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Saturday, February 3rd - Enjoying the sunshine!

Sorry for the delay in getting February posted. I've been spending the last few days enjoying the wonderful sunshine and warm weather (above zero) we've been having.

I took advantage of the weather on Thursday, and spent some time with Shawna and her beautiful babies, Courtney and Collin. We went to lunch at Hot Tamales (wonderful Mexican food) and discovered that kids always eat free there - a very pleasant surprise.

Gold Rush Town Pioneer ParkFrom there we drove to Pioneer Park because I wanted to take some photos of her kids. As with most children, the car ride put them both to sleep! They did wake up when we got to the park, but I only took a few photos. I much prefer shooting kid portraits in the spring and summer, when the weather is warm, and they can spend some time playing. That way they forget I'm there, and the photographs are much more candid.

We did a lap around Gold Rush Town, and Courtney kept her eyes open for the miniature train. She didn't know that it doesn't run in the winter time, but remembered riding it a few months back during a special event. She is now officially hooked on trains. Here are a few more photos I took while we were at Pioneer Park:


Courtney (almost 3)

Shawna, Courtney, Collin

Collin (16 months)

Courtney and her doll

"When I approach a child, he inspires in me two sentiments; tenderness for what he is, and respect for what he may become."
~ Louis Pasteur ~

After our visit to Pioneer Park, we drove around town running a few errands. Shawna asked me to point out the Ice Park to her. As you may remember, the World Ice Art Championships take place every year in March. It is one of my favorite times of the year, and I love to see what gorgeous ice sculptures are created. This year, it will open to the public on February 27th.

Shawna's never been to the ice park, despite living here in AK for several years. Her family is moving to Georgia in March (I'm going to miss her!), and she'd like to take the kids this year, so they can see the pretty sculptures and play in the kiddie park. I drove to the park, and much to my surprise, there are already some kiddie slides up! Now I'm really excited!

The first photo shows the man-made O'Grady Pond behind the park. (I took the following info from the Ice Alaska website):

Ice Alaska typically harvests over 4.1 million pounds of ice from the pond. Fairbanks's exceptionally clear, thick ice has won the name "The Arctic Diamond" and is a favorite medium for ice sculptors. Ice has been shipped to nearby communities such as Anchorage and Nenana, and as far away as Seattle, Pittsburgh, the Bahamas and Israel.

If you'd like to see the sculptures via the web, check out the webcams that should be up and operating during this year's event. Make sure you check during the day and the evening, so you can appreciate the colored lights. You can find links to the webcams on the site I linked above. You'll also be able to view still photos of the sculptures (in addition to the ones I'm sure to be posting!) on the website.

This morning, the Junior Yukon Quest was supposed to take off from downtown on the Chena River. Unfortunately, the race was postponed until 2008 due to a limited number of entrants. According to Junior Race Committee Chair, Donna Olesen, "This year saw a large number of our perennial mushers turn 18 and graduate to adult racing. As one of the primary goals of the race, we were excited for these mushers. However, it left us with a gap in our population."

I know that many people are disappointed (myself included), but we keep our hopes up that 2008 will be a wonderful year for the Junior Mushers.

The Yukon Quest will start on February 10th, on First Avenue in downtown Whitehorse, Canada and end on the frozen Chena River here in Fairbanks about two weeks later. The start of the race alternates from year to year; in 2008, we'll see the mushers taking off from downtown Fairbanks again. If you'd like to follow the Yukon Quest, you can visit the website at http://www.yukonquest.com. There, you'll be able to leave messages of encouragement to the mushers, follow their race times and read about and see photos taken along the way. I'd love to travel with them! I do plan to be at the finish line when they begin arriving in Fairbanks in a few weeks.

Tomorrow, we're watching the Superbowl here at home. We'll be having James and Rachael over to help us eat lots of fattening food as we watch the Colts and the Bears go head to head. I don't have a favorite for this game, so let the best team win!

Thursday, February 8th - Chickadees and a Video Slide Show

I'm happy to report that the chickadees have found the bird feeder I have in the backyard and are making frequent visits to the banquet of sunflower seeds and suet provided. I hope they'll continue to visit, and tell all their friends as well. Their presence makes me long even more for spring, warmer temps, and color!


Enjoying the sunflower seeds

Where are you going?

You brought back a friend!

I spent a few hours yesterday, sorting through some photos and creating a video slide show of some of my favorite landscapes. I added music to the video, and choosing the right song to play in the background started out to be a difficult task, until I listened to the song "Everything" by Lifehouse.

I've posted a portion of the lyrics to the song below. I am so thankful to God for giving me the gift of sight, and the ability to appreciate and capture such awesome splendor with my camera. No matter how down I feel, I only have to turn my eyes to the wonders around me and my spirits are lifted. I hope you enjoy the slide show. If you'd like to share it with anyone else, feel free. Here is the direct link to the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMYWesu8U8Y

Alaska Through My Eyes



If you're on dialup, it may take some time to load. Press the little play button under the video to watch it here on my page.

Find Me Here, Speak To Me
I want to feel you, I need to hear you
You are the light, That's leading me
To the place where I find peace again.

You are the strength, that keeps me walking.
You are the hope, that keeps me trusting.
You are the light to my soul.
You are my purpose...you're everything.

How can I stand here with you and not be moved by you?
Would you tell me how could it be any better than this?

You calm the storms, and you give me rest.
You hold me in your hands, you won't let me fall.
You steal my heart, and you take my breath away.
Would you take me in? Take me deeper now?

Cause you're all I want, You're all I need
You're everything,everything
You're all I want your all I need
You're everything, everything.

How can I stand here with you and not be moved by you?
Would you tell me how could it be any better than this?

Sunday, February 18th - Scenic Drive to Bolio Lake

Flowers from my ValentineBeautiful RosebudHappy belated Valentines Day to you all! I hope you had a day full of love. Steve and I don't put a lot of emphasis on these 'Hallmark Holidays'; we have many Valentines Days during the year. However, I was pleasantly surprised when he came home with a dozen roses in his possession. He assured me that he got a good deal on them, because he knows I don't like spending lots of money on something that's going to die soon. I bought him a bag of chocolate peppermint hearts and a card. The best gift exchanged - a tradition on Valentines Day and on our Anniversary - is a love letter to each other. They are worth more than any store-bought card.

The past week has been mostly spent on trying to get my photo gallery updated, with information about purchasing my photo prints. There are still many photos I have to go through, and some other things (web design stuff) I need to look into about setting up a 'shopping cart' on my site.

On top of all of this, Sedona has been sick on and off for the past week. She's developed a sensitive stomach as she's gotten older, and I had to change her food twice. I now have her on a very 'gastro friendly' lamb and rice diet, but she still has bouts of vomiting. I love my girl to pieces - she's like a child to me!- but cleaning up after her has become so frustrating. (I'm the designated 'clean up after the pets' person in this household). I really wish I knew what her problem was. I'm going to ask the vet when she goes in for her shots at the end of the month. Maybe she needs dog antacids?

Steve has a four day weekend in honor of Presidents Day. We spent Friday doing some much necessary errands and then grabbed some lunch. From there, Steve suggested a trip to Sam's Club for a few odds and ends. Anyone I know who has a membership to Sam's or Costco never leaves the store with only the items they went in for! True to form, we left with much more than we planned for. Much, much more. We finally got the new home computer we so desperately needed. The one we've been using is 7 years old (we custom built it back then) and has been updated and reformatted several times. It's more economical these days to just buy a new system, rather than put money into upgrading an old one. The new system is still it the box downstairs, and Steve is chomping at the bit to get it set up. I told him he needs to wait until I get this journal updated, and I work on a few photos I took yesterday.

Yesterday, we took a scenic drive down to Bolio Lake near Fort Greely. It's about 270 miles roundtrip, and we left the house a little after 8am. We stopped to grab a bagel and coffee at Sunrise Bagel before getting on the Richardson Highway.

The sun was a bright orange ball as it came up over the range, but then the cloud cover blew in and everything turned white and washed out. This wasn't exactly the best situation for shooting scenic photographs, but we decided to continue on anyway, and hope for some clearing skies eventually. They didn't show up until we were on our way back.

The highlight of the day was seeing five moose. One moose was in someone's front yard, nibbling on birch twigs, while the dog of the house stood on the porch barking his head off. At one point, the dog even lunged for the moose, but quickly did a full speed backward run when the moose took a step in his direction. It was comical, and yet frightening; I really didn't want to see the dog get hurt. Fortunately, he didn't.

We stopped off at the Clearwater River - one of Steve's favorite places to go salmon fishing in late summer. By the time the salmon get there, they've already mutated into ugly looking creatures with a hooked nose and beat up flesh after their 450 mile swim inland. Steve doesn't eat that salmon, but he has turned it into jerky a few times. After tasting fresh salmon right from the ocean, he won't settle for anything less.

The Clearwater River is crystal clear - hence the name - and is free running in winter. The water was a gorgeous blue, which stood out against the snow covered banks and spruce trees. We couldn't get into the campground due to deep snow, but we did pull into the cafe at the end of the road, and I traipsed off to the riverbank on foot to take a few photos.

Bolio Lake, near Fort Greely, was frozen solid and skies were gray. The sun was merely a glowing white spot in the sky, and everything was a flat black and white and gray in color. The trees along the road that leads to the lake, are still black and broken from the wildfires two years ago. We didn't expect to see any wildlife, as there doesn't appear to be much brush worth chomping on. We were quite surprised to come upon a resting moose in the midst of the bare trees.

On the way back to North Pole, we pulled off at Birch Lake and drove to the boat ramp. We continued down the ramp in the truck and drove out over the ice to the ice fishing shacks lined up across the lake. On the way back to the ramp, we veered off to watch individuals fishing. One man took a huge auger to the ice to drill the hole he would be dropping his line through. The sun was high overhead and not conducive to good photographs, but I snapped a few frames to share with you anyway.

When we arrived home, we heated up some leftovers and settled in front of the television to watch some DVDs we had rented at Blockbuster. It was the perfect lazy way to end a day of driving. Today is another lazy day, and since Steve is also off tomorrow, I expect tomorrow will play out pretty much the same.

Here are some photos I took yesterday on our drive:

The Ice Park opens up on the 27th, and I hope to drive through one or two more times before opening day. I'm also planning to have lunch with some new gal pals I've made over the last month or so, as well as with Rachael.

Rachael and James got their orders for their PCS (Permanent Change of Station) to Fort Bliss, TX. The movers will be coming on the 6th and the 7th, and they will leave Alaska on the 13th to begin their journey to the next chapter in their life. While I am accustomed to the many goodbyes a military family has to endure, this goodbye truly breaks my heart. Rachael is a very special woman, and is very dear to me. Together we've been through so much together. I love her like a sister, and I hate to see her go. She will be missed so very much.

Sunday, February 25th - COLD, COLD, and more COLD!

-37F degreesI took this photo a few days back, but since then it has gone down to -50F in some parts of North Pole. How lucky we are to actually have thermometers that even read temperatures that low without exploding or something. This morning it was -41F when I woke up.

We had an incident with our boiler/furnace a few days ago. As in NO HEAT! When I woke up, I knew immediately that the house temperature was down because my nose was frozen and even though I had a sheet, a thermal blanket, and a quilt over me, I was cold. I jumped out of bed, and one glace at the the thermostat in the bedroom told me that my worst fear had come true - our heat wasn't working! It was 57F upstairs and 56F downstairs. I called Steve at work, but he couldn't hear his cell phone because he was in a basement. Finally, an hour later (and two degrees colder), he came home and found the number for the company who installed the unit. They managed to talk him through checking valves and gauges and buttons, etc. to get it up and running again. Apparently the valve which lets fresh water into the system was closed and the water levels had dropped so low that the system turned itself off. It took several hours, but the house finally returned to normal. Thank goodness it was something easily fixed!

Wall GroupingStairwell PhotosI hung up another grouping of photos in my living room. I had to take this photo from an angle so I wouldn't get the glare of the flash on the glass. I like the mix of black and white matts with the frames turned for horizontal and vertical photos. I took the photos of the Dall sheep and the arctic ground squirrel when we did our drive into Denali during the road lottery weekend. The fox photograph was taken when we went into Denali by bus, with my SIL Diane back in July.

I took a photograph of the large poster size prints I have in my stairwell. There's still plenty of space to fill in the stairwell, and I plan to hang the larger prints there, since the space is so expansive. The wall space goes clear up to the roof line, and the view from the top of the stairs gives a good vantage point to view larger prints. I have a lot of wall space up on the second floor to fill, and need to get the guestroom set up (with photos hung) before warm weather comes and I start to have some house guests.

Rachael Strongest WomanMe Strongest WomanI've been checking out the ice park periodically to see how far they're coming with the carving. With only a few days left before it opens to the public, and such cold temperatures, the sculptors have been having a hard time working. When it's too cold out, the ice fractures. This makes things very difficult for the carvers. Hopefully it will warm up a little bit this weekend so they can try to catch up.

Here are a few more photos I took last week.

Ice Train Ice Slide Park
Clown Head

For more information about Ice Alaska, please visit the website here:

http://www.icealaska.com/

There will be webcams set up eventually so that you can view the sculptures from the warmth of your home.

Maze Entrance

I had lunch with the same group of gals I met with a few weeks ago. It was nice to enjoy some warm conversation on such a cold day. Soon, we'll be losing two from our group when Rachael and Shawna move away. I do hope that the others and I will continue to meet periodically for lunch and coffee.

After lunch, besides my visit to the ice park, I decided to drive around Fairbanks and take photos of whatever caught my fancy. I was in one of those moods, and since I was in town with meeting the gals I took advantage of it.

Chena River Frosty Paws and Frost Sun Halo and Cabin Tanana Chief

The first photograph is of the Chena River near Pioneer Park. The water there isn't frozen solid because the power plant up the road dumps hot water into the river which is used to cool down the equipment. There is always a mist coming off the river there, which is absolutely beautiful - especially on a sunny day with blue skies.

In Pioneer Park, there are many shops housed in old log cabins. One of them is an ice cream shop. It's only open in the summer months. I thought the frost on the sign was humorous. The third photo is also of the ice cream shop, but I took it because of the Sun Halo in the sky behind the building. Halos are caused by sunlight reflecting off of ice crystals in the atmosphere. At -35F, I bet there were ice crystals in the air!

The last photo is of the Tanana Chief riverboat frozen in place in the river. The Tanana Chief is a replica of the old riverboats that plied the waterways of Alaska's Interior in the years between 1865 and 1955. The original Tanana Chief was built in Unalaska in 1898 and served as a passenger and trade boat, becoming the first sternwheeler to navigate the Tanana and Chena Rivers in 1898. During the tourist season, you can take a scenic cruise, a dinner cruise, or host your wedding on the Tanana Chief.


Today, Steve and I were supposed to have brunch with Rachael and James. We were going to try the Pump House, rather than Pikes this week. Rachael and James had eaten there on Valentines Day weekend, and said it was very good. Our reservations were for noon.

They had to cancel. James was taken to the emergency room a few days ago in severe pain. The doctors discovered he has a kidney stone. They gave him pain meds to help him get through the pain, but they make him very drowsy. He was afraid he'd fall asleep in his breakfast, so we decided to postpone breakfast until another time.

Since we were both up and dressed, we decided to take a drive to Chena Lakes Recreation Area to watch the North Pole Championship Dog Sled Races. The races took place yesterday and today. With temperatures at -40F this morning, I wasn't sure if they were going to race, but when we got there we saw the dog boxes and mushers setting up. By this time it had warmed up to -25F.

I wrapped a scarf around my face, pulled on my gloves and a pair of mittens and walked down to the lake to get a good vantage point of the teams. After watching the 4-dog sleds race, we decided to call it a morning. Our feet were starting to get cold despite our heavy boots, and my eyelashes were frozen from my breath. My camera wasn't performing very well at that temperature either. But I was glad to have seen what I did. And standing out in the sunshine was good for my soul too - even though it wasn't very good for my frozen nose!

After the races, we enjoyed a hearty lunch at The Pagoda. The hot tea hit the spot, as did the Won-Ton soup. By the time we got home, the clouds had rolled in - obliterating the beautiful blue skies and making everything look dreary. There's actually a chance of snow tonight (less than an inch). And tomorrow promises to be a cloudy day. After I take my furkids to see the vet for their rabies and booster shots, I think it will be a good day to just be lazy.

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©2007 Susan L Stevenson