December 5, 2016

Season of Kindness

Filed under: Aurora,Calendar,Everyday Life,Family,Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 3:41 pm

“No one is born hating another person…
People must learn to hate,
and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love,
for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

~ Nelson Mandela ~

I began writing this entry in mid-November. I would write, and then backspace and erase. I’d write again, and erase.  I had so much on my mind, especially after the election. I was saddened by the divisiveness in our country.  There was so much hatred and negativity.  The media was bombarding us with 24-hour fear mongering, and incendiary speech. No matter what channel you turned on,  election spin filled the screen. There was so much negativity on the air, and online, there was only one way to escape it.  And that was by turning off the TV, the internet, and social media.

I admit that I wasn’t as disciplined as some. I didn’t shut everything down permanently. But I did stop spending so much time reading things that made me angry. Instead, I focused on my family, my friends, and my day to day life.  I refuse to let hate win. I continue to live my life as always – smiling at strangers in the store aisles, letting people into my lane when traffic is backed up, holding doors for others, reaching things on the top shelf for people with mobility limitations, etc. It’s what being a human being is all about. If the only thing I can control is my life, than I want to live the best life I can live, and be the best person I can be.  I know I’m not alone, thank goodness.

“The world is filled with nice people. If you can’t find one, be one.”  (I love this quote attributed to Nishan Panwar)


I can’t believe it’s December already! The year flew by as always. I put our tree up this past weekend. We have a tabletop tree, so our Christmas decorations only take up two good size boxes now. I have a Santa collection (Old World, rustic, fancy, etc) that I like to put out. Steve calls them gremlins – assembling gremlins – as they are all lined up under a table.

Our birthdays are this month. It’s nice to have the tree up before we celebrate turning another year older. The twinkle lights help with holiday ambiance and make the lack of outside light a little easier to cope with.  Happy December to all of you!


We finally had a little bit of snow back in late October. Not enough to insulate our ground (septic and wells can freeze without enough snow accumulation), but enough to take away the dead brown look of our surroundings. It’s much prettier now, but we need so much more. An additional 2″ fell a few weeks ago, but still not enough. Now that the temperature has been below zero nearly every morning for the last week, there is additional concern.

While I was in WI with my new granddaughter, Steve told me that we had baby squirrels. We had a family of squirrels in our yard last summer too. Last year, the babies were presented to us when they were quite small. In fact, they were so small they were able to hide out in a birdhouse by fitting through the tiny 1.5″ opening.  Mama squirrel often accompanied them to the feeder pole where they would play with each other and scurry up and down the pole.

But this year, only the babies showed up at the pole. Mama squirrel wasn’t with them. They have both been frequent visitors, and we have welcomed them with treats of apples and peanut butter and other scraps. They are immensely entertaining, and such a happy diversion on a cold winter day. Unfortunately, they have been scarce since the temperature dipped below zero. (It is -20F this morning) I hope they are hunkered down in their warm midden, surrounded by food scraps they have *squirreled away*.

Added 12/4: Today it is -34F. Needless to say, the house is closed up tight against the cold. It’s much too dark in here for my liking, but staying warm takes precedence over staying sane on days like today. We also had another four inches of snow fall, which is perfect for adding that winter wonderland touch to the holiday season.

First snow - October 20th Baby Squirrel Baby Squirrel
Baby Squirrel Baby Squirrel Squirrel Acrobatics

These goofy baby squirrels climb INTO this feeder and eat the sunflower seeds while sheltered from the elements. They crack me up!
Baby squirrel in the bird feeder


I haven’t been out aurora chasing lately.  It has been so cold, I have dreaded standing out there photographing the lights. My sleep pattern is messed up too – a typical response to the decrease in daylight hours.

But we did have several good nights of aurora at the end of October, and my friend Joyce and I even drove 40 miles outside of Fairbanks for a wide open view of the dark sky one of those nights. It was beautiful.

This first set of photos were taken in my neighborhood or from my driveway or yard:

Aurora - Oct 23rd Aurora - Oct 23rd Aurora - Oct 23rd
Aurora - Oct 23rd Aurora - Oct 23rd Aurora - Oct 23rd

Aurora Chasing with Joyce – October 24/25

Nearly forty miles up the Steese Hwy, there is a large pull out adjacent to the Chatanika River. The river bends into a horseshoe here, and the view from the parking lot is beautiful. The aurora frequently appears in the northeast sky, which puts the river in the foreground. I love reflections, and even though the river is quickly freezing, the ice on top, and the open water, were perfect for reflecting back the green glow.

I have a humorous story about the wood fire ring in the photo just below.  When we arrived at the parking pull-out, I shut down all the lights on my car so our eyes would adjust to the dark. Sometimes it takes more than a few minutes, especially when trying to make out details in the shadows. While standing at my car, setting up my tripod, I glanced over and saw this fire ring at a distance. It was a dark three-dimensional shape that obviously wasn’t a natural part of the landscape.

Let me just say that it’s not only adjusting to the dark that takes a few minutes, but also shrugging off the heebie-jeebies that always settle over me when I get out of my car in a dark place. This is Alaska, after all. And as far out as we were, there are wolves, and black bears, and who knows what other creatures. Maybe even zombies! *grin* At least that’s what my imagination was screaming at me!

Almost blind, and fearing the boogie-man, when my eyes came to rest on the wood fire ring, I saw the corpse-like shape as something much more sinister. “Is that a BODY, Joyce?!”, I whispered loudly (why was I whispering?).  Joyce (always my sane protector on these adventures!), walks toward what I am now convinced is a kill pile being watched from the trees by a big hungry bear, to examine it more closely. I hug the side of my car in case we have to make a fast getaway. I hear her chuckling.

“It’s a fire ring!”

Oh. Nevermind. (I bring my own sort of entertainment to our outings!)

Aurora pano - Steese Hwy, Fairbanks AK

As the aurora began to fade, we started the drive back to Fairbanks. The sky would light up for a short while, and then fade again. We decided to divert up to Pedro Dome, which also has a nice open view of the sky. The photo below is three frames merged to create a pano of the sky from Pedro Dome.

Aurora pano - Pedro Dome, north of Fairbanks

Our last stop, before reaching the twinkling city lights of Fairbanks, was at the pipeline viewing area. The aurora appeared to follow the same curved path.

Aurora over the oil pipeline, Fairbanks AK

Here are more photos taken from my evening with Joyce. What a wonderful night it was!

Aurora - Oct 24 - Mile 35 Steese Hwy, Fairbanks Aurora - Oct 24 - Mile 35 Steese Hwy, Fairbanks Meteor and Aurora - Oct 24 - Mile 35 Steese Hwy, Fairbanks
Aurora and car - Oct 24 - Mile 35 Steese Hwy, Fairbanks Aurora - Oct 24 - Mile 35 Steese Hwy, Fairbanks Aurora - Oct 24 - Mile 35 Steese Hwy, Fairbanks
Aurora - Oct 24 - Mile 35 Steese Hwy, Fairbanks Aurora - Oct 24 - Mile 35 Steese Hwy, Fairbanks Aurora - Oct 24 - Mile 35 Steese Hwy, Fairbanks
Aurora - Oct 24 - Mile 35 Steese Hwy, Fairbanks Aurora - Oct 24 - Pedro Dome Aurora - Oct 24 - Pedro Dome
Aurora - Oct 24 - Pedro Dome Aurora - Oct 24 - Pedro Dome

Aurora over neighborhood – October 27th

Aurora over my neighborhood, North Pole AK

I took this next photo from the intersection just down the road from my house. Our property is on the right. My neighbor’s house is all lit up, as usual. I don’t think they realize what they are missing on nights like this! Steve knows the people who share this house better than I do. I believe it’s a rental home, shared by multiple people who work for the Dept of Transportation. They come and go at all times of the day and night, drive big trucks with bright moose lights, and sometimes bring big equipment home with them. Some sleep during the day and are up at night and others have a reverse schedule. I guess it works for them. I know they work really hard, so I don’t want to complain about all the lights around their house – especially if this is their time off from work and they’re unwinding. But at the same time, the aurora would be so much more enjoyable without the beacon of their property.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. If I walk further down the road toward the dark trees beyond, the light from their house is behind me and not as glaring. And truth be told, sometimes I don’t mind the ambient light in my aurora photos. This is the way it looked… life goes on under a dancing sky!

Aurora over my neighborhood, North Pole AK

We’ve had quite a bit of cloud cover these last couple of weeks, and snow. But the snow is falling in small bits of an inch here and an inch there. We really need a good dumping – 6 to 8″ would be great.

Steve and I met up with friends in celebration of our friend Jim’s birthday. On the way to the restaurant, we made a detour to Tanana Lakes Rec Area, as it was nearing sunset.  Sunset occurs around 3:00pm these days. (Sunrise is not until 10:30am)

Tanana Lakes Recreation Area is our newest public park and offers 750 acres of recreation opportunities all year around. This time of year, there are x-country ski trails, snowmachine trails, ice skating ponds and tracks, and ice fishing shacks to rent. The first two photos below were taken from the boat launch area – which gives motorized boats access to the Tanana River in summer. I’m not sure if snowmachines use it in winter.  The low winter sun is beautiful for the short time it is up. In the trees, sparkles hang in the sunlight, as warm shadows grow longer.

Sunset Tanana Lakes Rec Area Sunset Tanana Lakes Rec Area Sunset through the trees


The nights leading up to the supermoon were rather fickle in regards to cloud cover. I wasn’t convinced we would have an opportunity to witness this event from here in the Fairbanks area. But I was wrong, and when Steve suddenly suggested that we take a drive out to Nordale Rd – where there is a clear view of the sky – I jumped at the chance.

When we pulled off the road, there was already another vehicle in the parking area. By the time the moon was scheduled to rise, the parking lot had another half dozen vehicles in it.

The orange glow of the moon was unmistakable, even as one narrow sliver appeared above the rolling hills off in the distance. It moved quickly once spotted, and I snapped quite a few frames as I adjusted my settings to adequately catch the display.

Technical info:

In the past, I’ve written about the differences between what the human eye sees, and what the camera sees. Especially when it comes to the moon in a dark (or darker) sky. In this first photo, I took my exposure reading on the bright moon, as I wanted the shadowy craters to be visible. Exposing for the moon, put the rest of the scene in silhouette. (I was also zoomed all the way in with my long lens: 100-400mm)

The second photo is actually two copies of the same frame – exposed differently and then stacked and masked. I opened the RAW file in Photoshop, and manipulated it to give me a good exposure for the foreground, sky, and band of clouds.  In doing this, the moon became a bright white disk with no detail at all. I saved a copy and called it A.

I went back to the original RAW file and made the adjustments needed to bring back the crater details that we could see as the moon rose. This made the rest of the image much too dark. I saved a copy and called it B.

Then I stacked these images, and used a masking tool to bring the details of the moon into the image processed for the foreground and sky. The result is close to what I remember seeing with my eyes.

It was really neat to see, and I read that we will have another supermoon this month. Perhaps we’ll have clear skies, and a good aurora forecast too.

Super Moon Zoomed

Super Moon and orange clouds, North Pole, AK

Sundown before the Super Moon from Nordale Rd, North Pole AK Here comes the Super Moon, Nordale Rd, North Pole AK Super Moon rise, Nordale Rd, North Pole AK


Snow is pretty – despite the cold that comes with it. Before we plummeted into the low negatives, Steve and I were taking advantage of the more mild temperatures and sunshine. Raven has been going crazy with the longer hours of darkness too, so whenever we can all get out – even if it’s just to walk around the block, it’s a good day for all of us. Lately, it has been too cold for a leisurely walk.

Steve and Raven playing frisbee Raven playing Frisbee Walking in a winter wonderland
Walking in a winter wonderland Fresh snow in the yard Me and my girl, Raven
Raven and her booties Frosted trees Spruce snow


Steve doesn’t mind driving when we have to run errands, and I’m happy to be chauffeured all over town in his big truck. I feel safer (and I am safer), and with the 4WD I don’t worry about getting stuck anywhere. When our roads are slippery, my little car (Dodge Caliber) has a very hard time climbing some of our steeper roads. And coming down is another scary prospect, especially if the road is curvy.  But the best perk of all, when Steve is driving, is that I’m able to snap photos.

The first photo in the group of thumbnails below is of the Fairbanks Courthouse and Golden Heart Plaza on the Chena River. The sun is so low now, that it blinds you when driving, and reflects brightly off any shiny surfaces – like the exterior of the courthouse. We were crossing the Cushman Street bridge when I snapped that photo out the window.

In the second and third photos, you can see our local ski hill – Birch Hill. It is on military land, but open to the public with a Visitor Pass. Not only can you ski and snowboard, but the tubing hill is a lot of fun (and easy – with a tow line!). There is a lodge, with a cafeteria on the premises, a warm fireplace, plenty of places to sit and eat, or just relax. You can have coffee or cocoa, host parties and other special events, or just spend the day hitting the slope. We were behind the curve in regards to snow, so they had the machines out in full force to get things ready. I wonder if we have enough now? Usually the hill is open regularly after Thanksgiving, but I haven’t looked into it this year. Steve and I do try to go tubing at least once each winter – just to feel like we’re kids again. It’s not always the easiest on the bones, but it’s so exhilarating. And you only live once, you know!

The remaining photos were taken on Nordale Rd or Chena Hot Springs Rd, on the way out and back from a portrait session I was hired to do for old friends of ours. Missi and her husband Tim returned to AK this summer. They bought a home and plan to stay in AK when Tim’s military career is over. This is his final tour of duty. They were last stationed here during the 2005-06 deployment. Missi hung out with Rachael and Susan and I when our husbands were all gone. She wasn’t as regular as the three of us were, but it was nice to have her join us for chick flick night and other get-togethers when she could. I’m glad she’s back, and I hope that she and Tim have many adventures now that they are *home* again.

Fairbanks Courthouse Winter Sun Birch Hill Skiing Making Snow on Birch Hill
Nordale Road Chena Hot Springs Road Nordale Road
Nordale Road Moose Ponds, Nordale Road


Steve has been fully retired since the beginning of May. He actually stopped working back in March, but had to work a few days in May so that we would have company insurance to finish up some dental work, etc.  There’s a lot to think about when you make the decision to retire. Not only financially, which is the biggest consideration. But how do you plan to spend all the newfound freedom you have? If you retire without a plan, you’re going to be bored. And boredom is no fun at all.

The spring and summer went by quickly for me, as I spent all of August and the first week of September in Madison, WI welcoming my new granddaughter, Juliet. Juliet is the most precious gift ever, and I have fallen so completely in love with this little girl – my granddaughter! I miss her so much my heart aches, and I am so thankful that my son and Becky share photos with me on Google Drive. We also video-chat when we can.

I am so happy that I was able to spend the first nearly 6 weeks with Juliet and my son Brandon and Becky. It was such a privilege to bond with Juliet in her earliest days and I will cherish those memories forever.

I will be known as “Mom Mom” to Juliet – as my mom was to my sons, and as my Dad’s mom was to me and my brothers.  This photo was taken the day I arrived in Madison – July 31st. Juliet was 6 days old.

Welcoming my granddaughter, Juliet Rose

Just after Juliet turned a week old, we went to the park for family photos. Juliet was 9 days old here. I took this photo near the Picnic Point Trail in Madison, WI.

The New Family - Juliet Rose is 9 days old

Here is my sweet baby Juliet on her four month birthday! I can’t wait to see her again!

Juliet Rose, Four Months Old

When I last saw Juliet, she was spending most of the day sleeping. I sang to her every day – sometimes several times a day. I did it because I wanted to sing to her as my mom had sung to me and then my sons. And I also sang to her as an experiment. I want to see if Juliet recognizes me by voice when I see her again.  She has grown so much over the last few months. She is now vocalizing so much more, and she flips from belly to back too. She enjoys tummy time and her activity center too.

Life is back to normal for Brandon and Becky – or as normal as it can be with a new baby. Both work outside the home, but were able to adjust their work hours so that they only need to find child care for about 6 hours a week, as opposed to 40+ hours. This meant Brandon had to step down in pay/position – but their priority is Juliet, and has always been Juliet, and they are committed to limit the number of hours she has to spend in the care of someone else. I admire them for standing strong in the sacrifices they have made. While these sacrifices are made by most all parents, when it happens to you, the realization that it’s not all that easy can be overwhelming. But every parent knows you do what you have to do.

I will be visiting everyone again in January – just after the new year. I am going alone, as it’s easiest for us if someone stays home with Raven. Especially in the winter, when it’s best to have someone here keeping an eye on the house.  I’ll be visiting for about 10 days.

As for us – Steve and I – we don’t have a plan set in concrete yet, but we’ve been discussing driving out of Alaska this upcoming spring- once things have warmed up a little. The plan is to drive to Madison, or that general vicinity, in time for Chris (my eldest) to graduate college.  My 38-ish year old son is finally going to get his degree, after years of working his butt off to put himself through school! (I didn’t get my Associates Degree until I was 40 years old, and have always told my sons it’s never too late.) I will be proud to see him walk in May.

Our second – and an equally important reason – for heading south in the spring is to pick up our new travel trailer. We have had our eye on a Grand Design Reflection Travel Trailer (the 315RLTS) for more than a year. We actually had our eye on its predecessor, but when we learned of this new modified version, we quickly changed our mind. They sure make travel trailers glamorous now! Our current camper is like a tin box compared to these new versions.

We thought about getting a fifth wheel, as they have a lot more space. But they are also heavier, and we didn’t want to overload the truck with a lot of tow weight if we could avoid it. Also, we have a cap on the bed of Steve’s truck – and it wasn’t inexpensive! – and we love having that covered area for hauling stuff. We also like having the option to camp off-road by having the cap. Steve built a great truck-camping sleeping platform for the bed, so we can camp anywhere the truck can go. These are just a few reasons why we opted for a travel trailer as opposed to fifth wheel.  And of course it’s nice to drop your “house” and be able to just head off wherever you want.

So, the second part of our spring trip to the Lower 48 is to pick up our new travel trailer. Everything is up in the air, as they don’t even start manufacturing the 2018 camper until March. We were advised to call/order in February.  That doesn’t seem like a lot of time.  I’m happy that we’re not on a strict time constraint.

Once we pick up our new trailer, there will be some local camping to see if there are any issues with it before taking it far away from the dealer or authorized repair shops. And this is the place where our planning goes all over the place. Of course I want to spend as much time with my kids and Juliet as I can. It will be Steve’s first time meeting her.  But from that point on, we’re not quite sure what is going to happen.

Should we spend time in the Lower 48 and revisit all the places we love so much (Glacier National Park, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Teton, pretty much all of Utah)? Or should our first trip in our new RV be an amazing adventure we’ve often talked about – driving north through WI and then MI, and into Canada, where we head east to Nova Scotia – maybe with another stop at Niagara Falls (We visited Niagara Falls together before we were married – in 1991, twenty-six years ago.) From there, we’d make a U-turn and head northwest back to Alaska – making it home in time to have a few more camping trips and to take advantage of the salmon run and the Denali Road Lottery (if we win).

The following year is still a question, but at some point we want to become part-timers/snow-birders. It would be nice to spend Thanksgiving/early December with family in WI and MO and Philly, and then head south to family in NC as it cools down.  I’m sure it will all come together eventually. *fingers crossed*

One thing I know (at this point), Alaska is still home, and I foresee it being home years into the future. It is where I want to be at the end of a vacation. It is the place I long for when I am traveling Outside.  But I am also a realist, and I know more and more people who have moved outside of AK despite their immense love for this special place in our country. Winters are tough. The holidays especially so.

There’s no question that the cost of living is higher here. Perhaps not as high as some places in California, or New York City, or many other big cities in the Lower 48. But it is still so much higher than some cities and towns in FL, or NC, or AL… or TX or LA or even parts of AZ and NM and NV. And perhaps many other places too. Our retirement income will stretch much further in many other places.

It’s an exciting AND scary time in our lives. While we are excited about having the freedom to live our life, we are also apprehensive about the future. I don’t know why we are. During our years as a military family, we’ve faced much more difficult decisions.

No matter what we decide to do, or when we decide to do it, the first step is decluttering, donating, and disposing.  We’re doing that in small doses, but we really need to be more aggressive.  We’ve donated a bunch of books to the local Literacy Council book store, and have even more to donate. I plan to make good use of the local sale groups as well.  It’s been rather liberating to rid my surroundings of *stuff*. Stuff that doesn’t mean anything to me. Stuff that doesn’t bring me joy. Stuff I’ve forgotten about in a decade, as it was never unpacked when we moved into this house. So much stuff.


Today the sun is shining, and it has warmed up to 7 below. The blinds and curtains are open so that I can enjoy the little bit of light we have this time of year.  It’s easy to fall into a lazy existence, when you don’t have to go to work. And laziness is even worse in winter.

On a good note – only 16 more days and the light starts to come back again.


It’s never too late to order your 2017 Alaska Calendar. Click on the graphic below to be taken directly to my online store. Many thanks to all of you who have ordered my 2017 calendar. I appreciate your continued support!

(Please click on Calendar Preview to be taken directly to my store front)

2017 Alaska Calendar

Until next time…


  1. Susan, great pictures, blog, and thoughts. I, too, am tired of the negativity and angry words in our country. It is time for a kindness movement to sweep our nation.

    In other news, my husband and I are coming to Alaska in February. We will make Eagle River our base, as Jim has cousins that live there. Depending on the weather we hope to rent a truck and drive to Fairbanks to view the northern lights and other attractions as well.

    Thank you for blogging, you always make my coffee taste a little better when I read your blogs.

    Kelly Kurtz


    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Thank you for commenting, Kelly. This has been a really tough year for so many. Morale is so low at times, and there is so much tension. Kindness always wins – I’m with you.

    How exciting that you’re going to be visiting in February! If you have clear skies in Eagle River, the aurora can be visible there as well. Jim’s cousins can point you toward Hatcher Pass and other areas away from light pollution in that part of the state. If your travels do bring you to Fairbanks, check out the website for a list of things going on here in the interior. Check again before your trip, as events can be added at any time. And if our schedules permit, maybe we can meet for coffee or lunch while you’re visiting.

    Take care, and have a wonderful holiday season and a fantastic 2017!


    Kelly Kurtz Reply:

    We have booked our flights. February 7-23. We do plan on making it to Fairbanks. I’ll keep you posted. Yes, coffee or lunch sounds wonderful.


    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Hi Kelly and YAY!!! Keep an eye on the website for events in the interior if your travels do bring you here. We had a fire at the ice park, but I do think they will still be hosting the Ice Art Championships (I believe there is some fund raising underway). They usually start the middle of February. We have sled dog races then too, I’m fairly certain. Yes – if we can make it work, coffee or lunch is a go! Email me privately at, and keep me posted. Then, if you can make it up, we can exchange phone numbers, etc.

    Happy New Year!

    Comment by Kelly Kurtz — December 7, 2016 @ 5:20 am

  2. Hi glad to see your post What a bunch of great pic. Loved all the lights and the magatude of them. Looks live Raven was having a good time in the snow. Hope you get a lot more as I know it is needed for the tanks and all. Took a look at your new trailer and it does look nice. WOW HA HA Remember you guys owe SMILES me a visit when you pick it up so I will be looking for it. I’m sure it will all work out with good planning and I’m sure you guys have put a lot of thought in to all you want to do along with all the side trips getting added. Keep the boots on and the lens cover off and will look forward to the next blog. Have a great CHRISTMS and NEW YEAR.


    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Hi Bruce, and thanks for commenting. I’m glad you enjoyed my blog. Sorry it took so long to write. I’ve been so scatterbrained lately (which of course age has NOTHING to do with! LOL). The new travel trailers are so upscale now! We were floored. Of course the prices match when you go for something of that caliber too, but I feel since we will be spending months in it (and not just weeks), we should pamper ourselves. Besides, you only live once, and it’s a great way to celebrate retirement. Just so much planning goes into transitioning to life after retirement! Sending you and your family good wishes for a beautiful Christmas and a fantastic 2017!


    Comment by Bruce Rufer — December 8, 2016 @ 11:03 am

  3. Kindness Diaries on NETFLIX….so good. I cried but pretty much just found myself smiling through every single episode. So warming 🙂


    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Sounds like something EVERYONE could stand to watch! 🙂 I will definitely look for it!


    Comment by Lacey — April 23, 2017 @ 1:35 am

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