Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 in Review

The year 2014 has been an incredible year for the Hilton family. One aspect that dominates the year is traveling. One out of every six days in 2014 our whole family was out of town together. The majority of these days came from a super trip we took in June – August in which we went to Disneyland for a week with John’s parents and then to Chengdu, China for five weeks.
China was an incredible cultural experience for all of us. John enjoyed teaching at Sichuan University; Levi audited the three classes that John taught and it was a great bonding experience for them. Both enjoyed singing at the KTV night. Lani loved the opportunity of spending lengthy periods of undistracted time together. Highlights included hiking through a tropical forest alongside a series of waterfalls and spending time with a Chinese tutor. Annemarie, Maria and Joseph were able to practice their Chinese and had many new experiences. Whether it was riding in a taxi (they would take turns sitting in the front and talking with the taxi driver) navigating the bus and subway systems, having their feet massaged by fish nibbling, serving at an orphanage, or simply playing with Chinese friends. Katrina and Rebekah were often stopped in public places and people wanted to take pictures with them.
Additional family trips included time in San Diego with Lani’s sister Lacy, an adventure in Nyssa, Oregon where we reconnected with our roots (Levi and Annemarie were born in Nyssa), time in Seattle to visit John’s grandfather before he passed away, two trips to Las Vegas to visit John’s sister Janet, and three days in Mexico doing humanitarian work.
John and Lani also traveled to Greece, Italy and England on a work-related trip that turned out to be amazing. Highlights included being on Mars Hill, in Corinth, the Vatican, speaking at the Rome Institute, and 3rd row seats at Wicked in London. They also spoke together (and separately) at Education Week. John loves his work as a religion professor at BYU and Lani is a happy, busy mom.   
Rebekah (1) provides joy and sunshine to all she comes in contact with. She especially loves living next door to Lani’s parents and siblings. Her first words were “Thank you” and she learned how to say “yes” before “no.” Yes! Katrina (5) has loved Kindergarten, especially the monkey bars. She has started piano lessons and sang a solo at the ward Christmas party. She loves to play make-believe, read books with mom and dad, and all things Frozen. Joseph (8) does well in school and enjoys learning Chinese. He is taking piano lessons and loves playing the theme song, “Pirates of the Caribbean.” He works hard doing odd jobs for neighbors so that he can buy Lego Chima books.
Maria (10) is an outstanding student and amazes both her Chinese and English teachers. She is extremely diligent and recently earned a laptop by writing in her journal for 365 days. She loves the violin, piano, and chasing her younger siblings and making them laugh. Annemarie (12) writes essays and books in both English and Chinese and excels at everything she attempts. She has found several ancestors on Family Search and has enjoyed going to the temple to do work for them. She is a super mother’s helper, especially with Rebekah.  Hooray! Levi (13) maintains a 4.0, works hard on his piano business (he currently has eight students) was an outstanding Deacons Quorum President, and recently won his wrestling tournament, pinning all of his opponents. He is a thoughtful and kind brother, particularly to the girls.

For more on the Hilton Family Adventures in China and Mexico, visit http://thehiltonfamily.org
To learn more about what John’s up to professionally see http://johnhiltoniii.com (Religious) and http://johnhiltoniii.org (Open Access Scholarship).

Humanitarian Work in Mexico

We have had great experiences going on humanitarian trips with Charity Anywhere. This year was the first time we’ve taken Maria and Joseph with us. We were also joined by our dear friend Mike Madsen and his son Bridger. We crossed the border in the afternoon and had about 30 minutes to look for trinkets before Gordon of Charity Anywhere picked us up. We made our way to a taco bar and had some amazing tacos. We all ate to our hearts content, and they were really good!


Then we went to a store and bought some food for a struggling family; we were able to go down to their house and visit with them. It was an extremely humble home and I was very glad that we could bring some good cheer to them.

We went to the elderly home where we would be saying and got situated for a couple of minutes and turned around to Rick Valdez’s school. Rick is a guy that we helped served before and he is now teaching English to lots of elementary school students. They put on a performance and we were able to make some good friendships with them.

We went back to the senior center and went to bed. Saturday we were up early, and went on a walk to the bread store where Levi, Annemarie and I went to last year. We had some tasty food, and then to our surprise, a car came driving by selling tamales; we bought several. Delicious! Gordon arrived and we went to the Catholic school to do some repair work on their fence. They were so happy and gracious; some people worked on the fence, some people played with Rick’s students and practiced English with them, I went with Gordon and bought more supplies and worked out some of the logistical details that we would need to overcome later in the day.

The nuns invited us to lunch; it was totally delicious; we went into their kitchen afterwards and they showed us how to make it. Mike, Bridger and Lani moved on to our next worksite, while I stayed and helped everyone finish the fence. Levi worked exceptionally hard and did most of the fence himself.

At the end, Madre Lupe (the nun who is the director of the school) came and gave a great message to all of our kids. She spoke in Spanish and I translated. She talked about how the Lord loves a cheerful giver and was very grateful that we would take a break from our lives and come and serve. She said that she hoped the experience would make us feel grateful for the things the we have. It was a good, touching moment. Maria asked me on the side, “What is a Catholic?” and it was a good teaching opportunity.

The next house was a touching place to be. There were 10 people living in a three-room home. The bathroom was very small and dirty, and only was separated from the main room by a curtain and a rod. The kitchen (which you walk through the get into the main room) was about 5 feet by 15 feet and contained a small stove and a sink. But there was no running water in the sink; they would have to get water from an outside faucet. The main room had seven beds, which took up half the room. The walls for the most part had no sheet rock; you just saw 2x4s and plywood. We helped build a wall so that there was a partial partition between some of the bed and the main room. We also put up sheet rock on more of the house to provide better insulation. Everyone did a lot of actual work, except for Lani and Joseph who focused their efforts on loving and conversing with others (a different kind of work and equally important!) The place looked much better than we left. We also bought a bunch of food for them; they hugged Lani like crazy when we left. I feel bad for them, they really are living in some serious poverty.

I was talking with the grandmother and felt prompted to ask her if she had been praying for help. She said that they had been. I told her that this was part of the answer to her prayer, and that God had more blessings in store for her as she worked more to exercise her faith and participate in church. It was wonderful to feel like we had been a part of somebody’s answers to prayer.
We went to a dinner at a church; more amazing food and went home. Everybody was beat from all of our work; we fell asleep quickly. The next morning we  saw the horses who are stabled at the old folks home, went on a little walk, and had a nice breakfast. Then we were off to church where we sang a special musical number and really enjoyed worshipping with the saints.
Gordon was so gracious and drove us across the border. It was a short trip, but one that will remain in our hearts. We are already looking forward to going back.

Our Trip to Chengdu, Part III

In this post I’ll talk about our day-to-day life in Chengdu. Life in China had a great pace for our family. On Mondays-Thursdays our typical schedule was as follows: I would get up at 6:00 AM and study my scriptures, work on my lessons and at 7:30 AM get everybody else awake. We would study the scriptures, have breakfast (usually hot and cold cereal) and get ready to go. On two or three days a week, I would take the older children out from 9:30 AM - 12:30 PM. Once or twice a week we would go out as a whole family. We would do many different things, such as going to “Levi’s market” (a place where people could buy all sorts of trinkets), buying movies, random explorations (such as taking a bus and seeing where it took us) museums, book stores where you could buy 2 and get 5 free, “Wide and Narrow Alleys,” a 4D movie at Wanda Plaza (including some delicious Bamboo rice delicacies), and so forth. These were some of my favorite experiences on the trip. Probably everybody’s favorite activity was getting massages, and Levi definitely loved going to the movie store. 

Here is one example of what happened on one of those morning trips; on this occasion we went out as a family - it is representative of many such adventures.
We went out to explore the area by the North Gate of Sichuan University. When our whole family goes anywhere, taxi drivers are often a bit nervous when they stop and say something like, “I cannot take all of you!” We already know that and so we split up into two groups: Mom, Levi (for protection), Annemarie (for Chinese) and Rebekah. Then Maria, Joseph and Katrina go with me. I hailed the first cab and Lani’s group got in. I told the driver to head to Sichuan Daxue, Bei Men – north gate. It should be very clear, taxis have taken me there many times. We went back and forth a few times and it seemed like he was not clear on where to go. I said, “We can get out and get another cab.” Eventually he said he knew where it was and they left. Two minutes later, my group caught another cab and headed to the north gate as well.

I knew there was trouble when we arrived at the north gate and there was no sign of the others. Hmm…. We waited a few minutes and gave them a call. It turns out that the driver had dropped them off at the south gate and they needed to find another cab and get to the north gate. The good thing was that Annemarie was forced to talk to people to find out (a) if they were at the right gate, and then (b) tell the taxi driver where to take them. So that was good, and we were very glad we had two cell phones.

Once at the north gate, the trip itself was a great success. We got steamed buns, went to my favorite egg bread place, and found a computer store that really intrigued the kids. They were selling a 3-D computer that everybody liked, and perhaps even cooler, Rebekah became the huge star of the show with many employees going crazy over her. She was crying because she wanted to play with all the fragile technology and one of them gave her a fake cell phone and told us she could keep it because he didn’t want our baby to cry. She was very happy with the fake cell phone and we made our exit from the shop. We also found several great movies at a location near there and returned to the jiaozi place that we had eaten at with Paul. It was a great day – and again that is just one trip out of many.

Wherever we would go, people would stare at us and start counting. Often I heard them say, “Sige haize!” (because they have counted incorrectly) and then I would flash the sign for six and say, “Liuge haizi.” That was always a good conversation starter. And conversations did happen. Many people would ask me if America has a “fa quan” (a word relating to a “fine” for having children) and they will tell me about China’s “fa quan.” Others ask if we plan to have more children. Most give a thumbs up and say, “Hao lihai!” or “Hen zhufu!”
While Katrina had fun on the outings she came on, her preference was to stay home with mom. Katrina enjoyed this, especially when the Weavers were present. She would play school where she is the teacher and the principal. She would put her hands on her hips and talk about getting on the “Good good path” or the “bad bad path.” She had Sister Weaver draw a picture of Great Nanny (who Sister Weaver has never seen) and then Katrina critiqued the picture. Fun stuff. The Weavers were such a blessing in lifting and building up each of our children. While the Weavers was there our ordinary life included lots of fun times with them, talking, learning about family history, and enjoying the treats Sister Weaver would make.

At 12:30 we would all meet up to eat lunch (sometimes we would eat out) and then Levi and I would head to the University, where I taught three classes each day (Levi was a great student and took all my classes!) While Levi and I were at school, a tutor would come to our home and teach Lani and the girls Chinese. In general what would happen was that each school-age child would read to the tutor for 20 minutes and then the tutor would read to the children. Later in the day there would be a movie in Chinese, and playing with neighbor children. This was one of the highlights, to see my kids genuinely playing and having fun with children from China. They were able to communicate sufficiently to have fun together.
Levi and I would get home around 8:00 PM. Everyone would go to bed (Levi would watch a movie) and Lani and I often went on walks and spent treasured time together. For a few more glimpses into ordinary life, here are some quotes from Lani, Joseph and Maria:

From Lani: We went to the mall that is a 20 minute walk from our house.  It is a super nice mall, with A/C and nice bathrooms.  John and the older kids watched a movie in the movie theater (in Chinese) and I shopped at the nice grocery store so Rebekah could sleep.  Katrina and I were seated on a bench and two 20 year old girls came to talk to us.  They knew a few phrases in English but did not understand much. They told Katrina she was beautiful and Katrina talked and talked to them. She knows how to say, “What is your name?” in Chinese and how to count to ten.  They loved it. She loved getting a picture with them and all the attention they gave her. Then an 18 year old college bound young man came and sat down and did some translating for the girls so they could ask more questions. They were all so friendly and fun to be with.

I had a lot of fun with the tutor today and Annemarie was jealous I had more time with her than she did—really we had the same amount. Went out to play before and after dinner. Maria practiced her rip stick that she bought over the weekend. At first she was frustrated and wanted to quit but she kept trying and did well. Annemarie and Maria made new friends. Katrina tried out her few phrases.

Maria’s pet turtle’s name is Hulk and he is a fun distraction. Sunday we went on a walk to the right of our neighborhood and over two bridges. There was thunder and lightning but no rain till the very end.

July 29, 2014 - This morning everyone slept in till 7:30. Annemarie, John and I went to tai chi. Our instructor is eager to pass on her passion for tai chi.  She says it is a dying martial art and lots of people don’t do it with their whole spirit.  I have had more time with the tutor and I love it.

August 1, 2014—Friday - Today is our full day of activities; after Sichuan museum, a park, dufu cottage and eating lunch at restaurant, riding the city bus one kilometer to ancient market, it was already 5pm and we took a four minute taxi ride to Metro which is a German store chain with imported food and reminds me of sams club or Costco on a smaller scale. Anyway after an hour there we ended up in their section of massage chairs and everyone got some serious massages using the remote controls. They also had these crazy exercise machines that you would stand on. After we left the store it took us 35 minutes to catch a cab. I was with Levi, Annemarie and Rebekah and we had the stroller and some groceries. We walked to different streets to see if we could be more accessible but it got kind of frustrating because we would see 5 or 6 empty taxis just drive right past us. 
Here it seems like at least 10% of the cars driving around are taxis so they are normally very plentiful but apparently not in the area were in.  It might have been extra hard to because it was rush hour—6:30pm.

We were SO grateful when a taxi pulled over to drop someone else off and we could get in. We were beginning to feel very helpless, not knowing how to use the bus system or any other way home.

Maria took Hulk the little turtle out to play in the puddles in the grass. He loved it and tried to swim and dig in the mud.  He was really good at hiding and was super fun for Maria and Joseph. Katrina has had some drawing lessons from Hattie the tutor. She has learned how to draw butterflies, fish and desserts like ice cream cones and cookies.  She loves it and gets so excited and likes to teach what she learns.”
From Joseph – “We went to a place and I ate duck neck. It was really good. I want to eat duck neck more. But it was really spicy. During the week Hattie comes. I read a book to her and she reads a book to us. I summarize books and both of us read it together. I look at the pages and most of them are fables. And I found this new kind of Sprite. It is called Ice Mint Sprite. It is so good. That’s all.”

From Maria: “July 12 2014: We played with a girl who lives in our neighborhood. She is also 9 years old so her Chinese is easy to understand. Her English name is Cindy. We played tag, hide and go see, wolf chicken and baby chicks. Then she took us to her house. She lives in a tall apartment building and we got to go on the roof. We could see everything from there. It was amazing.

We were incredibly blessed to come on this trip as a family. It was a wonderful bonding opportunity for us, and truly expanded all of our horizons. We drew closer together as a family and realized that in the strength of the Lord we can do hard things. As stated previously, we could not have done this without the Weaver family. We are SO GRATEFUL to them.  We made so many friends from China and we deeply appreciate their kindness towards us. We look forward to returning to China in 2015.



Our Trip to Chengdu, Part II

Our trip to China was full of adventures. In this post, I’ll just share one that is representative of about eight different “super activities” that we went on. On our second Friday in China, we got up early and went to the back side of Qing Cheng Shan. We hired a driver who took us on the two hour trip. Not knowing very much about the area, it took us a while to get started. We were buying water bottles and going to the bathroom, not knowing that it was 30 minutes from that point to the place where the trail would actually start. But there was a beautiful little city that we walked through before getting on the trail and we saw a Buddhist Temple and some other interesting sites (more on that ancient city in a little bit).

When we got on the trail I was amazed at how beautiful everything was. It was like a lush tropical rainforest mountain. There were waterfalls along the hike and there were several times that I thought, “This spot is so beautiful that in America a person might hike 3 hours just to see this spot as the final destination” and yet, on this trail it was just part of the journey.
After hiking for a couple hours (with plenty of rests along the way) many kids wanted to go back. Levi was carrying two somewhat heavy backpacks, so he definitely had the roughest side of things. Lani wanted to keep going a bit further because there was a tram that would take you down the mountain. So Rebekah, Lani, Katrina and Annemarie continued up, and I went down with the rest. At first Levi and Joseph went faster than Maria and me, so we arranged to meet at this little pagoda. When we got there, Levi shared an interesting tale. He and Joseph had been hanging out, when some woodcutters came and sat down (it was their hut). Joseph and Levi got up to leave, but the woodcutters motioned them to stay and offered them some food and then some cigarettes. It was their first time being offered a smoke, and happily, they declined!

When Maria and I got there, we joined them for lunch and we saw an interesting sight. A butterfly was caught in a spider web. The butterfly was relatively large, especially considering the size of the web and the spider. Levi predicted that the butterfly would escape. It was flapping its wings like crazy and we thought the web would break. But after a couple of minutes the butterfly appeared to tire and the spider began spinning webs around it. In the end, the butterfly was captured. That was fun to see (for us, not the butterfly).
At the same time I got to the bottom of the mountain, Lani arrived on her tram, so it was fun to see her and the kids from that angle. We had lots of fun stopping and talking with people along the way. As always, many people wanted to take pictures with Rebekah and other family members.

As we were walking back through the old town we saw a place where you put your feet in the fish tanks and they nibble at your feet. Everyone wanted to do it, and I was happily able to negotiate for half the price so everyone did the fish nibble. Lani shrieked when the fish started nibbling her feet; I also didn’t like it, but the kids all loved it. A crowd gathered around while we were present and there was plenty of good conversation.
I got everybody but Joseph ice cream (he didn’t want any) and on the way out Joseph said he wanted to eat “pig nose” (I had told people earlier that if they would eat it, I would buy it). So we bought the smallest pig nose and sure enough, Joseph had a bite. Then others wanted to say they had tried it, so Levi, Maria and Annemarie had a bite. Joseph had a couple of more. Everybody said it was spicy and most ate just for the future glory of being able to say they had done so. We can eat hard things! J

From Maria: “July 11, 2014: I could write 100 pages on what happened this week….Basically they just chopped the nose right off the pig’s face. I had a small bite off the edge of the nose. It was chewy, rubbery, spicy and well…kind of good…We had fish eat our feet. Well not your feet, the dead skin on your feet. So how it works is you have to sit on a couch and you put your feet into the tank with lots of small fish. The fish will eat the dead skin of your feet. I think it’s like a massage. Mom sure didn’t.”

Our Trip to Chengdu, Part I

Our Trip to Chengdu, Part I

This blog post is massively overdue and will be way too long. Apologies in advance! This first post will cover the week before or trip to China and the early days in China.
When we were looking at buying airplane tickets to China, we realized that it was about $600 per person cheaper to fly out of LAX as opposed to SLC. By the time one considered flight times and layovers, it was close to the same amount of total travel time. Thus the idea of going to Disneyland prior to China was born.

From Maria: June 23 2014, “Pack, pack and pack. That’s my day.” “Nanny was so kind to let us come to her house to dinner so mom would not have to cook it herself.”

We left on June 24, just after lunch. Lani’s family was incredibly helpful in serving us meals and helping to get the cleaning all finished. We drove straight to Las Vegas, stopping only for gas.

We would have made it without any incident, except that Katrina threw up about 30 minutes before we got to Janet’s house. Poor girl! We think that she just got carsick.

Everybody was happy to visit Janet and Jeffrey Salls, and especially to play with baby J.P. They were gracious hosts, even though it was their anniversary! We got to eat some anniversary cake with them and Levi went with Jeffrey to a pickup basketball game with the Deacon’s Quorum. I was busy reviewing our Disney plans; we had used RideMax to plan out our itinerary, and my online searching revealed that there had been a couple of changes in how the FastPass system worked.

We had a nice breakfast with the Salls and left for the beach! It was a quick four hours from Vegas to the beach and we loved Boogie Boarding and playing in the sand.

From Maria: June 25, 2014, “The ocean water was actually quite warm. I wasn’t that good at bogie boarding but it was still tons of fun. Levi was knocked down in the wave and is all scratched up. The lifeguard gave him a band-aid for the biggest cut.”

Then we were off to the house we had rented with my parents. We arrived at the same time they did and it was great to be together. We enjoyed the pool, had dinner, and went to bed, dreaming of Disney.

While all the RideMax planning was undoubtedly helpful, we were really blessed with abnormally small crowds the days we were there. All of our plans worked perfectly; we rode every ride as often as we wanted, and never waited more than 20 minutes for a ride.  

Our first day at Disney was picture perfect. The rides were all great, and we enjoyed some fun shows.

From Joseph: “We went to California Adventure today. It was really fun. My favorite rides were California Screamin, Radiator Springs, Mickey’s Fun Wheel, Tower of Terror, and Toy Story Mania. They all were really great even though it felt like we only went on ten rides. Even though I got not that soaked on the Grizzly River Run I liked it. By 5 I was tired, we came home, I swam in the pool. We got in our pajamas and had ice cream. It was great.”

From Annemarie: “SUNDAY JUNE 29, 2014 On Friday we got to go on lots of rides, I loved it…We went to church at 1pm and had a wonderful time.”

After four days of Disney and priceless memories with my parents, we spent some time with our dear friends the Perrys and the Millers and then we were off to China. Eighteen hours later we had traveled 8,000 miles and it was 12:00 PM in China. We went out to lunch with Sister Weaver (the Weaver family was incredibly helpful every step of the way) and the kids were all impressed with being in a new country.

People were falling asleep by 5:00 PM. Jetlag is real; Rebekah was awake at 4 AM as were most of the family members. Everybody stayed quiet and in bed though (except Rebekah) and Lani and I were both up with her. Because we were all up early, by 8 AM it seemed like everyone was bouncing off the walls a bit, so I took the oldest five kids on an exploratory walk. We had a great time – we found a cool market where there were whole chickens on display, pig snouts, and lots of other crazy things. We bargained for fans for the girls, and everybody was really impressed with the market. This is one thing about being in another country - just walking around for an hour is an educational experience.

That night we went to Jinli street with the Weavers. It was one of my favorite places from my last trip to Chengdu. We went to a really fancy hot pot. The food was delicious; but Rebekah was so exhausted and jetlagged that I wound up holding her more than eating. There was a really awesome show that we got to watch and it included a guy who does face changing. It was really fun to see and he came up close to our family and it was really cool to see his face change. We would not have found this great spot without the help from Doug and Melisa. They were so helpful with our kids and even took a taxi home because there was not enough room in the car (their car!) for them.

On Saturday the kids were again up early. The Weavers were so INCREDIBLY gracious, making breakfast for everyone and not complaining about our early rising. President Weaver got out his guitar and sang songs to the kids, inspiring them to be more musical and learn good things. His music and example was something that stayed with us the entire trip. He also made paper animals for Katrina later in the day. Sister Weaver was unbelievably patient with a lot more noise and messes. After our scripture study we went to the zoo. We took two taxis, which was an adventure. It was the first time for my kids taking a taxi in China (and excepting Levi, it was the first time for any child to take a taxi in any country), and it was really fun to travel around.

When we got to the zoo, we tried to buy some street food and I epically failed to get things that the kids like. A couple of things I learned was to remember to ask if it’s spicy, and also to only buy one of something to see if we are really going to like it before buying multiple. That was my bad.

The zoo was fun. Everyone was hot and tired and we didn’t bring enough food. We were learning lessons about bringing food with us and what we needed to keep going. Lani found some top ramen soup and we all munched on that. We also fed the hippos (awesome) and the four middle children got to ride on a camel. So that was fun. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the zoo was seeing how Rebekah was such a rock star. People wanted to take pictures of her/with her and once a couple of people started taking pictures huge crowds would gather around. At one point there were about 30 people surrounding her, wanting to take her picture.

From Joseph: “We are in China now and I have had a ton of experiences. Pig knee, this strange brain thing, I have no idea what it is but I think it’s a human brain [it wasn’t.] They have Lego Chima here and toy wooden swords. There were a lot of cool things. I just like almost everything. They have tons of cool stuff. I have to admit it is crazy.

Saturday night we set up for church, which is held at the Weaver’s home. We were beginning to acclimate to life in China.