Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014

18 December 2014
1. A very strong and irresistible impulse or desire to travel the world.

     A raging case of wanderlust seems to have taken our family this past year. A friend commented yesterday, "I'm having a difficult time trying to decide….if you live in Utah, or just visit here between world trips." And that seems to sum things up rather perfectly. Travel has always been something that has interested me. I'm a little obsessed with different cultures, adventures, maps and geography…whether those places be someplace close by and familiar or far away and very foreign. We have travelled this year. Close-by and not so much so. Bustling cities and pristine beaches. Travel for singing, for theatre, for gymnastics. Travel for family fun. That this travel all happened this past year wasn't planned, necessarily. I guess the important thing is that we jumped on the opportunity when it arrived with zeal. But even more importantly, when we arrived back home after each trip away…and especially as we ease into a less chaotic time and look back on all of our travel, we've come to realize with much more certainty that there is no place like home. 

     Julianne actually started off our year in January with her Junior Theatre Festival in Atlanta, Georgia. Her advanced .............. Theatre class took their show "The Little Mermaid" (in which Julianne played a spot-on and hilarious rendition of Scuttle the Seagull) to compete with other theatre groups from all over the country. They met Broadway stars, participated in multiple theatre and choreography workshops, and basked in the high energy craziness that is the theatre community. 

     Brandon was packing his bags next. And with at least one parent in tow for each trip, he travelled to Houston, Texas; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Long Beach, California to compete in gymnastics meets throughout January and February. As a level 8 gymnast, (he skipped level 7 entirely), this was Brandon's first year competing optionals…which means making your own routine and picking skills that are on level but that can play to your strengths, rather than compete a set routine. It was a tough year, but an instructive one and ultimately a very good one. In Houston and Las Vegas along with Brandon's meet we were also able to watch the elite college teams and former olympians compete and Brandon had to opportunity to meet and hang out with the likes of Danell Leyva, Jake Dalton and John Orozco, among others. The kid was giddy. It's no little thing when you get to meet your heroes.

     Rebekah was next, with a Madrigal tour to Seattle, Washington in early April. I'd never been to Seattle before so I volunteered myself as a chaperone and endured the long bus ride for the chance to tag along. The view from the Space Needle is pretty awesome and Pikes Place Market is an eccentric wonder. We cruised through Elliott Bay on two different occasions and were surprised to have a dolphin sighting. But mostly it was tremendous fun hanging out with Rebekah's singing friends. Good kids, all….I was so impressed with them.

     Julianne turned 16 this year. Dating and driving…and to a lesser extent, a birthday trip with mom and dad to place of her choosing. I was thinking somewhere west coast. Julianne however decided that if we were amenable, she preferred to see "Newsies" on Broadway in New York City. I warned her that four days in NYC would equate to less time on the ground than the four days Rebekah got in San Deigo when she turned 16. She didn't care. As long as she was able to see a Broadway show she would be content. Well, in late April we stretched that four days in NYC as best we could. And along with "Newsies" she was also able to take in "Wicked" and "The Fantasticks." I will never forget her reaction to her first Broadway show. She was completely engrossed…with a grin splitting her face from ear to ear. During intermission she overflowed with thoughts about costuming, sets, choreography, symbolism and character choices. And the more she talked, the more emotional she got…just overwhelmed I guess, with the sheer spectacle of the thing and immense gratitude maybe, about being there at all. Broadway was the reason for the trip. But being able to introduce Julianne to the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, Times Square and other such NYC traditional treasures was also a lot of fun. And a reaffirmation to me that for some reason, a part of my soul seems to live in New York City.

     ….This is the part of the letter where we take a break from the travelogue and let me reminisce for a minute (and shed a few tears) about the other BIG EVENT that made its mark on 2014. Let me just begin with the admission that I am not normally a mommy-crier. I do the happy dance when my children turn 5 and start kindergarten. I don't bemoan the start of school in late August. I love my children, I love to spend time with them. But I don't cry when they leave…more the opposite really. So when the months started counting down to the end of the year and therefore Rebekah's graduation from high school, and then those months turned to week and then days, I was very surprised to find myself decidedly emotional. More than emotional, really. I was kind of a hot mess. Because somehow I was not ready for Rebekah to graduate from high school. Graduation, as happy as that big event is, tends to lead to leaving for college. I loved my college years. I wanted the same for Rebekah. I was so incredibly proud of her acceptance to (and scholarship award from ) Utah State University in Logan. But oh, how I would miss my girl! So graduation was bittersweet and wonderful. Joyful and tearful. She graduated with high honors and looked absolutely beautiful in that cap and gown.

     And then after a few summer months of working at Lagoon-a-Beach as a lifeguard, she packed up her things and moved into an off-campus apartment in Logan just a block down from the Aggie Stadium. She has three incredible roommates, one of which is her best friend and Madrigal buddy from ......... High. She just arrived home this week after finishing up her first semester of classes within her elementary education major. She is not fond of finals, but of college life itself, she is a fan. Because most of the boys her age are off on missions, she has been attracting attention from much older guys who are looking for more serious relationships. I was only half kidding when I suggested a fake wedding ring so she could get some studying done at the library without getting hit on. But she is now in the process of filling out papers for a mission of her own. She'll attend one more semester at USU and then in late May or early June, leave for 18 months to serve wherever she the Lord sees fit to send her. And as hard as it will be to see her go, I would much rather send her off on a mission this summer than plan a wedding.

     Two weeks after Rebekah's graduation I packed my suitcase and with passport in hand, I boarded a plane for eastern Europe. A performing tour with Odyssey Chorale, we sang our way through Budapest, Hungary; Vienna, Austria; and Prague, Czech Republic. I'm not sure I can adequately describe the pure awesomeness that was this trip. A few highlights: I got to travel with my mom, and my sisters Katie and Melissa. In Vienna (City of Music) we sang in Karlskirche, a gorgeous cathedral that is over 400 years old, where many of the musical greats (Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart) have debuted works. I had the honor of singing the soprano solo in Haydn's Missa Brevis, a mass comprised of five different movements…the soprano solo being the fourth movement, the "Benedictus." To sing a classical solo in that building, to sing a piece written by Haydn in the very city where it had been composed, was truly one of the highlights of my life. If beautiful Budapest introduced me to Europe and Vienna filled the musician inside of me, Prague stole my heart. Such a beautiful city, such amazing people…stoic on the outside, genuine and beautiful on the inside. Exploring the famous Charles Bridge and cruising down the Modau River in Prague, having a dinner party at the home of a famous Austrian opera singer and singing and dancing to Austrian tunes at a vineyard in Vienna, learning the ins and outs of cathedral symbolism and having my first taste of gelato in Budapest…I am filled with memories that will last a lifetime.

     While I was in Europe, 7-year old Lilian was experiencing some traveling of her own…her first "cousin camp" in St. George with her Grandma and Grandpa. Among the many activities her grandparents had planned for the four cousins, they saw two different shows at Tuachan theatre, hiked the red rocks in Snow Canyon and went swimming every day. Lilian came home the same day that I did and after I showed her all my pictures…palaces and cathedrals and architecture and concerts…she turned to me and said, "You know, Mommy…I think I had more fun that you." 

     In July we joined Bryan's family in Island Park, Idaho for our somewhat annual family camping trip. Thirty of us in all, this year rather than tent and trailer, we rent two cabins to house us all. I'd never been to Island Park, so it was interesting to see if the place lived up to all the hype I'd heard. And I'm happy to say that the praise was warranted, it is indeed a beautiful piece of country. Situated as it is right near Yellowstone meant that we were able to spend a day in the park seeing first hand how complex and otherworldly incredible our planet truly is. 

     Other than the odd campout or gymnastics weekend, our family had not been on a family vacation, all six of us, since before Lilian was born. And seeing as our family would be changing somewhat with Rebekah's entrance into adulthood and upcoming move, we decided that we needed to take some sort of big and adventurous vacation before she left. We settled on Kauai, Hawaii, purposely because we wanted to avoid the commercialism of the more tourist filled islands. And we chose to stay on the more rugged north shore of Kauai for the same reasons. We rented a condo on a cliff overlooking the ocean and settled in for 8 days of serious beach time. We arrived right in time for the unprecedented occurrence of two hurricanes heading our way, 3 days apart. (I think maybe this has something to do with the fact that we seem to have made an enemy of the water gods. Remind me to tell you sometime of the two floods we had earlier this year, Julianne's bedroom and the man-cave, respectively.) We looked at the storms as an adventure, and actually enjoyed bobbing up and down in the waves in Halalei Beach, staring down the incoming dark clouds as the outer bands of the raindrops were just beginning. By the time the storm Hurricane Iselle reached us in Kauai, it had been downgraded to a tropical storm. And Hurricane Julio ended up passing just to the north of us on our final day on the island, not affecting us much. So though Iselle put a damper on some of our hiking plans, we greeted her happily and didn't let her ruin our trip. On the contrary, we and a truly glorious time together. I'm not sure there's anything better than watching a Hawaiian sunset with your family.

     We came home, sent Rebekah off to college, got everyone else settled into school and breathed a big sigh of relief. As fun as the travel-full year had been, it was nice to be home with no other trips on the horizon. Except that feeling only lasted a short while before wanderlust started to fill me again. (Helped along, I'm sure, by all the various travel and cruise offers that would arrive nearly daily in my email in-box.) So when Rebekah called home a few weeks ago with the announcement that she had decided she wanted to serve a mission, we decided to take advantage of the Thanksgiving holiday and cram in one last family trip before the year ended and we began mission prep. We booked a spur of the moment Caribbean cruise ten whole days in advance. (We are not normally drop-everything-and-go travelers so this was kind of a big deal for us.) Julianne was just finishing up her "West Side Story" over at ......... High and we literally pulled her off stage after her final bows on closing night and took her straight to the airport for a red-eye flight to Florida. Our cruise was beset with weather issues (apparently we still haven't made peace with those water gods) and two of our ports were cancelled, leaving us with four days at sea rather than two. But while being pampered aboard a classy Holland America cruise, how can you complain? We still had the opportunity to hike up Dunn's River Falls in Jamaica and explore Key West, Florida on bike. And then after the cruise finished, we spent two days in Universal Studios visiting Harry Potter.  

     That wraps up our 2014 Croft Travelogue. We have no other trips on the horizon. Well, other than Brandon's annual out of state gymnastics trips, and Julianne's high school Drama Club trip to NYC, and Rebekah's mission (wherever that ends up…I'm kind of hoping for Ireland). Okay, so maybe we will be traveling a bit. But I'm looking forward to settling in for a long while and reveling in the goodness that is our ......... home. At least until the next bout of wanderlust hits…

     It is always good to be home for Christmas, certainly. Now if it would only snow...

            Happy Holidays
Bryan, Sarah, Rebekah (18), Julianne (16), Brandon (13), and Lilian (7)

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