Sunday, December 30, 2012

Our 2012 "holiday" letter...

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year...

     Heaven help me. I'm staring at this blank, white page on my computer, willing my brain to come up with some brilliant way of recapping our yearly highlights in what will be this year's Christmas letter offering. I've seriously considered not writing a letter at all this year. (GASP!) Going letter-less...crazy thoughts, right? Most likely coming from either sleep deprivation or laziness...I'm not sure which. But in the end, I couldn't stand the thought of breaking my Christmas letter streak. One every single year since 1994. (That's 18 years for those of us who are counting on our fingers...) Plus, I think my parents would be decidedly displeased. And it's never good to disappoint the parents, yes?

     I've already made the yearly list. You know the one...where you think back throughout the year and pick out the potential mentionables? Anything that could remotely be used in forming a nice, newsy little piece of holiday cheer. They're all jotted down in red pen. And you know what? Maybe this year my list, specifics and random details combined, is just going to have to be a letter in and of itself....

*I could tell you about the time I carted Rebekah and Julianne and a few of their friends down to the Hindu Festival of Colors where we inhaled a whole lot of chalk dust and ruined a few white t-shirts....while jumping up and down to the Hindu music with random strangers.

*And then there was that time we sat under a big tarp outside on a big hill while the lightening flashed and the thunder boomed and the rain poured...all so we could listen to The Piano Guys perform. It was especially memorable when the lightening flashes coincided with big musical moments.

*Or how about the time we had the whole neighborhood frantically searching for a missing Lilian...only to find her peacefully asleep in her bed, oblivious to the panic she had caused.

*We watched the skies for asteroids, a super-moon and an eclipse. (It'll be so much easier this next year after Brandon gets that telescope for Christmas. Shhh....don't tell!)

*We went to our very first REAL Salt Lake soccer game (hopefully not our last) and we went shopping to pick out our very first real Christmas tree. (See how I cleverly tied those two together? Ha.)

*We spent much of August watching the Olympics. And then much of October watching political presidential debates. We were disappointed on both fronts. The USA mens gymnastics team and our presidential candidate of choice were both better than the world got to see.

*I could tell stories of the buckets of tears I shed when my parents decided to move out of my childhood home after 34 years. And the buckets of books I brought home when my mom decided she needed to thin her home library so as to not have to move so many book-ladened boxes.

*Which means OUR home library is growing. Not only because of the books we inherited from my parents, but also because we have our own book collecting book worm. (And no, I'm not talking about myself...although a book worm, I certainly am as well.) Julianne Dlora devours books. A trip to Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago resulted in Julianne coming around the corner of the teen section, a huge grin on her face and her arms laden with a good 10 books. “Mom!” she exclaimed. “It's like this aisle was created just for me!” How were we to know that naming Julianne after her grandmother would prove to be so apt?

*We went to iFly and experienced the feeling of skydiving. Bryan and Brandon both acquired jumping stilts and the skill it takes to actually jump in them. I ran over 17 miles in the Ragnar Relay. (You should see the scar on my knee from when I biffed it running over Avon Pass.) And don't even get me started on the muddy, wet and foamy craziness that was the Foam Fest 5k.

*I could tell you about Julianne's EFY trip where she realized that being where the boys were was, and I quote, “AWESOME!” In all caps.

*Or how Rebekah recntly took the ever important ACT test and is anxiously awaiting her results. Realistically, she expects to take the test a couple more times as she gets ready to send in college applications. Oh my. College applications. What a reality check.

*More reality checking....Bryan turned 41, Lilian turned 5, Julianne turned 14, I turned 39 and Brandon...11. But Rebekah? Rebekah turned the magical age of 16. She had a date the very next day. And many more since then. Age 16 also means driving. I have discovered this year that as distasteful as it is to potty train a child and as glad as I am to be done with that very literal mess....teaching a teenager to drive is harder and more stressful! But our oldest daughter has a drivers license and a new-to-her car to drive. (We pray a lot when she's gone.)

*16 also means big high school date dances which include things like formal dress shopping, boutonnieres, day activities, creative asks and know, all beyond the actual dance. But when Rebekah wants me to climb in bed with her after she gets home so she can excitedly tell me all about it (till 1:40 AM) I count myself fortunate, even through the yawns the next day.

*The thing is, Julianne is hot on Rebekah's heels...daily regaling me with stories as to which boy said what to her in school or at the theatre that day.'s kind of a second home for Rebekah and Julianne. “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Music Man,” “Into the Woods,”...these are a few of the shows they've become extremely familiar with this past year. Beyond the plays, Julianne takes tap lessons and Rebekah, voice lessons. Julianne also auditioned for and made it into a subgroup that went to Disneyland the first week of summer to perform. It's probably needless to say that there is a lot of singing going on at our house...all the time, constantly.

*Because though I didn't think it was possible, music has become even a bigger part of my life than it already was. In February I was asked to join a women's quintet called Higher Ground and these women and the rehearsals and performances we engage in have quickly and surely become a pretty major part of each week. Beyond the various Relief Society programs we have put together, we've also performed with or for Cherry Hill, the Davis Arts Council, Ryan Shupe and the Rubberband and Deseret Book. Only time will tell where this group will go. We're still growing and working out bugs, but it's been a great blessing in my life.

*Another blessing...I was called to be the Stake Music Specialist. I was so overwhelmed I cried, literally cried. But though it's been busier even, than I had expected, well wow...turns out I really love my calling.

*From one calling to another (see my nice little segue there?) Bryan's has nothing to do with music, but has equally blessed his life. He is the gospel doctrine teacher. And though it is also overwhelming at times...the self-induced pressure he feels to make absolutely sure that he is doctrinally correct in everything he teaches and his hopes and prayers that what he says and how he teaches will be conducive to the Spirit...he too, loves his calling.

*And I believe it is the spiritual growth and fulfillment from his calling that has led him to seek another calling...this one as an ordinance worker at the Bountiful Temple. His shift is Friday mornings from 5-11 AM and if you know Bryan and are aware of his night owl propensities, you realize that an early morning shift like that goes against his nature. But it is the highlight of his week and he gets up every Friday without fail.

*Like her father, Lilian is also a night owl (or maybe it just has to do with the fact that she's living in a house of teenagers)...which also translates into rough early school mornings. Because glory be and hallelujah...our little caboose is in Kindergarten! And she likes it! It just takes a little while each morning to remind her of that fact....usually under threat of missing the bus.

*Did I tell you about Rebekah's 16-year old trip with her mom and dad to San Diego? Four days of nothing but beach. And though no one had informed us of the whole “June Gloom” thing San Diego endures, we still had a glorious time despite the grey-ish skies and slightly chillier weather. Ocean waves. Seriously, couldn't you stare at them forever? Maybe that's just the land-locked Utahan in me talking.

*And we can't forget mention of our champion gymnast! I can say that and not even blame it on biased motherly bragging because you see, he is actually a champion. He took 1st place All Around in not only the state meet but also the regional meet in Colorado as well! Brandon the champion....FACT! This kid eats, sleeps and breathes gymnastics. Truth be told, I'm pretty sure that if asked to list his role models in order of importance, his dad would be the top of his list, Coach Adam would be next....and then me. And I'm okay with that. Because I gave birth to the kid, and feed him, and drive him to gymnastics 5X a I'm pretty sure he loves me a great deal. Plus, Coach Adam is pretty awesome.

     I think I made it through my mentionables list...the specifics and even the most random of the randoms. Maybe there's something to be said about a bullet point themed Christmas letter. (I find it somewhat humorous that even without a clear cut idea of what I was going to say in this letter, I still filled up two pages.)

     A couple of weeks ago we held our big stake Christmas fireside. After a program filled with glorious holiday music, we ended with a closing congregational song. I had the privilege of directing the chapel and cultural hall full of people in a beautiful arrangement of Oh Holy Night, accompanied by piano, organ and violin. And as the music swelled and the congregation focused on the meaning of the words and sang with their hearts, I found myself weeping. Of the many holiday programs, concerts and plays I have been to or performed in the past month, it is this that has stuck out to me the most. So I leave you with the lyrics of the first verse of Oh Holy Night along with our sincere wishes of a Merry, Merry Christmas!

Oh Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining, it is the night of the dear Savior's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Fall on your knees! Oh hear the angel voices! Oh night divine, the night when Christ was born!
Oh night, Oh holy night, Oh night divine!

LOVE......Bryan, Sarah, Rebekah, Julianne, Brandon and Lilian

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Christmas post... know, the one with all the obscene amounts of pictures. (Not to be confused, of course, with actual obscene pictures. This post has a most definite G-rating.)

Christmas Eve...

We drove through a massive snow storm to get down to Bryan's parents house for the family party. We were late. But we didn't slide off the road, so that's something.
Lilian got to play Mary in the annual Christmas Nativity. Her first time so she was very excited. And took the responsibility rather seriously...her face, the perfect definition of "serene." Throw in a wiseman and a couple of members of the holy angelic choir and you've got our family pegged.
My gift was wrapped in an enormous bow covered in music notes. My in-laws know me well...

Christmas Day....

Lilian woke up at 7:45...extremely early for her. And immediately made a beeline for the living room. Luckily the sound of her feet thumping to the floor woke me up and I was able to do a mad dash to head her off before she saw too much, too soon. This made her mad. A grumpy 5-year old was not what I had in mind when I had envisioned Christmas morning. Nor was an an early wake up call from a girl who normally sleeps till at least 9:00. (Last year we had to wake her up.) I stuck her in the TV room with a "Curious George" to calm her down a bit while I began the process of waking the teens. We didn't get out to see what Santa brought till about 9:00, over an hour after Lilian had awoken. This being, I'm sure, a severe test of her patience.

The kids happily sorting through their stockings and appeased for the time being...I began breakfast prep. Crepes. A hugely time consuming meal to prepare but the one that had been requested and was a bit of a Christmas morning tradition. By the time all was ready and on the table, Bryan had gone back to bed. So another wake up call was in order before we could begin. And I only detail this part of our morning to show how much time was passing. So that you can fully appreciate the amazement of the fact that we did not sit down to open the gifts under the tree until close to 1:00 in the afternoon!!  (And a few more !!! for emphasis!) This is a bit unheard of with kids. I knew that the great majority of families had long since unwrapped the contents of their tree long before we even started in on our stockings. But I tell you was nice! We had nowhere to be, just us all day long. How relaxing to spread things out a bit (lot).

And as a friend so aptly and eloquently stated about her own living room..."It looks like the North Pole got sick in here!"

And the day after Christmas....

It snowed. Again. Christmas, the day we had nowhere to be and therefore nowhere to drive, was sunny and dry. But like Christmas Eve, the day after Christmas we drove through a massive snowstorm to get to my parents house. We were early...having left earlier to give ourselves more time. See how we learn from our lessons? And we didn't slide of the road, even when we saw numerous other cars doing exactly that. So that's something. Plus it helps to have a big truck with four-wheel drive.

Side note: we came home to 8 inces of snow. EIGHT INCHES!! You have no idea how giddy I was. Could not wipe the grin off my face. Well, you know...after I was finally able to unclench my fingers from the nerve-wracking drive home...

And not that this post isn't long enough as it is, but seeing as I've taken the time to document our first year with Chester, our elf on the would be a shame not to post his final few days with us before he was whisked back to the the North Pole on Christmas Eve? (Ha!) 
The kids were a bit aghast when Chester removed the stockings and hung up their (clean from the laundry room) underwear. I have to admit, I had my reservations...Chester may have stepped over the line into inappropriate behavior a bit there. Lilian, however, thought it was hilarious.... 

Thursday, December 27, 2012


Eight inches of snow. The most we've had in one falling in a very long time. We live in the Bermuda Triangle of snowstorms, it seems. Storms to the south, storms to the north...we always tend to be on the outskirts and escape with only an inch or so. Which realistically, just ticks me off more than anything. So I was beyond giddy with our snow dumping yesterday and throughout the night. And also really thankful for a neighbor with a snowblower....

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Sunday

Documenting  Christmas Sunday finery is a time honored tradition at our house. I have pictures each year of the kids in their new Christmas clothes. Only problem...the older kids don't care so much about fancy, frilly Christmas clothes anymore. But the tradition lives on...with Lilian front and center, the camera all to herself. Doesn't she look beautiful?

More Lilian camera hogging...but only because her siblings were busy watching Lord of the Rings with their dad and weren't overly interested in making cookies. At least until their movie ended. Then they were completely amenable to decorating a few with frosting and sprinkles. (Julianne fell asleep and missed both the movie and the cookie baking. She was less than pleased...)

And the evening ended with our most beloved of Christmas traditions...sleeping "under" the Christmas tree. We pulled out the new Christmas's only one day early...

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Jenga

I promised myself last year that Christmas 2012 was going to be the year. The year that I had it all together. I was going to start my shopping the first day of October and be done by Thanksgiving. Instead of Black Friday shopping, I would spend the day writing my Christmas letter. I was going to have the house decorated and everything wrapped by the first of December so I could spend the month trying out new Christmas goodie recipes, playing through all my Christmas song books on the piano and watching Christmas movies with my kids. (Would you believe I still haven't ever seen such classics as Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story or Holiday Inn?) Every night I was going to gather my little ones around me for a Christmas story and then family prayer before bed. It was going to be a busy season, yes...what with the various concerts and plays we were involved in...but I was going to enjoy the journey and when we were home, I was going to really be home.
But everyone got sick. And prepping for the the plays and concerts took up more time that anticipated. And my shopping didn't get done until this past Friday. I almost didn't even write the Christmas letter....the cards got dropped off at the post office just yesterday afternoon which means they probably won't be delivered before Christmas. I didn't wrap a single present until I set up gift wrapping central last night and spent five hours wrapping and curling ribbon. Rather than be the year....I ended up more behind than I have ever been any other Christmas season. I found myself overwhelmed and frustrated.

So today in church when I heard this quote from President Uchtdorf's 2011 Christmas fireside talk, you can probably understand why I sat up and took special notice...

Sometimes it seems that our efforts to have a perfect Christmas season are like a game of Jenga—you know, the one played with small wooden blocks that are precariously stacked up to a tower. As we try to increase the height of the tower, we pull out one wooden block before we can place it on top of the delicate structure.
Each of those little wooden blocks is a symbol of the perfect Christmas events we so desperately want to have. We have in our minds a picture of how everything should be—the perfect tree, the perfect lights, the perfect gifts, and the perfect family events. We might even want to re-create some magical moment we remember from Christmases past, and nothing short of perfection will do.
Sooner or later, something unpleasant occurs—the wooden blocks tumble, the drapes catch fire, the turkey burns, the sweater is the wrong size, the toys are missing batteries, the children quarrel, the pressure rises—and the picture-perfect Christmas we had imagined, the magic we had intended to create, shatters around us. As a result, the Christmas season is often a time of stress, anxiety, frustration, and perhaps even disappointment.
But then, if we are only willing to open our hearts and minds to the spirit of Christmas, we will recognize wonderful things happening around us that will direct or redirect our attention to the sublime. It is usually something small—we read a verse of scripture; we hear a sacred carol and really listen, perhaps for the first time, to its words; or we witness a sincere expression of love. In one way or another, the Spirit touches our hearts, and we see that Christmas, in its essence, is much more sturdy and enduring than the many minor things of life we too often use to adorn it.

Because when I think back on the past few weeks, there really have been plenty of those sublime Christmas moments. Moments that maybe I enjoyed while they were happening, certainly...but quickly forgot in the mad rush of the season. I wanted the whole season to be that way...full of the spirit of Christmas everyday and always, and yet that is fairly unrealistic. I'm glad that in hindsight, most likely what my mind will focus on and replay in months to come are those special moments. But I hope that I'll also remember next year to not set my expectations so high and to not be as hard on myself. To try, certainly, to make the season memorable and magical for myself and my family...but to realize and remember that most likely that magic will come in unexpected ways mixed in with the day-to-day mundane. We just need to look a little closer.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Another week of Chester

Day 10: Brandon (Ooops....I mean Chester, of course) built a marshmallow fort to hang out in for the day.
Day 11: Chester in Spiderman mode. (Kind of looks like he's stalking the Holy Family...Julianne claims that it's creepy. Brandon said this was the best day yet. Hmmm.)
Day 12: While Chester was channeling Spidey, Lilian drew a picture of him and then placed it up on a tall shelf across from him so he could see it. (Every one together now..."awwwww.") So the next day she was delighted to discover that not only had Chester noticed her picture but wanted to spend the day looking at it more closely...
Day 13: Sunday morning. What better place to find Chester than reading from The Book of Mormon?
Day 14: Sneaky little elf blended right in with the colorful wreath and Christmas cards.
Day 15: I guess after all those days of playing with sticky marshmallows and doing snow angels in flour, Chester felt he needed a shower.
Day 16: What a little monkey, hanging from the kitchen chandelier!

This is kind of hard, trying to come up with a new and creative way to hide Chester each night! How do people do this year after year without recycling ideas? But poor Lilian is already broken up about the fact that in just a few more days, Chester will be done for the year. So I told her he'd be back next Christmas. "But that's too far away!!" I guess Chester has been a success in her eyes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


I've  heard a lot of people say that they simply have no words when it comes to the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut. Meaning I suppose, that the horror is so overwhelming that no words can describe the depth of feeling. And I get that.

The thing is...I have a lot of words. The first words out of my mouth when I read about the tragedy on Friday morning were raw, rough, and filled with emotional rage. They weren't pretty words, they weren't comforting words. They weren't even words of grief. I was furious and frightened. I was glad that my children didn't hear those words or see their mother that way.

The rage spent (or at least at bay for the time being), then came the words of grief. And of warning. Lilian, I had planned to shield. My 5-year old Kindergartner...she I could hopefully keep this from. I didn't want to burden her with the fear of this. How lucky I am that for me and my family it can be that way. There are plenty of young children Lilian's age that saw and heard and now know things that they should not have to at this age. There are plenty of children Lilian's age that are now dead. Unlike far too many parents, this is not something I have to deal with. Thank God. But my other children...they needed to know.

Rebekah and Julianne had already heard, which was to be expected. But elementary age child himself, 6th grade...he had not heard the news. It was horrifically ironic. Just two days earlier he and his friend had asked me a question. "Why is The Matrix rated 'R', Mom?" When I told them that it was because of violence, Brandon downplayed it in a kind of incredulous, disgusted sort of way. "Violence, really? What's the big deal about violence?" Violence in movies and games, I explained, was dangerous. Because the more frequently you watch, the more graphic the violent images you let into your mind, the more you kill the aliens and bad guys in first person shooter games...the easier it is to become desensitized. The violence isn't shocking anymore. And it becomes all too easy to say exactly that..."What's the big deal about violence?" And then I told them about Columbine High. It happened before they were born and somehow they had never heard about the horrors that had happened there, the grief, the questions, the lessons learned. I found my computer search engine open to archived news reports of Columbine High later that evening. I was glad they had taken me seriously.
So it was with tears pouring down my face that I told Brandon of the Sandy Hook shooting. "This is why." I told him. "27 people are dead, 20 of them children. Because of violence." Obviously we don't know all the reasons why the shooter did what he did, what was going through his head. But clearly, violence IS a big deal.

Monday morning I sent my children off to school. Rebekah pulled out of the driveway in her own car heading to the high school. Julianne was picked up by her junior high carpool. I watched as Brandon and Lilian headed off to the bus stop down the street. And then waited on the cold front porch for a few minutes longer than usual as I watched the bus pull away. But I wasn't scared for their safety. And thankfully, neither were they.

An hour later I myself, was at the elementary school. Mondays are my day to volunteer for Brandon's teacher. And as I sat out in the common area stuffing folders with homework and PTA fliers...I could see children walking past me, hear teachers through open classroom doors teaching their students. I thought about Sandy Hook elementary and suddenly, though I had bounced between rage and grief all weekend long, it became all the more real to me being there in my children's elementary school. And I realized I was decidedly sick to my stomach. Very literally nauseous. I finished my task and with fresh awareness, walked through the halls to the office where I signed myself out as a volunteer, and then out the doors to my truck. I pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road and started to cry.

I don't know why this happened. It doesn't make any sense. I can't claim to understand what those parents are going through...the ones who have lost children, or the ones who haven't but are living through a different kind of horror. I can have sympathy and I can pray. And while I do so, I'll hug my own children a little bit tighter.

So, yes...for me, there ARE words. And right now I think the most important thing to use my words for, is to do this....

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas singing

It doesn't truly seem like Christmas if I'm not singing in some performance or another. I must admit, it was strange (and a little bit sad) to not be singing in the Sally Bytheway Chorale Christmas concerts. There is something rather wonderful about a really big (and really good) choir singing Christmas songs. But though I was not singing with them, I surely did enjoy their concert from the audience! (I'll be back for spring season...yay!)

This year, I found myself doing my holiday singing with Higher Ground. Because the season is so busy, we tried to keep our performance schedule somewhat simple. We sang in a Sacrament Meeting here, a musical number for a Bishop's Storehouse fireside there. Our two big ones where we were able to share our whole program, were at Temple Square and for a Relief Society in Taylorsville...the ward I grew up in, actually. My mother, who was the Relief Society President at the time, booked our group to come sing for their Christmas party way back in March. When my parents decided to move last summer, I asked my mom about the program. "Oh, I'm sure we'll still be around at Christmastime. Houses take a long time to sale, don't they?" Not theirs. It sold the day after they put it on the market. So I worked the details with the new Relief Society president...not a problem in the slightest seeing as I had known this woman since I was very little. If I'm remembering correctly, I think she was even one of my young women leaders when I was a teenager. And though it's been over 20 years since I officially moved out of the ward (obviously I've come back for visits and been kept up to date on all the ward news by my parents as time has passed) I was surprised at how many familiar faces I recognized, and how well they still remembered me.

Our program wrapped around Mary, the mother of Christ. I especially liked this quote by Bruce R. McConkie that I had the opportunity to share in the program...
"Can we speak to highly of her whom the Lord has blessed above all women? There is only one Christ, and there is only one Mary."

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building on Temple Square. Such an amazingly beautiful place to sing! We also sang at the Church History Library.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A "hungry little girl" and "the mayor's oldest girl"

This girl on the left got swallowed by a wolf. And the one on the right...she danced the Shapoopie, egads! Yes, it's theatre time once again. Two different shows, two different characters. Julianne's class performed Into the Woods where Julianne played Little Red Riding Hood. Rebekah's class performed The Music Man where Rebekah played Zaneeta, the Mayor's oldest girl. The shows were performed "in concert" and were both on the same night, different times...which is how I was able to get a picture of them both in costume together. were taken on my iPhone so some grainy-ness and fuzzy-ness and general less-quality-than-had-I-brought-my-other-camera-ness.

-Whatayatalk, whatayatalk, whatayatalk, whatayatalk, whatayatalk?
-Ya can talk, ya can talk, ya can bicker, ya can talk, ya can bicker bicker bicker, ya can talk all you want but it's different than it was!
-No it ain't, no it ain't...but ya gotta know the territory!
 Wa Tan Ye

 "Now a woman who'll kiss on the very first date is usually a hussy. And the woman who'll wait till the second time round is anything but fussy. But a woman who'll wait till the third time around...head in the clouds, feet on the ground...She's the girl you're glad you've found. She's your shapoopi."

 Zaneeta: "Papa, please! It's 'Capulets' like you who make blood in the market place! Egads!!"
Mayor: "You watch your phraseology, young lady!"

 "One Grecian Urn, two Grecian Urns! And for a fountain...trickle, trickle, trickle, trickle..."

"Oh the Wells Fargo Wagon is a comin' down the street, oh please let it be for me!" 

And how I didn't get any pics of the biggest song of the show..."Seventy-six trombones led the big parade...." I'll never know. Actually, I think Rebekah was mostly in the back during that number so though I tried, I couldn't get a good shot of her.

This is the second time that Julianne has performed "Into the Woods" with an acting class. Back in 2009 she played the Baker's Wife. (See here) This time, Little Red Riding Hood. I had a harder time getting pictures of her. I was farther away, plus I kept getting an annoying shadow from the microphone on her face. So not as many great pics as I got of Rebekah...but I did get a video.

Julianne sings this song just after the Baker frees her from the Wolf's tummy....

To watch on youtube, click here