A Little of This and That in December

Jan 15, 2023

Despite the length of this post, I actually did not give full recountings of every activity but consolidated as much as possible. But I couldn't consolidate too much because it was a happy month, and I want to remember all of the things that brought us joy, including . . .  

Kicking . . . off December with Tuba Christmas. My dad has played in Tuba Christmas for the past five or six years. It is something that he looks forward to every December. This year, we all went to the performance (including most of my siblings and their families). It was so much fun. Aaron is always up for learning a new instrument and is determined to be able to participate next year (if only we can somehow acquire a tuba or euphonium). This also happened to be the final concert we got to go to in the Harris Fine Arts Center, a building that is near and dear to my heart since I spent most of my college career there. This led to . . . 

Saying . . . farewell to the HFAC. A new music building was built at BYU, so December of 2022 was the final month the old building was still in use. After Tuba Christmas, my sister (who did both her bachelor's and master's in piano performance there) and I took a farewell tour around the building. My mom and brother joined us. It was a long tour. We revisited nearly every inch of that building that was unlocked to us: from the theory classrooms to the Alma Lab to the bathroom with the couch to the practice rooms to the vending machines in the tunnel to the Slab to our lockers, we saw it all. As we walked through, we shared memories and stories. Even though we weren't at BYU at the same time, we had many of the same teachers and so there was a lot of overlap in our experiences. The one bummer for me was that I couldn't get into any of the organ practice rooms because they were all locked with a keypad. And I experienced a major shock when I walked past my organ professor's office and found it already gutted and disassembled, a dark and gaping cavity of what it once had been. As we walked through the hallways, I remembered things I hadn't thought of in years. I'm sad because it almost feels like when the building is torn down, my memories will be torn down too, and it will be much more difficult to conjure them up. But this was such a fun activity to do with Anna, and I'm so glad we had the chance while the HFAC was still there. 

Counting . . . down the days to Christmas with a yarn advent calendar. Many hand-dyed yarn companies put out yarn countdowns for the holiday season. They are usually made up of 24 mini-skeins. You open up one each day and, ideally, knit it into a project. I have always been tempted by them but never purchased one because I didn't know if I'd actually like a project made with 24 different colors. But when I saw that an advent calendar from a yarn company I liked was designed to make three different accessories, that sounded like fun, so I got it. And it was so enjoyable to open up a new skein of yarn every day leading up to Christmas. There was only one color I truly didn't like, and I just swapped in one of my own scraps instead. At the end, I had a pair of mittens, a hat, and a cowl. Besides my advent calendar, the older boys put together the Home Alone house again. And I got a Christmas village set for the younger boys to put together. 

Attending . . . a bunch of neighborhood events:  a tree lighting (underwhelming, to be honest), a live nativity (sooooo cute, especially with the added magic of falling snow), an adult dinner at the church (such a fun night with friends and neighbors), a youth choir concert (Aaron accompanied one of the duet numbers on the piano), and a neighborhood service project (we assembled kits for local refugees). 

Watching . . . Matilda at the junior high. Max chose not to be in the school play this year, but we all love Matilda so much, so of course we still had to go. It was hard to squeeze in one more (non-Christmas related) activity this month, but I'm so glad we did because it was a fantastic performance full of ultra-talented teenagers. It was nice that it coincided with the release of the Netflix production of Matilda later in the month, which we also thoroughly enjoyed.

Going . . . to Christmas band concerts. The junior high band concert was notable because our nephew, Steven (who is now a student at BYU), played the tuba in it. Steven went to the same junior high as a kid, so he knows the band director really well. He had borrowed a tuba for Tuba Christmas and the band director mentioned that their one and only tuba player couldn't be in the concert due to illness. So Steven and his friend helped out. It was so fun seeing all these junior high kids with a couple of covert young adults among them. 

Finishing . . . another semester of Let's Play Music. Ian grew so much as a musician during the last few months. It was so exciting to see him learn to play chords, sing along with himself at the piano, recognize musical notation, develop his ability to hear patterns and intervals, tap out rhythms, and enjoy classical music. The last day of the semester was all about celebrating the things everyone had learned so far. I love this program so much. I would definitely recommend it above private lessons for 4-6 year-olds. 

Taking . . . Clark to see A Christmas Carol at Hale Center Theater. This is a tradition we started the year Aaron was eight, and we have continued it with each boy. Clark is eight this year, so it was his turn. We went to a matinee on a school day, which meant he got to be checked out early (not something that is that much of a perk for him since he loves school). He said it was his first time going to Hale Center Theater, which I found hard to believe at first, but then I looked back at the plays we'd taken our kids to "recently" and realized they hadn't been so recent after all. Clark is a huge fan of performances in general, and this play captivated him the entire time. He knew the story beforehand from other adaptations and listening to the book, but there is just something about live theater that transports the story to another level, and I loved experiencing it through his eyes. One thing Clark always does that I think is so cute is think about himself playing some of the characters. He was thoroughly impressed with Tiny Tim. 

Reading . . . The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I have not been in a good reading aloud groove for a long time now. Having older kids has completely thrown it off, even when I decided they didn't need to be there every time. Our evenings are just busy and it's difficult to get it in before 8:30pm. But one Saturday afternoon, I was feeling a little sad that we weren't doing any sort of Christmas readaloud. So I picked up an old classic, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and started reading it to the boys. Ian, Clark, Max, and Aaron were all around at the time (although Max was waiting to leave for a birthday party). A couple of pages was all it took for all of us to be into it. When Max left, we kept reading (he had heard it before, so it didn't feel like we needed to wait for him). We took a break for dinner, and then Aaron (yes, Aaron!) begged to keep reading. My voice started to give out, so Aaron took over for a chapter. We kept reading until we had finished it. It was so much fun to just get so wrapped up in a story that we felt compelled to keep reading. It was one of my favorite moments from the month, and the best part was, it was totally spontaneous and unplanned. 

Cutting . . . it close to the Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert. Bradley had a swim meet the same night as Mike's dad gave our family tickets to the Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert. It took some logistical finagling, but Bradley ended up getting to do both. I took him to the meet and kept Mike updated on his progress through the events. We left immediately following his last race. Mike met us in the parking lot where we swapped kids (I took Ian and Silas home, and he took the rest of the boys to the concert). They made it into their seats with only seconds to spare but ended up having a wonderful time (even though poor Clark fell asleep for the second half). It was a spectacular concert as usual, and Bradley said going out for milkshakes at the end made it even better.

Celebrating . . . the season with lots of family gatherings. We had Mike's family's party, which included catered Cafe Rio, wrapping presents for a refugee family, acting out the nativity, a trombone quintet, games, and meeting a new cousin. We had my family's piano Christmas party, which included playing piano solos (and guitar and ukulele), eating yummy treats and soups,  and playing "pass the present." Then we had another Johnson party, this one a little more casual with breakfast, some minute-to-win-it type games, and a white elephant gift exchange. Then we had another Nielsen get together, also more casual, with not everyone there where we exchanged some presents. We also had my brother's family over one afternoon so the kids could play and we could chat. And finally, at the end of the month, we went to the temple with Mike's parents and most of Mike's siblings to do sealings, and then we went out to eat afterwards. 

Driving . . . through a light show. We were offered free tickets to a local light show, so we decided to go. The last time we did a drive-thru light show was many years ago, and I remember finding it completely underwhelming and not worth the money. So maybe it was just that my expectations were really low, but we absolutely loved this light show. The kids were all impressed with the coordination between the lights and the music (I guess they'd never seen this done before?). Silas got out of his carseat and sat on Aaron's lap, totally captivated. Clark and Ian poked their heads through the sunroof to take in the experience. It was just a really fun night and something different that we don't do every year.

Changing . . . things up with Santa. I would say I'm fairly low key about Santa. I like him, but I don't go out of my way to make sure my kids believe in him. Ever since Aaron was probably eight or nine, I have wished that Santa was only in charge of the stockings for our family. Trying to get all of the presents organized for a big family is too complicated if Santa is bringing each kid a "big" gift, but then there are certain big gifts that I want to be from Mike and me (because I don't want Santa getting the credit). Then it's tricky to balance things out and make them somewhat equal. Anyway, I always felt like we'd missed our chance to establish this way of doing things with Santa, but this year, Mike and I realized that we still have many years left with kids at home, and we'll wish things were different every year, so we might as well just change it this year. I was worried it was going to rock the boat with the ones who still believe, but they were so chill about it. We just said, "Hey, guys, we asked Santa to only fill your stockings this year and let us take care of the rest of the presents so he can focus on other families." That was it. They were totally fine with it, and it ended up making Christmas morning so nice. 

Spending . . . Christmas Eve sick in bed. That was poor Max. The rest of us felt great and went to see a movie in the morning (Puss in Boots, which we all loved; we were especially excited to see it because one of Mike's good friends from high school was the head of story on it). In the afternoon, Mike sneaked away to get a very special Christmas surprise (see more on that below). And in the evening, we went over to Sonja's house for a very festive and yummy dinner. When we got back home, the kids went to bed pretty quickly, and Mike and I weren't too far behind them thanks to having all of the wrapping done already.

Subjecting . . . our cat to wearing a sweater. When Mike and I were picking out Christmas pajamas for the boys (always a challenge for these boys who prefer to sleep in shorts and a t-shirt), we stumbled on a sweater for a pet. This is normally something I would refuse to spend money on, but this time I couldn't help it. I just knew the boys would all get the biggest kick out of it, and they did. Thunder, on the other hand, was less than thrilled. As soon as we put it on him, it was as if he was paralyzed. He would hardly move. However, we got distracted by the festivities of the day, and the next thing we knew, he no longer had it on, and to this day, we have not been able to find it. 

Experiencing . . . the most beautiful, peaceful, calm, happy Christmas morning ever. I don't know if it was because it was on a Sunday or because of our decision to only have Santa do the stockings, but this was the nicest Christmas morning I can remember. Our kids came into our room at 7:00. There wasn't the normal mad dash down the stairs (probably because they knew the big presents wouldn't be out in plain view per Santa but rather all wrapped up per us). I had some soft piano Christmas music playing in the background, the Christmas lights were on,  and, without me orchestrating any of it, the kids went through their stockings slowly, one by one. After stockings, we ate breakfast, got ready for church, and then they opened up the "brother presents" (the ones from each other) before we went to church. 

Attending . . . church. I wish Christmas could be on a Sunday every year. I loved having this hour to praise and worship Jesus in the middle of the day. It broke up all of the excitement and gave us all a chance to breathe and reflect. I loved it so much. 

Giving . . . the surprise of a lifetime. This Christmas was also memorable because of a special present (the one I didn't want Santa getting credit for). A few weeks before, when the boys were making their lists, Clark said, "I don't know what to ask for because all I want is a pet, and you won't let me have one." It's true I have refused even the suggestion of a pet for a long time (you'll remember we already have a cat and that's one too many pets for me!). Clark eventually thought of plenty to put on his list, haha, but I was actually giving serious thought to a pet and asking myself, "Is there any pet I'd actually be okay with?" And then, the follow up question, "Is there a pet that can stay outside?" I immediately thought of bunnies. I called one of my friends who has a few bunnies and asked her to give me all the facts and advice. She said they actually had three bunnies left from the two litters that were born over the summer (after one of their three female bunnies accidentally turned out to be male). Mike and I went to look at the bunnies (while asking ourselves, "Are we really going to do this?"). At the same time, we happened to find a listing in the classifieds for two bunnies (a Holland Lop and a Netherland Dwarf) who came with a hutch and all the supplies needed for instant setup. We couldn't refuse--they were so cute (and we also considered it a bonus that they were already four years old). 

After church on Christmas morning, we gathered in the living room to open more presents. We told Clark and Bradley to open theirs at the same time. (I should add that in all the days leading up to Christmas, Clark never mentioned a pet. I think he had cast it out of his mind as a complete impossibility, which made this even more fun.) Under the wrapping paper, they found a few bunny supplies, which baffled them. They each had an envelope that contained a photo of their bunny. When they pulled out the pictures, they finally started to suspect that something was up. Bradley asked, "Wait, are we getting bunnies?" Clark gasped and raced to the back door. He flung back the curtain and gave a squeal when he saw the hutch. Watching both of them nestle their faces against their bunnies' fur for the first time is one of the happiest memories of my life. It was just so sweet. They were instantly smitten and just kept saying, "I can't believe you're okay with this, Mom." 

(Oh, after much discussion, the bunnies were christened Monty and Ferb.)

Finishing . . . off Christmas with more presents, a few games, knitting my new Christmas ornament, and a simple Shepherd's meal. The next day, I made a little video to recap the season, and the boys spent hours in the basement watching movies and putting together a Lego world map. 

Escaping . . . the cold for a few days with our dear friends, the Gardners. We decided to spend part of the week between Christmas and New Year's in sunny St. George. It would have been nice if it had been about ten degrees warmer, but we still had such a nice time. Most of the kids, along with Mike and James, went swimming. We left the kids with pizza and went on a double date for tacos. We squeezed through a slot canyon and climbed on top of red rocks at Pioneer Park. We went mini golfing at Stucki Farms. We ate the most amazing sandwiches from Farmstead. We baked a bunch of things from Season 12 of the Great British Baking Show (we're a season behind) before watching the finale (and when I say "we" baked, you know I don't mean me). We played lots of games. We knitted. We hiked in Snow Canyon (Jenny's Trail, Petrified Sand Dunes, Lave Tubes). It was the best.

Receiving . . . so much snow. This was one of the snowiest Decembers in the past decade, and our snowpack totals are doing nicely so far. Ironically, we didn't actually have snow on Christmas Day, but lots of snow before and after. If it's going to be cold, it might as well snow.

Creating . . . space for a new refrigerator. You would think this might not be necessary if you're putting the new fridge in the same space as the old one (which we were). However, when Mike took measurements, he measured the height and width, but forgot to check the depth. The new fridge arrived, and he pushed into place. It hit the wall with many inches still sticking out of the space. We could have returned it and purchased a different fridge, but Mike is all about more food space, so he decided to just move out the cabinets instead. It was a process, but now I think we're all glad he did it because it didn't make the kitchen feel more crowded, and now we have a bigger refrigerator.

Bidding . . . a fond farewell to 2022. Everyone but Silas stayed up until midnight (Ian's first time!).  We had some friends over for part of the evening and then spent the rest of the time watching Elf and Lego Masters, playing games, and eating food. We counted down the seconds and then threw confetti and ran out onto the porch ringing bells. As far as years go, 2022 was a favorite for our family. It brought us Silas, good health, personal growth, several trips, and bunnies. :-) We hope 2023 will be just as good.

And that's a wrap on this post, this month, and this year! 

1 comment:

  1. Happy New Year! Lovely pictures and a lovely family.

    I was there for some of that snow -- my brother in Sandy hosts Christmas. I even went out for a jog once when the streets were mostly clear and I was very intimidated. And then it snowed again right as we were readying to drive back!


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