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     

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