Saturday, September 30, 2006
The day began cool and wet, but we were eager to get out the door and enjoy our afternoon off together. At 2:00 Bren and I headed to Fairbanks to look for school shoes and we were not disappointed at Famous Footwear. The store had a very good selection of shoes reasonably priced, and more importantly, practical. A lot of times we'll venture into stores where we look at the shoes and wonder who would ever wear something like that, and where?, but that wasn't the case in this store. I was especially happy to see they carry shoes in women's size 11 which is what I wear.
Bren bought a pair of these Eastlands, and these Adidas in mossy green.
PetCo, nextdoor to the shoe store, was quite impressive as well. I suppose all of them are, but I had never been in one before today.
Tired of walking around, eager to get out of the rain, and quite thirsty, we walked a few stores down to Barnes and Noble and felt at home as soon as we walked in the door. Soft jazz was playing over the intercom and a warm glow emanated from the gas fireplace by the cafe. The fireplace was encircled by several cozy chairs.
The line at the cafe was long but moved very fast, and the staff was friendly. Bren ordered the Chicken Chipoltle grilled sandwich with a coconut-raspberry Italian Soda, and I, an Italian and Artichoke Stratta. The food was delicious, but I did not find what I went in for: an 18- or 15-month wall calendar.
On the way out of Fairbanks the rain turned to sleet, and by the time we pulled into our garage, it had turned to snow.
I love winter!
Friday, September 29, 2006
In Virginia we were paying 35 cents per pound for bananas, today I paid 79 cents for the same. Apples are quite pricey at anywhere from $1.40 to $1.70 per pound. We buy Eggland's Best eggs at $2.36 per dozen which is just a little more than we paid for them in Virginia. We don't drink cow's milk, so I haven't really noticed the price per gallon here, but I've heard from others that it's very close to $4. We pay about 60 cents more here for the soymilk we drink most often, 8th Continent. Rick and Bren went to the Safeway store in North Pole last week and Bren reported that her favorite pizza was over $2 more there.
While I was shopping today, sneaking around taking pictures of food (very odd behavior which drew a few stares), I noticed the incredibly low prices of pints of Ben and Jerry's and Haagen Daaz ice cream. Almost all flavors were around $1.80 a pint. I recall paying at least a dollar more - or even two dollars more at convenience stores - in the lower 48 (I keep wanting to say "back in the states", because I feel like we're overseas. Maybe I'll do as we did in Hawaii and say "Mainland") Anyway, the frozen food section was pretty busy and all of a sudden I was embarassed about taking a picture of pints of ice cream, so I passed.
One of the women I was corresponding with before I arrived here said it was her opinion that the commissary was "pretty sad". I couldn't disagree with her more. Yes, it is small, and the selection of items is limited, but one would never go without or be deprived in the least. Also, Fort Wainwright, which is just 20 miles down the road, has quite a large commissary and BX where it is completely possible to fork over a resonable amount of money to indulge all your senses, should you desire to do so.
(I did buy these roma tomatoes for our salad and sandwiches. The regular toms were $2.25 per pound)
You can read more stats on the cost of living in Alaska (without the military benefits) here at Alaska.com.
One thing we love here is Alaska has no sales tax. However, North Pole has a city tax: 4% (some exemptions) $8.00 maximum collected per sale. Tax collected from businesses within the Corporate City Limits or any sales made within the Corporate City Limits. That explained the tax we were charged for our movie at Blockbuster.
As we get out and experience more, I will put together a page of merchandise, services, food, etc. and what we pay for them, with a link to it in my side bar.
The Lord has been gracious and has provided for our every need, and for Him we are so incredibly thankful!
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Our trip to the DMV in Fairbanks (see the webcam here) to get our Alaska driver's license went fairly smoothly. We arrived at the office a little past nine and stood in line behind two other people at the information counter.
I had read on the DMV website that you must provide a social security card, which Rick didn't have, so he asked around to other active duty folks on base as to what form of I.D. they used, and got conflicting information. I'm here to clear up the confusion: ALL people, military or civilian, MUST present a social security card to obtain a driver's license in Alaska. A military I.D. card WILL NOT suffice, even though it has your SSAN on it. They didn't even ask for or look at Rick's. I had my original card with my maiden name on it which was accepted because I also presented our marriage certificate and my birth certificate.
(As a side note: you can register as an organ donor and register to vote by checking applicable boxes on the driver's license form you'll fill out. And also, teens may obtain a learner's permit at 14, but they have to take the written test to do so. Bren's very excited about this little detail!)
If you are new to the state you have to take the written driver's test to obtain a license. The test is computerized, very easy to use, and consists of 20 questions. If you fail the test you can retake it the following day. Cell phones are not permitted in the testing area, so if you don't want to leave it at the information desk, don't bring it with you to the office.
The fee is $15 for a license, payable by cash, check, or money order. No credit or debit cards accepted.
After taking the test (we both passed), we filled out a little form then sat for about 15 or 20 minutes until we were called up to the counter. Rick was informed that he had to go to the Social Security office at the Federal building to get a letter confirming his name and SSAN. I proceeded to get my license then we left for the Fed building which is only a 10-minute drive from the DMV.
There is security and a checkpoint at the entrance of the Federal Building where we had to go through a metal detector and have our stuff x-rayed. We walked straight to the office where there was one person ahead of us. We were in and out in about 15 minutes.
When we returned to DMV it was VERY busy. Go early if possible. Because we had been in the office earlier, it took only another 15 minutes and we were on our way home.
Here's a little bonus advice: If you want to annoy everyone in the DMV and become blog post fodder in the process, do the following while you are waiting:
- Bring five of your daycare kids into the office with you and let them hop from chair to chair and crawl underneath the seats, hitting other customer's feet and legs while they're at it.
- Eat an apple while you're being served at the counter, then interrupt the process when you're done with the apple to search for a few minutes for a trash can to throw away the core.
- Talk with the closest person to you at the top of your voice, using the f-word at least once in every sentence.
- When you arrive at the DMV without the proper papers, tell the customer service lady how stupid the rules are (the louder to yell at her, the better everyone in the place can hear you), and how YOU are the exception to all these rules.
- And always remember you are on camera, so everyone looking at the webcam can see you sitting there with your finger in your mouth scraping who-knows-what off your teeth for five minutes straight.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
People who have lived through a winter in Alaska are more than willing to share with newcomers what, in their experience, works best to help you make it through the cold, ice, snow, and constant darkness. The widest range of opinions we have received on a single issue has been what type of tires to put on our vehicle for the winter.
Before we even left Virginia I was online communicating with two ladies, picking their Alaskan brains to get information on the area and everyday living in general. One of the ladies swore by her "studded tires", saying her car was able to stop at intersections while other cars slid through, so right after we got here and inquired about studded tires (I had no clue what they even looked like - see pic above), the lady at the service station scoffed. "You don't need studded tires, just drive your car." I'm glad we didn't have to pay for that advice.
We have some time to play with before the ice and snow settle in for the next 7 or 8 months, so we decided to ask everyone what works for them, and we continue to get a wide variety of answers. It boils down to personal preference so we decided to just make a decision, which we did. Our SUV already has all-weather tires on it, so we're going to keep them and see how well they perform, and we're going to put studded tires on the Kia.
Something tells me prayer will do more to keep us from accidents than our tires.
On the way home from the BX tonight Bren and I spotted our first Moose! It was a momma and her young 'un. They crossed the road in front of us and walked to the back of a house to nibble on the tree leaves. The mom was really big; the size of a small horse, and their coats were beautiful and shiny. I was so bummed I didn't have my camera with me. It breaks my heart that anyone can kill these beautiful creatures just for the fun of it.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
PBC is a small church and just five years old. It ministers to the nearby communities of Eielson, Salcha, Moose Creek, and North Pole. The majority of the members seem to be military.
If I'm not mistaken, the building you see here in the photos has been built solely by church members and helpers. The services are currenly being held in the basement while the sanctuary is being completed. Physically, the atmosphere inside the building was very comfortable.
Of course the building doesn't make the church, the people do, and the people we met were very warm and seemed genuinely happy to meet and visit with us. Unlike the church we were last members of, where people had been members for a lot of years and were polite, but guarded toward newcomers, we found the folks at PBC to be welcoming, warm, and open, and I think it's mostly due to the fact that this is a military community and newcomers are expected regularly.
The worship times are different, but after experiencing the routine today, I can see the the benefit of the Sunday schedule. Sunday school is at 10:00, the first service from 11:00 - 12:10, a snack/coffee break from 12:10 - 12:30, then a second service afterward. I wasn't keeping track of the time, but I think the second service ended around 2 p.m. Having the Lord's day set up this way gives the congregation plenty of time to fellowship and there is no need for another trip out to the church in the evening, which is a big deal here during the long, cold, dark winter months. I wasn't sure I would like it, but I did very much.
The service is simple; we sang from hymnals accompanied by a pianist, and there was no sense of being entertained as is so common now in American churches. The service was all about worship of our LORD and the teaching of His word.
I am sure we will return to worship at Pioneer Baptist in the future.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
I'm looking forward to the official base tour in October when I'm sure I'll find out so much more about the base, the people, and the surrounding communities.
Today is the first day of fall! It's 8:26 and it's not completely dark out yet. Almost, but not quite. I love the mornings and evenings here!
I left off in my post last night baking in the oven that is called our living room. The heat was on alright! With the thermostat set at 66 F, by bedtime the temp in the house was 85, and it stayed that way all night. I was miserable (oh, and so was Bren, lest I be the only whiner in the family).
First thing this morning I called maintenence and talked to another very nice man on the phone. I told him I was melting. He tried to explain how the heating works here. Did not compute. In my experience, you set the thermostat at the temperature you want it, then the heat comes on long enough to raise the room to that temp, then shuts off. Lather, rinse, repeat.
But that's central air and we're not in
Anyway, by the time the heating guy arrived, the house was down to the mid-70's, so he suggested I set the thermostat at 60 and open the doors and windows to further cool things down.
After leaving our house he went next door to check on the water heater situation (the water heater for our duplex is in the basement nextdoor). The temp regulator broke which made the tap water extremely hot (remember, it's heated by steam). The lady nextdoor has two little kids and was greatly concerned, so she called that one in. The water was so hot I was able to make my instant coffee with tap water this morning. I think this issue has been resolved as well.
(This pic is of Bren standing out on the patio cooling off before leaving for school. She was wearing a turtle neck sweater and was too hot in the house.)
So far I have been very impressed with the housing staff at this base. I know we have a lot to learn about living in a unique environment that is Alaska, but people have been more than willing to give us their perspective and advice on things. One guy was telling Rick the other day that we can get as much advice as we want, but it will take going through a winter here to determine what is going to work for our family, and what won't. Everyone is different and has their own preferences, and except for the basic survival issues, people will do what works best for them.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Last night was our first night in the house. It was cool in here even though I had the thermostat set at 65. I figured we were just feeling chilly after the warmer weather of last week. Then this morning is was downright cold throughout the house. The thermostat said the temp in the house was 50 F. I turned it up to 70 to see if it would the heater would kick on, but nothing happened. Later in the day I called maintenence, the guy came out and discovered the heat had never been hooked up. I'm not a wimp after all :o)
This morning was Bren's first morning catching the bus to school. We had a few false alarms as we thought only one bus would come by (and we thought she missed it), but at least three come by to pick up kids for the four different schools on base. She did end up getting on the right one, but had a little difficulty after school. One would think you should get on the same bus going back as you did coming, but when Bren did that she was confronted by a rude bus driver.
Driver: Are you new?
Driver: Where's your bus slip?
Bren: I didn't get a bus slip.
Driver: Where are you going?
Bren: Little French area.
Driver: Not on this bus you aren't!
Bren: What bus do I take?
Driver (pointing in a not-so-general direction): one of those.
As Bren got off the bus one of the buses she thought might be the right one pulled away. She gave up and called me. We'll try again tomorrow, this time asking the a.m. bus driver which bus she needs to get on in the p.m.
We grade the New Kid-friendliness of the bus system a "C".
After I dropped Bren off at the library I came home and took the dogs for their first walk around the neighborhood. Buddy enjoys walks but doesn't do well on the leash, so our walk was short. I got Neezy and decided to walk along a trail through some woods. Neezy has never been in the woods, so I just about had to drag her off the main road. It was a beautiful walk and I knew that Bren would love to take pics, so later this evening after we returned from the commissary I told her to get her camera, told Rick we'd be back in ten minutes, and walked to the path. I was right; Bren loved the spot and took about a dozen photos. I had grabbed my camera as well and took these.
When we returned to the house it was baking. I looked at the thermostat and it read 76 degrees. I had it set at 68. I turned it down to 60 and it's cooled off a little bit. I hope we find a magic spot that keeps things comfortable. If not, it's gonna be a long winter!
Sunday, September 17, 2006
After church today we continued on into town (whenever folks here say they went to town, that means Fairbanks) and found the Wal-Mart to pick up a few school supply items Bren was missing. I was very pleased to see a Subway restaurant in the store instead of McDonalds.
The store is large and seemed to be well-stocked. I noticed the main aisels are bare concrete instead of tile, but it doesn't take anything away from the appearance; just makes it feel more like a warehouse, which is fine.
In the same vicinity of the Wal-Mart we saw a Home Depot, Lowes, and a Fred Meyer, so I imagine we won't run across a need that can't be met at least adequately.
When we first drove through Fairbanks Bren remarked that it wasn't attractive at all. After discussing it, we came to the conclusion that being covered in snow for 7 months out of the year, plus the bitter cold, can take a tole on buildings and streets over time. It looked almost exactly as I expected it would, and I love it!
I will still be posting here almost daily as we learn and discover more about Alaska, as that was the purpose of beginning this blog in the first place, but the ins and outs of our daily lives (that mostly evoke a collective yawn from regular readers) will be over at my other place. If you don't have the URL and would like it, just email me at donna 66 at gmail (dot) com.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
- about a dozen pair of boot socks
a pair of snow boots for Bren
a pair each of waterproof mittens and gloves
two pair of gloves
a total of three hats
three fleece scarves
a neck thingy (I can't remember the name, but it's a fleece scarf you can pull over your head)
and a fleece headband that covers the ears
As usual, I didn't find anything for myself, being that I wear size 11s and my hands are too big to fit ladies size large gloves. We didn't find any winter coats, so we'll probably end up buying from Lands' End or LL Bean. Still need thermal underwear.
While we were at the tent sale I got a nice surprise when my internet friend, Julie, showed up with her kids. She lives in North Pole, but was in Fairbanks shopping, so she found us to say hello. It's so nice to finally meet her in person.
It's late and we're very tired, so I'll call it a night.
Love you all.
When we entered the house via the "mudroom", the first thing we noticed were thousands of (what appeard to be) knats. They were nowhere else in the house, so I don't think it's a serious problem, but it still needs to be checked out. The housing chief is going to call up entemology on Monday for an assessment, so we'll continue to stay in billeting until the bug problem is resolved.
The walk-through went really well and we are very pleased with all the little extras that come with the house.
Today we made appointments to have the cars winterized and will order tires when we get more input from different people. We have discovered that in many instances, some things (such as cell phone companies and whether or not to get studded tires) people consider a must, while others will say it's unneccessary. I guess it comes down to preference, and so we want to get input from folks that have been here for at least a couple winters.
We were told that a store in Fairbanks is having a winter clothing sale this weekend, so we are about to head into town to check it out. Bren is tired, so she laid down for a nap after we got done at the house, and Rick brought me to the billeting office to get on the computer.
I hope you all are doing well. Thanks for keeping in touch!
Friday, September 15, 2006
The next pic is a glimpse of the room we're staying in. It's small, but livable as long as no more than one person is walking around at any given time. I'm managing to keep it tidy enough that even mom might be proud of me.
The big event of today was signing for the place we will call home for at least the next three years. After we registered Bren for school we went to lunch then Rick picked up the key to the house we were being offered. During each PCS I have learned to keep my expectations low as far as base housing is concerned, and I was in that mindset arriving here, so even though I knew there was a possibility we could get a nice house, I didn't expect it.
The house is big and beautiful, with plenty of space for storage, and a very nice completely finished basement that can serve as an additional living area. When Bren walked into her room and saw a walk-in closet she cried because she was so happy. There's plenty of space for her. She's also very pleased with her view of the woods at the back of the house. What a sight that will be when the trees are heavy laden with snow.
What I am most thankful for is that we will have plenty of space for visitors (hint hint!). I was so excited that I called mom and hyperventilated into the phone for about ten minutes. I think mom and dad could tell I was pretty happy. Bren said she'd never heard me talk that fast for so long.
Our next stop was to sign up for cell phone service. After talking to several people who have service in the area, we settled on a company that also provides land line and DSL. The prices seemed comparable to what we were paying in the states, so there were no surprises there -- except maybe for the three free cell phones we got. (Mom or Chester, if you want my Verizon phone just give me a holler)
At the end of the business day we all got changed and went to the gym for a workout. One of the really neat features there is FitLinxx. I filled out and information sheet, the staff loads it into the system, then whenever I get on a cardio machine I punch in a code and the info about my workout is transmitted to my profile. It's quite an incentive to keep working out. All I have to do is stay healthy! It seems that whenever I begin a serious workout regimen I end up getting sick and have to hold off for awhile.
Since we didn't make it out to see the poopers today I called to check on them. The woman said she didn't think either one of them slept inside last night. She wasn't sure if they just wanted to be outside, or if they couldn't figure out the doggie doors. I thought maybe they liked being outside after being in their kennels most of the day for the past two weeks. The woman called me back and said she went in and called to them and they both came inside. I feel better. Now that we have a house we should be able to go pick them up on Monday.
It's getting late. Until next time...
At Delta Junction, mile 1422 of the Alaska Highway, the official end, we stopped and took photos of the marker, bought a few postcards, and headed back out.
Our first stop once we pulled into town was the boarding facility we chose for the dogs. Bad Dog Neezy was really excited at first, but once she figured out what was happening she filed her nails down an inch on the pavement trying to avoid going in.
Once inside, Bren and I each got into a pen and tried to show the dogs how to work the doggie doors that lead out to the dog runs. We're not sure Good-Dog Buddy has the brain power to figure it out, so we asked the ladies to check on him to make sure he's not stuck outside during the cold of night.
I feel just awful leaving our poopers, but I know they will be fine. We plan on taking a trip out today to visit them. Thankfully, they won't have to stay there for too long.
When we got to the base the first thing I noticed was that there was no official Eielson AFB sign. (Since I lost the photos of us at the Alaska border I figured I'd get one at the sign at the gate, but there isn't one.) Rick checked us into billeting then we went to the room and unpacked. It's a decent suite with a kitchenette and cooking utensils, so it will do, although I feel sorry for Bren having to sleep on the sofa bed that consists of springs covered by a sheet for a mattress. Several blankets softened it a bit.
After unpacking we headed out to eplore the base. The drive through the housing area was...uh, interesting. There are nice houses, not-so-nice houses, and I'd-rather-live-in-my-car houses. Very large ATVs, trucks, and snow machines took up driveway space on every street and court, and we discovered that people here put up their Christmas decorations very early while there is still daylight and the temp is above freezing.
Eventually we saw an empty unit, so we pulled up into the driveway and started poking around. The woman nextdoor, Angie, was outside so I asked her if anyone was living there, then she offered to let us come inside her home to view the interior. I was so floored by her offer and kindess! The house was lovely, but I will save the details for my post later tonight.
From the housing area we drove by Bren's school, the bowling alley, the fitness center (which is wonderful and I plan to take full advantage of!) After a stop at the Shoppette for some nukeable food, we headed back to the room, watched some t.v., and did laundry.
First thing this morning Rick went by the housing office to check out that situation and it looks like we'll be able to get a key this afternoon.
Next stop was Bren's school where we registered and met with her counselor who helped set up her academic schedule. The school is very nice, and small in size (appx 600 students 7th thru 12th grades). She is very excited to be attending a "normal" school, and we are so happy for her. As it happens, this week was homecoming week and we'll be able to attend the football games tomorrow.
After registering for school we dropped Rick off to in-process the base, then Bren and I came over to the computers. There are no computer hook-ups in the room, only in the lobby of the main building so I will bring the laptop over later today and post some pics.
Later then ~
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Praise God, we made it! We are now in Tok, Alaska for the night.
We stopped at the border and took a lot of photos which I tried to download to the computer just now, but when I turned the camera on it read "no images". I wanted to cry, but quickly decided that if the pics are lost I'm not going to let it ruin the joy I feel right now. Thankfully, I downloaded some photos from earlier today while we were still on the road, so I have those to post.
This morning before we left Watson Lake we got gas and Bren and I hopped out of the car and ran across the stree to the Sign Post Forest. It's an area in a park that has thousands of sign posts from places all over the world. It's pretty cool if you've never seen anything like it before.
Neither Rick or I had a good night sleep last night, so we were both pretty tired all day. Rick drove in the morning as usual, but I was unable to sleep. We listened to more of Tom Nelson's teaching on the book of John and enjoyed the easy ride. Of course that easy ride had to change when I took over driving. The roads for the rest of the day ranged from a little bumpy to downright trecherous. All of us got motion sickness. (Oh, the reason why we were unable to find Dramamine in Canada is because in Canada it is called Bromamine. "Dramamine is an American product", the Wal-Mart saleslady told us.)
We had lunch in Whitehorse, Yukon which was lovely with it's snow-capped mountains.
The only animals we saw on the road today were two squirrles and an Elk. That was a bit disappointing after all the critters we saw yesterday, but it made us less concerned that we would hit one on the road.
(I took this center pic of the Swift River in Yukon)
The most beautiful part of the drive today was Lake Kluane (which I didn't get photos of because I was driving). Imgine a turquois blue lake surrounded by the fall foilage with stone gray, snow-capped mountains. It was so incredibly beautiful that I could almost ignore that the road around the lake is being repaved, which slowed us to a crawl. The road was so messed up that traffic had to stop and wait for a pilot truck to show up and lead us through the mess.
The first stop after we entered Alaska, we were unable to get a room because of the pets, so we had to drive another 90 mintues to get to the town of Tok where we are staying at a comfy place called Young's Motel. We had a delicious (but very late) dinner next door at Fast Eddie's restaurant.
Because we had to drive further than we wanted to today (appx 644 miles), we will only have to drive three hours or so in the morning before getting to Eielson, our home for at least the next three years.
It is now time to hit the sack and get over losing our border photos. The Lord greatly blessed us with a wonderful trip these past thirteen days. We had no car trouble, no one got sick, our pets handled the trip well, and we always had food to eat and a bed to sleep in. I am so thankful.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
After 600+ miles today, we limped (mentally anyway) into Watson Lake at around 8 p.m. with just a hint of light left. I prayed we'd make it here before dark, and we did. The second hotel we stopped at we got the second to the last room. We will all sleep really well tonight.
We started out our day by leaving Dawson Creek, Mile 0 of the Alaskan Highway. (Bren and I risked serious bodily injury to get pics of this official marker. We had to stand in the middle of the street during morning rush hour. I'm such a good mother...but that's another blog post.)
As usual, Rick drove the first leg of the journey. The road was long and mountain-free (see center pic) so we made real good time. We stopped for lunch at Subway at Williams Lake which was absolutely beautiful. It was breezy and cool and the trees rained down their yellow leaves, announcing fall's arrival. It was glorious.
I took over the driving after lunch and almost immediately hit mountains. BIG mountains. With narrow lanes, gravel shoulders (if there was a shoulder at all), and it rained violently. I averaged about 40 mph for a long long time. Meanwhile, Rick snoozed at my side, and when he finally woke up he said "I'm not letting you drive anymore. Everytime you drive we hit bad road conditions!" It's true too! I've had the worst of the driving during this whole trip. Good thing I'm a good driver, eh? hehe
After the death-grip-on-the-wheel-pray-without-ceasing driving was done, Rick took over the driving after a rest break and then I was able to really appreciate the incredible scenery. The fall foilage is at it's peak right now and the moutains were draped in colorful splendor. The mountain rivers and lakes were brilliant and the wildlife plentiful.
1 road kill deer
6 stone sheep
a herd of bison
1 small black bear
Unfortunately, Bren ran out of Dramamine yesterday, and so far all evidence points to the non-existence of the substance in British Columbia. So, she spent most of today feeling very ill because of the almost constant winding, bumping, and climbing on the road.
We had a great stop at Toad River Lodge, but paid $70 U.S. for a HALF tank of gas! That was the pits, but I'll tell you, Toad River is much to beautiful to be named Toad River.
During the threee times I had a signal on my cell phone today, I called and talked to my mom and sister, and texted my brother. It was good to be able to say hi and hear their voices.
Thanks for all your comments. I LOVE coming into the hotel at night and logging on and seeing I have comments and emails. And Gene, you can email me at donna66 [at] gmail [dot] com.
I love you all. Thanks again for all your love and prayers.
This is Donna, reporting (almost) live from Yukon Territory.
Sign post in Prince George, the capital of British Columbia, where we stopped for lunch.
The shocker of the day: there's a Wal-Mart in Canada.
Gotta run. If Rick sees me on the computer while I'm supposed to be packing he's gonna have a stroke ;o)
Monday, September 11, 2006
(Bren picked up this cool Canada hat at a little store in Windy Point when we stopped for a "washroom" break.)
We got a room at the first hotel we came to, unloaded the truck, fed and walked the dogs, then Bren and I drove across the road to a RV park to use the laundry facilities while Rick showered.
The desk clerk at the hotel said it was okay to use the RV laundry park, but I still wanted to make sure, so when I drove up I asked an older gentleman who was working around the manager's office. He was very kind and soft spoken which surprised me considering his build and rugged looks. The man said it was fine, sold us a roll of Canadian quarters, and told us where we could buy soap. It's nice to finally have clean clothes!
History was made today! Rick made an unnecessary stop on the road (gasp!) Yes, it is true. The glory of God's incredible creation got the better of Rick when he spotted McLeese Lake from the highway. The water was flat and still and mirrored the landscape perfectly. Pictures can't begin to capture the beauty of it, but I thought I'd try anyway. The air was clear and cool and smelled of pine. I could have just sat and looked out on that lake all day long.
I do believe we are finally finished with the Canadian Rockies, but I'm not 100% sure. I'll have to check the MilePost again in the morning. It would be nice if we have some nice long stretch of highway for a change and have a break from the winding roads that tend to make us all a bit woozy. We're going to attempt to make it to Watson Lake tomorrow at the border of B.C. and Yukon Territory, which will be a 600-mile day. I hope we make it.
I'm sure there's more that I wanted to write tonight, but as usual, I'm tired and just want to get into bed. I hope I can get some downtime in the near future and respond to those who leave comments for me. It's nice to know someone is reading :o)
I love you all and hope and pray all is well with you.
God be with you.
The first photo is of the Canadian border crossing at Sumas, Washington. We loved the drive up north from Everett!
The second photo is of a small mountain early on in our trip in Canada. I was driving during the best part of the drive, so obviously, I didn't get any pics.
We stayed at The Bonaparte Hotel last night which reminded me a lot of the motels we stayed in as kids while traveling across the states toward a new home the Navy was sending us to. A little more than bare bones, but not much more than that. I'll post a pic of it tonight if we happen to be in a place with an internet connection.
We slept well last night, but woke up at 3:30 a.m. to take the dogs out. It took me about an hour to get back to sleep, but I'm feeling rested and awake this morning, for which I'm thankful. Awoke to a strong wireless signal, so figured I'd take advantage of it and post again.
While Bren is getting ready to go, Rick went for a walk down the street to see if he could spot a restaurant for us to sit down and have breakfast. I should get myself moving and finish packing things up.
I thankfully ask that you continue to pray for us when you think of us.
We started out late this morning because Rick and I are just plain tired! We didn't leave the hotel until around 10a.m. A few cups of coffee and squirts of Visine, and we we were good to go.
The drive north from Everett was incredibly beautiful. We could not have asked for a more perfect day. We arrived at the Canadian border at around noon and only had to wait in the queue for about 10 minutes. The border patrol asked us where we came from, where we live, what Rick does in the military, whether or not we were carrying firearms, and asked to see our passports. After looking at them for a few seconds he allowed us to proceed. Couldn't have been easier. All that worry for nothing!
B.C. license plates say Beautiful British Columbia, and for a very good reason! It truly is a beautiful place. After we got onto Highway 1 I took over the driving and spent the next few hours up in the mountains. It was the most beautiful drive I have ever taken in my life. I thought Rick and Bren would eventually gag me because every few seconds I was almost yelling Oh, oh, LOOK AT THAT! They both eventually fell asleep, leaving me to gaze in wide-eyed wonder at our LORD's marvelous creation. A few times I had to keep from looking off the side of the highway where there was no guardrail between the truck and the river a couple hundred feet below. I was so glad traffic was fairly light.
After driving out of the mountains we were very hungry and tired and in a little town called Cache Creek. It was about 4 p.m. and just did not feel like going on, so we stopped to get gas and Canadian money at an ATM, got a motel room, Subway sandwhiches, and retreated to the room for the evening. Our room doesn't have an internet connection; I'm getting the wireless very weakly from the hotel across the street, so I'm hoping I will be able to post this.
I'd love to write more, but am just too tired and ready for a good night sleep.
Thank you all for your prayers. The Lord has been so good to us, as this whole trip has been trouble-free thus far. I think of you and pray for you often.
Love you all!
Saturday, September 09, 2006
What a day.
After battling mosquitos, bees, and dogs that refused to "go potty", we hit the road this morning by 8 a.m. and made good time through Oregon and much of Washington despite the very windy conditions.
While driving throuth Rattlesnake Hills we encountered a Ford Explorer with attached trailer reststing on it's roof in the midst of a dust storm. It was a sobering reminder to be vigilant while driving.
We stopped at around noon for lunch in Sunnyside, Washington (the home of astronaut Bonnie Dunbar). which was a nice little town. We stopped first at a little seafood place called Skippers for Bren's meal, then Rick and I got sandwiches at Subway. It was too warm to leave the dogs in the truck locked up, so we opened all the windows and ate in the truck.
I had forgotten that Yakima valley is wine country and was plesantly surprised by the number of vineyards and fruit tree groves we passed along the interstate (We had a rest stop on Merlot Drive). There's something very wonderful about seeing bunches of ripe purple grapes hanging heavy on the vine ready to be picked and eaten (or squashed, as the case may be). I love seeing the lush green fields contrast the surrounding dry, brown hills. Looking out over the landscape I could see the direction the Yakima River flowed by the bright green plants that were fortunate enough to grow along it's banks.
While driving through Yakima Valley we were listening to the radio and heard a commerical talking about "PT Bruiser". It's a game to play while on the road. If you see a PT Cruiser, you are supposed to hit someone in the arm. Rick bopped me once. Thankfully we didn't see anymore of the the said vehicles.
At around 2 p.m. when we had a rest stop after Yakima, I called my blogging friend, Mel to let her know we would be arriving in the Seattle area earlier than we expected. Since Mel couldn't meet us until 6 p.m., we decided to drive up to Everett, check into our hotel room, then drive south again to meet her. Everything went as planned until I left the map in our hotel room and discovered that I had gotten directions to the wrong restaurant. To make a long story short, it took us an hour, and about ten calls to Mel's cell phone, to find the right restaurant. At one point I was afraid that if I called her one more time she was going to go back home. She did drive 45 mintues to see us, and bless her heart, she was so gracious about the whole screwed-up misunderstanding on my part.
We had a very nice dinner and talk while Rick and Bren when crazy buying cheap dvds at Best Buy.
At 8:30 Rick picked me up, took a pic of Mel and me, then we said goodbye and came back to the hotel completely exhausted. I now sit in a very busy hotel lobby using my laptop because the rooms do not have a wireless connection, only the lobby does. How strange is that?
We do not intend on getting up and rushing out in the morning. Rick has to get the paperwork together to prepare to cross the border into Canada, and I wouldn't mind an extra hour myself.
Aunt Janet, and Joe, I hope you had a nice trip back home. It was great to see you again. Mom, dad, Sandy, and Chester, I love you all very much. I miss you already.
Friday, September 08, 2006
Well, just barely Oregon. We crossed the border and stopped for the night.
We got a late start this morning and didn't get on the road til about 10:00. We ate at the hotel restaurant then hit Wally World for water because we were under the impression that we would gain an hour today. But of course we didn't. We won't gain another hour until right after we leave Ontario in the morning.
The first part of the drive today was beautiful, and was made even more meaningful as we listened to a sermon on the book of John on CD by Tommy Nelson in which he teaches on Jesus being the Creator of everything.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made. ~ John 1:1-3
I looked at the rock hills like the one in the photo, and imagined them standing for thousands of years and felt a deep sense of just how short life really is. I am deeply grateful the time God has allowed me on this earth to learn to know and serve Him.
We stopped for lunch in Mt. Home. I was excited about the prospect of eating at a Jack-in-The-Box since it had been years since I had eaten one of their yummy rice bowls, but they didn't have any. I settled on a salad while Rick had Subway.
After lunch I took over the driving so Rick could sleep. We had long ago passed the Sawtooth National Forest, and the landscape returned to flat, brown brush, dotted occasionally with lush green crops and wild sunflowers. We could see the many acres of burned land from the recent wildfires. We passed many firefighting crews from different states that are in the area to help with the firefighting efforts.
We ended up in a smoking room tonight which is worse than I thought it would be, but we have a sliding glass door that opens to a grass yard for the dogs, so the smell of smoke is worth the convenience of not having to walk far away from the room in the middle of the night to take the dogs to pee like we had to last night.
As soon as we checked in Rick and I got a workout at the hotel gym. Bren went after we got back (we could see right into the gym area from our window, so we allowed her to go alone as she wished). Rick's now relaxing on the bed watching a Clint Eastwood flick, In The Line of Fire, and Bren's reading her book, I Capture The Castle, and I am blogging :o)
We are excited that tomorrow will be our last day - LORD willing - in the states before we head into Canada on Sunday morning. I'm still a bit nervous about crossing the border with the animals since I received so much conflicting information concerning the document requirements, but I ended up trusting the woman I talked to at the Canadian State Dept. We'll see how it goes.
I have a blogging friend of a couple years that I'm hoping I will be able to meet tomorrow. She lives in the Seattle area and offered to drive to meet us, but her commitments may have changed since we last emailed. I hope it works out!
It's nearly 11 p.m. and time for a good night sleep.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
We took our time getting on the road this morning because we stayed up later than we wanted to last night. I had a bugger of a time getting reservations for a room in Wyoming. Either the hotels/motels were completely booked, or they didn't allow pets. At around midnight I finally called LaQuinta Inn in Rock Springs and accepted a reservation despite the $139 + tax per night fee. I told Rick we had three options: bite the bullet and willingly become the victims of extortion; drive really, really, really far today and spend the night in Utah, or have a really, really short day and spend the night in Cheyenne. We chose to bite the bullet, but called the Holiday Inn, which was full, every hour to see if there had been any cancellations. Honestly, I think the staff took pity on us (or got sick of me calling) and a room mysteriously appeard (for $99 per night) at around noon. The clerk called me and set us up, then I called LaQuinta and happily cancelled our reservation with them.
Southern Wyoming didn't get the memo that gas prices have been falling for a couple weeks now. Many stations were still charging $3 per gallon. The highest we saw was $3.12 the lowest was $2.54.
At 2p.m. we stopped in Laramie for lunch at Pizza Hut (Bren's choice), and really enjoyed it. The lunch rush was over and we were the only customers. The staff was very friendly and treated us like we were celebreties. The pizza was delicious too, although my stomach hated me for it later.
Bren kept herself busy on the road by watching movies, listening to music and reading. I waved my hand vigorously in the air to get her attention whenever anything remotely interesting popped up on the landscape, such as:
- storm clouds
windmills (Wyoming is WINDY!)
signs ("Beef - It's What's For Dinner")
We couldn't have been more happy to pull up to the hotel tonight. It's a nice one and we had a fun time looking around. After getting settled in, Bren and I went to the hotel gym for a workout which felt real good. Sitting all day causes my ankles to swell, and since I can't drink much on the road, I try to get in a couple bottles of water in the evening and work up a good sweat. From here on out I will attempt to nix the salt from my diet while we are traveling.
Thank you all who are reading and leaving comments for me. It makes my day to log on in the evening and see that someone has left me some love. Blessings to all who read.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Today has been good, but long. I always plan our days with 500 miles in mind, but take into account different factors such as the weather, the state (The speed limit along I-80 in Nebraska is 75), and how much sleep Rick and I got the night before, and then make necessary adjustments. I prefer to call ahead to find hotels that accept pets, and last night it was a bit difficult to find one on this stretch, so I ended up pushing our day to cover 581 miles to make it to our pet-friendly hotel. We're no big fans of pushing ourselves to the brink of exhaustion and insanity on the road, so today will be a longer day than we prefer, but it was an easy drive. My hat's off to all you truckers out there.
We didn't pass anything truly remarkable on the drive today. I took notice of three things: The Precious Moments Inspiration Park and Chapel in Carthage, Missouri, President Truman's birthplace (I was driving and didn't write down the name of the town...I'll have to google it later), and I was struck by how nice a town Lincoln, Nebraska seemed to be as we drove through. Granted, we only saw a small section of it, but what we saw was nice. As I typed this we passed a van on the road pulling a statue of a man with a rifle resting on his shoulder. I took a photo of it, hope it turns out. Oh, and as we exited near our hotel we saw The Heartland Museum of Military Vehicles. Very neat!
While I was driving today my new friend in Alaska, Julie, called me to see how we are doing. It was nice to hear from her. When Rick applied for the Alaska job I got on MySpace and searched for women my age that live in the area to get a feel for life there. I found Julie's space and sent her message asking if she would mind answering some question for me and she so graciously complied. We began IM-ing, and then eventually chatted on the phone. It's great that I'll know someone when we get there.
We're all settled in the room and it's comfortable. Unfortunately, guests with pets are put on the third floor, so we had fun hauling all our stuff up. The doggies aren't too happy with their potty spot...gosh they're so hard to please! haha. Regardless, we are thankful for a bed, shower, and laundry room. I'm sure we'll sleep great tonight.
While Rick showered this evening Bren and I walked across the parking lot to a fast food joint (yuk) and picked up some chicken. When we are all tired we get irritable and start snapping at each other, so we left Rick to decompress in peace and quiet while Bren and I talked and laughed over a meal. Blogging is relaxing for me and helps me to feel connected to my family and friends. Bren IM'd with a friend back in Virginia for awhile.
When we saw my sister, Sandy, in Arkansas, she gave Bren some MadLibs which helped kill the last hour on the road today. I leave you with the one that made us laugh the most:
This Evening, the famous orchestra conductor, Daisy, will present a program of classical forts at the old music center. She will conduct the Head Phone Symphony Orchestra, which is noted for its excellent string and freezing wind sections, considered by many sweat pants to be the world's most bronze ensemble. The program will begin with Debussy's "Clair de Toilet Paper", followed by Mendelssohn's "Ditzy Song", and Strauss'"Tales of the Vienna Double-Wide. Then we will hear Rachmaninoff's "Tuba Concerto Number 427," but only the daft movements. After intermission, the second half of the program will be devoted to a playing in its entirety of Beethoven's "Fifth Barstool." Tickets are now on sale at the Water Pump Office.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
I woke up around 8:30 this morning to the sound of my mom coming in from her workout at Curves. Bren had slept on the couch and was already awake and chirped, "Good morning Grandma!". I climbed out of bed and into the kitchen with my wild hair, and one eye closed to block out the light. It felt good to hug my dad. He smells good and always hugs me like he means it.
Later in the morning Aunt Janet and Uncle Joe came over and we all went over to the property where mom and dad's house is being built. Janet and Joe plan to build a house right across the road when they retire. An Amish crew of six is building it and they were fascinating to watch. They worked quickly, efficiently and with a sense of purpose. I never thought we'd be too far away to see the house once it's complete, but hopefully we'll be able to make a trip home within the next couple years.
We returned home and mom put her famous lasagna sauce on to simmer while Uncle Joe, dad, and Rick sat out on the balcony to chat.
On our way into town Bren saw a little shop that sells unique jewelry, so mom, Aunt Janet, Bren and I piled into the car to go check it out. The small building was painted purple, the store name, handpainted in cursive, read Uniquely Jennifer. Windchimes made out of everyday items adorned the roof overhang and swayed in the breeze. As soon as we walked in we were overcome by cigarette smoke. Mom and Aunt Janet only looked for a minute then had to retreat to the parking lot for fresh air.
Bren was in her element, scanning the handmade jewelry. She prefers to find and wear things that not many other people would have. She ended up buying a ring made of silver wire twisted into an abstract shape. Everyone approved. The lady tending shop was very cheerful and so helpful. I love country folk!
An intense three hour-marathon of Yahtzee ensued after a delicious meal of lasagna, salad, and garlic bread - our last homecooked meal for a long time. While the guys and Bren played the game, I headed out to the truck to Rain-X the windows and put on our wind deflectors. Aunt Janet came out to keep me company which allowed us time to have a good chat.
I'm not sure who won the Yahtzee tournament, but a good time was had by everyone. I stopped often to enjoy the sound of laughter coming from the people I love the most in this world, and thanked God again for His grace and goodness toward us. Mom, Dad, Aunt Janet, and Joe, I love you tremendously!
We plan to head out by 8 a.m. tomorrow to begin our long trek north. Please pray for us when you think of us!
Blessings to you.
Monday, September 04, 2006
Before we left the mosquito-infested hotel this morning we had breakfast at the little Mexican restaurant, Don Jose, adjacent to the lobby. Breakfast was good, but the real treat was the beautiful carved wood and brightly painted tables and chairs. The oatmeal was pretty good too.
We drove west to Little Rock then turned north on US65 up to Missouri. I really enjoy getting off the interstates and getting a look at the little towns and houses along the route. Small towns with mom and pop shops are so much more interesting than the typical franchised neighborhoods with cookie cutter houses. I chuckled quite a few times at the names of some businesses:
Jamaica Me Tan, a tanning salon in Greenbriar, Arkansas
St. Joe, AR, population 85 (The thought of a "Saint Joe" just struck me as funny, maybe because I have an uncle Joe who is a hoot). The itty-bitty town had a mercantile general store and very old deteriorating stone cottages roadside. Seeing this town made me interested in the history of this stretch of road.
Goat Chip Hole, the name of a small hole-in-the-wall walk-up fast food joint.
Wreck and Roll Body Shop, in Harrison
Uncommon Grounds, coffee shop in Harrison.
The church sign at Red Oak Baptist Church read:
Despite a short drive today it seemed to take f-o-r-e-v-e-r and we were so relieved to finally pull up to my mom and dad's place. We are settled in for the evening. The dogs are laid out enjoying the A/C, while Bren, Rick, and my dad are laying on the floor in the living room having fun playing Gin Rummy.
When you are down to nothing, God is up to something.
The Lord has so blessed me with a wonderful family and when I am with them I savor every moment. You can't buy this kind of happiness.
Sunday, September 03, 2006
The 500-mile drive today went real well. The weather has been beautiful (only had to turn on the A/C for the dogs a few times when we entered Arkansas), and the traffic was light being that it is Sunday. We made good time. Gas prices were thirty cents higher per gallon in Tennessee than they were in Kentucky. It's odd how the prices change from state-to-state.
We arrived at the Holiday Inn in Forest City at around 6 p.m. It's an older hotel, but not in the quaint sort of way. It's old in a desperately-needing-renovation sort of way. But the room is decent as long as you don't get the urge to turn around in the bathroom. There just isn't enough room in there to do that! On a scale of 1 to 10 I'd give this place a 4.
My sister drove up to see us with her son, Sydney and we had a real nice visit for a couple hours. Sandy had already eaten, so we sat at the Mexican restaurant and she watched me eat, then afterward we sat by the pool for a long chat while Rick and Brenna kept 3-year-old Sydney occupied.
Sandy is two years older than me and we weren't really close growing up. We have struggled to build a solid relationship as adults, so I value very much the time I get to spend with her. Tonight when she left, Bren dubbed her a "cool" aunt, and she is, as well as a good mommy.
Sydney had about all a little guy could take at 9:30 p.m. so we walked them to their truck and said goodbye. I pray it won't be too long before we will see them again. Little boys don't stay little very long.
After a load of laundry and taking the dogs out one last time, Rick and Bren got into bed and promptly fell asleep. Now it's my turn.
Saturday, September 02, 2006
Almost as soon as we arrived my Uncle Stan wisked Rick away on the four-wheeler to show him around. My 13-year-old cousin, Mason chatted with Bren about his drumming and played Amazing Grace for us on his guitar, and Bren introduced Mason to Daisy the Ferret.
It had been about six years since I had last seen Mason and was pleased to discover what a nice young man he is growing up to be. He's a smart one! My cousin Justin also popped in for a few minutes to say hello on his way to work at Cracker Barrel. It's hard to believe he is 30 now. We were kids just a few short years ago!
It had been several years since I had seen my two aunts, so it was wonderful to chat and catch up with everyone. My Aunt Sookie has been battling cancer the past several months and has had a rough go of it. It was a relief to me to see that she is doing better and is in good spirits. The Lord has been at work in all their lives.
The unwelcome excitment we had today had to do with three ATVs, me, Rick, Bren, and Mason. While I was chatting with my aunts, Rick and Bren were out riding around looking around the property, so later in the afternoon Rick offered to take me for a ride on the four-wheeler to show me around. Mason (who has been riding ATVs for five years) offered to give us a little tour, then Bren decided she would ride along as well. So our little caravan consisted of Mason out front, Bren second, and Rick and I bringing up the rear.
We took off and crossed the street then turned down a long road that declined sharply right from the start. As soon as I saw the road was made of gravel I panicked. I didn't think Bren was experienced enough to handle the ATV off-road. As soon as that thought passed through my mind I watched as Bren hit a deep hole along the left edge of the road. The ATV slid to the left, and off the road toward the trees. I saw what was going to happen and started screaming "No! No! No!" as if demanding the action stop would make it happen. All I could see was Bren going head first into a tree, but she had actually grabbed and hugged the tree as she went by it to keep from falling over the ledge with the ATV. Thankfully, the ground was very soft from the recent rain and the ATV stopped it's decent at a 45-degree angle just off the shoulder.
In a fraction of a second Rick was off his machine and making his way toward her. After she was pulled to safety Daddy hugged her for a good while. Mason, who was quite aways ahead of us, had run back to help. About this time some neighbors on ATVs came by and helped pull the stuck one out of the mud. Thanks be to God, Bren came away with just a bruised knee.
It is always difficult to say goodbye to family because I never know when or if I will ever see them again this side of heaven. It makes me hug tightly and try to remember the feeling of being close to the people I love.
Now, if I could just write more often!
P.S. I have been unable to post photos this evening for some reason. Will make another attempt tomorrow, hopefully.
Friday, September 01, 2006
We had had a busy day. Rick did his final outprocessing then we attended his going away luncheon where he received some very beautiful momentos. The rest of the afternoon was filled with errands (which, for me, always includes returning borrowed items), then we returned to our billeting room, tired and ready for a good night sleep. Then we turned on the news.
I soon realized we were either going to have to leave a day later than planned, leave early, or attempt to drive through the wind, rain, and flooded interstate. Since I tend to be emotional and somewhat overcautious when it comes to safety issues, I didn't want to be the one to make the decision to change our plans, so I prayed about it. I asked God to lead us to do the right -- and safe -- thing.
I hadn't said anything to Rick, but he could tell I was worried. We discussed it and decided to pack up as quickly as we could, check out of billeting, and hit the road to avoid the worst of the weather, and that's exactly what we did.
We pulled up to Holiday Inn Express at 12:30 a.m. in Lexington, Virginia completely exhausted. We got the first room on the first floor right by the exit door (extremely handy since we have to take the dogs out to potty), and I have to say that I have never slept in a more comfortable bed. If you ever have to stay the night in Lexington, VA I highly recommend this hotel. It is beautiful, comfortable, and pet-friendly.
Tonight finds us staying at Holiday Inn Express in Richmond, Kentucky, about an hour away from Livingston. We arrived at around 6 p.m. As soon as we were finished unloading the truck Rick and I got a workout in the hotel's exercise room, then Rick and Bren spent an hour in the pool while I did some laundry. Tonight we're relaxing in the room watching the new Poseidon Adventure.
The dogs and Daisy (our ferret) have been quite stressed so far during the trip, which is understandable, but I'm sure they will settle into the travel routine nicely since we will be on the road so long. There is nothing easy about traveling with animals! It's a good thing we love them so much :o)
Updating at the end of every day is going to be more of a challenge than I thought it would be just because I pretty much have mush for brains after being on the road all day. If I can wrestle the laptop away from Bren sometime on the road I chould try to write a little at a time and post at the end of the day along with any pics I have taken.