Sunday, December 23, 2012

Happy Birthday, Noah

Every year my mom puts a luminary on her baby Katie's (my sister's) grave site. Since Noah now shares the site, she also puts a light on his stone too. This is the first time I've been able to see it because we've lived to far away. My Aunt Barbara decorated the grave with the little tree and wreath the year he died. We've put it up every year since. This year we did pink and blue for Katie and Noah. I'm so grateful. 

Katie Shelton and Noah Max Hunsaker

I'm mad that the Mayans teased me.

Even though I'm in no way ready to meet my maker, I'm more ready than ever to meet my son. 

He would have been 6 years old today. 

I find it fascinating that as the years pass, it doesn't get easier. I thought they said it would. But as the visual picture of him in my mind ages, so does my longing to be with him...

to teach him stuff.... he'd be reading by now, I'm sure....

to buy him Christmas presents...the ark stuff would surely be too "baby" for him now...

to explain how cool it is to share a birthday with Joseph Smith...

to start piano lessons this year...

to see if he chooses football, basketball, set, sound or lighting design.... ;-) Maybe he's got that acting thing going on... oh dear.

to see his eyes. I never got to see his eyes open...I saw them moving, under his eyelids, but he wasn't able to open them...

to explain how much we love him....and how hard we tried to keep him on we knew we shouldn't, and couldn't go against what he was clearly trying to tell us.

Dr. Chamberlain said he cried out...I wish I could have heard that. 


I'm grateful today for the birth of Jesus Christ, without whom I could not see you again. I know for certain you are mine forever. I am a better person for having had you because there will be a day when I have the opportunity to hold your hand and look you in the eye...I look forward to that moment every day!!!! But apparently I have a lot more living and learning to do.

I hope to remain focused on that goal as I adjust my grip every day in anticipation of our reunion. Your dad and I love you so much.

Happy Birthday, Noah. 


Nightmare Before Christmas Part 1

Nightmare Before Christmas Part 2

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Toffee Confidence

Andy has terrible pneumonia. Like coughing all night, sweating like the Trevi Fountain kind of pneumonia. And it's not going away. I feel like I can't leave him alone, even though I can't do much for him except get him food and water. I'm trying so hard to be a doting wife...but I suck at it. I think he got the pneumonia from holding 200 kids on his lap last week when I volunteered him to play Santa...four times. So it's all my fault.

"I want a red remote control car and a
screwdriver to fix it when it breaks." True story. 
Tonight is a new episode of "Storage Wars."  I can't complain about it because he's so sick and it's his favorite show. I should go out and do some shopping for our parents but...I'll wait until he can go with me I guess. Tonight on the show someone bought a storage unit for $2000 and it happened to have $300,000 worth of Chicano art in it. "Shut the front door," he says with a croak. Whatever lifts his spirits, I say. That's the first time I've heard him speak for a few days.

Christmas 2012 is one week away.

Feel the p.a.n.i.c.

I love English toffee. I'm a toffee freak. It's the stuff in my purse when we go to the movies at Christmas. I make it to eat it. Then we put some out on the counter one year in St. George and as people visited, it started to disappear and I would make more for myself. There are a LOT of great movies at Christmas!

I used to make a couple of batches every year. Sometimes it would work out and other times it would make my house smell like a Wonka fire or turn into candy sand. It has a vicious turning point and you just have to know when to take it off the heat. If you go to the bathroom and it amount of Febreze or fabulous Christmas candle will make that smell go away until Christmas 2017.

As my toffee confidence grows, so does the list of people that we give it to. So the Storage Wars marathon has worked out perfectly!

People don't make it very often, or make very much of it because its very finicky and they say "it just doesn't turn out." So this is a quick blog to give everyone some toffee confidence.

I just finished the last batch of the year - making the total this year 48 POUNDS of candy. The same amount of candy as my nephew Tyler weighs. ;-) I didn't burn a single batch. I did 12 double batches. Thanks Storage Wars marathon!

So this is how it's done in case you weren't on the list. Email me and I'll add you next year.

Start buying butter (the real stuff) in September, one or two pounds a pay check and freeze it. You'll need 50 pounds of sugar eventually too. Hahahahaha.... just kidding.

Not really kidding.

The following recipe will make about 4 pounds of toffee. ($60 worth of candy! Think of the savings!)

This is a double recipe that covers one full-sized cookie sheet with a thick layer of toffee.

0.    Use a restaurant quality candy thermometer - and not a cheap glass tube-like one. Those are      dangerous and could explode. No candy for you. Such a shame.

1.    You need your biggest heaviest saucepan. Not like those ones you had in college.

2.     Melt four squares of butter on medium heat. If you use margarine, you're still in college? Don't use margarine... for the love.

3.     Take the butter off the heat and add three cups of sugar, six tablespoons of water and six tablespoons of light corn syrup (I use whatever's on sale) to the melted butter. Measure it. That's every ingredient.

4.     Stir it all together.

5.    Add it back to the medium heat.

6.    Add your thermometer and walk away. But not too far away. It will start to boil - make sure it doesn't boil over - if it does, your heat is too hot.

7.    Lets talk about stirring. Stir it a few times every five minutes or so. I don't stand there and watch it. BY ALL MEANS - don't scrape the sides of the pan. The sugar molecules that aren't down in the butter get confused and then everybody defaults to something that looks like cheap brown sugar. Nasty. Just turn around and chop nuts and get your pans ready.Multi-task! From the time it starts boiling to the time it's done is only about 12 minutes so focus people! Focus!
8.     Use non-stick spray, or butter, on a good heavy aluminum cookie sheet that won't buckle under heat. (I buy those full sheet aluminium cookie pans at a restaurant supply because they go on sale for $5.99 at Gygis in June...always. I have about 10 of them. No couple without kids should own ten cookie sheets.)


9.     Let's talk about nuts. ;-) I buy the bags from Costco. I use pecans, almonds and cashews. I roast the almonds in a single layer on a heavy cookie sheet at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes (or until you can really smell them). They will dry out a little, darken up, taste better and be easier to chop up. I do pecans and cashew for about 5 minutes. Just enough to crunch them up a little. I don't mix my nuts. I heard you thinking that. Mixed nuts are for cheap weddings and bridge parties.

10.      Chop up about two cups of nuts (or three) and spread them over the cookie sheet. COVER the sheet. Don't be stingy with your nuts. ;-) You're only going to make this stuff once a year.

11. If you have a nephew that's allergic to nuts, make sure you do that batch first! Once nuts touch a pan, don't use that pan for a virgin-nut batch. You've already contaminated it. That's for you Sloan.

12.      You will be tempted to second-guess your candy thermometer. That's why I always get a new one every year. HOWEVER, be patient and wait for the candy to turn a dark caramel color - like a paper grocery bag, remember them? It will just start to smell like its burning. BUT ITS NOT! The bubbles will slow down and get lazy. it will look really foamy and glossy. Stir it more often to keep it from burning on the bottom of the pan once the heat reaches 275+. (but don't touch the sides of the pan!) When your candy gets to 300 degrees - get it off the heat and pour it carefully over the nuts. It's good to clear everyone away from this moment. That stuff will melt your children. P.S. I don't mix the nuts in because it brings the temperature down too quickly and then it doesn't spread as easily. Let gravity do the spreading for you. (True in so many ways) Gravity is the great equalizer. I wish I had known that in high school.

13.      Immediately cover the top of the candy with good chocolate chips or chunked up bars. Love chocolate? Use a lot! I'm not a big chocolate fan so I make an entire pan with no chocolate and usually nobody eats it but me. Nice plan. The chips will sink in and bury themselves in the candy. You want that - if you wait, the butter will form a layer between the surfaces and the chocolate will just come right off after its cool. Weird. Candy poured - add the chips.

14.      When the chocolate chips have melted, just take the back of a spoon and spread them out. It doesn't have to look pretty. When you've sufficiently played around in the gooey chocolate, give the spoon to someone you love.

15.     I take the sheets of toffee outside to the patio and set them on the table to cool. If there's snow on the table, all the better. Just don't let it sink and get water in your candy. Oh! And make sure you move the chairs so the dogs can't get up there. Learned that at Thanksgiving this year. Sorry JoEllen. Turns out Lily LOVES lemon meringue pie. Who knew?!

I digress.

16.    When it gets completely hard (15 min) - turn it over, crack it up with the back of a heavy table knife, bag it up (I have a little table scale and I weigh out about 1/2 lb. per bag - not enough to give anyone full on diabetes...but...) and put tags on it. Make separate bags for your in-laws because if you don't they'll fight over it and lie about how much they've eaten and accuse each other of hogging it all. You know who I'm talking about.

I make two double batches at a time about five minutes apart so they don't get to full temp at the same time. The whole process takes me about 30 minutes. One whole episode of Storage Wars. Eight pounds of candy. It's so dang easy. In fact, while I was making toffee tonight, I also made 150 suckers to sell for a fundraiser this week. That's maybe another blog. Don't want to stress anyone out.

Make toffee often or you'll never get good at it! You might waste some in the beginning and smell like a Wonka fire once or twice - but in the end, there are V.E.R.Y F.E.W. people that will say "I really hate English toffee, you jerk, that was a royal waste of time!"

In fact, no one has ever said that to me.

Most of the time they hide their small gift in their desk and eat it slowly one piece at a time...with their eyes they savor the Christmas miracle... all by themselves...and they don't tell anyone else they have it.

But now I've told you that I have 2 pounds of plain cashew toffee in my purse from now until Christmas break is over. Buy me a movie ticket and I'll gladly share. Les Mis anyone?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Humanity's Sassy Sister

Some of it's shadow - but most of it's BANGS. 
My parents built their current house in 1976. Interest rates were somewhere around 9% and climbing. Still...they were living in a little house one block away from the building site and it was getting to be like the old woman in the shoe. So 9% required faith. Maybe it's the other way around...having a lot of kids requires faith...?

I was 12 years old, maybe pushing 13. I had a lot of money back then in relation to the bills I had to pay. I was a babysitting m.a.c.h.i.n.e. You can imagine how often a pre-teen babysits in a neighborhood full of Mormon families. I always had money.

I remember my very first full-time babysitting job (in the summer). It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized the woman I was sitting for was a hoarder. I don't think society had named that condition yet. I just remember thinking that it was going to be a long, stinky summer. She sat me down on one of the very few available surfaces and very gravely pointed out that I would be making 50 cents an hour and for an extra $3 a week, she would pay me to "clean." G.U.L.P.

Those stories are for another blog.

I hear that babysitters make bank these days. My nieces get paid $5 an hour for one child and more for more. F.I.V.E. buckaroos. No wonder they all have phones and ipods.

I bought a ukulele with my babysitting money in 1976.

And I still have it! Sometimes I use it instead of the piano to accompany the primary kids. They like that. I've had that uke 34 years and every time I pick it up I remember cleaning that ladies house. I also bought two sheet music books, campfire songs like "Blue Skies," and traditional Hawaiian songs like "Hukilau." My mom lived in Hawaii after she graduated from high school and as far as I was concerned, she was Hawaiian. Therefore...I was also Hawaiian.

Hence the ukulele.

I digress. And so early too. Let me bring this mess around....back to the house on 300 North.

My dads brother-in-law, my dearest, most incredible Uncle Ken was a building contractor by trade and education. Poor sucker. Everyone needed a house back then and no one had any money. So Ken, being the person he is, worked out a way for my family to have a home. We would need to put in some "sweat equity" and by "we" I mean, my parents, and by "sweat-equity" I mean, "see ya next year, mom and dad."

After all, they had a built-in babysitter....with a ukulele.


So every second that they could both be working on the house, night and day, rain or shine, they were working their fingerprints off. Literally. Seems like they picked up the habit then and never stopped. I mean, never. I'm sure I complained to the extent of the law. But they kept telling me, "babysitting is your contribution to the house."

My sister JoEllen was just a baby when our house was being built.

1977? One of the first Christmases in the new house. 
I would put her in the stroller and roll her down to the building site to see my mom and dad every once in a while. Because she was so little, and because it takes a much longer time to build a house on your own, JoEllen started calling me "mama." That's when you know you've spent too much time with your siblings... My mother was horrified. That was the end of her contribution to the building site. By then, anyway, it was time to sew curtains, bedspreads, pack boxes and that could be done at home.

JoEllen was born 11 years after me, nearly to the day. She, my sister Paula and I have birthdays in the same week: November 20, 21, 23.

20 years later. Still sharing a birthday cake. Can't recall if I've ever had my own cake, but now, who cares...three candles is far safer than starting a house fire...
My sister Penny, as I've already written, shares her actual birthday with my mom. We like themes? We can't do anything on our own? I LOVE my sisters and I'm very lucky because I know all sisters don't get along as well as we do. I can't imagine getting through life's big hiccups without sisters.

I think this was taken at JoEllen's
pre-wedding events. I was on
Phen-Phen then. No double chin.
Decorating Noah's Tree at the Jubilee of Trees in St. George, 2007. I'm so
grateful they were all able to be there. I love this picture. Service never
makes people sad. 

We've added three more sisters-in law to the gang, and they are all amazing additions to the group as are the three brothers-in-law I have too! They are like missing pieces of a very... very ...large puzzle.

No one has ever accused a Shelton girl of being wimpy. These are women with goals, confidence and power. Look out! If they find you sitting around they will put you to work. They are PTA and Relief Society presidents, drama mamas, full-time employees, students, Bishop's wives...Don't wait for them to do something about a problem, they are already on it. They were raised by example.

We are sort of like the Herdman's in Barbara Robinson's book The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. The oldest Herdmans taught the youngest ones everything they knew so by the time you got to the youngest one, Gladys, she was the meanest of them all. I'd say that about JoEllen, only replace mean with "sassy." (My entire family is nodding their head right now as they read this.) I can't count the number of times we've said "how does she get away with that?!" I envy her ability to say what it is, deal with it, get it out, get it over with. Every family has one, don't they? You need at least one of those kinds of people to make a group work.

New York. Probably not legal what she's doing.
Not the pinch, the picture of it.
JoEllen probably knows because she got a degree in the family sciences while the rest of us were studying liberal arts...lame... If I could diagnose what makes our family GROUP work, I'd say that you have to have a sense of humor above all else. I'm not talking about the ability to make people laugh, though she's got that down, but the ability to react to just about anything with humor and a sense of doing what needs to be done without worrying about what people think. She also truly believes that "No man is an island...we are all children of the same heavenly Father... etc..." JoEllen is not just my sister, she is humanities sister.

1. JoEllen loved animals and always wanted to be a vet. I guess Family Science is kind of zoo-i.s.h.  Anyway, she once brought a snake home and my mom said "you can have a snake or you can have a choose." So she didn't get another snake until she was married and they kept a reticulated albino boa constrictor in an aquarium until it outgrew the box and JoEllen had a dream that it ate their baby George. Snake fetish...over.

She brought my mom a stray cat one day and we kept it 15 years. No one knew how old the cat was so we told people it was in its thirties. So it doesn't surprise me in the least when this happens:

Matty. With stray cat.
JoEllen has been known to bring home all kinds of stray people too.

2. JoEllen could teach us all thing or two about dedication to a task. When she was at the University of Utah finishing her degree, she lived with my parents in Lehi and took the bus to the U every single morning for two years. She made friends with a group of people she called her "bus buddies." They were all invited to her wedding. I, on the other hand, get nervous when people on the bus make eye contact with me.

She did everything she could to pay for college including normal jobs like working in a copy shop, cool jobs like pizza maker at "The Purple Pig." But she did things that stretch a persons confidence too, like asking people to taste samples at Costco and being the "Kool-Aid Guy" in parades. When you have a strong sense of humor it doesn't matter what you do to make or save an honest dollar.

If it grows, it can also be preserved.

3. JoEllen and I once got engaged at the same time. Our weddings were scheduled to happen in the same spring. She actually ended up marrying that guy (Kyle) and producing four incredible children with him. I ended up burning the invitations in a bonfire out back. I envied her at the time, but apparently, I was supposed to wait for Andy to get through junior high. She never mentioned it again. Never threw it back in my face...she didn't ask me to make her wedding dress (there was already an unfinished one in my own closet) and in the end, I demanded that I make the cake. I hope she didn't let my personal disaster bring a cloud to her amazing day. If it did, I certainly didn't know of it. I love her for that.

The Wells Family. George, Evan, Kyle, JoEllen, Matty, Emily
4. I wasn't expecting to go into labor with Noah at 27 weeks. I was living in St. George just miles from JoEllen and Penny. I've written about this. But one of the things that got me through it, was her keen sense of humor. She brought playing cards to the hospital, she ran errands, made phone calls, she made us laugh and kept the air light despite our anxiety about what was happening. She and Penny helped me learn how to use a breast pump and we laughed so hard. A few minutes later a doctor was telling me that Noah wasn't going to live and I remember both of my sisters trying so hard not to cry and let's face it, we're ugly, ugly cry-ers. But they were biting their lips and immobile at the news, their eyes as big as plates. I will forever be grateful that they were there with me, listening, grabbing paper, writing down everything he was saying...because I had stopped listening much earlier.

So you know I like to write these tribute blogs about my family members...but I'm also a teacher and I'm constantly searching for the lesson...the big "POW!" at the shouldn't be so indulgent...there should also be something we all can learn from this ordinary citizen of our family and community, even though they are my family member. WE ALL HAVE SOMETHING THAT INSPIRES SOMEONE ELSE.


5. We went everywhere we could go on a teacher's salary growing up. My dad was a leader in the teacher's union so wherever there was a convention, sometimes we got to go along. We camped. We went to Disneyland. We drove through Utah's glorious canyons... But it really started when her high school science teacher, the infamous Reva Beth Russell, took her to Catalina to see the underwater world on a field trip. A life-changing field trip. And JoEllen just fell in love with what could be learned "on the outside.".

So she does. She loves to see what the world has to offer. She's not afraid to go anywhere, do anything while she's there, taste the food, learn and act on the culture. She also takes her children everywhere, and lets them take classes, be in Aunt Jan's plays...she sacrifices time and energy to expose her children to the earth's good stuff. always turns into a lesson to be learned, an experience, a memory, a bonding time.

So there was the time that we decided to go to Hawaii together. We were both single, we had time and money so we said "lets go to Hawaii," I guess.

We got a great deal by going with two other friends and they were a lot older than JoEllen, but she didn't care. She just wanted to got to Hawaii. Maybe she thought she was Hawaiian like I did. I got really sick on the flight over and I stayed in bed most of the week. I never do that! I read two John Grisham novels while I was in my native homeland!  LAME.

We knew one of the girls really well, and the other girl we affectionately recall as "Mustard Girl." Mustard girl could not eat a meal without ordering a side of mustard. In fact, it was so bad that one morning we pulled away from a McDonalds prior to spending the day at the Polynesian Cultural Center and she screamed out "they forgot my mustard packets!" We had to find a way to get back on the freeway going the other direction (and in Hawaii...) so that we could return to McDonalds for mustard.

We didn't laugh about it at the time, because finding mustard became a national emergency the entire trip, but we sure do laugh about it now.

I digress...

There is one big thing that sets JoEllen apart from the rest of us and that is her need to see the world and how she now perceives it as an extension of her children's (and her own) classroom. The pay-off is that she has added experiences to their lives and not "stuff." It's also about the investment of time and focusing on each other while you are away from home that makes you really see and listen to each other. They LOVE spending time together. I think this is something my dad gave us - he always said if your classroom was fun, the kids would choose to learn...they would run to your class. Can this be true about our homes too? If it's fun, the kids will run to get there? Can we possibly do a better job at keeping our children focused by making our (classrooms) homes a fun place to be while we are training them secretly to love God, country and each other and look out for each other all their worked for us, that's all I'm sayin'. A spoonful of sugar....

Vienna, Austria - work trip!
We spent a lot of time together as a family. A L.O.T. of time. It wasn't optional. And (most of the time) it was a blast! It's probably part of the reason it kills us that we're split into three factions from Northern Utah to Southern California right now. Someday, when I'm a millionaire, I'm going to build everyone a house on the same block...okay...I hear you...that's a little weird now.

 We do share a common love for all things Disney. I'm so glad they invite us!!!
All I'm saying is, we could learn this from JoEllen. "Add experiences to your life, not stuff." JoEllen lives this idea. She even write a blog about where they've been and what they do at:

Wandering Wells

So happy birthday my dearest JoEllen. I miss knowing you are only four miles away. But you are a bright light and a beacon for everyone that comes in contact with you...everywhere!

From her Facebook page:

Our Deepest Fear

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. 
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. 
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. 
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? 
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God. 
Your playing small does not serve the world. 
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine as children do. 
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. 
It is not just in some of us! It is in everyone. 
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Holladay for the Holidays

I miss my blog so much. I have six posts that are half finished and all I need is a little...some...a bunch of free time. I wish this was the kind of blog that was more like an expanded Facebook post. I've seen and admired the people that can pop out a profound 1000 word blog/journal post in minutes.

But I can't.

Plus, in order to properly purge, my blogs run around 5000 words (as you well know.)

Sorry about that.

Blogs, a good blog post for Other-Peoples-Kids takes me forever. So I've intimidated myself into thinking that without three to...twelve hours...uh hem...I just shouldn't write.

So I haven't.

But that is partly because Andy and I just moved into a condo in Holladay, Utah! Hurray! Exotic basement living wasn't bad at all, (hehehe....there are about five unfinished blogs there...) the internet connection was if-fy, the dogs were making us all nuts, getting up at 4:30 to get to work was, really WAS, turning me into a walking zombie since I had to be at school until midnight rehearsing and producing a musical with 80 lovely kids that all had fifteen questions each and I seemed to be the only person with the matching answers, and up again at 4:30....

I digress...

I hear Zombies have gotten cool though.

So the musical was great (there's a couple of blogs there). I was the kind of tired that makes you want to hurt people...all the time...makes you want to cry at the sight of a Diet Coke, and makes you want to eat everything in sight, which I did. I just blamed it on my yearly "stomach expansion plans" for Thanksgiving. My birthday was my "1 Year Sober Diet Coke" anniversary. I still dream about it (being young and drinking Diet Coke).

Oh yeah...and for my 48th birthday we moved out of my mom's house. Hahaha...not too many people can say that!

Nor should they.

Thanksgiving immediately followed the musical closing and since the entire family was in town for the turkey, we forced them into a labor camp duty called "moving Jandy." Of course, with that many people it only took about four minutes. JUST KIDDING. My family is incredible for spending their vacation loading and emptying a 26-foot Uhaul. Yep. And every vehicle was also full. Even the teenagers were on hand! Teenagers are awesome.

There are about 10 boxes still to deal with, but as my brother said, "for the most part Cinderella, we only had to cut off your last two toes to get your foot into the slipper."

We've worked...and after work, we've done nothing but empty boxes. The most amazing thing however, is that Friday morning the Comcast guy came and reconnected me to the world!

Wait! Lest we take a breath to we signed the closing papers on our house in St. George. We no longer own anything in that town except our deep and abiding love for the 13 people that still call us "family" (even though we made them work through Thanksgiving...we love you so much!) I didn't expect to get so emotional about it. But I did. We spent 6 newlywed years in that house. We have SO many beloved friends there too...

But here we are in Holladay for the holidays! How bad could a town be that's named after vacation time? I'm going to catch up on the blogging...and do some laundry...and breath...and make toffee and...put up the tree...and sew a few gifts...and shop (I hate shopping)....and if anyone needs a Santa (Mrs. Santa optional) this season, we can be ready to go in a matter of minutes and we'll work for gift cards, tips or chocolate.


Maybe someone should teach me how to relax.

But when?

P.S. Thanks to our new internet connection this only took me an hour! Woot! It's not even 1:00 yet!