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, June 28, 2015

This may be a fairly long post.  It is mostly about the visit of our oldest daughter, Kristi, and what we were able to see and do while she was here, and not so much about the mission.

Kristi arrived at 2:00 AM last Friday, so we slept in a bit that morning.  Then we took her to the mission office and introduced her to the senior missionaries we work with, drove around downtown a little, showing her some of the shops with all the furs, ivory and native Alaskan stuff.  For dinner we had reindeer dogs and halibut tacos at a little street-corner stand.  On the way home we went to Potter Marsh and saw, in addition to several different birds, a beaver and a bunch of huge salmon on their way to spawn.  The boardwalk crosses a stream flowing into the marsh from Cook Inlet.  We stood on the boardwalk and looked down into about 4 feet of water and saw several salmon just sitting there, taking life easy.  If you look closely in the following picture you can see four (maybe five) fish, two of them bright red.  The smallest one is probably as long as your arm.  (For some reason the picture would only post sideways and I couldn't figure out how to fix it, but you can still see the fish if you look.  Remember that clicking on any of these pictures will enlarge them.)

Bucky Beaver

After the marsh, we stopped off at the temple on the way back to our apartment.   I included a photo in an earlier post and promised a better one when available.  In addition to the snapshot of Kristi and Sister Taylor, here is one that someone in the mission took two or three years ago.  It is the best one I've seen.

On Saturday we went downtown to the Farmers' Market.  We had a good time looking at all the vendors' wares and visiting with people from all over.  We met one gentleman, a biker-looking fellow, who was selling t-shirts, etc., that were blasting Texas!  The main theme of the whole stand was illustrated by the owner's shirt which said (in a little rougher language) 'Alaska - making Texans mad since 1959.'  Kristi bought a shirt that said, "Claustrophobia, What an Alaskan feels in Texas." I wanted to get the hoodie he had that said,"Cut Alaska in half and make Texas the third largest state."  When you unzipped, it cut Alaska in half.  He was a real hoot!

In the afternoon we went to the Alaska Zoo.  It is unlike most zoos I have been to in that it concentrates on animals indigenous to Alaska, with the exception of a couple of camels.  We saw harbor seals, otters, hawks and owls, eagles, musk oxen, yaks, bears (black, brown and polar), foxes and porcupines, among others.  Here are a few shots of some of the animals.

This is for Katie and Clara.  If you copy off the photo and enlarge it you should be able to read about the Artic Fox.

And here's the little beastie in his summer coat.  They are the only Canid that change the color of their coat with the seasons.

An Alaskan zoo wouldn't be complete with wolves.


A Snowy Owl

Feel like you're being watched?

And the granddaddy of them all - the Brown (or Grizzly) bear.  Look at the size of those claws!  One was shot down on the Kenai Peninsula a couple of days ago.  He was record size.  His head measured 29 3/4 inches around and his front paw was 12 1/2 inches across.  Don't mess with the bears in Alaska!!

On Sunday we all went to church at the Bush Branch and then to the Campbell Park Ward.  We live in, and have been assigned to, the Campbell Park Ward, Anchorage North Stake, since we got here.  We're currently wrapping up a Temple Preparation Class for a sister that is being married in the temple in July.  But, now we have been assigned to the Bush Branch, Anchorage Stake, and are really excited about it.  We meet with the Branch Presidency and a handful of others in the President's office and then the members of the branch, from outlying areas all around the state, call in on a conference call for the meetings.  It is pretty amazing.   Sister Taylor is once again the Branch Organist.   This time it means she starts and stops the CD at the appropriate times.

On Sunday evening, as usual, the  missionaries who live downstairs came up for a snack and to leave a spiritual message.  This time, they showed up with their entire district!  Good thing that Sister Taylor made enough brownies to go around.  It was awesome to have them all in our home.  For the spiritual thought, Elder Garver, from downstairs, called on everyone to relate one special memory they had of their father. (as it was Father's Day)  It was neat to hear all these young elders pay tribute to their fathers.

Monday morning we got up bright and early and headed off to Whittier, which is about an hour south of here on Prince William Sound.  We saw some beautiful country along the Turnagain Arm and then drove through a one lane tunnel that is several miles long.  The vehicle traffic alternates direction each half hour and then the train interrupts and goes through every so often.  Quite an experience.

On the other side of the tunnel is Whittier, a deep-water port that was originally built for the military during WWII, as was the tunnel necessary to reach it from Anchorage.  Now it is a tourist destination and is a stop for cruise ships.  We took a smaller ship named the Klondike Express on a 5 hour cruise through Prince William Sound.  We saw some 26 different glaciers, humpback whales, Orcas, Dall porpoises, and harbor seals, along with eagles and various other birds.  The weather was beautiful and the experience was incredible.  There are no words, at least for people like myself, to adequately describe the grandeur and beauty that is Alaska.  Unless you have a 52" screen on your computer the photos will not do it justice, either, but here goes our best effort.

This is the tunnel.  Cars were required to keep 35' of distance between.
Kind of spooky and driving over the  train tracks required plenty of concentration.

Whittier, AK

From Whittier looking up Prince William Sound.  That's the ferry from Valdez coming in to dock.

The girls were hungry, so before we got on the boat they shared a half-pound of steamed shrimp from a local restaurant.  They served us a hot lunch on the boat.

We couldn't begin to show you all the photos of the mountains, sound, forests, glaciers, etc., that we took.
This is one of the glaciers that we saw.  Don't remember the name.

Cascade Glacier - because it cascades down the mountain side.

Cascade glacier is just out of the photo to the left.  Within the last 100 years or so
all three of these glaciers joined together and came out almost to the bottom edge of the photo..

A close-up showing how the glaciers "flow."
An eagle sitting on one of the many little islands we passed.

One of the many otters we saw swimming by.   We also saw several groups of them, called "rafts."

They sailed in close to several of the glaciers, hoping we would get to see some calving.
We didn't see any big ones, but there was one that sent out a boom.  Everyone on the boat cheered.

We only saw a couple of humpback whales.  This was the best shot I got, sorry.
We did get one tail-flip but I missed the shot.  Arghh!!

More wildlife on the cruise.  Not sure what kind these are.

We were lucky enough to have a pod of six Orcas swim by.
Believe it or not, there are four of them in this picture.  Look closely.  

Our assigned seat on the upper deck.  This is where we had lunch and occasionally got in out of the wind.

Near some of the glaciers there were small icebergs floating around.
This one is about the size of a large truck and has some harbor seals basking in the sun,
taking a rest from hunting for their dinner.

Some of what we saw was best seen by video.  I have included a few.  Hope it gives you a better picture of our experience.

A group of Dall porpoises, frolicking around the bow of the boat.
Too dang quick to get a still shot!

The pod of Orcas.  Sorry for the focus.

Surprise Glacier.  Unfortunately, no surprises.

After the cruise we had dinner at one of the local restaurants, the China Sea.  Kristi had some grilled halibut, I had halibut fish and chips and Sister Taylor had Almond Chicken.  We all agreed that it was one of the best meals we have had.  The food was wonderful!  It was a perfect ending to a perfect day.

Well, gotta go, so that's it for Episode One of Kristi's visit.  I'll post Episode Two in a few days.

Stay tuned, more to follow!!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

I don't know what happened, but I don't think we're in Alaska anymore!  Okay, maybe I exaggerate.  Just because it has been in the 80s every day for a week now and neither our apartment nor the mission office are air conditioned.  Those wonderful, large south-facing windows that we loved so much in the winter-time are currently out of favor.  We have fans blowing in from the cooler side and out from the hotter side all day long while we're gone but it doesn't seem to help much.  We still spend the evening in a nice toasty apartment after spending the day in a nice toasty office.  I know that Ralph and Dixie are laughing at us right now.  They thought it was nice when the temperature got down to 85 degrees!

Last night we decided to beat the heat and go out to dinner and a movie.  Where better to experience high-output air conditioning than in a movie theater, right?  Not when the theater is full of families and it is one of those stadium seating ones.  We ended up sitting fairly high up and it was pretty warm by the end of the movie.  Can't win for losing.  The movie was good though.

We haven't been out and about much for a while due to the heat.  Too hot to walk, too hot to do much birding and not enough time to go sightseeing.  Actually, we're kind of saving the sightseeing for when Kristi gets here.  Two more days, WooHoo!

On Sunday evening we had the elders who live below us over for dinner.  As we frequently do, we took their photos and emailed them to their families to let them know that their sons are alive and well.  As we were doing so, one of the elders suggested that they take our picture, as well.  Having been recently chastised by one of our daughters. who shall remain nameless (#2, reddish hair, lives in Utah, most of the time) for not including more pictures of ourselves on the blog, we agreed.  Here you go, Candi --

One of the elders was intrigued by the pictures on the wall behind us (and them, in their photo).  They are each titled "Wild Alaska," showing an eagle, an Orca and a Humpback whale, and are made with cutout veneer.  Sister Taylor found them at Value Village for $8 apiece.  We later found the exact same set in one of the tourist shops for $45 apiece.  It's always fun to find a bargain!

We actually did do a little birding one evening.  We went to a place called Westchester Lagoon, which is right downtown.  We saw a new type of duck and a new Sandpiper.  We couldn't figure out for sure what the Sandpiper was so we sent photos to our birding family and asked for their input.  Here are a few of the pictures we took.

Beautiful place to have right in town, right?

Yes, we have lots of Magpies in Alaska!
And lots of Mallards!
This is a Gadwall duck.
A couple of shots (long distance) of the Sandpiper-type bird.  Anybody know what it is?

You know, we have lived too many years in our own home.  This apartment life is really roughing it. In addition to things like hauling the groceries up stairs all the time, we have had a couple of other interesting things to deal with.  When the elders downstairs turn their bathroom fan on we feel like we are on a helipad.  It's really noisy and the floor vibrates.  If they happen to forget to turn it off before they leave the apartment it drives us nuts.  We asked our landlady about it a while back.  Today we found out from the elders that maintenance was in yesterday and fixed it.  The problem was that there was a bees nest in the venting for their fan!  The maintenance guys cleaned it all out and now it is much quieter with no vibration.  

On Saturday we experienced one of the more frustrating things with sharing an apartment building laundry facility.  Whoever used one of the dryers before us apparently dried an ink pen, which we didn't notice until after we dried a load containing all of our white underwear.  Yep, green-black spots all over everything.  It looks like we're going to have to replace most of our underwear.  Fortunately, all my white shirts and some of our other whites were in the other dryer.  Yes, having your own home is where it's at, even with the headaches that go along with home ownership.

We probably won't post anything until the middle of next week after Kristi returns home.  Maybe we'll have lots of cool sightseeing photos!  See you then.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Not much to report this week.  As I mentioned last week, we have one of our senior missionary couples that is going home shortly and is not being replaced.  So... our primary focus lately has been on learning the extra responsibilities that we (everyone else in the office) will be taking on with their departure.  One of the extras that Sister Taylor is taking is the inventory and ordering of the various supplies that are used in the mission, everything from paper clips and printer paper to Books of Mormon and related teaching materials.  That may not sound like much until you realize that we have scriptures, pamphlets, pictures, videos, etc., etc., etc., in sixty three languages!  And in the process, she has decided to reorganize all the cabinets and bookcases that it is all kept on.  What a mess!  At the end of the week we took several boxes of out-of-date books, pamphlets, manuals, etc., to the recycling center.

My interesting experiences this week had to do with the I-Pads.  A few days after we received them, we had one stolen.  One of our young sister missionaries left it in their car while she and her companion rode to a meeting with a member.  The car was parked at a campground between Seward and Soldotna down on the Kenai Peninsula.  The I-Pad was in one of three bags that they left in the car.  When they returned, they found the drivers-side window smashed out and the bags were gone.  One of the sisters lost a bunch of clothing but the other one lost clothing, the I-Pad, a set of scriptures that she had received when she was baptized at 8 years of age, her journal that she had written in every day of her mission and some thumb drives with all of her mission pictures.  As you can guess, the I-Pad was one of the least important losses.  The sister was heartbroken.

Last Sunday evening President and Sister Robinson were at a Stake Conference down on the Kenai Peninsula and received word from the Alaska State Trooper who took the original report that he had recovered one of the bags.  He said that he had searched the area but hadn't found anything else.  On the way home to Anchorage they met the trooper and picked up the bag (full of clothing).  In talking with him, they found out where he had located the bag and drove to what they believed was the same spot along the highway.  Pres. Robinson walked out into the brush, made a left turn and walked directly to one of the bags.  It was the bag containing her scriptures, journal and thumb drives along with some other personal items.  Although there was moisture on the outside of the bag, the contents were undamaged.  The President was so excited, he called me as soon as they got to the mission home.  He asked if I believed in miracles.  He then told me the whole story and, in his words stated, "The Lord loves and cares for his missionaries"!  

 Monday morning (P-day) one of the elders put his dirty clothes in his laundry bag and got ready to go wash his clothes.  Since this particular companionship doesn't do laundry at their apartment, he put his I-Pad into the top of his laundry bag for ease of carrying and went off to do laundry.  When they got there, he upended his laundry bag into the washer and fired it up.  About 30 seconds later he had a heart-attack, realizing what he had done, and immediately fished his I-Pad out of the washer.  He said that as he held it up the water just ran out of it.  End of I-Pad.  They can weather bumps, bruises, scratches, viruses...but not swimming lessons.  Whenever we have an I-Pad that is lost, stolen or irretrievably broken (or washed) we have to report it to Salt Lake so that they can remotely wipe any personal info that might be on it.  I think that this particular story was one the staff in Salt Lake hadn't heard yet.  Everyone got quite a kick out of it.  The elder that did it is a sharp guy who is currently serving as a Zone Leader.  Boy, has he taken a lot of ribbing from the other missionaries!

Thursday evening we had a couple hours in the evening so we drove to a small lake here in town called Goose Lake.  We were hoping to see some Pacific Loons, who are supposed to nest along the lake about this time of year.  We didn't see any loons but saw two families of Mallards, one younger than the other.  We also saw a Red-Necked Grebe sitting on her nest and some yellow-orange water lilies that we've never seen before.

Younger ducklings with Momma

Close up of the same group
Older ducklings with Momma

Close up of the older ones.

Momma Grebe sitting on her nest. 

And the water lily!

Pretty exciting stuff, eh?  Actually, here's what is really exciting - family!  We are proud of all of our grandkids, of course, but here are a couple that we are particularly proud of this week.  We are proud of their decisions and glad that they understand why Grandma and Grandpa couldn't be there with them.

Linda Stratford (and Dad, we're proud of him, too) at her baptism.
June 6, 2015

Elder John Curnutt
Left to serve in the California San Fernando Mission, Spanish-speaking
June 3, 2015

We Love Our Family!!!

Monday, June 1, 2015

This was transfer week!  Always fun and exciting.  We had five new missionaries arrive on Monday, four elders and one sister and none of them were from Utah, which is unusual.  One of them was named Taylor so I guess I’ll have to get used to being referred to as the “older” Elder Taylor.  To say the “elder” Elder Taylor doesn’t exactly work, so I’ll probably just be “older.”  Anyway, they arrived at the airport just after noon.  We got to have lunch with them at the office, then got them all oriented and off to the mission home.

On Monday night we had the downstairs missionaries over for Memorial Day dinner.  The main dishes were baked chicken, potato salad, apple pie and watermelon.  Sister Taylor figured that since we couldn’t have a barbecue we should at least have some traditional Memorial Day food.  The elder from Washington State really liked the potato salad and apple pie, some of his favorites.  The elder from Tonga went wild on the watermelon.  He ate a good third of a full-size melon and Sister Taylor gave him another quarter to take home with him.  It was one of his last dinners out before he went home.  He was from Tonga and finished his mission this last Tuesday.  Everyone was very sympathetic – he left Anchorage a little after midnight Tuesday night (Wednesday morning) had to fly 7 hours from here to Los Angeles, where he had a 12 hour layover.  Then he flew 17 hours to New Zealand, had a short layover there and then flew 3-4 hours to Tonga.  If you add that all up, it is the better part of two days.  Two days without any place to lie down or any regular meals.

Tuesday was transfer day.  Transfer meetings are always awesome as we get to hear the testimonies of the departing missionaries.  We had nine leaving for home this week.  The general theme for their comments is always, ‘How my mission brought me closer to my Savior, Jesus Christ.’  It is interesting, and often very moving, to hear them talk about how they have matured spiritually and temporally. 

After the meeting the departing missionaries get to go to the temple.  Then they spend the rest of the evening, until their flights, at the mission home.  This time, some of the missionaries had requested a special dinner by Elder & Sister Poulson, a senior couple who will be going home in a couple of weeks.  (Elder Poulson spent his professional life in the food industry and is quite the cook.)  The Poulsons asked us to help and it was a blast.  As per a couple of requests, we fixed coconut shrimp, halibut fish and chips, deep-fried onion rings, coleslaw and Sister Taylor made ice cream roll cakes for dessert.  Needless to say, the dinner was a hit!  And we got to enjoy the fruits of our labors, too!

The rest of the week was business as usual.  In addition to the normal tasks, the Poulsons are going home, and are not being replaced, so the rest of us are having to learn various parts of their duties so that we can take up the slack.  It is making for some interesting times!  Sister Taylor is still busy with her nursing duties and the I-Pads are more time-consuming for me than anyone anticipated.

Wednesday and Friday afternoons we went to Wasilla to attend some doctors’ appointments with a couple of the young missionaries.  Both days ended late in the afternoon or evening, so we stopped at a little lake called Reflections Lake near the Knik and Matanuska rivers.  We were in our Sunday clothes so we didn’t go hiking around the lake, but we were able to take a couple of photos and see some more Red-Necked Grebes.  There were lots of little birds around, too, but they were too fast to photograph and pretty much stayed in the trees so we couldn’t see them.
A beautiful little lake on the edge of the Mat-Su Valley.

No, Sister Taylor is not preaching to the animals.  As usual, she couldn't get away from her phone
and was talking to missionaries and Salt Lake, trying to get some medicine for a sick elder.

We did get a little more bird watching in this week.  On Saturday morning we saw two species we haven't seen before, another magnificent eagle and three families of Canada geese.  (We think the eagle was trying to get a shot at the goslings.)

Savannah Sparrow
Orange-Crowned Warbler

Just for fun - American Robin

And these Tree Swallows are so cool.
I can't catch one flying, but they like to sit on the hand railings and pose.

We saw three Canada Goose families, each with a momma, daddy and a handful of little fuzzy, yellow goslings.
The geese aren't in flocks up here, they are in pairs, nesting all over the place.  Anywhere with long grass.

And this guy was really looking for dinner.  We think he was waiting for an opportunity to scarf up one of the goslings, but mom and dad were really keeping a sharp eye out and keeping their young ones protected.

While on the way home from church today, one block from our apartment and right next to the freeway and its frontage road, we saw this momma and her two little ones.

The two calves are to the right, between the tree and the bush.

closer shot of the calves

Momma moose

 It's been another great week in Alaska.  Now we're starting to get excited about Kristi coming up to visit us later this month.  Can't wait!