“Time spent in self-reflection is never wasted – it is an intimate date with yourself.” ~ Dr. Paul T. P. Wong
Hello faithful readers. This is the longest break I have ever taken from blogging, and if you’re still here, I want you to know I appreciate it. It has been a time of adjustment, organization, and reflection. Where to begin…
As you know, Steve is now fully retired. His last day of work was on May 2nd. The summer kept both of us busy, although we spent a lot of time apart too – which certainly isn’t the norm for us, especially in the summer. Of course, I had a great excuse for being gone from the end of July until mid September! I was privileged to be with my granddaughter for the first nearly 6 weeks of her life. While I was gone, Steve hitched up the camper and headed to Valdez for some fishing. He had problems with the camper both coming and going. These mishaps, combined with vacationing alone, Raven ripping a toenail off while camping (she’s fine), the quiet in the house when he returned – along with the lack of socialization, did not make for a good summer for Steve.
By the time I arrived home the second week of September, Steve was starved for attention, human conversation and interaction. And while I most certainly missed him while I was gone, and loved all the doting and sweetness he showered on me with when I came home, it only took about a week for me to realize that I was not totally prepared to have him in *my* space 24 hours a day. And he wasn’t prepared to be there.
RHS – Retired Husband Syndrome – is a real thing. Google it. I skimmed several articles and found my share of humorous or b*tchy stories about life after retirement. But I also found informative articles too. And I can’t tell you how relieved I was to learn that this isn’t something unique to our relationship. Don’t worry…. we’re in it for the long haul. I just didn’t expect to be constantly reminding myself of my marriage vows 25 years in! There are many more things to adjust to than just having your mate home with you all the time.
Every couple is unique, so the adjustment to such a big change is going to vary too. When I married Steve, he was active duty army. I was a very independent single mom, which is one of the things Steve admired most when we met. After he moved me and my boys to GA, my life revolved around him and his duties as a soldier. I did my best to be home when he was home, because our separations were so frequent. After the boys left the nest, and I started working for myself, I continued to do everything I could to be home for him when he was home. When he retired from the military and went to work for the mine, he worked rotating shifts, but we knew his schedule a year out. I made sure to plan my calendar to coincide as much as I could. I wasn’t forced to do this. It’s something I wanted to do. I looked forward to spending time together when he was home, because those times were so infrequent.
Fast forward 24 years…. Steve retires. He’s home all the time. At first it’s awesome. It’s like vacation or a never ending holiday. We’re being lazy, watching movies, eating junk food, and we don’t even care what day it is. But of course, this isn’t the retirement plan we’ve been working toward. So I slip back into my normalcy – which is scheduling portrait sessions, editing photos, writing, and going on the occasional scenic drive or camping trip with friends. But things aren’t normal. There is one huge difference. I am never alone. And it’s hard for me to get used to that.
I have always needed alone time. It’s something I grew quite used to as both a young, recently divorced single mom, and as the spouse of a soldier. I like quiet time. I love my solitude. It’s the way I reflect, refresh, and re-energize. When Steve was working, I woke to quiet. I’d come down to a quiet kitchen, pour some coffee, interact with Raven, and catch up on the news. If I didn’t have any sessions scheduled, I would leisurely dress for the day, make a list of things to do, load up the car with Raven and my camera, and head into town – where I might window shop, or take a walk at Creamers Field, or just drive around town looking for photo ops. I always made sure to be home by the time Steve woke for work (or came home from work, depending on his shift). He was happy I was there to welcome him or send him off, and I was happy I had an enjoyable day with myself. On his off day, we would do whatever he wanted to do, or something we both wanted to do. Sometimes he went off alone to fish or golf. It was great and everyone was happy. But now it’s over – or rather that routine is over.
Of course the happiness is still there – for so many reasons. We are happy because we love to plan adventures, and we love to RV, and now we don’t have to follow any schedules. And we’re thrilled because we bought a new camper (and will be picking it up this summer), and we’re planning a Lower 48 adventure. But sometimes the happiness can be muffled by the worry or stress or fear that retirement can bring. It certainly doesn’t help that retirement is still synonymous with *old*. We don’t feel old, and I know a lot of you don’t feel old either! But it is sobering to know that we have less life ahead of us, than we do behind. And you never know when life can be snatched away. (My father was only 62 – Steve’s age – when he died.)
In January, Steve thought he was having a heart attack. It happened at 8am in the morning. We were both up, drinking coffee and watching the news. Trump had just been sworn in a week prior and every single TV channel was broadcasting the divisiveness of our country. People were marching and protesting, and we both found ourselves sucked into the news chaos. We had our own heated discussions about politics, and I know we weren’t the only couple feeling the strain of an election year – particularly this election year. One minute he’s sitting next to me in the living room, and the next thing I know, he’s calling me from the bedroom. When I went upstairs, he was monitoring his blood pressure (he has a BP cuff) and all the readings were high. His pulse was racing, he was clammy, and his chest hurt. I called 9-1-1. Paramedics arrived and took him to the hospital, where he underwent a barrage of tests for several hours. Fortunately, it was not a heart attack, but a severe anxiety attack. That experience put everything in perspective. We are both so thankful it wasn’t his heart. His stress and anxiety are being managed now, and things are so much better!
A few days ago, we put a deposit on our new travel trailer. We spent nearly a month talking, researching, and negotiating with several dealers – THAT was super stressful! You would think buying a new camper would be exciting. Until we take possession, outfit it, and begin our first journey, we’re both anxious and overwhelmed by all the things on our list we need to check off before we embark on this first adventure.
One good thing that has come out of Steve’s retirement – and his health scare – was that we’re really talking to each other now. But most importantly, we’re listening to each other too. There is no way for a retirement plan to work if you’re not on the same sheet of music. We have survived so much worse, and we know this too shall pass.
On top of our health worries with Steve, we discovered that Raven has a mass in her abdomen. At first they thought it was a tumor on her liver, but an ultrasound and blood work made the vet think it could be her gallbladder instead. The vet didn’t say it’s cancer, but we haven’t ruled anything out. We’re waiting for another ultrasound concentrating on the gallbladder and, if warranted, some medication to help. Needless to say, this has been very difficult for both of us, but especially Steve. Raven is not a formally trained PTSD dog, but she has been exactly that for Steve. When Steve becomes frustrated, or raises his voice, Raven immediately positions herself so that her face is as close to his as possible. Immediately, he is distracted by her presence. As he pets her and calms her, he calms himself. It is really such a wonderful thing to witness, and the love they have for each other is quite special. We know we won’t have Raven forever, and due to her recent health issues, we’ve had several conversations about the “what ifs”. This hasn’t helped Steve’s anxiety levels either.
Then, bringing more worry to my family, my younger brother was recently diagnosed with colon cancer. He’s already had surgery, and we are now waiting to learn the treatment plan he faces ahead. If you’ve been reading me for a long time, you may remember my mother died of colon cancer. My grandmother did too. This is why my brothers and I are tested more frequently than the general population. We are hopeful that with Marc’s regular/frequent screenings, the cancer has been caught early enough for a complete recovery.
It has been a heck of a roller coaster ride these last few months, to say the least. But we’re on an upswing now…. the light is coming back, plans are coming together, and we’re both feeling so much better. One step at a time…
JANUARY and JULIET
I flew to WI just after New Years, to see my beautiful granddaughter again. I couldn’t stand being away from her! Of course I was thrilled to see my sons and daughter-in-loves (one soon-to-be) too. I only stayed for 10 days. While in WI, we had wintry weather, and at times it felt colder than Alaska. I stayed with Chris and Kimberly this time, as Brandon and Becky were working, and Chris was able to take vacation days while I was in town. I did stay over with Juliet a few days, and looked after her while her parents worked. I love spending time with this beautiful baby!
Here are a couple of photos I took of Juliet while I was visiting. She is such a happy baby! She is now 7 months old, and her first tooth just broke through her gums. (She wasn’t quite 6 months old in these photos) She rolls over in both directions, loves her Jumperoo, and has an appetite for vegetables of all kinds. Becky buys organic produce and cooks and purees it for Juliet. She has such a good appetite! I’m happy about that, as I am rather picky (as is my eldest son). Brandon was never picky, and Juliet appears to take after her daddy. I miss her so much, and can’t wait to see her again in a few months! I am especially excited about Steve meeting her for the first time. I know he will love her as much as I do! It’s easy to fall in love with this perfect little girl.
Steve and I are planning to drive to the Lower 48 in late April or early May. We’re picking up our new travel trailer in IL – less than 100 miles from the boys in WI. (Manufacture and delivery averages 8-10 weeks) This way, we have a home base while we’re waiting to take possession, or while we’re having things on the inspection punch list taken care of. And I’ll get to see my precious granddaughter again! Once we’re on our way, we plan to spend a few weeks exploring a few of the western and northwestern states before returning to Alaska in time to enjoy at least some of our short summer. We’re both excited about our maiden voyage, and also feel much less anxious because we’re really not on any timeline, and plan to just ‘go with the flow’ as to when we leave WI and begin this first adventure.
Another reason for our visit is to attend my eldest son Chris’ college graduation. He has been working full time and putting himself through college for nearly a decade, taking classes when he had the time and money to do so. He’s finally going to graduate in May. We are all so proud of him! His degree is in some aspect of Information Technology/Computers, but I’m not sure of the details. He’s working in an Intern position this final semester, which is providing him with much needed hands-on experience. I know he’ll be happy when school is finished. It’s been a tough few years for him. Way to go, Chris!
LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW!
Our winter season started off rather slow, but February sure made up for it! By the end of February, the airport was reporting almost 80″ of snow in Fairbanks. Of that 80″, more than 73″ fell in the last three months! This is why we feel like it’s been a super snowy winter.
How thankful Steve is for a snowblower, when having to tend to our rather long driveway. When we get dumped on, he sometimes has to blow off nearly a foot of accumulation. We are fortunate to have local residents with plows on their trucks, who take care of our road. (We are so thankful for this selfless service to our neighborhood!)
We have also had super cold weather these last couple of months. As low as -45F on January 18th. Of course we had to do the “boiling water to snow toss” (third photo, top row), but for the most part we were in deep hibernation. No one wants to go out at those temps. Even Raven wears her coat in addition to her booties on days like those. The few times we did get above zero, Steve and I were eager to bundle up, and bootie up Raven, and take walks around the neighborhood. We were so crazy with cabin fever! What a beautiful snow globe world we live in! Those walks were so therapeutic, despite the chapped faces. We’ve made it a habit to walk whenever it is above zero, which has been more frequent lately. Below, I’ve posted some photos from various walks around the neighborhood, as well as some of the views around our property.
DRIVING THE STEESE
After a few days of above zero temps and sunshine, Steve and I were ready to take a much needed scenic drive. We decided to drive north on the Steese Hwy at least as far as Chatanika (about 35 miles from our house). We were both in need of a change of scenery, and the sunshine beckoned us into the great outdoors. The orange light of the sun was absolutely amazing! All the trees and shrubs were coated in thick frost, glowing in the bright sunshine. It was so magical! We saw many signs of wildlife, as tracks criss-crossed the fresh snow, but none of the creatures who made those tracks. And then, only a few miles from home, this beautiful moose was spotted on a narrow side lane. As timing would have it, the low sun perfectly illuminated the birch trees, bathing them in the orange light of late afternoon.
THIS AND THAT
Despite the bouts of cabin fever, all is not bleak here in North Pole. We do have some of the most amazing views from our home. Sometimes several days will pass in between my ventures out into the community. More often than not, I am content to stay inside where it’s nice and warm, with my family beside me. There is always a beautiful view out my windows, and the entertainment of the smallest creatures fills the days with smiles and joy.
Raven isn’t an outdoor dog, so she only goes outside when she has to tend to business. We put her booties on her when it’s below zero to protect her paw pads. With all the snow we recently had, Steve had to continue the snow blown paths on snowshoes, so that Raven wouldn’t drown. We call these “potty paths”. Raven is quite spoiled, but I also have quite a few friends who did the same for their furry kids! The photo of me was taken during a lull in our most recent storm. We got more than a foot in one afternoon, and had several days of significant accumulation. Steve made a video of me being silly and throwing myself into the snowbank in our front yard. I had much more fun than I expected!
A sun dog (or mock sun), is an atmospheric phenomenon that consists of a bright spot to the left and/or right of the Sun. They often occur in pairs, one on each side of the Sun. The meteorological name is parhelion (plural parhelia). Sun Dogs are a favorite part of winter. Sometimes the rainbow spots on either side are super bright and colorful. Other times, you have to squint your eyes to pick them out from the bright backdrop. The photo below was actually taken on a day that was much brighter than this photo shows. But I took this photo through Steve’s windshield (polarized coating), which enhanced things a little bit, and then adjusted it further in Photoshop to bring out the parhelia on either side of the sun. In reality, the sun was super bright, and it hurt my eyes to look too long in that direction.
THE VIEW FROM MY COCOON
This collection of photos was taken from inside my home, looking out windows and doors at the world around me. I have often complained that winter can be a long period of black and white and grey, and the lack of color really brings me down. With this winter being tougher than most – as we had retirement in addition to darkness and cold – I made it my mission to notice the color in my world. There is a lot more of it than I paid attention to. Some of it is man-made (my decorating choices), and some of it is nature-made. And some of it is a harmonious mix of both. But nothing compares to the joy my little wild friends bring me.
AURORA – THE GREATEST OF NIGHT’S JOYS
Despite the winter weather, we have been lucky to have several clear nights and an active aurora. Unfortunately, when the mercury falls below zero, I am less apt to venture far from my home – especially alone. Now that my usual aurora chasing friends have moved away, or can’t stay out late, I don’t get the opportunity to venture too far. Steve would drive me wherever I wanted to go, but I feel terrible making him do that. Especially if there are lulls in activity – which can be very boring to a non-“chaser”. I’m content to stay close, with the occasional drive to Nordale Rd for a more open sky. The following photos were taken from my front yard over the last two months.
This pano was taken from my corner. My house is in the trees in the center of the photo. From up at the corner, I have a more open view of the sky. I don’t go that far when I’m only in pjs and boots, even though it’s only about a hundred yards. In the front yard, Steve keeps an eye on me (if he’s awake).
When the sky started going crazy, Steve offered to drive me to Nordale Rd for a better view. We pulled out at Nordale Flats and watched the show for about 45 minutes. The temperature continued to drop until we saw -32F. My fingertips were pretty numb by the time I gave up. The sky exploded just after I left (as usually happens), but I was happy to be in a warm truck with heated seats. I took this pano from Nordale Rd. I call it Nature’s Drive-in. As you can see, Nordale Rd brings out a lot of photographers. The folks in that car either had their moon roof open, or were smoking like a chimney. The glow you see above their vehicle is oncoming traffic lights reflecting on the steam – or smoke – pouring from their vehicle.
This month is sleddog racing month, with the restart of the Iditarod happening right here in Fairbanks again this year. In fact, the race starts tomorrow, and Steve is going to take me into town to scope out a vantage point so I can grab a few photos. Might just have to turn it into a date day.
We have several other races this month, and the Ice Park is open again. We’re planning to go to the ice park this upcoming weekend, after the multi-block sculptures are done. I like to go in the daylight hours and again at night to see the sculptures under colored lights.
I noticed the sky was starting to get bright by 6:20am. That makes me so happy!
I will try to be more present here. I still have so many photos to go through and edit from all my travels over the past year. On top of that, Steve and I are trying to downsize as much as possible (rid ourselves of clutter). We have donated quite a bit to Value Village, and the Literacy Council bookstore, and have a few things we’d like to try to get a few bucks for. We plan to put the proceeds in an envelope for our upcoming trip. Maybe we sell enough stuff to cover some of our gas expense.
Until next time…