January 13, 2016

Happy 2016!

Filed under: Travel — Susan Stevenson @ 4:35 pm


I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and started the new year off well. Today, I finally packed away my Christmas decorations. I usually take care of “de-Christmasing” my house the first week of the year, but this year, I just haven’t been feeling very motivated. Plus, the boxes are stored under the house, so I rely on Steve to go down into the crawlspace and hand them up to me. He’s been working so a lot depended on his schedule.  But it’s done – and I’m happy to have my house back to normal. I deal with the cleaning aspect tomorrow.

It’s been a rather laid back year so far. Here we are, nearly halfway through January, and I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished a thing. At the start of each new year, I make a list of things I’d like to do, or complete, or start, or update, and I’ve been making a little bit of progress. But the motivation factor is a real issue. I’m still feeling the winter doldrums, despite the ever increasing minutes of daylight. It’s not as bad as it was back in December, but we still have a long way to go until spring – and normal daylight.

Fortunately, we haven’t had the extremely cold temperatures that we usually get in January. I’ve probably jinxed us, by writing about it. I’m OK with that, as it makes going out at night to view the aurora much more enjoyable.


As I have each year for the last few years, I created desktop calendars that you are free to download to your computer and use as your desktop wallpaper. This year, I made the calendars widescreen, as the average computer/laptop tends to have a wide screen now. Even if you don’t have a widescreen device, by choosing “fit” or “fill” or “stretch”, you should be able to use these images.

I usually create quarterly calendars, but decided to create calendars that could be swapped out every two months this year.

To download these to your computer, instead of clicking on them (which makes them open up to full size), RIGHT CLICK on the thumbnail and choose “OPEN LINK IN NEW TAB”. Then, go to that tab, where you’ll find the full size image. From there you can RIGHT CLICK and choose “SAVE IMAGE AS”. Remember where you save them to, so you can find them when it’s time to apply them to your desktop.

Here’s a description of the images:

Jan-Feb: Tanana River at Sunset, south of Fairbanks on the Richardson Highway
Mar-Apr: Aurora Borealis corona over my house
May-Jun: Sandhill Cranes at Creamers Field in Fairbanks
Jul-Aug: Denali National Park, Park Road in summer
Sept-Oct: Autumn in Alaska, Parks Hwy, Broad Pass area, south of Denali Park.
Nov-Dec: Resting cow moose in my back yard

Enjoy them!

Desktop Calendar January and February Desktop Calendar March and April Desktop Calendar May and June
Desktop Calendar July and August Desktop Calendar September and October Desktop Calendar November and December


We have had several aurora displays since the beginning of the new year, but nothing as intense as those displays I posted about in my last blog entry. However, it was really neat to have a nice aurora show on New Years Eve. Not only did the sky dance with the northern lights, but the horizon was also lighting up with the many fireworks displays that my neighbors were launching in celebration.

I originally planned to go to UAF for the fireworks, as I do most every year, but only a few hours before the show was scheduled to start, we had some freak weather change blow through, which brought sleet, and a little snow, and a lot of strong winds. It was so severe that even the local NIXLE report sent out text alerts that the roads were very slippery. Since Steve was working, I opted to stay home rather than take any chances. I’m glad I did, as Raven was having a hard time with the noise and I didn’t want to leave her home alone.

I checked the sky throughout the evening, and about 30 minutes before the new year, I ventured out into my driveway and down my road with my camera. By that time, neighbors were already lighting fireworks, so it wasn’t the typical silent and beautiful experience. But I did get a neat photo of the aurora AND fireworks over my house. You don’t get that opportunity very often!

Aurora and Fireworks over my house

Here are the other photos I shot as Alaska welcomed 2016:

New Years Aurora Show New Years Aurora Show New Years Aurora Show
New Years Aurora Show New Years Aurora Show New Years Aurora Show
New Years Aurora Show and fireworks over a neighbor's house New Years Aurora Show New Years Aurora Show over neighborhood

We also had a pretty good aurora display on the evening of the 6th, into the morning of the 7th. I ended up staying up until 2am shooting the aurora from my driveway and then caught my second wind. By the time Steve walked in the door the next morning, I was pretty bleary eyed, as I hadn’t been to bed yet. Thank goodness I make my own schedule, as I was able to lay down and catch a few hours sleep to take the edge off. I was happy for cloudy skies the night after too, so I wouldn’t be enticed to pull the same shift.

It started off with “just a green band”, which is often heard from those of us who have turned into aurora snobs since we get to see so many amazing displays here in the interior. I know it’s special anytime the aurora dances for us, but green bands are the norm, and I have thousands of photos of green bands.

However, when those bands changed into curtains, and started sending out multiple bands across the sky, I was mesmerized. I saw a tint of magenta along one edge of the curtain too, which is always a treat.

Aurora January 6-7th Aurora January 6-7th Aurora January 6-7th
Aurora January 6-7th Aurora January 6-7th Aurora January 6-7th
Aurora January 6-7th Aurora January 6-7th Aurora January 6-7th


In mid November, I met up with two of my dear friends Rachael and Jonna, in Las Vegas. We arrived in Vegas at about the same time on Monday, Nov 9th, and stayed until Friday morning the 13th. We had such a great time hanging out with one another. I love these gals and I’m always so happy when we can schedule our reunion getaways. The last time we saw each other was 2012 in Phoenix AZ (and that was a great time too!)

We stayed at the Paris Hotel, and the hotel was gorgeous. It’s located across from the Bellagio and the famous fountains, although our room didn’t have that view. We’re bargain shoppers, so we tend to get the rooms looking at the parking lot or tops of other buildings. We don’t care, as we’re only in the room to shower and sleep. With that being said, our room was lovely, with comfortable beds and a large bathroom with soaking tub. Splitting the cost three ways made it quite affordable for all of us.

When we have these meetups, we all buy a magnetic photo frame and magnets to put on our fridge so we can remember the trip. Of course, then we have to make sure we have enough photos of the three of us to put in the frame. On one particular day, we were visiting the Conservatory at the Bellagio (always gorgeous!), and met up with one of Jonna’s local friends. She took this photo of the three of us, and it’s the one I had printed for our little frames. (L to R: Rachael, me, Jonna)

(Many of the photos posted here were taken by Rachael or Jonna using their cellphones, which is why they aren’t the best quality. I wanted to share them anyway!)

Rachael, Susan, Jonna - Bellagio Conservatory

Day One: Arrival in Las Vegas

We were all on the ground by early afternoon, grabbed a cab to the hotel, and checked in. We were all very exhausted after a day of travel. I flew the overnight flight so I hadn’t been to bed since the day prior. Jonna was on East Coast time so she had a touch of jet lag. Rachael didn’t have to fly very far, but she was up early (excitement) and didn’t sleep very well the night before. We were all famished so the first thing on our radar was finding a place to have dinner. I don’t even remember where we ate (I think it was HEXX). I don’t remember what I even ate that night, to be honest. I was so exhausted – deliriously so. We were back in our room before 6pm, and all three of us were passed out cold by 7pm! So much for being a Vegas party animal!

YAY for Girls Meetups! Me and Rachael at the airport after she arrived YAY for Girls Meetups! All three of us at the airport after Jonna landed Checked into our room, dropped our bags, figuring out where to eat

Day Two: Coffee! Show us the Coffee!!!!

Since we were in bed so early the night before, we were all wide awake at 4am. Of course the only thing on our minds was COFFEE!!! Of course, the hotel doesn’t have a coffee pot in the room. Why would they, when they can instead have several coffee shops on the premises that are going to charge a premium for this necessary morning brew?

At 4am, the only place you can buy coffee in the casino – is at one of the bars. Seriously. The bars have coffee for those middle of the night gamblers, but the various coffee shops don’t open until 6am. After coming up empty handed at two of the casino bars, we were directed to Gustav’s Bar where we hit the jackpot – the coffee jackpot. It was only Folgers, but let me tell you… that cup of Folgers was the BEST cup of coffee I’ve had in a long time. Rachael and Jonna felt the same way. At more than $4/cup (with tax), it was nearly the price of a Starbucks, but when you want and NEED coffee – you’ll pay any price.

Rachael played a few slot machines, and ended up winning a few bucks. We walked around, checking things out until the hotel started waking up and then went back to the room to get ready for the day. Before we hit the strip, we had to eat. We were famished! Our choice for breakfast was Buca Cafe Italiano in Bally’s (which is attached to Paris and accessible from our hotel). They offered a breakfast buffet at a reasonable cost ($12.99) and we made a couple trips to the breakfast bar since we were all starving. We also indulged in morning Mimosas (extra $) to get our day started.

After breakfast, we went back to the room to gather jackets and cameras and other stuff we needed, and to let the housekeepers know we didn’t need service but needed some extra towels. Since the housekeeper wasn’t anywhere to be seen (but her cart was), Rachael and Jonna took some towels and other items so we wouldn’t be short. Thieves! LOL

We checked out the north part of the strip. Our first stop was the Stratosphere Hotel, because Jonna planned to throw herself off the top of the tower. (She is absolutely CRAZY!) After getting information about doing a jump, we stopped in at Circus Circus to catch a juggling show, had a few margaritas (Happy Hour lunch!) at Vince Neil’s Tatuado, then caught the bus back to the Palazzo and Venetian Hotels (buy a bus pass – best value ever!), where we found Carlo’s Bakery (of Cake Boss), and HAD to buy cannolis and lobster tails!

We coordinated with Jonna’s friend Judith to meet us at the Bellagio fountains, and all four of us then visited the Conservatory and Botanical Garden (where she took the above photo of the three of us). The Conservatory was AMAZING!!! It’s a definite MUST SEE if your travels take you to Vegas (and it’s free, which is even better). They change the flowers/design each season. When we were there it was still decorated for Fall, but when Steve and I visited in early December a few years back, it was decorated for Christmas/Winter. Both seasons were exquisite, so I’m sure Spring and Summer are equally gorgeous.

Keeping our budget in mind, we had a fast food dinner at the food court in Bally’s (good value when compared to the more formal restaurants in the casinos). We said goodbye to Judith and went back to our hotel, where we walked through the casino, played a few slot machines (not me), and then ended up at “Le Bar Du Sport” – a sports bar running a good happy hour special on top shelf liquor. We had a few drinks, played some of the games at the bar, and then made our way to Napoleon’s Dueling Piano Lounge to see a show that was highly recommended (online). The performer that night (they change during the week) was Billy Kraus and let me tell you…. if you’re about my age, like rock and roll, 70s, 80s, 90s, rock – and current – don’t miss this show! We stayed until the end (2am) and were hoarse from singing our heads off all night! (There are other groups that play in the piano bar, but no one compares to Billy Kraus! We ended up leaving early on another night with a different performer) Billy sometimes plays at other Vegas hotels, so follow his page on Facebook to see where he’ll be. Totally worth it!

After the show, we stopped to eat a slice of pizza at one of the food stands in the hotel before going back to the room. I’m a little fuzzy on other things that happened that night – except for stopping at a bake shop and buying cake and cupcakes. I don’t hold my liquor very well. *grin* It’s good we were at the hotel and just had to get on an elevator to be “home”.

Coffee! Where's the coffee?! Paris Hotel 5am Rachael drops some quarters We found coffee at Gustav's!
Stealing from the housekeeping cart before we head out Found a BIG wine bottle at breakfast! Minions on the strip
Rachael won some money! Paris Hotel Paris Hotel
Showgirls coming through the Paris Hotel Inside Paris Hotel Stained Glass at Bally's Hotel
Dessert at a bake shop in the Paris Hotel Jonna is going to jump off this tower!! Crazy!!! Skyjump at the Stratosphere and Rachael being silly
All of us at Circus Circus waiting for show Circus Circus juggler Rachael and Jonna at the Palazzo Hotel
All of us at waterfall in Palazzo Hotel Inside the Venetian Found Carlo's Bakery!!!
Yummy Stuff! So good!! Jonna likes this statue
Bellagio Fountains Chihuly Glass Bellagio Hotel Bellagio Conservatory
Bellagio Conservatory Bellagio Conservatory Bellagio Conservatory
Bellagio Conservatory Bellagio Conservatory Bellagio Conservatory
Me at the Bellagio Conservatory Before Dueling Pianos - losing! Billy Kraus - Dueling Pianos - AWESOME!

Day Three: South Part of the Strip

After another buffet breakfast, we worked our way south on the strip, checking out Excalibur, New York, New York, Hershey’s Chocolate World (mmmmmm!), and Mandalay Bay. Of course, we had to indulge in a chocolate martini while we were at Hershey’s Chocolate World. Jonna and Rachael opted for a Chocolate Raspberry Martini, while I chose the Peppermint Pattie Martini. They were so delicious, but so sweet too! We definitely needed the water the bartender offered us afterward.

There are kiosks in most every hotel in Vegas, where you can take selfies and then email the image to yourself. They were a lot of fun to play with, and allowed us to get photos of the three of us together. At Chocolate World, we even made a short commercial. Rachael has that video, and I took the still photo below of our commercial.

New York, New York is definitely a neat hotel. Wandering through the neighborhood was cool, and makes you feel like you are really there. We didn’t stop to eat or drink, although we saw many enjoying Italian food which made my stomach growl.

Mandalay Bay is a beautiful hotel, and we wore ourselves out walking through it. We walked all the way to the Shark Reef area, as I thought there would be some free attractions in that part of the hotel, but unfortunately there wasn’t, and the line was long for the exhibit anyway.  So we headed back to the strip – and the bus. Needless to say, we definitely got our exercise that day. We must have walked a good 10 miles that afternoon.

Since we planned to go to Fremont Street that evening, we went back to the hotel to rest or nap. I don’t know if anyone actually fell asleep, but it was nice to put my feet up for a few hours before catching the bus to historic downtown Las Vegas.

Rachael New York New York Losing quarters Octane Bar, Excalibur
Beads Octane Bar Hershey's Chocolate World, New York, New York Chocolate Martinis in the afternoon
Chocolate Martini's Chocolate Martini's Newlyweds!
New York, New York New York, New York New York, New York
Mandalay Bay Mandalay Bay Mandalay Bay
Mandalay Bay Cirque Dragon Cirque Wheel

A Night on Fremont Street

If you’re going to visit Vegas for several days, there is no need to rent a vehicle. You can grab a taxi from the airport to your hotel (about $20 depending on where you are staying) and then buy a bus pass for all of your other transportation. We bought 3-day bus passes for $20, and we made good use of them – getting on and off whenever we wanted, and seeing everything we wanted to see. The bus pass especially came in handy for our trip to Fremont Street, as it’s not within walking distance of the Strip, and parking is limited there too. And if you like to indulge in adult beverages, it’s smart to leave the driving to someone else.

Fremont Street is definitely an *experience*. There are things I saw there that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to un-see. The photos below have been chosen with care, and are only a portion of the photos I actually took that night, because I’ve always tried to keep this blog G-rated (or at the most PG-rated). Fremont Street is an adult entertainment venue, more so at night. While I don’t think it’s an appropriate place for young children, we did see some kids down there. Personally, I’d want to be able to enjoy myself without having to look after a child, so even if your children have grown up in a more open environment, you’d probably have more fun enjoying the experience with only your adult friends.

With that being said, there was quite a bit of talent to be found on Fremont Street. There were artists, musicians, dancers, mimes, acrobats, and more. But along with all the fun stuff, we also saw homeless and panhandlers.  It hurts my heart to see homeless people – especially vets (and there were at least a half dozen claiming to be vets) – but at least they were sheltered from the elements there.

There is a zipline you can ride on Fremont, and of course Jonna just had to do it. She is certainly the adrenaline junkie! I can’t even look off a tall bridge without feeling faint, and there she was soaring overhead attached to a line by only a harness. (In the photo of her ziplining below, the man is helping to get her to the landing platform as she stopped before reaching the end).

We had a really fun time on Fremont Street, although I overdid it a little with the alcohol. Thank goodness I wasn’t sick or hungover the next morning, but that first cup of coffee the next day was probably the best tasting cup I’ve ever had!

Eiffel Tower at Paris Hotel - Waiting for bus to Fremont Street The Strip at Night, Waiting for the bus to Fremont Street Michael Jackson street performer while waiting for the bus
Spider Man on Fremont Street Overhead video and light show on Fremont Street One of several bands on Fremont Street
Superman on Fremont Street Fremont Street Sax Player Fremont Street
Rachael on Fremont Street All of us on Fremont Street Jonna Ziplining on Fremont Street
Dancing DJ on Fremont St Spray Paint Artist on Fremont Street He did this painting in about 10 minutes! Fremont Street
Jonna and Rachael on Fremont Street Jonna and Rachael dancing on Fremont Street Catching the bus back to the hotel. Last view of Fremont Street


On our last morning in Vegas, Jonna and Rachael played some of the slot machines (Jonna won some cash!), and then we visited the flamingos at the Flamingo Hotel. From there, we went to Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in the Venetian Hotel. (If you’re military, they offer a military discount to everyone in your party, which was really nice). We loved the wax museum and had a blast being crazy with the (wax) famous people! Before you exit the museum, you enter a theater where you see a 4-D Marvel Super Heroes Movie. THAT was just crazy! The chair shakes when there are explosions, air blows in your face, water sprinkles on you, and you’re wearing 3D glasses so you have stuff coming at you throughout the movie. We laughed so hard, and really enjoyed it. All in all, we thought Madame Tussauds was well worth the visit.

By then, it was time to hop on the bus and head out to the Stratosphere for Jonna’s skydive off the tower…

Jonna wins some cash on the slot machines - Las Vegas Flamingo Hotel - Las Vegas Flamingo Hotel, Las Vegas
Rachael at the Flamingo Hotel, Las Vegas Jonna, Flamingo Hotel, Las Vegas Jonna and Rachael goofing at a pretty outdoor wedding chapel at the Flamingo Hotel, Las Vegas
Me telling Ben Affleck a secret at Tussauds Wax Museum, Las Vegas Pour me some wine, Wolfgang Puck! Tussauds Wax Museum, Las Vegas Jonna and Rachael and the Hef -Tussauds Wax Museum, Las Vegas
Rachael and Bruce Willis -Tussauds Wax Museum, Las Vegas Rachael photobombing Brad and Angelina -Tussauds Wax Museum, Las Vegas Rachael and me with Will Smith -Tussauds Wax Museum, Las Vegas
Jonna playing basketball -Tussauds Wax Museum, Las Vegas Rachael got some air! -Tussauds Wax Museum, Las Vegas Me and Lucy Ricardo -Tussauds Wax Museum, Las Vegas
Rachael and Elvis -Tussauds Wax Museum, Las Vegas Me and Bradley Cooper in The Hangover -Tussauds Wax Museum, Las Vegas Jonna and Siegfried and Roy -Tussauds Wax Museum, Las Vegas

Jonna Jumps Off The Stratosphere!

After checking in at the desk, Jonna was taken into a small room to be outfitted in her skydiving suit and harness. There was a door leading out to an observation deck, where Rachael and I were permitted to stand and watch Jonna make the jump.

The SkyJump platform is 829 feet high! (ON NO!!!) She was so excited, while Rachael and I were thinking that there is NO WAY we could ever do it!  I didn’t have my zoom lens on, so the photos of Jonna actually jumping are cropped from the originals (in which she looks like a dot). She said it was very exciting and loved it so much she booked another jump for that evening. (Half price if you do a second jump on the same day)

Jonna ready to jump off the Stratosphere Tower! Jonna jumps off the Stratosphere Tower! Jonna jumps off the Stratosphere Tower!
Jonna jumps off the Stratosphere Tower! Jonna jumps off the Stratosphere Tower! Jonna jumps off the Stratosphere Tower!

After grabbing a bite to eat, we all went back to the hotel to rest our weary legs for a bit. When it was time for Jonna to go back to the Stratosphere to do her night jump, I stayed at the hotel. My feet were really aching and I wanted to rest a little more. Rachael went with her, and I packed my suitcase in preparation for our early departure the next morning.

We decided to go back to Napoleon’s Piano Bar that evening to have a drink and listen to the dueling pianos. But on this particular night, it was another duo and the show wasn’t as good. In addition, there were quite a few smokers, and even with the ventilation system, the smoke seemed to gravitate to us. We had no choice but to leave as we were all feeling sick to our stomach.

We set the alarm for 5am, and it came early.


Before getting in a cab back to the airport, we enjoyed our final cup of coffee together at Gustav’s. We were sad to see our trip come to an end, but happy that we were able to spend time together. This was definitely another memorable trip and we all look forward to the next one.

Sad faces... time to go home

Until next time…


  1. Thanks so much for the desktop calendars, Susan. They are breathtaking!

    And your aurora photos are spectacular (they always are!)!


    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Enjoy them Nancy! 🙂


    Comment by Nancy Smyth — January 17, 2016 @ 11:33 am

  2. Hi sounds and looks like the GIRL TRIP !!! went well. Really loved all the lights and I’m sure the sights and sounds of fireworks has to add to it all. The desktop calendars look great also. I’ve just use one that I’ve had sense we got or computer. Its taken from a plain flying overhead a slead dog teem aginst the snow with the shaow of the plane on the ground. I’ve allways just loved that one. Glad the weather has been a little better for you. We have been in a bit of your weather its been -10 to -20 in the mornings so I have LOVEING IT !!!! HA HA. Almost like a real winter. Well take care and keep the posts coming and a great year to us all.


    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Hi Bruce and thank you for reading and commenting! I love when you stop by. 😀

    We are so warm here. It was more than 30F today! ABOVE zero! It’s crazy. While we’re melting, everyone on the east coast is slammed with snow. I hope you’re dealing with the weather ok there.

    We had a great trip to Las Vegas, and this year Steve and I are taking a trip home to Philly to see my family. We’re really looking forward to it!

    Take care!



    Comment by Bruce Rufer — January 21, 2016 @ 7:54 am

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