter’s birth, our month-long trip back to Philly and across the country, and my husband’s retirement, among several. I also look back at some of the less than happy moments of 2016, and I am happy that it is ending and a fresh new year is only hours away.

This whole retirement thing has been a learning experience for both of us. It’s amazing how much life changes, even when you don’t think it will. Not only for the person who retires, but also for the mate who has to transition into a life which includes a lot of couple time. Steve and I will be married 25 years in April. We thought we had this marriage stuff figured out. Talk about a new learning experience! Fortunately, lines of communication are open, as we figure this new chapter out together. Thank goodness we both have the same dream, although our means of realizing that dream don’t always align as closely as we’d like.  It seems these later years are teaching us the importance of compromise again – something we haven’t had to deal with this seriously since we were newlyweds.

The fact that it’s winter (darkness) is not helping one bit. It turns out that Steve is having a harder time with SAD than I am – especially now that he isn’t staying busy, or seeing the light as much as he used to. We take walks around the neighborhood as much as we can, to soak up the brief sunshine and get a little exercise and fresh air. That helps quite a bit, but it’s still not enough. (We’re making sure to take our Vit D and other vitamins too) Thank goodness we are on THIS side of solstice and the light is coming back; a few minutes each day.

We will probably have to survive one more winter up here before we’re organized enough to attempt a snowbird adventure. There’s a lot to think about, especially in regards to our home. Do we rent it out? Winterize it and lock it up and hire someone to keep watch over it? Sell it? So many options! And what if snowbirding doesn’t appeal to us after all, except as a one time grand adventure? We don’t want to jump the gun and sell this place if we decide it’s where we want to be all the time. It’s exciting to discuss and plan, but stressful too.

But enough about all of that…. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about our progress over the next year.

Holiday CardA belated Happy Holidays to all of you! Christmas at our house was very laid back, as it was just the two of us. We made a spiral ham and side dishes, and sipped champagne. We started our day with a daybreak (11am) walk around the neighborhood with Raven. The rest of the day was filled with laziness, lounging, movie-watching, and nibbling on leftovers. I think I was asleep before 9pm. I hope your holiday celebration was amazing!

Despite the short days, the light that the sun casts over us at the end of each clear day is blinding because it is so low in the sky. Car visors are pretty much useless some days. But it’s a lovely shade of orange and yellow, and it feels warm even on subzero days. The color is always a mood lifter, as cloudy winter days are mostly devoid of color.

The view out my kitchen window is one of my favorites. It’s not a large window, and the only time I take the time to look through it is when I’m doing dishes. But it certainly makes that chore more enjoyable. The simple stained glass piece (about 8×11) was made by me in a one-time craft class I took on Fort Wainwright soon after we arrived here in AK. (I would love to try my hand at stained glass art again sometime) The colored bottles came from a variety of places. The 1st and 3rd bottles were given to me by a friend, who got them for next to nothing at a local craft store sale. The blue bottle once held Bombay Sapphire Gin. The color is so beautiful, I had to keep it for my windowsill. The smaller glass piece with the feather, was gifted to me (and handmade) by my friend Lacey – who moved to Germany last year. She also made the beautiful large piece you may have seen in photographs in previous posts.

Steve’s birthday was on December 8th, and mine followed on the 14th. I baked a cake for Steve, but called it mine too, so we didn’t have to totally destroy our *trying to eat healthy* attempts by devouring two complete cakes – as tempting as it was. We wiped out his German Chocolate cake long before my birthday even arrived.

A couple of days before my birthday,  we woke to beautiful sunshine. Despite the below zero temps (about -5F), I gathered Steve and Raven and we drove down to Chena Lakes to take family photos for our Christmas card. It turned out to be a wonderful day in the sunshine, warming our hearts and lifting our spirits tremendously. These precious moments in the sunshine are so valuable!

Colors on my Windowsill Orange Painted Treetops Christmas Tree on Birch Hill
Family Photos at Chena Lakes Chena Lakes BackLit Sun Me and Raven Chena Lakes

This pano shows the frozen lake and the trail that skirts the shoreline near the swimming beach at Chena Lakes:
Trail at Chena Lakes, North Pole AK

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