May 9, 2016

April Travels – Part One – Philadelphia

Filed under: Family,Outside AK — Susan Stevenson @ 6:17 am


Happy Retirement to my husband!

There have been some big changes in our life over the last few weeks. We have now entered the next chapter. Steve is officially retired from work! We have been discussing retirement quite a bit over the last year especially. Our original plan was to wait until Steve turns 62 (December) so that he could start collecting Social Security. But the more we talked about it, the more we decided that there really wasn’t a reason to wait until December.

Once plans were finalized for our month-long trip “outside” or to the “lower 48”, the more we wanted to just move on with our lives. For insurance purposes, Steve went back to work for one day this month so that we could carry our insurance another month and take care of last minute exams, etc. But now he is done. I have a “honey do” list in my head that needs to be put to paper, but I want him to just focus on relaxing right now. He deserves a little down time before we both get to work tending to the house.

As for me, I am not retiring. Fortunately, I set my own hours so I will still be able to focus on us and our growing family. And I could never give up photography! But I suspect I won’t be working as many hours as I do now – especially when we get our new camper and begin traveling the road for longer periods of time.  More about that to come.


We spent the entire month of April traveling. The first 11 days were spent in Philadelphia with family and friends. My sons and their gals also visited Philly while we were there, so it was a true family reunion. The kids were only able to stay for a long weekend, but it was wonderful to have them for even that short a time. They really enjoyed seeing their aunts and uncles and their cousins, as it had been more than 5 years. And everyone was thrilled to see Brandon and Chris, to see Becky’s growing belly, and to finally meet Chris’ fiancee, Kimberly.

We then traveled to Washington DC (Arlington) for 5 days. Steve and I took Amtrak, and two of my brothers and their wife/gf drove down a day later. We all enjoyed the Smithsonian Museums, the Veteran Memorial Parks, and visiting Arlington National Cemetery.

Steve and I then boarded Amtrak for the first leg of our trip across the country. We rode the rails from DC to South Bend, IN, where we stopped for a few days to look at travel trailers and do some RV factory tours (this is where the new camper comes in). We then got back on Amtrak and rode it all the way to Portland, OR.

When we arrived in Portland, we immediately picked up a rental car and made our way to Moses Lake, WA to spend a few days with our friends Randy and Celeste (who used to live in AK). It was a lovely drive along the Columbia River Gorge and through so many beautiful agricultural areas. Spending time with dear friends was also very special and I’m so glad we were able to get together.

Steve and I returned to Portland for a few more days. We did several scenic drives, some hiking, and thoroughly enjoyed exploring that part of the state. We have visited OR two other times, and still we look forward to returning and seeing even more. It is such a beautiful place!

We flew back to Fairbanks from Portland – nearly a month after our travels began. Of all that we missed, Raven was the most important. She was being cared for by a friend, but a month is the longest we’ve ever left her with someone else. Things went well, and there was a lot of tail wagging and kisses for both of us. It’s so nice to have our family all together again.

A month of traveling means a lot of photos. I’m slowly making my way through the images I snapped and will be blogging about our travels over the course of several entries. This first entry is about our time in Philadelphia.


Alaska Airlines jet in SeattleSeattle Airport and Mt RainierOur trip got off to a rocky start, when the flight we were scheduled to fly on was cancelled the day before we were to fly. We were originally flying First Class too, so we spent not only more money on the tickets, but also spent some miles to upgrade. The only flight we could get on didn’t have any seats in First Class available, nor did they have seats that were next to each other! Fortunately, we were able to be seated together after boarding. The airline refunded us some airline miles back, but we’re not entirely satisfied with that and will be pursuing it further. Fortunately, the leg between Seattle and Philadelphia was unchanged and we were able to have our First Class seats.


We touched down in Philadelphia before 5pm. Brandon and Becky arrived at around the same time, but in a different terminal. My brother Mike, who works nearby, stopped for them first, before coming for us. At about the same time, I received a text from Chris (who was driving from Madison to Philadelphia) that he was only about an hour outside of Philadelphia. Perfect timing! A call was placed to my sister in law, Diane, to order the cheesesteaks we were having for our first dinner in Philly. There is nothing like an authentic Philly Cheesesteak! They were so delicious!

These photos were taken our first night in town. It was so wonderful to see my brother Steve, my SIL Diane and my niece Rachel, as well as all my kids (Brandon and wife Becky, and Chris and fiancee Kimmie).

Brother Steve Brandon, Becky and Chris in Philly Chris and Kimmie
Pregnant Becky Me and the Kids Diane and my Steve


The following day (Saturday) was a down day as we were all exhausted from our travels.  The only thing we had to do was run to the grocery store to pick up food and supplies for the planned Sunday BBQ. The BBQ was also a family reunion of sorts. Our immediate family is fairly large, and we don’t all end up in the same place at the same time that often. It’s too bad our parents are no longer on this earth. I’m sure they would have been happy that we were together.

We also invited a few friends to join us. Seeing old friends was great fun. It was as if no time had passed at all. Steve’s sister Elaine even came down to see us from the Wilkesboro area! It was a wonderful day from beginning to end.

This was an impromptu group photo. Unfortunately, besides our parents, we are missing my nephew Sean (RIP *cry*) and my nephew Dave and his wife Aimee, who couldn’t make the gathering. I love all these awesome people!

Family Portrait

I didn’t take many photos during the gathering, as I preferred to enjoy everyone’s company. It was such a fun afternoon! (Photos that follow: Becky, Chris and Kimmie, Me and my friend Carol from my childhood, my nephew Mike and his wife Kali, my friends Donna and Lee from my Post Office days, and my beautiful sister-in-love, Diane who is recovering from a year long battle with breast cancer and doing fabulous! I love you my sister!)

Becky Chris and Kimmie Me and friend Carol Withers from childhood
Mike and Kali Donno Donohue and Lee Sciarra - Postal Buddies Dianne had an awesome spread, as always!


I wish I would have appreciated the historical importance of Philadelphia when I lived there. But sometimes when you live somewhere you just take the attractions and events for granted, or you think of them as something for “tourists” to entertain themselves with. That’s how it was for me when I lived in Philly.

This was Kimmie’s first trip to Philadelphia (maybe even the east coast?), so of course we had to take her to Independence Mall. On Monday morning, Steve and I, Chris and Kimmie, and Brandon and Becky boarded a Septa train to downtown Philly. About 35 minutes later, we were there. What an amazing thing a good public transportation system is.

We picked up tour passes for Independence Hall and luckily we were able to get a tour within an hour. This gave us just enough time to visit the Liberty Bell. Tour passes are free, but they only allow so many people on each tour, so once the tickets are handed out and the time slots are filled, you’re not going to be able to go inside.

After the tour, we walked toward Betsy Ross’ House and Elfreth’s Alley, stopping along the way to enjoy a cheesesteak at one of the local sub shops. It was OK, but not as tasty as the cheesesteak we had our first night in town.

Independence Hall, Philadelphia Kids and Liberty Bell Independence Hall, Philadelphia
Cherry Blossoms Me and Steve Downtown Philly Brandon and Becky and Baby Juliet
Independence Hall Tour Independence Hall Tour Independence Hall Tour
Cobblestone Road American Philisophical Society and Kids Ornate Gate
Family, Downtown Philly Buggy Rides Historic Philadelphia
Betsy Ross House Betsy Ross Spectacles Flag Work in Bedroom
Betsy Ross Elfreth's Alley Fire Insurance Emblem Elfreth's Alley Cellar Stairs
Elfreth's Alley Elfreth's Alley Front Door Elfreth's Alley
Elfreth's Alley Baked Goods Small Lane off of Elfreth's Alley

This is Elfreth’s Alley in Philadelphia. (Notice the hitching posts in front of each house?) The thirty-two buildings along Elfreth’s Alley were built from the 1720s–1830s. They form one of the last intact early American streetscapes in the nation. Elfreth’s Alley is a National Historic Landmark District, one of the first districts that celebrate the lives of everyday Americans.

Among the alley’s residents were tradesmen and their families, including shipwrights, silver and pewter smiths, glassblowers, and furniture builders. In the 1770s, one-third of the households were headed by women. The Georgian and Federal-style houses and cobblestone pavement of the alley were common in Philadelphia during this time.

The Alley is only six feet wide and is well worn from curb to curb. It started out as a simple cart path connecting the heart of this colonial city with the growing western Philadelphia County towns of Germantown, East Fall, and Manayunk.

Elfreth's Alley, Philadelphia


Tuesday was the last day for the four kids, and the weather was just gorgeous. I wanted to take photos of all the kids, and especially Becky and Brandon with her growing belly. For those who don’t know, my GRANDDAUGHTER JULIET ROSE is due in mid August! I am so very excited!

My sister-in-love Diane took us all to a couple of local parks, where I took many photos of my beautiful children. This is a very small sample.

Becky - 20 weeks pregnant Brandon and Becky Brandon and Becky
Kimmie and Chris Kimmie and Chris Kimmie and Chris

Becky – 20 weeks pregnant with Juliet Rose!

Beautiful Becky pregnant with Juliet Rose


Steve and I celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary on April 5th. As a surprise to me, Steve made reservations at Georgine’s Restaurant – which is the place we were married and held our reception. The entire family joined us in celebration, and the hostess was sweet enough to open the door to the reception hall where we tied the knot. Walking in that room, was like turning the clock back 24 years. I even stepped into the bridal restroom, and reminisced about putting the last minute touches on my makeup and hair.

The photo on the right was taken that night. I had to put it side by side with the photo taken of us on our wedding day. My husband is such a romantic! I hope the next 24 years are just as fabulous!

Steve and Me in front of the door at Georgine's. Then and Now

Chris and Kimmie left Philly by car later that evening, and drove straight home to Madison – taking turns at the wheel. Brandon and Becky flew out the next morning. Steve and I, and Diane, took them to the airport and said our said goodbyes.  Steve and I moved over to brother Steve and Diane’s house for the remainder of our time in Philadelphia.


While in Philadelphia, Steve and I made plans to visit NYC and see the 9-11 Memorial. We visited Ground Zero in December 2002 – a little more than a year after that horrifying day. At the time of our visit, there were still huge craters in the ground where the World Trade Centers once stood. A tall chain link fence kept bystanders from getting too close. That fence was covered with flyers and memorabilia and memorials and notes and flowers and so much more. It was so very emotional. I was glad for the tissues I thought to pack.

This time was much different. There is a new World Trade Center and it towers so high (104 floors), it disappears into the clouds on overcast days. The Memorial itself features two enormous waterfalls and reflecting pools, each about an acre in size, set within the footprints of the original Twin Towers. Adjacent to the Memorial, is the Museum. 

The National September 11 Museum tells the story of 9/11, chronicling the events of the day, exploring the historical context leading up to them (including the February 26, 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center), and examining the aftermath, beginning in the days and weeks immediately following the attacks.  In addition, in an area adjacent to visible remnants of original structural columns from the Twin Towers, an exhibition covers the history of the construction of the original World Trade Center.

Graffiti from Train One World Trade Center in fog Rachel and Diane looking at map
Memorial Fountain for 9-11 Oculus - New Train Station Line outside Museum
World Trade Center Reflection Beams from World Trade Center Large Photographs from the Day
Slurry Wall and Tower Structure Photos of the Missing flash on the wall The Color of the Sky
Survivor Stairs Survivor Stairs The Color of the Sky and Quote Wall
Bicycle Messenger Memorial The Ground Zero Cross In Memoriam to Firefighters and First Responders
Destroyed Fire Truck Flag that traveled the country Wool Thread from Civil War
In Memoriam Room Memorial Fountain Firehouse

One World Trade Center:

One World Trade Center

It was a sad and solemn visit, and I worried I would cry.  All the artifacts, personal effects, first hand stories, quotations and photographs were heart-wrenching to see. But I managed to keep my tears in check… until I entered the “In Memoriam” room. Even thinking about it today brings a sting of tears to my eyes.

If your travels take you to the east coast, and you can find the time to take a day trip to NYC to visit the museum and memorial, it’s well worth it. With public transportation, and the NJ Transit’s military discount on fares, we were able to go to NYC roundtrip for only $15 each. (Full fare is about $30 RT from Trenton – which is still a bargain in my opinion).


On our last weekend in Philadelphia – Steve and I drove down to the Jersey Shore with my brother Steve and Diane (Dee). They own a cute little cottage near the ocean.  It was nice to breathe the ocean air, despite the occasional sprinkle of rain. That Saturday, we drove to Cape May so I could enjoy and photograph the lovely Victorian homes that I’ve missed. Cape May was always a favorite destination for me in my 30s.

Here are some of the Painted Ladies of Cape May:

Painted Ladies Cape May NJ

We drove around town a few laps and then stopped at the Cape May Lighthouse and Museum. The museum was interesting in that there were snakes and turtles living there. We didn’t spend a lot of time at the museum. It turned into a blustery day and we preferred the shelter of the car.

Cape May Lighthouse The Sea Mist Beach House, Cape May
Peter Shields Inn and Restaurant Morning Star Villa The Abbey
Wildwood Beach Boardwalk This way to the beach!

Cape May Lighthouse:

Cape May Lighthouse
We spent our last few days in town just chilling out, doing laundry and preparing for the next leg of our adventure: Washington DC.

I am so happy we were able to spend time with family. I hope we don’t have to wait another 10 years for us to get back to Philadelphia. Or vice versa. We always welcome visits from any of our siblings and their families. I am so very lucky to have the family I have. All three of my brothers are responsible, intelligent, hard-working, and very loving family men. When I am with them,

We had some great times during the first two weeks of our travels. We shared a lot of laughter, a few heart to heart talks, sight seeing adventures, and awesome family time. Thank you to brothers Mike and Steve for putting all of us up. Seeing you all again was the perfect way to celebrate Steve’s retirement. We love you! xoxoxox

Coming up next… Washington DC, Amtrak Travels, Oregon & Washington


  1. Hi good to see your back home safe and sound. Glad to hear Steve gets atlest one month off befor you put him to work. HA HA I found out and really knew that retirement time was to do all the things around the house you didn’t do because you were working HA HAI know its going to be a very wonderful time for you two to just go and do the things you want and can still do not worrying about having to get back to a job. Glad you had a good time with family. Sorry we were not able to get together but hopefuly we will get another chance when you pick up your RV. Maybe we can set up some camping time in the Smokies. SMILES. Take care and waiting on your next post. PS Steve don’t let her work you to hard. HA HA


    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Hi Bruce. Good to hear from you! Sorry for the delay in responding. We had an interesting first couple of weeks since returning home to AK. Steve was definitely still in vacation mode. Now he’s starting to work in the yard and take care of chores around the house. It’s an adjustment, but a nice one. 🙂


    Comment by Bruce Rufer — May 14, 2016 @ 6:39 am

  2. Congratulations to Steve on his retirement…and to Susan, for having her partner freed up to do the things that give them joy.

    Elfreth’s street…I saw those little doors on the outside of the apt. that look like little “tornado shelter doors” that were on the farmhouse in Wizard of Oz….do those go under the buildings? Just wondered if they were used for storm shelters?

    Thank you for sharing your trip…
    mary m, vancouver,wa.


    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Hi Mary! Sorry for the delay in responding to your lovely comment. We are so excited about this chapter in our lives.

    Those doors you see in my photos do indeed give access to the cellar. Sometimes that is the ONLY access to the cellar. Other times, there is an inside staircase that also leads to the cellar and these doors are just an emergency egress.

    We look forward to returning to WA and OR and doing some more exploring. Vancouver is definitely on the list.


    Comment by mary m — May 14, 2016 @ 1:37 pm

  3. I was thinking I had read this post, but tonight I took another look at it. I realized I hadn’t had the time before, so I glanced at it. A beautiful post. It was lovely seeing Philly through your lens. The 9/11 photos made me realize I have to go back. I was there 9 months after it happened. I have to see it rebuilt. Beautiful and touching. Thanks for sharing.


    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Hi Connie and thanks for reading and commenting! Going back to *Ground Zero* and experiencing the beautiful memorial and museum was healing for us – especially after seeing it the year after the attack. The museum has so much information and so many artifacts and personal items. Being there, and reliving that day, brings back a lot of memories of that day and how it affected my family – and our country – in the years after.


    Comment by Connie — May 22, 2016 @ 9:14 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment