26 January 2009

To our Bangkok ward

I've been thinking about our ward in Bangkok a lot this week. I've wished so many times that we could have you all here and share this life with you as well! Particularly when we've been able to so conveniently visit some major church sites, I've wished you could see them as well. We've taken pictures over the last few weeks of some of these spots, in hopes that our Church headquarters won't seem so far off after all! (For those of you from Utah, this won't seem all that exciting, but after realizing that so few of our new church member friends have yet to see any of our beautiful temples, I thought it appropriate to share what we so regularly take for granted. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but isn't it true? Very few fully appreciate what they have right in their own backyard!)

For New Year's Eve, since our hotel was downtown, we decided to take the opportunity to go and reacquaint ourselves with one of our favorite places, Temple Square. Temple Square is more than a full block of buildings that is owned by the church, that Salt Lake City is centered around.

This is the Tabernacle (home of the famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir), where many meetings are held, including weekly broadcasts by the choir, and sometimes the orchestra as well. I love this building and have fond memories of playing with my Rick's orchestras here, as well as attending many concerts, my favorite being the retirement broadcast for my Uncle Jerry, and the very touching concert that followed. While we were gone, they finished the renovation and I am happy to say the benches are now MUCH more enjoyable to sit on. I think those concerts will be even nicer now!

This is the assembly hall where they also hold regular concerts, but on a smaller scale as far as I can tell. I also have fond memories here of performing at Christmas time with my family in this building as well as several years in the visitors centers. I love Temple Square! At Christmas time, they light up the whole square with lights on almost every tree and bush. It's a dazzling sight to see them turn on around sundown.

When you visit Temple Square, there are missionaries everywhere, just waiting to help. They all have their name badges, which also include the flag of their home country. I think you can find almost any language on the square spoken by someone, and can receive a tour in your home language! How fun will that be when everyone comes to visit? You can see a few of the sister missionaries in the background, as we were enjoying looking at the pictures all representing scriptural stories.

One of the main highlights of the Square is the Christus statue. I have walked up the big winding walkway hundreds of times, and I love it more each time. It was fun to see how anxious Jack and Jane were to come around the corner and see the statue. The room is gigantic, and covered with stars and planets. It's stunning. I used to love to come up here when I had a few extra minutes before my rehearsals started. I look forward to doing that again very soon.

In a different visitor's center, they have a display right now that the kids loved. Jane and Jack went from screen to screen watching old and new commercials about the church. Yes, here our church has commercials on television that are centered around encouraging us to spend time with our families. As cheesy as they, they get me every time! There are also stations where you can choose from different questions and learn about what our church believes on that topic. This is a very common place for tourists to come, so exhibits like this are great for those wanting to learn about our beliefs. And fun for us too!

The highlight of all of Temple Square, of course, is the Salt Lake Temple. This is the temple where Jeff and I were sealed just over eight years ago. It is a very sacred place for us, and just being near it after all this time felt so good. In Bangkok, the nearest temple is in Hong Kong (a three hour flight). In Utah, we have several temples within just an hour's drive of our home.

In fact, the 12th temple in Utah was just completed and they are now letting people (anybody, not just members!) enter inside to have a look before it is dedicated as an official House of the Lord. Thursday was my sister's birthday, and for her birthday she decided she wanted the entire family to tour the temple together. This temple is just 30 minutes from our home, and it was such a treat to be there with people we love!

This is NOT the best picture, but I think it's okay enough that you can see it is quite different from the Salt Lake Temple. It is very beautiful inside and out, and I found myself wishing everyone could have the chance to see what a temple is like.

Due to the number of people who want to go inside, you must reserve a time and a day by getting free tickets. We all arrived at the church not too far away, and were able to watch a short film about our temples, before boarding a shuttle bus that drove us up the mountain to start the tour. The cousins are always thrilled to be together. Almost TOO excited, as it was hard to keep a good balance between enjoying one another and being reverent. I learned that this is especially hard for three-year-olds! (Before I left Bangkok, I had many ask if I would post pictures of our family, so here are a few!) This is Jane with her cousins Grant, Christian, and Clark. We were waiting to get on the bus at this point, so I thought it was a good chance to get their wiggles out!

We're not allowed to get any pictures inside the temple, although there are pamphlets and magazines available with many pictures of the insides of our temples. As far as this post goes though, it's just of the family before and after!

This is my gorgeous sister, Joanna, with her youngest, Mia. She is two years older than I am and since coming home, she shared the happy news that they're going to have another baby! That means this is the second time all three of us (my other sister, Vanessa, is due in two weeks!) have been pregnant together. Oh, how I love my sisters, and love sharing such an amazing time of young motherhood with them!

Jane's personality really comes out when she's with her cousins. She's silly and nutty, and luckily, her cousins are too! This is Jane, BJ, and Clark.

After the openhouse of the temple, Mom and Dad took everyone out to dinner to celebrate Vanessa's birthday. I thought we were a little crazy to attempt taking all ten kids (the oldest is nine) and ten adults out to eat around other people, but it turned out pretty well!

This was on the way to the restaurant. We love to swap all the kids into different vehicles to maximize their time together. This was the back of our van, one of three in the five car entourage. These boys (Jack, Christian, Grant, and John) were SO silly together. They were singing some song and eventually started adding in random words and verses. It's amazing how funny the word "underpants" can be when a five-year-old throws it into the mix!

Jack and Clark are also a little nutty together. It's interesting to see that age just doesn't seem to make a difference with any of the ten cousins. These two are only nine months apart, but they get along just the same as the cousins who are five years apart! I hope the age spans never make a difference in how comfortably they relate.

Jane loves her Papa. There's never any hesitation when Papa is around, even when we hadn't seen him for nine months! And Papa's definitely got a special bond with his four granddaughters.

This week has been a fun-filled one and we've all enjoyed it. Pile extra activities on top of the fact that Jane still isn't sleeping normally (it's been over six weeks!), and you'll understand why she has been plum tuckered out! This was on the way home from our temple tour and dinner.

And, this is how I found Jane the next day after her bath. I asked her to get dressed and never heard from her again! Is she sweet or what?

Other things in Utah that our Bangkok ward members (especially you that are new to the church!) might find interesting. We have church buildings everywhere. If you get to an elevated area, you can count the steeples. Just since we've moved into our home, they've built three new buildings (one more on the way) in our stake. The building we attend now is a ten minute drive away, which is considered "far". (and we pass two buildings on the way)

Most of our ward members here are within walking distance.

Even though our family members are all members of our church, we all attend different wards and buildings.

In addition to the temples already near our home, we have one that is nearing completion that will be even closer, maybe a 20 minute drive.

Our Bishop lives across the street, which is very lucky, considering we've borrowed can openers, cookie sheets, butter, and even some of his little girl's pants in the last couple of weeks!

We sure miss you all in Bangkok. We think about you all the time and wish we could have you here with us as well. We know Utah is where we should be right now, but because we knew you, we can't help but feel like we've come back as different people to a world that is quite similar to how we left it. Thank you for sharing our lives with us, and we hope that this has helped you feel like we can share a little of our lives here with you.

Lately, our little Jane's personality has really started to blossom. Her speech has gone way up since we arrived, and she's become a singer! She sings and sings, and we can't get enough of it. All the songs we've been singing to her since she was born are all now coming out! So, for your viewing pleasure, this is Jane singing her own original song created by her Daddy. She asks for it every night, and now sings it many times throughout the day. We couldn't help but document this one, and I particularly thought how much Napa and Dipu would enjoy this one. (P.S. I don't know what she's doing at the end, but she sure is cute!)

Lots of love to all of you!

21 January 2009

Magic Tree House

Jack's recently discovered the Magic Tree House series. I'd heard these were great books, but we didn't bother with them yet because they're a little beyond Jack's reading ability on his own at this point. Since we've been back, our favorite spot has been our local library. We've gone several times and usually spend several hours enjoying their amazing selection and reading all that we can fit in. I thought it would be fun to get some new stories we could listen to in the car, since our current ones we have just about worn out. I found the Magic Tree House series on CD, books 1-8. I didn't know what to expect, since I'd never personally read them. Sunday morning, Jack woke up earlier than Jeff and I wanted to, and poked his head in to ask if it was okay if he started listening to his new CDs without me. What was I going to say? OF COURSE!

After we had slept a little more, gotten out of bed, showered, dressed, and eaten breakfast, we realized we hadn't even seen Jack yet. He was in his room on book #3. We didn't have to leave for church until 10:30, so he kept listening. After church, and a snack, he rushed into his room and closed his door (luckily, allowing Jane inside to play as well), and we didn't see him until he finished book #8. Occasionally, we would go back to check on him and ask him a question, only to see him with glazed eyes, sitting very still as he listened. His attempts at responding to our questions generally tapered before we understood what he was saying!

Our boy has always loved stories, books, and now reading himself, but honestly, we've NEVER seen him this involved in a storyline before! It was comical to watch him go from a complete daze as he finished up a CD, to an enthusiastic boy who can hardly get all the words out to share all the cool details of Jack and Annie's latest adventure.

Have any of your kids fallen in love with this series? Do they continue to be as "amazing" as they start out?

Are there any other series out there that are about this same reading level that would be fun for him?

20 January 2009

Our home... at last!

We moved out of our Bangkok apartment on December 11th. Where have we been since then? Five days in a Bangkok hotel (after our stuff was all packed up), three nights in Tokyo, four nights in San Francisco, two nights at the Hillmans', two nights at the Rich's, and how many nights in a downtown Salt Lake hotel? Oh yes, three weeks! Honestly, we love staying in hotels, especially ones like where we stayed in Salt Lake, but how long does that really last? Even with their amazing breakfasts and great staff, Jeff and I could barely even EAT that last meal there! A fact we both felt terrible about since the sweet breakfast lady had made us a special meal for our last morning. We did our best and paid for it the rest of the day, but how could we have said "no" after all the effort she had put in? The grand total of our hotel stays is roughly five weeks! To say the least, we were feeling ready to be in OUR home once again.

When we first walked in our home after the renters had left, it didn't feel like ours. It was cold, bare, had random things strewn about, a hole in the pantry door (which luckily was the only permanent damage), and it was VERY dirty. It's a well known fact that people generally don't take care of rental properties like they would their own homes, but it was a little sad to be on this end of it. People had been living in our house! We knew we needed to make it ours once again.

The last couple weeks have been spent cleaning, spackling, texturing, painting, and yes, more cleaning. We got all new carpet, and if we weren't sure replacing the carpet was a good choice before, after seeing the under side of it, we were positive. How could someone own a dog and let it "go" all over the house? Having new carpet (or any carpet at all!) has been a little piece of heaven. With each hour spent, the house has become more and more ours. Thanks to all the help we've received, which has been significant, the work has been fun and very effective.

We're happy to announce we are now no longer homeless, and we are all moved in! Until our stuff from Bangkok actually arrives, then we'll have a whole other round of unpacking and reorganizing. But, that day will feel like Christmas, so who's complaining? (VERY off topic, but since we've been back, I've noticed a lot of interesting English. One being the word "nother", as in "we'll have a whole nother round of unpacking". Do you say this? Is this a Utah thing? Take note, and share your opinion, please.) So, our sea shipment isn't here for a couple more weeks. In the meantime, the kids are camping out in the sleeping bags Santa so cleverly brought for them, and we continue to live out of our suitcases.

We've called four hotels "home" (our kids are quick to catch on to wherever we're calling home at the moment, thank goodness!), in the last month, and as much as I'll miss not having to clean my bathrooms, I can honestly say we are HAPPY to be HOME!

We built this home four and a half years ago and I don't think I've ever loved it so much. It's not big, it's not fancy, it's not our dream home, but somehow it still feels just right for us. It's been interesting to be here now with two children running around and no baby (does anyone else feel the urge to check on their child when the child is INSIDE them?). When we left, Jane wasn't walking (she was the baby!), and Jack was just three. Now they can both sit up at the bar for breakfast together (my favorite, especially since we don't have our table yet!). Who wouldn't love to see these two silly faces staring at them first thing in the morning?

I also am in LOVE with my GIGANTIC washer and dryer. Like I said earlier, things are just big here, and when it comes to this, I love it. Those Japanese models we had were fancy, but they didn't hold much, and it took at least 90 minutes to dry a load of laundry. I'll take my old, basic,
Whirlpool any day!

We painted a wall in our bedroom RED and we're loving it. Jane's in love with her green room, although I don't know if I dare seperate them into their seperate rooms, they've become such good roommates! We'll have to wait and see what this baby is, then make a decision. Any guesses? FYI, I have no idea what Jane was doing in this picture.

Jack's anxious for his bunkbeds to get here to put in his blue room.

I now have a DISHWASHER!

And the best part about our house... it's ours! We absolutely loved our high-rise apartment as it had LOTS of space (bigger than our finished square footage on our house right now!),and was new and felt fancy to us. It was in a perfect location for us, and the office staff took care of everything, and we'll DEFINITELY miss that pool. But like I said before, it makes a difference when it's yours, and we've definitely felt that. Our house isn't fancy or big, but it's home, and we love it!

10 January 2009

My Kindergartener

Jack started school this week. I took him to register on Monday, which consisted of filling out a few sheets and showing his immunization records. I wasn't completely prepared, considering his baby shots records are somewhere crossing the Pacific ocean, and it took Jeff and I a while to find his Social Security number, but honestly, the whole process seemed a little too easy! What? I don't pay any money? No registration fee, or deposit? I even got the track, teacher, and time I requested. This American schooling experience is as new for me as it is for Jack!

I have been hesitant about sending Jack to a public school after having such small classes (his last class had nine students) with LOTS of supervision (usually one or two nannies to assist the actual teacher), AND Kindergarten is much shorter here. So, I was hesitant. Did I need to be? Jack certainly wasn't!

He marched right in there, a little girl we knew showed him where to hang his coat and bag, and once he caught sight of all the kids, the book shelf, and that GIGANTIC classroom, he was right at home. He even forgot to kiss me goodbye. I let it slide... just this once.

So, one week down, and now Jack can hardly wait to get to school in the morning. He tells me about the books he's read, his new best friend, a cute little blonde girl, and the cool game he played in gym class. It's much too short of a day as far as he's concerned, but I'm enjoying having him with me in the afternoons, and who knows? Maybe once we get moved in, we can actually do some fun things with our time instead of cleaning our house!

Thank you for good teachers that make transitions easy and school fun! And, I'm especially grateful for a very social five-year-old. How could he have handled all these changes with any other personality? Oh, the blessings!

09 January 2009

We're adjusting.

So, now we live in America. We've been here for two weeks and are more or less adjusted. It's been interesting to see what things don't feel weird, and what things do. When we saw our parents at the airport, and the first time we were able to walk into each of our parents' homes, it felt just like we had never left. It felt like no time had passed since our last visit or Sunday dinner. Probably the biggest change in the family is our numbers, as we have added in-laws and babies during these last two years. And much to all of our enjoyment, as the cousins get older, and as we add more, they only become more and more fond of one another. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that I love watching them love each other.

Overall, the adjustment has been pretty smooth. We are still in temporary housing as we are still waiting for our storage and sea shipment to be delivered. Our home sits empty, and with each trip to "the house", and after each hour invested in cleaning, it feels more and more like our home again. We paint this weekend, re-carpet on Monday (by the way, I'll bake cookies for anyone that can name something that is MORE boring to shop for than carpet), and hopefully start receiving our storage a little later in the week. We've got our mobile phones (who knew we would miss them so much?), got Jack started in school (another post for another day), and we finally closed the deal on our minivan, after borrowing a car from our angel brother and sister-in-law for two weeks. Who lends a car for two weeks? They do. Amazing. We've made decisions in one or two days that would usually take us months. It's been a little hectic, to say the least.

We are happy to be here. It's been such a blessing that several weeks before we moved I finally felt like I was ready. As much as we miss our Bangkok family, we are happy to be close to home once again. There are still adjustments and things we have noticed as seeming strange to us after living in Thailand for two years. Here are a few.

1. In Wal-mart, Jack noticed the HUGE bags of cereal and acted like he'd seen a person with three heads. I don't think he remembers we used to buy those regularly.
2. People do NOT know how to drive nice here. Merging is a joke, and I learned on my first trip down to Provo that only going five miles over the speed limit gets you dirty looks from everyone who passes you.
3. Despite hot-headed drivers, pedestrians still have the right of way in America, which catches me off guard every time. I always felt like the rule in Bangkok was "cars have the right of way on the roads, and motorcycles have the right of way on the sidewalks".
4. People in America really are big. Not just tall... BIG.
5. Maybe this is caused by #4, but serving sizes here are gigantic! The only thing you'd get a bigger serving of in Thailand is rice.
6. I love driving my own car (or, as of yesterday, my own minivan) and having a place to put our things that I used to have to lug around town with me in my bag. It's very convenient. I don't love carseats. Getting the kids in and out of those things every time you get in... ugh.
7. There are SO many churches here. I wish I could get a picture where you could count the steeples in a given area to post for our Bangkok friends. Unbelieveable.
8. We LOVE the milk here. Jack thought he hated milk for 2 years, when really he loves it!
9. Overall, Utah is a fairly flat place as far as buildings go. There really aren't a lot of TALL buildings, besides maybe a few in downtown Salt Lake.
10. In opposition to #9, Utah is not flat at all. I am continually stunned by how gorgeous these mountains are that surround and protect us. I have never lived in a place without mountains before Bangkok, and although Thailand is a gorgous land with beautiful greenery, exotic flowers, and can't-be-beat palm trees, there is really something amazing about Utah's mountains. I wish I could capture their beauty on camera (and I'll try in a post I'm trying to put together for everyone in Bangkok), but nothing will really do them justice. They really are stunning, and it makes me smile to see Jack start appreciating it as I do.
11. People keep to themselves here. People regularly talked to my children and touched their blonde hair without hesitation. If someone did that here, it would seem very strange. My kids are enjoying NOT gettng the attention from strangers, so that's great, but it makes me sad that our culture is so guarded. I miss all those Thai smiles.

Last big change... it's cold. We're adjusting, the kids better than Jeff and me, but we're getting there. I'll be happier when we receive our storage which contains an actual winter coat (at least I hope I'm remembering what's in there correctly!), not just a jacket. After shoveling and shoveling snow in an attempt to get into our driveway the other day, I haven't felt like this has been a very "warm" welcome, but it certainly has been good to be back!

07 January 2009

Guess who's a new Sunbeam?

I can't believe my baby is now a Sunbeam! Watching her herded out of opening exercises (with about 20 other Sunbeams) on Sunday to attend her very own Sunbeam sharing/singing time was about all I could handle! When did she grow up?

She sang this song to me about 30 times today while we drove all over town running errands. I can't get enough of her expressive eyebrows. Enjoy.

02 January 2009

Favorite Christmas moments

To put it simply, we have really enjoyed being home for the holidays. Jeff and I both feel extremely close to our families, and each other's families, and we have loved the quality time we've had with everyone. I keep having to remind myself every time we've had to leave them that this is not goodbye for a year; it is usually just for a few days. I have tended to panic the first few times we've had to say goodbye not knowing when we'd see them again. It's starting to feel more normal to have regular face-to-face contact with them, and we're really enjoying it.

Christmas is a magical time for us, and this year did not disappoint. Here are several of our favorite moments from our holiday week. Some with pictures, some without.

1. Watching Jack and Jane with all their grandparents. (I regret not getting many of them together, but this is a good one of Christmas morning when my kids slept until I woke them at 8:45am. It was awesome.)

2. A fun Christmas Eve at the Hillmans with talents, food, matching pajamas, and lots of good visiting.

3. Jack, Jane, and Ellie's impromptu Nativity presentation produced entirely by them.

4. Jack and Jane meeting their new foster cousins.

5. The way my mom makes her house glow. How does she do that?

6. Being with my sisters. I have the most wonderful sisters.

7. Having Grandma and Grandpa Ottley and Grandma Rich be with us at my parent's house. Grandma and Grandpa have been married for 60-something years, and Grandma Rich will be 98 in April! Are they darling or what?

8. My sister-in-law actually liking the gift I was so excited to give her.

9. Singing Christmas Carols in the car with our kids on Christmas Eve. (and realizing we don't know as many words as we thought we did!)

10. Playing chimes at the Rich's and watching Jack come in just one second too late every time. He was not giving up, and I was loving it!

11. Realizing that even without seeing each other for nine months, it feels like no time has passed at all.

12. Actually going out with my husband (and no kids) to celebrate eight wonderful years of marriage. How does he just keep getting better?

13. Jane still having a special bond with her uncle Jason. And it's not just because he looks just like her daddy. Yes, that's Jason, not Jeff.

14. Jane eating fresh fallen snow for breakfast. She just can't get enough of it!

15. Jeff and Jack both feeling my baby kick. What a great moment!

16. Fiddling with my sisters and dad, and reconfirming how much I need to practice (and clip my nails!)

17. My favorite gift, that wasn't actually intended as a Christmas gift, was this fantastic picnic tin that my Grandparents brought to every fiddle contest they attended (I don't know if they missed one) for years and years. I love that thing and can't wait to use it with my own family. Silly, I know, but anything that reminds me of those fantastic childhood memories and my amazing grandparents is definitely going to take the prize!

18. Spending a day with Jason and Heidi at their home and Jack FINALLY getting to try out his new sled. And watching Jane and Ellie enjoying each other like we've always hoped they would! That was a fun day.

19. Jeff getting all his favorite traditional holiday foods he's been anticipating all month.

20. Jane and Christian still having a special connection. I can't find anything that makes my kids' happier than their cousins. What a blessing!

21. Knowing my kids don't have to go through more goodbyes with their cousins who now all live within an hour of our home. What a blessing to all be in the same state! Who could have guessed?

These are just the Rich cousins! From the left: Clark, Faith, Grant, Grandma, Mia, Grandpa, Christian, Jane, Abbie, Jack, John, and more on the way! Honestly, how did we ever say goodbye before?

With such a wonderful family, what more could we ask for?

Happy Holidays from the Hillmans.