My Alaskan Adventure in Fairbanks

Come along on my Alaskan adventure as I visit Fairbanks. This isn’t my first trip to Alaska, but this time is very different. I’m on a two-week land and sea cruise, starting on land. During my previous trip, I focused on heading to and past the Arctic Circle.

Fairbanks – Educational and Inspiring

Arriving a day early I started right in on my Alaskan adventure. I was familiar with public transportation in Denver, but you never know how well another system will work out. I’m happy to say, it was great. My companions and I easily traveled everywhere we wanted to go. We felt safe and privileged meeting some local Alyeskans (the native word for Alaska). And a big plus is the price – free for anyone 60 and over. We saw a lot of Fairbanks that we would have missed otherwise.

Fairbanks Visitor Center

Athabaskan youth sharing beading knowhow
Athabaskan youth beading

Our first stop was the visitor center. I highly recommend spending time at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center. We learned about local history, native culture, how locals have fun all year long, and about native plants and animals.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks

Museum of the North
UofA Museum of the North

We jumped back onto the MAC blue line bus and stopped at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. Two of my group visited the museum and loved it. My friend and I opted to take a walk down the hill to the Georgeson Botanical Garden. It was fabulous! As Master Gardeners in our past lives and loving gardens of all types, we were excited learning about local gardening from fellow gardeners. For instance, we talked to a volunteer working in the perennial beds who told us how hot it’s been. Coming from Florida, we were thrilled with the 80 degree weather and thought it’s pleasantly cool. The volunteer also told us about the weird elongated ‘blueberries’ we’d seen, called honeyberries. Bird netting covered the bushes,  saving the super sweet morsels for humans.

Day 2 – On the Tour

The next day we joined our Holland America Tour group, visiting two popular spots. When I looked at the brochures and marketing information, I thought, “This will be touristy and hokey”. Boy was I wrong!

Dredge 8

The whole gold rush history was something I missed during my previous visit in 2003. And panning for gold sounded like fun. But Dredge 8 offered so much more.

First, as we exited the parking lot, there stood the Alaskan pipeline, right in front of us. A group gathered around a demonstration section of the pipeline with an opening to see the mechanism that keeps the interior of the pipe clean. Our experience began with a detailed explanation how the pipeline benefits Alaska, all residents, and eliminates concerns for wildlife and the environment.

My Alaskan adventure in Fairbanks
Fun on Dredge 8

Next, we took a ride along the rails, moving us through the history of gold mining in the area up to the dredges used until the 1950’s. It was fascinating to hear about the dredge, and later we climbed up to the third level and ‘manned’ the controls of this huge mechanical artifact of Alaskan history.

But I can’t forget the panning for gold! Amazingly, I could actually do it, thanks to the patience and expertise of our gold panning expert. My bag of tailing gravel produced $12 of gold for my efforts. What fun! Above all, don’t miss the delicious complimentary coffee and cookies.

Riverboat Discovery

This tour is a treasure. It truly is a multi-generational family running an enterprise with the son at the helm and the 90+ matriarch waving to us both from the landing and at  her home along the Tanana River.

Athabaskan Winter Coat

One of the highlights of the tour was time spent at the sight of an Athabaskan Indian Village. Our young hosts first explained their personal native culture heritage and then demonstrated and explained every facet of their 10,000 year tradition in Alyeska, including how they view their place in the web of life.

Once again, the snack bars on the riverboat offered complimentary coffee sweetened with tasty blueberry doughnuts at the beginning of the riverboat trip and then with salmon dip on a cracker as we headed back to the landing.

The Thread that Wove Through My Days

Wherever I pursued my Alaskan adventure in Fairbanks, I  saw smiling, enthusiastic, respectful, and friendly young people spending their summer vacations, working in Alaska. Furthermore, full time residents had the same character. There is something in the summer Alaskan air  that lifts spirits and brings smiles to everyone’s face, residents and visitors alike.

Learn How to Give Thanks

Being a Southern girl, I was taught to always give thanks to those who help me. Some of the ways you’ve helped me are; opening my door, listening to my laments, signing up for my newsletter, giving me a difficult message, even literally saving my life. Thank you. There, I’ve lived up to my heritage’s expectation. But is that all there is to learn about giving thanks?

Why Bother Giving Thanks?

I believe everyone benefits from thanks; those who give, those who receive, and those bearing witness. Our energy is greatly affected by the energy that surrounds us. Like attracts like. Grateful feelings grow as they move from one person to the next. And gratitude is so easy to include in your life. Sometimes it shows up as a smile. Try smiling when you don’t have a reason. How does it make you feel? For me, tension leaves and lightness comes in.

When someone is nearby to receive my smile, it magnifies my joy. I have no way of knowing what they are feeling, but often I see their face change. Their eyes light up and their lips lift and broaden into an easy smile. The energy in the room goes up a notch for everyone.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, also remember to thank yourself too.

How do you give thanks to yourself?

Do something nice just for you. As in all things, this is particular to you. By learning to listen to yourself, specific ways you can thank yourself will show up. Think back on occasions when you were alone and happy. Chances are you were showing gratitude for yourself. Examples include window shopping, reading a good book in a cozy chair, stopping to smell a fragrant flower, taking a walk in a garden, choosing a colorful ink pen over utilitarian black, or treating yourself to a luxurious pedicure.

Today I choose to have a pedicure

The first task is selecting the nail polish. There was a wall of choices and the only thing I knew was that I wanted something neutral. I needed help to make such an ‘important’ decision, so I decided to call on my intuition. My gaze scanned through three displays and rested on an OPI bottle. I lifted it to feel the weight, turning it over to see the name, ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. That cinched the decision.

Carrying my selection to the row of relaxing combination massage chair and pedicure sinks, I selected the next empty seat. The technician, Thi, handed me a menu of pedicure flavors; basic, VIP deluxe, or pearl powder. The high-end pearl powder called my name at first, but once again I checked in with my inner voice and selected the mid-range VIP deluxe. There was a long list of scents. The first choice, ‘High Seas’ seemed appropriate to honor my upcoming cruise.

Once Thi completed the tedious nail trimming, she applied a soothing cleanser, massaging my tired calves and feet. I drifted into a state of nirvana, lulled by the lilting Asian conversation in the background. Before I knew it, Thi was gently rousting me from my dreamlike state. She continued pampering me, treating me like a special person. The calmness in my heart during the pedicure stayed with me the rest of the day.

Once you start living in gratitude, almost everything tends to improve.

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Research in a Historic Library

Fifty years ago I was starting my summer vacation, already looking forward to my junior year in high school. Certainly, I was completely unaware how the start of school would impact the rest of my life. On the first day of the 1969-1970 school calendar, I met a man who would eventually be the love of my life. But when did school start that year? It sounds like an easy question to answer. It is not. I scanned my own memory and asked my 90-year-old mother, whose memory is incredible. We both believed school had started early, before Labor Day, sometime during my high school years, but we couldn’t be sure when. Then I remembered my genealogical research in a historic library. Perhaps it might hold the key to answer my question.

Posing the Question multiple ways

Next, I posted on a group page on Facebook looking for the answer.

“Call the high school and ask for the principal. They’ll know.”
“Ask the school board. They keep that information.”
“My birthday is August 27th and I remember we started school early before Labor Day and it ruined my birthday.”

I pursued talking to the school board, contacting Community Relations first. They were very helpful, but didn’t keep that type of information. They thought the high school might help me. Once again, each person I spoke with was very willing to help, but they just didn’t have the information.

One Closed Door Opens Another

It occurred to me that the Polk County History Center in Bartow, the county seat, might help, providing an opportunity to pursue research in a historic library.  I called and was switched to the Historical and Genealogical Library on the second floor.

“This is your lucky day!” Dorinda Morrison-Garrard, Senior Library Assistant, responded to my question. “We have minutes from school board meetings that someone painstakingly digitized for us. Let me transfer you to Preston in that section.”

Hearing those words, it seemed the clouds parted and a stream of light shone on me alone. That’s a little over-dramatic, but I did feel excited about the prospect of Preston calling me back with the actual date. I explained I was headed a little farther south to visit a friend in hospice, and I would swing by afterward, the last hour they were open. Preston explained he wasn’t sure exactly which years were in the collection. He would research and call me if he found the answer I was seeking.

The Lure of Historic Libraries

He didn’t call back, but I had promised to stop by. Since I love libraries, especially research in a historic library, I plugged in the address on my iPhone Google Maps app and set off for Bartow.

There’s something about old Southern Government Courthouse buildings that call me to them. The original county courthouse in Bartow where the History Center is located is one of them. Sitting in the car, parked right by the building, I look up the steps to the columns surrounding the tall wooden double doors. There is a skip in my step as I head to the side entrance. The receptionist is away from her station, but I remember Dorinda reminded me they are on the second floor. I see a map of the building layout and pick one up, just in case. I was really looking for the bathrooms, but anticipation sends me upstairs.

As I step out of the elevator, the Historical and Genealogical Library is just to my left. It’s familiar to me from looking up property maps with my grandparents’ names showing not only the property where I grew up, but the original property where my father spent his earliest years, less than a mile from my current home.

The Excitement of the Hunt is Contagious

Dorinda meets me at the entrance, knowing I’m the person who called. She is as excited as I am.

“We have the Lakeland Ledger right here on the microfilm reader. I think this will help your research.”

Ah, microfilm! I spent many hours at these machines before the Internet exploded, offering up multiple ways to explore historical fact-finding missions on my 5 year hunt for my ancestors back in the 1980’s. Dorinda gives me some pointers on using the reader, but the article I seek is on the screen, “School Opening Pretty Normal”. I had forgotten about the desegregation countywide in 1969. Haines City schools were on the pilot program, which started a few years earlier. The newspaper date was Wednesday, September 3, 1969 and the article referred to opening day on Tuesday. Mystery solved. My husband and I can celebrate meeting fifty years ago this coming September 2nd. And I have a verified date for my memoir. You know I couldn’t stop there. That was too easy. And I’m in a History and Genealogical Library!

The Final Step in My Research

At least three people believe we started school before Labor Day. Therefore, I thank Dorinda and then ask if she could retrieve microfilm from the last week of August in 1970. She’s delighted to help me and quickly brings back the requested spool. Dorinda demonstrates how to thread the microfilm reader and I’m off. I quickly scan the article titles, trying hard to not be distracted by all the interesting information; Erma Bombeck’s daily column, articles that have my hometown of Dundee in the title, familiar names that pop out on the page. The spool is quickly filling on the take-up reel. Then I see it. There is an advertisement for buying school supplies early, with the words, “School starts on August 31st”. It isn’t a solid piece of reporting, but worth investigating.

Quickly, I Google ‘calendar august 1970’ and there it is. Labor Day falls on September 7th, with a full week of school running from Monday, August 31st through Friday, September 4th. Verified. My greatest desire at that moment is to continue looking at microfilm or wander through the stacks. I ask where the bathroom is instead. That’s how exciting it is for me to perform research. It is more important than physical need. It gives me joy.

Pulling out my iPhone calendar as I walk to the bathroom door, I scan, looking for an empty day in the coming weeks, when I can return to more research in a historic library.