Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas Odds and Ends

Somehow the stars aligned and we found an evening where we had the whole family home at the same time. It's rare. Most likely a Sunday night. And somehow I was able to convince everyone, including Bryan, to decorate gingerbread houses and men. The results of our decorating were varied.
Take a look....

Brandon decided to raid his stash of odds and end batteries, circuits and other such electronic pieces and make a cyborg out of his gingerbread man. Well, clearly this would keep anyone from snitching treats from the finished product. Bryan got out his trusty exacto knife and carved out the mouth and using non-traditional (but still edible) decorations such as almonds and coconut...made his creation more of a "gingerbeast man."

The girls were more traditional. Rebekah and Julianne opted to work on the actual gingerbread house.

And a few more Christmas-according-to-my-iPhone type of random shots....

Lilian wrote a letter to Santa at school. I love how the items on her list start small and work up from there. The boyfriend request I think was more to get a rise out of me. Not to say that she's not interested in boys because oh my, SHE IS! She's six-years old and already sharing boy stories just like her older teenage sisters.

A gift from the Relief Society on Christmas Sunday....a simple breakfast to enjoy during the lesson, on top of a cutting board to take home and re-use. The cutting boards, though? Bryan made them. 90+ of them in three different types of wood. And though the production of the cutting boards took over my section of the garage for a couple of weeks and meant I had to park in the driveway (in the snow)....they sure turned out beautifully. And I think Bryan enjoyed having a woodworking project again.

Also on Christmas Sunday....Lilian models her Christmas dress. And though I'm sure the older girls wouldn't mind getting new clothes for Christmas Sunday, Lilian is the only one still little enough to appreciate the traditional new Christmas dress. She picked this one out. Rather than fluffy and frilly, she went with classic black velvet.

The goal was to read one of our collection of children's Christmas stories each night before family prayer and bedtime. It didn't happen anywhere near as frequently as I had hoped. In fact, maybe only a grand total of three times. But those three times were lovely...just saying.

Christmas shopping did not get done as early in the season as I'd hoped. The difference this year, though was that somehow that fact did not stress me out like it usually does. But clearly Lilian was less than thrilled about shopping at Charming Charlie with me on the 23rd of December. "I'll just sit here and pretend to be a purse." Well, at least that kept her out of trouble....

As a Madrigal this year, Christmas season for Rebekah included daily performances at elementary schools, retirement homes and ward and business parties. It was exhausting...not just the performances but also just trying to keep up with homework from the many classes she was missing. But she loved it!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Chester the Elf

The Elf on the Shelf backlash got worse this year. Everything from being a waste of time, to the elves being creepy and just another way to lie to our children and manipulate them into behaving. I was slightly embarrassed to admit that we play the Elf on the Shelf game. Except you know what? That's what it is for us. Just a silly little Christmas game. And though especially in the month of December I don't have a lot of time, there is this handy little website called Pinterest that has loads of ideas and pictures that I can copy. (Which I did. Only a very few of the Chester ideas are my own and those are the ones that are incredibly simple.) Lilian adores Chester. And for a little girl who is growing up in a household with a bunch of older teenagers who have long since passed the stage of believing in Santa, it's especially nice for her to have this little bit of Christmas magic and sparkle.

So because she still enjoys looking at the pictures we posted last year of Chester and his crazy antics, here is 24 days worth of this year's Elf on the Shelf.....
Day 1: Chester leaves an M&M message.
Day 2: Making Fruit Loop necklaces on the kitchen counter.
Day 3: Fishing for Goldfish crackers in the toilet with a candy cane fishing rod.
Day 4: Playing pool.
Day 5: Bungee jumping with Lilian's slinky from the upstairs banister into the basement.
Day 6: Modeling the new elf shirt Lilian left for him from the top of the Christmas tree.

Day 7:  Reading the Christmas stories.
Day 8:  Making snowflakes on an especially snowy day.
Day 9:  Play Blokus with Woody, Piglet and Draculaura.
Day 10: Listening to Rebekah's tunes on her iPod.
Day 11: Getting creative with Lilian's stickers.
Day 12: Crazy string mess.

Day 13: Playing Christmas carols on the baby grand.
Day 14: Kissing booth....chocolate kisses, yum!
Day 15: All tied up in the Christmas lights on the alpine trees that were getting prepped for the front porch.
Day 16: Playing hide and seek in the front hallway.
Day 17: Taking selfies with the photo booth app on the laptop.
Day 18: Roasting marshmallows in the flame of the Christmas pine scented candle.

Day 19: Making snowflakes out of Q-tips on another snowy day.
Day 20: Hide and Seek above the stockings in the basement.
Day 21: Wrapping himself up in the gift wrap and hiding with the presents under the tree.
Day 22: Reading scriptures about the birth of Christ on a Sunday morning.
Day 23: Hanging upside down in the kitchen all day.
Day 24: To say goodbye for the season, Chester printed out various pictures we had taken of him throughout the season and hung them up along with all the other Christmas cards that had arrived in the mail from friends and family.

Lilian was sad that Chester had to leave, even if she understood why. She loves that strange little elf. So to heck with the naysayers....I'm sure our elf will be back next year.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas letter 2013

19 December 2013

Merry Christmas everyone!
The conditions couldn't be more perfect if I'd special ordered them myself. There is snow…actual snow falling outside my window. And though this is not the first snowstorm we have had this season, I didn't actually think it'd stick around till Christmastime. Because I don't usually tend to be that lucky. Plus, I figured I'd jinxed us good. I bought a snowblower a few months ago. And what better way to ensure that we have a perfectly brown and dry winter than by having access to a snowblower? But the forecast says it is supposed to snow all day! Let's all join in a rousing chorus of "It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas," shall we?

This was a year for celebrating big events. Some rather momentous, some not so much and very ordinary. But I would say that our biggest event of the year would be celebrating mine and Bryan's 20th wedding anniversary. TWENTY years! In today's day and age, that seems like a significant accomplishment. So we decided that we needed to do something special to acknowledge this milestone. And though we've never had any doubts that we'd make it to twenty…or to forty or sixty or eternity, really….we booked ourselves an Alaskan cruise. What better excuse to get away and have an adventure, just the two of us, yes? And adventure we did. Helicopter rides and hiking on top of glaciers, canoeing through the Tongass National Forest, whale watching, playing with sled dog puppies, eating lots and lots of fresh salmon…..  Alaska, friends. I know it's cold. But seriously, pack yourself a coat and gloves and go see some of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring scenery you've ever laid eyes on. You can thank me later. If I can get serious for a minute, though... just know that the decision to marry Bryan is the best I've ever made. I am so incredibly humbled by and thankful for our twenty years together!

If that weren't enough for one summer, I also turned the big four-oh in August. I was a little weirded out by the whole thing. Because though I don't necessarily feel 40 or think I look 40 (what does 40 feel or look like anyhow?) it's a really weird mental thing. 40 always seemed so very grown-up and well…old. I thought I was ready for it, but as the date was fast approaching I kept trying to come up with some big event to celebrate the day. Something to show that I was very obviously "forty and fabulous" or "forty and fierce." Ultimately I decided that my birthday was just one day leading into the next phase of life and maybe it was more about heading into it with confidence and grace. Besides, I have a whole year to be 40…might as well spread out the celebrating, right? 

So though I'm not sure if has to do with trying to live life to its fullest…or if it really is more of a mid-life crisis thing, I have found myself anxiously engaging in all sorts of activities that normally I might just let pass by. Dressing up for Comic Con, taking a tap dance class, participating in a 2 week raw food cleanse, going to rock concerts…well okay, I don't think you can really classify Josh Groban or Michael Buble as rock, per se…but Muse, yes! I joined up with hordes of other women to experience the ever popular Deseret Book sponsored "Time Out For Women." I became an ever more dedicated yogini and dragged my kids to run themed 5ks with me (the Color Run and the Electric Run, specifically.) And really, I didn't drag them…they went willingly. 

Realistically, I think part of this new attitude towards life may also have something to do with the fact that turning 40 happened to coincide with the first week of school which saw all four of my children in school FULL TIME! It's kind of a big year for everyone. Because not only did Lilian start all-day 1st grade, but Brandon entered Jr. High as a 7th grader, Julianne headed off to ....... High as a sophomore, and though Rebekah has been at the high school for a few years already, this year she is a mighty senior. It took seventeen years…but I actually have the house entirely to myself during the days! 

So speaking of the kids…they keep busy. Which means that I keep busy right along with them in regards to school projects, extracurriculars and carpools. Plus boy/girl talk and shopping and watching movies and other such things that crop up when suddenly your child becomes also your friend.

* Rebekah got her first job this past year. She spent our hottest-summer-on-record as a lifeguard at Lagoon-A-Beach. Boy howdy, you've never seen such a tan! And when the water park portion of the park closed for the season, she got picked up as a cast member of Lagoon's Frightmares where she made a perfect little Alice in Wonderland for the childrens' Spook-a-Boo Walk. With Halloween over, she now puts in time at the new Station Park outdoor mall in Farmington where she works mall events. 

And if a job wasn't enough to keep her away from home, she is also frequently with friends…dates and parties, etc. as is common for a 17-year old. She's a Madrigal this year, the premier show choir at the high school. She spent Spring Break with some friends in St. George (chaperoned by moi). She's a pro at formal dress shopping…and had her first experience with that very traditional high school experience: Prom. She has an internship at Lilian's elementary school working for a 3rd grade teacher there. She also goes in two more times a week to read with kids as part of the AmeriCorp reading program. Lately she has been keeping busy filling out college applications. She's looking at Utah State University and BYU-Idaho with a major in Elementary Education. And that's all I'm going to say about that for fear of crying….

* Julianne is becoming more and more  involved in any and all things theatre…it, more than anything else, characterizes who she is. She is still hugely involved with ....... Theatre here in .......... and is not only in their advanced audition-only class, but also takes tap lessons there. She traveled to the Land of the Mouse on a performing trip with this group this past June and will be heading to Atlanta with them again next month to take part in the Junior Drama Festival there. She and Rebekah both performed in "Crazy For You" in the spring. And then while Rebekah's theatre class put on an in-concert version of "The Music Man," Julianne was Little Red Riding Hood in "Into the Woods." Most recently (and the show they are taking to Atlanta) Julianne played Scuttle in "The Little Mermaid." This girl can not only sing but also has some serious comedic timing! 

She and Rebekah just recently found their names on the cast list for ......... High's musical "Footloose"…the competition was fierce so I'm a proud mama. And in the fall Julianne was also chosen to be in the hand-picked sophomore musical productions class…also at school. She eats, sleeps and breathes theatre and music. But a close second and third would probably be reading books (a voracious bookworm she remains) and in true teenager style, spending more and more time with friends. And did I mention she is now driving? I thought what with having taught one child to drive already that this time would be easier. Sigh. 

Both girls had the opportunity to visit the majestic Grand Canyon with their grandparents and a couple of cousins during the summer. Also we had our first experience with Pioneer Trek. And I say we, not because I went too…but because I had to outfit them both and oh wow, it was a serious job! But they came back with memories that will last them for quite a while to come. Luckily for me they both like to talk and for the most part, trust me enough to share their thoughts and feelings with so I get to hear about not only their adventures but also the ups and downs with boys and friends and life in general.

* Brandon is 12 now. Which means he graduated from Primary and was ordained a deacon holding the Aaronic priesthood. It's a thrill to watch him passing the Sacrament in church on Sundays…a new experience for me not having grown up with brothers. He occasionally goes to Tuesday night activities with his sisters, but is usually at gymnastics. (Side note: Maybe this is a good thing…seeing as the one and only Scout camp-out he went on this year, he brought home as a souvenir not a pocket knife as is common, but a goat named Bartley. Yes. A goat. Needless to say, we quickly found a new home for the animal. Side note over.)

 This kid is now a level 8 gymnast which means he is at the gym every single day but Sunday for a total of 24 hours weekly. And as theatre is to Julianne, gymnastics is just as much so, if not more for Brandon. Gymnastics is a year-round kind of sport…no taking summers off or just participating in the sport's season. Meets however, do have their own season for the most part. So last January-March while Utah was experiencing the coldest-winter-on-record (yeah…we broke records for both summer AND winter this past year) we were thankful for the opportunity to skip out of town for meets in slightly warmer locales. I think Brandon's favorite was at Stanford University near San Francisco. And because this meet fell over Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend we stayed an extra day and explored Fisherman's Wharf. Other out of state meets included trips to Phoenix and Albuquerque. And when the Black Jack meet in Las Vegas came around in February, we took all the kids out of school and turned it into a mini family vacation. But Brandon's biggest vacation this year actually had nothing to do with gymnastics…he was invited to spend a week on a Caribbean cruise with his grandparents and cousin, Nathan. Lucky kid. Beyond gymnastics he is still our science geek (and I say that with tremendous admiration.) He also adores his art class. But when he grows up he claims he wants to be either a gymnastics coach or a psychologist.  

* Lilian refuses to be called the "baby" of the family anymore and no amount of explanation on my part of her status as the youngest child will convince her to be anything but a "big girl." And really, I suppose she is. A big girl living in a teenager household. Which means her bedtime tends to be more around 10:30 and her manner of speaking, the shows she likes on television, the sheer amount of "crushes" on boys she lays claims to…all tend to make her seem a little older than her age. So when she gets excited about Elf on the Shelf, or playing dress-up or watching a Tinker Bell movie over and over…I smile and am a little relieved to see that she is still my "baby" after all. Lilian loves school and her teacher. And to my immense relief, she actually enjoys homework! Teaching her how to read has been light years easier than it was for her siblings before her. She ruled out gymnastics this year as her activity of choice. But after some initial hedging, decided that she does like soccer. (Go Pink Lightning!) Realistically, I think she is going to follow in her older sister's Drama Queen footsteps. Time will tell. In the meantime, Lilian has become a chicken farmer. We unexpectedly inherited 3 chickens and 2 ducks this past spring. And unlike the goat, we decided to keep these animals. Seeing as her Dad is allergic to anything with fur, our fowl friends have become beloved pets for Lilian. Truth be told, we're all rather fond of them, even if their presence does mean you have to watch your step when you venture into the backyard. They follow us around when we do yard work, give us 3-4 eggs a day and actually have little personalities. We've enjoyed them.

As for Bryan and myself…other than our previously mentioned celebrations and trying to keep up with our children…we keep plugging away at life in general. Guru Labs is doing well and is planning a move into a new building across the street from their current one. They'll own half a floor and are excitedly watching the construction as it takes shape. This summer was busy, busy with development of a few new courses. I think the only reason we were able to convince Bryan to take time off to join us on the 4-day Croft family camping trip was because it was over the 4th of July when the office was to be mostly closed anyhow. It's good to have work. At home Bryan spends a lot of his time in his backyard Man Cave. His newest hobby...learning to re-load used gun ammo shells. It's quite the time consuming and somewhat complicated process but he enjoys escaping to his cave fairly regularly. He's also decided that we need to add hiking to our list of family activities and has been busily building our supply of hiking equipment...backpacks and such. I foresee a lot of trails in our future. And hey, it's good exercise. Bonus!

After a busy February and March, my singing group Higher Ground, went from a quintet to a trio…and then continued to stay happily engaged in numerous summer performances. These two other ladies have become like sisters to me and I can't tell you how much I have learned about myself as we've dug deep into the music and programs we've asked to perform. We even wrote a song together and had it professionally arranged and recorded. As of right now however, we are on an extended hiatus. Life happens…and first and foremost we are wives and mothers with families to love and care for. And if a year and a half with Higher Ground is all I ever get, I will cherish it and always be thankful for the experiences. I'm happy I still have The Sally Bytheway Chorale to sing with (my Dad even joined us this year!) and also my continuing voice lessons…it's like weekly therapy! And on top of all of that, I'm still the Stake Music Specialist working closely with the Music Chairman, which keeps me deep in music training meetings, stake choir rehearsals and big Easter and Christmas productions. Our Stake Christmas Fireside was this past Sunday. I had the best job of all…I got to lead the congregational hymns, accompanied by piano, organ and flute with the whole of the chapel and cultural hall full of people singing back at me. My heart was so overwhelmed during the final song "What Child Is This" that my eyes started to leak and before long I was leading the congregation, my arms waving around and tears rolling down my cheeks….only able to mouth the words because my voice was gone. 

Truly it is a wonderful time of year…whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa or your own variation of the above. Happy Holidays! 
Sending thoughts of joy your way…!

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

Friday, December 20, 2013

Diva Sopranos

We have many silly names for ourselves. We call ourselves "soprano sisters" or "singing sisters" or "divas" or "the ladies who lunch." The six of us...Katie, Melissa, Georgia, Sally, Linda and I...have history together that dates back to 1998. We became fast friends when singing together in Lex de Azevedo's Millennium Choir. Katie and Melissa are my actual biological sisters, of course. But over the years through countless rehearsals in the Millennium Choir and now in the Sally Bytheway Chorale (Sally being our director) and even doing a few shows with Linda and Georgia....we all have become like family. A soprano family. And though we usually see each other weekly at rehearsals, we still try to get together every few months to have lunch where we can really talk and get caught up.
We had our spate of Christmas concerts the second week of December....performing at the Libby Gardner Concert Hall up at the U of U, a benefit concert for The Road Home at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sandy (we raised over $8,000!!!) and then a fun little concert at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building on Temple Square. (Normally we do a more formal concert at the Assembly Hall at Christmas but with Thanksgiving so late this year, they were unable to fit us into their schedule seeing as they give first priority to high school and college choirs.)
The very next week Linda planned an "Ugly Sweater"/White Elephant Christmas party for the six of us. I'm not sure I can remember the last time I laughed that hard! I sure do love these ladies!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Dance 2013

Coming hot on the heels of the girls choice Halloween Dance is another girls choice dance....the Christmas Dance. Seems a little unfair to me that the girls have two back to back like that. Especially considering girls are a little intense when it comes to asking the boy they want to take to the dance. There were girls asking boys to the Christmas Dance a few days before the Halloween Dance had even happened! Craziness. So after planning and executing a big weekend full of Halloween Dance festivities, Rebekah had to quick change gears and put together a Christmas themed "ask" the very next day...and then worry if she was actually early enough. She was. And Daniel said yes. Daniel is a wardie, and a good friend.

I was surprised that Rebekah chose a blue dress for the Christmas Dance, but she fell in love with this one as soon as she pulled it off the rack. There was a similar green dress that I was rooting for, but Rebekah insisted that she wanted to be different...everyone else would be wearing shades of green and red, black and silver. Besides...this dress reminded her of Elsa's famous dress in "Frozen" which had just come out. In fact, for their day activity, among other things...they went ice skating and then saw "Frozen" at the movie theater. So I suppose it was rather appropriate. She loved how the dress felt and looked on her and received many, many compliments.
 What a good looking pair....

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Christmas silliness

It's just not Christmas without Aunt Jana and Uncle Craig's annual cousin party. I've been attending for about as long as I can remember....8-years old or something? Now my children look forward to it every year as well and try to rearrange their schedules to make sure nothing conflicts. (Well, other than Brandon. Take a look at the pictures and you can see he chose to go to his gymnastics workout season fast approaching and all that.) Rebekah even mentioned how cool it would be if we were still holding this yearly party after she gets married and has a baby of her own. And really...four generations? That would be pretty darn cool.

We drove down in a snow storm. And rush hour traffic. So what would've normally taken us 45 minutes took us 2 hours. We were really late. But still in time for lots of fun and silliness and Christmas cheer.
 Rebekah and Julianne playing with Maddy and Jackson. And note the inaugural unveiling of Rebekah's new glasses...
(There may have been a slight argument on the drive down about how clearly Rebekah was copying Julianne in jumping on the coolness-of-glasses bandwagon...)

Katie, Rebekah, Melissa, Sarah and Julianne....silly selfies trying to get us all in the camera on the iPhone and not being entirely successful.

"Sisters, sisters....there were never such devoted sisters...." 
(Just saw "White Christmas" for the first time.)
The traditional "Jingle Bells"....

 When the girls were little, every time we went for a visit Grandpa Dalton would tell stories. Made up, silly ones with voices and everything...usually revolving in some way around the girls as the main characters. It's been awhile and the girls are pretty big to be sitting on Grandpa's lap lately but Julianne thoroughly enjoyed this story that had something to do with driving a fire breathing dragon to school rather than a car....

A silly picture....and a normal one. Well, if you can count it normal with all those silly hats on our heads. We even got my Dad to wear one....with the price tag still attached Minnie Pearl style. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Prayers of a 6-year old girl

Lilian said the prayer on our family dinner last night. And along with blessing the food she prayed for three specific things.

1. That the chickens and ducks wouldn't die " the next few weeks."
She prays for our feathered friends frequently and tends to ask God not to let them die. To which Bryan has reminded her that all animals die eventually. So she has amended her plea to not allowing them to die for some indeterminate amount of time. I think she was a little worried because she has overheard us talking about the measures that need be taken to keep the little buggers warm in the upcoming days when temperatures are set to drop into the 20's. Lilian loves those chickens and ducks. So much so that every time someone asked her what she was thankful for during Thanksgiving week, "my ducks and chickens" were the first thing she mentioned.

2. That Chester will keep finding places to hide and won't lose his magic.
Our Elf on the Shelf has made his reappearance after a successful inaugural season last Christmas. Though we've tried to have Chester be more of a fun tradition rather than a threat to "Be good or I'll report back to Santa...." and have tried to downplay his supposed "magic" qualities, we have to be careful. Lilian isn't known for her stellar secret keeping abilities. And seeing as quite a few of her friends also have their own family elves and DO fully believe in the whole Elf on the Shelf propaganda, the last thing we need is for Lilian to ruin it for them. So though we don't push it, we don't deny it either....and Lilian has come away with the absolute belief that Chester will not continue to come alive at night and hide in new places if she touches him during the day.

Sunday morning, Chester's first day back, Lilian was delighted to find him on our hearth with a message spelled out in M&Ms. Later that afternoon Lilian was asleep on the couch when Julianne decided she had a hankering for a handful of chocolate. The message itself had been nibbled on throughout the day so, carefully checking to make sure Lilian was still sleeping, she picked Chester up out of the bag with one hand and reached in with the other. And wouldn't you know it, Lilian woke up at that exact moment to catch Julianne in the act of touching the elf!! Oh the horror! The poor girl was distraught. How could Julianne do such a thing? Didn't she know that Chester now wouldn't be able to hide in new places anymore? Lilian spent the next hour frantically writing apology notes....
And in case you don't read phonetically, here is the translation:

Chester, we are sorry. Please come alive tomorrow. It's the first day. I'm sorry for touching you. My sister is sorry for picking you up. We are sorry.
P.S. Pretty please HIDE!

She was tremendously relieved to find Chester making Fruit Loop necklaces on the kitchen counter the next morning...happy and still magical. The sound she made when she saw that Chester was not languishing on the hearth was something between a sigh of relief and a whoop of joy. And now she prays daily that Chester won't lose his magic. Sigh.

3. That she won't end up on Santa's naughty list.
Once again....sigh. Blame this one on Dora the Explorer's Christmas special where Dora and Swiper the sneaky fox work hard to cure Swiper of his swiping habit so he can show Santa that he deserves to be taken off the naughty list and reassigned to the nice list.

Bryan and I shared an eye roll when Lilian finished her prayer. But these are things that are important to a 6-year old. And if she has concerns, even about things that seem somewhat silly to the rest of us, and turns to prayer and her faith that God is listening...well, that's not a bad thing, is it?

Monday, December 2, 2013


I want to say that everyone has them but I think Bryan might disagree with me. He doesn't really care about traditions. He'd likely say that we traditionalists are the ones that are in the minority. I think he's wrong. Especially at Christmastime. Traditions all over the place. Family traditions. Neighborhood and community traditions. Even state traditions (for example...what is Christmas in Utah without The Festival of Trees, lights at Temple Square, "Forgotten Carols" and Kurt Bestor Christmas concerts?) But there are a few Christmas traditions that tend to reach beyond the local, beyond even the national sometimes. And I got to experience a couple of those this year.

We have a very good and well respected ballet school here in our hometown, and they perform The Nutcracker every year up at Weber State University. A live orchestra and principles from Ballet West make the whole production even more impressive. We get tickets every year because we like to support Julianne's friends and other girls from the neighborhood who participate. But when that iconic music starts and the curtain rises...I get goosebumps. And I think that even if we didn't know a single dancer up on stage, I'd still go.

This year my mom, my sister Melissa, and I had the opportunity attend and participate in the Utah Symphony's Messiah Sing-In. My mom has been singing The Messiah for years and knows it well. Melissa and I many years ago sang a couple of Christmas seasons worth of a traditional/gospel Messiah mix performance at the Grand Theatre so we were familiar with a few of the choruses as well. But this was the first time we'd ever been to the annual Utah Symphony's big to-do. So for those who are not familiar with how this whole Messiah thing works, here's a brief synopsis....
1. The Messiah is way too long to do in one sitting. Well, you could certainly. But it would be a much longer evening than is generally acceptable so the director picks which solos and choruses will be done, with the popular traditional choruses like "For Unto Us" and "Hallelujah Chorus" being a given.
2. The Symphony plays the whole thing, obviously.
3. They have four soloists...soprano, alto, tenor, bass.
4. In this case they also had the Utah Symphony Chorus to sing along with us on the choruses....presumably to buoy up the singers in the audience in case we botch our notes.
5. And we in the audience follow along in the program as to which song comes next and then follow along in our Messiah scores. (As a general rule, if you want to sing you bring your own music.)
6. Then when a chorus comes up, anyone wanting to "sing-in" stands up and goes for it.

It's such amazing fun! But also quite a spiritual experience if you really pay attention to the words being sung. And when we sang the Hallelujah Chorus it was such an incredibly joyful experience. Which is of course what the song is all about...singing joy. The Hallelujah Chorus is actually in the middle of The Messiah, so I was really glad that for an encore we got to do it again....