Friday, December 25, 2009

Neighbor Gifts

Baking is one of my very FAVORITE things to do...and I must say I am pretty good at it too. Look at me. Do I look like a skinny chef? NO! Naturally I would want to spend hours in the kitchen baking delicious Christmas treats to share with the people who are our friends. Turning it into a family project is one of the highlights of our Christmas season.

This year I made Carmels, English Toffee, Peanut Brittle, Peanut Butter Fudge, Chinese Noodle Treats and Sugar Cookies. Of course the kids always help by decorating the cookies. This time we even used sugar we colored ourselves...I don't think I will ever buy it again. It was so easy to make! Plus then I don't mind so much when it is all over the table and floor.

photos courtesy of Ally

'Twas the Night Before Christmas...

Being the merciful parents that we are, we let our kids open one present on Christmas Eve. In keeping with the long standing tradition of Christmas Jammies (my Grandma Smith used to make them for us every year when I was young), we opened our one gift on Christmas Eve right before bed--our brand new pajamas. I didn't get any this year because when Ry went to get mine they were sold out. I got a new pair about a month ago anyway. Here is everyone in their brand new Christmas Jammies!

Hansens in the House

One of the drawbacks to living near my family is that we are SOOO far away from Ryan's family. We wish there was a way to be close to everyone, but that is not possible and since Ryan found a job in Idaho, we moved here. When we do get to see more Hansens, it is rare and visits are few and far between. It is our goal, however, to make them less of a rarity.

Last weekend we were lucky enough to have one of Ry's brothers visit us. Nick and his family are taking a cross-the-West tour to visit Grammy Taylor and other family and friends for Christmas Break and we were lucky enough to be a pit stop on the way! They made it to our house late Thursday night, stayed all day Friday and left Saturday morning. Ry was, um, "sick" on Friday and the kids stayed home from school. We had tons of fun while they were here.

Some highlights include:

  • Ally and Emma having cousins to play with that are not only the same gender, but almost the exact same age. Ally is six weeks older then Kalee. Emma is seven weeks younger than Alana.
  • A delicious dinner out with no kids and lots of funny memories! Thank you V! Best babysitter ever!
  • Shopping with Rebecca Friday morning. Serious girl time! Plus we both equally hate it so it was easy to get in and out quick.
  • Clark watching Cason (who is 2 1/2 months younger) and realizing it was OK to use the voice he tries out on occasion. His vocabulary is exploding these past few days.
  • Making a gingerbread house with 5 kids and virtually no fights.
  • Taking advantage of having a truck to go to the dump/DI. Nick and Ryan cleared out all the "junk" we had stored in the back yard/driveway. Items included an old washer, a broken dresser, a highchair we have no room for, an old car seat and multiple unidentifiable plastic items that have broken and faded over time. We no longer look like we are white trash. Well aside from the broken car in front of the house, but that just happened.

I know that Ryan loved having his brother here. It was a lot of fun to spend time with them and let our kids play with their cousins that they don't see as much. We were all crammed into our tiny house but there were no fights. The Arizona kids got to play in the snow ... well, what little snow we had. They even got to see Ally and Emma dance at their dress rehearsal for the Winter Recital. We packed a lot into the short day in a half and I would love to have the chance to do it again.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays from The Hansens!

We hope you are having a wonderful holiday season ... we sure are enjoying it! From playing in the snow to shopping for that perfect gift, we have had a lot of busy days this past month! Unfortunately, the blog has felt the neglect of the season. But, Ryan has told me this is the wave of the future: writing your Christmas letter online and then sending a family Christmas card with a link to the blog. So, that's what we're doing.

So here is an update on the Hansen Family:

Ryan (pictured with Huey Lewis. Yes, the Huey Lewis!) is currently teaching at Idaho Falls High School. He loves, loves, loves his job. He is the yearbook and newspaper adviser as well as a speech teacher. In the third trimester, he gets to teach one section of photography which he is looking forward to. The publications that he advises continues to dominate in the state. His summer was spent being "Mr. Mom." You can read some of his adventures here, here and here. Most of the children survived and so did he. However, he bolted out the door the first day of school with a little extra spring in his step. He is currently the Young Men's president in our ward. They just made our Bishop our Stake President so we will be getting a new Bishop in the new year. Needless to say, he is not holding his breath. Last Sunday, the bishop/stake president came up to compliment him on wearing a suit coat to church. "You clean up nice," he said. "Wait! Are you the new bishop?" He about passed out because the stake president would be the one to call him! :)

Lisha is busy with being a mom and working too many "jobs" to count. She is serving at the Olive Garden a few nights a week. The extra "play" money is nice to have around, but we miss mom when she is gone. She is serving as the second counselor in the Relief Society in our ward. It keeps her super busy. Among other things, she organizes fundraisers for our kids' parent-teacher organization, taxis the kiddos to and from every activity, pays the bills, manages the house, loves on Clark and the rest of the fam and keeps us all happy. (Ryan's writing this, by the way.) In short, Lisha is our Superwoman! (Is it no wonder I love her so much?)

Ally, 8, is a third grader this year. She continues to excel in math and knows that she loves it! Ally was baptized in June. It was a great experience for the whole family. She continues to dance at Infinity. This will be her third year competing on the "Minis" team. It's very demanding, but she's come a long way since her first class. Her favorite dance style continues to be hip hop but she also takes jazz, ballet and tumbling. She was able to participate in a special ballet camp this summer. Ally loves Primary Achievement Days and is looking forward to her new 4-H club activities. As our oldest, she tends to be the mom to her siblings. We're working on that. That being said, she is our greatest helper. You can often find her doing the dishes (without being asked, I might add) or helping tend Clark.

Emma, 6, is a first grader this year. She has become a super reader and has advanced to the second-grade reading class. Emma also dances at Infinity and will be competing for the first time this year with the Tinys. She is becoming quite a beautiful dancer and really enjoys her jazz, hip hop and ballet classes. She met with disaster this summer when she fell off our trampoline the third day we had it and broke her arm. She got to wear a bright pink cast for the second half of the summer. Swimming lessons were cut short, sadly, because she is our little fish. Emma often can be found in her room playing with her dolls or Littlest Pet Shop toys. She will disappear for about an hour and we know she's entered "Emma World." The carnage is something out of Sid's house (from Toy Story, you know?), though, when she is done. Many times we have found Barbie posed in the arms of our Sherriff Woody doll, in a compromising position. We're having the "appropriate contact with boys" talk. Emma is our sweetheart. She tends to love ... a little too much at times ... on Clark and is a big helper, too.

Luke, 5, is a preschooler this year. He attends the same elementary school as his sisters as a peer model in the Developmentally Delayed Preschool. One of the perks of being a district employee. His teacher described him as "brilliant" (her words) at our most recent Parent-Teacher Conferences. Then again, she teaches the developmentally-delayed class, so we're not quite sure who she is comparing him to. He enjoys riding the bus to and from school, even though it is only four blocks away. Frankly, he was tired of waiting on his slowpoke sisters in the morning. He is always the first one ready and was constantly late because of them. Something tells me things aren't going to change much from here on out. Luke played T-ball and soccer this year and continues to excel at sports. He wants to learn to "fight with swords" next apparently. He got an old Gameboy Advance for his birthday (which Clark lost) and does not take breaks. He's pretty glued to it all the time which is consitituting a new "screen time limit" rule. They have a limited time for anything that has a screen. Once they've used up their minutes, then it is time to shut down the screens. (Oh, and there are no rollover minutes.)

Clark, 15 months, is the highlight of our day. He continues to learn new words every day and can ALMOST run. He is getting really skinny, walking off all his baby fat. He is still super little though and it is hard to believe he is as old as he is. Clark loves balls and toothbrushes. It is the weirdest thing! You can often spot him waddling around with a death-grip on a toothbrush in his fist. He doesn't suck on it, but don't you dare try to take it from him! His comprehension also seems to be growing. He will throw away his own dirty diapers and shuts the door when you ask him to. He likes to give open-mouth kisses and "loves." The funniest thing about Clark is that he can recognize candy and goes crazy shouting, "MA! MA! MA!" or trills like Chewbacca until he gets it. We wish everyone could get a little Clarky-love. It would truly make your holiday.

We send our love this holiday season. We recognize that this time of year is to remember Christ. We hope you do all year round, but maybe just a little more than usual this year. The kids got to go to Toys 'R' Us and shop for two families that didn't get Christmas. For a part of it, we worried they would not stop focusing on what they wanted instead of helping this family. By the end of the night, the kiddos were running things to the basket and saying things like, "Oh, this little boy will love this!" or "The baby will look so cute in this!"

I think it sunk in. We truly love our friends and family and feel each of you have touched our lives in some special way. May your lives be as blessed as you have made us feel this year!

With much love,
The Hansens
Ryan, Lisha, Ally, Emma, Luke & Clark

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Murder-Suicide and the Things I've Learned

Hey. This is Ryan and this was one of the most difficult things I've had to write. I shared this to journalism teachers across the nation. I'm sharing it here to record it so I'll never forget my feelings. I realize it's Christmas and I'm sure Lish might be a little miffed I'm posting it before the Christmas letter. But, it happened. And I need to process. Here goes:

I have often read tales on a journalism adviser listserv (a service for e-mails that journalism teachers can write on) about terrible things that happen at other schools and wondered how those teachers got their students through such tough times.

On Friday, a man I teach with followed his wife to a local Walmart and shot her “lover” three times in the parking lot. He then circled around the victim and shot him one more time in the head. After a low-speed chase, police cornered him at an elementary school where he shot himself in the head. (It all happened around 8 p.m.) Teachers were notified via phone tree Saturday morning.

At first I assumed he was the victim as we weren't told the whole story. I called those on my phone tree and then my editors and told them the news. I told them I had pulled our latest edition and we needed to decide how to cover this.

I spent almost two hours straight on the phone as students and others called to find out if I knew any more. I didn't. Remember, I thought Keith (Matthias, my friend) was the victim. I called the bishop and told him and then the Young Women's president and told them to prepare for some upset youth at church the next day. I even planned a lesson on the church's view of life and death.

Then I read online on a news site the whole story. I about puked. I could not believe he was capable of something so horrible. It changed my whole plans to help kids deal. Then the calls started coming again.

By mid-afternoon, I was exhausted. I couldn't talk on the phone any more and Lish suggested we take the kids out to lunch and try to get away from all the death talk. She also informed me I would be leaving my phone home.

We went to Bajio (one of our favorite restaurants), but I was surrounded by people discussing the previous night's events. Again, I became sick.

When we got home, I had about 15 text messages and four missed calls. I returned them and tried to take a nap. Ally and Emma had a dance recital and I dreaded all the questions and accusations. Lish, my sweet Lisha, realized this and excused me from going. I am so grateful for her intuition. I stayed home with the boys and detoxed for a bit.

The next day at church, looks and whispers flew my way. I know they weren't talking about me, per se. But, then the flood of questions came. "Did you know he was crazy?" "Why would they hire someone so unstable?" "Did you know him?", "Was he Mormon?"

It felt like people were asking me about an internal family matter. I usually stuck to a set answer I had devised before church: "Keith was my friend and I am as shocked as you that this happened." That's how I left it. My bishop pulled me into his office and asked how I was doing. I kind of exploded. "How do you think I'm doing? A guy I work with just murdered someone!" Luckily, I have a great bishop who listened and then told me things I already knew. Don't get me wrong. I'm not criticizing that. I needed a little reminder. I was angry and sad and confused. (I still am, a little.) I booked it home and spent the rest of the day locked inside with my family.

Needless to say, it’s been a rough three days. I taught in his room, thus had multiple interactions with him. Also, his son was in my speech class. It has been hard.

I’m writing this because I think it will help me process, deal and move on. The hardest thing I had to do was console the many students who called me at home on Saturday to discuss what we were going to do in the yearbook and newspaper and how could this seemingly mild-mannered math teacher murder someone. How would we cover it? What would we say? What would administrators authorize us to say? How are his children feeling? What was he thinking as he drove from Walmart? What would his students think?

We are a relatively close school in a very close community (albeit 50,000 people live here and two separate school districts). We haven’t had a murder in this community in three years and now it was someone I knew personally. And liked. And would never believe could do such a thing.

Luckily, we had the weekend to gather ourselves, in a way. Monday was still hard. I bawled in my first-hour yearbook class as I read the district’s prepared statement. We discussed what to do in the book. We’re still trying to figure it out.

I saw a school counselor and talked out my issues during second hour. I realized I had been so busy taking care of my students, I had not really taken care of myself. I bawled again.

Third hour newspaper was much better. In fact, teaching the kids about tact and journalistic responsibility seemed to help me cope with our loss. As a class, we wrote our own news story. The kids seemed bombarded by local media sensationalizing a man they had as a math teacher into a deranged monster. (I was also surprised how many kids read message boards on news sites! Some horrible things were being said and kids were upset.) They decided to focus more on how the school was working to assist kids and staff into dealing with the events that transpired rather the gory details (from a very graphic police report). It worked. We finished the story and gave it to the principal to read. He got a little emotional as he told the kids he was proud of their maturity and tact in dealing with this. (The guy has been under siege from the press.)

The kids (as I) are very proud of how they handled it. Three of my students were his neighbors. It was extremely hard on them particularly. The issue comes out tomorrow, but the staff members that have read it online have said they wish the local media could be as sensitive as the kids were. So, should we have talked about the crime? I don’t think it was right. Am I a bad journalist for not wanting to discuss the details? I don’t think so. Should I have put my emotions behind me? Probably, but the man taught right next to me.

So many times we are faced with tough choices as journalists – student journalists, even. But I think the protocol is to use your judgment in your situation. Every school is unique. I don’t think being a cold-hearted journalist is the right answer in every situation. I guess some of you may call me weak. Go ahead. But, I’d rather think with my heart.


Here is the news story that will run in tomorrow’s paper:

School and district offers support, help
Counselors will be available after winter break, provide number to ‘talk’
By Tiger Times staff
According to the Idaho Falls Police Department, on Friday, Dec. 19, Keith Matthias, a math teacher at Idaho Falls High School, allegedly shot a man at the Walmart parking lot on Utah Ave., fled the scene and then shot himself.

Students and faculty at the high school arrived Monday morning in shock. Administrators were ready to help. “We’re not going to focus on the individual act,” Principal Randy Hurley said. “Our main emphasis is that students and staff have the support they need so that they feel secure.”

The school’s three counselors were on hand along with a crisis team sent from the district to assist students and staff. “We are listening and giving support,” Danette Gneiting, a counselor at IFHS and high school representative on the district’s crisis team, said. “We provide a safe environment for students to go through whatever they are going through. We are also available to talk privately, if needed. We offer this for students and staff.”

“When situations like this happen, there are people in the district trained to help,” Gneiting said. “We will continue to train for these things, too. We have plans in place to deal with everything from something minor in the school all the way to a major crisis.”

According to Hurley, counselors will be available until Wednesday, Dec. 23, and possibly after the winter break. However, according to Gneiting, the school’s in-house counselors will always be available.

Former math teacher Tom Kohler will assume Matthias’s classes until Christmas break and possibly beyond that. “We’re in the process of looking for a full-year replacement,” Hurley said. “It’s too early to know exactly who will take over. But we are actively looking at a number of possibilities.”

Counselors also said there is a helpline available for those needing to talk. Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center’s emotional hotline is xxx-2270.

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