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Monday, January 1st - Happy New Year!

It is difficult not to believe that the next year will be better than the old one! And this illusion is not wrong. Future is always good, no matter what happens. It will always give us what we need
and what we want in secret. It will always bless us with right gifts.
Thus in a deeper sense our belief in the New Year cannot deceive us. ~ Kersti Bergroth


Happy New Year! Today begins a new chapter in all of our lives. A fresh page to write upon; pure and white and ready to scribble upon. What will 2007 hold for each of us? What changes will we see in our lives? Will we uphold our resolutions to lose weight? Work harder? Love more? Savor every moment? Or will we go through 2007 as we have every year in the past?

I don't like to make resolutions. I feel like a failure when I don't keep them. Sure... I'd like to lose weight, get healthier, change my eating habits, spend more time with friends and family, get my photography business up and running, travel, make someone happy each day, and live life as if there is no tomorrow. And maybe I will see some of these goals come to fruition. Maybe I'll reach all of them. But then again, maybe none of them. I don't like to start the new year with requirements. It puts too much pressure on me. I do much better when I wake each morning and set daily goals, rather than yearly goals. I seem to function better with daily plans, rather than long term ones.

We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives... not looking for flaws, but for potential. ~Ellen Goodman


Yesterday, we spent the last day of 2006 with our dear friends Rachael and James. They arrived at our home at 3pm, and we enjoyed picking at some appetizers while our dinner cooked. We served shrimp cocktail, spinach-artichoke dip and garlic pita crackers, and mozzarella sticks with marinara sauce. I was enjoying some Merlot, while Rachael got busy popping the cork on a bottle of champagne. Our men played it safe with soda, since they were going to be driving us to the fireworks later that evening.

We finally sat down to eat at 5:30pm. I made a scrumptious eye roast with potatoes and steamed green beans with garlic. It was our first 'formal' dinner party in the new house and I was glad that the Trujillo's were our guests. There's nothing better than *christening* a dining room with folks who don't care if the green beans are a little burnt. (Let's just say that they were cooked for much longer than they should have been. We're still getting used to this oven and stove!)

Bundled up for fireworksA little after 7pm, we all bundled into our long johns and winter gear and drove up to UAF (University of Alaska Fairbanks) campus to watch the New Years Eve fireworks. They were scheduled to start at 8pm, and we hoped to get a good vantage point. We finally found a place to park our vehicles and put on gloves, scarves and hats to protect us against the -20F temperature. Grabbing our tripods and cameras, we trudged another 50 yards to an area with a clear view of the valley below the fireworks launch site.

As soon as we left the protection of the trees and hit the open air, we realized just how hard the wind was whipping across the valley. Even though I was wearing silk long underwear, my legs were immediately enveloped by the stinging arctic wind. Within minutes they stung with the cold. I should have worn my snow pants. The wind chill felt like -50F!

The fireworks display started on time and both Rachael and I took photos, even as our cameras protested under the below zero wind. In this kind of cold, batteries don't last very long. Within 10 minutes I was showing only a half-charge on my battery. We shot a few more frames before giving up and deciding that the warmth of our vehicles was preferable to freezing to death on an overlook.

They followed us over to the Alaska Coffee Roasting Company for a much needed cup of cocoa/mocha and some dessert. It was heavenly to be in a warm place, filling our stomachs with warm liquid and much too decadent sweets.

About 9pm, we decided to head home. Rachael and James went back to their place, and Steve and I continued home to our house. We turned on the TV to watch the New Years Rockin' Eve (which of course was recorded earlier in the evening, since the east coast had already celebrated the new year.) I was exhausted and fell asleep by 11pm, with my head resting in the crook of Steve's shoulder. He woke me at midnight to wish me a Happy New Year and to steal a kiss. I fell back to sleep immediately after, and slept through until 9am. With my ongoing problems with insomnia, this was quite a surprise and much appreciated!

Ring around the moonSBefore I fell asleep, I glanced out the window and saw that the moon had a ring around it. I just had to get a photograph. Rings around the moon are caused by the refraction of moonlight (which of course is reflected sunlight) from ice crystals in the upper atmosphere. Generally, snow falls the next day. It is snowing as I type this.

Today was a lazy day for both of us. I planned originally to take down my Christmas decor, but decided I'll wait until tomorrow. (Steve's off from work, so he can help me) Steve has been watching football all day, while I've been playing on the computer.

Tomorrow evening, we'll be taking Rachael and James to the airport as they head off on their Mexican Riviera cruise. Warm weather, sunshine, beaches, turquoise waters... OK... so maybe I'm a little bit jealous! It is a much deserved holiday after such a long deployment. I know they'll have the most wonderful time, and I can't wait to hear all about it when they get back in a few weeks.

I hope that you all had a lovely New Years celebration, whether it was low-keyed and intimate, or wild and crazy! May you all have a year of good health and prosperity, with many blessings!

Blue Sparkler UAF Fireworks UAF Fireworks UAF Fireworks
Tuesday, January 9th - Snow, Frost and Frigid Temperatures!

I apologize for my absence. I haven't had much to write about, since I've been spending almost every moment of each day trying to stay warm! We've had some very cold weather lately - the kind of weather that even makes your vehicle scream when you take it out. My poor car; the sound effects that come off her motor when she's going down the road are just pitiful! And no matter how hot you crank the heat in the car, it takes forever to actually warm up the inside, and then you have to deal with fogged up windows on top of everything else. Yes, this weather is best handled by not going out in it! Today, it was -46F here in North Pole. Anyone up for a winter visit to the frigid arctic?

Because of the extreme cold, the dogsled races have been pushed back a few weeks. There was a race this past Sunday, but Steve and I had brunch reservations with some friends (we just love the Champagne Brunch at Pikes!) so we didn't make it. According to their website, the race was run despite the cold temps. I hope the next one is run as scheduled this coming Sunday.

On Wednesday and Friday, I did manage to get out and take some photos of the beautiful landscapes around us. Basically, the technique is to drive until you see something nice, jump out of the car, snap the photos, jump back in the car, shiver, and then find another photo opportunity. The first day I went out, I was wearing my hiking boots (rated to -15F) and my feet were blocks of ice even though all I did was jump in and out of the car. So I came home and changed into my arctic boots (rated to -60F) and went back out. I made sure I had all kinds of extra clothes in the car with me, and took Sedona just in case I needed a warm body to cuddle up to.

Wednesday, I drove around on Fort Wainwright - just taking the side roads and the back roads near the golf course. I ventured back to the A-frame neighborhood, but couldn't find anything that inspired me. There's a slough along the way that I like. I've photographed it in the winter many times, and couldn't resist another photo. I took another photo of the one lane bridge as I got close to it too. As you can see, our landscape is comprised of only four colors lately: black, white, blue and gray. I do look forward to spring and some color. My longing for spring is coming earlier this year. I suppose it's because I haven't been to any dogsled races and I don't feel very creative photographically.

moonrisemoonriseThe full moon was an awesome sight to see, especially as it rose so early in the afternoon. The sky was a medium blue, and the snow was blue with dusk. The moon shone brilliantly as it made its way over the horizon. I just had to pull off the road and snap a few photographs. It turns out I pulled off onto a 'no private vehicles allowed' road and ended up with a snowplow behind me. I couldn't turn around, so I had to keep going until I found a place to pull off. I thought I was going to get in trouble for trespassing, but such is the price of getting a good photograph. I didn't get in trouble; I just hurried up and got out of there!

Santa Claus checking his listCandy Cane LightpoleOn Friday, I drove around North Pole. A few online friends of mine have been asking me for photos of some of the North Pole sights. Some think it's pretty special that this town celebrates Christmas all year round. I personally don't pay too much attention to the little touches of 'Christmas' all over the place - except for at Christmastime. I suppose you just get used to seeing candy cane light poles and a 45' Santa Claus standing along the highway when you live here long enough.

I shot some landscapes too, and made it to the beautiful footbridge at the city park near the school. I've photographed the footbridge in every season, but this may have been my first time photographing it in the winter. (I'm not sure) I'm pleased with the way the photo turned out. It was a very serene, and lovely sight. Here are the rest of the photos I took while driving around North Pole:

There is a privacy about it which no other season gives you... In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself.
~ Ruth Stout ~

I've been spending my indoor days working on resizing photos for my Gallery. I will be revamping my Gallery site (hopefully soon) and removing some photos and replacing them with new photos. I've been getting quite a few emails from readers asking me when my prints will be available for purchase, and that's my New Years resolution this year.

I've been ordering prints for myself to see if the quality is good, and I've been pleased so far. My entire home will be filled with only my work (a direct order from Steve), and I've got a nice tall stairway to decorate, in addition to the walls. It's harder to choose photographs for the bedroom. I want landscapes, and my color scheme is maroons and browns. I've been sorting through my autumn photos in search of the perfect scenes. It's too bad I don't have a blue room. There are a lot of blue photos in winter.

The satellite dish guys came out today and got our TV up and running again. I don't know what the problem is with reception, but I'm glad it's working. Let's hope it continues! They gave us some vouchers for our trouble over the past few months. We can use them when we pay our bill, which is nice. At least we'll save a few bucks over the next few months.

Tomorrow is Brandon and Becky's fourth wedding anniversary! It's hard to believe that my "baby" has been married four years already. Time sure does fly. I remember the day he called me and told me he was getting married. It was the day before he shipped off to Iraq in 2003. He thought I'd be angry with him for doing something so sudden. He was only 19, and assumed I'd give him a hard time about getting married at such a young age. Under normal circumstances, I may have tried to discuss the seriousness of marriage with him. But he was heading off to war and he was in love. And anytime anyone goes off to war, there's the possibility that they won't come home. I wanted him to be happy. I wanted him to know that he had a wife waiting for him. I wanted him to be careful, and keep his spirits up; to daydream about, and plan homecoming. I believe that loving Becky, and knowing that she'd be waiting for him when he got home, is what got him through the deployment.

Of course, he didn't know that Becky would end up being shipped to Iraq. He found that out after the fact. He believed she was home here in the states, looking for an apartment for them to start their married life in. I'll never forget the phone call; the one when I had to tell him that his wife was over there too. I heard him sigh. And I heard the worry in his voice. I wished that I could take him in my arms and comfort him. I wished that I could guarantee that everything was going to be OK, but I couldn't. I was scared to death for the safety of my child. And I was scared for my new daughter in law too - a young woman I had never met, but who had won my son's heart.

Fortunately, they both returned safely from Iraq - a little worse for wear, but alive. And they did get the chance to set up their first home together, and adopt a puppy. *grin* And the more I got to know Becky, the more I liked her. The more I liked her, the more I loved her. She is a beautiful young woman, with a soft heart and a caring spirit. I couldn't have chosen a more perfect mate for my youngest son.

Happy Anniversary, Brandon and Becky! I love you both.

"Love one another and you will be happy. It's as simple and as difficult as that."
~ Michael Leunig ~

Wednesday, January 17th - Off to the races!

We continued with the terrible cold spell for a few days last week. It dropped to well below -30F, which kept me inside where it was warm. We also lost satellite reception when a tree became thick with snow and blocked our signal. (The never ending saga of Dish Network!) Nothing's worse than no television and being homebound. I've become quite spoiled by modern technology. Thank goodness the internet stayed up and running so I could find some bits of entertainment.

I took advantage of the frigid cold and lack of TV, by sorting through thousands of photos and resizing my favorites for printing. It was nice to look through hundreds of photos taken during the spring and fall. The colors were mood-lifting, after seeing nothing but black and white and gray for what seems like ages. I always feel this way in the early part of the year, and fortunately activities around town kick off and keep my spirits up.

Musher and teamHappy huskyThis past Sunday, Steve took me to Mushers Headquarters to watch the Annamaet Challenge Series Race #2. This race was originally scheduled for back in December, but was postponed due to lack of snow and frigid weather. They're trying to play catch up now, and there are races scheduled for just about every weekend from here on out.

It was an overcast day - not the best for getting good photos. Those few that didn't turn out blurry, were much too dark for my liking. I had to take them into my editing program and adjust the levels and brightness. This made them much too grainy for my liking. They look OK for web posting, but they're not good enough quality for printing. I'm hoping that future races will take place under sunny blue skies.

Here are a few from Sunday morning:

Blue eyes Dogs and truck Two dog skijorer Musher and team
Two teams in the final stretch Mushing in the trees Hurry up and let us go! Excited racers!

I met a new friend last week. I originally met Dawn online. She and her family came to Fort Wainwright back in October. Her husband is also a soldier. We finally met each other in real life and had lunch at The Cookie Jar. Conversation flowed easily, which was very nice. Dawn was born and raised in Plymouth, MA (her husband was also born in that area). She told me that it was nice to hear a 'northern' accent again. I really didn't think I had my northern accent any longer - especially after spending 12 years in the southeast - but I suppose my visit home in August and September, and being around 'Philly people' brought it out again.

This past week has been a rough one for me in regards to insomnia. I've been having a really hard time staying asleep. Falling asleep has never been a huge problem, but if I wake up in the middle of the night, I can't go back to sleep. This happens for two or three days in a row, and then I'll have a really long power sleep of 8-10 hours. I've taken Ambien, Melatonin, Unisom, etc and they might work the first night, but don't work the second. Perhaps I just don't need any more than 4-5 hours sleep a night? I don't feel tired during the day, although there are times I do feel like I could take a nap. The funny thing is that most people have a problem sleeping in the summer (with all the light), and go into hibernation mode in winter. I guess I'm the opposite. The sun can shine in my eyes, and I have no problem sleeping.

A huge shipment of my photos got lost in the mail. The company is sending replacement prints, but I'm very perturbed that the first shipment was lost. I tracked the shipment online, and it was signed into the Fairbanks Main PO on January 4th. Here it is 13 days later and still no sign of them. The delays in getting mail in and out of Alaska can be so ridiculous sometimes, and run very smoothly others. I just don't get it. How can a package take only 2 days to get from California to Fairbanks, and then take 8 days to get from Fairbanks to North Pole? Or disappear completely? Aggravating!

I'm going to work on more photos today, and then hopefully post an updated page of photos I currently have available for enlargement. I hope to get this page up over the next few days. My sister-in-love, Diane is looking for a photograph to hang over her fireplace in her newly remodeled family room. I hope she finds one in the group.

Wednesday, January 24th - Snowscapes

I have been diligently working away on my photos; resizing them for prints. Slowly but surely, I'm getting everything ready to update my Gallery page. That's what has kept me away from this journal for so long. I haven't spent too much time out with my camera. It's been cold, and pretty much dreary - with gray skies contributing to the monochromatic landscape. However, there have been days when I woke to glorious cobalt blue skies which set off the snow covered trees quite beautifully.

Chena Lakes Rec Area WinterOn Monday, I decided to take advantage of those blue skies and take a short drive to Chena Lakes Rec Area. (The photo at left, is a pano I shot of the frozen lake and two storage buildings. I like the sign on the building to the right. It says: Life Jackets required at all times. How funny!)

In the winter, the park is used for mushing, snowshoeing, snowmachining, and cross-country skiing. The frozen lake is a popular place to set up an 'ice fishing house' and do some fishing. In the summer, the park comes alive with the laughter and squeals of children as they splash in the lake, or kayakers as they make their way through the smooth water. Families can camp here, or have a barbecue. There are paths for walking and biking. Last summer, there was even a grizzly spotted in the park.

I didn't go too far, but I took Sedona along for company. She's grown quite accustomed to going 'bye bye' with me and jumps at the chance for a car ride. I snapped a few photos on the way back to the house and after we got home, so you can see how pretty it looks here when the sun is shining, and the skies are clear.

Steve's been very hard at work doing inventory. This is one of the tasks he has to complete before he retires. He's been responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment and office supplies, etc. and he has the tedious chore of accounting for each and every item, before signing the stuff over to the new soldier in charge. He's been under a lot of stress lately - even more so than he was during the homecomings in November and December. He's looking forward to the day when he has no other responsibility than to 'take up space' as his time winds down.

He should be going on terminal leave in mid May. Terminal leave is for the purpose of using up all of your leave hours before you get out of the military. His final day will be July 31st. He'll have served for one week more than 23 years by then. I think he's done his share for our country.

As these final weeks have become more and more stressful, Steve's feeling much more secure in his decision to retire. Perhaps he'd feel different if he was a 'traditional' soldier - a man or woman who entered the military right out of high school. But he didn't join until he was nearly 30. He's 52 years old and, while he's in great shape for a man his age, he's starting to notice a lot of new aches and pains. Ahhh, the joys of aging!

Steve's considering taking the summer off before he looks for another job. He'd like to work on Fort Wainwright or Eielson AFB - in a civilian position, doing military work, because that's what he is familiar with. The subject of taking off for the summer has been discussed briefly, but a final decision hasn't been made yet. Financially, it's doable. But Steve's worried that he'll miss an opportunity for good employment if he doesn't go in search of a job before August. I do understand his concern, but I also believe that it would be in his best interest to take several months off to 'decompress' after so many years of military service. Who knows when he'll have this opportunity again? I just want him to have the opportunity to relax for a change. He certainly deserves it.

Wednesday, January 31st - Anniversaries, Weather Warm-ups, Friends, and Drives
Mom and Dad Wedding photoHappy 48th Anniversary, Mom and Dad

Today my parents would be married forty eight years. I miss them both so terribly, but there is also a part of me that is thankful that they are together again - for eternity.

"Love is something eternal; the aspect may change, but not the essence."
~ Vincent Van Gogh ~

MINUS 29FThis past week has been absolutely gorgeous! The sun has come out nearly everyday, and the temperature has risen to above zero. Last week (Thursday), it was nearly -30F and the next day it went to 21 ABOVE! The photo at right is the thermometer I bought Steve for Christmas so he could see with a glance, how cold it was outside. We've since moved it to a place on the front porch. As you can see, it was showing a frigid -29F last week.

With the arrival of practically 'spring' warmth, the entire town seemed to come alive with people who were willing to leave their homes and venture out into the sunshine. I know I took advantage of it!

Me and the gals at lunchOn Friday, I met some friends at Boston's for lunch. It was wonderful to finally meet an online friend in person. Abby is quite outgoing and sweet, and I hope we'll continue to spend time together. The rest of the gals and I had a great time talking, eating, and laughing. We spent two hours at the restaurant.

Later that evening, Steve and I went to the Fairbanks Funny Festival with James and Rachael. The Funny Festival gives locals the opportunity to get up in front of an audience and do stand-up comedy. For a week prior, they train with a professional (in this case, John DiCrosta). After the 'amateurs' did their thing, John got up and entertained us with his zany sense of humor. I haven't laughed like that in ages! If he ever comes to a venue near you, go out and see him. You won't be disappointed.

Saturday started off sunny, so Steve and I decided to take a drive up the Steese Highway to Davidson Ditch in the White Mountain Rec Area. The skies didn't stay sunny, unfortunately. The further up the highway we got, the more gray the day became. It was a lovely and relaxing drive, but I didn't get any photographs that I felt were worth posting.

Murphy Dome SummitInstead of coming straight back to the house, we diverted up to the top of Murphy Dome. I haven't been to Murphy Dome since last April when Steve was home on R&R from Iraq. As we drove up the winding road to the summit, the temperature gauge in the car climbed higher and higher. It read 26F above zero at the top. Trucks and trailers (for snowmachines) were parked everywhere, so we knew the trails were going to be busy. We opened the door, and stepped out into some very strong winds. Despite the 26F temperature, the wind made it feel like it was below zero.

Huskies on Murphy DomeWe only managed to walk a short distance, before turning around and rushing back to the truck and some warmth. However, we did come across a team of dogs that were running loose while their musher lashed his sled to the roof of his truck. They were a friendly bunch and came over to say hello to us. Patting their heads and seeing their excitement gives me the urge to add another dog to our family. (Steve says one is enough!).

Mid Day MoonAll day long, the moon hung over us in the sky. It seemed brighter than ever, and as the sun made its way down towards the horizon, it glowed even more brightly in the mid-day sky. When we arrived home, I put my long lens on my camera and set it up on the tripod to try to capture the moon. I had never photographed the moon during the day, but I'm pleased with the result. (I had to adjust the photo a little bit to bring definition back to the craters)

On Sunday morning, after a very restful nights sleep (a rarity for me during the winter), I met Rachael and her furkids at the campground on post. It has been a while since we've gone walking, and we were looking forward to getting some exercise. We decided that we're going to try to get back into a routine - especially if the daytime temps stay above zero.

Moose in yardOn Monday morning, I got dressed for our morning walk, and opened the vertical blinds on the sliding glass doors, as I always do. Much to my surprise, there was a huge cow moose napping in the rear of our yard! I immediately grabbed my camera and zoom lens and went out into the yard to get some photos. She heard me come outside and turned her face to look at me. Her snout was covered in snow. Either she was napping with her face under the snow, or she had knocked some off the trees as she made her way through the woods.

I squeezed off about five photos before she became tired of my presence, got to her feet, and lumbered off into the woodline. But she was my first moose sighting in the yard, since we moved in back in November! Last week, I saw hoof prints crossing my driveway, and that got me excited, but actually seeing her in the yard was even better. I hope she comes back again soon.

I can't believe January is over already. The month flew by for me, and I'm grateful. I've been so antsy for spring (even though it's still three or more months away for us), but the days are gradually getting longer. We have almost 9 hours of visible light now, and we're gaining nearly 7 minutes each day.

I'd like to work on a few flower beds this summer. Steve says we can't plant grass yet, because he wants to thin out the woodline around the house and remove all the dead fall and skinny saplings first. If we grow grass, he'll end up tearing it all out as he drags the logs and twigs across the yard. This means both yards will be a muddy mess come 'break-up'. I am not looking forward to that at all! He did say I would be able to at least start my border beds with flowers. I hope my thumb proves to be green.

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©2007 Susan L Stevenson