Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Chester does 2017

Lilian knew full well it was me hiding Chester this year and had no qualms about touching him or picking him up. She'd compliment me when I displayed Chester in a particularly creative way or if it took her awhile to find him. Overall, I think she still looked forward to looking for him each morning and enjoyed the experience. As did I. As much of a hassle it is sometimes to remember late at night or first thing in the morning to hide the little guy...I still enjoy the tradition of it all and watching Lilian's excitement. I even get a kick out of finding a particularly fun or new idea that I can use from pinterest. (Is that weird?)

See here for when I spilled the beans about Chester not being real.
Hanging from the lamp, aided by a sparkly Christmas light necklace (no, he is not trying to strangle himself, no matter how it may look). Sitting in our new wreath above the fireplace. Setting up a cozy movie night with popcorn, hot chocolate, and Home Alone. Hanging out with the little girlie elves on the bookshelf downstairs. Reading the Christmas stories. Suggesting we watch The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Sporting some long wrapping paper legs. A little Merry Christmas message written on the eggs in the fridge. And blowing chewing gum bubbles.

 A cotton ball bath in the bathroom sink.

 Who knew that Chester had flying reindeer powers? (Lilian actually set this one up.)

 A post-it-note Christmas tree.

 On the gallery wall above the stairs.

 Sitting in a Titanic White Star Line goblet on the shelf in the kitchen. favorite of this season: Chester climbing up the wall using Christmas bows.

 Game night with the nutcrackers!

 Hiding in the pantry with some finger lights so he can see.

 Sipping hot chocolate from the tops of the cupboards.

See ya next year, Chester...

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas...Happy Christmas...Feliz Navidad

                 Feliz Navidad!

I’ve been trying to decide how to create some sort of order to this letter. Share big events chronologically? By child? By order of importance or big-ness? And if by the latter, how do I decide that? Because I’m pretty sure Julianne would feel that her mission is every bit as big as Rebekah’s engagement. And Lilian’s entrance into the world of competitive soccer feels just as important to her as Brandon’s joy at qualifying for Nationals in gymnastics. Oops...did I just give you a bunch of spoilers?

We started out the year with the whole family home. Rebekah had returned from her mission to London four weeks earlier, Julianne had finished up finals at UVU, and we had a few wonderful weeks all six of us together again. All too soon it was time to pack the girls’ belongings into their individual cars. And then after lots of hugs the two cars pulled out of the driveway, separating at the freeway going north to Utah State University in Logan, and the other going south to Utah Valley University in Provo. It’s kind of quiet with only four of us at home. But Kaysville is geographically middle ground between the two which made for happy visits on occasional weekends. Lucky for me, my girls are also prolific texters and kept us in the loop in regards to classes, boyfriends and college life in general. Rebekah moved into an apartment with one of her besties, jumped back into her elementary education program, auditioned for and made it into the Institute Singers, and fairly quickly fell head over heels for a guy named Tanner. Julianne, also majoring in elementary education, headed into her second semester of classes, got a job making crepes at The Roll Up, served faithfully as the Relief Society President of her student ward, and found herself completely smitten with Jordan, a guy she originally knew from high school but reconnected with in Provo.

Julianne’s goals have always included serving a mission, so just a few months after Rebekah’s return, Julianne started working on getting her mission papers submitted. A few days before the big white envelope showed up in the mail, the two of us were joking around as to where she would be called. “What if I went here?” “Wouldn’t it be funny if you went there?” “What about this place?” “Do you think I’ll get called to that place?” Random, off the wall guesses...nothing super serious. Just a way to blow off anxiety and nerves. Julianne said, “Hey Mom, you should google ‘Armpit of America.’” My google query came up with New Jersey...mostly to do with the sketchiness of Newark, and the stink associated with the nearby refineries. “You watch Mom, I’m going to get called to New Jersey.” We laughed and moved on to some more what ifs. Two days later, on March 23rd, the official call arrived. Julianne ripped open that big white envelope. She started reading aloud. And then she stopped. And smiled. And then started to giggle...which turned into a pretty good laugh. All of us watching her, still in suspense...waiting, waiting, waiting...until she could finish up her giggle fit enough to inform us that she had indeed been called to the Armpit of America! Her call was to serve in the New Jersey Morristown Mission, Spanish speaking. I honestly thought she was trying to play a joke on me, but she was serious. And very excited, despite her Dad’s first comment, ”She is SO going to get mugged!” So, despite her four years of junior high and high school French, Julianne left on June 27th for Mexico City and spent six weeks learning how to teach the gospel in Spanish at the Mexico CCM. Her first few months in Jersey were spent in Red Bank and Toms River mid-way down the coast. She is now in Kearny, which is a suburb of Newark. She jokes about being in the “armpit” but claims that New Jersey really is more like its official motto, “The Garden State.” She says in certain areas she can see the NYC skyline, which of course fills her heart with joy. A few weeks ago she got to go to the Manhattan Temple, and she and her companion occasionally get to volunteer at Ellis Island working in the Family History Center there. She’s happy, healthy, and loves her mission, which makes the missing her a little easier to bear. Because miss her we do...oh so much! Sending a second missionary is not any easier than sending off the first, despite actually knowing what to expect. In fact, I think that sometimes makes it worse! But we are happy for this wonderful experience she is having.

Moments before taking Julianne to be set apart as a missionary, Tanner pulled her aside to say his goodbyes and inform her that he would most likely marry her sister while she was gone. This predictably made Julianne cry, but it wasn’t a surprise and they were mostly happy tears. Tanner proposed to Rebekah at the end of October and we are planning a wedding for March 3rd. So maybe now introductions are in order? Everyone, meet Tanner Braden! Tanner is from Bountiful and is the youngest of 8 children in his family. He served his mission in Taiwan and returned home just 3 months before Rebekah. He has plans to be a physical therapist, has a job teaching English to Chinese kids on-line and is very musically talented...singing, piano, guitar, and various other musical instruments. Tanner and Rebekah met in January in Institute Singers, started dating in February, and were inseparable by March. It was pretty clear early on that they were thinking marriage, but neither one of them were in any rush. So they had an idyllic summer, saw each other every day, and at the end of August they settled back into school life in Logan. After carving out some time in their insanely busy 18-credit hour school schedules, Rebekah’s Practicum (student teaching...sort of), and Tanner’s job..they were finally able to go ring shopping. That sweet boy involved me in all his secret proposal plans and then allowed me to help set things up, so I got to be there to give my baby a big hug after the official “Will you marry me?” The two of them were practically glowing, they were so happy. (And okay fine, yes...I cried. A lot.) The wedding plans have begun. The temple and reception center are booked. We went wedding dress shopping last week. (Yes, I cried there too.) So, our family is growing! I’m taking on some new titles...mother-of the bride, mother-in-law. It’s all very new and exciting. We already love Tanner so much and are incredibly happy to have him join our family.

But while all of this mission and courtship stuff was happening, Brandon was having an equally big year. First of all, the kid turned 16. I think I was as excited about him getting his drivers license as he was. NO MORE DRIVING BACK AND FORTH TO BOUNTIFUL EVERY SINGLE DAY FOR GYMNASTICS!!! (You’ll have to imagine all the happy dancing.) But then if that wasn’t enough, this year’s gymnastics competition season was especially awesome and after multiple meets that included out of state trips to Las Vegas, California and Colorado Springs, at the Region Meet he qualified for Nationals! Oh, the grin on his face when he realized he would be competing at the Junior Olympic Nationals Gymnastics Competition. And the frosting on the cake...Nationals was being held in Orlando this year. So in conjunction with our family tradition of celebrating a 16th birthday with a special trip...we booked our stay with a few extra days attached and headed to Florida in May. Nationals was simply amazing. Brandon said that working out and competing side by side with that level of gymnastics talent and skill was nothing short of phenomenal. It was a big week long to-do with scheduled work-outs leading up to the day, opening ceremonies the night before, the big competition and then finals. And during our extra days, we hit Universal Studios three times. Universal is pretty incredible on its own, but it has become clear to me that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is one of my happy places. And then as a lovely little end to our trip, we spent a few hours at Cocoa Beach before heading to the airport.

Not to be left out, our 10-year old Lilian decided it was time for her soccer ambitions to take center stage. So after four year of rec, we decided to try out competitive soccer. She auditioned for three soccer clubs. Oh wait...that’s the theatre and music background coming out in me. Let me rephrase that correctly. She tried out for three soccer clubs, and got offers from all three, but decided to join Forza Futbol Club, partly because it meant she’d be able to play with two of her friends who also live in our neighborhood. It’s been fascinating to watch Lilian learn and grow, as a soccer player but also personally as she’s found purpose and passion in her game. She practices 2-3 times a week and has games weekly as well...regular season and tournaments also. Right now they are playing indoor soccer, which interestingly is quite different from the traditional outdoor. It’s much more fast paced and intense, and Lilian is loving it. She plays defense most of the time and is fearless and fast and has no problem stopping that ball with whatever body part she has available, whether it be bouncing it off her knee, hip, chest or even head! Bryan has become her biggest fan and enjoys going to her Saturday games. She loves having him there and watches for him in the’s super sweet.

So there you go...all my previous spoilers explained in full, and then some. But clearly, though those were our biggest events of the year, they weren’t the only.
    In early June, I went on a singing tour with the Sally Bytheway Chorale to Washington D.C. Which was pretty amazing for many being my whole family was there. My parents, Katie and Melissa were singing in the choir with me (along with Bryan’s sister Carolyn and her husband Treg). But also Mary came from Idaho to travel with us, and Rachel drove up from Virginia. We sang at Arlington National Cemetery, the World War II Memorial on the Mall, a Veterans home and the Washington D.C. Temple Visitors Center. We got to visit all sorts of memorials and museums, heck...we even sang the National Anthem flash mob style on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and in front of the White House. After the official tour ended, we Daltons traveled to Rachel’s home in Richmond, VA to spend more time visiting...also taking day trips to Monticello and Mount Vernon (Jefferson’s and Washington’s homes). Then my parents, Katie and I continued on to NYC where I got to spend a couple more days showing them around my very favorite city. We packed in as much as we could into those few days, even taking in a couple of Broadway shows. But I think my favorite thing was watching the excitement on my Dad’s face as we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. (Well, that may be a tie with the look of trepidation when I took them down into the subway for the first time…)

    Rebekah and I also had the opportunity to travel to London in August. How many times I’d wanted to be a fly on the wall, seeing the life my daughter was living as a missionary in England. This finally gave me that glimpse. I met her mission president, senior couples who had loved and taken care of her, and a few of her companions. I saw where she lived and got to spend time with members and investigators she had befriended and come to love. We spent the first week in Canterbury and were able to spend a lot of time with the Childs...Rebekah’s adopted British family. The tremendous love and generosity they shared with us brought me to tears many times. We got to go to the wedding of one of Rebekah’s British companions in Leicester. We hiked the White Cliffs of Dover, and attended Evensong at the famed Canterbury Cathedral. In London since the Queen was summering in Scotland, we got to tour Buckingham Palace. We watched King Lear at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. We rode the Tube and red double-decker busses, and ate Rebekah’s favorite almond croissants from Tesco. I outed myself as an American when I had this  conversation...
Me: “I need to pay for gas...I mean petrol...on pump 11. It’s 51 dollars...I mean 51 pounds.”
Her: “Just over from the States, dear?”
Me: “Is it that obvious?”
Truly, a once in a lifetime sort of trip...not just because it was London and we were marking off so many travel bucket-list items, but because it was one-on-one time with my first born who was able to share a part of her life that had truly shaped who she is and had made such an impact on her life. I’m looking forward to having a similar sort of trip with Julianne when she comes home.

Odds and Ends: *Brandon learned to snowboard *Bryan is feeling road warrior weary as the business travel continues *Rebekah worked all summer at Kneaders *I’m continually astounded at how much we love our dog Oscar *Bryan still has a man bun/twist...any bets as to whether he’ll cut it before the wedding? *Brandon road tripped to Yellowstone with gymnastics buddies *Rebekah and Tanner did too *Julianne dyed her hair pink before her mission *Brandon is learning to play the piano *Lilian is becoming a neat freak and a morning person...will miracles never cease?

It’s been a good year, 2017. We hope the same was true for you, and that you are enjoying the magic that is the Christmas season. Now if only it would snow...
¡Les deseamos a todos una feliz Navidad y un feliz año nuevo!
Amor de la familia Croft,
Bryan, Sarah, Rebekah (21), Hermana Julianne Croft (19), Brandon (16), and Lilian (10)

Friday, June 30, 2017

Hasta Luego

I had been told that sending off a second missionary wasn't any easier than sending off the first. I had heard that knowing what to expect was actually harder in some ways because you know what to expect. People told me that dropping your missionary off at the airport was harder than dropping them off at the Provo MTC. After having experienced it I am now in a position to say that it's true. All of it.

Monday was spent packing and saying tough goodbyes. (Dad, who had a business trip, and boyfriend who she wouldn't be allowed to see as soon as she was an official missionary.) All too soon it was time to go to the stake president's office to get set apart as a missionary. Already emotional, by the time President Brown invited us in to join Julianne, we were a bit of a mess. Julianne shared her testimony and her reasons behind wanting to serve a mission. President Brown set her apart. And by the time he finished, we were all very glad that there is always a box of kleenex in the stake president's office. President Brown quoted D&C 84:88 And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.
I'm guessing it was meant to strengthen and comfort Julianne. I know it had that affect on me.
 (Julianne was rather pleased with the placement of her picture on the stake offices missionary board...right between Elle and Lauren.)

We had thought about getting up extra early to have a last breakfast at Granny Annie's, but packing didn't get finished up till midnight and we had planned to leave the house around 6:45am to head to the airport. We decided sleep was more important. Rebekah and Julianne had one last sleepover. They said it was because Julianne was now a missionary and Rebekah was her companion so therefore they shouldn't sleep in separate bedrooms. But really, they'd been having sleepovers most nights since Rebekah came home from her mission seven months ago. And seeing as by the time Julianne comes home, Rebekah will likely be married, this last time seemed significant.

The morning came all to soon, and not soon enough. Similarly to how I felt when Rebekah was leaving...I was ready. In a way, I had dreaded this day. And the stress and emotions had taken their toll, physically and emotionally. Julianne's leaving was going to happen no matter what, and I got to the point where I just wanted to be done, to get things going so we could start counting down, you know? I think Julianne felt similarly. Although I don't think she was dreading the day, but more anticipating it.

We made the drive to the airport and then sat in the car for a few minutes to have a family prayer. I felt like maybe it was my responsibility as the mother to say it. But of course that meant that my words came out in a tearful, heart aching, emotional mess.

We walked inside (wiping away tears) and got Julianne's boarding passes printed and her luggage checked. I was kind of amazed at just how incredibly helpful and kind the Delta counter agents were to all the missionaries there. Knowing that these missionaries and their families were running the gamut of emotions...fear of the unknown, feeling overwhelmed, confusion, sadness, excitement, and everything in between...they clearly see this every week. And while it might be easy to feel annoyed at all these clueless families, they instead responded with such empathy and asked us where Julianne was serving, expressed excitement over her call, offered advice with travel. It made me worry just a little bit less.
(And the pink/purple luggage makes a second mission go 'round...)

We went upstairs to the security line. The point of no return. This is where it becomes so much harder to say goodbye than at the Provo MTC. In Provo, you know you have more or less delivered your missionary to their destination, at least for the next few weeks. She is going to go inside and be assigned a companion, and a bedroom. She will be fed and taken good care of. At the airport you have to say goodbye and watch her walk through that security line all on her own. Will she make it to her gate okay? What happens if she loses her luggage? What if there are problems or delays with her flight? Will someone be there at the other end in Mexico to pick her up?

(I tried to smile for the camera...but didn't realize that Brandon continued to take pictures, so there is a progression of me losing the precarious hold I had on my tears.)

We said our goodbyes. We hugged and cried and hugged some more. Julianne was admirably calm. I think she had spent her emotions the day before and was just ready.

 Once again, the hardest part came when we got home. Saying goodbye is hard, yes. But coming home and seeing the pajama pants she had worn the night before still in my room where she had got ready that morning, finding her phone on the counter, realizing that all of the things that she had decided not to pack but had not put away were now my responsibility...because she wasn't coming home to do it herself....that's when the ache really sets in. So I decided to put my pajamas back on and allow myself to do nothing productive all day. I ate chocolate, binge watched Netflix, napped and allowed myself to cry whenever I felt like it rather than fight the tears. I didn't leave the house for two days. And I think that helped.

Another thing that helped? I got a quick email that evening from Julianne. She said she had arrived safely, that there had been 25 missionaries on her flight to Mexico and that her P-Days would be on Thursdays while in the MTC. The next day I also found a couple pictures of her on the Mexico MTC facebook page. Both of those things did much to settle any worries that I had.

There is a Julianne sized hole in my heart. And though she's physically little, her spirit is larger than life. Which means that hole is pretty darn noticeable. It aches, my heart. It very literally hurts. But I'm so proud of her as well. Knowing what to expect this time around means I understand already how hard the missing her can be and how long the time sometimes seems. But it also means that I am fully aware of all the blessings that come, to both her and us here at home. And it's worth it.

Monday, June 26, 2017

So long, Farewell

Julianne's farewell in church was two days before leaving for the MTC. She shared the day with one of her "core four" besties. Lauren was her first friend when we moved her ten years ago, so how appropriate and fun to be preparing for missions at the same time and then give their farewell talks together. Plus, talk about some serious Sister power in that meeting!
(The "Core Four"... Jessie with a mission call to Bakersfield, California-English speaking, Lauren with a mission call to Paris, France-French speaking, Julianne with a mission call to Morristown, New Jersey-Spanish speaking, and Taylor who just married her sweetheart 6 weeks ago. These girls...all grown up and going off into the world. Oh my heart!)

Julianne was asked to speak about the temple. She loved the opportunity to really think about her feelings for and the things she had learned about and in the temple. And though I know that my daughter is quite a deep thinker, very perceptive and incredibly thoughtful, I was still kind of blown away at some of the insights she shared...things that I hadn't ever really thought about in all my many years of going to the temple.

And then if that weren't enough, Rebekah and her boyfriend Tanner got up right afterwards to sing a beautiful musical number, a duet about the Savior. Then it was Lauren's turn. And just wow, what a meeting! I had been incredibly frazzled and emotional leading up to Sacrament Meeting...all the preparations for the open house afterwards, the stress of making sure Julianne was ready to go on Tuesday, the emotions of her leaving...all just weighing so heavily. But the spirit of that meeting somehow calmed me and buoyed me up.

After Sacrament Meeting we hosted...breakfast? Lunch? It was breakfast time but more of a lunch type of spread. So brunch? Lots of various kinds of food for all to come enjoy while they mingled and chatted and said their goodbyes to Julianne. I can't count how many we fed. There were so many at the house, some that I didn't even see and was only told later that they had been there. There were many that came to the church meeting to wish Julianne well, but were unable to come to the house afterwards. And though I tried to take pictures, I didn't even think about pulling out my camera until many had already left.  And then after the three hour church block ended, we had neighbors drop by, and other relatives. I was so very touched by all the visitors. So many people, some making very long drives, all wanting to support Julianne and make sure she knew how much they love and admire her.

 (Couldn't stop laughing at Melissa's photo bomb as she threw herself unexpectedly into the picture at the last minute...)

 (Aww....I look at Julianne's "core four" and see my own "musketeers" childhood besties. If Julianne's four end up having a relationship later in life anywhere close to what I have with my musketeers then she will be very rich indeed.)