Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Dear Family and Friends,

Happy Thanksgiving!! It's about 11 in the morning here.  The kids are all at school right now, and James is across the street at the mission office finalizing the upcoming transfer.  I want all of you to know, on this thanksgiving, how grateful I am for you in our lives.  Daily I feel blessed to have a wonderful extended family, ward family, and dear friends who support us and pray for us.  Sometimes when I am talking with one of the kids about how much they miss people back home, it helps that I can remind them that God is watching over us and that those very same people we miss are praying for us.  Thank you and happy thanksgiving today!  

Also, thanks thanks thanks to my sister, Teresa, for the last blog entry.  That was so nice of you!  And thank you Teresa and Taylor for your visit!!! You helped us all with so much. I am grateful for all of your help with the mission home and serving missionary dinners and Wilson's science homework and laundry and reading to the kids at night and thousand other things.  You really jumped in and gave so much while you were here.  The missionaries and our family are all grateful and we loved every minute of your time here!

Before I bombard you with photos, here is an update:

Evie is loving her Social Studies class.  Two weeks ago they went to Terezin, a small town and concentration camp that is about 40 minutes away from Prague.  Evie and her classmates have studied a lot of the political developments in Germany leading up to the war, and now they are studying the war.  She has written a paper about it and is putting together a slideshow with a specific theme.  She is fascinated by psychology ever since she went to Terezin, and has shared with me some of her insights regarding the Nazis and their psychological abuse.  It is tragic. When I was about to drop Evie at the bus to go to her field trip, George started asking, "what is a concentration camp?" and Hyrum said calmly that he could never go to a place like that.  He has the "hardest time concentrating."  So I realized that both Hyrum and George didn't know anything about it, and it was probably time to tell them a tiny bit about the camps.  I told Hyrum a super shortened story when we were alone later that day, about Hitler and how he took over this country without any bombings because he promised England that if they wouldn't stand up for the Czechs, he would leave the British alone.  But that Hitler and his fellow leaders weren't just tricky and dishonest, they were filled with an evil plan that involved killing and hurting many people.  Hyrum is only ten.  So naturally he thought of other kids, and asked if kids had to go to Terezin.  I hated that the answer is yes.  And then George kept asking me about it later that week so I told him a little about world war II and what the camp was that Evie went to.  Both times I was talking with the boys I felt a deep sadness for our fellow Czechs who had to go through that awful war.  I wonder if mothers just like me, who were raising their kids in Prague during the war, had any idea of what was happening to people just 40 minutes away at Terezin.  Forty minutes!  That's like if Salt Lake were occupied by another country suddenly and then a huge evil camp was constructed down in Orem!  I wonder what kind of questions their kids asked, and how they felt with Nazi soldiers occupying this beautiful city.  I can't imagine raising kids in situation like that. 

On a happier note, Evie was in the school play/musical last week and it was a fantastic show!  They performed three times and Evie was so nervous because she hadn't ever been in anything like that before.  But she was awesome!  We were so entertained and pleased and loved seeing her up there, singing her solo!  One of the fun things about being in the play, one of the perks, was that when our family went out of town a couple of times on weekends to attend church elsewhere, she had to stay in prague for practice and got to spend time over at the Sister missionaries' apartment.  She loves to be with the sisters.  Now that the play is over, it's nice to have her around more.  She seemed to live at the school every Saturday and until dinner time every school day.   

Wilson is thrilled that basketball season has started.  Well, try outs at least.  They are on week 5 of try-outs, and hopefully he will make the traveling team that gets to play in moscow in a few months.  He has worked so hard, practiced like crazy, and would be so excited to get on the varsity team.  So we are holding our thumbs:) because that's what they do here instead of crossing their fingers, for luck.  Wilson is also loving his new imovie class at school, and is sad that art is over.  He and Evie both have fantastic teachers and administrators.  It helps so much, in a new social setting, to have adults around you that are awesome.  

Wilson is doing great at explaining to others why we are here and what our church is about.  He is clear and bold and will make a great missionary someday.  And on Sundays when we often go to other branches, Wilson happily serves in whatever branch we are in if they need him.  Last Sunday we were in a congregation so small, in Nitra, Slovakia,  that it isn't a branch yet.  It's a group.  Wilson passed the sacrament by himself, and offered the bread on a white dinner plate.  Wilson is saddest when he is missing his friends and cousins back home.  Wilson is happiest when he is either with missionaries or playing sports with his brothers.  I love that boy. 

Hyrum had an awesome birthday!  The best part about it was that his aunt Shelli was here for it!  She was about to have shoulder surgery back in salt lake, and was missing us terribly:) so Jens decided to be the greatest husband ever and sent her to us for a week.  I don't know how he and other family back home arranged to care for Shelli's kids so fast, but it was such a blessing for us to have her and we are grateful!  Shell arrived in time to go to Hradec Kralove for church with us, to plan hyrum's birthday party, and to tend the kids for a day when James and I had to be elsewhere for a couples conference, and to attend our missionary concert. We also loved that she was doing our dishes and organizing our pantry and running our errands and most of all, talking with us and making us laugh and feel loved.  I don't think Hyrum will ever have a better birthday gift.  He loves aunt shell! We all do!  Hyrum is also working hard with school, can't get enough of futbol at recess, and loves loves loves his teacher.  His teacher is working with Hyrum on concentrating more and socializing a little less!

George, if he were here, would probably want me to tell you about the weekend where we went to see carp harvested.  Here in the Czech Republic, at Christmas time, people buy a big carp from a tub/pool of water in the town square and they fry it up for their Christmas Eve dinner.  It is such a tradition!  And some wonderful friends of ours in Ceske Budejovice invited us to their home for a delicious meal (duck!) and then we went to a pond (that used to be a lake, but was shrunk down just for the carp harvest) and watched the fishermen capture the carp in their nets.  It was awesome!  Our family had the best day with these friends, and felt refreshed by being in nature.  George is also happy as can be around the missionaries, has two great teachers at school, and has settled in to our home here.  He doesn't save his money for a plane ticket home anymore.

The other day, James and I realized that it had been exactly one year since our visit with President Eyring where he asked us to serve this mission.  We re-read James' journal entry from that day, and President Eyring said that this mission would be as much blessing for our children as it is for us.  I have faith in that statement.  He also told us that we would be inspired to call assistants who would not just be great leaders in the mission, but also be a blessing in the lives of our kids.  THAT is for SURE.  These assistants are like uncle-cousin-friend-missionary people in our lives.   We love and rely on them.  

Here is a picture taken right after we left President Eyring's office.  We went over to city creek, bought a salad,  and had a security guard take our picture even though we were still a bit weepy.

And here are some of the photos we've taken since my last letter:

Sunday walk with uncle Taylor

Evie and aunt Teresa 

Morning walks with Teresa-the best!

The boys scootered instead 

Leif and Mikelle!  Thank you for taking a detour from your work trip to come see us!  We love you.

A surprise from Hyrum's violin teacher-apples from her cabin

Prague and Hradec Kralove Zone conference for October
Here are our assistants teaching the other missionaries 

Then we break off into separate zones for the zone leaders to teach just their missionaries (prague zone is shown here)

Elder Cowley and Elder Davis, left and center, are next door neighbors back home!  And Elder Earl is sporting his handsome non-prescription glasses:)  

Sister Woodworth! 

Sister Roubicek!

After zone conference, Elder King and Elder Bahr finished putting snow tires on all the mission cars! 

Hyrum and George taking a break at the attic stairs.  They had soooooo much energy that day that I had asked them to run from the top of the building down to the basement over and over, trying to break their record.   

Piles of cobblestone for the new sidewalk in front of the church 

Mr. Utah fan on Charles Bridge.

This sweet boy wanted James to baptize him because James and Elder Andreason taught his mom and his uncle when James was a missionary.   

One of the last warm days of autumn 

Brno and Slovakia Zone Conferences for October
Evie's birthday cards that we give the missionaries at zone conferences, along with their milka bar 

These two missionaries are zone leaders over the entire country of slovakia.  They travel to many towns to help other missionaries teach better, plan better, study better, etc.  They also teach and serve in their own areas.  And this transfer, they have both been with brand new or almost brand new missionaries as companions.  They are extraordinary leaders and have amazed us with their maturity and wisdom and faith and humor.  Their work load is so heavy but they are doing awesome.  Elder Barber is on the right, and Elder Peterson is on the left.  Dad, this is Bob Peterson's grandson.  We are so sad that he is leaving us next week!

Sisters who serve in Zilina and Kosice (in Slovakia) and Brno, Czech Republic

Studying force and motion on a field trip to the park with george's second grade class 

Halloween party for the elementary school on the Friday night after halloween.   No halloween parade during the school day, but this was just as fun and the kids didn't seem to mind.  

Thank you OLD NAVY for the best car toy!  I am so glad I brought this retro car bingo game.  HOURS of cracking jokes and staying engaged with surroundings while on the road to other towns. 

Duck for lunch!  Our friends invited us to their home for a delicious lunch and then to go see some carp.  
Carp Harvest!! 
Uncle Jens, thanks for these binoculars.  George uses them all the time! 

The carp will stay in fresh water until Christmas time so that they can taste less fishy. 

Mollie, will you please tell your mom thank you for making George's indiana jones satchel? He uses it to collect rocks!

I took this from our hotel window as James walked across the square for early sunday meetings.  I adore this town square.  It's pretty and it reminds us of our MTC tutor Joseph Erickson who started his mission here.

Ceske Budejovice chapel, Sister Regnier and Sister Woodworth, and a new awesome member!   
Elder Greener is training Elder McOmber, and is the President of the Ceske Budejovice branch! The members LOVE these missionaries.

With Prague missionaries at a "singing display"out on the sidewalk.  We were also taking turns talking to people walking past, and invited them to the missionary concert later in the week.  


George was "marvelous me" for the week at school.  He taught them all about utah and his life there, he read "Bark, George" to them, he taught them a game he learned at highland park called "four corners".  On his last day as marvelous me, he brought in lego creations he's been working on.   

Date night with James 

Saturday basketball for George and Hyrum at the school.  George's coach is a darling mom of four who also attends the Prague branch.

Aunt Shelli's arrival! 
Letters from Jenkins kids 

Hradec Kralove (can you see the name of the church? The members meet in a couple of rooms in this office building.)

Primary~practicing with the czech children for their upcoming primary program.

Hradec Kralove out in front of the church.

Hradec Kralove missionaries! 

We went inside a beautiful old church on the town square and took a walk while James was interviewing and helping the members and missionaries.

In the Prague subway, singing "abide with me" on our way up the escalator, while sister Graham stood before us and handed out invitations to the upcoming concert to people going down.  People seemed to enjoy the sound of the beautiful hymn, and the acoustics were way good.  I love surprising people with beautiful music in ordinary places.  It is clear, with some, that it brightens their day.  
Walking back to the office.
Our office elders and assistants.  Four tremendous blessings to our family.

When I got home from violin lessons with Hyrum, Shelli and George and Wilson had decorated the apartment for Hyrum's football party with the missionaries.  Bry and Aimee, the Elders loved throwing the glow-in-the-dark football in the dark hallway.  Do you remember when Gwen gave that to George or H for a birthday gift?  It's so cool!   

Hyrum turned 10 on the date 11-12-13, so the Munros gave him coins on a poster to celebrate that:) 

Me ignoring Shelli on a walk as we approach the castle.  One of our cute sister missionaries was calling to talk about a sports injury.  I feel so sad for our missionaries when they are sick or injured, but I must confess that I love getting to know them when they call.  It is one of the great perks of being the mission medical person.  And I love my iphone.  LOVE.  I am grateful for it every day, and can't imagine helping all the sick missionaries without it as a tool.  

Outdoor market near Wenceslas square.

Shell, looking over the old castle moat.

Couples Conference in Prague and Kutna Hora
Every six months or so, the couple missionaries meet for a conference.  We trained them, asked for their insights, taught a little bit, and did a get-to-know-you activity.  The best was when James presented a slide show and taught them all about the Velvet Revolution and what took place within our church as communism was ending.  It included images from the historic revolution, and also images of our church's leaders and history.  He showed photos of his mission in 1990-92.  He ended with a powerful testimony about the wonderful blessings that the Lord has showered and will continue to shower upon the people here in the Czech and Slovak republics.  Sister Munro planned the logistics of the conference and made everyone feel loved and important.  She is amazing.  Here we are at a concert in Prague, and then the next 2 days were in Kutna Hora (thanks for tending the kids Shelli!!!).  
These couples are lovely, lovely people.  All so different and fascinating to talk with.

Big stuff on the little roads to Kutna Hora

On Shelli's last day, we went to the kids' school to pick them up and saw Wilson doing art in the hall.

George and Shelli checking out the fish pond in the back yard of the school. 

A quick bite on Old Town Square before the missionary concert 

Missionary concert!  Sisters singing "come thou fount of every blessing" in czech.  So pretty.  I wish I had a picture of all the elders who sang lots too.  James and I were so proud of the missionaries for planning and performing so well.  The people loved it. 

Mom, you would be so proud of our von-trapp-like song!  We sang I Am A Child Of God with Hyrum and James on Violin, Wilson and I on guitar, and we pretty much stuck to your suggestion of how to arrange it.  One of the verses was in Spanish, with just us girls singing, the last verse was English with everyone singing and playing.  And Joseph, the boys and I were talking about our Czech verse in the middle of the number, and said "Joseph would be so proud":).  Thanks for teaching us that on our first day in the MTC with you!

At school after Hyrum's last day of Cricket.  This coach (and Elder Sewell) taught Hyrum to LOVE cricket! 

Evie in the play.  They performed 5 of the Grimm Fairy Tales and this was the Beauty and the Beast story. 

Back to BRNO, Czech Republic, last Saturday so I could train these women about their new callings as a district primary presidency.  Meeting with them was one of the most Spirit-filled experiences for me.  I went in to the meeting feeling intimidated and nervous, and within one minute, I felt God's love for them, and for me, and knew we were sisters.  It was fun and sweet and we talked non-stop for 2 hours.  These are STRONG women.  Listening to them talk about challenges of life that they have experienced, and how they have overcome those challenges, I saw how courageous and faithful they are.

The boys, who got in the car to drive to Brno at 6:30 a.m., were great sports. They played for almost 8 hours outside, in a classroom, and in the car while James and I attended meetings.   The highlight for them was seeing the missionaries and playing sports with them for about an hour.
Elders in Brno, during a baptismal service. 
Hanging out with sister Steglich after the baptism.  We miss seeing her in Prague! 

After the meetings in Brno, we headed to Bratislava for the night and had a pretty gross dinner at a food court in the mall.  We need to visit Bratislava again, when we aren't so tired, so we can explore and find a great restaurant.

The next morning, Sunday, we drove about an hour to Nitra, Slovakia, where these four (elders Clem, Lyman, Wycoff, and Garlick) are serving.  They have transformed a couple of rented rooms for church every Sunday.  They said that at first, the meeting place seemed like a creepy interrogation room, but now they have made if feel so clean and reverent!   Church in Nitra reminded me that when Jesus was teaching, people could feel His love whether they were gathered in a tiny group or in a large group of 5,000.  I felt the Lord's love as we sang and worshipped together in Nitra.  It was a bright service!  The Spirit of God can be felt in the conference center with 20,000 people, but also in a place like Nitra.

Elder Clem is the "Group Leader", which means he's like the bishop of this congregation.  He welcomed everyone and conducted the meeting, and it's his responsibility to run things smoothly.  He is working on ordering a pulpit, but for now, the speakers stand in the front of the room and hold their talk or scriptures in their hands.  They had a little sacrament table that I could tell was from Ikea, and because of need, the elders went and bought more chairs.

Elder Wycoff, before he lead each hymn, would hum an introduction because there is no piano.   

We were the only ones with kids, so I taught a spontaneous primary and young men's lesson to the boys.  It was fun to do singing time.  We tried to remember all of Whitney Backman's "Praise to the Man" actions:) 

Elder Clem at the entrance to the meeting space.  James and I love this good man. 

After church, Elder Wycoff and Elder Garlick made us Halusky-the best I have ever had.  Homemade noodles and cheeses and bacon and onions.  I don't know what else, but it was gooooood.  And a fresh beautiful salad.  We enjoyed every minute with them in their apartment, and now we understand their service in the town a Nitra a little better after talking with them.  

As soon as we got home from Nitra, Elder Knapp and Elder Sewell brought James a gift that they've been planning since James' birthday in august.  It's one of those paper weights that has a laser-cut 3D image of a face or whatever.  These Elders' faces will smile at James for many years.  I wish you could see their faces in the glass, it is the cutest and funniest gift.  They are both such incredible missionaries.  Elder Sewell goes home next week and I'm trying to focus on how grateful I am for him and our time with him, not on how sad we all are to be losing him!  He loves others and the Lord with ENTHUSIASM that is so genuine.  He is like a cousin and uncle to our kids.  And he is someone that James and I rely on a lot for honest feedback and insights and understanding of the gospel.  I can't believe we have been here now for five months.  Elder Sewell has blessed us each day of those five months.  We are grateful!

Again, Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.  I love you!  Thank you for your friendship and for being our family!!!!!  May you be blessed today and especially throughout this upcoming Christmas season.  

Love, Laurel/Sister McConkie


  1. I'm so glad you have this blog! All of you are so beautiful and handsome and I admire you for the work you are doing and how great the kids are doing. SO wish we could visit! ;) Miss you cousins! Liz, Dan & Sam

  2. I LOVE your blog. Thanks for writing it!
    Love, Joanne

  3. Beautiful Thanksgiving Entry! Thank you so much for making my day! Love love love you. Teresa

  4. Laurel, how great it is to see and feel the love you have for the members, the cities, the people, your family, and the missionaries. How fun that your sisters have visited, hope Shelly's surgery goes well. I know how much your kids must be missing their cousins and friends. Tell them there are people in Maryland that are proud of them for being such good and happy kids. It looks like they are having some great experiences at school. Laurel, I loved seeing you singing with the missionaries around the city and then giving the concert. How neat that James baptized the son of someone he taught, wow, the gospel is so great.
    Love from Maryland,

  5. Thank you so much for this blog.
    I trained Elder Sewell in January-March 2012 in Zlin. I am so proud to see the elder he has become. I love him, and I'm grateful that he's become such a great missionary!!
    I also served with Elder Ozmun and Elder Eliason, in Trebic. Say hi to them for me!!
    It was great seeing the pictures of Ceske Budejovice. That was my first branch--I'm so glad that missionary work is going well there!!

    Lots of love,
    Joseph Heath

  6. This post really makes me miss my Prague missionaries. Also tell Wilson I hope he makes the team. If that hasn't happened already

  7. Laurel and James- dear friends! You are amazing! The Lord knows and loves you. I have a specific question -can I email you -- or you, me? Love you

  8. So fun to see all of your adventures! MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! Hope you have a wonderful Christmas season in the mission field. Love, The Masons

  9. Hello Sister McConkie! My name is Jacob Earle, I'll be coming to the Czech/Slovak Mission in February and was so excited to find your family's blog and see all of the missionaries! I can't wait to see you guys.

    - Jacob Earle