Saturday, December 15, 2007

... does the bell still ring for you?

Children sleeping, snow is softly falling. Dreams are calling like bells in the distance. We were dreamers not so long ago, but one by one we all had to grow up. When it seems the magic's slipped away... we find it all again on Christmas day

Believe in what your heart is saying. Hear the melody that's playing. There's no time to waste. There's so much to celebrate. Believe in what you feel inside, and give your dreams the wings to fly. You have everything you need, if you just believe.

Trains move quickly to their journey's end. Destinations are where we begin again. Ships go sailing far across the sea, trusting starlight to get where they need to be. When it seems that we have lost our way, we find ourselves again on Christmas day.

The best time of the year, when everyone comes home. With all this Christmas cheer, it's hard to be alone. Putting up the Christmas tree with friends who come around. It's so much fun when Christmas Comes to Town.

Presents for the children wrapped in red and green. All the things I've heard about, but never really seen. No one will be sleeping on the night of Christmas Eve hoping Santa's on his way. When Santa's sleigh bells ring, I listen all around. The herald angels sing. I never hear a sound. When all the dreams of children, once lost will all be found. That's all I want When Christmas Comes to Town. That's all I want when Christmas Comes to Town.


The above lyrics are from The Polar Express soundtrack. The songs Believe & When Christmas Come to Town are my two favorites. James really loves the Hot Chocolate Song & Paige is partial to The Polar Express Song. If you haven't a clue of what I am talking about. Do yourself a favor, welcome yourself into this decade of kids movies, and rent the movie. It is worth it. Also to check out the experience you can click here.

We went to Polar Express this last weekend with Jason's family. It is so much fun and a really great tradition for the young & old. I love that the couple sitting behind us in the train were an elderly couple with no kids. You are never too old to believe in the magic of Christmas. We were fortunate enough to have some good snow this year. We stayed over night in the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, and rode the train that night. You board, sing carols, go for a great ride, they pass out cookies & hot chocolate, read the story of the Polar Express. Santa boards the train and gives each child a bell. It is so great! We have done it the last 2 years and I am so glad. It really is a great time to be together & fairly inexpensive for a family of 4. You have to book way in advance (FYI) - Anyway, it reminds me to listen for the bell this time of year and every year... to never loose the magic of Christmas in your heart!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Garage Sale for Joseph


This is a REMINDER about the benefit garage sell in behalf Joseph Runyan (Abby & Todd's son) who has autism. It is going to be Friday the 14th & Saturday the 15th. It's being held at the Neilson's house (Joseph's grandma - across the street from Mesa High). Last night my sewing group hosted a "Sew for Joseph" Night. We made aprons for adults & kids in fall and Christmas fabrics. Thank you to all those ladies donating their time & talents for this cause. Aprons make great Christmas gifts! Thank you as well to everyone who has made a donations or dropped stuff by. I have received numerous phone calls & donations from our neighbors & friends.
Abby says, "THANK YOU so much it really means so much to me and my family. It's going to be a great sale with lots of great stuff ( things from Decor Unique too) so don't forget to come and check it out." We will have a table set up with all the aprons on it. Also, if you have anything at all to donate, now is a good time to clean out before the holidays get here and Joseph is the best cause. Even if you think your stuff isn't worth anything, a dollar or quarter is better then nothing. Please call me if you need any bulky items picked up. Feel free to leave your stuff in my carport. There are quite a few bags out there already. Or if you want me to pick up a bag of clothes, toys, whatever. Again, thank everyone for being a part of this. And tell your friends & neighbors to come & shop!


Valerie Nielson
1202 S. Williams cir
Mesa, AZ 85204
p.s. We will also be doing on online raffle in the next couple weeks with a really cute Christmas Apron made by my sewing club (or just me). Please check back later to bid on it.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Oh Christmas Tree... Oh Christmas Tree...

This year Jason's cousin (Jeremy) called him up with info on permits to cut down your own tree. Jason was ecstatic and jumped at the idea of getting together to go cut down trees. He has been wanting to do this the past 8 Christmases that we've been married... but something always came up. Well, this was our year and our kids had reached perfect age. So Saturday Jeremy & Jen came over early to make a day trip of it. I made my infamous pumpkin pancakes with apple cider syrup, bacon, & eggs. It was a scrumptious breakfast and we set off...

This is Paige all fresh faced and ready to go - isn't she so cute! She is wearing double layers (thanks to a dad that thinks ahead).

We originally had decided to drive out to Springerville, AZ (for those of you that are geographically challenged - that equals a 4 hour drive heading East)... But reconsidered that Payson is a lot closer and the permit office was open on weekends. So we were good. After stopping in Payson we learn that the "Happy Jack" office was shut down in October (despite the misinformation on the good ole Internet) and we had to head about 40 miles outside of Strawberry for the next ranger station.


Jeremy & Jen needed to load up on caffeine to deal with our "sweet" family. We were in Payson or maybe Strawberry at this point.

So we get to the next ranger station only to learn that their operating hours are mon-fri. There was a sign up instructing people that they could get a permit from the next ranger station which happened to be in Heber, AZ (again this equals an hour & a half drive in the opposite direction). If you were in AZ over the weekend you would also know the entire state had a lot of liquid in one form or another. It was snowing pretty good and when it stopped snowing it was hailing or sleeting or raining, or all three (cool side note: we did see the end of a rainbow on the way out there - no gold though, dang it!).... at this point we started weighing our options. I mean how much do they really fine you for poaching a Christmas tree...

So we sent the "men folk" out on a scouting expedition. This is a picture of Jen & James all snugly warm hanging out in the truck while it "sleeted" on Jason & Jeremy.


Paige & Maren getting a little stir crazy - while Jeremy & Jason got lost looking for a tree with little visibility and both were turned around, got lost, and actually ran into the truck by accident (?) or fate?


Jason after they accidentally found the truck.


Jen, James & Paige trying to have a snowball fight in some really slushy snow. Paige actually hit me twice. I was quite impressed.

James trying to keep up with Jeremy the coolest guy on the mountain (could be because of the chainsaw) or that Jeremy is an excellent tracker (of potential trees).


Everyone is soaking wet & freezing at this point - with no "holy grail" tree in sight. Jason & Jeremy started having doubts about poaching as well (good thing too... we later learned the fine is $500 - ouch!) Jen & I were ready to settle for a suitable twig.


James eating dirty snow. He is "soaking dirty" - but reallllly happy!

Making tracks in the snow... we can no longer feel our fingers or toes. I stepped in a huge slushy puddle at this point and my feet were throbbing cold and squished when I walked. We decided to give up at this point - go eat some chili at Chili's in Payson and see what other options were available. (Again Jason is thinking ahead) and brought a change of clothes AND shoes for our kids - so they could be nice and warm the rest of the ride home. I squeezed my-ugly-step-sister-feet into an extra pair of Paige's socks, the numbness subsided. Everyone fell asleep except James & Jeremy and James made Jeremy play his favorite game "I Spy" for 20 miles or so using James rules (which means no real rules that we've been able to figure out).

The end result - We decided Home Depot was our best bet. We got a really pretty tree and spent the rest of the night watching "Elf" while decorating it (only 2 ornaments got broken, yay). Afterwards we read "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry and sang a couple Christmas songs (one about a family sitting around their tree that Heavenly Father helped them to find at Home Depot - lyrics courtesy of Paige). Then we opened the first day on our huge birdhouse-ish advent calendar from Target that can fit big ole chocolate in each lil' room. And said our family prayer. It was the perfect night to a really great adventurous day. Thinking about next year I might just want to write a letter to the forest service suggesting that they sale permits online... now that would have been helpful.
I hope everyone else is enjoying the Most Wonderful time of the year!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Birthday Girls

One of the best things about my birthday is sharing it with my mom. I was born on her birthday 32 years ago today. Can you believe it, 32 years old - you too will get lovely little fine lines when you hit 30-ish. Oh how time flies when your having a life. Anyway, I've been tagged a few times to share interesting pointless facts about myself... so here goes. Curl up in your favorite sweats with your bowl of homemade popcarn, because this might take awhile.

My mom was 24 years old back in November of 1975 - having her 4th child (brave woman)... Here is a little known fact about her. Molly (my beautiful momma) only wanted 4 children so I was in the clear (thank goodness), how she ended up with ten was pure divine intervention and a very "healthy" relationship (oh the stories I could tell, but this is neither the time nor the place - I will save it for another time). Anyway, it was the day before Thanksgiving, a Wednesday to be exact. (Side note: I never understood the day of the week child poem - How did I end up being the child that is "full of woe" and what the hell does that mean anyway?)

Okay so back to the story because I love, love, love the story of how it all happened. So picture my older sister Kelly at just a couple weeks past her 1 year old birthday.

She was in my parents room (we lived in a trailer - supposedly Jason's mom & brother Chris lived a few trailers over a couple years before this all took place - let's hear it for the "WT" aka white trash roots) So Kelly was in my parents room and was messing with my dad's alarm clock. My dad was a construction worker and had 3 active toddlers. Allison 3 years, Jared 2 years, and Kelly 1 year old. Just thinking about it tires me out...Needless to say my dad was a really heavy sleeper. When he fell asleep that was it. The house could fall in and he would probably snore right through it (that's where I get my Olympic snoring abilities from). So my mom starts going into labor. It is the middle of the night and she can't get my dad to rouse from his Rip Van Winkle Slumber. She starts to get herself up and ready (I think she probably would have driven herself to the hospital, if it came to that) - but just then my dad's alarm clock went off and my dad jumps up from a dead sleep and realizes what is happening. Needless to say I was born a few hours later at 3:05am in the Provo Regional Medical Center, and SURPRISE! I was a girl - despite the fact my doctor told my parents he was sure I was a boy and they had picked out the "loverly" name - Marvin Terrell Byrnes. Thus, I was christened "the baby" for the next 4 days until they could come up with something suitable to call me. (My namesake Maren Annette Christensen - is another good old timer story I'll save for the next useless-facts-from-Maren's-life-day). Anyway, thanks to my "twinner" Kelly, I always felt that fate stepped in and helped a toddler play with an unusual toy, that brought her a BFF for life. So Happy Birthday to my momma & me. There is your story for the day and I hope you enjoyed it (and if you didn't - I don't really care, go stalk someone else's blog).


Maren (age 1 year) and Kelly (2 years) - we looked like we could be twins and were often mistaken for them growing up, and the fact that my mom dressed up exactly the same helped a lot. This picture was taken in Spokane, WA at the Chinese Gardens. I always thought it was cool my parents took us neat places when we were kids, but now that I think of it - they must have been taking really good drugs in the 70's or completely loco - that is a minimum 12 hour drive with 4 kids under under the age of 4 - and no portable DVD player. Good times. We can barely go 2 miles without Paige & James pulling hair or swatting at each other.




I had short hair a lot as a kid. I think maybe my parents secretly hoped I was a boy to balance out all the estrogen? Kelly is to my right and Sunny & Joey are behind us on Santa's lap.

So here is the last one of Kelly & me. I think we are both approaching 20 years old here. This was actually taken at Sunny's graduation (1995), before Girbaud jeans went out of fashion (Megan!) You can tell Kelly got the looks and charming personality. I just turned into a smart ass with a potty mouth. I guess that is just the luck of the draw. I think I got in the wrong line when they were handing out "nice" or "well behaved" in heaven - it's not like my parents didn't try... but then again they did have 10 of us to chase around.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Happy Birthday Jason from "Gappy" & Paige

Jason turned the big 31 today. Now for an entire week he can not call me "old lady" - "elderly" or anything in that nature. We are exactly the same age for 7 days and you better believe I will enjoy every last one of them... and also that it starts the countdown till my big day. Do I love birthdays you ask? of course, it's the one day my inbox is full of emails (not just forwards) and my phone rings with more then just solicitors at the other end. Usually is it the people I love most in this world wishing me well. I love birthdays - just because you get remembered.

This is an extreme closeup of how siblings play. James was trying to bite Paige so she smacked him or something to the effect that his already loose tooth (from a different incident all together) was pushed forward to the point of no return. We rushed him to the dentist and within a minute the dentist had yanked it out. Now our son "Gappy" will have a hole in his mouth until about 6 years old when his permanents will begin to grow in. I would call him a "dorse" (he made up that word) but the gap actually looks kind of cute on his rogue-ish face. My little Willoughby (rogue-ish hunk from Jane Austen novel).

Yes. We do have the house decorated & ready for Christmas. So it will be all nice & cozy when we get back from Utah on Sunday. Paige picked out these singing bells to go around her window. After Jason had hung them and turned the music on - we sat in the front room and could hear her singing along. It was too cute. I love this time of year!

Monday, November 12, 2007

My favorite Video of All TIme

I know many of us will be heading out for the holidays & blogging traffic will get really slow. Here is a great laugh for you to think over those long hours where your moaning from too much turkey but still shoveling in the pie. Good times brought to you by the Buchanan's...

Getting Down in Halloweentown

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Halloween in the Big D

We left on Tuesday and came home on Sunday. It was 6 days of blissful fun in our favorite place. The only thing missing was Jason. We REALLY missed him. I know he was going with with drawls by the volume of calls I got daily asking which ride we'd gone on, what we'd eaten, etc. Luckily Jason's parents went with us, because I was not cut out to be a single mom. Anyway, below are a few pictures of our fun times from this past week.


The ride out there was great. Jason's mom has a new Nissan Pathfinder so we had lots of room to stretch out with a third row seat & god bless the person who invented DVD players for cars. That saved us. The kids had no idea we were traveling - only when it was time to pop in the next movie.


The decorations are amazing. I have been for Christmas but never gone during the Halloween season. Disney does not do anything half-way. I took a lot of pictures just of shops & decor - I love it! Everything was so festive and fun. The giant Mickey is at the end of main street and a photo must have.

James was not quite 40" but before we left Jason bought him the biggest soled hiking boots he could find. With the addition of soles from his other shoes & me wrenching his neck & legs straight - we passed him off for a 40" kids & he got to ride 3 new rides. Soaring over California was a blast, but when I leaned over the side and saw how really high up we were I gave James the Vulcan Death grip. I could just see him trying to jump into the river - not getting the whole movie simulation thing. He liked it all except the fireworks at the end. Then he covered his ears. Splash Mountain was also a new ride for him. He loved it and would say "I need to go on the boat" just as the ride was ending. His only quirk was that he didn't care for the ride - if he wasn't completely soaked after it was over. And for some stupid reason we only rode the ride at dusk when it started to get chilly out. The third ride was Tower of Terror. You should have seen the looks I was getting. i knew he would love it and he did. People thought I was crazy for taking him and I'm sure CPS got a few anonymous phone calls that night - but James had a blast. He is my thrill seeker child.


Paige was tall enough for Indiana Jones and rode on it once. Thinking it would be fun for her to understand the premise of the ride I told her she couldn't look at the eyes of the idol or she would chase us the rest of the ride. Paige kept huddled over in her seat with her eyes clenched tight the entire time - I would try to get her to look and see what was going on, but she would have none of it.


This was us trick or treating on Halloween night in California Adventure. It was a blast. The park was closed to the public, only those who purchased tickets for the advent were let in. They loaded us down with candy at each trick or treat spot. Paige would go through the line twice each time which added to our huge load. The costumes that people came in were amazing. One lady dressed as a witch cackled at me as I walked past her and said, "Stay away from apples, deary" - it was hilarious. I was amazed at the creativity and talent put into peoples costumes. I think my favorite was a Storm Trooper & mini storm trooper. The detail was incredible. I would highly recommend this to anyone. It was a great time. The park was open so you could ride all the ides. they had a couple of bands, & Fisherman's wharf was transformed into a Pirate Cove where kids could play games and win tattoos.


Jason's parents are some of my favorite people to go on trips with. They LOVE Disneyland and my kids. They make us laugh and we have the best times with them. My kids love spending time with them and especially the fact that they never say "no".


Woody's Halloween Roundup was great! There were a lot of animals to pet. The cabin was decorated for the season and you could pose for pictures with pumpkin people. They had a "Woody's episode" from his TV show & then entertainers that would sing & dance with the audience. It was fun to watch. The kids got to decorate Halloween sugar cookies & the characters would come around and visit. Jesse told Paige she needed to get a hat like hers. I hadn't brought their Disney dollars for them to spend. We usually save that for the last day, but she was determined. So we forked over the cash & she couldn't wait to find Jesse again and show off her hat.


Paige & James got along really well for the most part. I felt I got more after James then anything. James please don't lick the hand railing. James please don't touch the toilet. James please don't spit. Okay so maybe I didn't use the word please, but that's my son. He is all boy!


This is my favorite picture of the whole trip. James, he is special... They have the cars on permanent display right across from Soarin' I thought it was awesome. Last time we were there they only made appearances. You end up pushing people aside so you can squeeze into a picture with 30 other kids you don't know.


My kids & their favorite ride. Can you tell what James was saying to Grandpa Ron? To infinity & beyond!!

The park wasn't crowded which was nice. I like going when it's off season. It might not be the most convenient of times - but it sure is nice weather and we were able to walk onto most rides (Nemo excluded) with 15 minutes wait (on Indiana & Haunted Mansion & Splash) - It was awesome! I love Disneyland. Everybody has a laughing place and I have mine - mostly because it means I'm having a blast with my family.