21 December 2009

Do you say it?

Being in the States for Christmas once again is nice. Thailand had all the decor, the music, and the lights of Christmas in the big city, but it was missing one BIG thing. Cold.

Another thing I missed was something I remember loving as a kid. It seemed I was the one picked to shop with dad many late nights while I was younger, or was it that I just loved to be with my dad so I volunteered? Same reason I was always the one that took him up on tickets to a ball game. Love my dad. Anyway... that's beside the point. I loved how when we would run into old acquaintances (my dad knows people everywhere) or we would purchase something, or even wander out of a store empty-handed, people would always wish us a "Merry Christmas".

While in Thailand, I didn't find that people said "Merry Christmas" very often. It's much more common to wish one another a "Happy New Year", a Thai phrase we learned quickly and used regularly to spark extra smiles from our taxi drivers. We wondered if saying "Merry Christmas" to strangers was mildly offensive in an almost completely Buddhist country, so generally we stuck with "Happy New Year".

Since this is our first Holiday season back in the states (we missed all but a few days last year), we've been enjoying the festivities, the decor, and the weather. I also love the holiday shopping. I love shopping. I love being out and about, checking off my list, looking for deals, and getting excited about finding just the right gift. I've just recently noticed that no one says "Merry Christmas" anymore. Is this just me?

I decided to try it out on people I'd run into and people I deal with in the holiday rush, just to test the waters. People I knew returned the sentiment without much hesitation. Most employees at stores seemed surprised, occasionally wishing me the same, but about the same amount would ignore me all together looking to help the next customer.

Isn't this the reason for the holiday? Christ? How can we not include him in our happy wishes to those around us?

Here's my question: Is it offensive to wish someone a "Merry Christmas" regardless of religious beliefs? Is it not politically correct enough to be acceptable? Are we supposed to stick to the more generic "happy holidays" or "happy new year"?

Here's another question: Do YOU wish people a "Merry Christmas" or just get on with your business?

I'd love to hear your take on this... leave a comment or just vote on the poll (clear down at the bottom). What do you think?

01 December 2009


What does...

11 years

32 roomates

9 apartments

1 house

4 Universities

161 credits

3 children and

1 amazingly supportive husband


One happy mama who finally finished what she started oh, so long ago.

And if I can ever find my notebook which contains my life's "to do" list, I can write that date in... at last.

Loved my time with USU, but I'm happy to say... I'm done!

18 November 2009

How I'm feeling

I'm feeling a large quantity of OVERWHELMED right now. Anyone else get that way when the holidays begin? I pretty much feel that way every Monday.

For some reason, this week it's hitting me on a Tuesday. Why am I doing something so unnecessary as blogging with my free time, you may be thinking? Posting has been hanging over me, for some reason. Isn't it funny how things you usually enjoy can easily turn into a task when there are other things on the priority list?

I'm letting myself off the hook for a bit. I've got a project keeping me busy until at least Thanskgiving. So for now, that's what I'm going to focus on. So, enjoy your Thanksgiving. Be grateful. Do something good. And know that the Hillmans love you.

09 November 2009

Halloween and such

I realized this week that this was Jane's FIRST Halloween in the U.S. where she's actually gone trick-or-treating. Her last one was when she was about five weeks old, and although she looked darling, she wasn't really into treats then. We had some great Halloweens in Thailand, thanks to some dear ward members that let us pretend we live in their pseudo-American neighborhood for the evening, but this one really felt like the good ol' days.

An evening with family (always the best part for all of us), food, and lots of treats.

Alice with my darling sister-in-law. They have a special bond, and I love it.

Some of the boys at dinner-time. Can you tell they have a good time together? I was sure Jack was going to bust a gut.

Sweet sisters, Jane and Alice.

Mrs. Potts (Mimi) and my pumpkin.

Jane and Mia (18 months apart) sure have connected lately. They love to play, and even talk on the phone sometimes!

One of my favorite pictures of the night. It was just fun.

Even the "triplets" enjoyed themselves.

Other random things we've been up to... we've been sick. BUT, we did hit a couple of good days in the park with friends. Thank goodness, because I think this good weather is on its way out!

Alice loves to swing.

Three of Jack's favorite girls. Does he keep good company or what?

This is what kids should be doing in the fall. I loved watching them.

A lunch date with Grandma and Grandpa Ottley, Mom, and Vanessa at Gardner Village. Jane sure loves her great-grandparents. She kept cuddling right up to Grandpa and wanting to hold his hand.

Occasionally, Jane says, "Mom, take my picture!". This was such a time, and I'm glad I did. Why fight it?

One of Jack's creations: Sail is down.

Sail is up. Can you tell what happened? It was a little better when you could see how he made it. (No his room isn't always this messy, but it's definitely NOT uncommon!)

This is Jeff's eye after a night of rolling primer in our basement. He got PAINT on his contacts. We're finally to that point and we're getting anxious to be DONE. It will still be a while, but we're getting there!

Hope you all have enjoyed your fall and are loving this wonderful season of gratitude.

23 October 2009

I'm not afraid

I went to the dentist this week.

I hate the dentist.

I get queasy when I walk into the office and breathe "the smell". I tense right up when I hear the drill. And I leave with relief when I know I don't have to go back for another six months.

I don't want my kids to hate going to the dentist. So, this visit, I took them back to see the special chair and all the fun things for their own visit in a few weeks. (Jack's been a few times, but this will be Jane's first.) I got them all excited about how FUN it will be, and how COOL all the tools are, and how the dentist is SO awesome. Do I really feel this way? Nope.

As I sat tensely in the chair having them tear up my gums (it's been far too long since we've actually been this time around, two years in Thailand, some time before, some time after... you do the math), I thought of all the things I do so my kids will have positive thoughts about the things I don't.

The first one I thought of... swimming.

I'm a terrible swimmer, and it's always made me nervous. All my childhood nightmares have to do with water or fire. Yet, as soon as Jack was old enough, I put him in a mom and tot class so he wouldn't have any reason to be afraid. Living in Thailand, we could swim year around, so we did. We swam constantly. I put the kids in swim classes and they learned to love the water. I considered this a personal victory in a way. One down.

I love lightening, but thunder has always made me nervous (still does sometimes). This makes no sense since lightening is actually the one that can do some damage. Growing up, I remember my parents allowing me to sleep on their floor occasionally because it made me so nervous during the night. When Jack started to show signs of fear due to thunder, I made up a very elaborate story of a giant in the sky who was telling hilarious jokes with friends and how the thunder was them all laughing at the funniest jokes of all. Two down.

Do I love spiders, snakes, and other crawling things? Not my favorite, but I definitely try to put on a brave face. My mom was the BEST at smashing any spider we ran screaming about. She was so tough (or was she just a good actress?). I remembered our trip to Malaysia where Jack dared me to hold the snake he SO wanted to hold, yet didn't have the guts. I did it because I wanted him to know it wasn't a big deal. I wouldn't have done it for anyone else, because I just didn't want to. But, in an attempt at being a good mother, I decided not to limit Jack's experiences because of something I don't care for. He held the snake.

I also remember dreading Sundays while on vacation as a kid. Being the "visitor" was never fun. As an adult, I love visiting other wards and meeting new people. We always try and stay the whole block and make our kids go to their classes, where they experience being the "visitor" and seem to thrive time and time again. What was my problem? Who knows how long it will last, but for now, another one down... and how many to go?

I just discovered a new one that's coming right up... loose teeth. It's hard for me not to cringe. Obviously, I have something with teeth. Jack's teeth are going to start falling out any day now and as exciting as it will be for us to watch him hit this milestone, I'll have to practice my happy face.

Am I the only parent who does this?

What happens when my kids discover all the things I've done to make them love things I hate? Am I doing them a disservice? Or, do they ever really need to know?

I won't tell if you don't.

PS While looking for a funny joke to put in Jack's lunch box, I came across one that I couldn't stop laughing about.

Q. What's brown and sticky?

A. A stick.

I know, I'm a nerd.

14 October 2009

A way to give

This time of year, life gets busy. School programs, soccer games, rehearsals, homework, family gatherings, holiday events, shopping, winter preparation, sick days, the list goes on. It's easy to get caught up in ourselves. I know, because I seem to do it every year.

If you know me at all (or have even read 2 sentences of any of my posts) you know I adore my family. Yep, every single one of them. Here's just one example of why they are so awesome. Heidi, my lovely sister-in-law and her husband (who kind of looks like Jeff) have taken nine different foster children into their home in the last couple of years. They worked through The Christmas Box House to help these children have a safe haven during their transition periods. The last child they cared for, they brought home from the hospital after his birth, and have now closed the adoption and are sealed to him forever. It's obvious why they feel a desire to do something to help this organization.

So, here is your opportunity to do some good for someone else amidst all the craziness, even before a lot of it begins (good timing, right?).

Heidi is working to collect a large number of hygiene items to assemble kits that will go to children as they transition from one home to another. She is in need of these items:

Children kits:

Child size toothbrush

Children’s toothpaste (full-size)

Children’s shampoo w/conditioner (2 in 1)

Sensitive Skin body wash or full-size bar of Sensitive Skin soap


Teen kids:





Body Wash or full size bar of soap


Brush or comb

She has already received some items, but in this case, more is better! Many of these items are available at the dollar store (toothbrushes, toothpaste, combs, etc), sometimes several in a package. Other things will be cheaper elsewhere. If you are a couponer, you probably have loads of that super-bargain shampoo or free toothpaste and brushes in your storage area. Now's the time to use them! If it's easier to donate money, she (or myself) is happy to go and buy what we need to even the amounts up to complete the most number of kits possible.

This is a great chance to let the kids go shopping with you to pick out the items, knowing they are going to children in need. Children that don't have nearly what we have.

Heidi is working hard to gather everything before Thanksgiving, in a hope to assemble the day after. She'll need help putting them together too, so if you're up for the task on that day, that's another GREAT way to put your little one's hands (and your own) to work to help others. What a great time of year this is!

Here's Heidi's post about this project, where she's offering up her own fresh produce from her garden in appreciation for all donations. Not sure if there are still tomatoes out there, but if not, you could put in an order for next year, I'm sure. She's quite easy to work with. Like I said, my family is great.

Feel free to email me, or Heidi herself, if you have questions. I'm happy to pick up and deliver things to her house, or like I said, if money is easier, send a check. It will definitely go where it's needed most. Believe me, we know how to stretch a dollar.

Thanks to Heidi for providing an opportunity to start out our holiday season remembering what it's really all about.

12 October 2009

Fall fun

I'm not a fan of the cold, but there are some fun things that happen this time of year.

Papa's birthday is just one week after Jane's. I made the cake in honor of our recent trip. We're still on our Disney high. Conference weekend at my folks was nice and relaxed. LOVE conference weekend, love birthdays.

Luckily, this doesn't only come at this time of year, but if you would have asked me two months ago if I would have been spending an afternoon with my Grandma Ottley in October, I would have said no. We were losing her a while back, and I never thought I'd have another normal visit with her again.

I took the kids up for a visit, and hearing her greet us with "come in, dears!" when we walked in the door made me almost burst into tears. I've adored this woman my entire life, and it's such a blessing to have each day with her. I count her as one of my reasons to love this season. She's here, and I love her.

Jack's finishing up his second season of soccer, and he's still loving it! He's off and on with how much he focuses on the game, but I can already see improvement in his game, and so as long as he's having fun, I'm all for it! I LOVE watching, laughing, and cheering. He loved playing goalie, and believe it or not, he would jump into action as soon as they got close.

After his game yesterday, we took a trip to the pumpkin patch next door to Jack's school. My kids aren't used to these fall activities, and I have to admit, I've found an excitement for it I didn't remember from a few years ago. I LOVE the colors of fall. Thank you, Mother Nature.

The kids loved picking out their own pumpkin, and it was a gorgeous day for it.

Check out those beautiful blue skies! Even Alice seemed to get into the fall fun.

I can't decide if Alice looks like a boy in this sweater, but honestly, I LOVE blue on my girls, and don't have nearly enough of it. If she looks like a boy, she sure is a cute one.

A few other fun things we've been up to... guess who is just DYING to learn violin? She begged and begged until I started officially giving her a lesson just like Jack. So, here's our little violinist. She's just now starting to put the bow on the strings and is extremely excited about it. She reminds me when it's practice time, which is a change from her brother, so I'm loving it.

Last weekend, my family all got together for a jam session with another musical family we admired while we were growing up, the Miners. They are amazing musicians, and actually still perform and PRACTICE even while they're busy parents, business men, soccer moms, etc. I am so impressed. Even though we are all a little rusty on my side of the family (sorry ya'll, but you know it's true), it was still fun to see what we could remember, and see what we could will our fingers to do. Plus, we got to bask in the unmatched talent of none other than the Craig Miner from Ryan Shupe and the Rubberband. We've loved Craig's music since I was about nine when he helped us record our family album with his brother, Curtis. It was a fun night of friends, food, and lots of music!

This is Craig serenading the kids with his Rainbow Connection in his famous Kermit the Frog voice. The kids even got their fiddles out and played with all of us. (Notice Jeff's beautiful new bass on its side in the middle. This is the newest addition to our family. He's waited for that bass for years, and we are all loving it!)

I hope you're all making the best of this cold weather. Like I said, I don't love it. But, there are too many other great things about the season to not love Autumn all together. Anything in particular you love to do this time of year?

09 October 2009

Florida - the rest

We spent one more day at Epcot, mainly in the World Showcase part of the park. I love this place because in one day you can tour the "world".

We saw the acrobats in China...

I loved the perfectly manicured UK... (someday I'll get there for real)

The kids laughed like crazy at the clown/juggler in Italy...(another day, I'll get there too. Someday, I'll be blogging from Venice. Someday.)

...and the detail was amazing in Morocco. I think Jeff was a little disappointed we didn't schedule in the belly dancing show.

There was just too much to fit all in! I think Germany was my favorite "country" because it seemed so familiar. Maybe it was the smell of beer that made it feel so authentic! Love Germany, hate the smell of beer. Also, B.O. always takes be immediately back to my summers in Europe. (Too much information? Sorry.)

We were all so worn, we decided to take a break this day and head home for naps, so we could stay late for the fireworks that night. Jane was happy to be getting a ride to the car. I loved this photo of her and Jeff with the Epcot icon behind them.

Alice is our little angel. She was so pleasant and happy the whole time! Unbelievable.

Disney was extremely creative in finding ways to make the "countries" fun for the kids as well. Jack's favorite (notice his "I'm on a mission" pose) was a Kim Possible challenge where kids received a communicator with ongoing clues and challenges, where he entered codes and made things happen throughout the park that no one except "special agents" would know about. He was loving it. We wished we would have known discovered it earlier and done it all day!

Epcot was awesome. So was Hollywood Studios, but the pictures were limited with our low battery! I think the highlight of the park for Jack was when he was able to participate in the Jedi training course. Oh my. There were so many little ones who wanted to do it, we stuck around for two shows trying to get him a chance. Luckily, it paid off! He was taking it very seriously, and will proudly show you his Jedi certificate when requested. The Jedi master here was hilarious, and Darth Vader has turned into one of Jane's favorites since this.

One of the newest attractions is the American Idol experience. People can actually go through the entire audition process right there in the park, and at the end of the day the winners from each session compete for a chance at a real audition for the real show. It was fun, but I'm pretty sure we didn't discover any stars that day!

Our last day at Disney was actually Jane's birthday. I'll be the first one to tell any parents that kids don't need extravagant things for birthdays. Honestly. She would have been thrilled to have a day at the park with a cake and candles. But when we were scheduling it so close to her big day, we decided to try and just make it her birthday celebration. We must have been inspired, because later we found out you get free admission on your birthday this year, OR, if you've already paid for a multi-day pass, they'll give you the price of the ticket in merchandise. So... we let Jane go on a bit of a shopping spree and left there with more loot than ever before. We totally looked like one of "those families" that goes WAY over the top. It's fun to do it once... and with Disney's money rather than our own, it was awesome!

The one present we did bring for Jane was this little Cinderella dress, and she was thrilled with it! Here she is in front of her castle.

Since we'd already done Magic Kingdom the week before, we took a slower pace and it was nice. We spent a lot of time on kid rides Jane would love, plus Splash mountain again where Jeff and I did our best to keep her dry (she didn't like the idea of getting all wet again), and thunder mountain, which she adored. Alice was having a great time this day on all the rides we can include her on. So happy!

The kids loved the dinky rollercoaster in toon town and were so excited when they got to go together and even sit in the front car! Yay for no lines!

And of course, we waited to see the princesses for Jane. I think Cinderella was by far the most lovely princess, but I just loved how this picture with Aurora turned out, even if she in real life wasn't quite as impressive as I had hoped. When Princess Aurora found out it was Jane's birthday, she told her all about how on her birthday her aunts tried to make her a birthday cake without their wands and what a disaster it was. Jane was just soaking it all in! This attraction was SO well done.

This was our only day really eating IN the park, and they even came and sang Happy Birthday to Jane! She loved the extra attention, and we loved the air conditioning!

Mimi and Papa, as always, were champs at catering the day towards the kids and making it fun for everyone! It's so fun to go with such Disney connoisseurs!

We fit in what we wanted that day and felt done, so we were home in time for a swim and cake and ice cream! Thank goodness Jane took cupcakes as a substitute for the "Hello Kitty" cake she's been talking about for a year. We had a nice little party and put the kids to bed in preparation for our early flight home.

We had to say an early goodbye to our lovely little vacation home. How could you not love a PINK house? Mom and Dad dropped us at the airport, and we were off. Back to Utah, back to reality.

We planned a few days of recovery afterward, since honestly, vacations with my family require it. Disneyworld with the Rich family isn't exactly a leisurely vacation, but it sure is FUN! And absolutely exhausting. Jane was attempting to get a head start on recovering while we waited in Chicago. Jeff was just faking, but caught up soon enough.

Thanks, mom and dad, for a dream vacation and loads of priceless moments together. Disney is great, of course, but the TIME with you was what really made the trip the best. We love you.

28 September 2009

Disney World!

How do you document 8 overflowing days of FUN? I couldn't possibly share it all, so here are a few favorites... from the first half anyway.

Frequent flyer miles are great for free flights, but NOT great for flight times. It took us most the day to travel, but we did it! Luckily, my kids have a little travel experience which tends to help. Or is it that I know, as a mother, what to realistically expect from a three and six year old? Maybe. But probably it's the fun travel kits Mimi prepared for the kids that kept them busy for hours. Jane was feeling pretty cool in her new shades.

First day, Epcot center! And in case you're wondering, yes, we matched our shirt colors on purpose almost every day, which we highly recommend. Definitely made it easier to keep track of each other, and with my kids and Mimi (mom, you know it's true, you are just as curious as Jack and Jane) who tend to wander, it was so nice!

We walked on almost every ride with less than a 10 minute wait. We did wait to see a whole slew of characters all at once, and it was worth it. The kids loved it!

Pretty sure Alice didn't really get the whole Disney thing, but she sure was happy while we were at the happiest place on earth!

The back half of Epcot is a world showcase, featuring several different countries and their cultures. I love this part because you get a little taste of a world tour, my dream come true! This is Jane in Norway. Have you ever seen a more striking viking princess?

Second day, Magic Kingdom! How could you not smile in a place like this?

In line for our first ride of the day... Peter Pan of course! "Line" is a loose term because there really weren't any lines at all, especially first thing in the morning!

Storytime with Belle was a lot of fun. Jack even got to be her father, the inventor (how appropriate!), as the children acted out Belle's story on stage. She was awesome.

We got so many pictures with characters, it's not even funny. The kids were loving it, even pictures with the villains! This was right before Jack did his pirate training course with none other than the Captain Jack Sparrow.

While Jane was with her fairy godmother (she was brilliant!)...

Jack actually found a friend to have a duel with. Papa told me that it ended in his opponent getting a good hit and Jack playing dead. Both these boys were really getting into it, it was awesome.

Mandatory Mickey bars!

Disney with my family has never been for the faint hearted! We get the MOST out of each day that is humanly possible. We wore these two right out!

The Buzz ride is a favorite for everyone. If you don't get a good score, you're punished with the enemy Zurg. Papa even went back on this one later by himself to improve his score! Everyone feels like a kid at Disney!

For some reason, this is one of my favorite things at Disney. We had to get the classic picture.

When I was in Florida 10 years ago with my parents and brother, we didn't get to the Animal Kingdom. I knew my kids would love it, since they are so fascinated by zoos, farms, and anything bug related! It did not disappoint!

While everyone else was running to the biggest attractions, my kids (of course) had to stop at each little cage and learn about each spider, scorpion, and bug inside. We went against all our "get it in" instincts and let them enjoy each one and ask all kinds of questions. It was great!

Jane kind of likes her sister. Even when Alice doesn't get it, Jane thinks she's hilarious!

I love bridges like this. It reminded me of some from Thailand. But lots stronger, wider, and it even had side rails! This equals less stress for me!

The kids loved the great drum display in the African part of the Animal Kingdom. There was just so much to do!

While dad and Jeff took the big kids on the rafting ride, mom and I took Alice to cool her down a bit. It was HOT, but she was such a happy girl, as usual.

Jack's favorite ride was the rollercoaster Everest, which I regret not getting a picture of. He went on it three times in a row and begged for more. Jane would have loved it too, but it was one of the few rides the whole trip she wasn't tall enough for. It was SO fun having kids who love rides! Jane tried everything, although didn't want to repeat a few of them. If you ask her what her favorite was, she'll probably tell you the Tower of Terror. Who could have guessed?

This trip was our turn in my parents rotation of taking each of their kids' families on a trip. We felt SO spoiled to have all this time with them all to ourselves (sorry sibs, you know we love you, but we all like our Mimi and Papa time!) They were the bests hosts ever, and it was fun to be in the position of "kid" rather than responsible adult once again! Dad has a thing about taking charge of tickets and anything important, and Mom pretty much planned the entire thing. We pretty much just showed up ready to play. I haven't been on a trip where I didn't plan every detail myself in a while, so this was AWESOME!

This is how Alice slept the entire trip. Yes, it's a drawer. She slept awesome. If you can't tell, she's a swaddler and likes things quite cozy.

Mom and Dad rented a house for us all to stay in, and it was incredible to come home exhausted each day to a place we could really relax in! You'd be amazed at the cheap places you can find to stay in Florida right now. This four-bedroom house was cheaper per night than our very average hotel room in Rexburg, Idaho!

The kids loved the game room, but we were so busy, we didn't play in it nearly enough!

We got home early on Saturday and the kids headed straight for the backyard for a swim! This pool was just right for an evening dip!

Even though they could have had their own rooms, they chose to share. They thought it was heaven to have a TV in their room, and we found them cuddled up together in bed watching a show (even though they really had their own beds). I love that my kids love each other.

Our Sunday consisted of church meetings (and if you can believe it, we ran into the mission president of the Bangkok mission also on vacation in Florida. Small world, right?), having my aunt and uncle over for dinner (which regrettably, I got NO pictures of, can you believe me?), and the kids building forts all over the house. It was great! We loved visiting with Glen and Sherry, who we rarely get to see. How can I be related to so many great people?

The kids loved having a "down" day, and we ALL needed it to recharge for the next three days!

What a trip, and this was just the beginning!