March 5, 2017

Time Spent in Self-Reflection

Filed under: Aurora,Everyday Life,Family,Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 10:01 pm

“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…

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January 1, 2017

A new year is on the way…

Filed under: Everyday Life,Family,Interesting Things — Susan Stevenson @ 5:10 pm

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.

Holiday CardA 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!

Colors on my Windowsill Orange Painted Treetops Christmas Tree on Birch Hill
Family Photos at Chena Lakes Chena Lakes BackLit Sun Me and Raven Chena Lakes

This pano shows the frozen lake and the trail that skirts the shoreline near the swimming beach at Chena Lakes:
Trail at Chena Lakes, North Pole AK

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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)

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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!

SNOW AND SQUIRRELS

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

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