January 7, 2009

More than a Cold Snap

Filed under: Everyday Life,Family,Photography — Susan Stevenson @ 6:42 pm

The last time I wrote, it was -47F outside my front door. The temperature since then, has hovered somewhere between -45F and -52F at our house, and lower in areas east of us. Today, it’s on the warmer side, if you can call it that.

The fireworks celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Alaska Statehood, which were scheduled for this past Saturday, have been indefinitely postponed. Lisa and I were fully prepared to watch the display, but the ice fog was so thick, that they wouldn’t have been visible.  I’m glad that Festival Fairbanks postponed them, and hope that the celebration will be held on an evening when the temperature is closer to zero.

Lisa and I saw the movie Doubt this past weekend.  I took the following plot summary from the IMDB website:

It’s 1964, St. Nicholas in the Bronx. A charismatic priest, Father Flynn, is trying to upend the schools’ strict customs, which have long been fiercely guarded by Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the iron-gloved Principal who believes in the power of fear and discipline. The winds of political change are sweeping through the community, and indeed, the school has just accepted its first black student, Donald Miller. But when Sister James, a hopeful innocent, shares with Sister Aloysius her guilt-inducing suspicion that Father Flynn is paying too much personal attention to Donald, Sister Aloysius sets off on a personal crusade to unearth the truth and to expunge Flynn from the school. Now, without a shard of proof besides her moral certainty, Sister Aloysius locks into a battle of wills with Father Flynn which threatens to tear apart the community with irrevocable consequence.

First of all, the opening scenes of this movie gave me serious flashbacks of attending parochial school as a child. I was a 1st and 2nd grade student at Maternity BVM in Philadelphia in 1965-66, and I swear there were nuns like Sr. Aloysius Beauvier! There’s a scene at Sunday Mass, when a young boy is busy having a conversation with another student, and Sr. Beauvier comes up behind him and whacks him in the back of the head!

When I went to Catholic school, there was knuckle rapping with rulers, lots of Hail Mary’s for penance, and I even remember one nun who kept a “dunce cap” in the classroom, and would put bad kids in the corner wearing it. There was also a demerit system, as well as detentions for not following the rules perfectly. When I was in 2nd grade, I was made to kneel on the floor so that the nun could see if my uniform skirt was long enough. It had to touch the floor when I was on my knees.  It didn’t, by 1/2 inch at most.  I was kept in from recess, and a note was sent home to my mother, telling her she either needed to buy me a new jumper, or take down my hem. She lowered my hem that night.

I was pulled out of Catholic school and sent to public school in 3rd grade. I remember how happy I was not to have to wear a uniform everyday, but I also discovered what it was like to be made fun of for not having ‘cool’ clothes.  The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

As for the movie? I found it to be interesting, thought provoking, and even a little disturbing. Merle Streep is truly excellent in her role as Sister Aloysius Beauvier. All the actors did very well. The movie ends just short of giving a solid “guilty/not guilty” verdict regarding the actions of Father Flynn. You are left to make your own decision based on what you have seen, or what you personally believe. If you like movies that leave you in a place of uncertainty, you’ll enjoy this movie.


After the movie, we drove around a little bit. I had my old digital camera with me, which doesn’t take the best photos, but I wanted to take photos of the ice fog. It was so thick! Visibility was near zero in many places. You couldn’t read street signs, and couldn’t even see landmarks along the road, so it was nearly impossible to navigate through town.

I don’t think a Wendy’s Frosty Shake would be a good choice on a day like this:

Headlights are a necessity, or you’re taking your life in your hands:

Visibility was awful!

The Fred Meyer sign was malfunctioning and has been reading -62F for a few days now.  (At the time, it was about -49F) Many folks took photos, or had their picture taken in front of it, just for the heck of it. This is a bad photo, but it was fun to email it out to my family (Oh, and gas was $2.42/gallon, and isn’t much lower today):

I took this as we made our way back to Lisa’s house. I left my car parked in her driveway (plugged in), and dreaded the drive home. Once the sun went down, visibility was reduced even further.

I warmed up my car for about 30 minutes, before heading home. Because my car had sat immobile for several hours, my tires had frozen flat on the bottom. This is typical, and once you get moving and they warm up, the ‘thwop, thwop, thwop’ sound and the bumpy ride stops. Until then, it’s like driving in a Fred Flintstone car. Halfway home, I realized that my car thermometer only functions to -40F. After that, this is what happens. It’s car language for “OH NOOOOOO!!”


On Sunday, I met several members of the Alaska Living Group at Badger Den for brunch. They cooked up sausage biscuits and gravy, with a side of home fries, and had plenty of coffee on tap. All for only $5/pp. What a bargain! There were nine of us in all, with two attendees being both new arrivals to Alaska (July) as well as new to the group.  I enjoyed myself quite a bit, and we ended up spending nearly three hours chatting. I look forward to our next get-together.

The air exchange portion of our HVAC system is not working. This doesn’t affect keeping the house heated, but means that our air is not recirculating. Because our home is so air-tight, an air exchange system is necessary to bring in fresh air from the outside, while removing stale air from the inside. Merely opening your front door is not enough to recirculate the air – especially if there’s a lot of humidity in the air, or you’re using spray products, or cooking a lot, etc.

We discovered the problem about two weeks ago, and Steve went under the house (it’s an enclosed crawlspace accessible by a trap door in the floor of a closet) to thaw out the frosted core. We reset the breaker, did all the trouble-shooting we could think of, and the system won’t turn on. Finally today, the guy who installed the unit was able to come by and look at it. We had replaced the fuse and it blew overnight, so it’s obviously something with the electronics. Right now, we’ve got towels jammed in the air intake/outake ducts (which go directly to the outside of the house) to warm up the unit even more. The guy’s coming back tomorrow to see if he can figure out what the problem is. Having temps as low as -50F was surely a contributing factor.  At least it wasn’t our furnace.

I had a comment on my last entry, from a reader, Lerrina. She asked me about cabin fever. I thought I’d address her comment here. (Welcome to my journal, Lerrina)

Cabin Fever has reared its ugly head in our house. Both Steve and I are going crazy being cooped up inside with this cold. He gets out to go to work, but that’s not exactly fun.  And I haven’t been going anywhere because my car does not like this cold, and I’m worried about breaking something on it. So many people I know have had belts break, batteries freeze up, and even spark plugs freeze.  My car made such terrible sounds when I went to Lisa’s the other day, that I’ve been afraid to take it out.

Cabin Fever is a very real thing here in Interior Alaska. Symptoms include restlessness, irritability, forgetfulness, laughter, and excessive sleeping. Steve has three of the five: restlessness, irritability, excessive sleeping. I have two: restlessness and irritability. I have the opposite of excessive sleeping; I have insomnia – a problem I have every winter. I either sleep in bursts: going to bed at 10pm, sleeping until 3am, staying up until 6am, and napping again until 8 or 9am – or I stay up until 3am, and sleep until 8am and then get up for the day. I am so glad I don’t have to work outside the home with this schedule.

If the weather warms up to -20F or warmer the next time Steve is off from work, we’d like to take a drive down to the Donnelly Dome area, just for a change of scenery.

Despite the cold, there has been quite a bit more activity around my bird feeders. In addition to the chickadees and the squirrel, a small group of redpolls has shown up.  A few days ago, there were snowshoe hare footprints on our deck too. It’s easy to identify them, as our snowshoe hares are quite large, and their back feet are humongous. Besides, he left us some bunny pellets as a calling card.

Yesterday, I spent some time watching Mr. Squirrel rummaging through the cast off seeds laying in the snow beneath the feeders.  He played a short game of hide and seek with me, hiding below the deck and raising his head to look in the back door at me.


Last night, I was doing dishes and glanced out the window into the dusky evening sky. The moon, while not full, was extremely bright, and I grabbed my camera to take a photograph:

The northern lights haven’t been very active lately. If they have, we haven’t been able to see them through all the fog hanging over the city.  The extended forecast doesn’t show any high activity in the next week, which is disappointing. I miss seeing them.

The extreme cold has kept the dogsled races at Jeff Studdert Racegrounds from taking place, and that’s another reason I’ve been feeling the blahs. Seeing the dogs run always lifts my spirits. I hope they’re able to run again soon.


Today is Kayla’s 22nd Birthday. Steve called her today, and I made her a birthday card using one of my photos and an online service, and had them mail it for me. I was notified yesterday that the card would be delivered on the 9th (late!) and was disappointed, so we let her know it was coming. Well it ended up being delivered today – so that was a pleasant surprise!  She emailed me to let me know it arrived and she liked it.

Happy Birthday, Kayla! We wish you many days of joy and love in the upcoming year!

Kayla also sent me a photograph of Colt, sleeping with the Alaska moose we sent him for Christmas. He’s so adorable, and I just had to share this with you all:

We both look forward to meeting Colt someday, so I can smother that adorable face with kisses.  What a cutie!

Hopefully, the next time I write here, I’ll have photos that are more exciting than birds and squirrels. I really need to get out of this house!


  1. Colt looks so adorable ~ asleep with his Alaska moose!

    I love the squirrel photos and the ice fog! Yes, I remember when we lived in North Pole driving home from work at 11pm, the square tires, my vehicle making funny noises when it was trying to start when it was colder than neg. 20, the low visibility in the ice fog and slick roads! I also seemed to get cabin fever easily in the winter too! Are you using your sunlight mood lamps? They did seem to help me during the winters. Hope your air exchange is soon fixed, yes, good thing your furnace is working fine with those frigid temps!
    Just think not long until your great Hawaii adventure, until then stay warm!


    Comment by Heidi — January 7, 2009 @ 7:20 pm

  2. This makes me want to get my electric blanket out of the attic just reading this! Good grief! I can’t even imagine what it feels like in -60 something degree weather – (not to mention wind chills). When we flew to China our flight monitor recorded temps in the – 70’s but that was at 40,000 + feet! I can remember thinking how could anyone stand those types of temps.

    Cole is adorable. I know you are anxious to meet him in person.


    Comment by Another Susan — January 7, 2009 @ 10:08 pm

  3. HI Susan, wow, its dang cold up there! I really can’t imagine -50+ weather…I know how -30’s and -40’s feel but its very few and far between when we do see those temps so I can’t imagine living daily with it. Still hoping someday I can experience it for myself! LOL! That ice fog is just crazy…can it get anymore difficult?

    Little Colt is just adorable! I am sure Grampa Steve is just so excited when he sees pics of him! How awesome! I really hope you all can meet up sometime this year for a reunion…try to stay warm and keep thinkin’ about that vacation coming up soon! Luau’s and Lei’s, tropical drinks by the beach, sunshine and warm weather…woohoo…I’m gettin’ excited for you! Can you just imagine the temperature shock to your body tho…dang! What a difference!


    Comment by LynnMN — January 8, 2009 @ 4:50 am

  4. Colt is adorable. Having read your blog from the time you drove from Florida to Alaska, I feel like I know you as a friend. I noticed that you only mentioned Steve’s sons a couple of times in your journal. I can’t help wonder what his relationship is with them now. I’m not judging by any means. Blended families each have their own dynamics. I guess I am reading your journal as I would a book. Maybe that isn’t fair. But, I can’t help but wonder about the relationship of Steve and his boys. After reading your journal, I can’t help but think it is a good relationship, but you just haven’t written about it. You are such a loving person, that I can’t imagine you don’t have a good relationship with them, even though it must be a long distance one with you being in Alaska.

    I realize I am probably asking too much about your personal life, but as I said, I feel like I’m reading a novel when I read your journal.

    Please answer what you feel comfortable answering. I’ll understand if you don’t want to go into details. I do understand that this is your life, not a novel I’m reading:-)

    :Linda…one of ypur avid readers.


    Comment by Linda — January 8, 2009 @ 10:39 pm

  5. Ok… so now I’m SURE I have cabin fever! I too am leary taking my car out with the funny noises it makes but did head to work this last week for a few hours. I also met a friend for coffee at AK Coffee Roasting Sat. morning just because I HAD to get out!
    I’m still not a BIT jealous that you will soon have your toes in the sand of Hawaii. Not a bit.
    See you next spring my “down the road a few miles” friend!

    Oh, the friend I had coffee with told of her and her husband’s trip to Florida where he reconnected “wonderfully” with a sister he never knew he had. Sometimes we’re given such GIFTS! And Colt and his family are SURELY a gift to Steve and you!


    Comment by Karen — January 11, 2009 @ 5:01 pm

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