Monday, December 27, 2010

                        Getting close to the total eclipse of the moon with my point and shoot camera.
                                              Sorry it was snowing in Utah and you missed it.

                                                      Noon on the shortest day of the year. 
                                                          Winter solstice at our apartment.
                                      That's the sun showing through in the lower part of the bushes.

                                                  A sneaky raven waiting for something to eat.
                                              Ravens get very big and fat here and are all over.

With the solstice, the days in Alaska will be getting longer.  It has not really been bad and now it will getting brighter every day.  Life in Alaska is always interesting.  This past week we were not allowed in the building because the sewer lines were frozen out in the parking lot.  It took close to 48 hours to get the pipes defrosted and functioning.  That gave us an extra preparation day to get ready for Christmas Eve.  We had a wonderful time with the Elders and Sisters in Fairbanks and North Pole.  We fed 12 plus a guest at the Institute on Christmas Eve.  It seemed to be a treat for them to have some enchiladas for a change. 

Christmas Day was a new experience for us.  We have pretty much missed the rush of shopping, parties, and the stress the holidays can bring.  On Christmas morning we went the the Catholic church to help out.  They fed about 200 people althought they expected more.  Those that came were mostly native Indians that needed help or were homeless.  It was my opportunity to help Saint Nicholas give gifts to the children and adults.  Each of the adults received a package with a pair of warm socks and other useful things.  The children received a toy.  There were wonderful people from so many different churches helping out and all working together to ease the suffering of those around them.  One man had bandages on his hands from frost bite that he got that night.  It is very cold to be outside for very long.

It was so much fun to talk to grandkids and children and parents on Christmas Day.  We are so blessed.  May you all be blessed with a wonderful, healthy and happy new year.

JoAnn and Jim

Monday, December 20, 2010


                                                    Wishing you a very Merry Christmas!
                                                              A couple of hungry moose.
                                              The Alaskan Pipeline hanging over a frozen river.
                                                      The temperature is dropping.  As you
                                                          can see its 40 below zero!!

The top picture was taken at the Institute where we spend most of our time with the young single adults. We thought it had a Christmas flavor with the manger scene in the middle.  Since the University of Alaska at Fairbanks or UAF as the students call it is closed for a three week Christmas break our classes have ceased as well.  We are in a planning and preparation time for spring semester where we will be doing all of the teaching with student day classes, night classes as well as stake sponsored adult classes.  The next picture down is of the ubiquitous moose.  We are starting to see more and more of them.  We were right behind a truck that had just collided on the icy road with a moose that pretty well caved in the front grill of the truck. Then that afternoon when we arrived home we found that couple of moose had been at our very door eating some of the dry dead flowers and grasses at our window.  Literally they were inches away from where we look out to our car when we remote start it in the mornings.

The next picture is where we drove right next to the Trans Alaska petroleum four foot in diameter pipe which runs parallel to the road by the Tanana river.  The last picture is in the yard of family in Delta Junction where we stayed the night while on a trip to Delta Junction and Tok to visit early morning seminary classes. However when it is thirty below zero the classes are canceled so we just had a nice trip, met the young missionary elders and made so new friends with the people we stayed with for two nights.  Our car has done some strange things in the extreme cold like having idle speeds vary from zero where the engine just stops to two thousand RPM where the car will do fifty on the road without touching the gas peddle.

This evening we were able to attend a fireside and met many new people in the ward we really live in.  We had a delightful time remembering special Christmas times, singing, and hearing wonderful stories.  It made JoAnn think of the kindness and effort her parents put into making Christmas special.  Her favorite memory, though was when Michael was born just before Christmas.  It brought the spirit of the Christ Child into our home that year.  May you be blessed with love and happiness this season and throughout the year to come. 

Have a Merry Christmas.
 Jim and JoAnn

Sunday, December 12, 2010

                                                     Tonight's temperature -30 degrees
                                    Look, it's the sun.  What time do you think it is?                                   
                                                            Light poles in North Pole.
                                               Good weather for a nice photo of the mountains.

It's been another fun week.  We continue to have new experiences each day.  The temperature is starting to get colder, but we expect it to do better than that.  We really are staying warm.   Most of the gas for the car is used up in warming it up before we go someplace.  Cars really don't like very cold weather.

This week was the last day of Institute classes until school starts again in January.   I decided we needed to have a Christmas Party after classes.  We always have "munch and mingle" after class, but I tried to make this special.  We feel very blessed to be able to associate with such great young people.  I'm going to accompany a couple of solos on Sunday, so I have had a chance to practice on the newly tuned pianos.  It's fun to be able to practice with a purpose.

We have prepared the schedule for classes next semester and already have had a request for two additional classes.  When 3 or more students want to schedule a weekday class, we are going to try to provide those classes for them.  They have to give us a time slot that will fit their schedules.  It's not quite the same in a small institute.  We are also offering another night class for anyone who would like to come.  We will be studying the Gospels and ending class at Easter time.  That should be a wonderful class.  We are also scheduling a class for Relief Society ladies in the day time.  We will be studying the teachings of the living prophets.  I'm really looking forward to have a chance to teach as well as do secretarial work.  We had a great inservice meeting with our seminary teachers this week but had a bit of technical difficulty which didn't allow others out of town to call in.  We will do better next time.  (Oh, the time is 12:45 p.m. for the picture--lunch time.)

We do miss some of the frantic preparations with family for the Christmas season, but have been able to feel more peace and joy in thinking of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  May you find time to reflect on the Savior and read His words.  His life was the greatest gift of all.

Jim and JoAnn

Sunday, December 5, 2010

                                        A view of the main part of Fairbanks from the University.
                                                                Our Christmas window.
                                      Our Christmas decorations borrowed from Sister Olsen, upstairs.
                                                                  This is our kitchen.
                                                        Another view of our living room. 

This is just a  little tour of our house so you know where we live.  We have always liked to see our children's homes so that we can picture where they live.  It was wonderful to be able to talk to so many of the family after Gavin's baptism on Saturday.  We are so pleased with his desire to be baptized and to follow the Savior.  It was especially nice to see and talk to Mom and Dad.  Technology is wonderful.  This afternoon we enjoyed seeing the First Presidency Christmas Devotional with the branch members.  We have grown to love the young people that we have met here in Fairbanks.  They are so excited about sharing the gospel with their friends. 

We had some Alaskan technical difficulties with our apartment this week.  The vent pipes on the roof froze and we got the benefit of sewer gasses.  It was pretty nasty.  It took a couple of days to realize that the washer/dryer in the bathroom was not plumbed correctly.  While I went to a Relief  Society meeting with Sister Olsen, Jim and Bro. Olsen put a "P" trap in the plumbing and no more problems.  There are some unique problems here that we are learning to live with. 

What a wonderful time of year to think about our Savior, Jesus Christ.  We are so blessed to know that He lives and did live.  His birth was so humble and His life and example so extraordinary and perfect.  May we remember Him this holiday season and do something for someone that may need help and follow His example.

We love you.
Jim and JoAnn

Sunday, November 28, 2010

                                              We will soon be taking the state of Alaska's drivers
                                               test so we need to be familiar with the regulatory signs.
                                               So how about the one above just down the road from
                                               where we live. Moose crossing so watch out!

                                                 Her is another unusual regulatory sign. Dogs sleds
                                                 and mushing are very popular here in Fairbanks.
                                                 This is apparently a popular crossing area.
                                                     It warmed up to 12 degrees today so we went for
                                                     a long walk through the woods above the University
                                                     of Alaska. We saw fresh moose track and a couple
                                                     of dogs on the 'pooch' trail.

This has been a unusual week.  Monday started with warm temperatures and freezing rain.  It was our first experience with freezing rain.  It's a skating rink out there.  Because of this unusual weather schools and seminary were closed for the week.  Warm weather made it possible to make snowmen - a rare occurrence here.  We understand we swapped weather for a few days.

Thanksgiving Day brought many thoughts of blessings we have received.  We missed being with our family, but we were invited to share Thanksgiving with a member family.  It was fun to see different traditions.  One of their traditions is a pie fest.  There were about 25 people for dinner and 18 different kinds of pies!

Saturday we decided to brave the cold (it was back again) and go for a walk.  I kept thinking about "walking in a winter wonderland."  In Alaska there are a lot of winter trails for cross country skiing.  We found some trails that allowed foot travel.  Unfortunately, they were about 18" wide and very lumpy.  It was amazing to me that at each of the crossroads we met a couple walking their dog.  They were able to guide us to the correct path.  Other than that we didn't see anyone.  I thought about how often we are guided in our lives to take the path that is best for us.  I know if we stay close to the Lord, he will guide us in the decisions that we make.  (Our trek included walking across a frozen lake - a new experience for me.)

Tonight was the baptism of Staci Homelvig, a student that has been taught by the Elders mostly at the institute.  She is a wonderful girl and so very happy with the choice she has made.

 Have a wonderful week.  We love you.
JoAnn & Jim

Sunday, November 21, 2010

                                         Our first moose sighting on the way home from church.
                                          There are warning signs on the roads here in town but
                                          they seem to keep to the woods
                                    Sunrise from our road with the Denali range in the background.
                                    From here Denali is about 125 miles away across the forested plain.
                                            Elder Spens with the ice sculpture at North Pole. Can
                                           you tell which is which?
                                          Sister Spens with her warm coat good to -45 degrees.
                                          Anyone for a sleigh ride?
                                          Sunset from the Institute building. The sun at mid-day is
                                          only as high as the tops of the trees in the foreground.
                                      Denali park in the winter.It is cold wind swept and abandoned.

       We drove down to Denali  while visiting early morning seminary teachers in outlying towns. In winter even though the park is open it is pretty well abandoned. All commercial hotels , gift shops and restaurants are closed and snow blown.  Most all visitor facilities are shut down at the park as well.  The park rangers do have several dog sled teams you can rent with a guide to venture into the park.  The Nenana valley where Fairbanks is located is a vast sub-arctic forested plain that supports a very large population of moose. There are a lot of them that live here in town but there is so much forest that you just don't see them to often especially in the winter.
         We are starting to work on the curriculum for nest semester at the institute, and I believe we will be teaching more classes and be much busier.  It has warmed up today to 29 degrees and that seems very warm after weeks of around zero. We are starting to see dog sled activity as the snow gets a little deeper and we have seen people with a single dog pulling them along on cross country skies which seems to be quite the thing here. We are have a big Thanksgiving dinner/family home evening with all of the young single adults on the Monday of  Thanksgiving week. It is apparently the big event for the season. Last week I taught the Doctrine and Covenants class and it was the first time that we did not have any young single adult investigators attending. We are in constant communication with the proselyting elders assigned to the single adult branch and Institute and trying to come up with ways to introduce young people to the church.  JoAnn has invited the Elders over for dinner on Thanksgiving eve for a good spaghetti dinner.
          We are so grateful for family and friends that have taught us so much.  Each day is another blessing.  We continue to pray for you and for your families.  How grateful we are to be able to serve the Lord on this mission.  May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Jim and JoAnn


Saturday, November 13, 2010


                                                                SANTA'S HOUSE                                 
                                                            ONE OF HIS REINDEER
                                        THESE ELVES ARE MAKING A BEAUTIFUL ICE
                                      SCULPTURE OF SANTA'S SLEIGH AND REINDEER
                                                   IT'S FROSTY AND COLD UP HERE

We have had a wonderful week here in Alaska.  We had our first experience using the "polycom" to have an inservice meeting with our seminary teachers across the state.  It's a device that can be used to have a large phone-in meeting.  Technology is wonderful.  We have also been substituting in a seminary class and in an institute class this week.  It is giving us a taste of what is to come.  We were able to travel to Nenana about 60 miles away to visit a home school seminary class.  The people here are wonderful and love the Lord.  Even though there might be only 1 or 2 students, early morning seminary classes are held faithfully.  We had a beautiful drive through over 60 miles of frosted forest tundra.  It takes many days for the frost to melt because the sun is low and the temperature only gets up to about 17 degrees.  We are told that this high temperature is unusually high for this time of the year.  On Friday we joined the Mission Zone Conference in North Pole.  Since it was light, we decided to take pictures for the grandkids.  At the conference, I met another Park Lane student--Elder Bryce Greenwell.  What fun to see how these boys have grown.  For lunch, the Relief Society served a "Thanksgiving/Christmas" feast for the missionaries.  We won't see the Mission President again until February.  (Note:  Look at the long shadows in the pictures at 11:30 am.)

Our mission president challenged us to count our blessings and give more thanks this season.  We are truly thankful for our wonderful family and friends who love and support us in this endeavor.  We are thankful for good health that makes it possible.  It is a blessing to us to meet new people who are quickly becoming our friends as well.  Each day we are thankful that we had a remote start installed in our car to warm it up before we have to travel to our destinations!  We are ever thankful for our Savior, Jesus Christ, and that his gospel has been restored to the earth after being lost and changed.  We know that He lives and that we can look forward to living together as a family and with Him and our Heavenly Father in the eternities to come.

Love to all,
Elder and Sister Spens (Grandpa and Grandma)

Monday, November 8, 2010

                                          Behind us is the Institute building here in Fairbanks.
                                          We are getting to know the facilities and the young single
                                          adults that attend classes,social activities and church services
                                          Here are some Inupiat Indian dancers at the University of Alaska
                                          performing traditional dances. There are many native American
                                          groups that live in Alaska. They all have their separate and
                                          distinct cultures.

We attended a CES fireside on Sunday, November 7 .  Elder Ballard was the speaker at that fireside and brought up some very interesting points.  He talked about the growth of the church, and how long it took for the church to have 1000 stakes and that was around 1920.  He then went on to talk about how it took fewer and fewer years for the stake number to increase by 1000 to the point that now and in the future the growth of the church will continue to require more and more stake presidents, bishops and every other leadership position in the church from 70s to scoutmasters.  He then went on to ask where are these people that will be taking over those leadership positions in 30 years from now when the church has grown too much more significant size that it is today?  He then pointed out that he was speaking to those leaders.  The youth of the church.  I realize this also includes our grandchildren, and all of the young  in the church.  That is the reason that we need to teach all of the youth of the church the basic doctrines of Christ, while they are young.  Much of what he said came from the book Preach My Gospel, which he highly recommended that all members of the church should be using especially parents to teach their children the basic doctrines of the Gospel.  It was a great fireside that we thoroughly enjoyed.  As we drove home on snow-covered roads I said to JoAnn that it is getting very wintry .

Sunday, October 31, 2010

                                   Looking outside from the Institute window.  It's a forest here.
                                 Elder Spens studying for the class he taught on Thursday.
                                 This is his new office.
                                   Sister Spens trying to remember all the things she is learning.
                                                      The main hallway at the Institute.                               

                                               This serves as lunch room and fun room.
                                         This is our driveway.  We live in the blue house up the hill.
       Here you could literally go "over the river and through the woods to grandmothers house."

     It's been a wonderful week.  We thought you might like to see some of the places that we are getting used to.  Thursday we took care of all the institute business by ourselves.  It was wonderful meeting so many of the students.  Jim substituted in the Doctrine & Covenants class and really enjoyed it.  My duties took me to the kitchen preparing food for the snack between classes and the light dinner after.  These kids really like to eat and enjoy each other's company.
     We were also able to visit two of the seminary classes that meet in our building.  Seminary is at 6:30 am here.  I know that's not new to some of you, but it stretches me to be awake and present by then.  Tomorrow we are traveling to North Pole to visit two seminary classes there.  Sounds fun, doesn't it.
     Today we met with the singles branch that meets in our building.  We will be part of their branch for a while at least.  I was impressed at their spirit and insights.  One speaker spoke about how faith brings action and power.  She told us that faith is like a muscle that you must exercise to keep strong.  When you pray for a worthy goal, your faith will be strengthened.   I know that we must always remember that our Heavenly Father has a plan for us and that he will help us reach Him if we keep the commandments and have faith that He knows how to help us and what is best for us.  Remember that "faith is like a mustard seed, if planted it will grow."  But we also need to do our part and nurture it so that it can grow.
     We love you all,
     JoAnn and Jim

Sunday, October 24, 2010

                                                                                The Malaspina ferry ship of the Alaska Marine Highway.
                                          We are in Katchakan on a Sunday returning from church
                                          The Malaspinia in Sitka harbor on pilot maneuvers. Sitka
                                           was the old Russian capitol.
                                          A very old Russian Orthodox cemetery in Sitka.
                                          The Russian Orthodox church in Sitka. A parade is about
                                           to start celebrating the sale of Alaska from the Russians
                                           to the U.S. its called Alaska day Oct. 18th. It is only
                                           celebrated in Sitka.
                                          Driving on the Alaskan highway through Canada towards
                                           Alaska. Frozen roads were typical and night time temps.
                                           at about 1 degree below zero.
                                           The Fairbanks area with the frozen Chena river in the
                                          We stopped for the night before taking the ferry here
                                           in Maple valley near Seattle at the home of the  Seely's
                                          (our son Mike's wife's sister) and went for a walk with Merrill and Ruth
                                          (Merrily Seely's mom and dad).

     Our journey to the Alaska Anchorage mission was certainly spectacular.  The Alaska Marine Highway with all of its mountains, spectacular water ways and whales was an adventure of scenic splendor  a slow tour of beautiful country.  We eventually worked our way north to Haines Alaska.  It is surrounded by spectacular alpine snow covered peaks.  Then we began our 700 Mile Drive from Haines to Fairbanks.  The first thing we ran into by the river that flows into Haines was a collection area for bald eagles   We saw dozens of bald eagles perched on trees and flying,  waiting for salmon in the nearby river.  As our trip continued we drove deeper and deeper into Canada and the temperatures got colder and colder.  The road became frozen and icy and we felt quite isolated in that  there was very, very little traffic.  We spent one night in the farthest western city of Canada called Beaver Creek and  the temperatures  dropped one below zero.  We arrived safely in Fairbanks and have been settling into our apartment, getting things organized through a little shopping and touring the city of Fairbanks to get used to the road. At the Institute JoAnn has been receiving training  in the office and I've been working on preparing lessons to teach and  getting used to the system and preparing to do in service for early morning seminary.  There are a great group of young single adults here that we will be teaching and attending church with on Sunday, and getting to know.  We had a great stake conference this last weekend and got to know many of the people.  The faithful saints are here and we realize also that they have a great stake president, who is a powerful spiritual leader of the saints.

Friday, October 22, 2010

                                                "HI" from Sister Emily Underlin at the MTC
                                           A view from the ferry on our way up the inside passage.

WE ARE HERE IN FAIRBANKS.   Our trip getting here was interesting indeed.  The ferry trip from Bellingham, Washington was mostly rainy, but we did have sun for part of the trip.  We even saw a pod of whales.  After docking in Haines, we traveled the rest of the way in our car.  Shortly after leaving Haines, we had snowy roads for the majority of our trip.  It was fun to see about 30 bald eagles sitting in the trees waiting for the salmon in the river.  (We also saw about 30 cars on our first day as we drove toward Fairbanks.)  When we left Beaver Creek on Thursday morning, it was -1 degree.  I guess that's nothing here.  After some navigating, we found our new home.

We have been learning much in the last day and a half about the Institute.  We met the mission president, Pres. Dance and his wife this morning at a missionary training meeting.  Tonight was Institute night.  We were able to meet two of the teachers and some of the students.  It will be a great experience working here.   It looks like we will be doing a lot of teaching next semester.  I am grateful that the secretary is staying an extra week to help us get going.  So much to learn.

We met Elder Matt Squires who is a zone leader for the singles branch here.  He remembered me from Park Lane.  It was fun to see him doing so well.  I was pleased that he remembered me.  Hey, Park Lane teachers, he remembered you, too.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


First Week at the MTC

Our first week has been many things. It has been inspiring, intense, difficult, fun, and so much more. For us to see what our boys have experienced at the MTC before their missions has been eye-opening. It is overwhelming to see the sea of young missionaries here. Our classes have been challenging as we have learned to use Preach My Gospel to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others. This week we will be trained in our responsibilities with the Institute and Seminary programs.

We feel blessed to have this opportunity to serve the Lord. Our prayers are with our dear friends and family. The scripture that I have come to appreciate more this week is Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

Today we were able to attend Sacrament Meeting, and several other meetings. In Relief Society, one of the speakers was a young missionary from Jordan. She is the very first missionary sister from that country. Her conversion story was wonderful. She and her brother found a paper with a telephone number on it on the ground and were curious as to who it belonged to. They called and the person on the other end said they were from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, "How can we help you?" They were invited to church and felt a wonderful spirit there. The missionaries offered to teach them. They thought they were going to have English lessons, but they got a message as well and an invitation to church. They thought "why not?" After several months of learning about Christ they joined the church. She is a beautiful sister and will be serving on Temple Square.

(Sorry no picture. We haven’t got the right computer running yet.)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Spens Family Picture

Before leaving for Alaska, we had a family picture taken.  We have now added another beautiful granddaughter to the family, and we haven't even started our mission yet.  We will be posting updates regularly for our friends and family.