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Wednesday, November 2nd - Dipping below zero

Well, it looks like winter has definitely arrived. While we haven't had much snow - just a few flurries here and there - the thermometer has plummeted to below zero. I discovered this the hard way on Monday. I took Sedona out for her morning walk and was dressed warmly: fleece vest, Steve's arctic jacket, wool socks, scarf and gloves. However, I wasn't wearing any long underwear. Halfway through our walk, I noticed my legs were really starting to tingle with the cold. Then I glanced down at Sedona and she had stopped and was looking up at me with plaintive eyes. Her front paw was lifted from the snow. I knew then that it was colder than it had been.

When I got into the house, the first thing I did was look online at Weather Underground (which is where I got the info above), and I saw that it was -9F. Well, no wonder we were both so cold! I pulled down my long underwear from the top of my closet where it had been stored. I'll be getting a lot of use out of it over the next several months.

Rachael and I went back to the dog park on Monday. (We were both dressed for it!) The place was deserted when we got there, which was just perfect. Sedona and Stryker play pretty well together. At least well enough that we don't worry they're going to kill each other or rip each other from limb to limb!

Stryker's only a pup and has the energy of an entire pack of dogs. Sedona, at almost 10, is one heck of a sprinter, but doesn't keep up that energy level for too long. The two of them enjoyed running lose around the park, chasing each other and playing. Then, when I got home, Sedona slept for hours.

Today I had an appointment with a woman (also a friend) who hired me to do a website for her business. It's a small job, but something I enjoy doing. And earning some money freelancing is always nice too. I'm still working on my photo gallery as I prepare to 'open for business'. It's a lot of work, and I'm still indexing photos that I'm going to offer for sale. I'm glad I'm not working outside the home, as I spend a lot of time each day on it.

Communication with Steve is ongoing. While there are times when I might not hear from him for a day or two, we're fortunate to have fairly regular conversations and/or webcam opportunities. It really helps to see his face, even if the quality of the picture isn't the best. I can still see his face and his smile. And I can still see his eyes shine with love when he talks to me. And that's all that matters.

It's hard to believe it's November already. Where did the year go? While I don't want to rush my life away, I do hope that the next ten months pass quickly. I can't wait to hold my husband in my arms again.

No sun — no morn! No morn! No noon
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds, November!
~ Thomas Hood ~

Friday, November 4th - Northern Lights and the Flu Bug

Wednesday night, just after making my last update, I took Sedona our for a short walk. Our walks will continue to get shorter and shorter as it gets colder. I glanced up into the night sky and was happy to see the stars twinkling above. It's amazing how clear you can see the constellations. The Big Dipper is always visible on a clear night, and it's huge - much bigger than what I remember as a child.

A faint light caught my eye. Could it be? Were the lights out? A pale green band of color waved across the sky. At first I thought I was imagining things, and that the discoloration was only clouds moving above. And then they gradually grew brighter. Of course I rushed back into the house for my tripod and camera!

(Click to Enlarge)
 

In the top photo, you can see the Big Dipper in the sky above my yard. I love the way the waves of light span the entire sky. It's always such an amazing thing to witness, and if not for the fact that my fingertips were starting to burn, I would have stood out there for the entire show.

What I like about the second photo, is that you can see the steam rising out of my neighbors' homes from their dryer vents. Obviously, tending to laundry in the evening is a common thing. The way the steam curls over the houses is a nice contrast to the green streaks in the night sky above.

The bottom photo is more of a close-up of the houses in my neighborhood. I like to capture photos of lit up windows and dancing lights. Someday, I'd like to be in a place where there is a lone cabin or house, with lit up windows, under a colorful auroral sky.

On another note... it seems I've caught the flu bug that's been making the rounds in town. I have a few friends with sick children, and I was exposed to them. I've been paying for it for the last two days with a fever and sore throat. Today the fever has gone down slightly, but I've practically lost my voice. I hope I shake this soon...

Wednesday, November 9th - Still shaking the flu bug, snowy scenes, and sun dogs

What a miserable last couple of days I've had. Fortunately I survived the fever, chills, and sore throat. But the lingering effects - croupy cough, stuffed up nose, impaired sense of smell, and raspy voice - don't seem to want to move on to someone else's house. :)

Despite feeling horrible, I had to tend to errands on Saturday, so I got myself dressed, dosed up on some cold meds and antibiotics, and headed out the door. My first stop was the post office to get three care packages sent off to Steve. One box had a velour blanket in it, and another had one of his sweatsuits in it. Steve said the weather is getting cooler in Iraq now - especially at night - and he needed a blanket. The one I chose is very soft and comfortable. I know he'll love it.

 

The temperature here in Fairbanks dipped to well below zero - MINUS 18F on Saturday. On the way back from the post office, I stopped at the boat ramp behind Pioneer Park (where I photographed the ducks) because I could see hoarfrost coating everything and wanted to take some photos. It was brutally cold, and I wasn't dressed appropriately since my plan was to go from the truck to the post office and back again - and not to take a walk along the river. I hurriedly snapped a few photos and then ran back to the truck to warm my fingers. Even in gloves, my fingertips were burning with the cold. Brrrrrr!

 
 

I stopped again behind the Carlson Center to take a photo of the steaming Chena River. I think it's beautiful when it's so cold that the river gives off wisps of steam and fog. The sun was shining strong overhead, which made the scene even more beautiful.

As I got nearer to post, I noticed sun dogs flanking the sun. Sun dogs (Parahelia), also called mock suns, are colored, luminous spots caused by the refraction of light by ice crystals in the atmosphere. These bright spots form in the solar halo at points that are 22 degrees on either side of the sun and at the same elevation as the sun. I read somewhere that Native Alaskans believe that a sun dog is a good predictor of snow, and that snow will fall within three days. We did have flurries the next day - but we need a lot more snow to make this truly feel like winter.

 
 

Later on Saturday evening, I went out shopping with my friend Rachael. We stopped at the Chena River bridge near our neighborhood to take some photos of the river. Every hour it seems that the visible river narrows more and more as ice claims the water. I posted THIS PHOTO of the Chena River on October 30th. This past Saturday (the 5th), at sunset, I snapped the two photos to the left. It always amazes me to see 'Old Man Winter' take hold of my surroundings - and so quickly!

On Sunday, I went out to breakfast with the girls. Going to The Cookie Jar for an omelet on Sunday morning has become one of my favorite things to look forward to, and a way to celebrate getting one week closer to being reunited with Steve. Unfortunately, I couldn't enjoy breakfast, as I had totally lost my sense of smell. Every bite had absolutely no taste. I only got halfway through my meal before totally giving up.

After breakfast, we went to UAF to attend the holiday craft fair being hosted there. One of the vendors had scented candles. I couldn't smell a thing. She offered me a bag of peppermint potpourri to see if that would clear my head. I still couldn't smell a thing. It was very disconcerting and not something I'd like to have as a permanent affliction. Fortunately, my sense of smell is returning. It's not completely back yet, but I can at least smell my coffee in the morning.

 
 

On Monday, I just needed to get out for a drive. I decided to drive about 30 miles up Chena Hot Springs Rd. in search of moose. I picked up my friend Nik and her daughter Neena (who fortunately is no longer sick!) for company. Nik was in dire need of adult conversation, and Neena needed the truck ride to be lulled to sleep. While we didn't see any moose, I did stop at Rosehip Campground and took a few photos of the river from one of the campsites. I converted the photos to Black & White, because, frankly - in winter - the landscape is devoid of color. When the skies are gray, even more so

Yesterday was a lazy day for me. I didn't go to class because my constant nose-blowing would have been a total distraction to the rest of the students, and I'm still not feeling 100% myself. I have a portrait project due in that class, so I'll probably go up to campus tomorrow and use the studio.

I got to IM (Instant Message) and webcam with Steve this morning. He was in a really down mood. I hated seeing the sadness in his eyes. My attempts at cheering him up didn't work, although I was thrilled to see him smile slightly on two occasions. *sigh* It's very difficult for us to be separated - particularly when one of us is sick, or sad. The urge to hold each other is intense, and not being able to do that is frustrating. We're 76 days into this. Only about 290 to go. At least we're below 300 days now.

Sunday, November 13th - Friends and Photos

It is the end of another week. This past week really has flown by, as usual. It's so hard to believe that time can pass so quickly. I'm not complaining, as every week that goes by is one week closer to being reunited with Steve. However, the quick passage of time also doesn't seem to give me much time to take care of the things I need to do before Christmas comes. I still need to do my Christmas newsletters for my family, and I have a bunch of cards I need to send out to friends in all corners of the country and world. Somehow I will get it all completed, but I will also be stressed out until it gets done! Typical...

On Thursday, I took a drive with Rachael to a local park on Chena Pump Rd. I periodically visit this park to take photos of the 'house on the hill'. This house is perched high up on the side of a cliff overlooking the river. I imagine the family who lives in it must absolutely love the view from the deck. Who wouldn't? I'm sure that sunsets and aurora displays are breathtaking from such a vantage point. Rachael and I happened to arrive at the park as the sun was heading down. The orange bands of light were a perfect backdrop to the house in silhouette.

Yesterday morning, I met up with Rachael for an early morning latte and then a trip to the newest stores in Fairbanks. While I'm not a shopaholic, the grand opening of new shops always creates a stir up here. There are those who get excited over the additional choices for 'retail therapy', and just as many who hate to see Fairbanks leave the old prospecting town feel behind and move into the world of big business. I personally lean more toward the latter. While I do enjoy a broader range of retail facilities, if they were all to disappear someday, it wouldn't break my heart.

After spending the morning lightening my wallet a little *grin*, I drove to the local Denny's to meet up with some members of the Alaska Living group. I hadn't seen most of them in a long time - perhaps even a year or so. Way too much time has passed, and I hope that we don't have to wait that long to see each other again. Jan (a musher) was there. Georganne (a doula) also came, and brought her daughter with her. Moe and Charles came, with their three wonderful children. Carmen and Gip came - their first time meeting the others. And Jean (a Celtic fiddler and music teacher) also came, but unfortunately couldn't stay long because she had a class to attend. I really hope we do this again soon, as there is so much more I'd love to talk about. Next time, I'll have better control of my raspy voice (the last side effect from my bout with the flu) and it won't hurt so much to talk.

After meeting the group for lunch, I came home and picked up Rachael and we drove up to UAF to attend military appreciation day at the museum. While the traditional Alaska exhibits haven't changed much, the building itself is absolutely beautiful and quite modern. In addition, a special exhibition was in town called "Light Motifs". American Impressionist paintings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art were on display. I hope that these special exhibits will continue to be hosted at the museum, as they would certainly encourage more people to visit.

On the way home from the museum, the sky was already growing dusky as the sun fell below the horizon. A light pink band of color hung below the cyan blue of late afternoon sky. The moon was bright white and hung low. It was a beautiful composition of pastel color and I wanted to capture it with my camera. Instead of heading straight home, I continued to the golf course on post where I could stop the truck and shoot the moon with trees in the foreground. Moonlight and snow are a wonderful combination.

And then - to add even more magic to the evening - the northern lights put on a beautiful show over my house. The didn't do much 'dancing', but instead formed a huge arc over the neighborhood. It was an odd display as they weren't visible anywhere else in the sky. I grabbed my camera, set it up quickly on the tripod, threw on my coat, and took off for the yard. I stood out there for about 30 minutes, shooting, before they began to fade.

I was happy with the clarity of these photos, and especially the visual shade of purple beneath the band of green. I can't wait until the lights decide to come out for a longer performance - and I'm awake to witness it. I'd really love to drive somewhere that's higher in elevation to get photographs. Ideally, Esther Dome - but I'd settle for Birch Hill.

I got an email from Steve this morning with some photos attached. He had the opportunity to visit one of the other FOBs (Forward Operating Base) where my friends' husbands are based. He got to see Rachael's husband James and chat for about 15 minutes, as well as LuAnn's husband Ken. I love it when emails come with photographs. It is so wonderful to see Steve's face, even though the photos make me miss him even more.

I know it was a real morale booster for him to talk to the others. I can tell by the smile on his face that he was enjoying himself. I'm glad.

Wednesday, November 16th - Mars & the Moon, Booties & Frost, and finally Snow

On Monday, I ran errands all day with Rachael. We finished our husbands' Christmas stockings on Sunday night and needed some last minute trips to Walmart to pick up some candy and other goodies before we could ship them off. Not only did I put some 'gourmet' Kisses in his stocking (mint and cherry cordial), but I also bought some smoked salmon and gourmet crackers to go with the salmon. He loves to eat salmon on crackers and I hope that he's happy with his gift. I also bought a few more DVDs out of the Walmart discount bin to keep him entertained.

Here is the stocking that I made for Steve for Christmas. (Click on image at left for enlargement) I thought that the camouflage fleece, with moose silhouettes was an appropriate choice - *cute*, but manly. I hope that when Steve hangs it up in his room, he'll look at it and think of me. The finishing touch on the stocking was a label (at right) that said perfectly how I felt while I was sewing the stocking. It's just a small piece of home, but in addition to candy and gifts - it is filled with love.

The frigid weather continues, and it has finally reached the point where Sedona has to wear her booties if I take her on walks. Letting her run out in the yard quickly is one thing, but the minute we go more than a block away, she starts lifting her feet from the snow and looking up at me with plaintive eyes. Poor baby! Her paw pads are starting to get a little rough too, and soon I'll be putting moisturizer on her feet every couple of days to keep them from chapping and splitting. I managed to find her booties from last year, so she doesn't need a new set. That's a surprise, as she is notorious for losing one over the course of the winter (or eating one as a display of rebellion!). I have no clue why she thinks fleece is good to eat, but she's ingested three booties since we got here in 2003.

On a recent walk, the temperature was -15F, but windchill put it at -25F. Despite my long underwear, my legs were burning with cold by the time I got home. I wore a scarf wrapped around my lower face, to not only protect my nose and mouth, but to warm the air before I sucked it into my lungs. Breathing frigid air always causes me to have an asthma attack. Not a pleasant thing.

The warmth of my breath caused condensation on my hair, which then proceeded to frost over. I just had to take a photo share with Steve. When I sent it to him, he actually told me he missed the Alaska winter. Silly man. *grin* Actually, I know he was really referring to the beautiful white landscape of winter and not necessarily temperatures in the negatives.

On another note... if you follow space news, you know that Mars has been visible in the night sky. I saw the bright light of the planet on the way back from shopping two nights ago. At first I thought it was a plane, but then I realized the light wasn't moving. In fact, the light was staying in the same position in the sky (relative to the nearly full moon). So I set up tripod, put my 100-400mm zoom lens on and tried to capture the sight. I would have loved to have had a telescope! I did manage to catch the bright star-like quality of the planet, but nothing more than that. While I was out there, I decided to shoot the moon too.

We have been lamenting about the fact that there has been very little snow here in Fairbanks. I am looking forward to hitting the tubing hill when it opens. If it would snow the way it's *supposed* to, the hill would have opened a week or so ago. What a delight to see thick, huge flakes falling from the sky tonight. It's warmed up a bit too (necessary for snow), so I went out in the backyard with Sedona to play (and take photos). I love the way the snow looks when it coats the world with a layer of white. If it's not too slippery tomorrow, I'd like to go out for a drive and get some more pictures.

Tuesday, November 22nd - Another Casualty, Snow, Ice Towers, & Broken Laptops

Hello all. Yes, I know it's been a while. The latest 'drama' in my life is having my laptop go belly up on me. Which is why you haven't heard from me. I can't get past the opening Windows XP window, but fortunately the network still recognizes it, so I was able to move photos and files from it to the PC hard drive (To include this website's files) A very time-consuming job and one I'm still not finished with. I want to make sure I get everything I need before I attempt a reformat and reinstall of the operating system. If that doesn't work, it looks like I'll be shopping for a new laptop. Oh joy...


There has been more sad news on the Stryker Brigade front. We lost another soldier on Saturday. This is our fourth casualty in five weeks. This death hit me a lot harder - not because I knew him personally - but because he was about the same age as my son. I can't even imagine what his mother is going through right now. All those fears and worries I had when Brandon was over there came flooding back. I am so thankful my son came home to me.

Soldier killed in Mosul ambush

The Associated Press
Published: November 20, 2005
Last Modified: November 20, 2005 at 04:18 PM

VILLA PARK, Ill. (AP) - A 21-year-old man who proposed to his high school sweetheart while on leave from the Army earlier this month has been killed in Iraq.

Pvt. Christopher Alcozer of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team was killed Saturday when his patrol was ambushed by insurgents using small arms and hand grenades in the northern Iraq city of Mosul, according to the Army.

Alcozer, a 2003 graduate of Willowbrook High School in Villa Park, became engaged to his girlfriend of nearly three years while he was visiting her at Northern Illinois University during a recent trip home, his mother, Kathleen Alcozer, said Sunday.

"He proposed out there - badly from what she said," Alcozer said. "He was just nervous I guess. He was 21, what do you expect?"

Christopher Alcozer joined the Army in January. He was stationed at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, and shipped out to Iraq in August, his mother said. Alcozer was part of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment.

Alcozer was in the school orchestra and on the wrestling team all four years during high school, his mother said. He played the viola and hoped to return to college after his time in the Army to study education and music, possibly to become a music teacher, she said.

Alcozer joined the Army because "he said it would make him a man" and felt strongly about serving his country, his mother said. Kathleen Alcozer said she is opposed to the war, which led to "lively discussions" with her son.

"But I was always ready to support my child. And now I have to bury my child," she said. "There's just no words."

Twelve soldiers were injured in Saturday's attack, four of them seriously, according to the Army. Alcozer is the fourth member of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team to die in Iraq over the past five weeks.

The snow has been falling steadily and I've had to shovel more than a few times over the last week. I picked up some arctic ice melt from the Self Help store here on post and that's been helping to keep the driveway free of ice. When the driveway ices up, I have the hardest time getting the truck into the garage. Just the slightest incline causes me to slip and slide, despite using 4WD. Fortunately, it's working well. Once it gets really cold, the snow will stop falling. But we've got a long way to go, if this winter is going to be like the last few. There's hardly any accumulation out there.

I like to take Sedona on walks in the snow. The world is so quiet and the snow makes a marvelous crunching sound under my boots. When the sun is shining, there is 'fairy dust' on the snow - glittering sparkles that make the scene look even more magical. I do love the winter here, despite the brutal temperatures and monochromatic colors. The photo at left is of the bike path which runs behind my house and goes through little bits of woodline before continuing to other parts of the neighborhood. This little stretch of treeline has been a favorite place of mine to take photos - in every season. Even though the houses are close, I can imagine I'm in the middle of a great woods when I'm on this stretch of path.

 
 

I've been staying really busy as I prepare for my trip to Wisconsin to see my kids. I'm so excited about spending time with them. It will be good for me to get away from Fairbanks for a couple of weeks and be with family for Christmas. While I'll be missing Steve with every ounce of my being at this time of year, being with my boys (and my beautiful daughter in law) will bring lots of good cheer. I'm looking forward to spoiling them (and I bet they are too), eating in some of my favorite restaurants - restaurants you won't find in Fairbanks - and doing a little shopping too. I'd like to see if I can find a gown while I'm there. I'm almost certain we'll have a Redeployment Ball when the guys get home next August and I'll need something to wear. There aren't many places here to buy a formal, and the ones that are here are just way too expensive.

I'll be boarding Sedona, but she'll be in a run right next to Stryker (Rachael's lab). We joke and say they are *boyfriend and girlfriend*, but I think that both of them will be a little calmer with a familiar fuzzy face next to them. At least I'm hoping so. My furry feline, Airborne, will be left in the house alone, but my friend Dianne is going to stop by periodically and check on her. Airborne has been left alone before and survives. Well, except for the way that she snubs us for a few days to show her displeasure at us leaving her.

My photojournalism class is winding down now. I still have several projects to turn in before the end. I have a portfolio and a photo essay due, as well as a winter feature and my studio portrait. A lot of work to be done in a short amount of time. I have an idea for my photo essay: "The impact of new restaurants on Fairbanks' original eateries". I also have a back-up photo essay idea - simple, but at least will qualify: "The Kid's Workshop at Home Depot". Marcella runs that and said I could come by and take photos.

I went out driving with Rachael a few nights ago. I wanted to get photos of the lights on Birch Hill. It looks so pretty with the dark sky above it and the lit up houses in front of it. I'm trying to teach Rachael how to use the different features on her camera. The night we shot Birch Hill, neither of us had our tripods - not a good thing for night shooting. I can boost my ISO settings enough to get an OK shot without a tripod, but she didn't have any luck. On the way home from the hill, we noticed amazing light pillars shooting up into the sky.

 
 

From THIS SITE:

Columns of light apparently beaming directly upwards from unshielded (and wastefully polluting) lights are sometimes visible during very cold weather. Plate shaped ice crystals, normally only present in high clouds, float in the air close to the ground and their horizontal facets reflect light back downwards. The pillars are not physically over the lights or anywhere else in space for that matter ~ like all halos they are purely the collected light beams from all the millions of crystals which just happen to be reflecting light towards your eyes or camera.

Yesterday, Rachael and I had a craving for an omelet at 3pm in the afternoon, so off we went to "The Cookie Jar". But I decided to detour up the Steese Highway to take a few photos of the new Ice Wall. The Ice Wall has been constructed each winter since 2003-2004 by the Alaskan Alpine Club. My photojournalism instructor told us that this year, two towers are being constructed and I wanted to see them as they grow. You can read more about this year's towers here.

(Click to enlarge image to 800pixels wide) It will be interesting to watch the progress of these 'sculptures' over the next few months - especially as we fall into temperatures which are much more *normal* for this time of year.

Before I end this entry, I wanted to wish all of my American readers a Happy Thanksgiving. I'll be spending my Thanksgiving with my friend Nik and her children, as well as my friends Susan and Marcella (and Butch - Susan's FIL) at Nik's house. With the guys gone, we all thought it would be nice to eat with each other and try to have some semblance of 'family' around us. Nik is graciously hosting the dinner (and doing most of the work), while the rest of us are bringing a side dish and appetites. I'm looking forward to it and will surely have photos to share later.

Thursday, November 24th - Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope you all had a marvelous day today, surrounded by those you love, a huge bounty of food, and good cheer.

Dinner at Nik's house was delicious and filling. She really worked hard to prepare a nice meal for all of us. On the menu was a turkey (of course!), mashed potatoes and gravy, broccoli and cheese, dinner rolls, salad, corn, and deviled eggs. She also made a huge crock pot of apple cider with cinnamon. It was delicious and really took the chill out of my bones.

There was a slight change of plans. Marcella canceled this morning. She wasn't feeling up to company, as she was in a downer of a mood. I hope she's feeling better now.

I was pleasantly surprised to see my friend Nina and her two boys in attendance. That was a last minute thing too, but it all worked out well. The kids entertained themselves playing after we ate, while the adults sat and chatted. I took a few photos, but wasn't really in the mood to play photographer. All of us were missing the one thing that would make us truly thankful on Thanksgiving - our husbands.

 

I got to talk to Steve this morning for about 30 minutes. He didn't get online until nearly 10pm his time and was exhausted. I was feeling a little under the weather - not because of a virus, but because I indulged in a few gin and tonics at a comedy show we attended here on Post last night. I know now why I don't drink cheap alcohol. It tasted horrible, and I was so sick when I got up this morning, that I thought I was going to miss out on Thanksgiving dinner. Fortunately, I was able to get down a mug of chicken bouillon and I immediately felt better. Thank goodness!

Steve had a Thanksgiving meal today too. He said there was a huge spread of food, including ham and turkey, as well as all the side dishes and desserts. The soldiers were each assigned a time to dine, and had 45 minutes to fill up their plates and eat. He complained about how full he was, and I jokingly asked to see his belly (we were webcamming). You better believe he had overeaten! I'm happy to know that Steve is eating well, even though he wishes he could take off a few pounds. It doesn't matter to me. I like him just the way he is.

When I woke this morning and looked out the window - the first thing I do every morning - I saw that we'd gotten several more inches of snow. The day was gray, but the snow looked brilliant and pure and clean. I wasn't happy about the fact that I had to shovel again. But thankfully the snow is dry and light. Shoveling 5 inches of powder isn't hard at all. The challenge is figuring out where to put it. I only have a small plot of grass between the two driveways, and that's getting pretty tall already. Last winter, it was about 5 feet high! For those of you who don't live in Alaska - or in a place with weather like Alaska, the snow doesn't go away. It comes in October or November and stays until April or early May. It does settle a bit as you pile more snow on top of it, but generally you better find a place to put the snow you're shoveling or you're going to surround yourself with huge walls. When the snowplows come down the street, they move all the snow to the 'guest parking pad' right next to our house. The piles get so high, the littler kids use it as a sledding hill. I certainly miss Steve a lot when I'm out there moving snow, that's for sure.

Sunset, when the sky is clear, has been amazing lately. On Tuesday, after leaving class, I was greeted with an awesome display of orange and reds just above the horizon. I decided to drive the longer way home and stop off at Creamers Field to see if I could get photos of the sunset with interesting foreground. I drove down to the farmhouse and as I was making my U-turn to come back out to the road, I came upon this scene. The photograph doesn't do it justice. I could have stood there forever watching the sky change colors. But my fingertips were freezing and I wasn't dressed to be outdoors for too long.

Before I end this entry, I just want to tell everyone how lucky I am to have made the friends I have here in Alaska. I have never felt more at home in a community, than I do here. I have never felt so much warmth and caring extended toward me in any other place I've lived. I have had some very emotional days over the last three months, and I don't think I would have gotten through them so quickly without my friends here. And not just my military friends either. I have made some fabulous friends outside the military community too. My friends here are like family to me. I wouldn't be able to get through this deployment without their support. I can't imagine being anywhere else but here - especially during this time in my life. On this Thanksgiving Day, even though my heart is sad because the love of my life is far away, it is also full of joy because of my friends. I am truly blessed.

Tuesday, November 29th - Frozen Tundra, Wet Hair, Beautiful Sunrises

Winter has definitely arrived here in Fairbanks - and the plummeting temperatures are positively invigorating! Yesterday we went as low as -35F. That's the kind of air that sears your lungs when you take your first breath. And freezes wet hair within minutes. Yes, I tested that theory the other day.

My hair was freshly washed and Sedona started whining to go out for her morning walk. Since it was so cold, I knew our walk would be a short one. I put on her booties, threw on a coat and gloves, etc... but not my hat. It was about -25F out when we headed outside. By this time, the front of my hair was basically dry, but long strands at the back of my head were still damp. As we were walking down the path, I reached up to move my hair back over my shoulder. It was frozen! It felt like broom straw and each strand was stiff as could be. When I held it up, it stood straight out. As soon as I got home, I got my camera ready and took a photo of it. (You can see Sedona sitting in the background guarding the house) Some people have told me that hair will break off when it freezes, but I remember reading on line somewhere that it's a fallacy. However, since I don't want to lose big chunks of my hair, I didn't stay out in the cold too long. Once I got inside, it thawed out perfectly.

Sunrise comes much later now. The astronomy charts say that officially sunrise is somewhere around 10:15am, but the sun takes its time coming over the horizon and rising into the sky. On a clear day, the sky will turn many beautiful shades of yellow, red, pink, and orange for a fairly long period of time as the sun moves up over the horizon. The same is true for sunset, when the sun slowly dips below the horizon, but leaves a wake of color in its path. Winter does have its precious moments, and the beginning and end of day are two of them.

Two mornings ago, as I chatted with Steve online, I watched the sky turn from various shades of gray to gorgeous stripes of red and yellow as the sun rose over the neighborhood. First the sky brightened with the light itself, lending a bluish-gray cast to the snow. The moon was still visible above the treeline, a crescent shape reflecting the light of a new day.

 
 

And then the sky began to change colors. The orange ball of the sun, threw light up over the horizon. It seemed to part the gray and blue clouds, pushing them aside and making way for a new day. I stood mesmerized in my upstairs window, shooting a few frames here and there - wanting to capture the beauty. It was 11:30am. Nearly noon and yet the world was just 'waking up'. Mind you, the residents of Fairbanks are "up and at 'em" just like the rest of the world - but we do our waking up in the dark when it's winter. There's something quite amazing about enjoying lunch and watching a brilliant sunrise. I could never grow tired of it.

Once the sun is fully above the horizon, the sky glows brilliantly beneath the cloud cover. If it's going to be an overcast day, the lovely colors will gradually dissipate as the sun climbs higher, until finally we are wrapped in blue and gray again. But the memory of sunrise keeps me warm throughout the day.

Yesterday, I had the most amazing day. I made plans to meet my friends Gip and Carmen (Hello, my friends!) at The Diner so that I could take some photos for the Photo Essay I have due in my photojournalism class. While there, Gip got to talking to one of the waitresses (Sue) and asked her some questions about the history of the diner. She didn't have all of the answers, but she knew someone who could help us out. John (Jack) Townshend was seated at the counter enjoying his coffee with cocoa and cream (his own special drink, and one that the servers prepare for him as soon as he comes into the restaurant). Sue asked him if he'd come over and talk to us. He slid into the booth next to me and told us stories about himself, Fairbanks, the other 'regulars' at The Diner, the "pioneers", and much more. This man is brilliant! And so inspirational too! He has achieved so much in his life, and his outlook on life is absolutely amazing. You can't have too many positive, uplifting people in your life, and I'm so thankful that we crossed paths.

Later, last evening, I received an email from Jack telling me that he was pleased to have met all of us. He complimented me on my photography too - which really meant a lot to me. He also attached a short bio that was written about him. If you'd like to read about this amazing man, click here! It's a .doc file (51k). It was truly a wonderful experience to meet Jack, and I got quite a few photos and the storyline to go along with my photos.

I also left with a music CD that Jack recorded. He invited us out to The Pump House to hear him sing on Karaoke night. That sounds like a lot of fun, and we're definitely going to have to do that sometime.

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