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Sunday, October 1st - Dancing Lights

northern lights

I looked up
At a black-diamond sky
Crested with stars...

A flash from the east, I turned my head
A flash from the north, I turned again
And the heavens were splashed in shimmering light

~ Excerpts from a poem by Laurence Overmire ~

northern lights
northern lights northern lights

Last night, I said goodbye to the month of September beneath an awesome display of dancing lights. Just past 11pm, I glanced out my window before heading up to bed and saw the most spectacular waves of color and light undulating across the sky. I was out the door in a flash, camera and tripod under my arm. I took a few photos in the backyard, and then ran back into the house to message my friend Rachael on Yahoo. I knew she wouldn't want to miss this!

She met me in the yard, with her camera and tripod. We took a few more photographs, and then the lights moved in from every direction - filling almost every dark space. I wanted a better vantage point, so Rachael and I jumped in my car and we drove the short distance to the neighborhood playground. What an incredible experience to see fingers of light moving in long bands and circular swirls for as far as the eye could see! The aurora forecast (posted on the internet by the UAF Geophysical Institute), reports that the lights will be active again tonight. I'm going to try to wait up for them.

Steve and I did drive-by's on several more homes today. There is still one home that we saw yesterday, which we drove by again today, that we really love from the outside. We called the agent about getting an appointment to see the inside. We also looked at several brand new homes today. One of them had an amazing floor plan with Pergo floors and a huge master bedroom (which we like), and also nice views of the Alaska Range. But it was built on the side of one of the many rolling hills around Fairbanks and the roads were gravel. While this isn't an issue when there isn't snow on the ground, I don't care for 'white-knuckle' driving up and down steep hills in my little car. Other homes were lovely, but I didn't care for the neighboring area. I don't only want my home to be a haven, but I want to enjoy the drive to and from my home to be enjoyable. Thank goodness it's a buyers market now - this gives us quite a few homes to choose from. I just wish there were more out there that I could actually imagine moving my things into.

Saturday, October 7th - Happy Birthday, Brandon & A NEW HOME!!!

I'd like to begin this journal entry with a very Happy Birthday to my 'baby'! On October 7th 1983, at 6:33pm, I gave birth to a precious baby boy. I'll never forget the day (does any mother forget the day?) I brought my second child into the world! The moment I lay eyes on him, I felt intense joy and love fill my heart. We had our share of trying times - especially during those teen years - but what a wonderful young man Brandon grew up to be! I am so proud of my youngest son. He has such an incredible sense of humor, and a loving heart and soul. I can't believe it's been 23 years! I am a lucky mom to have had the opportunity to raise two fabulous sons. I hope you had a wonderful day, Brandon! I miss you dearly. Many kisses and hugs!


And now the BIG NEWS: We bought a house!!!

Steve and I have been checking the real estate ads for quite some time now. We'd spend hours going over the listings on Realtor.com, and reading the real estate advertisements in the local newspaper. Finally, two weeks ago, we decided to actively go looking at properties. We did a lot of drive-bys, and were able to rule out several areas. The homes in those areas were awesome, but our reason for ruling them out was the terrain. Winter lasts such a long time here, and winter driving is always stressful for me. So many of the beautiful homes we saw had awe-inspiring views, but to get those views you had to drive up and down steep roads into the hills. While I loved the thought of having a view of the Alaska Range, I didn't relish the thought of driving up those roads in winter. I just knew my fear of navigating those roads would have a big impact on my willingness to get out during the winter months.

Another drawback to those gorgeous homes in the hills, was the fact that they are on the 'other side of town' from Fort Wainwright. As a military retiree, Steve and I will be visiting Fort Wainwright for our medical care and for grocery shopping. And, if all goes well, Steve might even be working on Fort Wainwright as a civilian. I'm sure he'd appreciate a shorter commute - especially in winter.

Last week the local Parade of Homes was held. For those who are not familiar, this is a weekend when builders open their homes to the public and showcase their work. Steve and I drove to six new developments. A few of the homes just didn't have a floor plan we liked. Some of them were in the hills (a scary winter drive). A couple of them didn't have room for us to park our camper (a necessity). And others were situated on lots that had been clear-cut by the builder. If there's one thing I don't like, it's when a builder finds it necessary to remove all the trees.

We finally decided to go through a couple of existing homes. After spending the weekend looking at brand new homes, it was difficult to get enthusiastic about a home that's been lived in for 20 years. That wasn't our only concern. New homes have state of the art heating systems and are built for energy efficiency. When you live in a place where winter temps get as low as -40F for months, that's a HUGE advantage. So we decided it would have to be a new home, since we expect to stay here forever. The problem would be finding one in our price range and in an area we liked.

Last week, I went out driving with my friend Rachael while Steve was at work. She and I found a new neighborhood that was featured in the Parade of Homes, but which Steve and I couldn't find on the map. We peeked through the windows on the lower level and liked what we saw. But what I liked most was that it was on a large lot with lots of trees. As soon as I got home, I called Steve and told him about the house and the neighborhood. We drove over when he got home from work, and he liked the house too. When the agent came by and opened it up for us, we fell in love with it. I'm sure anyone who owns a home and has shopped for it with their significant other, knows how wonderful it is when you find a house you BOTH like.

There are a few things we want to do to the house - to make it 'ours' - like landscaping once spring comes. Until then, we have to be content with a gravel drive and lots of mud around the house (which is bound to be fun when the movers bring our stuff to the house - NOT!). Other than that, all we have to do is move in.

It's a two story home. The lower level has a huge great room and kitchen (all visible to each other - which is perfect for entertaining), and a formal dining area that's off on it's own, but still visible to the kitchen. There's a very large two-car garage which makes Steve happy. The builders up here must know that there will be lots of "toys", so there's plenty of room in the garage for two vehicles and a snowmachine or two, four wheelers, and ski equipment. I think it's nearly 650sf, which makes Steve do cartwheels.

Sliding glass doors off of the Great Room lead to a deck in the backyard. We hope to expand the deck, landscape, and install some built-in benches for summer BBQs. Our yard is huge. The house sits on 1.5 acres, but there are additional acres adjacent to our property which are currently being leased by the FAA for a radio tower. When the lease ends, we have first right of refusal for the purchase of additional land. We'd like to add several more acres eventually. It's all wooded, so it's private - which is a great thing.

The entire lower level living space has laminate wood flooring with radiant heat throughout. It looks beautiful with the maple cabinetry in the kitchen. I'm thrilled with the smooth-top stove in the kitchen too. I've done my share of scrubbing underneath burner covers! The house comes with an awesome side-by-side fridge with built in water/ice maker in the door. That's a good thing, as we don't have a refrigerator. There are huge windows throughout the first floor to let in valuable light - especially in winter. And there is lots of wall space! This is GREAT, as it will allow me to showcase my photography. Steve has already set down the first "rule". There will be NO store-bought photos on the walls. The entire house will be decorated with only my work. I can live with that. *grin*

The Master Bedroom dominates the upper level. A generous 17x13 bedroom, with an awesome 11x6.5 walk-in closet will give us plenty of room to move around and store our stuff. The Master Bath has a very deep (and xtra-long) soaking tub. I haven't taken a bath since I left NC, because the tubs were so small in the places we've lived. I look forward to relaxing soaks in this terrific tub during the cold winter months. The huge window in the master bedroom faces the yard, so I'll be able to keep an eye on the visiting wildlife and northern lights. There are two other bedrooms; one will be used as our office and the other will be a guest room.

Another major perk with this home is the 5-star energy rating. The house is so airtight, that there is an air-exchange system which will bring in fresh air and remove humidity. It's all run electronically, which means we have a lot to learn! I'll let you know what this means to our heating bills once winter is underway. If all goes well, we'll be settled in our new home at the end of the month. We're very excited, but don't look forward to having a mortgage again. Oh well... you gotta take the good with the bad, right?

I took a bunch of photos of the house, but will be posting more photos (I expect) once we're settled in.:


Floor plan view from yard facing forward

From back to front
 

Full moon over the flightstripLast night, we had a full moon. Rachael buzzed me when she got home and told me she was running out to get photos because it looked so awesome. I tagged along with her. It's been a long time since I had the opportunity to shoot the moon, and I managed to get two photos (which I liked) before the clouds rolled in and totally obscured the light. I just love the way the clouds trailed wisps across the moon. It truly looked like a Halloween moon - eerie, and yet beautiful.

We haven't gotten our first sticking snow yet - and I'm not rushing things, believe me! But we're all preparing for it just the same. Steve and I finally found compatible 16" rims for my Caliber, and bought studded tires to go on them. The prices up here are so much higher than the Lower 48! But at least I'm prepared for winter driving now. That takes a load off of my mind. Bring it on, Mother Nature!

Thursday, October 12th - Sunsets are back

Most people don't realize that in the summer months in Alaska, sunrises and sunsets don't really occur. Well, they do, but they're not the same as those in other places with normal hours of daylight. However, in the fall and winter, they come back - and they come back beautifully. We might have shorter days, but our sunrises and sunsets seem to go on endlessly. On a clear night, after the sun dips below the horizon, the skies remain a glowing orange, red, or pink for nearly an hour. Some nights, the colors are breathtaking.

Sunset from UAFA few nights ago, Steve and I joined our friends Gip and Carmen for dinner in celebration of Carmen's birthday. We had a delicious meal at Gambardella's, and terrific conversation. As we were driving away from the restaurant, I noticed that the sky was a brilliant shade of orange off on the horizon. I had my camera with me (I always try to remember my camera whenever I leave the house), and asked Steve if he would take me up to UAF campus to get some photos.

Geophysical Institute UAFMusuem of the North UAFThe clouds looked like they were on fire. It looked as if flames were licking at the sky, just above the treeline. What an amazing sight! I turned and looked toward the campus buildings. The sky above had deep pink clouds drifting across the blue skies. They really set off the architecture of the Museum of the North (R) and the Geophysical Institute (L).


Things are moving along with the house. Our closing was delayed another week or two. Now we're looking at a closing date around November 10th. That's fine with me as I have a lot of things I need to take care of in this house before we move. I've already started the 'purge and toss' routine in my closets, but there are other closets that I need to tackle.

I use a computer program called 3D Home Architect that allows me to lay out the floorplan of the new house and then place my furniture - all before we actually have to lift it and move it. It's a bit of a challenge to figure out a way to arrange my furniture in the great room, but that's what makes moving so much fun. (I'm kidding! It's not that much fun.) Fortunately, this program allows me to view layouts on my computer before anyone has to break a sweat.

I am so excited about having a home I can decorate to my taste again! This includes color. I've spent the last 6 years living in a rental or military housing, where we were stuck with white walls. I'm just itching to add a nice deep red (merlot) accent color to one wall. I think my black framed and matted photographs would look awesome against a backdrop of deep crimson. We'll see...

Before I end this entry, I just want to send a message out to a very special friend and *sister* (she knows who she is, and she reads this journal faithfully): I am SO PROUD of you!!! And I love you very much. I am so happy to hear that things are going well. {{{huge hugs}}}

Tuesday, October 17th - Frost, Hockey, and a dusting of Snow

frosty leavesWe still don't have a laying snow. Winter is taking it's time coming to Alaska. Who would have believed that Buffalo NY would have been hit with a blizzard, and here in Fairbanks we still have mostly sunny skies and not a bit of snow.

This doesn't mean it's not getting colder. Overnight temperatures are now dipping below freezing and when I get up in the morning, there is frost on everything. The frost clings to the edges of leaves and grass, like sugar coating. It's a beautiful sight.

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Monday, October 23rd - Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!

Winter has finally arrived in Fairbanks! On Saturday night, the snow came. And it kept coming throughout the night. It wasn't heavy - merely flurries at times - but it covered the ground and the streets, and coated the tree limbs with up to three inches of snow. The photo at left is the view out of our guest room window. I took it yesterday morning. So gorgeous!

The first true snow of the season is always very exciting for me, despite the fact that I'll be looking at the white stuff for the next 6 months. The first snow transforms my world from dull and brown, to white and pure. As I type this entry, the snow is falling in tiny flakes. Just beautiful!

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Saturday, October 28th - Winter is Here to Stay and There's a Big Move Ahead!

Chena RiverEvery day, the Chena River narrows as bits of snow and ice cling to the shoreline and continues to freeze with the dropping temperatures. The other day, I saw ice floating downstream from places north of us. It jammed up in the narrow sections of the river and grew deeper as more ice joined the blockage. As the day warmed up slightly, the ice let go and continued down river. It won't be long until the river is solid sheet of ice once again.

Rachael and I have been taking the pups to the campground here on post, so that they can let off some steam and get some exercise. It's not possible for us to walk the 6 miles we were accustomed to all summer long, now that snow and ice has hit the walking trail. It's also been quite cold in the morning (below freezing) and it's staying dark later. The other day, I made a video, using some footage and some still shots that I took of the dogs while they were romping around the park. I uploaded it to YouTube, if you have a hard time viewing it here on my blog. Just click on the video and you'll go to my YouTube site.

 We've been below zero since Sunday. And we've had snow on and off since then too. It hasn't been heavy, but we are getting some accumulation. Halloween just wouldn't be the same if we didn't have snow on the ground.

The big news for the Stevenson's is that we are scheduled to make settlement on the new house on Monday! Today we had our walk-through and everything looks great. There were a few minor things that have to be addressed, but they should be taken care of by closing.

I called and made arrangements for phone service and internet (DSL) and also for Dish Network, since there's no 'cable' service available in the new neighborhood. I got a good deal getting everything through ACS, but we'll see if there are any hidden costs when it's all said and done.

I spent the entire day tossing and shredding stuff in our home office. We're hoping to be moved into the new house by the end of next week. That will give us time to get this place straightened up, carpets shampooed, etc. and have our move-out inspection. I'll be glad when that's over and done with. I've heard so many horror stories about the landlords of this neighborhood being very punitive with military families. The neighborhood is reverting back to the city, instead of remaining military housing, so military families have to either move out or start paying rent. The rent is about the same as our mortgage is going to be, so for us it was a 'no-brainer' to buy a house since we're staying here.

Here are some more photos of our snowy surroundings and my beautiful Sedona:


Blue skies and snow

Rachael

sun pillarYesterday evening, Steve called me as he was driving home from work. There was a beautiful red sunset and a sun pillar was visible in the sky. I grabbed my camera and jumped into his truck as he drove by. We drove over to Birch Hill, but the sunset was already fading. I'm sure there will be many more opportunities to shoot gorgeous sunsets (and sunrises) now that winter is upon us and our days are growing so much shorter.

The snow making machines were going full force on the hill. Birch Hill will open for skiing, snowboarding, and tubing in a few weeks. I can't wait until the tubing hill opens. I told Rachael that this year she has no choice but to go with us. She's never done it before and she's a little afraid. I felt that way before I did it the first time, and then once I went down that hill, I was hooked! I keep trying to entice her with an invitation to dinner afterward. The perfect end to an afternoon of tubing is beef stew, crusty bread, and wine. I can't wait!

I don't know when I will be able to update this journal again. It will all depend on how soon I have internet service at the new place - or if I can find a way to get online before then. Bear with me, as we make this huge transition in our life. I'm very excited, but not really looking forward to the 'moving' part. That's always hectic and a bit stressful. I'm especially going to miss living only two doors away from Rachael. She's my closest friend here, and we spend a lot of time together. Oh well; I guess I'll just have to drive a few miles, rather than just walking down to see her.

Monday, October 30th - Officially HOME OWNERS!

Today, at 2pm, Steve and I signed the paperwork on the new house! We are very excited to be homeowners again, even though we'll be paying a mortgage for the next 30 years.

Tomorrow, Steve will set up the movers. Hopefully we'll have our stuff moved, and clear this house, within the next week to ten days. Until then, we'll be running back and forth between both places.

I look forward to making our new house a home. I can't wait to arrange the furniture, and hang my photographs, and choose curtains, etc. That's the fun part!

Tonight, however, Steve and I are going to relax, sip a little champagne, and toast our future.

Many thanks to all of you who have sent messages of congratulations. If we exchange holiday cards, please email me and I'll send you the new address. We'll be living in North Pole now - so we'll have an 'in' with Santa. *grin*

Happy Halloween!

GO TO NOVEMBER

© 2006 Susan L Stevenson