Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Stockings

For our book club this month we were asked to bring our favorite Christmas story to share. Although I wouldn’t be able to attend the meeting that night, I still reflected on which Christmas story was my favorite.
After going through all the Christmas Children’s books and short stories in our Christmas binders it dawned on me that there was a story that hadn’t been written down yet. It was my own Christmas Story; a story of giving, compassion, brotherly (sisterly) love, sacrifice, and going the extra mile.

I was sixteen and the oldest at home. It was a difficult time for my family. My mother was absent. She had a terrible nervous break down and left our family and home two months before Christmas. Then my older brother left. So it was me, my dad, and two younger brothers.

As Christmas approached I grew more and more anxious about Christmas morning and how it would all play out without a mother. We grew up with a mother that always made Christmas magical. Not to say that we had tons of costly presents. In fact, we would get about five presents each. I still remember that one was a package of socks and another was always under wear. That was a little embarrassing for me to open as I was the only girl in a family of three boys. Then there was a game and the other one we got every year was a small book of life savers. But the most exciting part of our Christmas morning was our stockings. My mother, I mean, Santa, stuffed them full of treats, trinkets, and thoughtful small gifts individualized for each child. So fun.
I don’t know how my mother did it every year. She was really resourceful and could make anything. But this particular year I don’t think there was much money for Christmas or maybe my father was so depressed and just trying to survive the horrible life without his sweetheart that he wasn’t aware of children needing gifts for Christmas. Those were sad days.

I was able to save a little of my own babysitting money for some Christmas candy and something for each brother, but I think I was so worried about our situation that I must have confided in my best friend, Carrie. She listened and offered words of comfort. She told me that everything would work out. I remember feeling better.

Christmas Eve had finally arrived. I made sure that my young brothers had fallen asleep. With very little to give them my heart broke. I wanted so badly to stuff there stockings full of wonderful and magical things so that for a moment they wouldn’t feel the pain of a missing mother on Christmas day. I had a last minute thought of a little something I could do. So I sat at my father’s desk and using one of his red pens I wrote each brother a special letter from Santa Claus. I told them both how wonderful they were and that they deserved so much and that Christmas would be better next year. With a heavy heart I finished the letters and signed Santa Claus’s name.

As I was putting candy and the letters in their stockings I heard somebody at the front door trying to get in. Could it really be Santa? It was Carrie, with bags in each hand. I couldn’t believe it. She brought over cars, markers, toys, candy, anything that two young boys would love to find in their stockings. She insisted that I help her fill the stockings. She was so excited and happy to be there. I remember at first I felt embarrassed because of our humble situation but the embarrassment was quickly replaced with gratitude. I was grateful for my prayers being answered by a kind and giving best friend who was more than Santa Claus. She was an angel. She made our Christmas a magical one that year. I learned what Christmas was really all about. Christmas is the season of selfless giving and brotherly love one to another.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Thoughtful Surprises

I've seen Wordless Wednesdays. Flashback Fridays. Funny Fridays. I once tried to start Truly inspiring Tuesdays.
I need to start something new for the fun, little surprises I find in my camera. Sometimes it's Meagan and other times it's Addie, who take random pictures that I happen to find when I down load my pictures from my camera. They surprising uplift my glum day. Like today, I was washing the dishing when I took a break to put on my blog to listen to my Christmas play list. Aren't you just enjoying it too? And then I got side tracked, which happens to me when I sit at the computer. I remembered that I had pictures to download and what a pleasant surprise to come across these amazing pictures. Meagan's been reading the owner manual for the camera and she apparently figured out how to use the timer.
Oh, I love these girls.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Exchanging Ornaments

Cheryl started a little tradition three years ago. A Christmas ornament exchange. We love it. This year it was my turn to host. I think that I prefer Cheryl hosting it...

First, I had to find 12 willing friends to make ornaments. Believe me. Some try to get out of it. So we, Cheryl & I, bribe them with a delicious brunch.

Next, I make cute invitations. As cute as Cheryl would produce. That's a lot of pressure.

And then the fun part. We search all our Christmas books, recipes, favorite blogs, & websites for the perfect Christmas brunch menu. This year it was buttermilk pancakes with blueberry sauce topped with a caramelized pear, inspired by Cheryl's stay at a bed & breakfast this summer on Victoria Island. Some times we try some thing new like candied bacon. Sweat & savory.

Oh what a beautiful sight.

I really enjoy this tradition. For two hours I get to hang out with incredible women, laugh, eat, and relax. Finally we decide to exchange.

Rachelle P. showing us her soda pop bottle cap ornament. So cute.

Rachelle L. showing off her darling vinyl ornament. Loved it! And Cheryl presenting her cheerful signs. Very sweet and festive. I hung mine on the Merry Christmas Wreath on my front door. Really love it!

And here's the rest.
Can you guess which one is mine? Next year I'm doing something with vinyl.
Every ornament has a story. Lisa's owl is made out of all recycled materials. She's so clever. Amy's ornament is inspired by something her mother does every year. Amy's whole tree is decorated with ornaments that are Christ centered. Perfect. I could go on and on. Each ornament I will cherish.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My Early Christmas Gift

Back in August, (wow, it's been 6 months already?) A kind friend offered me her china hutch for free. She needed to make room for her grandmothers farm table that has nine, count it...nine leaves. Don't you just love getting furniture for free? I do. And I couldn't say no. Even though I had a sinking feeling that it wouldn't work in my dinning room. It was big, really fancy, and stained dark walnutish. I'm more of a plain, Shaker, or cottage lover going for the charming and warm feeling of the English country.

My husband hates it when I bring home fix it up projects. Usually he's the one that gets stuck fixing them up. He's getting so good at it.

The hutch sat in the dinning room empty, collecting dust. I studied that piece every day trying to picture how I wanted it to look. First, I saw it painted a pleasant light blue and distressed on it's edges. But I'm not a blue person. Finally a couple weeks ago I decided on red. I love red, thanks to Ma Kempton, my long time best friend's grandmother. She inspired me.

So red it is going to be. And we committed to it by purchasing one gallon of red delicious.

John and Meagan worked on it for two hours or more with the hand power sander to rid it of it's dark glossy shine. It was hard work and John figured that it would be impossible to do the upper part of the hutch. With all it's glass and mirrors it would take forever to paint. And the wood quality was different than the bottom piece. It wasn't as good. We didn't think that it could handle the intense sanding.

I couldn't believe it when I took a peek. Down to its naked true self. I liked it. I was ready for John to get started on the painting. But then it was my turn he informed me. My assignment was to get into all the little decorative grooves and crown molding with the heavy weight sand paper by hand. I put that off for a few days.

But I couldn't stand it any longer. I wanted the thing redand back in my house. Time for it to reach it's full potential as a T.V. stand. We've been using an old IKEA coffee table. It's gotten us through this long but it's always bugged us because it was too low. What is it that when I'm working on something with my hands that I start pondering on the work or task , and life, and how what I'm working on is like life? Like when I'm weeding. I always reflect on those weeds and how they symbolize sin or unwanted behavior in my life and if I pull it out when it just pops out of the ground, when it's small and the roots are not developed its easier to get rid of it. So as I sanded. I put some major elbow grease into the work to rid the hutch of it's less desirable dark shine I found myself having thougths of how Heavenly Father is the sander. He allows me to be sanded. First with the hand power sander. Like when I had cancer and then Peter had cancer. Now I'm getting worked on in those little decorative grooves. I'm facing some more heath issues. After a few weeks of hearing the news I'm getting ready to write about it. It's good therapy but kind of a sad read. I'm so glad that I wrote about our journey with Peter's cancer. So many life lessons were taught to us and when I read back on them it reminds me of those lessons and helps me be happier, grateful, and a better person.

It's interesting the things we inherit from our parents. I've inherited a nasty precancerous family colon issue that's linked to my thyroid cancer an Peter's liver cancer. What's a colon any way? The doctor told me that I would be better off without it. So here we go again...

So in six months or so this fix it up project will have some changes. After some heavy duty sanding I won't be keeping that "top piece". It just didn't fit and it wasn't quality. But I sure do love my new red T.V. stand!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Let the Season Begin!

And she's off...Finally. I'm talking about myself. I've been a little slow getting into the festive season. But it finally feels like Christmas time, thanks to decorations placed throughout the home and their empty boxes back out in the garage, hot chocolate with whipping cream sprinkled with nutmeg, Christmas potpourri simmering on the stove, It's a Wonderful Life playing in the background, and me, crafting some homemade Christmas tree ornaments.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thankful Memories

Okay, the turkey was a little dry but I've come a long way in my cooking abilities since the first Thanksgiving dinner that I prepared.

I was a junior in high school and the head cook in my home. My mother wasn't with us that year so being the only girl and the oldest at home I willingly accepted the cooking challenge. I consulted my Aunt Carol, who lived across the street, and was the best cook I knew. Then I made my first mistake by not taking the 18 pound turkey out of the freezer until the day before Thanksgiving I got really good at reading instructions on the boxes and packaging of rice-a-roni and hamburger helper so I did the same for the turkey. It said to place it in the fridge for thawing. When I woke up bright and early to prepare the turkey on Thanksgiving day I couldn't even get the neck and bag of giblets out of the cavity because it was still frozen. In it went with detached neck and all.

I made mashed potatoes and pumpkin pies. My brothers loved pumpkin pie. One thing my mom taught me was how to make a really good flaky pie crust. She stressed ice cold water and always use Crisco. I still do it that way today. I don't remember what else I cooked up but I'm sure there was a bowl of black olives and pickled beets. I couldn't resist checking it every hour. Another no-no. And by 5 o'clock we were starving and the turkey still wasn't ready. My brothers were begging to eat something. So finally we ate but without the turkey. It wasn't ready until 8pm. I can laugh about it now. But back then I was so frustrated and disappointed.

This year it all went like clock work. Beautiful. I had everybody helping out. Addie and Meagan helped with the pumpkin pies. Yes, I taught them the secrets to a really good flaky pie crust. John made the deviled eggs. Andrew made orange jello parfaits. Peter made lots of messes. Meagan finished up the rolls. The table looked amazing thanks to Addie and Meagan. They polished Grandma Rose's silver and set the table with it. And it wouldn't be much of an adventure if we hadn't of tried a couple of new recipes. I roasted the carrots in the oven with thyme and made Sarah's best ever chocolate pie. So simple too. John said that it was the best chocolate pie that I've ever made. He loves chocolate pie. You'll have to try it. It's embarrassing how easy it is.

Sarah's Simple Simply Delicious Chocolate Pie

1 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped up

1 king size Hershey's chocolate candy bar (I used two), melted in a double broiler

Pour hot melted chocolate into whipped cream and fold until well mixed then pour into a Graham cracker crust, the homemade ones are better. Whip another cup of heavy cream and pipe it on top of the chocolate. Chill for a few hours. That's it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

PreThanksgiving Thoughts

All alone in the Kitchen this morning doing what I love. Cooking and baking. It's a great time to think over past Thanksgivings, traditions, and plan for the day ahead.

I always like to think up the ONE thing that I'm thankful for above the rest and not including the obvious, like: family, food, gospel.... Those are a given and I say thanks for those everyday.

So here's mine: Really, really good health insurance. If we didn't have that great Kaiser coverage thanks to John's amazing job & benefits, we would be...I don't even want to think about where we would be. With everything that has gone on these past two years with Peter and me and more to come this next year (I'll be writing about that soon). Health insurance has been a huge blessing for our family. So I guess that really I'm thankful for such a good, hard working husband that provides that for our family.

I always look forward to our little thanksgiving tradition when after we have said the prayer and our plates are loaded up we go around the table and each person says what they are thankful for.

Here are my predictions on what they are going to reveal:

Meagan: New Moon movie
Addie: no school hence more sleep
Andrew: Boog
Peter: cousins to play with every day
John: Me

But really there's so much to be thankful for. I really do like counting my blessings.

I've been wanting to make something for my red frame that holds my seasonal themed handmade stitching works. So finally last night I finished this. It makes me happy.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Hallen Home. I'd love to hear what tops your list of blessings for this past year... Now off to make those pies.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mommy Preschooler

I'm a month behind with all my household, motherly, wifely and blogging duties. The laundry is upstairs sprawled out on the couch, waiting patiently to be folded or hung up. I'm so glad that Meagan and Addie do their own. The door to the guest room/craft room remains closed, hiding the scary mess and piles of tissue paper, construction paper, paints, papers... All because it's been my turn along with Cheryl, for preschool. Four long weeks of hosting preschool. Taking our turn to teach six little preschoolers. Three of them are boys. Three of them are left handed. Three of the are three. Yikes. And only two mommies. But these two mommies loved it.

This week was the letter "A". All about apples. We also learned all about spiders, ghost, and pumpkins. Did you know that spiders have 7 knees on each of their eight legs and they have eight eyes? The things you learn in preschool.

Play time. I wish there was a picture of me & Cheryl inside while the children were out playing.

We painted paper sacks, toilet rolls, feet, thumbs, hands, paper plates, paper, table, chairs, kitchen sink....

We sang new songs. Five little pumpkins.

We made goo and made lots of things using glue.

Preschool Halloween party. So fun. We ate fingers and mummies. .

The mommies are great cooks.

Some of the moms in our group.
So now, I'm back to real, grown up life. Looking forward to our turn again in February, but also looking forward to a little break. Marianne and Misty: tag you're it!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Hallen Home Needs

More Celebrating. More cake. Good wishes. More to come...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hey Pumpkins

What cute pumpkins! Just down the road from us is the sweetest pumpkin patch, Green Spot. Great place to take our little preschool class to. We visited the honey house. Ran through the hay maze. Said "Hi" to the animals. Climbed on a train. Picked a pumpkin. And rode on the farm tractor through the farm fields and hills.

I always have such a hard time choosing a pumpkin. Not one of them is the same. I love long and skinny ones. I love the short and round ones too. I love the white ones and the perfect bright orange ones too. And even if they have some green on it or a scratch or two, i love them just the same.

Beautiful autumn morning.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I love Survivor Stories

I don't remember how I came across Nienie Dialogues...oh, yes I do. I was checking out Kristen's blog, a little over a year ago. There was a really cute button on her side bar that I click on... and it changed my life.

It was a week or two after Peter was diagnosed with cancer, when life was very overwhelming with scary possibilities and fearful unknowns. Truly one of the things that helped me through it was reading
c jane enjoy it {also known as Courtney, Stephanie Neilson's sister}on a daily basis or as often as she posted a new entry. Who knew blogging about her sister's battle to survive a tragic firey airplane crash would help me get through Peter's battle with cancer and beyond?

This is a great story! It's not an easy one to read. It reminds me that life is tough, heartbreaking, and it happens to everyone, even the ones doing all the right things. But we signed up for it. We said, we were willing to do it and it's worth it. I have to keep telling myself this when I get a bit of bad news or have to face another hill to climb over. This is life.

SO if you missed Stephanie Neilson on Oprah yesterday, like I did. I know, I should've made myself a note to remember to watch. How did I forget that???? Ugggg!! Here's a little clip that was shown.

Life is hard but it's beautiful too.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

An Overdue Cleaning

After taking children to their schools Tuesday morning it was just Peter and me. Peter's been under the weather lately due to an overdose of grapes. I didn't know that consuming grapes in abundance could do that to a person, let alone a little guy. Peter's poor stomach and bum. So we've been hanging out at home where there is a good supply of diapers and clean clothes and desitin. Maybe I should go on the grape diet....hummmm. A good cleansing.

After I spent a half hour arranging the canyons so beautifully I knew that I needed to be more productive and tend to the things that have been neglected for quite some time. Like the family car. It's white, or it used to be. I can't even remember the last time the children and I have washed it. Today had to be the day.

The dirty expedition is a big job for one mommy and a preschooler. Some how I mustered up the courage and got started. It took me an hour to get it sparkling. The windows were finger print free and the wheels were silver again. Amazing.

I was actually excited when it was time to do the afternoon Crafton carpool. It felt so much better driving around. I love looking out clean windows. The whole world seemed a more pleasant place to be. The blue sky even seemed brighter. When I pulled up to the curb and Andrew opened the door he noticed right away with rave reviews of the sparkling white color. A friend walking by commented to me that I looked at peace. "thank you, kind friend"

As I drove to and from on errands and later to a meeting I found myself smiling. I was surprised when I noticed that the gloomy, fearful, and doubting mood that I've been under for the past three months have been washed away with the dirt that had built up on the car. I felt scrubbed and polished and now I was sparkling.

"Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage: be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest." Joshua 1:9

I'll be washing the car more often, along with other things. Courage.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Surviving the Storms

On our way home from Fish Lake a few weeks ago we took a detour and spent the day at beautiful Bryce Canyon. The sky was bright blue spotted with white cotton ball clouds and the eroded mountains were in stark contrast in shades of red, orange, and pink hues. The show was definitely viewing the hoodoos and canyons from the look out points.

But this weathered tree with roots exposed caught my attention and respect. Some might comment about it's lack of life but it was alive with leaves on it's limbs. It stood happily and bravely up on the ridge forever looking over the canyons below. I wondered how many times it's been struck by lightening and yet it still stands and lives.

I had to go to Bryce Canyon to get a picture in my mind of how Heavenly Father expects us to endure, weather, and survive the storms in our lives.

These past few months have been troubling and difficult for me dealing with post cancer issues, even though Peter is cancer free. Every month Peter has to go in for lab work where a blood test is ordered that lets us know if the cancer has come back or if he is still cancer free. The first two or three months of this new routine didn't bother me so much. But with each passing month I find myself dreading to call for the results. When I finally make myself call I wait on hold while the nurse types his name in the computer. I try to have faith that the results will be in his favor and remain cancer free. But at the same time I brace myself for the bad news because I don't know what Heavenly Father has in store for us. Not that I believe He is wanting us to go through such difficult trials or that He's punishing us for something. This is life. I know we have to have the hard, trying times to become the people that we need to be... But, I just don't want Peter go through that again.

I'm just trying to figure out how to live from month to month and lab results to lab results. I want to be that happy, brave tree enjoying life day to day with my beautiful life and stop worrying about the return of cancer that may never come back. Fear is a terrible state of mind. Hope is better.

And I do know what Heavenly Father has in store for us. Everlasting life and joy if we but endure.

on the way to Mossy Cave & the waterfall

Sunset point

Navajo Loop. We're doing this next year.

We finally caught up with Peter. He loved it there.

A bunch of hoodoos.