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.
A 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!
This pano shows the frozen lake and the trail that skirts the shoreline near the swimming beach at Chena Lakes:
CREAMERS FIELD – A BELOW ZERO DECEMBER DAY
When we have to run errands in town – if we have the spare time, and it’s not too cold to keep Raven in the car while we do our running – we stop at Creamer’s Field to stretch our legs. If it’s too cold for a leisurely walk, there are several short loops that are just perfect for getting the blood pumping and bringing pink to the cheeks. The day after my birthday, it was a rather gray and chilly day, but tolerable with the correct outerwear. We were out taking care of business and stopped to take a short walk. The trees and bushes were very thick with frost. It made for a gorgeous sight – so festive this time of year!
The photo below is the Creamer’s Field Farmhouse. The tiny spruce in front was planted in celebration of Arbor Day in May 2014. The old tree, a 70-foot high white spruce estimated to be about 80 years old, was cut down in early October, 2013 after it was determined that the tree was infested with spruce bark beetles. (This is a photo I took in 2010 – a side view of the huge spruce that used to stand there)
The original tree was planted next to the farmhouse in the early 1930s by former owners Charlie and Anna Creamer, who owned the farm before it was sold to the state and turned into a refuge in the early 1970s. The tree-lighting ceremony was a popular annual tradition. I was fortunate to attend several of these lovely tree lighting ceremonies. It’s a shame the tree became sick and had to be removed.
With no planned direction, Steve drove around Fairbanks. Even the populated areas were beautiful with all the frosty snow. When we reached campus, we decided to check out the overlook near the Geophysical Institute up on the hill. I snapped this photo of the satellite dishes on top of the building. The Geophysical Institute is part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus and conducts research into space, atmosphere, permafrost, seismology, volcanology and more. The US Congress founded the institute in 1946, and it includes several important facilities, to include the Alaska Earthquake Center – which I had the opportunity to tour last spring, and the Poker Flat Research Range, where they launch research rockets and lasers. It’s a really neat building, and worth a visit.
From the same spot, I took this photo of the Alaska Range off in the distance. On a clear day, you can see Denali.
The following day, Steve offered to drive me to Pioneer Park, as he knows how much I love Gold Rush Town this time of year. We had a few more things to tend to with Christmas almost upon us, but finished up much earlier than anticipated. This is what the main road closest to us looked like at only a little after 2pm. The sun was going down fast.
Unfortunately, we learned that the main building at the Ice Park was burning, and our route took us fairly close. The thick plume of smoke was visible from all over town. This photo of the smoke was taken from the Johansen Expy. The last story I read about the fire, the Ice Park is still planning to host the Ice Art Championships, and I believe there was a GoFundMe page set up for donations for rebuilding and replacing all of the lost computers, webcams, and other electronics, among other things. Pretty much everything, from what I understand. A real shame, but fortunately no one was hurt.
One of my favorite stops on a frosty afternoon, is the pedestrian bridge near Pioneer Park. It’s just out the back entrance gate, and is especially beautiful in the winter when it’s thick with hoarfrost. The sky was still showing hues of a pastel sunset when we got there, but the cold soon seeped into my bones and I retreated back to the warmth of Steve’s truck.
Just before you enter the back gate to Pioneer Park, you have access to a bike trail with a beautiful view of the Chena River and the bridge. The thick frost makes everything look so magical! Unfortunately, we’ve lost most of that frosted snow the last few days, when a storm came through – dumping more than a foot of snow, and bringing high wind. The wind stripped the snow from the trees, so now things don’t look quite so festive.
PIONEER PARK HOLIDAY LIGHTS – Day and Night
We planned to visit Gold Rush Town in Pioneer Park after dark, so I could photograph the cabins all lit up, but since we were right there, we did a quick loop through.
Gold Rush Town – late afternoon:
Hungry, and still an hour or so before sunset, we went in search of food. There’s a new cafe in town called “The Blue Roof Bistro“, and it has been getting nothing but rave reviews since it opened early in the year, so we thought we’d try it out. I opted for the garlic grilled cheese, made with smoked cheddar and garlic butter. A side of fries was included, and they were really delicious. Steve had shrimp tacos, which he declared a good choice. I hope the good food and service continues, and they are here a long time.
We took a leisurely drive back to Pioneer Park, passing through downtown Fairbanks. I love the big snowflakes they hang downtown this time of year.
Fudge Pot – delicious fudge! – Downtown Fairbanks:
Nightfall was imminent when we returned to Pioneer Park. The sun had set about an hour before, but dusk lingers in winter, so there was still enough light to see, but not enough to overpower the twinkle lights throughout the park.
I haven’t been to Pioneer Park in some time – especially as I spent a good part of the summer in WI. At some point, they rerouted the boardwalk/walkway to pass in front of the SS Nenana sternwheeler. With the addition of lights – to include those popular laser scatter lights on the hull – it almost looked like it was sitting in water. The hoarfrost on everything was amazing!
The Christmas Lights at Gold Rush Town, Pioneer Park:
First Presbyterian Church, Pioneer Park
SNOWPOCALYPSE – or not
A few days ago a weather alert warned us of an impending snow storm. It promised to dump as much as several feet on us, but even more concerning, it was going to bring strong wind with it.
As you can see by my photos, our trees are very heavy with snow and frost. Many are bent almost completely over with the weight. Throughout the interior, power easements are surrounded by trees – and a lot of them. The easement behind our house had several hanging over the main line. Two in our own yard were arching over our power lines. Steve took a baseball bat to our trees – knocking enough of the snow out of the trees to straighten them up a bit. We weren’t worried about the snow, since we didn’t have to go anywhere. But we were concerned about losing power.
Since the last big storm, which fortunately only brought power loss for one day, Steve and I bought a portable propane powered space heater. Eventually we’ll get a generator and be fully prepared for these situations.
We were supposed to see heavy snow by mid afternoon. That didn’t materialize as early as we thought, but the wind definitely increased. We took advantage of the mild weather (snow brings a warm-up, and we were seeing 20+ above zero) to take a walk around the neighborhood and play with Raven in the yard.
A few hours later, the snow started. And it kept on falling…
I woke at 2am, and immediately checked the snow. Steve had a ruler standing in the snow on the deck, and we already had 9 inches. The snow was falling heavily, and the trees swayed in the wind, dropping clumps of snow from their highest branches. One tree in our yard bent completely, until the top of the tree was fused to the ground. (These trees attract moose, as they get to browse on tender new branches and twigs brought down to mouth level. None in our yard, unfortunately.)
The bird house on top of my feeder pole looked like it was visited by the Conehead Family of SNL fame. It also reminded me of a dancing magic broom of Disney fame. Of course Raven woke when I woke, and that necessitated a visit to the yard to take care of business. With the heavy snow, and deep drifts – and of course the darkness – I placed one of my headlamps around Raven’s neck and sent her out the door.
Steve and I have been putting a headlamp around Raven’s neck for several years. Ever since she decided to do a winter walkabout in the dark several years ago and scared me almost to death with worry. I discovered during that runaway dog episode, that Raven was actually in the woods adjacent to our property, and most likely could hear me pleading with her to come home. She probably heard my tears too, especially as her disappearance lengthened and the temperature dropped.
When she was ready to come home, she sauntered out of the woods as if it was any normal day. Of course I was so thrilled to see her that I was crying with happiness. I didn’t yell at her because I didn’t want her to associate coming home with being punished. She’d never come home if that were the case. Instead, I hugged and petted her and told her how worried I was (I know you talk to your furkids too). The thing is, I am convinced she was standing in those nearby woods the entire time. I wouldn’t be surprised if she could see me from where she was. She just wasn’t ready to come home.
And that’s how the headlamp as a neck lamp came to be. Now, when we let her out at night, we can see the glow as she moves through the trees, or even goes behind snowdrifts. Additionally, it’s a great safety feature if she were to leave our yard and get near the road. She’d be visible then – a very important thing for a black dog especially. I think she likes being able to see where she’s going too. She starts out with the light on the back of her neck – shining upright like a beacon (and most visible), but we don’t keep it tight so it spins to the front if she runs. Then it acts more like a headlight.
I know they manufacture specially made light up collars for dogs, but this was cost effective and we can all share it too.
As the morning brightened, the aftereffects of the snowstorm could be seen. Drifts were everywhere – some more than 2′ deep. I believe we saw a total of 13″ with this storm, although that measurement is influenced by blowing snow as well as new falling snow. In the photo below, looking down my driveway, you can see the amount of snow blowing out of the trees as a wind gust passes through. Nearly white out conditions, in some cases.
The wind was so strong it stripped the trees of most of the beautiful snow and hoarfrost I admired each day. The plus side is that almost all of our severely bent over trees are standing up again. Hopefully this increases their chance of surviving a few more years. The unfortunate thing is that bending like this several years in a row weakens the tree and eventually it rots and falls, or needs to be taken down. I love our birch trees, but sadly we’re losing them little by little each year. The best thing of all – we had no power outage! I hope this was the last of worrisome winter storms for us. Now that it’s a new year, I’m ready for spring.
When I started writing here, 2017 was still a good 8 hours away. I wanted to post this blog entry before the new year arrived, so it would be a final blog of 2016. I was going to back-date it, and then decided against it. Now it will be the first post of the new year.
I tried to stay up last night, but couldn’t. I almost made it. I celebrated the new year when it arrived on the east coast, with a text to my brothers. I called my sons before the new year arrived on central time. I tried to stay up another 3 hours for AK’s celebration but failed. I did take a walk to the end of our driveway with Steve to look for fireworks over the trees. We heard them, but didn’t see anything. They started just after dark. We toasted the new year – long before it arrived here in AK. The champagne was a nice change from the usual adult beverages. When midnight finally arrived, Steve gently nudged me awake so we could exchange a kiss, and welcome a new year of what we hope will be more enjoyable adventures. I hope we are blessed with a year of good health, many laughs, new adventures, and time with family and friends.
I am leaving for WI in a few days. I am going alone as we feel it’s important for one of us to be here in the winter. We didn’t want to board Raven either. I will be spending about 10 days with my sons and my DILs and of course the beautiful Juliet Rose! I can’t wait to see everyone again. Juliet turned 5 months old on Christmas day, and my son has been taking her photo every month with her penguin Penelope. Here is her 5-month photo and her photo with Santa earlier that morning. She is such a doll baby! I can not wait to hug and kiss this sweet baby girl!
Until next time…
Wishing you a year of… new beginnings filled with hope and promise… simple pleasures to enjoy and share… beautiful moments to remember always… peace and happiness in your heart and home. Happy New Year!