Christmas 2013

The Christmas celebration this year was made complete with our first official white Christmas experience.  Yes, people, there was snow on Christmas Eve into the morning and lots of it!  As we left our church service on the 24th the snow flakes were peacefully falling and we drove with the music loudly playing and all six of us looking at Christmas lights.  There was one display set to music and it was beautiful, but my absolute favorite was a neighborhood we found accidentally on our way home.  The entire neighborhood had lined their streets with luminaries.  It was magical.  The snow falling and brown paper bags with the glow of candles flickering in the night sky.  Almost made me cry.  Silly, I know. 

Not the best photo, but at least you can get the idea (somewhat)

Nonetheless, that was our evening.  Our new jammies, Italian dinner, white twinkly lights and the six of us gathered round the table reading our Jesse tree devo.  Then there was the first present and The Polar Express and hot chocolate and sibling sleep over and of course Christmas Vacation playing while Husband Jared and I finished our wrapping. It was early to bed for us for we knew the Things would be rising early, as per their tradition!

 Traditional before church family photo

From the attire above to this in a matter of minutes
cooking in the kitchen, yes his shirt says, "son of a nutcracker",
name that movie...
Christmas morning came and our feet did not hit the floor before 7am.  In this house that is nothing short of a miracle.  Typically, Thing 1 barely sleeps Christmas Eve, then she hovers over her siblings until they wake, usually around 5:30am, and that's late.  We were joyful when we came down stairs to find the Things had made our coffee, it was ready to drink and the coffee cake was in the oven.  What a gift!  They were "patiently" waiting to open their stockings and once we debated on the order of the process we began.  Each little presie being opened with such care. 
 Of course their stockings were too full to even hang
from the mantle so here they are lined up
Christmas morning is always special to me.  All my people near, snuggled in close, eyes sleepy but filled with anticipation.  The Things now read the birth story of our Savior in place of Husband  Jared or myself and their voices every year make my heart full.  Sometimes it even feels as though time stands still.  Especially this year.  I love to look around at every one's faces, listening intently as though they've never heard the story before.  Hanging on each sentence until finally, they hear, He came. 
Then it's off for round one of breakfast, coffee cake, while I whip together the brunch.  Or something like that.  Back to presents and celebration.  Then movies and games and naps and ping pong and laughing and more togetherness.  Oh, and maybe a sip or two of bubbly!

For the sake of my failing memory, I will once again include photos of the Things' ornaments for this year as well.  They were all pleased with my choices and thankfully no explanations were necessary.

Footie nutcracker, no ad line needed!

 Crocheted cupcake for the baker

 Ceramic Starbucks cup, this was the year she became a customer for life!

Paper mache shark, because,
well, she caught a shark this year and that's a pretty big deal!
Husband Jared and I shared glances throughout the day.  Looking first to each Thing and then each other.  There was gratitude and joy, so much joy!  Each year changes a little.  The Things grow and mature but at Christmas time it's as though all six of us are kids again.  I mean, of course we are the parents and behave like grown ups.  Grin. 
Merry Christmas to you and yours!  I do hope that the season has been filled with rejoicing like never before! 

Twelve Today

My little man.  That is what I often refer to him as.  Today you are twelve.  Not eleven any longer and moving closer to teenager status.  We're celebrating you and the sweet gift you have been to our family.  The youngest child, the only boy and the one whom completed our six.

Summer 2006, Cali 
Thing 4, happy birthday!  From the  moment we knew you were a boy my wonder has not ceased.  So very different than your sisters.  Watching you this past year has been an amazing ride.  Ups and downs and all the in between.  You have kept us laughing with your performances and jokes, "how much does a hipster weigh?" and "I have something to say about alligators".  The questions you ask reveal  your sense of wonder and curiosity.  Never lose that. 
 Football is still tops for you.  Whether reading about it, watching it, playing it, practicing or playing FIFA, it is number one.  Your sense of justice and sportsmanship is ever present on the pitch.  This past summer you would not participate in the circus that surrounded your team after losing in shootouts to the Puerto Rican squad.  Your Dad and I were proud of you for standing your ground. 
You snowboard like no body's business.  Spending hours on the slopes, run after run.  Trying to master the terrain park. 
 I've caught you singing in the shower a few times.  Even more you have been singing at the dinner table, or the kitchen or dancing around the living room.  Such joy.  I am so grateful for that. 
You have learned a few hard lessons this year as well.  School is not easy.  The grades will not just come to you, they have to be earned.  Friends will have disagreements.  Forgiveness does not always pour out of us.  What should is grace.  I saw you give that away more than once.  You told  me you sat with another boy because he was alone at the lunch table.   You helped a neighbor when their car was stuck in the snow.  You've shoveled driveways and picked weeds and delivered care packages.  Your feelings have been hurt and I pray you've learned who to lean on, only THE ONE. 
Your independent nature is shining through;  Each and every time you leave for a weekend retreat, an overnight with a friend, a plane trip on your own.  I watch in awe of your strength, your confidence and the boldness with which you walk through life.  Not to mention your sincerity and authenticity.  Never afraid to share who you are. 
This year of eleven has been full.  Trips and adventures.  Stitches and books.  Sand and snow.  You remind me daily to live in the moment.  I've seen you become more protective of your sisters and myself.  Especially when Dad is traveling.  I catch  a glimpse of the man you are becoming.  This is life, it is real and I am grateful to be your Mama.  I love you more Thing 4. 
I pray the year ahead is full of learning and dreaming and discovering.  I pray you continue to live life boldly for the One who created you. 
"Machu Pichu"

December Recap

Being that December is coming to a close and there will be many a Christmas post I thought I'd recap through photos of course exactly what us six Hansons have been doing all month. 
There were two school concerts.  The first for Thing 4 and the ERA orchestra.  He is learning to play the clarinet this year and it has been entertaining to say the least.  The music instructor showed us parents what the children sounded like at the beginning of the year and then the progress they had made three months in.  It really was quite impressive.  No squeaky notes or missed keys.  They played beautifully.  And it was no surprise that our boy was front and center and taking in the crowd.  Made for the stage?  We shall see.  I do believe that drum lessons are in our future. 
(no photos here bc there were too many other children in the photo, for which I do not have permission to post)
Then there was Thing 3's choral performance.  For this there was no before and after, only sweet singing voices belting out melody after melody.  She was a bit nervous and had been ill previously but she was fantastic.  Poised and never even looking down at her sheet music.  Impressive. 
December was a full month and I didn't quite realize until I started looking back at our calendar and the photos.  We did manage to do some baking here and there.  Sugar cookies and Poppi's bark.  I also took on a little side job for my boss and created Christmas gifts for the directors and schools we coach at; eighteen director's gifts and twelve treat boxes for the schools.  This was an opportunity I couldn't refuse.  The marriage of two of my favorites, giving gifts and baking.  I love everything from the packaging to the shopping for ingredients to assembling the finished product.  Here's what I chose, gingerbread granola for the individual gifts and an assortment of almond biscotti, white chocolate peppermint fudge and chocolate no bake cookies for the treat boxes. 
Will making the bark, white chocolate with pretzels and peanuts

Jared surprised the girl Things with a  date night this month.  We found tickets for the Nutcracker as performed by the Twin Cities Ballet Company at Burnsville PAC and the four of them got dressed up and took in some culture.  I think.  At the very least they made some special memories with Dad and he was able to tell them the story of how he surprised me with tickets to the Nutcracker when we were dating. 
Thing 4 and I attended the MN Teen Challenge Concert at Grace church for our date night.  May not have been professionals on stage but the Holy Spirit was present.  The choir consisted of 350 plus recovering addicts finding redemption through Jesus Christ.  Their testimonies and the power of their voices was so moving.  Thing 4 and I sat slack jawed for most of the night, me wiping the tears and him taking in the music.  Bebo Norman made a special appearance and sang a Christmas song that I had never heard before and is now one of my favorites, "The Rebel Jesus" by Jackson Browne.  I highly recommend you check it out. 

Let's see, what else did we have going on this month.  Oh yes, a trip to downtown Minneapolis for the very last night of the very last ever Hollidazzle parade.  This electrical parade has been taking place for years here and they are shutting it down.  We thought we needed to experience this MPLS tradition so we bundled up and headed to the city.  After navigating through traffic and barricades we parked, found a street corner with a view and watched a few floats pass by.  That was it folks!  We were cold, it was crowded and honestly, just not our scene.  Although we were able to trek through the skyways, which if I may, those are brilliant!  Over five miles of them throughout the city and definite must when the temps are below zero with a wind chill.  Then we went into Macy's for another tradition, Santa Land, where they decorate the entire eighth floor, this year the theme was Elf Land.  Supposedly reminiscent of Gimble's from the movie ELF.  I say supposedly because we never actually saw for ourselves.  The line snaked through the entire store, top to bottom, and after a false glimmer of hope for a shortcut we left our place in line and decided on plan B.  Chick Fil A and a movie at home, in our jammies and snuggled together.  Yes please.  There might have been a bit of disappointment from the Things but with the promise of fried chicken that was remedied. 
Much better view

Thing 3 and Thing 4
A float

Playing ELF on the escalator
 There was also our tradition of cinnamon roll baking with our sweet friends and neighbors.  The girls usually take this on themselves.  My only job is to prepare the dough and assemble the ingredients for them and then they do the hard work.  The rolling, sprinkling, baking and icing.  They are great bakers if I do say so myself! 
Love these two girls and their smiles, they were using typewriter fingers,
or piano hands, your choice!
Pinterest is a common conversation topic in this house, you know with three girls and all.  A few weeks ago Thing 3 mentioned a project she had seen that she thought would make a great homemade present.  Well, this Mama can't refuse homemade presents so what you have below is our attempt at a Pinterest rendition of peppermint bark with candy cane hearts all tied up in cellophane and polka dot ribbon!
We were given charge of the Stinson kiddos for a day and we had so much fun.  I was with the two littles in the afternoon all by myself.  Little sister fell asleep on the couch while Michael and I watched Toy Story 3.  Then when brothers and the Things were home from school it was playtime.  The Nerf guns came out and the Wii games and then we moved right into crafts for Mom and Dad.  Ornaments were painted and a welcome home sign made for Dad.  I just love seeing my four interact with their four.  There is such a gap in age and each one such a different personality, the air can be electric in this house when they're all together. 
Making the sign
One wintry afternoon, too cold for outdoor activities, we made our way to the ice skating rink and met some friends.  An hour and forty five minutes of racing around in a circle was just what this family needed.  It had been a few years since we were all out there together and in between laughing and racing pretending to be professionals I saw all four of my Things smiling. 
Trying to find her balance, she did great, just like riding a bike, it all comes back to you!

Carolyn and Finn, he was grinning from ear to ear!  The best!
We're not stopping here.  I can't leave out the knitting lessons that began around our kitchen table.  Thing 3 is the only in this family that knows how to knit and crochet.  So Thing 1 enlisted our friend to come and teach her.  It was only one lesson but I am expecting some infinity scarves in my near future, hint, hint. 
The five of us, me and the four Things, found ourselves helping a family we love make fleece blankets for the homeless.  It is part of their ministry that they participate in yearly.  And they were kind enough to invite us to be a part of it.  The blankets are distributed at a restaurant downtown on Christmas day to the kids that come in.  We cut, tied and folded over twenty blankets.  When I stood back and saw all these kids joyfully participating I was overcome with emotion.  What a picture of the kingdom.  Hands and feet of the church.  Beautiful. 
This month has brought lots of snow to us here.  Thankfully we have a boy who was excited about a new shovel and spent some time putting it to use.  First for our driveway then out front to build snow tunnels and forts with his friends.   
In keeping with the weather, I thought I had better include this photo of my screen.  Does it really matter once the temperature reads below zero?  I am not sure.  What I do know is that it was painful to be outside and breath in that air. 
 And what would a post about December be without at least one of Polo, the low man on the totem pole.  Here he is donning a hat because of the temp shown above.  He was so cold on our walk that he pulled us inside immediately after taking care of his business. 

That does it for December.  It has been a full month and it isn't even over yet.  To keep you laughing until the next post, take a look at what these four did when given control of the camera, self timer and access to the tripod!  Love my Things!


Thankful Thursday

Oh Christmas Tree...
5013. again, twinkly lights
5014. possibility
5015. surprises
5016. music playing
5017. freshly popped popcorn
5018. learning to be brave
5019. safe travels
5020. a new book almost finished
5021. another book waiting at the library for me
5022. my trusty camera

Outside The Circle

Snow is falling outside, quiet and soft.  I only wish that the thoughts in my head and feelings in my heart were the same.  Alas they are not.  And thankfully I have this venue to pen them and give life to so that I may put them to rest as well. 
A while back I was confronted with an enormous opportunity.  No world travel plans or job offers, simply an invitation into a discussion regarding my most favorite book.  The Bible.  Only the greatest Love story ever told.  This conversation was different though.  There was questioning.  Challenges laid down.  Declarations of not understanding God and His motives.  Some questions I truly did not know how to answer.  Nor that I would dare answer for the depth of pain that sparked these questions was not something I could speak to.  Hurts that were ingrained into hearts and lies told that I could not un-tell. 
 At the first sign of confrontation I tend to run.  Maybe it's that fight or flight instinct that overtakes me.  Whatever the case I didn't flee this time.  Instead I placed myself within listening range and I did exactly that.  I listened.  Took in what was being said and prayed fiercely for the Holy Spirit to descend.  And quickly would have been preferred.  The conversation took an interesting turn and more parties joined in.  Each one chiming in with their opinion and each one giving the status quo answer.  You know the one you would expect to hear, filled with Christian lingo and Jesus words.  I'm not downplaying the effectiveness or intent of their rationale.  Only making an observation that the ones they were speaking to weren't buying it.  Frankly, neither was I.  Not because it lacked truth but because I craved more. 

I have been on the other side.  Sometimes still am.  The one questioning, wrestling with my faith and the legitimacy of it all.  I knew, know, the text book answers.  Which words to spill out and float on pedestals.  Never have those soothed my soul.  And I had a hunch they just wouldn't do here.  Now before you jump to conclusions and go on thinking that I gave some convicting argument for the validity of the Bible, or God's creation plan, let me be clear in saying that I didn't.  Nor did I even come close.  What I did say when asked bluntly if I believed in the stories the Bible told was that yes, I most certainly did.  From start to finish.  That is all.  I suppose that old fight or flight instinct kicked in. 

And then, well then I promptly excused myself from the circle and that is where I am today.  Outside the circle.  That conversation was over two months ago and it has not left me.  The questions, the participants and my choice.  My choice to not speak up.  To not defend or answer to.  I have often thought about what I would have said.  Possibly what I should have said.  So here today in this space, I'll try to explain what I wanted to that day. 

There is a God. Amen and Amen.  I know this to the core of my being.  He made me. Designed me before I even "was".  So says Psalm 139, one of my favorites.  From start to finish, all 24 verses, but especially these, v.13-14,
"For you created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother's womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well."

That is the lump sum of it. I believe there is a God because I have no choice, logically not to.  And if I believe He is real, then I believe His book is truth.  All of it.  Filled with stories and works and wonders and revelation.  Glory be. 

I was pulled from the pit.  Hope reached down and lifted me up.  Brushed me off, made me clean and gave me hope.  Redeemed.  His is the only love I am not required to work for.  There is no ladder to climb.  No list of good deeds to be accomplished.  Not a single thing I have done or will do can change that.  Him, there on the cross is the only reason I have life.  His raising from the dead is the means for my eternity.  A narrow road.  Grace poured down while  His blood spilled over. 

For me, that is enough.  For others I know it isn't.  I can't change that.  What I am able to do is share how He has changed me.  What work that kind of Love has done in my life.  I won't say that there is no darkness anymore.  I refuse to lie and say there is never despair.  There is friends.  And maybe that is just what I should have said before I left the circle. 

Well that and this too.

We will face trials.  There will be unfathomable circumstances we encounter.  Whether personally or those that we view from the outside.  It will happen.  There is bound to be hurt and anguish, suffering and loss.  It is a fallen world we live in.  Sin is ever-present.  Believer and non alike.  That is a common thread.  So those choices we make and those others make are done so in free will.  Natural disasters will continue to occur and there will be recipients of bad news.  Humans will decide to inflict pain and unimaginable devastation upon one another.  At the end of the day though I don't know how to work through that without God.  For me peace comes in knowing the Author of the universe knows.
He knows the victims.  The lost.  He knows the widows.  The orphans.  He knows the sinners.  The desperate ones.  He knows the poor.  The scared.  He knows.

He knows them all friends. 

More so those "things" that happen are not a result or punishment for our choices.  Granted, there are natural consequences for our actions.  As I heard this morning, "we are all just one decision away from stupid".  Maybe you will find some levity in that.  Or maybe not.  Either way.  I prefer, rather, I place my trust in a God who knows.  In His omniscience He can see the before and after and even in the during.  He would leave 99 sheep for the 1 that strayed and is lost.  And He pursues those that don't know.  Let that sink in just a bit. 

With that I am at a loss.  I can't argue as though a Theologian.  My life is messy and my heart cluttered.  There are days I am straining for breath and willing myself to take one more step on that narrow path.  And on those days if I were in that circle once again I hope that I'd have the courage to say so.  I want so badly to speak the language of Love.  To do so for the glory of the kingdom.  Not mine.  This is my love story to share.  It may not answer your inquiries.  Probably won't come close, but it is my feeble attempt to spread some hope in a world desperate to believe in something.  Those looking for answers and asking questions. 

"We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure..."
Hebrews 6:19

Thankful Thursday, a Day Late

Christmas jammie photo, circa 2008
5003. the smell of pine from our tree
5004. white twinkly lights, everywhere
5005. colored lights around the door
5006. watching snow fall from inside
5007. hearing happy squeals of boys sledding
5008. Christmas cards in the mail
5009. to do's crossed off the list
5010. Jesse Tree readings every night
5011. Christmas music playing loud, all day 
5012. Husband Jared being our taxi driver

Another Thanksgiving In The Books

Thanksgiving has come and gone.  Black Friday but a distant memory.  December is upon us, in all her chaos, traditions and wintry mix.  Before we are wrapped completely in pretty bows and our favorite things let's pause and remember the day of gratitude that we celebrated.  Filled to the brim with tasty treats, scrumptious eats and loads to be thankful for. 
Grandpa and Mema joined us once again for the Thanksgiving holiday.  We started off with a time of worship and true thanksgiving at church Wednesday night.  A glorious service, with 19 new believers being baptized.  And all the people said, Amen and Amen. 
On to Thursday morning.  Our day of cooking, eating, talking, playing and remembering.  All of us spent the early part of the day gathered between the kitchen and the table.  Sharing breakfast and coffee.  There was card playing and crafting.  Lefse making and turkey preparing. 
Learning how to play poker, because of course!

The girls with an in depth lefse tutorial by none other than the Mema!

The prep work, Thing 2 and Mema converting the recipe
Once the kitchen was cleaned, and then cleaned again and all 41 dough balls of lefse prepared on the 500 degree cooker, we all were in need of some fresh air.  All 8 of us headed out to my favorite nature trail, Polo included, and hiked and laughed and huffed and puffed our way around. 
Gpa, Mema, Polo and the Things taking a rest during our hike.

Gpa and Thing 4, exploring the steep staircase together.

Our peeps.  The leaves were slippery and ice was hiding underneath.  We all needed to be careful.

Nothing to see here, just three Things climbing a tree!
When we returned home, proud of ourselves for moving our bodies beyond the kitchen, our turkey was finished cooking and we immediately began on the side dishes which were already prepared and just waiting to be heated.  Each one of the Things were so very helpful in the preparation the day before the big meal.  Thing 4 was in charge of corn casserole again, Thing 3 the homemade rolls, Thing 2 had the pumpkin pie and Thing 1 the brownie pecan pie.  So thankful for their assistance.  The girls set the table, complete with place cards and candles.  So very special. Mema out the finishing touches on the potatoes and the gravy and then we were ready.
My favorite place in the house.
Husband Jared carved the turkey, we placed it front and center because it was just so beautiful.  And tasty of course.  Then we gathered around holding hands and gave thanks for the bounty before us, the love between us and a multitude of blessings gracefully given to each and everyone of us. 
Formulating his plan of attack
Steam rising with our prayers
As we all sat around the table savoring the food before us I was overwhelmed.  I listened to the Things proudly ask us our thoughts on their contribution to the table.  I watched as they took lefse and made it their own.  I soaked in the laughter.  And as we shared the gratitude that was written on our stones my cup of joy was overflowing. 
Our meal ended but the fun did not stop there.  The table was cleared and dishes done by the Things and we danced together in the kitchen and in front of the Wii.  In hopes that our bellies would be ready for dessert. 
Gpa and Mema showing the Things how to 2 step

Pie time with sweet friends who joined the festivities! And who also brought with them the best bourbon sauce to accompany their pumpkin cheesecake.  Yum and more yum!
This might have been how we all felt after our feast filled day!
We told stories, played more games and indulged in sweets and leftovers like nobody's business.  Then we rolled ourselves to bed because Friday morning was coming early and the girl Things and Mema had big shopping plans. 
The girlies, pardon me, young ladies, rose early on Friday morning.  I was second to Mema in waking  up and as I descended the stairs to peek in on all 3 girl Things, I heard the sounds of Christmas music.  I cannot even tell you the joy this brought me.  So I proceeded to dance and hug and kiss their cheeks.  Very happy that they have taken to my liking of Christmas cheer.   

And since the day of Thanksgiving was over and the wish bone was dry, these girlies thought they'd make their wishes before our trip to MOA early in the morn. 
Fairly certain that Thing 2 won that battle. 
Armed with coffee and Christmas spirit we made a game plan and arrived at MOA, only to be surprised by an up close parking space.  What a way to start the day!  The girls were on a mission and Mema and I were there to assist them.  We made it to all the stores on the list, each Thing staying within budget and scoring some great deals! 
Mema and the Girl Things at MOA
By the time we arrived at the last store Mema, Thing 3 and I were ready to be off our feet.  We had a pit stop for coffee and juice while Things 1 and 2 scoured the racks and tried on umpteen outfits.  Once done the mall was picking up it's pace, shoppers were returning after their lunch and it was time for us to make a beeline to the car.  We refueled and then we were on to our very last market place.  Target.  It was here that we wandered and looked and tried on and this Mama had her fill.  So this happened and Thing 2 just couldn't let it go undocumented.
Relieved to be "resting" in the buggy. 
What can I even say about that photo?  We were having fun?  Maybe a little slap happy? It was nearly 4pm and we had been out shopping all day, exceeding my typical limits.  All for the memories we were making, right?  Anyhow, we accomplished what we set out to do;  we drank gallons of coffee, purchased many a present, a few groceries and had ourselves a day we won't soon forget. While we were out spending money the boys had an adventure of their own at the bowling alley and arcade.  A much better option according to Thing 4.
Look at that form!
Then we all collapsed at home and snuggled close on the couch watching movie after movie.  A sweet ending to a sweet day. 
Not quite the end of our time with Gpa and Mema though.  There was one day left, well one morning at least.  We had saved the decorating of our tree for when they were here.  The Things have their own container of ornaments collected throughout their Christmases so they promptly went to work.  Finding the just the right branch, hiding their least favorite ornaments in the back of the tree, and shouting out the significance of everyone they hung.  I sat and replaced hooks, Husband Jared took photos and we all just took in the sights and sounds.  Thing 4 placed the angel, the lights were lit and we stood back and took in the tree's beauty. 
The angel

Hard at work

The finished product!
And just like that our time together came to an end.  Hugs and kisses were given, bags packed and loaded and the "until next time's" began.  All six of us were so very grateful that Gpa and Mema spent this time with us and we are left with memories made and lots of love shared.