Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Happy Christmas 2016

December 18, 2016

    Happy Christmas!

           It’s Sunday evening. We have just said goodbye to most of our guests of the day...a few are happily lingering, playing games in the basement. Bryan is on an airplane on his way to Wisconsin for a 2-day business trip. And I’ve been trying to do some kitchen cleanup after feeding more people than I can even count. This morning many friends and family gathered to hear Rebekah speak in church and welcome her home from her recently completed mission to London, England. After the meeting, everyone congregated in our home for some goodies, and lots and lots of talking. It was crowded and loud...and absolutely wonderful! In a year that had multiple big events, this is the most recent. After spending the great majority of 2016 in London, Rebekah returned to us on the last day of November after completing her 18 month mission. It’s been bittersweet for our new RM. As excited as she was to see her family again, her heart broke to not only leave behind so many friends in England, but also to see this most amazing part of her life come to a conclusion. She will always carry with her the memories and the growth that came from it, of course. But I think part of her heart will always be British from here on out. We are hoping to go back for a visit next summer so Rebekah can show us around London and Canterbury and introduce us to her British mum and dad and the various other wonderful people she came to love there. Obviously the main highlights of her mission were wrapped up in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, serving the people in England, and the spiritual growth and personal maturity that came from it all. But as for living in London...some highlights included seeing Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip (who waved at them as they drove by), watching “Wicked” on the West End, visiting the beautiful London Temple out in the countryside, checking out such famous landmarks as the Tower Bridge, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, riding those famous red double decker buses, and “minding the gap” while taking the Tube all over the city. Living in London truly was a treat. London is quite a melting pot and she met people from all over the world. On any given day she was interacting with and teaching lessons to people from the Philippines, Italy, Russia, Poland, Denmark, Thailand, China, Sweden, America, and more. Her last four companions were all Mandarin Chinese speakers from Taiwan, Malaysia, Hong Kong and mainland China. Between that and the many Chinese people she taught in London, she thinks that maybe it’s a sign that she should be learning the language and is considering taking Mandarin classes at “Uni.” (She may not have come home with an accent but has most definitely adopted British phrases and slang. Julianne claims that Rebekah can go to “Uni” while she goes to “college.”)

           Speaking of Julianne, she does indeed go to college now! But let me back up a bit. In June Julianne graduated with high honors from Davis High School. The only thing that made this event a little easier to deal with the second time around was that at least I knew what to expect. So when the tears came, it wasn’t as big of a surprise. Her senior year kept her busy with multiple AP and CE classes that were fascinating, if time consuming, but also rehearsals for the various school theatre productions she was involved in, Seminary Council and a boyfriend. All the same, she was very ready to graduate and move past high school and onto college. She debated (agonized, really) between Utah State University in Logan and Utah Valley University in Provo. Her head told her USU, but her heart said UVU so down to Provo she went, with a full ride academic scholarship in her back pocket. Julianne has been not only my daughter but also my confidant and my friend during some difficult times these past few years so moving her out of our home and into her own apartment was hard for me. But she is enjoying living with her roommates and learning how to do that whole “adulting” thing. She finds her classes interesting and she is the Relief Society president in her student ward which keeps her very busy as she tries her hardest to take care of all the college girls under her stewardship. She just finished her first experience with finals and is home for the Christmas break. With Rebekah not moving back to Logan until January, we are a full family of six for a few weeks anyhow.

            And if all that weren’t big enough news...are you sitting down? We adopted a puppy. I know, shocking right? With Bryan’s and Brandon’s allergies, we’ve never owned any pet of the furry variety. But when the opportunity to adopt a mini goldendoodle kind of dropped into our laps in what seemed almost a meant-to-be sort of way, I was amazed at the puppy longing that came over me. Goldendoodles are hypoallergenic so I had high hopes. And when Bryan and Brandon both passed the rub-the-puppy-all-over-your-face-and-eyes allergy test, we decided (after much pestering, coaxing and persuading from me) to take the leap and welcome this little puppy into our family. We brought him home as a birthday surprise for Lilian and named him Oscar. (Which means that I find myself frequently singing those old Oscar Mayer commercial jingles to him...something that brings much confusion and annoyance to my children). People told me the first few months with a puppy would be really hard. I heard stories of sleep deprivation, potty training, destruction of house and home, etc. They said it was like having a new baby all over again. And while I believed them, I still didn’t quite understand just how hard it really would be. And I have to say, it did take me a couple months to stop thinking, “What the hell have we done???” Yes, there were swears. Especially when he decided his favorite place to go potty was under my baby grand piano. But along with the naughty language that came out of my mouth, he also made me laugh every day. And he loved us all so unconditionally, it was hard to stay mad at him for too long. Little Oscar is now 8.5 months old. We’ve made it through the toughest of the puppy phases and everyone adores him. (Well, with the exception of Julianne who has never been much of a dog person and claims that while she doesn’t love him, she dislikes him the least of all dogs.) I’ve joined the neighborhood morning dog walking for Oscar and social for me. He follows me around wherever I go and at present is taking a nap at my feet while I type this. I have gone from swearing at and about him to cuddling with him and marveling over this fairly intense feeling of love and joy that comes into my heart when I look at him. Well, at least when he isn’t chewing on my shoes.

             And because of the wanderlust that tends to make an appearance somewhat regularly, 2016 saw a bit of travel...
             We flew to Seattle as a family this past August and after a few days of exploring that fascinating city, we made our way down the coast of Oregon. We stopped at various beaches along the way and took time to do some hiking in the Redwood Forest before arriving in San Francisco where we spent a few more days introducing our children to the City by the Bay. The Pacific Northwest is incredibly beautiful!             
            In October, I accompanied Bryan on a business trip to Honolulu. I spent much of my daytime exploring the island on my own, but our hotel was right across the street from Waikiki Beach and we had a glorious time. I think the highlight was our hike up Koko Head Volcano. 1,050 railroad tie steps to the top...I think it may be one of the hardest things I have ever done. I joked that on the way up I felt like maybe I’d like to die, at one point on the way down I slipped and thought I was about to, and then when the sore muscles set in I thought I had! But in all actuality I’d do it again. The view from the top was nothing short of spectacular and the bragging rights were pretty cool too.
              Brandon, as usual, had some out of state gymnastic meets which necessitated trips to Palo Alto, Las Vegas and two trips to Colorado Springs. Brandon also took a road trip to Yellowstone to do some camping and hiking with his coaches and other level 10 teammates right before school started.
              As a senior trip of sorts, Julianne went to Belize in July with the HEFY program...a humanitarian trip where they spent two weeks building a school. They worked long and hard, but also made time for some adventures. I saw pictures of snorkeling with sharks, catamaran rides, ziplining through the jungle and cave tubing. She made friends with the locals and left a whole lot of her clothing and shoes behind when the trip was done, as gifts for the people who needed them more than she did. I think she considers the trip one of the best things she has ever done.

            In other odds and ends:
               Brandon got his first job this year and now works at his gym coaching some of the younger kids in rec classes. Which means that if you do a little math and add his regular workouts to his coaching hours you come up with a good 27 hours a week he is at the gym. The kid practically lives there. He has his learner’s permit and we are both counting down the days until he can officially drive himself to the gym. But when all is said and done, gymnastics still means the world to him and his team is his second family.

               Lilian is in her 4th year of soccer and has become quite the little dynamo on the field. Like her older sister before her, she plays a strong defense and has a kick that can send the ball halfway down the field. She also continues to take acting classes at CentreStage Theatre and played the part of Kaa the Snake in their recent performance of Jungle Book. She’s in the 4th grade and seems so grown up! Although when I accidentally spilled the beans that the elf on the shelf wasn’t real a week or so ago, she was devastated and dramatically claimed that I had ruined Christmas forever. So I suppose that means she’s not fully ready to leave childhood behind quite yet.

               Bryan has seen a lot more business travelling this year. In fact, he was out of town the week Rebekah came home from her mission and it took a bit of doing to arrange an earlier departure which would get him to the airport right around the time Rebekah’s flight was due to land. (Which meant that the lucky guy got to wait at her gate and get the first hug!) In hiring some new employees, we’re hoping to see his travel time maybe decrease a bit this next year, but I suppose time will tell.

               In other end of year news, I feel I should inform you that Bryan has grown out his hair. He now proudly sports a ponytail (or man bun depending on the day). I’m still unsure as to whether or not this is just a phase. But in the meantime Julianne and I told him that in order to really rock the look correctly he needed to dump the wire frames he was wearing and get himself a new pair of hipster glasses. He has recently taken our advice. At Rebekah’s homecoming earlier today, some friends of hers were overheard discussing her Dad’s outfit and hair...and it was apparently decided that he was “ridiculously stylish.” It gave us a pretty good chuckle.

      It was a good year, 2016. We hope the same was true for you. And as we all wait to see what the next year brings, we wish for you a holiday filled with love, happiness, family, and a big dose of that special Christmas spirit.

                    Love from the Crofts,
                    Bryan, Sarah, Rebekah (20), Julianne (18), Brandon (15), and Lilian (9)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

San Francisco

Our motel in San Francisco was likely one of the sketchiest places I have ever stayed. But oh my, the location! It was literally across the street from the beach, right at the base of Golden Gate Park. (And it had free parking, which in San Francisco is practically unheard of.) So after checking in and heading straight to bed, we woke up early the next morning and hightailed it to the beach.

It was pretty darn chilly. Oh who am I was downright cold! But the beach was so beautiful! Brandon only had any luck convincing Lilian to get into the water with him, and really just up to their ankles. (I did take my shoes off to dig my feet into the sand, but I kept my toes away from the frigid water.) But even more than the joy of running from the waves, Lilian was in heaven because there were sand dollars all over the place. Whole ones! Brandon and Julianne even brought some back as souvenirs.

After heading back to the room to get cleaned up and ready for the day, we took the MUNI into town. It was slow going with so many stops, but it was fun to watch the view out the window as we wound our way further into downtown. (Well, you know..when it wasn't underground.) We hopped off, got some food at a deli and then wandered our way into Chinatown...which is apparently, the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, and the oldest in North America. Which is saying something because I've been to the Chinatown in NYC, and it's pretty darn huge. Lilian was of course fascinated with it all and completely determined to find a souvenir of some sort. And every little shop had a gazillion souvenir options. Lets just say, we were good and ready to be done with Chinatown when she finally decided on the soccer ball decorated medicine/stress balls.

Fisherman's Wharf was next. Pier 39, street performers, sea lions, fish vendors, views of the ocean harbor including Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge...Fisherman's Wharf is a neat place. And oh, the sentimental childhood memories! (We used to visit San Francisco every summer as a family when I was a grandparents lived in Concord, not too far from the City by the Bay.)

I talked Bryan into a harbor cruise...something I've always wanted to do, but that he and Brandon were less enthused about. We chugged our way out of the pier only to have a mass amount of fog roll in on top of us maybe 10 minutes into our cruise. It got to the point where the narration would say, "If you look to your left, you'll see the such and such building on shore where this happened..." and we couldn't see a thing. We knew we were getting close to the Golden Gate Bridge because the narration told us so, but we couldn't see it until we were right under it! Which actually was cool in it's own way, to have it just appear kind of ghost-like out of the fog. And did I mention that it was FREEZING??? Oh my. Bryan and Brandon escaped to the enclosed part of the boat. But Julianne, Lilian and I stayed on top for much of the cruise just because it really was pretty awesome...the fog making it hard to see the view, but also making it an entirely different sort of experience which was still very neat. However, as soon as we finished our harbor cruise (the fog rolled away as soon as we started back to the pier....of course) we fast tracked it to Boudin's Bakery for some clam chowder in bread bowls so we could warm ourselves back up again!

 You could kind of see Alcatraz when we got close enough...

The next morning we ate breakfast at this local little cafe around the corner from our motel right there at the beach. It was super yummy, but also a lot of fun to people watch the locals...such a fun vibe there. The place reminded me a bit of Luke's Diner from Gilmore Girls. And as we walked back to our motel, we ran into a couple hanging out in a little zen garden. They called us over and we chatted with them for quite awhile. (She may have been still a bit drunk from the night before...) ;) We exchanged FB info so we could stay in touch and then we eventually went on our merry way. After checking out of our room, we made our way back to the Golden Gate Bridge. We had driven across it and sailed under it...this time we decided to walk it. And I tell you what, it was a major highlight of the trip for me, walking across that iconic landmark. We even saw dolphins in the water below.

Eventually we got back in the car and headed out of San Fransisco. We drove down to San Mateo for some lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. Because for some reason we have been keeping a kind of unofficial tally of all the different cities we have eaten at a Cheesecake Factory. I don't know why. We also stopped at a Trader Joe's for some snacks for the plane. Which is something that Bryan does on many of his business trips and he seemed rather giddy about sharing the experience with his wife and kids. We made our way to the airport and said goodbye to our trusty rental car that saw us from Seattle, down the Oregon coast, through the Redwood Forest and into San Francisco, and got ourselves on an airplane headed for Salt Lake City. Tired but happy. One more memorable family vacations on the books.

Pacific Coast Highway and Redwood Forest

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Pacific Coast Highway and Redwood Forest

In making plans and preparations we debated how many days to drive. How to balance a leisurely road trip with plenty of time to stop and sightsee, with the knowledge that the kids would likely not tolerate too many days in the car? Should we spend 3 days of less driving each, or 2 days with more driving but getting to San Francisco sooner? Two days would cut down on an extra food and hotel stays. However, would the days be too long? Would we feel too rushed? Bryan and I discussed at length our goals of the road trip and eventually decided on two days in the car, but in order to have plenty of time to stop when we had a hankering to...we made plans to start our drive plenty early each morning.

So we got our little crew up at the crack of dawn, placed all three of them in the back seat and pointed our rental car south towards Oregon and eventually California.

The kids fell asleep pretty much immediately. Which in some ways was kind of nice because it gave Bryan and me a chance to talk one-on-one a bit with the pretty Washington scenery flashing by. The kiddos woke up right around the time we hit the Oregon coast. And...oh. Just wow. You know? Driving along the coast with the waves crashing just off the right of the highway...only to then climb up into the mountains for a bit, twisting and turning and coming out on a cliff with the ocean down below. Just incredibly beautiful...I wanted to stop at every single viewpoint, but decided that the whole drive was a viewpoint and to just be alert to everything out my window. And really, if I wanted to stop, Bryan was more than willing to pull over.

When we weren't staring out the window in awe, we played a Harry Potter trivia game, read Fablehaven out loud, and listened to the Hamilton soundtrack. (Bryan sure was a good sport about it all...especially the Hamilton part.) ;)

We stopped at the Tilamook Cheese Factory for a late lunch. More grilled cheese sandwich varieties than you could shake a stick at! We sampled the cheese and took the tour, and then continued on our way with ice cream to go.

We were told that of all the beaches and cute little towns we'd pass, we really needed to make sure to stop at Cannon Beach. Umm, yes! I would happily go back and spend a week there...the town was darling and the beach was likely one of the most beautiful I have ever been to. It was overcast, windy and super chilly, but again,, you know? (And yes, Haystack Rock look familiar to you because Goonies was indeed filmed here. Admission...I've never seen Goonies so this fun fact was pointed out to me by my husband and son.)

We finished up our long, but memorable day of driving in Coos Bay, Oregon. Strangely enough, I think this was one of the kids' favorite parts of the trip. I'm not sure why, but Brandon to this day still talks about that little motel in Oregon where we all climbed into bed and watched Home Alone on TV together before falling asleep for the night. "That was SO awesome, Mom!" Maybe it was all of us together, or laughing so hard, or the idea that we were watching a Christmas movie in August...who knows. But for some reason, it was a highlight.

The next morning we left super early and continued on our way. It wasn't too long before we entered California and into the Redwood Forest. And of course no one could stop themselves from singing This Land Is Your Land...seeing as every single one of us, including Bryan and me, had learned it in elementary school:
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York island
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me. 
Because we are just that kind of family...who knows a song for pretty much any occasion.

We pulled over at a place that was called Trees of Mystery that yes, does sound rather touristy. And maybe it was. But after paying the entrance fee, we got to hike some very cool trails and see some ridiculously large Redwood trees. And then take a gondola ride up into the tops of the trees where the view was nothing short of spectacular. Then because we decided that we were "experienced" enough hikers, we decided to hike down the steep and rocky trail rather than take the gondola back. I figured all the over the top warnings were purely to dissuade older folks or families with young kids, or people wearing inappropriate hiking shoes from taking the trail...because really, how hard could it really be, right? Umm...we figured out pretty fast that they were seriously not kidding! It was intensely steep and very rocky and my poor legs were jelly by the time we made it down. But it was so worth it!

(This picture of my tree hugger Julianne, is one of my very favorites from the whole trip.)

I wish I had got a picture of it, but at one point we started seeing what looked like smoke up ahead. We debated for a minute or two thinking surely it must be fog, but then started smelling that tale tell campfire smell. It wasn't too much later that traffic slowed way down and we found ourselves witness to a forest fire. It was right on the side of the road. Flames jumping up into the trees, right there in front of our eyes. Firefighters were on site already and climbing up the bank from the road into the masses of trees to fight the fire. Cars were pulling over to the right so they could watch. Frankly, I kind of wished we had too because well, wow. That's not a sight you see every day. But we continued on...and smelled that smoky smell for a good long while afterwards.

Towards the end of the Redwood Forest I instructed Bryan to follow the signs to a place where for five bucks you could drive through the middle of a Redwood Tree. Bryan was very reluctant to make this detour, thinking it a rather silly tourist trap. And yes! It completely was! But am I glad we did it? You betcha!

We drove through wineries and farms and small towns...and finally made our way across the Golden Gate Bridge and into San Francisco right as it was starting to getting dark.

Up next: San Francisco

Recap of our time in Seattle