And why are they not frozen? Because their hearts are warmed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Welcome to our blog! We hope you enjoy our travels and dialogues as we journey to Anchorage Alaska for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Nothing terribly  noteworthy happened this week.  The high point was taking Gatorade and soda crackers to some Elders who had food poisoning and the low point was Sister Taylor having to have a filling replaced.  You get the idea.

We didn't get to do a lot of exploring this last week so we thought we might just give you a tour of our apartment and show you where we live.   We feel very fortunate to have quiet space (for the most part) that we can clean quickly and be comfortable in when we are able to be home.   (Spoiler alert - Ralph and Dixie don't go any further.  We don't want you to be mad at us....)

I think we told you before that we are on the second floor of an apartment building.  There are 8 units in this building divided into two sections.  In each section there are two downstairs and two upstairs that open into the same area.  In our section of 4 there are missionaries living in two of them (us and the Elders) a member couple in one.  Did you know that Alaska has the third highest number of members of the church per capita in the US?   It is right behind Utah and Idaho.  

As you enter our apartment, you look directly into the living room.   The kitchen and dining room (part of the living room) are on the left and the hallway to the bedrooms/bathroom is on the right.

From front door into living room
Looking to the right into the living room

From living room into dining room. (All those nice big windows are on the south side -
lets in lots of light.)

Looking from entryway to the left into the kitchen.  

From dining room through service slot into kitchen.

Looking from entryway to the right down the hallway.  Closets (coat and utility) on the right.
This used to be the manager's apartment and the middle door went into the office, which is now a separate unit.

At the end of the hallway, looking straight ahead into the bathroom.

At the end of the hallway, looking left into our bedroom.

Yes, that is a king-size bed.  Our comforter just barely covers the top.

At the end of the hallway, looking to the right into the extra bedroom/sewing/utility room.

This room is where your air mattress will repose when you come to see us.
Believe me, you won't be able to afford a motel room.  At least in the summertime.

Looking closely at the table in the above picture, you will see this.  It is the mission's
Singer Sewing machine, circa 1964.  It's the exact same model Sister Taylor used
in her Home Ec class at Corvallis High School.  Fortunately, it has been refurbished
and works reasonably well.  And, also fortunately, Sister Taylor can remember how to use it.  

The only disadvantage to our apartment is that we don't have a washer or dryer.  The laundry room, however, is just downstairs and the management keeps it clean and serviceable.  And it's not too expensive.  The other disadvantage is the stairs, but every time I complain about hauling the groceries up the stairs, I remember Ralph and Dixie carrying theirs for miles from the stores to the boat and I try not to make a fuss.

And we've told you about our mission vehicle.  This is our 2014 Nissan Frontier crew-cab pickup. Very nice vehicle, even if it is a bit rough riding (4x4 drive) and only gets about 14 mpg.  Monday we have an appointment to change the studded snow tires for the summer tires.

This is the greenspace across the street.   It is the view we see out our living room windows.   This summer it will look much better than this we are told.   We are also told by the lady who lives downstairs that there is a moose that frequents this space quite often, especially late in the evenings.  We'll let you know if we ever see her (the moose not the neighbor).

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Well, we have passed one month in the Alaska Anchorage Mission!  We got in on the end of a very mild winter and we are into "break-up," which is what Alaskans call spring.  The sun is out, the temperatures are into the 40s, the snow is coming off the hills and what snow is left in town is "black snow," piled along the roadsides and in parking lots.

This pile is in our church parking lot.  You can probably see that the
reason it is black is because it is covered with the pea gravel that is
used for traction during the winter.
We are told that there is a massive cleanup every spring and all this gravel is reclaimed for use next year and, while things look brown, black and generally yucky right now, the city will be beautiful by summer.

We are learning some of the terms in use up here, one of the most interesting being "cheechako," which is what we are and will probably still be when we leave a year and a half from now.  We understand that cheechako is a combination of Chinook and another Native Alaskan dialect and it literally means, "newcomer."  Some consider a person cheechako until they have been through their first Alaskan winter.  Others use it to refer to anyone who isn't a long-time resident.

This last month has been very interesting.  I know that the blog is mostly a travelogue, but most of our time is spent in supporting the young missionaries in the work of the Lord.  We are slowly getting into the swing of things, both with our individual responsibilities and where we fit into the overall work of the office.  Sister Taylor has dealt with everything from concussions to food poisoning to injuries caused by falling on the ice or overreaching oneself in basketball on P-day.  Elder Taylor is, as he has indicated from the beginning, the mission "gofer" and all around handyman.  He helps coordinate and track some of the service hours put in by the missionaries, assists the mission nurse (traveling with her to doctors' appointments, inventorying and organizing medical supplies, etc.) has installed new printers, helps the other office missionaries with some of their computer problems and has updated the office phone system.  We have only had a couple of missionary experiences.  Sister Taylor got to begin the teaching of a young man who walked into the mission office one day, asking about the church.  We have befriended a young non-member single mom who lives next door to us and has been attending church off-and-on.  She and her son are native Alaskan and are originally from a small town north of Nome called Teller.  We have also met a member couple who live close by and are not attending church due to medical problems.  We try to check in on them every day or two to see how they're doing.

Next week the two Elders who are assigned to our ward are moving from a nearby apartment building into the apartment directly below us.  Guess we'll have to cut back on the wild, late-night parties.  Sister Taylor is starting a tradition of having fresh-baked cookies/banana bread/etc., ready for these Elders every Sunday evening as they return to their apartment.  Rough deal, eh?

On Friday we met the Senior Missionary couple from Whitehorse, Elder and Sister Patrick.  They were here to attend the temple with their ward.  They are in our mission but they reported directly to Whitehorse when they came out and none of us had ever met them.  They've been out a month longer than we have and they're from Edmonton, Alberta.  They know the Vartys, a couple from Edmonton that we went through the MTC with.  And, may I add, they are Canadian right down to the accent!  They told us how to spell Canada - "C eh, N eh, D eh."  Really a neat couple.  We had a breakfast for them at the office and then we all went to the temple together in the evening.  They are having some awesome experiences teaching the gospel in the Yukon.

Yesterday we decided to find a place to go for a walk.  There are trails all over Anchorage and in the west end, next to Cook Inlet, is a huge park area called Kincaid Park.  We discovered that all the trails in the park are dedicated to nordic skiing (in the winter) and they are still covered in ice/snow. 

 The park is on an old Cold War military installation where the government had Nike missiles aimed at Russia and is now devoted to soccer, Nordic skiing and disc golf.  

You can see from this map that there are 7-8 soccer fields, the disc golf course
around that and the Nordic ski trails all around what you can see here.
This is a small part of the view from several of the tees on the disc golf course.
The tidal flats of Cook Inlet and some of the mountains of the 
Alaskan Range on the other side of the Inlet.
It is an awesome place, we even found a small lake where some folks were still ice-fishing.  The ice has got to be getting pretty thin!

After exploring the park we went to the Hood Floatplane Base, which is right next to the main airport in Anchorage.  It consists of two small lakes that are currently ice-bound.  There are float planes parked all around the edge of both lakes and there are acres and acres of small planes nearby.  I have never seen that many small planes in one place.  We couldn't help but think about Sister Taylor's dad, Blaine Nyberg, and how much he would have loved to be there.

Never seen anything like this before!

Parked all around the lake, each with a small shed.

Planes of every size, description, age, and condition, but most are small and a bit "weathered."

Sister Taylor was excited about buying this, getting her license
on P-days, and then flying home by way of touring the state.

Of course a little ice doesn't stop them in Alaska! 

Here are a couple of short videos of planes after they had landed on the ice.  The first one is on skis and the second is on floats.  I would think that you'd have to touch down pretty softly on those floats.

The only birds we have seen here so far are the ravens (everywhere) a couple of magpies, a couple of eagles and we have heard a woodpecker in the trees behind the office.  We still have not seen a moose.  Lamenting that fact produced this photo and video from one of the couples here in the office.  These are two different instances when moose were at the office door, which is located on the back of a chapel right in town.

Sorry if the video(s) aren't the best quality.  Our camera takes HD video but I haven't figured out how to get them on the blog in any kind of good quality.  Let me know if you know the secret.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The different thing about this week is that the temperature dropped significantly.  Last week the highs were in the low 40s and the lows were around 20.  It was foggy and overcast most every day.  This week it was sunny and clear every day and the highs were in the teens and the lows right around 0.  The coldest night was -3 degrees.  We have had the block heater on the pickup plugged in the last three nights.

Which, in itself, is an interesting thing to those of us from the temperate zones.  Our apartment building has a carport which has a slot for each apartment.  On the pole next to each parking place is a power outlet.  It is specifically there for the block heaters and is controlled by a switch in each respective apartment.  For the first three weeks we lived here I couldn't figure out what this one wall switch was for.  I couldn't get it to turn anything on or off.  Just didn't make sense.  Then one of our neighbors filled us in.  You buy a short extension cord, specially built for the cold, plug it into your outlet and then plug your block heater into it.  Then when you get upstairs to your apartment, you turn on the power.  Cool, eh?  (Yes, I am easily amused.)

On Monday night we went to Family Home Evening at the Mission Home with the all the other Senior Missionaries and the Mission Presidency and their wives.  There were about twenty of us in attendance.  It was really fun.  Pres. Robinson showed us the new video that is being released by the church at Easter time called, "He Lives," or "Because He Lives," we can't remember which.  It will be playing in numerous visitor centers and on the church's YouTube channel.  Short, but very well done.  Watch for it.

Tuesday we drove around town a little and then went down by the Cook Inlet.  On the southeast edge of town we found a ski area.  We've always had to drive for miles and miles to see a ski area.  This is right on the edge of town, has a ski lift and a ski jump.  Really took us by surprise.  It was spring break here this week and there were several families and young people out skiing and snowboarding.

The Cook Inlet is on the north and west sides of town.  We took a couple of pictures of the sunset over the tidal flats and found a park in a downtown neighborhood nearby where they had prepared a skating area on a lagoon.

We took a short sightseeing trip on Thursday evening.  With all the clear, sunny skies and the sun not setting until about 8:00 PM we have lots of time in the evenings to be out and about.  We drove out along Turnagain Arm, which is an arm of Cook Inlet.  Capt. Cook tried to sail up the arm in search of the Northwest Passage and had to "turn again" because it was so shallow.  He named it the Turnagain River.

The Turnagain Arm and the mountains that border it are probably the most scenic place we have seen thus far.  I'm running out of superlatives for this place and it just keeps getting more and more fantastic.  Alaska is just BIG.  There are no words to describe just how beautiful it is here.  And we are told that the summers are what everyone lives here for.  Apparently another huge step above the splendor that exists the other nine months of the year.  A few shots of the Turnagain Arm area --

In addition to the beautiful mountains, you can see that the Arm is
pretty much covered in ice, some of it stationary and some of it moving.

Here you can see where the ice has built up around the edges of the Arm.
This band of ice went clear around the shore as far as we could see.

The real amazing thing for us to see was the ice moving down the Arm out to the inlet.  It was like watching the ground move and if you weren't careful it would make you seasick.

On the way home we saw a couple of Dall sheep come down the cliff to the road.  We stopped and got a couple of pics but they're not the best.  The lower one had the horns but he was turned away from us most of the time.  

Just outside of Anchorage we passed through a bird and wildlife refuge in an area called Potter Marsh. (Great birdwatching, Amy!)  As we were driving along we saw a flash out over the marsh and realized that someone was taking photographs out there.  Closer examination revealed that a young lady in a strapless wedding (we assume) dress was being professionally photographed in the middle of the marsh.  The interesting thing about all this is that it was 14 degrees and windy!  She must have been freezing!  And if you think that is hardy (or fool-hardy, as the case may be) the Samoans and Tongans come to church in their lava-lavas and flip flops.  And today it was 8 degrees!!!!  They are really tough!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

We survived Transfer Week!  Seven new missionaries arrived on Monday and seven left for home over the next couple of days.  We helped with orientation on Monday afternoon.  Talk about the blind leading the blind!

Tuesday morning we attended Transfer meeting.  What an incredible group of youth!  Several of them performed musical numbers, piano, guitar, singing, and the ones who were leaving for home each bore their testimony.  What spiritual giants!   We spent yet another meeting wiping the tears from our eyes.  

After the Transfer Meeting we were privileged to attend a session at the temple with the new missionaries and several of the transfers.  

On Wednesday, we were asked by President Robinson to each make a short introduction and training presentation on our individual areas of responsibility at the misson leadership meeting.  The zone leaders, sister training leaders, assistants to the President, Pres. & Sis. Robinson and Pres. LaVoie were all there.  There are normally some who attend by PVC (personal video conferencing) because of the distances involved, but this time they were all together.  It was a great gathering and we enjoyed getting to know some of these youth leaders a little better.

By way of explanation, for those who are unfamiliar with LDS missions, our mission is divided into seven zones which correspond with the seven stakes that are in our mission area (Alaska and the Yukon Territory).  A Stake is like a diocese and is comprised of several congregations called wards or branches, depending on their membership numbers.  Each zone is divided into districts and there is a pair of missionaries assigned to one or more congregations in each district.  There are a total of 140 missionaries in the Alaska Anchorage Mission.

By Thursday all of the senior missionaries, and especially Pres. & Sis. Robinson, were worn out.  We were all sure that it must be at least Friday.

One of the service projects that Elder Taylor has been involved in coordinating is the Last Great Race - The Iditarod.  If you don't know, the Iditarod is based on an emergency run to Nome with some diphtheria antitoxin back in 1925.  There was a diphtheria epidemic in the town and several teams of mushers were put together to get the antitoxin over 1300 miles to Nome.  They did it in a record time of 6 days (previous record was 13 days) and saved many lives.  (See YouTube video "How a Diphtheria Outbreak Spawned the Iditarod" for more.)  The Iditarod is now about 1000 miles long and the biggest thing in Alaska.  I'm sure that true Alaskans think it really is bigger than the Super Bowl.

Today, Saturday the 7th of March, was the Ceremonial Start of the Iditarod.  (Also referred to by some as the "false start.")  It starts at 10:00 AM in downtown Anchorage and winds through town for eleven miles to a small BLM airstrip on the east side of town.  Our missionaries helped with various different things, starting a couple of weeks ago with loading and unloading food for the dogs and mushers and ending with being trail guards today.  Because of the mild winter (and lack of snow) here in Anchorage this year, the actual start of the race has been moved to Fairbanks.  As you will see by some of the pictures, they had to truck snow into town for the ceremonial start today.

Although it got up to 44 degrees today, it was possibly the coldest day we've experienced here.  The wind was blowing really hard and the wind chill must have had it down to about 20 degrees. (or so it felt!)

Note the booties on the dogs.  Some had them and some didn't.  The women riding in the sled is an "Iditarider'" someone who has bid big bucks on-line for the privilege of riding in the sled for the Ceremonial Start.  The entire purse for the winner of the race is paid for with those bids.  Lots of bucks, apparently.  People from all over the world bid for the ride.

Couldn't resist these little guys.  They were really getting into it, cheering for each team that went by.

This is the sled that went first.  It was the only old-style one that we saw.
This is at the finish line.
This is looking from the finish line back along the runway that the final leg was built on.
You can see that it still had plenty of snow/ice on it.  The racers are coming along the
left of the photo.

One of the teams coming in to the finish line.

They had mushers from all over.  Obviously, this guy was from Canada.

Once they get done running, some of the dogs start talking to each other.
You may not be able to see this from the pics and videos, but these are generally
not the barrel-chested, good looking Huskies that you see in the movies.
Most of them are wirey, scrappy looking little dogs.  It's hard to imagine
that they have the stamina and strength to do this.

And, Yes, Virginia, they do ride bikes in Alaska.
Check out those tires!