January 3, 2018

A Fork in the Road

Filed under: Aurora,Calendar,Everyday Life,Family,Outside AK,Roadtrips,Travel,Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 10:01 pm

One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree.

“Which road do I take?”, she asked.

“Where do you want to go?”, was his response.

“I don’t know”, Alice answered.

“Then”, said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.” ~ Lewis Carroll

It is Christmas day, and I am sitting in the living room with Steve, watching television. We had leftover roast for dinner – a feast I prepared last night for Christmas Eve. It’s always so delicious the second day, after the vegetables spend the night marinating in the au jus.

We ate early today – a little after 2pm. We tend to eat much earlier in the winter – no doubt because of the very short days. We often lose track of time, and now that Steve is retired, we have even less of a reason to pay attention to the clock. Needless to say, when the sun starts moving down to the horizon at 1pm, my brain and body convinces me that the dinner hour is nearing.

I find myself dozing off between 7-8pm. Sometimes it’s even earlier. A few hours later, Steve will rouse me from the sofa, and guide me up to bed. Only 3-4 hours after that (usually around the 2am hour), I find myself awake again, and ready to face another day. As always, winter is the season of messed up sleep patterns. Sometimes I’m happy for this schedule, as I get to see beautiful aurora displays like those I saw at 2am in the early morning hours of Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve Aurora, North Pole AK Christmas Eve Aurora, North Pole AK Christmas Eve Aurora over the house, North Pole AK

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“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” ~ Lewis Carroll

I have been composing this journal entry in my head for months. (I wonder when I will finally publish it?) It has only been a matter of months since I began thinking about change, and life, and goals, and most of all, family. Sure, I’ve written about how much I miss my family many times throughout the last nearly 15 (!) years that Steve and I have lived here in Alaska. After my granddaughter Juliet was born (July 2016), I started thinking a lot more deeply about family, and opportunities for family time. Then, later last year, Steve started having problems with anxiety and was having a difficult time adjusting to full-time retirement.

We spent the next few months planning our summer roadtrip to the Lower 48. We were so excited about picking up our new travel trailer – the first step in our loosely-constructed retirement plan. We were also thrilled about seeing family and friends, camping in our new RV, and visiting as many National Parks as we could while we were down there exploring.

Planning for such a long excursion takes time and organization. Organization is my strong suit. The first thing I did was buy a notebook. I left it out on the coffee table or kitchen counter – jotting thoughts and plans in it as they came into my head. Writing things down is mandatory for me. And I must admit I have a love of list-making (and crossing things off of it).

I stressed myself out unmercifully in the months leading up to our departure. By the time we were within two weeks of hitting the road, I was having panic attacks and feeling anxious. I was also having nightmares about Steve towing the new RV, driving in the mountains, something happening to our house while we were gone, and a mixed up list of weird stuff. The closer we got to departure, the more tense things were. (As always, as soon as we pulled away from the house, a lot of the anxiety abated)

I’ll be honest with you – the trip had its share of anxiety, stress, small and large misunderstandings, and some tense breakdowns in communication. But are any vacations perfect? Especially long excursions? With that being said, the trip was also full of family, and friends, and love, and beautiful scenery, and a really beautiful travel trailer that we thoroughly enjoyed getting to know. We also shared a lot of laughs and made wonderful memories. But we also learned a lot. Which is exactly what we had to do if we are going to embrace this RV lifestyle as more than just the occasional camping trip.

When we were first married, and having those “what do you want to do when we retire?” conversations, we always talked about buying an RV and seeing the country. Making the decision to sell our old camper and purchase a new – more comfortable and modern – camper was a no-brainer for us. This was step one in our *retirement plan*. The three month trip around the country last summer was step two. We had to make sure we could really do this for longer than the usual camping getaway.

As I wrote earlier, it wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows. There were glitches. There were stressful issues we needed to deal with (like tags and licensing long distance, trying to find a campsite over July 4th weekend, and getting Steve a refill on his medication while on the road). There were personality conflicts too. Two people living in less than 350sf isn’t the easiest.  But it’s hardest in the beginning, when you’re still trying to find a place for your stuff, while figuring out the personal space too. (Which recliner do you want? Do you have a preference for where you sit at the table? Which side of the closet is yours?)

We were also dealing with health issues along the way, so the stress levels were even higher than usual. (Steve was having a hard time adjusting to some of his newest meds, and was experiencing some unpleasant side affects, and I was having problems with altitude sickness and overexertion in CO, with my asthma condition making things even worse). When we were not having a good day, I honestly wondered if this extended RVing thing was right for us.  I’m sure Steve had the same worries. When we returned to Alaska, we both had our medical care fine-tuned, and I’m happy to report that we’re both feeling much better now.

We both relaxed once we were home. We were both so happy to see our house and our yard and our beautiful trees. Things were lush and green, and our lawn maintenance guy had our lawn looking beautiful. And we could spread out again.

Autumn crept in. And the temperature dropped. And the leaves fell. And the light disappeared. And it was time to get the house ready for another winter: scheduling boiler tune-ups, checking weather stripping and caulking, and raking leaves.

I flew to WI in November for several weeks. I was with my family for Thanksgiving, which was such a joy! I wished that Steve could be there with me, and was so thankful that friends invited him to have Thanksgiving dinner with them. At least he wasn’t alone.

I had several worrisome phone calls from Steve while I was in WI. He sounded so depressed. The darkness was really getting to him. He was pretty much a shut-in, as he didn’t want to go out and do anything. He had several anxiety attacks while I was gone.

In the meantime, it was 64F in Reedsburg WI on Thanksgiving Day. The sun was shining brightly, and Brandon had the windows open in the house to cool things down. Becky worked hard in the kitchen, preparing a feast for us. Although the winter days are short in WI too, they are not a brief 6 hours. Later that evening, while talking to Steve on the phone, we came to the decision that it was time to leave Alaska. Possibly for good.

The original plan was to give snowbirding a try, come back to AK in March or April, and then decide if we were going to make snowbirding a lifestyle, or leave AK altogether. But I have been so stressed out about finding someone to watch our house while we’re gone.

Leaving a house alone through the winter is risky – not only weather wise, but also security wise. So, at the very least, we would need a house sitter who would preferably be willing to stay here most of the time – if not all of the time. I don’t know if I could travel all over the country if I was worried about our house way up here in AK – especially in the winter.

And then there’s the expense. Even if we’re not living here, we still have to pay the mortgage and utilities. This is not conducive to a stress-free life.

When I first came to terms with leaving Alaska (several days before Steve was fully on board), I was really sad. Alaska has been our home for 15 years (this June). Fifteen years spent in one of the most beautiful states in our country. What a blessing this has been for us! What an opportunity we were given! Now, although I still feel sad about leaving, I have been instead focusing on all the amazing things that Steve and I have seen and done and experienced over the last 15 years. And I am hopeful and excited about the amazing things that Steve and I will see and do and experience all over the rest of our country (and our second favorite country: Canada).

Making this decision is so hard for so many reasons, but we also believe that it’s the right decision for us right now. That’s about as sure as we can be at the moment.

The new tentative timeline is to talk to a realtor in the early spring. If we decide this is really it, we will need to list as soon as we can, as most people want to be settled before school starts (mid August). We don’t plan to leave AK until September, as we want to enjoy the summer here, but depending on what happens with our house, that could change.

Which leads to downsizing. Serious downsizing. Forever downsizing.

Being a military family kept us in check, for the most part, when it came to accumulating lots of stuff. With weight limits placed on every military move, we knew we’d be paying dearly if we went over. The army moved us every three years. This is the best way to stay on top of clutter and unnecessary stuff. But we haven’t been packed up and moved since 2003. We have stuff.

So we have been de-cluttering. We have been purging. I plan to start selling and donating and giving away. I only want to move mementos, personal effects (clothing, etc), and a few choice pieces of furniture (antiques).

I think the most difficult thing for me has been evaluating belongings as to whether they are really needed. But since Steve and I finally came to the same conclusion that we should move, I have found it much easier to stand in the middle of a room and look at my surroundings objectively. Mostly I ask myself “Is it worth paying the transportation cost to get that to a storage unit in the Lower 48?” Because that’s what it’s going to be – a storage unit. Which we will pay for every month until a) we decide to settle or b) we give it away or donate it because we realize we don’t need it after all.

Eventually, we’ll settle down somewhere in a stick-built home. As older folks, we don’t expect we’ll be able to spend the rest of our days in an RV.  I’d like that to be as close to my kids and grandchildren as possible. Chris and Kimmie are due Feb 6th, and we just found out that Brandon and Becky are due with baby 2 at the end of April! Even if we put down roots in another cold location (like WI), we can still snowbird as we originally planned to do from Alaska. At least we’ll be a lot closer to the rest of the country.

But right now, we are entertaining the thought of being full-timers, instead of just snowbirders. If our house sells, we are thinking we might just enjoy being mortgage free for awhile, and live in our camper for a year or more. Which takes us back to the conversation about two adults living in less than 350sf!

If any of my readers full-time or snowbird, I am totally open to any advice, info, etc! Email me at   susan@susanstevenson.com.

So this is where we stand. I hope to update periodically, so that you can follow our journey. But I know it’s been so many months since I updated and I’ve probably lost a lot of readers. If you’re still here, thank you. Big changes ahead….

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October 21, 2017

2018 Alaska Calendar

Filed under: Calendar,Photography — Susan Stevenson @ 8:17 pm

With all the traveling we did this year, and time spent away from Alaska, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to put together a calendar. But I am happy to announce that my 2018 Alaska photographic calendar is available for purchase. Like last year, I am working with an online company, who is selling my calendar through a storefront, so you can order from there 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.

2018 Alaska Calendar:

2018 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 will be placing a bulk order which will save everyone on postage. Calendars are $25, as they have always been, and I will personally make delivery the first week of December, when I return from Wisconsin. 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 years.

Enjoy!
Susan

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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