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

(more…)

October 25, 2016

Presenting my 2017 Alaska Calendar!

Filed under: Calendar,Interesting Things,Photography — Susan Stevenson @ 10:33 pm

In earlier posts, I mentioned that I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to offer a calendar this year, due to time constraints and increases in postage. Well, I am happy to announce that there WILL be a 2017 Alaska Calendar! I found a company that not only does the printing, but will also act as a storefront for me so that you can order directly. I created a separate webpage, with more detailed information, especially for those of you who have ordered a calendar from me in the past.  I have priced my calendar so that the total cost to you is the same as it was last year.

2017 Alaska Calendar:

2017 Calendar Images

Price:

8.5 x 11″ (11×17 hanging) – $24.00

11×14″ (14×22 hanging) – $30.00

($5.99 flat shipping –  no matter how many – anywhere in the US.
International also available)

Order your calendar today!
Link to StoreFront

If you have any questions or concerns, please email me directly.

Local customers/friends: Please email me if you would like to order. I am looking into the possibility of placing a bulk order which will save everyone on postage. Calendars are $25, as they have always been, and I will personally make delivery by Thanksgiving. If you prefer to have them shipped directly to you, please order through the website.

Many thanks to all of you who have ordered my calendar over the last 8 years. I do hope that my 9th calendar brings you joy.

Thank you!
Susan

October 19, 2016

For the strength of the pack is the wolf…

Filed under: Aurora,Interesting Things,Roadtrips,Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 1:13 pm

… and the strength of the wolf is the pack.

On October 7th, my friend Joyce and I took a drive to Denali Park in the late afternoon. Our plan was to get to the park early enough to drive to mile 30 and then stay for what we hoped would be a beautiful sunset – especially if Mt. Denali was visible. Then, if the forecast looked good for clear skies and aurora activity, we’d hang around down in that area and wait for the sky to light up.

I did this night drive with my friend Amanda a couple of years ago. On that night, the aurora came out to dance, and the sky was crystal clear. The stars were so dense and plentiful we could not identify the Big Dipper. It was very scary in an “I am so inconsequential in this vast universe!” sort of way. It is a very long and tiring day – more than 12 hours in the car. But the opportunity to view and photograph the northern lights in the park makes it a little easier to stay awake.  As does strong coffee, conversation with a fun friend, and…

… encounters with wolves!!!

Joyce and I arrived at the park around 6pm.  We could see the grand Denali on the horizon throughout our drive, and we knew the odds were good to see the mountain from within the park too. But where would the best vantage point be for sunset? We drove slowly and decided on a scenic overlook 20 miles into the park. The color change was gradual, but soon the mountain was bathed in a soft orange hue. Opposite the setting sun, the moon was climbing higher into the sky. And behind us, the mountains were soft pink in the early dusk. Near silence enveloped us; the only sound being the wind in the willow bushes. It was quite peaceful.

We knew we had about 30 minutes before headlights would be a necessity and it became too dark for viewing or photographing wildlife. We decided to continue all the way to the end – mile 30 – since it was only another 10 miles in.  By the time we got there, walked out to the overlook to look for wildlife (bears), and used the facilities, it was dark enough for headlights.  It is a totally different experience to drive the park road in the dark, and we were happy for moonlight, clear skies, and rapidly appearing stars.

These photos were taken in the park… a lovely sunset:

Denali Park Sunset over Mt Denali Denali Park Sunset Denali Park Moonrise
Denali Park Sunset Pink Denali Park Road at Sunset

As the sun sets, the sky turns a warm yellow above Mt Denali in the distance:

Denali Sunset over the mountain

We drove the park road back to the entrance, where there was a cellphone signal, so we could check the aurora forecast and weather report. Everything looked good for clear skies, but the aurora forecast was mediocre. We didn’t mind if the aurora was low or not very bright. With a clear sky we knew the stars would make for some incredible night shots. Any aurora appearance would thrill us.

We drove back into the park to the Mountain Vista area (mp 12). (If the park road is accessible to this rest area, they usually keep at least one vaulted toilet open, which is convenient in the off season.) This part of the park road has some open areas around the drainage ditches and washes, where the trees are minimal and the mountains are visible on the horizon. The elevation is high enough to get some good night sky photos, with little foreground interference. And if the mountain is out, you can capture it even after dark with a long shutter (you can see the mountain in the first couple of photos below)

The aurora appeared and we set up our cameras. The Milky Way was amazing and the stars blanketed the sky by the billions. Being out in the open was cold though, and we were both glad we brought our snow pants. I kept hearing noises in the bushes, but Joyce insisted it was the sound of the water running in the nearby drainage ditch. My imagination does tend to run away with me…

I suggested we drive a few miles deeper, to see what the aurora looked like over the Savage River valley. It was too low – behind the mountains, but there was a little bit of green at the end of the valley. The light reflecting on the river was pretty. The wind was even stronger there, where it funneled down the valley. We didn’t stay long.

Denali Park Aurora Denali Park Aurora Denali Park Aurora
Milky Way, Moon behind mountains, and Mt Denali Moon behind mountains and Mt Denali, Denali Park Road Denali Park Aurora

WOLVES!!!

We drove back toward the entrance, driving very slowly to scope out different vantage points to set up our cameras. We were only a couple of miles down the road when I saw several sets of eyes glowing in the dark. They were just off the side of the road, and about 50 yards ahead of us. I had my high beams on because it was so dark, and as we neared the area where I saw the eyes glowing, we saw more glowing!

“What is that?!”, I wondered aloud. “Lynx? Fox? Coyote?!!” Joyce and I strained our eyes to see if we could make out any shapes in the dark bushes.

And then suddenly – s/he was on the road in front of us! We were both so surprised, we didn’t even think of our cameras. We stared, mesmerized by what we were seeing in front of us. I think we were both worried that this sighting would be a brief one, and we didn’t want to look away.  And then two more wolves came out of the bushes just off the road. Even with three wolves on the road with us, we could see several more running down off the shoulder – in and out of the bushes.

The wolves on the road with us, particularly this beautiful tan/cream wolf (I’m assuming alpha), were rather bold – but never did we feel they were behaving aggressively.  A minute later they disappeared into the bushes – although we could still see their eyes glowing in the dark.

We continued down the road, and a mile or so later, we again saw eyes glowing along the side of the road. I stopped and we watched several wolves ran along the shoulder, until they met up with several more further down the road. This group looked to be about the same size as the first one (at least 5 in the first pack), but they weren’t as curious. We lost sight of them in the bushes.

I turned around and drove back through the area where we saw the first pack, as we passed another photographer (a female) photographing the aurora before we came to the wolves the first time. We wanted to warn her of our encounter only a mile or so from where she was set up.

Imagine our delight and surprise, when four of the wolves (to include the beautiful alpha) came out of the bushes and stood in my headlights, letting us see them again! And then, just like that, they loped off – escorting us along the park road about a hundred yards before they dove off into the bushes. What an honor and a privilege to see these beautiful creatures!
Denali Wolf

(more…)