Sunday, December 30, 2007

All that's left

This is all that is left of Christmas 2007 -- atleast in the home decorations department. I love, love, love getting Christmas cards! When I was a little girl the mailman used to come TWICE a day to deliver the mail because there were so many Christmas cards sent out. I can remember running to the mailbox and being so excited to see it jam-packed with cards from friends and family far and near! Back in those days I don't remember very many photos or family-update letters included but it was so nice to see a little handwritten greeting from the sender.

I can't bring myself to put away these little glimpses into the lives of our friends and family members that have been sent to us. I'm so glad to know that these people still think of us as friends even though we haven't physically seen some of these people for at least 15 years (ie, the Roberts and the Archers) but when I get their cards it brings back a lot of good memories from our friendships and interactions and associations that are still meaningful to me and I guess to them too.

About 8 years ago I started keeping all the photos in a Christmas binder after I have taken them down and it is so fun to look back and see how our friend's families have grown and changed (I wish I'd have started that binder sooner). Alot of our friends have gone from having kids at home to now being emptynesters but continue to include their kids and grandkids in their updates and photos. I'm truly grateful for those who keep sending cards to us each year. And I love getting cards from new friends -- people who have come into our lives this year... hopefully, we'll make the cut and stay on their lists in the future.

This Christmas has been a very special season this year. Lots of changes but in all the important ways of love and family and celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, everything was still the same. It has been so enjoyable to take each day and each get together one at a time and enjoy it and relish it to it's fullest. Now I mostly have just memories to store away but they are precious to me and easy to access. I have posted some of the highlights of this Christmas season in the following posts... nothing like doing it all at once. But I wanted to document it all for myself as well as sharing it with each of you. I hope that your holiday season was everything you hoped it would be and that you can look back with joy and satisfaction but at the same time, look forward to the New Year with contentment and anticipation and high expectations for another great year.

Here's to 2008.... see you then!
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Pink Christmas

Back some time last summer I think it was, I read on a friend's blog about a gift exchange that she was organizing called "Pink Christmas". It included raising some money for a 2 year-old niece of her's that was going through a kidney transpant as well as exchanging handmade gifts with someone unknown to the gift giver. Well over 100 women signed up as well as myself. I love a good surprise -- both giving one and getting one. We all filled out a questionaire about our likes and dislikes, i.e. favorite colors, hobbies, interests, families, favorite foods, just random information. Soon afterwards I received a pink package in the mail that told me who I would be giving my homemade gift to. I knew immediately what I was going to make for my "new friend".

I was also sent her blog address so I began getting to know her. I enjoyed reading about her life on a daily basis... I've never met anyone either in person or virtually with as many friends as she has...she even belongs to a book club that took a trip to Paris, France together! Now, that's the kind of book club I'd like to be in! I had no idea who had my name but I assumed they were probably reading up on me and getting to know me via my blog as well.

I had my gift made before Thanksgiving and sent it off the first part of December and then I started to wonder who I would be getting a gift from!?!? Then about the middle of December I got a package in the mail with a "Pink Christmas" label attached. I put it under my Christmas tree and tried to resist opening it before Christmas morning... which I succeeded in waiting (I believe in playing by the rules). It added a really fun aspect to my gift giving and receiving this year. I felt like a little kid wondering what was in that box just for me!

My pink christmas pal turned out to be a sweet, beautiful woman who lives in Mesa, AZ and in her note that came with my gift, she explained several connections that we have even though we've never met. Her family lived in the same ward as Heidi and their 8 year olds had been friends before Swapps moved to China. She said she even went to a dance with Eric back in high school... how blizarre is that!

She put a lot of thought into the items she included in my package. She sent a handstamped bookmark because I love to read, she sent lots of chocolate and that fun plate because I love all things chocolate and she made lovely paper "quilted" ornaments because I love to quilt (they are now hanging in my sewing room). Thank you so much Janae... you added so much to my Christmas! And thanks to you Kristi for putting together such a successful and enjoyable event!
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We are family...

Every year I kind of struggle with what to give my parents for birthdays and Christmas... seriously, what do you want when you are 86 and 89 years old? You just want good health and visits from your family... at least that is what they always tell me when I ask what I can get them... not much help. But this year, I came up with a couple of fun surprises.

I had gotten a sweater for my dad and a nightgown for my mom but I wasn't all that excited about those things. Then I remembered a conversation over the Thanksgiving dinner table when my dad was telling us about some books that he read as a child. He said he used to read these burgess books and he loved them. He ended by saying "I would love to get my hands on some of those books again". I had no idea what a burgess book was so I googled it and I found out that a man named Thornton Burgess had written a series of books starting in the early 1900s. He used animals as the main characters and the stories always taught some good value or important moral. They were similar to the Tales of Peter Rabbit and Tom Kitten and Benjamin Bunny that were written by Beatrix Potter. There were about 150 books all together.

I wasn't sure where to find any of these books but I knew where to go to by anything... EBAY! Yip, there were Burgess books for sale. I lost about 3 or 4 bids but I ended up getting a book because there was a "buy it now" button. Then I found one at a local used bookseller here in town. They were both in amazingly good shape for books published in 1911 and 1926 respectively. Dad was so surprised and thrilled to be holding those books again. He opened one up and immediately began reading us a few paragraphs. You could tell he was reading something familar and beloved to him. It was a very sweet moment.

I also came up with another great idea at the last minute... actually 2 weeks before Christmas I read on someone's blog about a woman who makes beautiful family trees. So I went to her website and was very impressed. I emailed her all 130 names and she put it all together and got it to me with 4 days to spare. Mom and Dad were so thrilled with it. It was amazing to watch them read every name with love and affection. I think it was so rewarding to see there whole posterity there on that huge, full grown tree. They actually got a little teary and knew immediately where they wanted to hang it! Those were really special gifts that I enjoyed giving because of the sweet reactions more than a sweater or a nightgown would ever produce!
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Pickin' and Grinin'

With no kids at home, Christmas is REALLY understated! Last year, Cam's family was living with us and the year before, Collin spent Christmas eve with us because Cam & LaRane had to speak it Church Christmas morning so we helped out by keeping the 2 year old home with us. This year we were on our own! It was still really nice but just a different kind of nice. First off, not so many presents under the tree when we woke up and we skipped doing Christmas stockings but we did get to sleep in and shower first thing.

I have been sooooooooo excited about the present I had for Paul! Ever since going to the Blue Ridge Parkway last fall, I knew that I wanted to get him a BANJO! Back when he was 19 or 20 he began playing the banjo (he is also an excellent piano player). He spent hours in his room, "strumming his old banjo". He even took it with him when he went on his mission to Austria (I don't think he'd get away with that these days). He ended up selling it to an Austrian guy. Shortly after he got back home, he bought himself a guitar and spent alot of time learning songs from groups like "The Kingston Trio" ("Hang down your head Tom Dooley", "MTA", "Merry Minuet") and "The New Christy Minstrels". He learned one of their songs called "The Preacher and The Bear"and his Mom loved him to play and sing that song every chance she got... he still plays it occassionally. When we were first married, he would keep his guitar behind the door in our apartment and one day someone came in and pushed the door open too far and it smacked a hole in the guitar. After that he bought a really nice 12-string, steel-string guitar and he still has that one. He doesn't pull it out very often; it is a real treat when he does. I have wanted him to play it for our grandkids so they will know that about him but it tends to stay in storage.

Then when we were in North Carolina last fall, he got very excited about folk and bluegrass music again and that is when I decided that I wanted him to have a Banjo again. I found the most amazing shop here in our city that I had no idea even existed! It is just a rare jewel of musical history. I think it has been in the same location for 30 years or longer. It is called Intermountain Guitar and Banjo. The walls are covered with vintage and collectible guitars, banjos, mandolins, dobros and ukuleles. There are rooms and showcases with rare and new and used instruments as well. It is open by appointment only. I can hardly wait to take Paul back there and show him this unique shop.

Paul was totally surprised when he opened his present! But it only took a couple of minutes for him to start strumming -- pickin' and grinnin' (banjos totally make you grin; even if you are just listening)-- like he'd never been away from his banjo! His fingers have been kind of sore but he's working on getting his calluses back. Who knows, maybe we'll have a Hootenanny here real soon. It will be something the grandkids will never forget!
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Christmas Eve here, Christmas Morning there

The best part about the Swapps being in China is that because they are 15 hours ahead of us we were able to spend both Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning with them at the EXACT SAME TIME!

We had prearranged to get on Skype and our web cam at 6 pm here Christmas eve which was 9 am there Christmas morning so that we could open presents together. As always, Heidi and Eric put alot of thought and effort into just the perfect gifts for everyone. They also had the advantage of being where everything (seemingly) comes from anyway. Every gift was so exciting. We started out with the guys who each received a custom-created down vest. Heidi and Eric drew the designs, chose the colors and using measurements they had surreptitiously acquired from wives, had these great winter vests custom-tailored over there. The guys were so excited! They all fit perfectly. Next, the guys got beautiful silk ties. From what Eric tells us, there are unlimited supplies of ties at the markets they go to and they all cost about $6 and are really, really nice.

Next, Heidi made Paul & I a clock that she has customized with pictures of them over there in China at the Great Wall. She included Chinese money and has stamped on the outside "On Beijing Time". I have hung it in our family room under our wall clock and have set it 3 hours ahead. So now we don't have to think very hard to figure out what time it is there; it is whatever the clock says plus the opposite of am or pm of whatever it is here! Very convenient -- now maybe I won't call her again at midnight and wake her up like I did a month or so ago.

Each of us girls got a D&G handbag and a Tag Heuer watch (both knockoffs, but who cares)! Collin got a remote control car and Aspen got the cute little duck that she is hugging. I don't know what Katie ever did to Heidi to deserve that duck! When you squeeze it's little wing it begins to play some loud, wild dancing music and waddles all around. If you pick it up by it's neck it gets really mad and screams "bloody murder" -- Aspen LOVES it!

We missed not being physically together this year but atleast we can say we were all together in the same room! It was good enough for this year!
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From China with Love

Here are the adorable packages that contain our Christmas presents that Heidi put together over in China and sent home with Kylee. Heidi didn't have wrapping paper so the night before Kylee left, Heidi stayed up the WHOLE night sewing and creating alternative packaging for the goodies she was gifting us. She was definately resourceful using leftover fabric from her pillow-sewing projects and clear vinyl and reusable grocery bags from the Jenny Lou grocery store in her neighborhood.

(When my girls were growing up I wanted them to be dancers and seamstresses, neither of my daughters cared too much for either of my aspirations. Cameron actually showed the most interest in sewing but it was mostly to alter his jeans or mend his snowboarding clothes. A few years ago I went to the Bernina sewing machine store with Heidi when she bought her very own really nice Bernina sewing machine... for scrapbooking! So to see her finally sewing actual sewing kind of projects is very rewarding and exciting.)
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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Ho, Ho, Ho!

Merry Christmas! I hope Santa has tumbled down your chimney with a huge bundle of love and joy and great memories with your loved ones far and near! Merry Christmas to all of you!!
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Monday, December 24, 2007


This was just the exact response I was hoping for!!!

Last night we had a fun family Christmas get together and I had a surprise for Paul and his two sisters, Kalita and Karol Jean! It has a fun story to go with it -- Last week, Kalita's daughter Kylee came home from China where she has been nannying for Heidi. She brought along a lot of stuff that Heidi sent to us. We got Christmas presents and Christmas cards and a few requests for errands to do for her.
One of the errands was to deliver a package to a printing company here for her new scrapbook products. I knew it was very important and needed to be delivered ASAP. When I got to the company I wanted to "hand deliver" the package to the person who was expecting it instead of just leaving it with the receptionist so I was told to wait in the reception area while they located the person I needed.

The reception area was very nice and had a lot of art work and display cabinets of their publications so while I waited I started to browse around. After perrusing 2 display cabinets, I came to the second shelf in the 3rd cabinet and my eyes came across a book entitled
"The Art of Joseph S. Venus". I was shocked for a minute... I know Joe Venus! I asked the receptionist if she would get the book out of the cabinet for me to look at. When she handed the book to me and I quickly leafed through the pages, I found what I thought I would... paintings of Paul's father!!!

Back many, many years... back in the 80's, Paul's father worked with Joe Venus in the graphic arts department of the Church's magazines (the Ensign and Liahona). In fact, Joe was his boss. Both Joe and Paul's dad were artists but Joe actually did alot of artwork and Howdy was still waiting for "more time" to begin doing the artwork he always dreamed of doing. Somehow, someway Howdy began modeling for Joe's artwork. Joe began a series of paintings featuring a crusty, rough old cowboy named Howdy. These paintings became very well known and popular. Soon they became the covers and features in the "Days of '47" rodeo programs for the rodeo held in Salt Lake City each summer during the July 24th celebrations. (July 24th is a holiday in Utah -- it commemorates the pioneers arriving in the Salt Lake valley on July 24th, 1847 -- also called Pioneer Day) Soon the tradition included Howdy dressing up as this cowboy and attending all the rodeo events at the Salt Palace and signing the programs for admiring fans -- fans of Joe's artwork and of cowboy Howdy! Paul's dad absolutely loved this part of his life and embraced this persona.

Joe had included 4 paintings in this stunningly beautiful book of his artwork. I knew I had to give a copy to Paul and his sisters. The publishing people gave me Joe's phone number and I called him immediately! He knew who I was when I told him my name. I told him the reason I was calling and asked where I could get copies of this book. He told me that he had published this book privately -- 200 copies and that he had 15 left! He graciously agreed to sell me 3! I arranged to go to his house the next day and pick them up. I spent a precious hour sitting in his home as he entertained me with stories of how and why he published this book.

His wife died of cancer about 18 months ago and as a tribute to her support and dedication to his artwork, he published this book. He spoke so tenderly of his love and marriage and life with his sweet companion... he has struggled with his loss and his lonliness. It was such a priviledge to hear his intimate feelings and stories. He autographed each book for Paul and his sisters with a tender tribute to his sweet Shirley.

It isn't often that I can pull together a very unique and meaningful gift so this was really a rewarding experience and a fun surprise with just the exact response I was hoping for! You can see the two paintings we own in the post below.
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Our paintings

Here are the two original paintings that we own. The first one we had commissioned with Joe. It is called "Grandpa, Dad and me". It is a portrait of Paul's dad and Paul and our son Cameron. The props in the picture were things that belonged to us. Cameron is sitting on my saddle (I got it for my 16th birthday) and the hats were Paul's and his dad's. The horse belonged to Joe but he painted our name on the shed. I had sewn the plaid shirt that Paul happened to wear for the photo shot that day. This picture brings back alot of memories. I think Cameron is like 5 at this time and he totally remembers this whole experience.

The second painting is called "No Tresspassing". Paul's dad did a lot of modeling for Joe and he never got paid for his time. He absolutely loved dressing up and becoming this character so he didn't mind doing it for free. I think Joe probably painted about 12 or 15 paintings using "Howdy K" as the subject. Years and years later, Paul went to Joe and asked if he could buy a painting to give to his Dad and Joe ended up giving this to him as "back pay" for his modeling. We later inherited it. (Sorry the photos are so dark but hopefully you can still see enough to get the feel of these paintings).

I have these two paintings hanging in our home along with the gun grandpa is holding and the hats that all the guys are wearing. These are all family treasures -- along with the new book!
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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Where's Aspen?

This is Aspen's favorite new game -- hid in the pantry. She opens the door, enters the dark pantry and then closes the door and a few seconds later you start to see these little fingers peeking out under the door. She doesn't say anything she just gives a little hint of her whereabouts with her fingertips. This is especially amusing to me since we had a cat, named Skittles, who would do the exact same thing. We would put Skittles in the bathroom or the laundry room over night so she wouldn't roam through the house and wake us up and as soon as the door was closed she would stick her paw under the door -- just to be sure we didn't forget where she was!

Aspen also got to indulge in Grandpa's popcorn ritual. You can ask any of our kids who makes the best popcorn and they will tell you it is Paul! He has just the special touch for adding the right amount of butter and salt and then tossing it just enough to evenly cover all the popcorn. The real trick is for anyone to be able to access his tasty stash -- he shares but only reluctantly. Aspen tried using a spoon at first and then realized popcorn is a fingerfood!
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Thursday, December 13, 2007

One more Nativity

Since I have a nativity theme going from the last post I thought I'd share one more nativity. I made this quilt about 5 years ago. I found the border fabric which has four scenes from the nativity story: the angels, the wisemen, the shepherds and the stable. I photocopied the fabric and then drew simple drawings of each of those scenes and then embroidered them on muslin. I found a quilt pattern where I could insert the embroidered pieces between fancy pieced blocks and then I had the whole quilt machine quilted by a friend. I love the way it turned out. Just another reminder of the "reason for the season".
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Monday, December 10, 2007

Christmas around the world

Here are a few of my little Christmas treasures... nativities that I have collected from some of our travels. The first one was actually given to us from our friends that live in Bad Reichenhall, Germany. Paul served his mission in the Vienna Austria mission and he met this couple back some 40 years ago. He has kept a close friendship with them and we have been lucky enough to have visited them in Germany about 4 times and they have been here probably 8 or 9 times. Every year I am always touched by the sweet, thoughtful gifts they send us. A couple years ago they sent us this Nativity. It is just teeny, tiny. The people are only about 3" tall and made from wood. It is very fragile. I love how proper Joseph and the shepard are dressed with their hats and long coats. I love nativity scenes that include palm trees too.

The white and blue set I bought in Cabo San Lucas a few years ago. It is made from porcelain and hand painted with the blue and gold. I love how Mexican all the people look except for the wise men.

I bought the colorful wooden nativity in St. Veran, France in 2006. St. Veran is a quaint little village with the designation of being the highest altitude village in all of Europe including Russia and it is kind of like a national park because it is preserved and you have to pay an entrance fee just to enter the town. The town had buildings still standing and in use that were built back in the 1600's. They had large photos (about 4' x 5') posted infront of many locations that showed what it looked like back in the early 1800's and then you could see the building as it stood there today... very unique. I found the nativity set in a shop that only sold folk art crafts. It is set is very simple and very light weight. The pieces were sold separately and I had a good time choosing which pieces to include in my scene.

I have a total of 5 nativity scenes set up in my house. The other two are special ones also. One is shiny silver pewter that I bought in Mexico also and then I have a wonderful large wooden one that my parents brought back for me from their trip to the Holy Lands probably about 25 years ago. It is made from olive tree wood. I like having that connection to the actual birthplace of the baby Jesus.

Finally one more Nativity that I would like to recommend to you and that is the movie titled "The Nativity". It played in movie theatres last year and we never quite made it out to see it there so when it came out of DVD we rented it. I was SO impressed with this production. We probably watched it in about June or July and right then I decided that I would be giving this as a gift to as many people as I could for Christmas this year. I gave a copy to each of our children right after Thanksgiving and to my parents and to the women that I visit teach because I wanted them all to be able to see this early in the month of December so that they could have the true reason for the season in their minds and hearts right from the beginning and hopefully it would stay with them through the hussle and bussle of the rest of the crazy month. Paul & I have watched it again and it is truly making a difference in my celebrations this year. So let me invite all of you, my friends and readers here, to find a copy of this movie and take the 2 hours it takes to watch it and let it have an impact on you and your loved ones this blessed Christmas time.
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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Quilt of the week

"Welcome to the North Pole" This is my all time favorite Christmas quilt! Every year I hang it above my desk at the office and I have to force myself to take it down around February! This quilt is from a commercial pattern but I completely changed the fabrics to make it much more colorful and whimsical. I started the quilt in May of 2000 and finished it in November of 2002. It is all hand appliqued and hand quilted. The only machine piecing I did was to sew the blocks together and add the borders. You can see in the close up photo that I used alot of embellishments which was so much fun. I had never done any beading before and I found myself scouring the craft stores for lots and lots of different beads and trims and lace and ribbon and buttons and bows! I don't think it was possible to put on too much glitter and glitz. Even though most pieces of fabric that are used are very small it was important to have just the right stripe or check or polka dot so I found myself buying really unique and unusual fabrics for just the right look I wanted. This is one of those quilts that you can look at for a long, long time because the more you look at it the more you discover there is to see. If this is what the North Pole really looks like, it must be a really fun place to live. Enjoy your visit!
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Monday, December 3, 2007

Men at work

Collin spent last Friday night with us and we woke up to another full-on winter snow storm Saturday morning. By the time the "men" got outside to shovel and snowblow there was an accumulation of about 4 or 5 inches of heavy, wet snow. He learned about the responsibilities of the men in this family and "pushing the snow". He and grandpa bundled up and spent a good 45 minutes clearing all of our driveway and sidewalks. Luckily we still had some random snow clothes from the Swapps winter visits of past years and luckily even more so, Collin didn't mind wearing the pink boots and the white fluffy mittens.

As if that wasn't enough work, when they came back inside he got to help put up the Christmas tree and lay the train tracks for Grandpa's Christmas train. He probably went home and told his mom and dad that we were working him too hard. But I say it's never too early to share the joys of the holidays with the kids! (I think his smile says it all!)
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Sunday, December 2, 2007

Singing with the Choir

I absolutely love to sing... and I cannot carry a tune to save my life! That is not 100% accurate but close enough that no one is going to ask me to sing a solo, be in a duet or even in a double mixed quartet so..... I joined the ward choir!

Ward choir directors are usually begging for anyone to join so even though I don't have a great voice, I am a warm body and if nothing else, I do take up space and make the choir look larger. There are no auditions to join and everyone always makes nothing but "constructive criticism" kind of comments and they are never directed at an individual so I feel very safe joining in. In fact, everyone is very excited and welcoming when a new face shows up.

I think Christmas music is so wonderful. It just brings the spirit of the season straight into my heart, especially the spiritual Christmas songs. Every year at Sacrament meeting on the Sunday before Christmas the program is under the direction of the ward choir. Beautiful songs are sung and the Nativity story is told through the scriptural accounts and it is always a spiritual experience. Some years I have sung in the choir and some years I have sat in the congregation and I've decided I like being a part of the program much better than just listening to the program.

I dropped out of the choir a few years ago because the choir director was a perfectionist. She has a beautiful soprano voice and she can sing those piercingly high notes that make you sit up straight and marvel but she always chose songs that were so difficult that I would come home from choir practice and not be able to talk for 3 hours.

Some people are afraid of heights or water or snakes... I'm afraid of choir directors. Back when I was in college at BYU I did a semester abroad to Salzburg, Austria. There were about 90 females and about 4 males in our group. We lived in a hotel and took college-credit classes in world history, German and of course, religion. Part of the curriculum also was an all-women's choir. The highlight of the semester was a performance of "The Messiah" by our choir at the Mozarteum complete with a local orchestra. Tickets were sold and posters where posted around the city advertising this prestigious event. Our choir director was a music professor and he took his music VERY seriously!!! One day during our class time as we were practicing singing, he kept stopping the choir and asking who was ringing a bell. No one knew what he was talking about... no one had a bell. Then I noticed that I was wearing a charm bracelet and it did infact have a bell charm on it. I immediately removed it as stelthfully as I could and put it in my pocket. It must have been me because he didn't stop us any more. I also used to sing along until he would look over in my general direction and then I would just mouth the words. I was constantly in fear of being singled out and embarrassed.

But things have changed this year for me. Our ward has a new choir director. It is another man but this guy doesn't take the whole choir-thing so seriously and the music he chooses is not such high notes for the sopranos. I like to sing soprano because it is usually just the melody and it is easier to keep myself on tune that way. At today's practice, our director used the best analogy while talking to the tenors and basses. He told them their parts were like shooting a 3-pointer while playing basketball. He said you can't just throw up the shot and then just watch it, you have to get right on to the next move of going for a rebound or going for the next play which was the same as the notes they were singing. It wasn't so much what he said, just that he knows how to relate to the members of his choir! So far I haven't had to mouth any of the words but I do sit next to the previous choir director and let her sings all the high notes!