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)

Another year of our mischievous Chester the Elf

It is clear that I have missed taking a few pictures of Chester's shenanigans. I only have 14 pictures and clearly I should have something like 24. (Truth be told...I think also missed moving him a few days.) But nonetheless, here they are...mostly because Lilian loves to go back and re-live the silliness that is our Elf on the Shelf.

To be honest...I kind of let the cat out of the bag this year in regards to Chester. To be clear, I'd never pushed the Elf in the way that was intended. I did not tell Lilian that Chester watched her throughout the day and reported back to Santa as to whether she was naughty or nice. My idea behind starting the Elf to begin with was just as a fun Christmas type game, a memorable tradition. But because many of her friends had Elves at their houses and did believe the whole shebang...I didn't want Lilian spilling the beans. So I didn't push the Elf is real story, but I also didn't deny it.

Back to my story...
Lilian and some friends from her class pooled their money (oh, who am I was my money) to buy an Elf on the Shelf for their classroom at school. I wondered about this, but said nothing. One of the moms went to the store to buy said Elf, and then Lilian and friends spent much time coming up with creative way to hide and display him each day, talking about going to school early to make sure everything was in place before the rest of the class showed up, etc. So I just assumed that without talking to me about it, Lilian had realized that the Elf on the Shelf was not real. One day as she was mulling over ideas, I mentioned that pinterest was a good place to find inspiration and that I got a whole lot of my ideas there when hiding Chester in years past.

Oh. My.
Lilian was confused and dismayed and crying.
Very quickly I realized that she still thought Chester was very much real.
I was very confused and dismayed myself!
But she had bought an elf for her class, I told her. She was moving it around each morning, I said. And therefore touching the Elf...a big no-no in Elf on the Shelf world. How was she explaining that? Apparently she and her little friends were under the impression that if you didn't touch the elf, Santa would imbue his magic on the little guy and he would come to life. Because she and her friends were touching the Elf, theres was just a toy.
Oh. Facepalm.
She told me I had ruined Christmas forever and ran to her room in a huff.

It may not have quite the same excitement, but I still plan to hide our little Chester each Christmas season for as long as she'd like me to. She may know now that it's me. But I think she'd still enjoy the actual game of it now?

Hoarding the Santa hat kisses. Hanging out with our mini Sister Croft on the gallery wall. Doing gymnastics with the carolers. And making sprinkle angels in the kitchen.

Checking out the wonders of the universe with the telescope. Hiding in the poinsettia plant. Hovering over the kitchen table. And making snowmen out of powdered donuts and kisses.

 Atop a TP tower in the bathroom. Trying on Rebekah's missionary tag. Sporting new socks for Lilian. And hiding in the lantern. (It took Lilian a long while to find him that morning...)

Hanging from a candy cane chain in the living room. And hanging from the lamp in the front entry way.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Mission completed

We counted down the months. As it got closer we started counting weeks, and then days. Finally, we counted hours. Some of those months and weeks went by quickly, others dragged. At the beginning the sheer amount of months, weeks, days and hours seemed overwhelming. Mentally it got easier once she hit her 6 month mark. Some days the missing her would hit especially hard. Sometimes it had to do with something that was happening that day, a tradition or milestone she was missing, an especially sweet letter, a memory or reminder, someone asking how Rebekah was doing, and then asking how I was handling her absence. The emotion would hit unexpectedly and I'd be surprised at the tears suddenly springing to my eyes. But though we thought about her every day, most days continued as normal and the time marched by.

Interestingly enough, the closer it got to Rebekah coming home, the more emotional I found myself getting. Her last email arrived the day before she flew home. In it she detailed the things she had learned on her mission and the ways in which she had grown. She shared the story of her most recent baptism two days earlier. And ended with her testimony. Then she signed off "For the last time...." and I was completely surprised to find something inside me bursting. I sobbed. Long and hard, and loudly enough that the poor dog kept looking up at me in concern. I had tried for such a long time to keep my emotions in check. To keep the missing of my first born on the surface. To whisk any errant tears away quickly. Because after all, I was incredibly happy and proud of what she was doing in England. Though I missed her so much that it sometimes physically hurt, I wouldn't have wished it away for the world. So over the course of those months, weeks, and days I had built up an emotional dam of sorts. I didn't expect her final email to be what finally toppled it, but I think knowing I would be holding her in my arms the next day coupled with the bittersweet feelings of realizing that this incredible phase of her life was ending, and understanding how sad she was to see it end, all combined to completely undo me.

Rebekah's flight was due to arrive at 7:33PM on Wednesday night. Friends groaned when I told them I had to wait till evening. I, myself, had originally thought it would make for a really long day of counting down hours and minutes. And though I did indeed count, I was thankful for the extra time. Bryan had a business trip that week in Virginia. He finagled his way into an early end time for his final day on the job, and was able to get a flight that had him landing two minutes after his daughter. The rest of us prayed for a Christmas Missionary Miracle that included no delays on either flight, and then congregated at the bottom of the escalator leading to the baggage claim. Bryan's flight landed 15 minutes early. I texted him Rebekah's gate number and he went over to wait for her, texting me pictures of her plane taxiing up to the gate and then of my girl coming through the door! The two of them came down the escalator together with all of us standing below waving British flags. Originally Brandon said he was going to fight me for the first hug. (Well, the first hug after his father.) ;) He said he would race me when I objected. I told him in no uncertain terms that it was proper missionary etiquette for the mothers to get the first hug. When he asked why I told him that I wrote to her every single week, I sent packages...and if that wasn't enough of a reason for him, I gave birth to her! Hard to top that trump card.

So when Rebekah got to the bottom of that escalator, I ran over and wrapped my arms around that girl, squeezed tight and let the tears finally have their way....I am still unsure if the noises I was unintentionally making but couldn't seem to stop were sobs or laughs. Maybe a little of both. It was a little hard to wrap my brain around the fact that she was there! Finally! So many months, weeks, days and hours...had we truly finally come to the end of the countdown?

Lilian ran over next to hug her big sister....
 Brandon and Julianne had a good natured fight over who got to run to Rebekah next after Lilian....

....Brandon won.

And then a tearful Julianne.

Another hug for Dad...

And hugs for the grandparents who have supported her and loved her and sent her packages, letters, and most importantly, prayers.

Besties Jenny and Patricia were there, (Jenny having driven all the way from Logan only to turn around and drive back up so she could attend her college classes early the next morning) and got the next hugs.  Jenny and Patricia were solid pen pals to Rebekah while she was gone. I think they may have missed her nearly as much as we did.

 And then finally Elder and Sister Cardall who were the Hyde Park Chapel Visitor Centre directors and had come to welcome Sister Croft and Sister Griffeth home. What a joyful reunion that was! 

We tracked down Rebekah's luggage, which took a little bit of doing after a lost luggage scare. One of her suitcases was found in a back room. (Big sigh of relief.) And then we took our happy and tired and overwhelmed girl straight to the stake center to visit with President Brown. He called us all into his office after talking with Rebekah for a bit, and had Rebekah share her testimony with us before officially releasing her and asking her to take off her missionary name tag for the last time. Despite all the tears at the airport, this was the most emotional part of the evening. Such a hard and bittersweet moment. Her mission, up to this point had been the highlight of her life. Difficult at times, certainly, but 18 months filled with joy. I can't even imagine how painful it was for her to see it come to an end.

Thinking about how tired she must've been seeing as at that point she had been up for a good 24 hours, we expected her to go straight to bed. But she toured around the house, looking in all the kitchen cupboards and commenting about how much food we had, how big our house was, etc. She went through each and every room looking for changes and familiarities both, saving her bedroom for last where she found all the pictures from her mission we had hung on her walls and the welcome home basket we left on her bed. Her cell phone was fully charged with many text messages from friends. But rather than wish us all a goodnight and climb under the covers, she came back upstairs and shared story after story of her time in England, things that didn't make it into the weekly emails. At 1:00am I finally couldn't keep my eyes open anymore. She and Julianne climbed into her big bed and continued with the sisterly girl talk till 3:00. Maybe a case of Rebekah being physically exhausted but mentally wired?

They slept in the next morning, of course. I found myself going downstairs to look at Rebekah sleeping...similar to what I used to do when my children were babies, not being able to get enough of them. Julianne was awake and reading in bed, not wanting to get up because she was so enjoying the closeness to her sister. Every time I peeked my head into the room, she smiled this half contented, half giddy smile at me.

It has been wonderful having Rebekah home. I'm sure she could fill you in more accurately at how her adjustment has been. It seems to have gone smoothly from my perspective, but I have no doubt she has had ups and downs as she has moved into returned missionary status. She moves back to Logan in January. Later this week Julianne finishes up her finals in Provo and returns home...and for 3 weeks we'll be together, all six of us. I can't wait!

Countdown complete!!!

I'm finding her mission tags all over the house. It makes me smile.