27 December 2007

Christmas with our Bangkok Family

What a Christmas! It's been a wonderful, laid back, eventful and warm holiday for us! We'll let the pictures do most of the talking.

We had a group of 18 over to celebrate Christmas Eve with us. It was AWESOME to share our home with others, and having dear friends over made us miss our families a little less! For some reason, we never got a picture of everyone together. Maybe it was because I was kind of running around like crazy trying to get everyone what they needed! The meal turned out pretty good, and I really enjoyed attempting Chicken Noodle from scratch. But, I think it was my corn chowder that was the hit! You just never know what will be the favorite when our group was coming from 5 different countries (someone asked, "you don't eat rice?" when he saw that you just eat the soup plain, not over something). But, it was fun to see what people brought with them. We had a variety; from British biscuits to Sri Lankan fried fish balls!

Jane with Ashley (and George smiling on the couch). He and his brother call Jeff and I "Uncle and Auntie", and we love it. I honestly don't know if they know our real names, but it hasn't seemed to ever matter.

We love these sweet brothers, and were SO glad we got them for Christmas Eve! I even got to talk with their father on the phone while they were here, but unfortunately couldn't understand him very well with all the commotion!

After dinner, we pulled out the chimes and made a little music together. It was fun to try and put it together, and we did actually get pretty good by the last song!

Jeff has been working up a piece on his guitar that he and his dad used to play together years ago. It has been fun to have him practicing each evening, and it's brought a wonderful feeling of "home" to have live music in the house. He was a good sport and let me show him off a bit while everyone was here.

Elders Zufelt and Owens had to take off a bit early because of an appointment, but we were so happy they could fit us in!

George, Mary, and Diran. We could hardly get Jack and Diran to stand still long enough for this one. They really just wanted to be off on their own playing! It's amazing how language just doesn't seem to matter much with kids!

It was fun to watch who really got into the chimes and who sat back to watch. I think Manu and Rajesh really had fun playing all together.

Jane wanted to try Jack's Spiderman costume on first, and luckily, Jack was okay with this. She ran around the house shooting webs at everything. She's got the sound effects and everything.

Of course, Jack wouldn't share forever, he wanted a turn! Jack loved having Ben to rough house with, and we loved how exhausted Jack was when it was bedtime!

After most everyone left, our friends Ben, Sally, and Diana stuck around for more visiting and to help tidy up some. It was fun to have some one-on-one time with each of them.

Christmas morning. Check out those tired eyes! Jane was so stuffy in the night that Jeff watched half of Cinderella with her around midnight while her nose drained. It was a late night for us!

Christmas day, we intended to just drop by George and Mary's for a bit on our way to meet some friends for dinner, but because Jane had vomited all over us in the taxi on the way there, we ended up staying for a visit as well as to clean up before heading right back home! It turned out to be a blessing in disguise that we got our kids in bed earlier than originally planned. I think we were all happier that way!

Getting a taxi (to George and Mary's) was taking so long this day, that the kids went in the office to watch cartoons. They did look super cute, but the events of the next 30 minutes changed that pretty fast.

It made our Christmas to visit with this sweet family. They were thrilled to have us, and rushed right out to buy ice cream, muffins, and drinks to serve us. It is so humbling to see them have so little, but give so willingly. The Elders showed up soon after we got there, and I'm sure by now, they are SO sick of us! I feel like we are constantly calling them for one reason or another!

Jack and Diran playing with Diran's new toys! Elders Mortensen and Olsen in the background.

Another tent using umbrellas, blankets, and our bedroom vanity. Even with new toys, it comes back to this!

Little girls wear high heels here all over the city! I've always been amazed how well they can walk, run, and play in them. Jane LOVES shoes, so I thought it would be fun for her to have some for her "dress ups" basket. She hasn't taken them off, and I'm sure she walks better in them than I would! She LOVED showing them off with her beautiful Tinkerbell dress! (Those are stickers on her head.)

Is she cheesy or what? I love those big, brown, eyes!

I don't know who was enjoying the new Legos more! Jeff's childhood dream of becoming a Lego engineer might still be in our future!

Jack was loving the idea of playing "shooters" with Daddy Christmas morning, although they were a little harder to work than I would have liked! That didn't seem to stop the enjoyment too much!

Also, if anyone was wondering, Jack DID get his bow and arrows from Santa. As shown previously in Jack's letter to Santa, he asked specifically for 13 arrows. Unfortunately, one of the reindeer got the munchies on the way over, so Santa could only deliver 12, but Jack seemed satisfied nonetheless.

We spent so much down time at home, we were aching to get out today, so we went bowling! Jane got SO excited each time the ball was rolled, even when it wasn't her doing it!

Heather and I had been planning to have Christmas dinner together for months, but everything changed when Heather called to say that Scarlett was in the hospital. She was extremely sick, and would probably be there for a while, and couldn't have visitors. Poor kid, as if this family hasn't been through enough already! We decided to come by for a visit when Scarlett was well enough to come home. This lucky girl came home from the hospital to find that Santa had left her a huge trampoline in her back yard!

In the tuk-tuk on the way to Scarlett's home.

Jim, Heather, and Scarlett (and Lola). What a great family. We have felt so blessed to have them as such dear friends.

Scarlett was the only one who would stand by the Christmas tree for me. She was a trooper tonight with all of us there. You'd never know she'd been in the hospital for the last 3 days!

We enjoyed breaking the trampoline in, playing "pass the parcel", exchanging gifts, and just a good visit. Jack was also loving this big fan that made him look like an extra buff Spiderman.

It's been another wonderful Holiday for us. It is fun to think of how our family has changed in just the last year. Jane is SO much older now, Jack is more mature (although still requesting the same thing from Santa!), and Jeff and I are realizing more and more what really matters to us this time of year. We have LOVED this extra time together, and are off tomorrow to enjoy what WE requested for Christmas: A trip to the Hong Kong temple.

It just hit me yesterday that we are actually going to be in a different country, with a new language, foods, and streets we have yet to navigate. This will be a fun and new experience for all of us, and I'm excited to do it with my favorite traveling companions! Wish us luck, and we wish you all a Happy New Year!

23 December 2007

Is TODAY Christmas?

Christmas is almost here, and we can't wait! Jack has asked me almost every day this week, "is TODAY Christmas?". Maybe last year didn't leave enough of an impression on him to remember that it's kind of a big deal!

We've had a fantastic week playing, planning, and today, cooking! The kids and I met friends a few different times this week, and really just enjoyed a nice, laid back, focus-on-fun week. Meanwhile, Jeff's been counting down, in half-day increments, until his vacation begins.

We've got lots of pictures this week. As I've looked back on my first few months here, I've realized a lot of change in my posts. Mine are MUCH longer now, with more pictures, and it's funny to look back at the things I noticed back then, most of which I don't think twice about now. At some point, I realized I was not only blogging to keep family and friends updated on our everyday adventures, but doing this also as a journal to be eventually made into a book. I think that changed some things. I've now been sharing thoughts, memories, and many more pictures than anyone would ever want to see, mostly for selfish reasons. I want it recorded, and for now, this is the best place to do it. So please, forgive all the extra information and pictures that may not make sense or mean anything to you. They mean something to us, and I know years down the road, they'll mean even more.

Monday was probably my favorite day of the week. I'd been planning for a week or so to take the kids to visit some friends from church at their home. I can't even remember how it came up, but as soon as getting together during the week was mentioned, they were SO excited, and I was too! Mary, George, and Diran became members of our church 2 months ago, and I've known them about 3 months. Diran comes into my nursery class with his mother, Mary, each week. He didn't speak any English to start, but as Mary was a teacher in their home country of Sri Lanka, she has taken it upon herself to teach Diran English. Now he enters the room and says, "good morning!" and shakes my hand each week.

The kids played a bit in their apartment, which consists of one room, then decided to watch Spiderman cartoons together. My kids, of course, thought this was great, as they've never seen cartoons like this before!

As we were visiting, George and Mary learned that I had never had Sri Lankan food before, which they say is a lot like Indian food. Before I knew what was happening, they were starting the rice cooker, grating carrots, and washing shrimp. I had no intention of them making us lunch, but they insisted. Honestly, with as little as I knew they had (they are refugees, so live on VERY little, and aren't allowed to work), I took a bunch of treats, fruit, and drinks so they wouldn't feel like they needed to bring out snacks or anything. This didn't stop them; they were SO happy to bring out cake, soda, juice, and cookies. They probably offered me 4 different drinks, and like I said, made me delicious Sri Lankan food that I ate with my fingers (just like you're supposed to), until Mary was laughing at me and made me use my fork and spoon. I must have looked pretty pathetic.

This is what Mary made for their Christmas decorations. Are they sweet or what? George looks really mad in this picture for some reason, but he is such a sweet guy with a great smile. In Sri Lanka, he was a successful businessman. They said at one point, in Sri Lanka, they had a lot but were not happy. Here they have very little, but are very happy.

I have fallen in love with Mary. After this morning together, I kept thinking, how is it possible to come to Thailand and find a kindred spirit here from Sri Lanka? It's amazing how we sometimes can't understand each other (her accent and mine), and we have completely different backgrounds, but we've become the dearest of friends. I couldn't believe all they shared with us, from what little they had.

We took the train a LOT this week. My kids are champs at making the best of things.

We spent a morning at Ocean World with the Becks and some new friends, the Lee family. Rachel Lee and her husband and two children moved in just a couple of months ago, not too far from us. They are from the Boise, Idaho area but moved here most recently from Germany. Nice to have more friends moving in!

Jack loved this penguin, and wanted to make sure I got a picture of them together.

Jane and Mikayla on the giant sting ray, a favorite photo spot for my kids.

We've liked seeing Santa the diver this month at Ocean World. Jane just stares in amazement. Occasionally, she'll blow kisses and wave, and he often does it, back just to her, which she LOVES.

We all headed to McDonalds after Ocean World, where the kids all got "Bee Movie" toys in the happy meals. I'm amazed at how fun those little toys can be. My kids are still playing with theirs!

At the Emporium, they've had all sorts of beautiful trees scattered throughout. It's almost like Festival of Trees, but in a mall. This whole floor was decorated in trees honoring the king, for his 80th birthday this month. This has been quite a celebration this month, which we think is well deserved.

Jack really wanted to take a picture of Jeff and Jane by the trees. Not bad!

We go to this mall for various reasons at least once a week, sometimes more. Ever since these trees have been up, it's been a challenge to get Jack past this one. Any ideas why? I decided next year, I am going to do up a tree in his room in this theme. That way, he can decorate it and un-decorate it all he wants!

Jane's been going potty for about 4 months now. She doesn't even need a diaper at night (I hope I'm not jinxing myself by admitting that!). BUT... she doesn't poop in the potty. Is she potty trained? I wouldn't exactly say so, but she's pretty darn close. Going #2 is pretty important though. She has had some major successes the last couple of weeks though that we are very proud of. It's amazing what gets you excited once you become a parent.

I caught my kids holding each other during the "scary part" of Cinderella the other day. I thought that was hilarious. What part is scary in Cinderella you ask? Sometimes it's the step mom, but mostly it's Lucifer, the cat. Who can blame them. His name is Lucifer! In case you were wondering, usually my kids do wear pants. This was a laid back afternoon, apparently.

I know, Jack's always hanging out in his underpants! This morning, he occupied himself with making a parachute for his bird. Why a bird needs a parachute, who knows? I thought he did a pretty good job!

Friday was a nice, laid back day. After a whole week of having activities every day, the kids were perfectly content to play at home, so I didn't bother planning anything. They occupied themselves with making tent #1:

And then, tent #2:

(She was a bit surprised that I found her)

And, Jack gave Jane a violin lesson.

Also, we got a surprise call from the Pradits saying they were on their way to Bangkok and needed a place to spend the night. So, we had friends over for Friday and Saturday, which kept Jack and Jane quite busy. This is Jack and Shawn being scary.

I mentioned earlier that I've been cooking today. Anyone who's talked to me about cooking in Bangkok probably knows that I don't really do it. If it's anything beyond American breakfast foods, baked potatoes, breads, or pasta, I haven't done it in a while. So, cooking today has been quite a feat. We're preparing for a group for Christmas Eve tomorrow. Good part? We LOVE having company for dinner. Bad part? I'm not good at cooking dinner. If I wasn't already culinarily impaired, living in a country where it's actually cheaper to eat out, has made it official: I can't cook. I didn't used to be SO bad. There was usually a part of the meal that was really good, and the rest pretty so so. But, I'm determined not to let my lack of cooking knowledge ruin a great evening with wonderful friends! So, for all of you thinking that moving back to "reality" in Utah is going to be quite the adjustment next winter, you are exactly right! I am going to be starting from scratch. But, for the time being, I'm going to enjoy not worrying about it.

We really have missed our families lately, especially this time of year it's harder to be away. But, we feel so blessed that we have other "family" to celebrate this Christmas Eve with. We plan to make good memories that we can share with our U.S. families next year when we are all together again. We love you all, and wish you a very meaningful holiday as we remember the one, important reason we celebrate.

Merry Christmas.

16 December 2007

fun, fun, fun

This week has been fun-filled, but it's amazing how so much fun just wears you right out!

Monday was a holiday, so we enjoyed having Jeff and Jack home once again, and went to see "Bee Movie" at the mall. This is the 2nd movie we have taken Jane to, and she loved it even more than last time. This one wasn't quite as loud, and the advertisements at the first were not evil, like they have been in the other movies we've been to. For some reason, they don't cater the previews at the first to the expected audience of the feature film, so when I took Jack to Charlotte's Web, I had to cover his eyes and sing songs to him so he couldn't hear the evil shrieks in the horror film adverts. Anyway, we were pleasantly surprised that they were hilarious, quirky, Asian commercials that we all got a kick out of. It's pretty impressive marketing when we are giggling at the commercials even when we can't understand 90% of what they are saying! All in all, "Bee movie", not our favorite, but it was a fun kid movie and Jane shrieked with excitement during the flying scenes. This picture in front of some of the decorations outside the Paragon. They certainly know how to do up Christmas here! I just kept thinking, "my mom would LOVE this!".

It was a BIG week for Jack, because this was the end of his term in swimming AND school. He had two recent make ups he needed to do, so he got to swim 3 times this week! It definitely helped move things along since his big breakthrough last week. He now has learned that he really can keep himself above water on his own, "tiger arms" really does make him move farther, and he can move much faster if he puts his face down! He's making loads of progress, and we are excited to see what next term brings!

For school, Jack had his big Nativity play and Christmas concert on Friday, something he's been anticipating for over a month! He's come home MANY days with paint all over because of helping with the backdrop, props, and decorating his classroom. He's loved every minute of it, and was SO excited for us to finally see all he'd done. This school really has done an incredible job, we have felt extremely blessed that we chose this one!

Here's "wise man" Jack waiting to go on stage with his classmates. He was so excited to get on stage and THRILLED that Daddy could be there to watch.

I decided instead of paying all the money to buy the professionally made video, I could just record the nativity with my own camera. How long could a nativity of 4/5 year olds last, right? Well, this one went for almost 20 minutes! I'm not complaining, it was great! But, that took up my ENTIRE memory card, so I ended up paying the money anyway so I could take some snapshots on my own. The result? No pictures of the nativity play. But, when we get the video, we'll be sure to share the highlights, because it was awesome. I still can't believe we live in an almost completely Buddhist country, and my son did a nativity play at his school. I'm pretty sure he won't be doing this in any school he attends in the States, so that makes it even more of a treasure!

Jack's K2 class also sang a "Have a Lovely Christmas" song, and he and Oliver were so cute sitting there together. On Jack's left is his friend, Daisy, who he also adores.

After the performances, Jack got to go to his classroom "hallway" and find his present under the tree. I loved his smile in this one. Is he cute, or what?

Jane and Daddy on the swings. This is Jane's FAVORITE place to play when we take Jack to school each morning. She will usually run ahead of me and one of the nannies will get her going before I can even get to her!

Jack and his friends (Kazuya and Ollie) were thrilled to see a balloon making clown, so they made their usual order for a sword. This clown got creative and even made Jack a belt to put his TWO swords in. He was in heaven! Aren't they just so fierce?

We had a great visit in Santa's grotto, where Santa presented Jack with a book all about Bats! Jack kept saying, "that's so cool that Santa brought me a book about bats! He knows I like bats!". It was great. I know this picture isn't great, but Arjun was just a bit too excited to stay seated!

Jane also got to say hello to Santa. She was perfectly content to give him a high five and say "Merry Christmas", and I was just fine with that!

Jane enjoying the stage after everything was dying down. I LOVE this toothy grin of hers. Heather commented this day about how suddenly grown up she seemed. I have to agree! She's getting BIG!

So, if you didn't think that all of these celebrations were enough, after nap time, we had a party to attend! It was an overload of a day, but luckily, this party was the most low-key party we've been to here, and it was very nice. It was held in a garden area at this friend's building. It almost felt like a back yard! Oh, how we miss that!

Jane and this little boy LOVED this swan; she was completely fascinated. Both Jack and Jane were loving the grass to run on, and one of the nannies even brought down a ball to kick around. Janie particularly thought this was GREAT!

This is Paul, Jack's friend from swim class. Paul is such a sweet kid, and they have a blast together. It was so fun to see Jack run into a situation where everyone knew each other, but him (because all the other kids knew Paul from school). Jack didn't let it stop him one bit, he found Paul and off they went. Within a few minutes, all the kids were mixing and mingling and it would have been hard for an outsider to pick out which kid was the new one! Aren't kids great that way?

Paul's mom, Air, is so great. I always look forward to visiting with her during the boy's class, and it was fun to meet her American husband and visit with him a bit as well.

Along with the other food, there was a big castle made out of Jello that Jane couldn't take her eyes off of. She sat and ate Jello forever. Don't let her fool you with that spoon, for some reason, she found it easier to use her hands this day... after playing on the play equipment...very nice. That girl is going to have one strong immune system.

Jack led the kids in using some of the drooping decorations for ropes on the slide (you can't see , but he's fixed it to his belt loops). Do other people's kids do stuff like this? I'm always surprised when other parents act like their child's never done this before. Jack does it everywhere. It always makes me laugh.

We were exhausted after this day, and hit traffic, so the kids emptied their goody bags in the taxi on the way home, concluding with "nerds" candy spilled everywhere. Thank goodness Thais love kids so much.

Saturday was a nice, easy day. We went to the mall so Jeff could buy some shoes, visited a toy store and let the kids browse, and then in the evening our building had a HUGE party for the tenants. We started seeing advertisements for "Forest Mythology Party" in the elevators, then received the official invitation, and wondered what on earth this could be. I love our office staff and didn't want to offend them by asking what it actually was. I was afraid they would feel bad because they understood it to be an American celebration or something. Kind of like the whole "American Fried Rice" thing. Anybody in America eat Fried rice with beans and raisins, topped with a fried egg and smothered in Ketchup? Well, it's been a shock for some people here to realize that we, as Americans, don't eat this on a regular basis. So, I've been self-conscious about making people self-conscious, so I didn't ever get my question answered about the "Forest Mythology Party". BUT, I can say, that whatever this was, it was a lot of fun. We had no idea to what extent they were going to take this, but it was MUCH bigger than expected.

This was one of the many ores devours and dessert tables set up on the grounds. They had several other tables with different Thai dishes being made up on demand. Notice the stage in the background, wow! There were games for the kids, prizes like crazy, lots of people to visit with, and I'm pretty sure the adults were all thrilled with the free "drinks". We enjoyed our orange juice very much!

Jane's getting pretty good at this face painting stuff. She knows she likes it on her hand, and she almost always gets a butterfly. This woman was the BEST painter we've seen, it was actual art, not the cartoony kind of butterfly we are used to. Totally unnecessary, but it was fun, nonetheless.

Anybody seen enough clowns? I have. We saw 3 in two days, but my kids didn't seem to mind. Jack again asked for a sword, and he "fought" with this Ninja Turtle for about 30 minutes straight. Whatever they were paying that guy, it wasn't enough.

I had to leave about 1 1/2 hours into the party to go to Enrichment night, but Jeff stayed with the kids at the party for a while longer. This was Jack when all was said and done. He was covered in paint from painting his elephant, but his sword and smile were still attached so I think it was a successful night!

After a weekend like this, it seems like all we do is play! But, I'm realizing that "play" here is so different than what we had in Utah. We don't have a yard to play in, neighbors to meet outside, a place to ride bikes, etc. We can't just walk to the school playground or get to a friend's house in 30 seconds. My kids are experiencing things SO differently than I always imagined them. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. I think it's great. BUT, I have had to consciously adjust my expectations for the two years while we are away. My kids don't know how to sit in seatbelts, because there aren't any. Jack probably won't learn to ride a bike until we move back. BUT, they are awesome at riding the train with me, keeping their cool in overwhelming crowds, staying right with me when it really matters, and Jack can walk farther than any 4 year old I know! Such a different life for us, I am constantly reminding myself not to compare this to our other life. It's apples and oranges!

Another aspect of our life here is that we say a LOT of goodbyes. We have been here for just over a year, and have already seen so many people come and go. Not fun to say goodbye, but we do feel so blessed to have met these people even just for a short time.

This is me with Rachel Howell and Nancy Sivilai. They are my helpers in nursery and they are incredible! Rachel and her husband, Jordan (also a helper, but taking a final exam today), were here just for one semester, and are now off for a break in Utah before heading to Belgium for an internship. We had them over for dinner the first week they were here, so we were attached to them from the get go! Luckily, Nancy is from Bangkok, so she's here for a while. She returned from a semester at BYU shortly after we arrived, so it's been fun to have her with me for a while! The quality of this picture is terrible, I think my hand was covering up the flash. Genius. We'll miss you Rachel and Jordan!

This is my sweet nursery class. MOST of the kids were here today, with a few gone for the holidays. This was one of the calmer moments of the day. Thank goodness for play dough! Can you see how SMALL this classroom is? It's a bit of a challenge to keep everyone contained and happy in such a small space, but it's been fun for me!

So, I've been recalling more and more Christmas memories lately. One from today was of performing with my family. At Christmas time, we always had a LOT of shows all over town. Temple Square was always one of our favorites, am I right guys? I loved getting all dressed up in whatever matching dresses my mom had for us (I loved looking like my beautiful big sisters!), getting on stage, and playing gorgeous Christmas music. There's nothing that brings in the spirit of Christmas like music. I also remember coming home from performing late at night and seeing many packages on our doorstep that neighbors had left. Always a fun sight for kids, no matter how drowsy and exhausted we were!

We watched Mr. Krueger's Christmas today. LOTS of memories with that one.

Merry Christmas everyone!