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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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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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

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