Never Forget


It's impossible for me to not have a heavy heart on a gut-wrenching anniversary such as today. So much has happened since September 11, 2001. It feels unreal to recognize that it has already been 15 years. Fifteen years. Surreal.

I was a freshman at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and was in the midst of an 8:00am German 101 class when the first tower was hit. The liberal arts dean came into the classroom and made the announcement. We all left the room quickly and gathered in the lobby of Morton Hall. This was before the days of social media, before Facebook Live and Snapchat. We all stood there, staring at an old TV atop an even older rolling cart, watching in horror as the news unfolded.

To be completely and ashamedly honest, some of us thought the plane hitting the North Tower was some kind of freak accident, perhaps an inexperienced pilot flying too low. Boy were we wrong. The South Tower was hit by the second plane as we all watched that grainy pixelated television. Then came the news of the Pentagon attack. Many of us wondered if Redstone Arsenal, the large military base near campus, was next.

So much has changed since that fateful day 15 years ago. The world is a different place now. The United States is an altered nation. 9/11 taught us unequivocally that the future is unpredictable and moreso that life is short. The tragedy also taught us that we must always remember. We must never forget.

There are some poignant words I've heard over the years which are fitting for the present day turmoil faced by this world. War creates 1,000 bin Ladens. And only the dead have seen an end to war.

Peace and mercy and blessings be upon you and yours. May God protect us all. 

It's Been 6 Months

Six months ago today, I received a text message that changed my life forever. 

On January 15, 2016, my dear sweet Momma uncharacteristically texted me two no-nonsense words: Come home.  I was more than 3,000 miles away — she in Alabama and I in Alaska.  It wasn't like her to so boldly ask me to come back to Alabama.  I instinctively knew something was wrong, so I booked the first flight out of Juneau.  In what felt like record time, I arrived in Huntsville late that evening.

Sixty-six days later, she passed away, after a long and harrowing fight for her life in Huntsville Hospital.  What began as a gallbladder attack quickly escalated into a medical nightmare, a rollercoaster that no one saw coming, least of all me.

I am still processing everything that has transpired these last six months — from the joy on her face when I arrived at the ICU that first night to the feeling of being in the room when she coded and almost died on January 19.  I'm still recovering from having to put on my "you're gonna be OK" cheerleader game-face as she woke up from a five-day propofol-induced unconsciousness, her wrists tied down and a ventilator pumping her lungs. 

And I'm still overcoming the sudden, unexpected news from an insensitive nurse that my Mother had "expired."  I don't think I'll ever be over the awfulness of saying my last goodbyes and kissing Momma's forehead at the crematorium — but there's one thing that's for sure: talking about it helps. 

This website was founded as a travelogue to share my adventures in Alaska, and in time, I will get back to that focus.  But for now, this is an outlet for me to share and process my grief.  As they say, shared grief is half the sorrow, but happiness, when shared, is doubled.

Thank you, friends, for being part of this journey.

Milk Sandwich

Ever seen the Space Shuttle covered in snow?  Me neither.  Until today. 

Snow levels currently at aft BSM thermal curtain, expected to reach well beyond the stiffener rings to the aft center SRM segment.  Only in Huntsville can you measure snow depth in solid rocket booster terminology.  (Photo and caption courtesy of William Alexander Franklin.)

My hometown of Huntsville (Huntsvegas for some), Alabama, just had the second snowiest day in the city's history.  8.1 inches blanketed the Rocket City on Wednesday, and my Facebook Newsfeed has been blowing up ever since. 

Friends back home are making snow cream frappaccinos, taking their kiddos on make-shift sleds, and asking themselves "What Would Brad Travis Do?" 

I also hear that folks are eating milk sandwiches.  Apparently, one can survive two weeks eating nothing but frozen milk sandwiches.  This is a new concept to me, and I will work to confirm or dispel this myth once Juneau gets some snow. 

I hope you enjoy these pictures that friends in North Alabama shared with me (thanks, y'all!).  I've been in Alaska for six years now, so you'd think I'd be used to all this wintry mumbo-jumbo by now.  But all I can say is brrrrrr.  Stay warm, folks.

Meanwhile in Alaska...

Warm temps continue to plague Iditarod plans, and Juneau's famed Eaglecrest Ski Area has no snow.  The only snow in Juneau right now is high above the city and far out of reach.

While my friends in Alabama are making snowmen, we in Alaska are enjoying the sun and sand at the beach!

In Juneau this winter, you won't find families making snowmen in their front yards or sledding down their driveways...

But what you will find in Alaska right now are plenty of snowsuits.  On clearance.  At $4 a piece.

Boston: please send us your snow

A Whisker-ful Surprise

I guess you could say it all began with cat whiskers.  Kitties shed their whiskers naturally, and every once in awhile, I'll find one of Sonny Bunny's big long white whiskers on the floor.  I've started a little collection over the years, and I jokingly refer to them as Sonny Bunny's little "gifts" he leaves for me, since he's now an indoor-only cat and can no longer bring me gifts of squirrels and finches.  (He's yet to bring home an eagle, despite his size.)

I digress.  This past summer when my dear sweet Momma was visiting, she noticed a small vase of whiskers.  Of course she thought I was weird when I told her what they were.  But then the tables turned and I thought she was the incredibly weird one when she asked me to give her a few.  I must have had a funny look on my face as I handed them over because she said, "Don't ask why I want them.  I have a reason."

Flash forward to Christmas 2014.  I'm in Alabama, sitting on my Momma's couch as we're opening presents.  She gave me a dainty little box with strict instructions to "open it carefully."  I didn't know what to expect.  And I certainly had forgotten all about those cat whiskers!

It turns out that Mom commissioned a small company in California, Backstitch Chicks, to make a replica of Sonny Bunny.  Artist Sharon Constant created a perfect replica of my bobtail tuxedo cat, and her attention to detail blew my mind.  Not only did she add his real whiskers, but she positioned Sonny Bunny on an exact replica of my outlandish vintage carpet.  The fact that she included his round blue scratching pad, catnip mouse, and peacock feather (his fave toy) were all special details that made this present one of the best gifts ever.

Another keepsake from the package was this personalized note:

"Your Sonny Bunny soft sculpture was created in collaboration with your Mom.  She supplied photos, anecdotes, descriptions, and some of Sonny Bunny's actual whiskers.  Sonny Bunny is needle felted - a technique of manipulating wool, silk, and alpaca roving into 3D objects.  Different colors and textures of roving are stabbed thousands of times to create separate shapes.  The more shapes are "needled," the denser they become.  As the shapes are worked up, they are needled together and fine-tuned into a completed portrait of your beloved pet."

I'm a big believer that the best gifts come from the heart.  They don't have to be spendy or lavish.  Sometimes, it's truly the thought that counts.  And gifts with such thought and care behind them become keepsakes that warm the heart and make a lasting impression.  As for this gift, I will cherish it for a lifetime.  Thanks, Mom.

To order your own pet protrait needleart, contact BackstitchChick [at] gmail [dot] com.