Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Happy Christmas!

It was a different sort of Christmas, not having Rebekah here. Our first one ever with a family member missing. I'm sure this is just the the kids get older and go on missions, have families of their own, etc. We'll always try to get together obviously, and have family Christmas gatherings...and if those gatherings happen to be on Christmas Eve or morning for awhile I will be happy. But both mine and Bryan's parents are on their own on Christmas now most of the time. We have big family parties but often those are a day or two before or after Christmas. And so they go visit their children and grandchildren in their homes on the big day. And I have no doubt that is a lot of fun. It's just different. And that's what we've kind of begun this year...different.

But I don't want this to sound like different is bad. Because it was still a wonderful and delightful holiday! And we did get to be with Rebekah in a sense. Thanks to Skype we were able to chat with her in England for nearly two hours on Christmas afternoon. And that truly was the the highlight of the day, seeing as we hadn't been able to talk to Rebekah since she left back in May for the MTC.

On Christmas Eve Bryan's parents came for dinner and to spend the evening with us. Bryan introduced them to a new game on the iPad called Alphabetty back at Thanksgiving. (Julianne thinks the name is ridiculous and has since re-dubbed it Wordle, but I digress....) Seeing as they are fans of word games in general (think Upwords, Scrabble and the like) they really took to this game and the three of them spent a lot of time on the couch coming up with more and more complicated words between them.

Later that evening Julianne went outside to exchange gifts with her boyfriend...and I could hear them giggling up a storm. I think there was candy canes and kisses involved along with the actual gifts. But once again, I digress. It was pretty late by the time Julianne came in and I was very tired. But Santa duties still called. So after getting Lilian into bed, despite the fact that Brandon and Julianne were still awake downstairs...I told them that it was time for Santa to come and if they were still going to be roaming around, they needed to at least close their eyes for a few minutes so I could gather things (from Rebekah's room which had become gift wrap central this year) and go back upstairs. They were instructed to not come up again. And to not wake me in the morning before 9:00. And then Santa did her thing and went to bed!

True to their promise, it wasn't till 9:00 that I got a call on my cell phone informing me that they were awake downstairs and would really like to get started on the big day. I was already up and getting dressed when they called so after waking Bryan, we headed out to see what Santa had brought. A big breakfast followed and we gathered around the tree to open the gifts.

(Funny story behind these sweatshirts. I bought them back in 1990 for the Sadie Hawkins dance that Bryan and I went to together in high school. He took his on his mission with him a few months later and that might have been the end of it...except we got married. So we had two of these shirts. He wears his a lot, but I rarely wear mine. In fact it has been in a box under my bed for the past few years. When the kids realized I still had mine they insisted I find it and pull it out. Both Julianne and Brandon have worn it during the past few weeks. But you can definitely tell which shirt has been worn more!)

Rebekah called around 1:00 PM Utah time, 8:00 PM England time. I originally thought we'd only get an hour or so but was delighted when we got to chat for so much longer. Did I mention it was the highlight of my day? Yes? Well, it was. Probably for all of us. We sure miss our British missionary girl. I was a little worried her face would pop up on the screen and I'd completely lose in a serious ugly cry sort of way. But I didn't! I was so relieved that everything had worked so smoothly with getting connected on Skype (because I'd had anxiety about that as well) that we started into our conversation and I only got slightly misty. Granted, I did cry pretty hard when we had our family prayer near the end. And when we said our goodbyes I held it together with minimal tears until we signed off. And then I headed to the kitchen to make dinner with kleenex in hand and the announcement that I was probably going to cry for a few minutes...

My parents came for Christmas dinner. And unfortunately for them, I was an hour behind in prep seeing as we got to talk to Rebekah for longer than expected. I was certainly not feeling overly bad about that though! So we talked while Bryan and  I cooked and then we had a lovely ham and potatoes Christmas feast and all was happy and well. It was a really great day. Just....a bit different.

The next day we had a party at my parents house with my side of the family. Books were the gift theme because we are mostly a family of readers. But we expanded things a bit this year to include games or movies just in case. The kids all ran around and played with cousins. The adults congregated in the living room and talked and laughed. Rachel Face Timed in from Virginia. And we all had a delightful time.

(Oh, how I love my sisters!!!)

Merry Christmas 2015

14 December 2014
Merry Christmas everyone!

     To set the scene: I’m sitting on the couch in front of the Christmas tree. Snow is falling lightly outside. Music from The Nutcracker is softly playing in the background and I have hot chocolate in hand as I stare at my laptop. A good thirty minutes have passed in this fashion, as I’ve tried to come up with a good way to describe our year. Frankly I’m not sure what to say about it. That it has been an emotional one is a given. My tear ducts have worked overtime this year. There have been many hard things. But not all necessarily bad. But what is a Christmas letter meant to be, really? Should I stick to a somewhat surface piece of holiday cheer? Or admit that along with the good, there has also been the not so good this year? What is too personal to share in a Christmas letter? What is appropriate or not? I certainly don’t want to be a downer. But I also don’t want to come across fake. How to balance all of this? That’s what I’m wondering as I sip my hot chocolate and look out the window at the falling snow. It may be a mixed bag, friends. This letter I mean. But let’s get started shall we?

     Probably our biggest piece of family news this year is one that the majority of you already know about. Rebekah submitted mission papers in late January and ten or so days later a big, white envelope arrived in our mailbox. In it was a calling to serve as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the England London Mission for eighteen months. Rebekah was beyond thrilled. And as parents Bryan and I were particularly delighted. Because England meant a foreign country experience, without some of the dangers, health or safety related, that parents worry about. And no new language to learn...although her letters are peppered with British versions of words such as post: mail, flat: apartment, biscuits: cookies, bits and bobs: odds and ends, and trousers: pants. (She learned that last one the hard way, apparently. In the UK if you refer to your pants, it actually means your underwear….that probably was a bit of an embarrassing moment for our American girl.) Rebekah left for the Provo MTC on May 20th, a few days after her 19th birthday and only two and a half weeks after moving home from Logan after finishing up her finals at Utah State University. It was a mad dash to get her properly outfitted, packed and ready to go, as well as throw together a big farewell party. And saying goodbye at the MTC was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done. I tell you what, I didn’t used to be such an emotional person, but it doesn’t take much these days to get the waterworks flowing. But she is thriving in England, truly having the time of her life. And so though I miss her so much it sometimes physically hurts, it certainly helps to know that she is so happy. She is in Canterbury right now, on the coast right near those famed White Cliffs of Dover. She’s had companions from Switzerland, Uganda, Great Britain, and right now, a fellow Yank from California. She has adored every single one of them. The work is going well, she’s seen a few baptisms and she is happily spending Christmas in a very picturesque type place as far as traditional European Christmases go. We’re looking forward to talking to her on Christmas day.

     But see, while all of this was going on? Bryan was going through a transition of his own. One also to do with belief and faith and religion, but in a different way. It’s hard when you start to feel that what you’ve always believed looks like it can’t hold up under closer scrutiny. So while we celebrated many big traditional Mormon events ie: Rebekah’s first visit to the temple and leaving on her mission, Julianne getting her Patriarchal blessing and being set apart to be on the Seminary Council at the high school, Brandon being ordained to be a teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood and Lilian turning 8 and getting baptized….these were all things that were tinged with a bit of sadness too. Because though Bryan continues to be supportive, clearly these things don’t mean as much to him anymore which is kind of hard. Sad for me, but also sad for him as he wrestles with what to think about it all, and maybe a little frustration as he wonders at our belief and faith in things that he sees so differently now. I told him right from the start that I was sure that a good little Mormon girl could have a rocking relationship with a non-believer boy as long as there was respect on both sides. And so we’ve kind of taken that to heart as we’ve worked on finding our new normal as it relates to our marriage, family and church activity. I think maybe I was a little naive….this transition has been a lot rougher than I imagined it would be. We’ve had a lot of very hard conversations, a lot of tears, a lot of confusion and frustration and dismay as we both worked through various insecurities. But also a lot of raw honesty and serious progress when it comes to communication. And so though we are worlds apart in some of our beliefs, we have I think become even closer as a couple. I have no doubt that the sailing will not always be smooth, but we are committed and determined to cling to each other no matter what.

     And because apparently dealing with all of that wasn’t enough…2015 seemed to be the year where everything fell apart and we spent a lot of time and money repairing or replacing things in our home. Within just a few months we dealt with the fridge, garage door opener, TV, microwave, dishwasher, garbage disposal and the central vac all breaking down. Over the 4th of July during the hottest week of the summer the air conditioning went out, and because it was a holiday weekend we baked for a good six days before we could get it repaired. In April our basement flooded when the secondary water came on for the season and broke a pipe. Again. This time the flooding was worse than last year and required new walls and flooring in both Julianne’s and Rebekah’s bedrooms. We breathed a big sigh of relief when the reconstruction finished up two days before Rebekah’s big mission farewell. I was seriously thinking I would have to hang a sign leading downstairs saying, “Please pardon our dust…renovations in progress.” Because not only were the two bedrooms under construction, but the family room also housed all of the furniture, clothing and stuff from said bedrooms. It was kind of a disaster area.

    The rest of our year was filled with other odds and ends (or bits and bobs as Rebekah calls them…)

* In June Julianne invited me to tag along with her Davis High theatre friends to New York City. (I have mentioned how part of my soul lives in NYC, yes?) We saw five Broadway shows while we were there and wished we could’ve seen more...they were just all so incredible. The whole week was filled with serious NYC awesomeness but singing Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” at Yankee stadium with a bunch of baseball fans after a big Yankee game, ordering dumplings from a crazy asian lady in China Town, walking across the famous Brooklyn Bridge, and seeing a rat in the subway were definitely top moments. Truth be told, I have no idea why seeing a rat in the subway delighted me so much…maybe because it was just one of those very real NYC moments that make you feel all authentic or something.
       Julianne is a senior this year, which kind of fills me with dread as I remember back to the emotional havoc that Rebekah’s graduation played on me a couple of years ago. Theatre of course, continues to be a big part of her life...a few highlights: she got to play the part of “Millie” in Thoroughly Modern Mille with CentreStage Theatre. She also auditioned for and was cast in Centerpoint Legacy Theatre’s Guys and Dolls this past summer. And then made a very believable “Whore #1” in Davis High’s Les Miserables a few weeks ago. But she’s decided that theatre isn’t everything and has been enjoying her elementary education internship in a local 3rd grade class, and is fascinated with her AP art history and AP psychology classes. (She psychoanalyzes us all frequently.) She also has a boyfriend…but shhh, don’t tell her that I told you.

      * Because 2015 wouldn’t be complete without gymnastics meets I should mention that earlier this year Brandon traveled to Las Vegas (and spent an extra day or two of fun playing with Mom and a couple of sisters on The Strip). And took some quick jaunts to California, Texas and Colorado with Dad. Dad doesn’t care so much about sightseeing like Mom does. Not sure which Brandon prefers…is he really more than content to spend the weekend doing solely gymnastics related things and totally ignore the beach that is just a few miles away? Because I tell you what, I was somewhat appalled that while in Long Beach, CA they didn’t even step one bare toe into the surf and sand.
      Brandon is in the 9th grade which means he’s officially earning grades towards graduation himself. He still eats, sleeps and breathes gymnastics. He’s at the gym 24+ hours a week. Can I tell you how excited I will be when he gets a drivers license and I don’t have to get him to and from Bountiful daily? As much as I hate teaching teenagers to drive, I am actually looking forward to Brandon getting his learners permit in three more months.

      * Thankfully Lilian is still happily learning multiplication and cursive in the 3rd grade...she’s still got awhile. Like Julianne, she joined CentreStage Theatre and performs with Singers Company. More like Rebekah, she loves playing on her soccer team. (Like both her sisters, she quit piano lessons. Hmph.) And in her free time she enjoys playing Minecraft and legos with Brandon. Apparently she is a hybrid of all her siblings. But Lilian and I spent a lot of our evenings this year  cuddled up on the couch with Harry Potter. We read the entire series out loud over a period of five months. This is the third time I’ve read these books out loud to my children and I was a little sad to finish the final book with my last. Rebekah tells me not to worry...that she’s planning on me reading them to her children some day. In the meantime, Lilian and I are now working our way through the Percy Jackson saga.

      * With no travel planned for the summer after we returned from our NYC trip and being in a place emotionally where I wanted/needed to just stay home and be, when my doctor suggested that my body was at the point where a hysterectomy was necessary, I figured it was perfect timing. Recovery was long, but somehow being forced to be still and take care of myself was as much a good thing mentally as it was physically. Bryan and the kids went above and beyond in taking care of house and home while I was down. And I have discovered there are a lot of benefits to being uterus-less.  

     * Mostly because of my long association with Lex de Azevedo, I was invited to be an extra in a few scenes of the movie “Saturday’s Warrior” that is due out next spring. You probably won’t even be able to see me unless you know where to look, but it sure was fun channeling my inner 70’s hippie and hanging out on set with all the cast. I’m highly interested to see how it all turns out.

      * Bryan and I had the opportunity to dress up fancy and chaperone Davis High’s Prom at the state Capitol building last spring…which was a fun little slice of deja vu considering our own high school Prom was our first date back in 1990.

     * Bryan applied for and was chosen and trained to be a range officer up at the local outdoor Kaysville Gun Range. He enjoys working there, but especially enjoys the benefits of being able to shoot any time he wants. We’ve all enjoyed target shooting up there with Bryan but Brandon goes somewhat frequently to enjoy father/son time.

     * This summer after 22 years of marriage Bryan and I got new wedding rings...these ones of a more permanent variety. We got infinity symbols tattooed onto our ring fingers. (And because frequently this is the next question that gets asked...yes, it did hurt. But not as bad as I was expecting.) It felt a bit like a renewals of our vows. A way to remind ourselves that whatever hurdles we face in the coming years, we continue to choose each other and our marriage and we are in it for the long haul.

     So there you go. This was a year of learning and growth. Much of it unexpected and unintentional. But growth often times comes that way, doesn’t it? As the result of unexpected life experiences? Not all learning come from books and research, and isn’t that nice? Even if sometimes it comes through things that you’d rather had not happened…but find yourself thankful for what you learned and discovered about yourself along the way? We’ve learned more about communication skills. We’ve learned that time together as a family is essential. We’ve learned about unconditional love. We’ve learned that tears are easily don’t ever really run out of them. We’ve learned what is really important to us...and that sometime those things are not always what we thought. We’ve done a lot of reflection on faith and logic and fundamental questions about life, why we are here and where we come from. It’s been a roller coaster of a year with emotions all over the place. Hard at times, yes. But ultimately good.

We hope you’ve had a good year as well and wish you a Merry Christmas!
Love from the Crofts,
Bryan, Sarah, Sister Rebekah Croft (19), Julianne (17), Brandon (14) and Lilian (8)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Chester the Elf: year four

Lilian loves this little guy...but I do think this may be the last year she believes fully in him. Granted, that would be okay. I started this whole thing with the idea in mind of a Christmas game of sorts, a fun little tradition that would be something special for Lilian seeing she is so much younger than her siblings and kind of missed out on some of the fun things we did when the other three were young and excited about Santa. However, I never pushed the whole "Chester watches you throughout the day and reports back to Santa each night, so you better be good" angle. I never really intended for her to believe so fully in his magical realness. But when Chester first showed up four Christmases ago, Lilian had a lot of friends with elves and I didn't want to ruin that....Lilian is not the best at secrets. So though I didn't push it, I also didn't deny it.

Lilian has been asking a lot of questions this year...not only about Chester but also Santa. And that makes sense because this was the age that her brother and sisters figured things out. So I sidestepped some questions this year not wanting to really drop everything on her right during the middle of the Christmas season. But I'm pretty sure that next year if we do Chester, she will fully know that it is me hiding the little guy and creating the mischief he gets into each night. At least I'm hoping she will still want to continue on with the tradition just for the fun of it. Because I tell you what, I've certainly enjoyed it!

So for posterity sake (and for Lilian down the road because she enjoys seeing these pictures) here's our third season of Chester, our elf on the shelf.

*Hanging out with our "mini Sister Croft" on top of the picture frames.
*Making Minions out of the bananas.
*Messing around with the bandaids.
*Building a tower out of the Christmas stories.
*Holding a Santa balloon.
*Listening to some Elvis Christmas on vinyl.

*Decorating the kitchen with over 100 Christmas bows in honor of Bryan's birthday.
*Reading in 3 Nephi 1:13-21 about the sign of Christ's birth in Bethlehem.
*Hide and Seek in the toilet paper rolls in the bathroom.
*Chocolate oranges....yum!
*Playing solitaire.
*A game of chess with Lilian's stuffed monkey with chocolate kisses as pieces.
*Bowling with pinecones and an ornament.

*Hiding out on the mistletoe with extra big googly eyes...hoping to catch someone doing some smooching. (Lilian caught her sister under the mistletoe a day or two before with her boyfriend so she thought this was especially funny.)
*Mapping out all the different places the family was during this week....the majority of us in Utah, Bryan on a business trip in New Jersey and Rebekah in England.
*Doing an iron cross of sorts in the midst of the family pictures in the hall.
*Stringing Christmas lights around the sink and toilet in the bathroom.
*Climbing a tree (or plant, really) in the kitchen.

*Pinned up with a bunch of candy canes on a line in the downstairs hallway.
*Reading "The Night Before Christmas."
*Silly clown-like noses on all of us.
*And on Christmas Eve morning Lilian awoke to find a note from Chester thanking her for another season of fun and a stuffed elf that she was allowed to hold and play with while he was gone.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Skype!

As per missionary tradition, Rebekah was allowed to Skype with us on Christmas. I was so worried that somehow we would have problems with the connection that I was very literally having dreams about it leading up to the big day. While most missionaries get three or four Skype calls while they are gone, we will only get two...because Rebekah left a week and a half after Mothers Day and will be home right before Christmas next year. So though I'm not complaining, I certainly didn't want anything to go wrong with the Skype...especially seeing as this was our first one, and the first time I'd seen/heard Rebekah in something other than pics since she left seven long months ago!

I sent her our Skype info and also FaceTime info as well in case we needed to go that route, and then hoped for the best. On Christmas Eve I received and official invite to connect with Rebekah on Skype. That made me feel a lot better...even if it did make me cry. (I know, I know...I'm a bawl baby these days.) And then Christmas morning there was a message on Skype wishing us a Merry Christmas and reminding us that she'd call/Skype around 8:00 PM England time, 1:00 PM Utah time. 

She was about 25 minutes late getting connected, but it came through just fine. Hallelujah! The picture got a bit fuzzy at times but for the most part looked really good. Only once did the connection fail entirely and Rebekah had to call us back again.

Some odds and ends (or bits and bobs as she calls them) in regards to our conversation:

* Rebekah and her companion were Skyping on their iPads from the church which is only about 2 minutes walk away from their flat. Rebekah was in the foyer and Sis. Mussman was in another room...the primary room, maybe? 

* Rebekah, Sis Mussman and two other elders had spent their Christmas day at a members house...a member who has friended me on FaceBook and who kindly sent me some pictures. They have been Rebekah's family away from home while she is in Canterbury and I have been overwhelmed with how kind they have been to her, how much they love her. 

* She doesn't have a British accent necessarily but she definitely speaks differently now. Her words are very precise, she enunciates very crisply. 

* We caught her using British words frequently. Examples:
          When asking about her long hair she commented, "I haven't had it cut since I got here and the ends are just rubbish."
          Talking about her Christmas tree, "We decorated it with twinkly lights and baubles."
          We noticed she wasn't in a skirt and asked if she'd been able to dress more casually that day to which she made a comment about it being nice to wear "trousers."
          We asked her what she ate for breakfast, "Oh I usually eat porridge most mornings." 
          Often we found ourselves talking over each other which made it hard for her to hear and so if we'd asked her a question she'd say, "Pardon?" We teased her a bit and she said that when she would say "What?" in England, people would correct her and say it was much more proper and polite to say "Pardon?" 

* Rebekah showed us her mission tags which are magnetic! And she also has a few that clip as well, but no pins. She said the elders do have those pocket protector ones but they don't like to wear them because they feel nerdy when they do. ;)

* She went into more detail about each of the companions she'd had up to this point...what they were like, what she had learned about each of their cultures (Swiss, African, British, etc) and how she related to each one in different ways. (She's absolutely adored all of them.)

* She talked about listening to the Queen's Christmas speech that afternoon and said that it was a tradition for everyone to tune in. I listened to it myself on-line later that evening and it was very interesting, actually. The tradition goes back to 1932.

* Right near the end Rebekah and her companion traded iPads for a few minutes and we got to chat with Sis. Mussman. She is absolutely delightful! I can see why Rebekah loves her so much. 

* We decided to have a family prayer before signing off and we had Rebekah say it. It was a very special highlight and I'm so glad we did it! Even if it meant that I had tears pouring down my face.

* All in all we were able to skype with Rebekah for 1 hour and 50 mins. It was wonderful and truly the best part of Christmas Day. I miss my girl so much but oh, I am so proud of her! 

 And the screen shot Rebekah took from her end....

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Tis the season...

Twas a busy Christmas season. Lots of holiday magic going on....

The day after Thanksgiving, Lilian was able to participate in a live nativity here in our town's annual Nativity Celebration. They have tons of collections of nativities from all over the world on display and live music going on throughout the weekend...along with this live nativity. It was a quickie thing but still kind of fun to be a part of.

 Melissa, Mom and I went to the Utah Symphony's Messiah Sing-In at Abravanel Hall. It was our second time doing so and I think I enjoyed it even more this year. There is no doubt in my mind that Handel was inspired to write this music, and singing the choruses with a huge concert hall full of singers and the Utah symphony is sheer joy!

We watched Julianne's friends Lauren and Jessica dance in The Nutcracker at Weber State University....something we do most every year. This is their last year dancing because they are seniors and will be graduating in the spring and heading off to college. It was kind of an interesting weekend for Julianne's "core four" group of friends...all of them having lasts that weekend. Besides Lauren and Jessie's final Nutcracker performances, Julianne had her closing night of Les Miserables that night...her last time doing the school musical. And their friend Taylor was out of town running her final race with the high school cross country team. Senior's wonderful and exciting, but full of "lasts."

It'd been years since I'd last gone to the Festival of Trees...and Mom had never gone. It was kind of spur of the moment, but after getting Lilian on the bus I decided that if I didn't take advantage of that day to head down to Sandy to see the trees, it just wasn't going to happen. I only felt the slightest bit guilty for going without the kids. And Mom and I had quite a fun and festive afternoon.

There was the Christmas Dance. In which besides making sure Julianne had dress, shoes, accessories and boutonniere....because the dance was girl's choice, we also hosted dinner.

 And Lilian had a bunch of Singers Company performances....

Speaking of performances, I had some too. Except that every time anyone was taking pictures, I seemed to be in the bathroom or chatting with someone else so I missed most of them. We had four performances total. One was a benefit for The Road Home homeless shelter where we raised $7,500. We also sang at the Waterford Concert Hall, the Assembly Hall, and the state prison. They were all loads of fun, but the prison especially was also a very spiritual experience. There is just a different feeling there. Maybe something to do with these prisoners having hit rock bottom and feeling very humbled, perhaps? I'm not sure. It's not a big and grand performance, but it sure is incredibly special.

After our concert early Saturday evening at the Assembly Hall Melissa, Katie, Jeremy, my parents and I headed over to the Conference Center to watch the incredibly wonderful Tabernacle Choir Concert. Julianne and some friends had come down to temple square to see our concert and then took advantage of all the hordes of people heading to the MoTab concert to have the lights to themselves, along with their pick of nearby restaurants.

We had our big stake Christmas Fireside that Amy and I put together every year. Every ward bringing their ward choirs to perform a Christmas number, a bunch of congregational numbers, a huge finale with all the choirs together and a Christmas message from the stake presidency. It's always really nice, even if a lot of work. Still, I sure do love working with Amy and Kate (our incredibly talented pianist) and have been so thankful that through our serving together we have become good friends.

We had our traditional Ugly Sweater lunch with Linda, Sally, Georgia, Melissa and Katie (although Georgia had to miss this year.) We always laugh really hard at this little gathering. I love my soprano friends!

Christmas Sunday in our red and black finery. Julianne, Lilian and I all sang on the program in Sacrament Meeting...but Julianne made the whole congregation cry during her solo about Mary.

And as tradition dictates (a tradition that dates back to when I was a kid) we had our annual sleepover under the Christmas tree where the kids got their Christmas jammies.
(And the head tilt....inside family joke.)